Australia is the only country in the world to have a continent all to itself, gambles more than any other country, is the place of origin for Ugg boots, and sells kangaroo meat in many of the supermarkets. If we were to settle for gimmicky, trivial factoids then we'd stop right there. Thankfully for our Embark users, it is also a country with substance, history, and a diverse and alluring wilderness, from the epic rock formations of the desert (Ayers Rock, for one) to plant and animal-rich rainforests (Daintree National Park) to a flora and fauna that can only develop in the isolation of an island like Tasmania. Australia's substance lies in its varied history. There is the aboriginal rock art and mythic customs of its native people. There are the massive strikes of gold, opal, and other important minerals during British colonialism that have left behind ghost towns and an incredible network of mines. And today, there are the iconic skylines and harbors of Australia's still great cultural power, with structures like the Sydney Opera House reminding us all that this is a great player on the world stage.
Each city, whether you are in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, or beyond, is near enough to natural wonders and outdoor adventures that you'd need plenty of return trips to begin to conceive the whole picture of what an Australian adventure can provide. The nearly 60,000 km (over 37,000 miles) of coastline is excellent for surfing and swimming or just a long, leisurely drive with the wind in your hair and eroded monuments like the Twelve Apostles rising like a hand in greeting from the ocean. There are peaks for skiing and climbing near southeastern cities like Melbourne and Sydney, extreme adventures aplenty in Cairns, desert rock oddities near Perth, and a range of Australian wildlife that include koala, penguin, dolphin, kangaroo, and many more both free and enclosed. There are also the diversely rewarding underwater worlds of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, where scuba diving and snorkeling are world-renowned from Rottnest Island to the west to the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands to the east. You've also got the majority of Tasmania to serve as a hiking paradise, with a number of distance hikes amongst a natural world that boasts eons without human meddling.
Metropolitan Australia also possesses some excellent nightlife, whether you're one to indulge in craft beer culture, put your hands up to the reverberations and revelations of EDM, or kick back in a hipster coffee shop with records on the wall. The club scene stands out in Sydney and Melbourne, thriving because of a hefty university population, while live music in both quality and quantity puts Brisbane among the best on the map. Finally, you'll find cuisine on par with other great nations, and, although Australian cuisine doesn't distinguish itself with a unique identity found in many European countries, it does borrow quite well from across the board and utilizes locally curated food like kangaroo meat to put a twist on classic dining styles and dishes.
We'll put it this way: if you've got some vacation time saved up and you are contemplating the best places to visit, there are adventures to be had Australia that can't be emulated anywhere else. No matter where you stake your tent or how you like to fill your itinerary, Australia has got you covered. Take a look through our Australia adventure page and all of our city-related pages if you aren't quite convinced.
Visa Requirements:Unless you are from neighboring New Zealand, you will need a tourist visa. Travelers from the United States and Canada, as well as the majority of Europe, are urged to purchase an electronic visa, which may be obtained through the Electronic Travel Authority. Available to travelers under 75 years of age, this grants visa permission electronically as long as you have a valid passport, allows you to stay in the country for three months, and costs much less than traditional visas. For further information, visit the government visa page.
Keep up to date on the value of the Australian dollar here.
The Government of the Commonwealth of Australia is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy divided into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Although there is some argument over who the head of state in Australia actually is, the acting governor of the country is the Governor-General, who rules in representation of the other possible head of state, the British monarch. The Australian Prime Minister, though, is the most powerful political figure in Australian government and, as head of the cabinet, is central to executive decision-making. Visit the official government page for more information.
Most visitors from the Western world will have no trouble communicating when in Australia; there are a number of slang Australian words that may force the unwary traveler to question what they may have just heard (the word "thongs" for "flip flops," for example), but you'll undoubtedly have little trouble figuring out what Australian locals are saying. If you've ever seen Aussies portrayed in movies, they call everyone "mate." You'll hear this phrase with frequency, unlike any references to "shrimp on the barbie" that have infiltrated the pop cultural understanding Australian language. Other popular phrases that you'll encounter include hoo roo (goodbye), arvo (afternoon), dunnie (bathroom), and a number of various words that deal with ordering different sized beers at the pub (it really depends on where you are in Australia).
Crime and Safety:
The prevalence of crime in Australia is generally low when seen on an international scale. Even then, there is always the odd rough neighborhood or extenuating circumstance, so use your common sense, especially when you're alone at night or in areas you are unfamiiar with. Also, when traveling anywhere in the world, a little prior research into which neighborhoods are safer than others works wonders not only for your safety, but your confidence as well. You'll find Australian crime statistics here.Other common sense tips that apply in Australia in particular: when camping or hiking in the extensive Outback wilderness, be prepared for the sun and heat (sunscreen, hat, etc.) and be sure to wear sneakers or shoes that cover the whole foot for the sake of comfort and to protect against snakes and poisonous creatures. Also, only start fires in designated areas; bushfires can get out of control FAST. When swimming on Australia's beaches, stay within designated areas as well, for there are often nets in place to protect against creatures like sharks or box jellyfish.
