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Australia

Photo © Utrecht

Travel Guide Oceania Australia

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Introduction

The big Merino

The big Merino

© All Rights Reserved Sophfidoe

Australia is one of the most popular destinations on the planet for backpackers and luxury travellers alike. World-renowned landmarks like Sydney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, Great Ocean Road and some of the most unique wildlife on the planet have helped Australia become a must see destination on any traveller's list.

Australia is truly like nowhere else on the planet. It possesses approximately 36,000 kilometres (22,000 miles) of beautiful coastline, 15 World Heritage Listed sites and over 3,000 national reserves. A brilliant mix of natural wonders, fantastic food and wine, culture, history, cosmopolitan cities and laid-back friendly locals, it is a peaceful backdrop to any holiday, encouraging visitors to return time and time again for the unique collection of adventures on offer.

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Brief History

Early History

The first people to discover Australia did so approximately 40,000 years before Europeans set foot on the continent. Recently unearthed evidence suggests, somewhat controversially, that the first European to visit Australia was Portuguese explorer Christopher de Mendonca, who led a flotilla of four ships into Botany Bay in 1522 - almost 250 years before Britain's Captain James Cook. [2]

Australian Aboriginals flourished in lush coastal regions as hunter/gatherers. The British colonisation of Australia, which began in New South Wales in 1788, had a disastrous effect on the Aboriginal people, as they fell prey to infectious diseases carried by the new settlers and were gradually displaced from their traditional homeland.

19th Century European settlement

Meanwhile European settlement spread to other parts of Australia. Brisbane was founded in 1825. Western Australia was founded in 1829. The city of Perth was founded that year. In 1834 a man named John Batman decided the site of Melbourne was a good place to found a settlement. In 1835 he made a treaty with the Aborigines in which he gave them trade goods for land. However the treaty was not recognised by the British government, which disregarded it. Nevertheless the city of Melbourne was laid out on the land in a grid pattern. In 1836 another colony was founded at Port Adelaide, which grew into South Australia. The city of Adelaide was planned by Colonel William Light (1786-1839) the first Surveyor General of Australia. After 1815 thousands of new settlers arrived in Australia every year fleeing poverty in Britain. By 1840 the white population of Australia was about 160,000. By 1851 it was about 430,000. Meanwhile explorers such as Charles Sturt 1795-1869 and Thomas Mitchell 1792-1855 explored the interior of Australia. In 1851 Victoria was made a separate state from New South Wales. Queensland grew from a settlement at Moreton Bay, which was founded in 1824. Queensland became independent in 1859.

20th Century

Australia did not become a federated nation until 1901 when all the colonies voted for amalgamation, and at that point the colonies became states. Even then Australia remained a part of the British Empire, with the British Monarch as its Head of State and a population consisting primarily of Anglo-Saxons. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster Act was passed into law in London, and eventually ratified in Canberra in 1942 (backdated to 1939) - this Act gave Australia its independence as a nation.

From 1931 the British Empire no longer existed, instead an association of independent countries has formed over time since then and is known as the Commonwealth of Nations. The British Monarch at this time also continued to be the Australian Head of State - hence in Australia, the official title of the current head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia which is a legally separate and distinct role to her position as the Queen of Britain.

Throughout the 20th century, Australia maintained its ties with the UK, even though the post-WWII years saw increased immigration from other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. In 1999, Australians voted in a referendum to decide whether to become a republic, but the proposal was rejected by 55% of voters, possibly more so because of a rejection of the model offered than by an overwhelming desire to retain the Queen as Head of State.

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Geography

Australia is the sixth largest country in the world, covering a land area of over 7,680,000 km². It is sandwiched by the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. As it is an island, it has no neighbouring countries, but it is near Papua New Guinea and Indonesia (north) and New Zealand (east).

Australia comprises six states and two territories: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and the Australian Antarctic territory.

Australia is geographically diverse, partly owing to its immense size. The centre of the continent is desert, known to Australians as the Outback. The vast majority of the population is concentrated around the eastern and south-eastern coasts.

The north eastern coastline hosts the largest coral reef structure in the world, the Great Barrier Reef, consisting of roughly 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands that stretch for 2,600 kilometres and cover an area of approximately 344,400 km².

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system, composed of roughly 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands that stretch for 2,600 kilometres (1,616 miles) and cover an area of approximately 344,400 km² (132,974 square miles). The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australia.

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States and Territories

Australia's six states are:

  • Victoria is small by Australian standards, but it makes up for its size deficiency with a heavily urbanised population who celebrate their food, sport and drink with typical Australian passion. Roughly 70% of Victorians live in Melbourne, the capital city and Australia's second largest city.
  • New South Wales is Australia's most populous state and has great appeal to travellers worldwide. Landmarks like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, to the Blue Mountains in the west, the Hunter Region and its wineries, the coast and its countless beaches, the Snowy Mountains and Mountt Kosciusko as well as over 600 national parks and reserves to explore.
  • Queensland, also known as the "Sunshine State", enjoys a very agreeable climate with 300 days of sunshine a year. Its natural environment is a major drawcard, particularly with spectacular natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef beckoning. There is a lot more to offer though, including some of the only places in the world where the rainforest meets the ocean. Although many people stick to the beautiful coastline, Queensland actually exists of huge areas of Outback stretching to the interior and all the way up north to the little visited Cape York Peninsula.
  • Tasmania is an increasingly popular destination for travellers to Australia. Tasmania's rugged natural beauty is its primary draw card and there are numerous options of wilderness adventures including some very rewarding treks.
  • South Australia South Australia is one of the states in Australia, located in the central southern part of the country. It is home to some of the greatest wine regions in the world and surely one of the best in Australia. But there is much more to explore, from cities like Adelaide to outback towns as Coober Pedy. And of course there is a fair share of wildlife, both on land as well as underneath the surface of the ocean. Still, South Australia is a little less visited compared to its famous neighbours to the east, but if you are deciding to travel from the south towards the north through the central parts, you will inevitably travel through this magnificent piece of land.
  • Western Australia is Australia's largest state and markets itself as the "Real Australia". Its remote beaches, sandy deserts and vast empty spaces certainly give the claim some credibility. Getting here is all the fun, that is if you don't fly. It's along way from anywhere in central and eastern Australia and although good sealed roads connect Western Australia with the rest of the country, distances are long and many other interior roads are very rough. You can easily spend months here and leave the rest of Australia for what it is, as you won't get bored and you can usually visit most areas withouth the crowds you will face on the eastcoast of the country.

