Get an SLR. Not a point and shoot. If you're serious about wanting good photos, spend the extra money and get the SLR. After that the important thing to remember is to get a decent body but invest in the glass (lenses).
Even if you change your body later on, you can always use the lenses. Plus, the quality of your photos directly correlates with the quality of your lens. The kit lenses that cameras come with in the box are OK but are crap once you actually get a good lens to work with.
I can't speak to Nikon since I have always used Canon. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with Nikon, but it's just a preference thing. Kinda like whether you like Ford or Chevy. Both are good, but it's the one that you get accustomed to that you will like more.
There is a photo board here too that I lurk on a lot to get tips and to see what other people use. It really depends on what you want to shoot as to what I would recommend for you. For me personally, I have a 17-70 mm 2.8. and 50 mm 1.8 as my primary lenses. I don't have an extreme zoom because I don't shoot sports or anything that I can't get close up to. If you want to shoot something like that, then you will need a bigger zoom.
Get a flash but don't rely on it. I rely more on an open aperture more than I do a flash.
When you get your camera, learn to use it in manual function. You will be totally surprised with how much different and better the results are.
Good luck. Feel free to PM me since I could talk about cameras all day long.