Modes of Transportation:
Local transportation is generally reliable throughout Australia, especially in major cities, while rental cars, buses, and trains all provide transport over longer distances. Since the distance between large cities can be quite extensive (from Perth to Brisbane it is 4,335 kilometers/2694 miles), we'd suggest domestic flights if you're strapped for time, which will run you between $200-$300 AUD. The train is another option if you're traveling moderate distances, although if you're planning on going between regions, the cost inflates greatly and often includes on-train sleeping quarters and other amenities. Take a look at this train resource if you'd like to know more. If you do plan on traveling into unfamiliar areas without a tour guide (you know, like that massive desert that covers the center of the continent?), be sure that you've planned out your route as carefully as possible ahead of time, whether you are changing over from national to local bus services or having to worry about gassing up your jeep rental.
Although quite diverse, the large minority of Australia's landmass is covered in arid desert. The far north (Darwin, Cairns) is mostly tropical, while the south, which is home to Australia's most populated cities (Sydney, Melbourne, etc.), is temperate. Most of the remaining land is subtropical or grassland, depending on proximity to water sources or movement of subtropical air pressure. While the majority of Australia is dry, you'll find that rainfall is quite common in the aforementioned tropical climates, while winter snow accumulation is not uncommon in highland areas in the southeast. It is quite rare to see snowfall in any of the major Australia cities, though, despite the existence of ski resorts within a few hours of Sydney and Melbourne.
Eating and Tipping:
When in Australia, tipping is not a common practice unless you receive an exemplary service of some sort or eat in an expensive restaurant. Wait staff, taxis, bartenders or any other service personnel do not usually receive tips, but it's fine to have them keep the change on a bill. When paying for food and drink at an establishment, you'll already be paying a 10% Goods and Services Tax anyway. Then again, you may see tips being given in more touristy areas (Darling Harbour in Sydney, the Docklands in Melbourne, for instance) and it may be in kind to follow suit. As far as eating times, Australians eat at a schedule similar to Americans, preferring breakfast before 10am, lunch around noon, and dinner after 6pm. Then again, these aren't hard and fast rules and many cafes will even serve brunch all day.
Alcohol culture in Australia is very similar to that in other English-speaking countries. There are a fully range of liquor-based mixed drinks, micro and macro-brewed beers, wines, and more to whet your whistle in an equally varied selection of establishments. The legal age to purchase alcohol is 18, although laws regarding its consumption are different in each state. If you find yourself in a bar, many of which are actually called "hotels" due many bars in the old days being forced to set up accommodations to abide by strict temperance laws, it may not be a bad idea to buy a "shout" (a round) of beers if you're looking to make friends or further inebriate your current ones. You'll find that craft beers are a growing trend, although the overwhelming majority of the domestic market is dominated by Australian powerhouses like Carlton and Union Breweries (Victoria Bitter, NOT Foster's), Lion Nathan (Castlemaine XXXX, Boag's), and Coopers. Microbreweries of note include Little Creatures, Feral, and Gage Roads in Western Australia and McLaren Vale and White Rabbit in southern Australia, although this just scratches the surface. Wine regions of note seem to center in the more fertile south of the country, where Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, and McLaren Vale all are known as big producers, although there are areas of note in Tasmania (Tamar Valley), New South Wales (Hunter Valley), Western Australia (Margaret River), and more.
Interesting Cultural Fact:
Despite its founding as a colony of convicts, Australia's homicide rate is half that of the United States. Also, according to H2 Gambling Capital, Australia is the biggest gambling nation in the world when weighed by total gambling losses per adult each year with $1,199.
Peak season:June through August
Currency:Australian dollar (A$)
Big Day Out Festival
Originally a one day show that began in Sydney and included Nirvana, the Big Day Out Festival has grown to encompass a number of Australian cities and a who's who of contemporary international acts. For a few weeks between the end of January and the beginning of February, you'll find plenty of music to fit your taste and an eclectic range of people to enjoy it with. Consult the website for who is playing and in which cities.
Splendour in the Grass
In the rural town of Woodford, Queensland, you'll find one of the biggest music festivals in Australia, known as Splendour in the Grass. Combining environmental initiatives with creative, alternative activities and some of the best music in the world, this two day festival is an experience to be had, especially when little else is going on in the middle of the Australian Winter. Past headlining acts included Coldplay, Kanye West, and The Strokes. If your interest is piqued, check the official website for the upcoming lineup.
Perth International Arts Festival
By far the biggest annual event in Western Australia, the Perth International Arts Festival embraces everything creative, as a menage of stellar writers, musicians, performers, and artists descend upon Perth at the end of February. The longest running festival in Australia, huge productions, street performers, and virtuoso musicians abound, making it an event worth gracing the west coast for.
Australia's biggest cultural event runs for the majority of January and sees over a million visitors annually. Home to a smorgasbord of free entertainment, including three massive outdoor concerts, you'll rub elbows with a gamut of performers, from clowns to dancers to classical musicians to international recording artists. There is also a range of top-notch theater productions that can be seen throughout the city in venues such as the Sydney Theatre and Opera House. This event runs for nearly the full month of January.
Melbourne Comedy Festival
From the end of March through April, Melbourne is host to one of the grandest comedy festivals in the world. The Melbourne Town Hall has perennially been the center of the action, with over 350 performers a year and a variety of comedy acts and televised events. If comedy is your thing, check the website to find what's happening when you're in town.