Australia's two territories are:

  • Northern Territory, or NT, takes up a sizable slice of central and northern Australia. The territory is divided into two distinct climates, a tropical climate in the north (known as the Top End) and a desert climate in the southern part of Territory. It is a land of wide open spaces, dense rain forests and an indigenous history that dates backs over 40,000 years.
  • Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is the smallest entity in Australia, only measuring 2,366 square kilometres. Although many travellers avoid the area, if on purpose or not, there are some areas of interest. Half of the territory is protected as national park or reserve and is a mix of mountain ranges and hills covered in bushland, so plenty to keep hikers, campers and nature-lovers busy for a few days. And of course there is also Canberra, the capital city of Australia to visit, with many interesting museums and Parliment house to visit.

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Cities

Sydney

Opera House at dusk

Opera House at dusk

© All Rights Reserved Sander

It may not be the official capital, but Sydney is the focal point of Australian business and tourism. The iconic Sydney Opera House is one of Australia's best-recognised national symbols. Kangaroos and koalas can be seen at Sydney's prestigious Taronga Zoo, and no visit to Australia would be complete without a trip to the famous Bondi Beach. But a trip to Sydney is not just about seeing the obvious sights: it's also about taking in a diverse multicultural society, enjoying fine wine and food and launching into the surrounding Australian countryside.

Melbourne

Melbourne may not get the hordes of tourists that Sydney does, but rest assured that Australia's 2nd largest city packs as powerful a punch. Melburnians are a fashionable, trendy lot, provided you ignore the beer-guzzling sports fans cheering for their favourite AFL team at the MCG, Australia's largest sports stadium. Melbourne is a place where heading down dark alleyways could lead you to some of the city's most unique and interesting bars.

Adelaide

Adelaide, referred to by many Australians as the 'city of churches' is the capital of South Australia and with a little over 1.1 million inhabitants, home to nearly 70% of all people living in the state and Australia's fifth largest city. With a nickname originating from the settlement of the area and the desire to create a dignified city, it is a surprise to many that today pubs and nightclubs outnumber the churches. Adelaide is located on the coast, the southern side of South Australia, and the area surrounding Adelaide is popular for surfing. The city is well laid out, with plenty of parks, gardens, wide boulevards and large public squares to give it a spacious and overall relaxing feel. Adelaide is known for its many festivals, arts and sports. With it's location plump in the center of the wine regions of McLaren Vale, the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley, Adelaide is also an opportune location from which to undertake daytrips to the many vineyards in the surrounding areas.

Brisbane

Brisbane is a clean friendly, sunny and pleasant city in which to spend a few days before heading off to explore Queensland, or in which to recuperate after exploring. Brisbane is a rapidly growing modern metropolis which has given it greater stature in recent years, however it still retains the friendliness and relaxed attitude it has always been known for. Known locally as Brissie or Brisvegas, its the country's third largest city. For a city with less two million inhabitants, it certainly has a lot to offer; world class art galleries, massive music venues and a bustling restaurant scene.

Canberra

Canberra is the capital city of Australia and is located in the Australian Capital Territory to the southwest of Sydney. Following a long dispute over whether Sydney or Melbourne should be the national capital, a compromise was reached: Canberra. It was constructed in the early 1900's following a design by architect Walter Burley Griffin. The highly organised layout is evidence of the planning that went into this city. As a result of being the nation's capital, Canberra is home to many national monuments and institutions such as the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery currently housed at Old Parliament House, the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, and the National Museum of Australia.

Darwin

Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory and Australia's smallest state capital, home to just over 100,000 people. It is a good base to explore the surrounding natural attractions including the UNESCO World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. Its blend of Caucasian, Asian and Aboriginal cultures make it an interesting place to spend some time. The city has been virtually wiped out twice in its short history; once due to air raids during WWII and again when Cyclone Tracy hit in the 1970's. As a result, the city has a distinctly modern (albeit small scale) feel to it.

Hobart

Hobart, the capital of Tasmania and Australia's smallest state capital is a charming harbour city. It is Australia's second oldest city, founded in 1803 as a penal colony. Hobart lies at the foot of Mount Wellington and on the banks of the Derwent River. The waterfront areas Macquarie Wharf, Constitution Dock, Salamanca Place and Battery Point are just gorgeous with their Georgian buildings and the looming presence of Mount Wellington in the background. The locals are very relaxed, super friendly and have none of the snobbery of Sydney and Melbourne inhabitants.

Perth

Perth is the capital of the Australian state of Western Australia. A population of 1.5 million makes Perth the largest city in Western Australia and home to three-quarters of the state's residents. The city is also the fourth most populous urban area in Australia, and with a growth rate of 2% is currently the fastest growing major city in Australia. It's also generally considered as the biggest city in the world which is furthest away from any other big city. The nearest in fact would be Adelaide.

