Australia is the only country that has a whole continent to itself. World famous for its natural wonders and wide open spaces (beaches, deserts and “the bush” or “the Outback”), Australia is ironically one of the world’s most highly urbanized countries and is well known for the cosmopolitan attractions of its globally significant cities, such as Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and the Australian capital city Canberra. Australia is also a major tourist destination, and is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. The country is renowned worldwide for its vast, untouched landscape and its unique culture.
Capital: Canberra, ACT
Government: Parliamentary Democracy and Constitutional Monarchy; Commonwealth and Federation of States
Currency: Australian dollar (AUD); $1 USD is roughly equal to $1.31 AUD
Area: 7,686,850 sq km
Population: 20,406, 800 (Sept. 2005 estimate)
Calling Code: +61
Internet TLD: .au
Weather and Climate
Australia is mostly arid and semi-arid: the center is desert and much agricultural land is poor quality by the standards of continents with richer soil. The southeast is temperate and the north is tropical. Australia was massively deforested for agricultural purposes: forest areas survive in extensive national parks and some other areas.
A common misperception of Australia is that it is always hot and sunny. Rather, both Sydney and Melbourne can experience days or even weeks of almost continual rainfall, while Tasmania has a climate that closely resembles that of England.
Passports and Visas
All foreigners, except New Zealanders, require visas for all visits to Australia. The citizens of some countries, however, can obtain an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) online. An ETA is a tourist or business visa valid for up to three month stays, at one time, up to one year in duration. These are often also available through travel agents at the time of booking your flight to Australia: apply for the ETA through your agent if possible, as the fee for applying directly is usually waived.
The Australian mainland comprises six states and two territories. Ranked in order of population:
New South Wales (NSW)
Western Australia (WA)
South Australia (SA)
Australian Capital Territory
The major cities of Australia also serve as the state capitals:
Sydney – Australia’s first and largest city, the capital of New South Wales
Melbourne – Australia’s second largest city, the nations sporting and cultural capital, the capital of Victoria
Brisbane – the sun-drenched capital of Queensland
Canberra – the national capital of Australia
Adelaide – the City of Churches, capital of South Australia, a relaxed alternative to the big eastern cities
Perth – the most remote continental capital city on earth, on the south-western edge of Western Australia
Hobart – small, but fascinating capital of Tasmania
Darwin – Australia’s smallest and northern-most capital, at the top of the Northern Territory
Popular sightseeing destinations
Queensland’s Sunshine Coast
The Great Barrier Reef
Outback: Australia’s red centre
Uluru (aka Ayers Rock), located roughly in the middle, a gigantic wind-swept rock
The Blue Mountains
January 1: New Years’ Day
January 26: Australia Day, marking the anniversary of the First Fleet’s landing in Sydney Cove in 1788.
Easter weekend (“Good Friday”, “Easter Saturday”, “Easter Sunday” and “Easter Monday”): a four day long weekend in March or April set according to the Western Christian dates.
April 25: ANZAC Day, honouring military veterans
Second Monday in June: Queen’s birthday holiday (not celebrated in Western Australia, which observes Foundation Day a week earlier)
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day
Time difference: Eastern Standard Time (EST) – operates in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland, 10 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT); Central Standard Time (CST) – operates in South Australia and the Northern Territory (half an hour behind EST, 9.5 hours ahead of GMT); Western Standard Time (WST) – operates in Western Australia (two hours behind EST, 8 hours ahead of GMT).
The smallest unit of currency that prices will be quoted in is the cent, which is worth $0.01. However Australia no longer has physical units of currency that allow for bills to be paid to the nearest cent. If the total of a transaction is not a multiple of 5 cents you pay to the nearest five cents, unless you are paying by credit or debit card, in which case you will pay the exact total. Yes, that does mean that when buying small quantities of very cheap items, it is possible to buy them for free, or get an extra 50ml of fuel in a tank. This tends to even out though, as half the time your total will be rounded up rather than down.
The coin denominations are: 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2. The note denominations are $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. Australian notes are produced in plastic polymer rather than paper.
Cash dispensing Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in almost every Australian town. You are likely to pay a surcharge for international cash withdrawals, and holders of Australian debit cards will also pay a surcharge if they use an ATM that is not operated by their own bank. Most ATMs only dispense $20 and $50 notes.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Australia. Almost all large vendors, such as supermarkets accept cards, as do many, but not all, small stores.
