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A nation turns its rugged face to the world, and smiles



Australia welcomes 'Survivor' to Outback

(CNN) -- The debut of "Survivor: The Australian Outback" after Super Bowl XXXV Sunday night again focused attention on a rugged chunk of country that, despite its soaring size, few people have traveled -- including native Australians.

For Australians, the Outback is more a state of mind, rather than a specific location. It's a place with no strict boundaries, much like the American West: You simply know it when you see it.

Viewers who tune in on Thursday nights, the series' regular slot, will get a look at a part of the world that few have seen before.

Tune in to CNN Travel Now on Saturday, May 5 for a tour of the Australian Outback

Australia is only slightly smaller than the United States, and about 90 percent of its residents live on the coast. That leaves a vast swath of territory in the middle, much of it dry and barren - a lot of Outback, in other words.

A slice of that rugged swath of real estate is in Queensland, a state in the northeast corner of the country, and is the setting for "Survivor." Reports say the production camp was about 90 miles southwest of Cairns. (Cairns is pronounced "cans," as in "cans of beer.")

Cairns is known throughout the world as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, a 1,250-mile-long reef that skirts the northeastern coast. Now, the city has another claim to fame to boost regional tourism.

'Survivor' theme tours

Tour operators are already running with the "Survivor" theme and have designed trips to the Queensland Outback. If viewers get addicted to the new series, they can plan their next vacation to the land of their latest TV heroes and heroines -- but with the comfort and safety provided by a tour operator.

The Adventure Company of Cairns is the only firm "officially" sanctioned by the producers of "Survivor." At present, it's also the only tour operator promising to bring the curious to the precise location where the two tribes, the Ogakor (Aboriginal for "freshwater crocodile") and Kucha (Aboriginal for "kangaroo") will be battling it out.

cave painting
Cave paintings dating back tens of thousands of years are tucked away in Australia's Arnhem Land  

For about $1,100 US (airfare not included) adventurous souls can camp, fish, canoe, mountain bike and walk the same ground as the 16 contestants competing for $1 million.

Other tour operators are also hoping to capitalize on the post-Olympic attention the "Survivor" series could generate. "We're just trying to say Cairns is where you come to go to the reef, but you can experience the Outback too," a tourism official said recently.

That experience includes the Queensland temperatures, which usually range from 66 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit -- not the extremes trumpeted in the series' sensationalistic promotions.

Are tourism officials worried that the Outback portrayed in the "Survivor" series will scare potential tourists away? No more than they're worried that Sydney's Bondi beach will blow away.

With the anticipated release this year of the film "Crocodile Dundee in LA" and the 2001 Goodwill Games also on the calendar for Queensland, the country is optimistic about tourism growth for the new century, officials say.

The new series will be something extra to help the nation market itself to the world, said Jonathan Day, a regional director of Queensland tourism.

"I'm sure they (the CBS show and its contestants) will do something spectacular and gross every week, but it won't turn people from Aussie," Day said. "I think people recognize a lot of situations are contrived for the sake of the story."

CNN takes you away every weekend on CNN Travel Now. Join us Saturdays at 6:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. EST.

Australia Tourist Commission

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