Cairns

Cairns is located in the northeast of Australia, along the northern coastline of Queensland. Although the city itself might not have that much to offer, it's surroundings are stunning. It's the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Tropical Rainforests of the north, including beautiful Cape Tribulation. Also, Port Douglas and Kuranda are just a short drive away.

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Sights and Activities

Beaches

Australia has an enormous coastline with fantastic beaches. Although some are not recommended because of a number of reasons (undertow, sharks, salties), there are numerous beaches which are fantastic for just seeing and to be seen, swimming, surfing and snorkelling. Bondi Beach in Sydney is probably one of the best known and busiest beaches in the country. More to the north, the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast (including Surfers Paradise) are popular among people loving beaches and all sorts of aquatic activities and of course partying. Queensland has the finest beaches and this is also one of a few places where the rainforest meets the beaches and reef and Cape Tribulation and surroundings. Western Australia has some great beaches around Broome, Coral Bay, Shark Bay and Monkey Mia with supreme activities like dolphin feeding and snorkelling with whale sharks and manta rays.

Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains area in New South Wales in Australia has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list for the unique eucalypt varieties that grace its 1 million hectares. The numerous national parks in the region offer much more than botanic interest though. The sightseeing potential in the Blue Mountains, symbolised by sites like the Three Sisters and the Jenolan Caves, succeeds in annually attracting thousands of visitors.

Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation is the furthest point north that most people visiting Queensland reach. It is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, the rainforest here is thick, ancient and teems with wildlife. There is a range of activities here, including guided rainforest walks which are particularly recommended. Be aware that it is possible to get stuck in Cape Tribulation in summer if the rain is particularly heavy, as the creeks rise up above the road. Be sure to give yourself a couple of days room to catch flights etc.

Deserts

Away from Australia's coastal regions, large parts of the country are desert. Together they cover 1,371,000 km² and occupy nearly a fifth of the continent. Far from being something to avoid, the deserts are one of the greatest natural attractions of the country. The five largest Australian deserts are the Great Victoria Desert, Tanami Desert, Great Sandy Desert, Simpson Desert and the Gibson Desert. Smaller ones include the Little Sandy Desert, the Sturt's Stony Desert, the Strzelecki Desert and the Tirari Desert. The latter three are located in the border area of South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, while the others are more to the central and central western parts of the country, which forms a much larger continuous area of desert landscapes. More information can be found in the Australian Deserts article.

Explorer Highway

The Explorer Highway is just one of many great road trips in Australia. The route follows the trail of legendary explorer John McDouall Stuart, the first European to cross Australia from south to north. Although the original route is not exactly the same anymore, parts of it still are. The route starts in Adelaide, or actually in Port Augusta, north of the city. From there you cross the deserts of South Australia and the Northern Territory before ending in tropical Darwin. Along the way are many points of interest, including Coober Pedy, Alice Springs and Katherine. But don't forget to take bypasses to Uluru (Ayers Rock) for example, or to Kakadu National Park up in the north of the country. To enjoy this trip, take at least 3 to 4 weeks. In the last few years, it has also become possible to travel all the way from Adelaide to Darwin by train.

Fraser Island

The UNESCO World Heritage listed Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world at approximately 123 kilometres long and 22 kilometres wide. It is a place of amazing beauty, with its long sandy beaches, dozens of freshwater lakes (many of which have their very own beaches), ancient rainforests, coloured rock formations, crystal clear creeks and even its own shipwreck. The main starting point for trips to Fraser Island is Hervey Bay. From here you can organise anything from 1-day trips that cover the main highlights of the island, to multi day camping trips that take in all that the island has to offer. Alternatively, a more adventurous choice is to take or hire your own 4x4 and explore the island by yourself, allowing you to go where you want, stay for as long as you want and camp wherever you like.

Great Barrier Reef

Moore Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Moore Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

© All Rights Reserved tamstar

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world. It's no surprise that it is also one of Australia's most popular natural attractions. It is located off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia and stretches for some 2,600 kilometres, comprising 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands. A large section of the reef falls within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which was set up to protect it from the negative impacts of overfishing and tourism. Climate change forms a major threat to the reef with rising water temperatures causing mass coral bleaching.

Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road is one of the world's most stunning coastal drives, winding along Australia's southern coast. The undisputed highlight of the drive are the Twelve Apostles, but the Great Ocean Road leads past many more sights of interest, from bustling coastal towns like Lorne and Apollo Bay to the lush rainforests of Great Otway National Park. The Great Ocean Road was built between 1919 and 1932 by Australian World War I veterans, as a memorial to their fallen comrades. Their labour is all the more impressive considering the steep coastal mountains the road is built into.

Gulf Country

Gulf Country, or also called Gulf Savannah, is an increasingly popular area in the northwest of Queensland. It refers to the area from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory to the westcoast of Cape York in Queensland. Most visitors cross this area on their way from the Northern Territory to the eastcoast of Queensland, either via the sealed routes through Mount Isa and Tennant Creek, or by taking the official Savannah Way highway, which goes directly west from Normanton along mostly unsealed roads and basically connects Cairns in the northeast with Broome in the northwest of the country. Karumba along the Gulf of Carpentaria, and the inland towns of Mount Isa and Normanton are some of the main attractions in the region, as are the wide open spaces and big skies.

Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park is a vast park the size of Israel in the Northern Territory, Australia, east of Darwin. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kakadu supports a huge variety of flora and fauna, many species of which are rare or endemic. Historically, Kakadu was the home of Aboriginal people, and much of the current National Park is Aboriginal land. The area is also rich in Aboriginal rock art, with over 5,000 sites found.

Kimberley Region

The Kimberley is a vast area consisting of rugged ranges, canyons, waterfalls and pristine coastline. Kimberley, one of the 9 regions in Western Australia, is one the most rugged areas of Australia and a popular region for travellers. Most travellers come here for its surreal beauty, its wideness, big skies and beautiful gorges, pools and some of the most rewarding 4wd tracks in the country, including the popular Gibb River Road. Towns of interest include Broome, Derby and Kununurra. It also home to the Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles]], a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House, situated on Sydney's stunning harbour, is one of the world's most admired works of architecture. Since its opening in the 1970s, it has left a permanent impression and is now the defining symbol of modern Australia. If possible, it is well worth catching a performance here.

Tasmanian Wilderness

The Tasmanian Wilderness is a massive area covering 13,800 km², almost 20% of the island, in South West, Western and Central Tasmania. Many national parks and reserves make up the wilderness area, giving it a great diversity to explore. There are even archeological sites that are over 20,000 years old to be found in some of the limestone caves.

The Ghan

The Ghan is one of the best trips across the Red Centre of Australia. The passenger train operates along the Adelaide to Darwin railway and is almost 3,000 kilometres long. It takes around 48 hours to complete this fantastic trip, but you can also break your journey in several other places, including Alice Springs which is about halfway. You can visit places like Uluru and Kings Canyon National Park from here. Another option is to break your trip in Katherine and visit the Katherine Gorge. The original construction already began during the late 19th century, but it wasn't until 2004 when the final leg to Darwin was completed and people could travel across the heart of Australia by train. The train usually travels twice a week and is also more expensive than travelling by car, bus or even plane. Still, the service and charm are unbeatable!

Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Uluru just the rock

Uluru just the rock

© All Rights Reserved LucyOwens

Uluru (or Ayers Rock) is a large sandstone rock in the center of Australia and the country's most recognisable natural feature. Uluru is part of the larger Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta is native for the Olga's, another remarkable feature in this park. The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Whitsunday Islands

The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of beautiful tropical islands ooff the coast of Queensland, a sailing and beach paradise. Most travellers arrive at the beautiful Whitsunday Islands by sailboat from Airlie Beach. It's a suitably romantic way to arrive - the islands are lovely. There are some great sections of reef to explore, by snorkelling or diving, and some fabulous beaches to kick back on including glorious Whitehaven Beach which changes shade as the light passes over. If you intend to sail and are on a budget, it is best to wait until the day before and book your trip in Airlie Beach as spare places on boats are often available at huge discounts.

Wineries

Australia is known for its first class wines. Wine regions like the Barossa Valley (near Adelaide), the Yarra Valley (near Melbourne), Margaret River (in Western Australia) and the Hunter Valley (in New South Wales) are great places to visit for not just fantastic wine from the cellar door, but also some enjoyable scenery along the way.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Australian Outback refers to the remote arid areas of central Australia, though more loosely it sometimes also refers to everything outside of urban areas.
  • The Canning Stock Route is one of the most difficult and rewarding 4WD-tracks in the world.
  • Cape York is the northern tip of Australia located in Queensland and a real off the beaten track experience.
  • Coober Pedy is the opal capital of the world in South Australia.
  • Daly Waters Pub is near to where the first international flights landed.
  • The Devils Marbles are a collection of large round granite boulders shaped over thousands of years by the weather, located about 100 kilometres south of Tennant Creek.
  • Flinders Ranges is the largest mountain range in South Australia, located 200 kilometres north of Adelaide.
  • Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, is the country's third largest island and host to an abundance of wildlife, including koalas and kangaroos.
  • Kings Canyon is a huge canyon some 270 metres deep and is located in the Northern Territory about 200 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs.
  • Monkey Mia is a great place for some dolphin watching.
  • Nitmiluk National Park - part of which is also known as Katherine Gorge.
  • Pinnacles - odd limestone formations found within Nambung National Park, near the town of Cervantes in Western Australia, situated 200 kilometres north of Perth.
  • Wave Rock is an oddly shaped rock situated in the south of Western Australia, near the small town of Hyden.

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Events and Festivals

For a listing of events in Australia by month, see also Events and Festivals in Australia

  • ANZAC Day specifically commemorates the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps that landed at Gallipoli, Turkey in World War I and more generally honours the contribution that Australian soldiers have made in various wars. There are major parades and commemoration services in all the cities as well as a minute of silence. ANZAC day is on the 25th of April.
  • The Melbourne International Comedy Festival features comedians from around the world and runs for several weeks each year. It is widely considered one of the top 3 comedy festivals in the world, along with the comedy festivals in Montreal and Edinburgh.
  • The Spring Racing Carnival is held during spring (October/November), culminating in The Melbourne Cup, which takes place on the first Tuesday in November. It is a public holiday in Melbourne.
  • Mardi Gras - Sydney's Gay and Lesbian parade started as a gay pride event almost 30 years ago and has been growing in size and popularity ever since.
  • New Years Eve in Sydney - Although there are significant New Year's celibrations in other Australian cities, the Sydney event has gained a reputation as one of the biggest parties in the world. Travellers wanting to see the fireworks spectacle in Sydney should ensure accommodation is booked well in advance, as options become very limited (and hideously expensive) close to the date.
  • Outdoor Music Festivals are extremely popular in Australia, particularly over the summer months - check out some of the annual festivals by state: Outdoor Music Festivals in Victoria (Australia), Outdoor Music Festivals in New South Wales
  • Gold Coast Indy Gold Coast Indy 300 is a 4 day and night event held in Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. This highly anticipated annual event has been running since 1991 and continues to draw crowds of thousands. In 2005 alone Indy welcomed a crowd of over 315,000 patrons for a long weekend filled with motor racing, entertainment and celebrities.
  • Brisbane Riverfestival Each year, the festival offers a program of free and ticketed events in various locations around the Brisbane city centre. It will feature local and international artists, emerging fringe theatre, spectacular fireworks, the popular Brisbane Backyards series, RiverBBQ and inspiring conversation and debate.