Australia has a more or less universal sales tax known as the Goods and Services Tax, or GST. Only basic items, such as certain foods, are exempt. GST is quoted as part of the price of any item you will purchase, rather than added at the time of payment. If you are planning to buy items over $300, you might be interested in the Tourist Refund Scheme, which allows you to obtain a refund of the GST paid (effectively a 9.1% discount). Note that you must buy the goods less than 30 days before departure and take them with you when you leave Australia. You need to show the item(s) plus the receipt at the TRS desk in the departure lounge, so you should carry the items with you and also allow an extra 30 minutes before departure. The refund payment can be made by either check, credit to an Australian bank account, or payment to a credit card.
Tipping is not compulsory and is usually not expected in Australia. Many Aussies don’t tip, as such, but leave some change. Most people think it is okay to pay the amount stated on the bill. Staff are seen to be paid an appropriate wage and will certainly not chase you down for a tip. You may feel free to tip for good service, in which case it will typically be appreciated.
Officially 230V 50Hz. Outlets are of the Australian AS-3112 standard, which features two angled flat blades and a third vertical flat blade for grounding. The configuration of the electrical contacts is similar to that found in Argentina and mainland China. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travelers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Australia.
Australian chefs are regarded around the world for their creativity and skilful mixing of Asian, Western, and local dishes. One could argue that ‘Asian Fusion’ originated in Australia. Melbourne is a ‘foodies’ paradise and Sydney has many wonderful restaurants for locals and visitors alike.
There are four aspects to Australian cuisine for a visitor to look out for:
BYO – That means bring your own/buy your own (alcohol). In many urban communities of Australia you will find very small restaurants where the menu and food is of the highest quality for an affordable price. And you can save money by picking up a nice bottle of local wine from a bottle shop around the corner. This includes beer as well. Expect to pay a small corkage fee.
Asian Fusion – From the Rockpool in Sydney, to many other restaurants around the country, Australia’s geographical and cultural relationship with South East Asia has resulted in some of the best Asian-inspired dishes in the world.
Counter lunch – Most traditional pubs in Australia offer what is called a counter lunch. For around five dollars, you can sit at the bar at lunch time and have a very hearty English meal of meat, potatoes, gravy and veggies – with a nice cold beer, of course. This English influence is prevalent in a whole range of grocery store items like pasties and sausage rolls.
The BBQ – Some restaurants and pubs have buffets, of sorts, of raw steaks and sausages, lamb chops, and kangaroo that you can select, pay for, and then head over to a large communal grill and cook to your own perfection. BBQs are also a staple of Australian social culture. Due to the climate, many locals have a ‘barbie’ at least once a week. These social affairs are for families and friends to sit around in a garden, grilling everything from king prawns (giant shrimp) to steaks and anything else that will fit on the grill.
Local “delicacies” to try include:
Vegemite – a yeast-based spread made from the remains of beer brewing, plus lots of salt. Many believe that, unless sampled before the age of four, it’s unlikely that anybody could develop a taste for the nearly black goo. A word of advice for keen experimenters: try a very thin spread of Vegemite on hot buttered toast.
Bikkies – Aussies sometimes refer to cookies as “bikkies.” One of the most famous of the local bikkies is the Tim Tam. A chocolate fudge-filled sandwich of two chocolate biscuits, all wrapped in chocolate, this decadent bikkie gave rise to the “Tim Tam Slam.” This decidedly messy maneuver requires nibbling the chocolate off both ends of a Tim Tam, then using the biscuit as a straw to suck up your favorite hot beverage, more typically, coffee.
Lamington – a small sponge cake covered in a thin layer of chocolate icing (frosting) and then dipped in desiccated coconut.
The Pavlova – a meringue cake with a cream topping usually covered with fresh fruit – a popular alternative to traditional Christmas pudding during the holiday season.
ANZAC biscuits – a mix of coconut, oats, flour, sugar, and Golden Syrup widely believed to have originated when anxious First World War wives and mothers baked and sent them to soldiers fighting overseas.
Australia drives ‘on the left’. Overseas visitors who are used to driving on the ‘right’ should exercise great caution until they get used to this. Distances and speeds are specified in kilometres and fuel is sold by the litre.