The Brisbane Festival aims to connect Brisbane’s artists with diverse communities and is one of Australia's leading international arts events.The festival is produced by Major Brisbane Festivals, an Australian production company with a world class reputation for creating and delivering outstanding cultural programs. Previously a biennial event, the Festival has now merged with Riverfestival, to make it one of the most inclusive and diverse annual arts festivals in Australia.

  • Global Green Challenge - or the World Solar Challenge, a race with solar cars from Darwin to Adelaide, usually during October. The next one is from 24 to 31 October 2009.

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Weather

Canberra Sunset

Canberra Sunset

© All Rights Reserved KoalaGirl

Australia is a large continent, so weather conditions vary greatly from one side to the other. However in general, summers are warm to hot and winters (May to September) are mild. Snow falls only on high ground.

Inland, much of the country is desert or semi-desert (the famous Outback). Summer days can be intolerably hot but nights are cold, especially during winter. The far north, including Kakadu and the Daintree forest, is lush and tropical because of the drenching rains and humidity of their summer - so it's best to visit these places in the Dry season from May to September, when the skies are a clear dazzling blue and the air is warm.

Most Australians live on the coast because the climate is at its most pleasant there, ranging from tropical to Mediterranean as you travel south. Much of the south coast has a more European (i.e. unpredictable) climate - in Melbourne there is a saying, "if the weather doesn't suit you, wait 10 minutes".

If you are planning a working holiday of longer than 6 months, don't make the mistake of leaving all your warm clothing behind - you will acclimatise after a few weeks of 30 °C heat, and a balmy evening will suddenly feel quite chilly.

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Getting There

By Plane

Practically every traveller arrives in Australia by plane. There are plenty of flights from Asia, Europe, the United States and the rest of Oceania. For those arriving by plane, the most common entry points are:

Other international airports frequently used include:

A few other smaller airports receive a few international flights, like Townsville, Hobart and Broome.
Due to Australia's remoteness, flight times are long and often expensive.

Australia's national airline is Qantas. Virgin Australia is based in Brisbane and is the country's second-largest carrier. Over the past few years, two low-cost carriers, Jetstar and Tiger Airways, have grown in popularity.

By Boat

It is possible to enter Australia by boat, though it is almost invariably the most expensive option. There are no regular connections between Australia and any other country. Several possibilities do exist though. The easiest option is to get on one of the large cruise ships that pass through Australia. Another, slightly less luxurious, but still expensive option, is to book a trip on a freighter. Finally, it is also possible to hitch a ride or crew a yacht headed to Australia.

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Getting Around

Australia's size warrants air travel between major cities. For those with more time on their hands, Australia has some excellent highways and roads.

By Plane

The domestic airline industry is currently dominated by Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar (a low-cost Qantas subsidiary) and most recently, Tiger Airways. Since the entry of Virgin Australia into the market, prices have become much more competitive, particularly between major cities.

Several dozens of airlines operate on the domestic market though, and apart from the larger ones mentioned above, there are also smaller airlines operating within certain areas of the country, like Air North and some very small airlines servicing outback landing strips.
For more information about the airports and destinations, see the 'getting there' section, which also has links to the main airports and their destinations.

By Bus or Train

Buses and trains provide another option for travelling between cities. All long-distance services are of a high standard, air-conditioned and clean. The most famous train journeys are The Indian Pacific (Sydney - Adelaide - Perth), The Ghan (Adelaide - Alice Springs - Darwin) and The Overland (Melbourne - Adelaide), but thanks to their prestige, they are also expensive - much more so than travelling by air. However, you miss out on all the scenery on the way - and of course, train travel is better for the environment! For more information about schedules and prices check the Rail Australia website.

For the very long distances travelled in Australia, bus travel can be uncomfortable because you can't get up to stretch your legs - but there's no doubt that taking the bus is the cheapest way to get around. Go to any backpackers' hostel and you'll find plenty of choice. Look out for the smaller operators who run services travelling off the major highways - the trip will take longer but will be much more interesting.

By Car

Travellers with a valid overseas licence can drive in Australia without the need for any other licence, provided the licence is in English (or has an English translation). You must carry your licence with you whenever you are driving.
Hiring a car is pretty simple and cars can range from cheap to high quality. Air conditioning is essential during the hot summer months! Remember to drive on the left. If in doubt about the speed limit, drive 50 km/h in cities and towns or 100 km/h on highways.

Although touring by car can seem attractive (and in fact, many Australians dream of doing a round-Australia road trip), the reality can be very different. Distances are far longer than many visitors are used to, and the scenery can be surprisingly monotonous. Sydney to Brisbane is a 12-hour drive, and while the Australian bush looks exotic at first, it has much less variety than a European or American landscape. If you are thinking of driving by car, make sure you allow plenty of time to recover as you will get tired from long periods of driving. Avoid driving at night, as this is when most of Australia's freight is on the roads in huge trucks, and accidents are common.

Having said that, public transport in smaller towns is scarce, so having a car is useful if you want to visit sights away from the major cities. There are plenty of companies you could choose to hire a car from, including Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty. Car hire is often not available to drivers under 25, or if it is, it's more expensive for younger drivers (generally the additional insurance cost, varying on the provider, is around $25-$40 per day is added to the daily rental cost).

By Boat

If you decide to visit Tasmania, you can get there by ferry (Spirit of Tasmania) from Melbourne. The service runs most nights between Melbourne and Devonport and during peak periods there is also a day service. Most people who use the ferry are Australians who want to take their own car with them. It's hard to justify otherwise, as it's more expensive than going by air.

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Red tape

Main article: Australian Visas

Every traveller to Australia, except those with Australian or New Zealand passports, requires a visa of some description. The most popular one is called an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) to enter Australia. The ETA is the same as a visa but is issued electronically, so you do not get a stamp in your passport.

Australians customs laws are very strict about things like drugs, steroids, weapons, firearms, protected wildlife and associated products. All of these are either prohibited or restricted.

As an island, Australia has been lucky to avoid many pests and diseases that are common in the rest of the world. To keep it that way, visitors are not allowed to bring any food into the country. So there is no point in bringing your favourite snack food or drink, or edible gifts for your friends in Australia - they will be confiscated and you could face a hefty fine.

The same goes for anything that is or has been living - seeds, plants, plant products (including wood), animals and animal products. In general, declare anything you are uncertain about, since the penalties for getting caught are very high. Even better, don't bring it in at all. Australia's plants and animals have no defenses against alien pests - it would be a great shame if your actions destroyed the very creatures you've come to see!

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Money

See also: Money Matters

Australia has its own dollar (AUD), which, as of 2012, has been trading near parity with the US dollar. Notes come in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 and coins come in 5¢, 10¢, 20¢, 50¢, $1 and $2. Most places will accept credit cards and debit cards, though charge cards are less commonly accepted.

Nowadays, Australia is a rather expensive destination when compared with Western Europe or the USA. Accommodation and food are generally good quality, but even backpacker hostels charge around $20-$40 for a bunk bed. Hotel rooms are hard to find for under $100. When eating out most main meals start at around $15. A budget of $50 per day for accommodation, meals and transport should be considered the bare minimum.
The Australian Dollar is currently (November 2012) very strong, thus it makes Australia a rather expensive holiday destination. When eating out, tipping is not compulsory, though it has become much more common. A 10% tip is more than enough and should only be considered if the service was of a high standard. A more common practice is to simply round the bill upwards. Tipping taxi drivers is not required, although again it is common practise to round the metered fare upwards.

Banking

The major Australian banks include: ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, NAB, Bank of Queensland, HSBC, ING Direct, and Citibank,

Setting up a bank account in Australia is not that difficult, although you do need appropriate identification and some banks ask for proof of address (which can be hard to provide if you've only just arrived!). However you need only show up at the bank with your passport (which includes a visa providing the right to work and/or study) within the first four weeks of entering the country, and that's all the identification or introduction you'll need. Just be certain to really do this within those first four weeks, because after that you need several additional forms of identification (and things like overseas drivers licenses don't cut it.)

Ensure you advise your bank of your Tax File Number to avoid higher rates of taxation on interest earned.

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Work

One of the most popular ways to come to Australia is under a Working Holiday Visa. This option is only available for citizens of Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and the United Kingdom, aged between 18 and 30, without any dependent children. With a Working Holiday Visa, you can travel around Australia for up to 12 months and work for each employer for up to 6 months. [3]

If you are not eligible for the Working Holiday Visa, you are generally still able to obtain a Tourist Visa for 3 months.

For citizens of Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey and the USA, there is another visa called Work and Holiday Visa, which allows tertiary-educated people aged 18 to 30 a working holiday of up to 12 months. Only about 100 of these are released per country each year, so these aren't easy to obtain. [4]

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Seek, My Career, CareerOne are several of the most popular online job search websites.

Another popular option is to do volunteer work on organic farms through a scheme known as WWOOF. In exchange for 4-6 hours of work per day, you will receive food & lodging. You won't receive any financial rewards, but it is a good way to meet local families. There are over 1,500 host farms spread throughout the country. You need to be at least 17 to join the program.

WWOOFing in Australia can be done on a tourist visa, as WWOOFers are not meant to do work that would otherwise go to a paid employee. [5]

Income Tax

Before Commencing Work
If you are coming to work in Australia (on an approved Visa with working rights) you will need to apply for an Australian Tax File Number. A tax file number (TFN) is a unique number issued by the Australian Taxation Office. Only one TFN is issued to you for your lifetime.

All employers in Australia are legally obliged to ask for your Tax File Number when you commence work; for every employer you work for, you must fill in a Tax Declaration Form. While it is not compulsory to have a TFN, if you do not have one a higher amount of tax will be withheld than is necessary. Getting a tax File Number is relatively easy -you can apply online through the Australia Taxation Office (ATO).. There's also a really useful and informative online video that explains the basics of Tax in Australia.

Leaving Australia
If you are a non-Australian Resident, you may apply for a refund of some of the Income Tax you have paid whilst working in Australia. To get a refund, you need to complete an Income Tax Return.

Everyone working in Australia MUST file a Tax Return at the end of the financial year 30 June (submission deadline is 31 October) or when they permanently depart Australia - there are fines in place if this is not done.

You can complete and submit a Tax Return yourself or you may choose to use a tax agent or accountant To independently lodge your Tax Return, download the appropriate forms (known as a TaxPack ) from the ATO website. Alternatively, the Tax Pack, is obtainable from post offices and newsagencies at tax time.