Australia has a generally well-maintained system of roads and highways. Most of the state capitals are linked to each other by dual carriage highway systems. Major regional areas have sealed (paved) dual-lane roads, but isolated areas may have poorly maintained dirt roads or even tracks. Note that Australia’s low population density makes for long driving times, often with ‘nothing much’ in between. Here are some indicative travel times:
Melbourne to Sydney: 9-12 hours (approximately 900 kilometres / 560 miles)
Brisbane to Sydney: 12-15 hours (approximately 1000 kilometres / 620 miles)
Perth to Sydney: 50 hours (approximately 4100 kilometers / 2550 miles)
Sydney to Canberra: 3-4 hours (approximately 300 kilometres / 185 miles)
Adelaide to Melbourne: 8-10 hours (approximately 750 kilometres / 465 miles)
Brisbane to Melbourne: 22 hours (approximately 1700 kilometres / 1056 miles)
Melbourne to Perth: 40 hours (approximately 3500 kilometres / 2175 miles)
Perth to Adelaide: 32 hours (approximately 2700 kilometres / 1677 miles)
While major sealed highways are well serviced, anyone leaving sealed roads anywhere in inland Australia is advised to carry sufficient spare fuel, spare parts, spare tires, matches, food and water (a minimum of 4 gallons per person per day).
The continent of Australia was apparently first settled more than 40,000 years ago with successive waves of immigration of Aboriginal peoples from south and southeast Asia. With rising sea levels after the last Ice Age, Australia became largely isolated from the rest of the world, and the Aboriginal tribes developed a variety of cultures, based on a close (spiritual) relationship with the land and nature, and extended kinship. Australian aborigines maintained a hunter/gatherer culture successfully for thousands of years in association with a primitive artistic and cultural life – including a very rich story-telling tradition.
The Australian continent was unknown to Europeans until the 1600’s, when Dutch traders to Asia began to ‘bump’ into the Western Coast. Early Dutch impressions of this extremely harsh, dry country were unfavorable, and Australia remained simply a road sign for them, pointing north to the much richer (and lucrative) East Indies (modern Indonesia). More deliberate exploration of the Australian coast was then largely taken over by the French and the British. Consequently, place names of bays, headlands and rivers around the coastline reflect a range of Dutch, French, British, and Aboriginal languages.
After a period of sea exploration, British settlers came to Australia in 1788, starting a process of colonization that almost entirely displaced the Aboriginal people who inhabited the land. This reduced indigenous populations drastically and marginalized them to the fringes of society. They remained second-class citizens almost until the modern day, only being recognized as full citizens in 1967. The process of reconciliation continues to the present day.
Although Australia began its modern history as a penal colony (an island prison for Britain’s unwanted convicts) the vast majority of people who came to Australia after 1788 were free settlers, mainly from Britain and Ireland. Convict settlements were along the east coast, Adelaide and Perth being settled by free settlers. Many Asian and Eastern European people also came to Australia in the 1850s, during the Gold Rush that started Australia’s first resource boom.
The separate colonies federated to form an independent country in 1901, with each colony then becoming a state of Australia. The new country was able to take advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop its agricultural and manufacturing industries and made a proportionally huge contribution (considering its small size of population) to the Allied war effort in World Wars I and II.
Check out our Australia Independent Packages to help you get started planning your trip or if you like a more organized style of traveling see our Australia Escorted Tours. Any way you travel to the great Land Downunder, be sure to include Australia on your itinerary.
Need travel advice? Call one of our friendly agents at 1-800-788-0829.
The above data is courtesy of wikitravel.org/en/australia, last modified on 17 August 2006, and is based on work by Andrew Haggard, Eric Lloyd, Ross B., Evan Prodromou, Todd VerBeek, Penny, Stephen Mok, Rosemary Shapiro, Ryan Holliday, jan, Matthew, Bill Russo, keithonearth, Michael white, Angela Beesley, Colin Jensen, Darrin R. Hagan, Tim Graham, Chris Luth, Jack Renton and Scott Davis, Wikitravel user(s) Hypatia, Jonboy, Episteme, JROBBO, Pjamescowie, Nurg, Jelse, Hkpatv, Brendio, Thewayoftheduck, Huttite, Abstraktn, Funfatale, Ilkirk, InterLangBot, Jpatokal, BigHaz, Nikita Borisov, Arcae, Somebody in the WWW, Sholden, Chris j wood, Nzpcmad, Sjc196, Nils, Psb777, Chuq, PierreAbbat, Dhum Dhum, Tiles, Russell Dovey, Karen Johnson, Nicklothian and CIAWorldFactbook2002 and Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Content is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 1.0. If you would like to view the original page or edit its content, feel free to visit wikitravel.org/en/australia.