If you’re in a hurry, for a small fee you can get an Express Tax Return Kit from the Post Office. Otherwise, see a tax agent who will arrange your Tax Return for a fee. If you leave the country before your refund is processed the ATO can send your refund cheque to any address in Australia or overseas.

Irrespective of the method used to submit your Tax Return, you must attach your Group Certificate(s). A Group Certificate is the statement of earnings that your employer will give you when you finish working for them. Make sure you collect a Group Certificate (statement of earnings) from each employer when you cease work.

Superannuation/Retirement Benefits

Superannuation (otherwise known as Super) is a way of saving money to provide benefits for retirement, disability or your beneficiaries in case of death. Internationally, Super is often referred to internationally as ‘retirement income’ or ‘pensions’.

If you earn over $450 a month in Australia (before tax), it is compulsory for your employer to contribute an portion of your salary/wages to a Superannuation Fund. Your employer must pay a minimum of 9% of your earnings for your ordinary hours of work into your super account each quarter. These payments are also called Super Guarantee Payments.

Upon leaving Australia permanently, you may claim your Super Guarentee Payments. After departing Australia, you can claim your super at any time from your Superannuation Fund or (if it has been more than 6 months since your departure) the ATO. You can apply for the payment of your superannuation online or by downloading the appropriate forms from the ATO. Once your application has been processed you should receive a cheque in 28 days.

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Study

Australia has a high quality tertiary education system, which attracts hundreds of thousands of students from abroad. International students pay higher course fees than their Australian counterparts. However, when fees are compared to similar universities in the US or UK, they do still represent excellent value.

Additionally other education sectors of interest to prospective international visitors and travellers for studying in Australia are English courses, school, TAFE or vocational training, higher education and research. Many private colleges in city centres offer recognised English and career or technical training with lower fees, multiple start dates, employment assistance and further study pathways.

In order to study in Australia, certain minimum requirements must be met, including a sufficient level of English language proficiency plus genuine student GS and genuine temporary entrant GTE tests for student visa application. If you don't meet the entry requirements, you can enrol in English, University Preparation or Foundation Studies to prepare you for further study.

If you are not an Australian citizen you require a student visa, which can be obtained at Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIBP). Many nationalities can apply for thier first student visa onshore in Australia depending upon their visa assessment level and/or eligibility for streamlined visa processing SVP if stuyding higher education.

Detailed information on studying in Australia can be found on the government's website Study In Australia.

International students can work 20 hours per week during term or semester, and full time during vacation. If a student has graduated after two years of higher education study they are also eligible for the post graduate work visa, or in the case of vocational the 'Job Ready Program' for migration skills assessment and work visa.

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Language

English is Australia's national language. Numerous Aboriginal languages are spoken throughout the country. Kriol, an Australian creole language, is spoken by about 30,000 indigenous people in northern Australia.

Within the major cities, there are large immigrant populations which tend to congregate together in certain suburbs. Greek, Italian, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Arabic and Indonesian are some of the largest. It's not uncommon to find yourself in a suburb where all the shop signs are in Korean or Greek!

For all intents and purposes though, mainstream Australia is still a very monolingual society. Many of its inhabitants don't speak any language other than English, so a basic level of English is essential for any traveller, unless you are on an organised tour.

Apart from the commonly heard slang words (G'day and Crikey are now used worldwide thanks to Paul Hogan and the late Steve Irwin) Australian English has a lot of other slang and idioms that are particular to Australia, including various forms of rhyming slang adopted from the English convicts (many of whom were Cockney) and since developed. For example, the check or bill in a restaurant may be referred to as the "Bobby Fisher" - as in "the check, mate" - or the "Jack and Jill" - the bill. A few other examples: "you beauty" or "you beaut" means "that's great!" or "good one"; a cobber is a friend, or a good mate; a swag is a sleeping bag or blanket roll, "strewth" and "blimey" are expressions of disgust or amazement, as is "stone the crows"; "too right" means I agree with you, calling someone a real "galah" is not terribly nice and finally (importantly!) you may hear people say something like "it hurts like buggery" they don't necessarily know what that feels like - it's just an expression, used unconsciously mostly. Similarly, if someone tells you something is "back of Bourke" it doesn't mean it's anywhere near Bourke (outback), just a long way away from where you are.

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Eat

Australia's traditional staples of meat pies, fish & chips and barbecued meat have in recent times been challenged by an increasingly diverse diet of fine cuisine from around the world. As immigration increased in Australia in the latter half of the last century, with it came exciting new tastes that have turned the country into one of the most diverse culinary landscapes in the world. Italian, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Spanish ... there is a never ending range of options for the discerning diner.

For those interested in tasting some of Australia's native wildlife, it is becoming increasingly common to find things like kangaroo steak on restaurant menus and even as a gourmet item in the supermarkets. Bush foods are still a rarity in day-to-day life, however they are increasingly being embraced because of their natural resilience to the Australian climate and can now often be found in supermarkets as gourmet items.

Most states in Australia now have a ban on smoking in restaurants. These bans are becoming increasingly strict and are also starting to restrict smoking in pubs or clubs when they aren't serving food .

Many restaurants will contain the abbreviation BYO in the window. This stands for "Bring Your Own" and means that customers are able to bring their own alcohol and will likely be charged a "corkage" fee by the establishment. Some restaurants will be "BYO Only", which means the only way to get alcohol is by bringing it yourself. If you are intending to BYO, be sure to check requirements with the restaurant - most BYO liscense only allow patrons to bring wine and beer; if in doubt, avoid bringing spirits, liquors or pre-mixed drinks.

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Sleep

Australia is well built-up for tourism, so there is ample variety of selection when it comes to finding accommodation. As with most Western cities, you can find your usual assortment of 5-star hotels, as well as plenty options for the budget traveller. As you head away from the major cities and towns, accommodation might be a little harder to find, but unless you're going somewhere completely off the map, you should be able to find something. If you're going somewhere completely off the map, take a tent.

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Drink

Contrary to the popular myth generated by marketing overseas, Fosters is not "Australian for beer". There are quite a few breweries that can be considered more popular among locals, including Crown, James Boag's and Victoria Bitter (VB). Australia is also a world famous exporter of wine. Visiting one of the many wine regions in Australia is a popular tourist activity.

The legal drinking age in Australia is 18 and it is strictly enforced. Anyone under the age of 25 should expect to be asked for ID when purchasing alcohol. The only ID that would generally be accepted for people travelling from outside Australia would be a passport.

Alcohol can only be purchased from licensed venues, such as "bottle shops", bars, clubs and a large number of restaurants. Wine can sometimes also be purchased at the vineyard's cellar door, allowing you the possibility of sampling the various wines produced before making your choice. Some restaurants allow you to bring your own alcohol. This is advertised by the letters BYO. Usually, such establishments will charge "corkage", which can vary in price and is usually charged per person drinking. This is still almost always a cheaper option than ordering from a restaurant's wine list, as those prices can be marked up 100% or more.

Drive-through bottle shops are a common Australian phenomena, allowing you to order your drinks from the comfort of your car window. But don't try drinking that alcohol or even opening the bottle in your car, as that is strictly prohibited.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is permitted up to a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05. Learner drivers and probationary drivers are not allowed any alcohol in their blood. Drinking and driving is taken very seriously in Australia and random breath tests are not uncommon at all. "Booze Buses" will block a road and divert a random selection of passing cars to a breath testing station.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

Australia's public health system is run by Medicare. If you are a citizen of Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Malta or Italy, you are entitled to subsidised health services [6] Otherwise, it is highly recommended to take out travel insurance, as medical services are quite expensive in Australia.

There are no required vaccinations for travel to Australia. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Australia) where that disease is widely prevalent.

However, vaccines for DTP (Dyphtheria, Tetanus and Polio), Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B are recommended, as well as vaccines for Japanese encephalitis, depending on where and how long you will be travelling(reference).

Dengue sometimes occurs, but only in the northeast of the country. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Australia is generally a safe place, though crime is by no means non-existent.
000 is the emergency telephone number in Australia, but the international GSM mobile emergency telephone number 112 also works on mobile phones.

Wildlife

Many travellers to Australia are concerned about crocodiles, sharks, and venomous spiders and snakes. Australia is certainly home to some deadly predators, including most of the top 10 of venomous snakes in the world. While these threats are near non-existent in Australia's large cities, you are well advised to take the right precautions when you are out in the 'bush'. Up north, don't swim in waters that you haven't verified as being safe. Usually, there are warning signs about 'salties' (salt water crocodiles, the 'freshies' are less of a concern). Shark attacks do occur but chances are very slim. Also note that spiders and snakes will usually notice you before you notice them and they will disappear immediately.

Fire

Bushfires are a common occurrence in parts of Australia, sometimes with devastating consequences. It is important to understand how to gauge the risks as you travel throughout the country. In 2009, a national Fire Danger Ratings system was introduced to ensure all the states used the same terminology and standards. The levels of danger are as follows:

  • Low-Moderate
  • High
  • Very High
  • Severe
  • Extreme
  • Code Red (Catastrophic) is the ultimate danger rating and if an area has this rating, it is safest to leave the night before or early in the morning.

For most travellers, any fire danger rating over Very High should make you think about leaving. The differences between the ratings are really targetted at people living in the area who may decide to stay and defend their homes against ember attacks. If you are going to leave an area, the recommendation is to leave the night before or early in the morning. The worst place to be caught by a fire is in your car, so if you see smoke or flames then the safest place to be is in a building or on a sports oval where there is not much to burn around you.

It is certainly not a good idea to go bush walking or camping on days where there is a high risk of fire. If you plan to go camping in the bush during summer, always check weather forecasts in advance.

Fire Danger Ratings are published on the firefighting websites for each state and broadcast on the radio, tv and published in newspapers.

It is also important to know when a Total Fire Ban applies to the area you're in. These are in place to minimise the risk of fires starting. These bans don't just rule out open fires and solid-fuel barbecues, but also things like welding and using machinery that might cause sparks.

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Keep connected

Internet

Internet cafés are very common in the larger Australian cities and popular tourist destinations. However, once you leave the major population centres, you might have trouble finding somewhere to log on. Free wifi is getting more and more common (either with or without a code) in places like restaurants, some bars and coffee places and hotels. Sometimes a fee is required.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

Australia is on a GSM 900/1800 network, so if you have an unlocked phone that works on those frequencies, you will be able to buy a prepaid SIM-card and stick into your phone when you're in Australia. You will receive a new Australian phone number with the SIM-card.

To dial out of Australia use the prefix 0011, followed by the calling code of the country you are trying to reach, followed by the area code of the city/town (without the 0!) and finally the phone number.

Within Australia, it is necessary to add an area code to the phone numbers if you are calling from outside the area. Below are Australia's area codes:

  • 02 - New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory (Sydney, Canberra)
  • 03 - Victoria & Tasmania (Melbourne, Hobart)
  • 07 - Queensland (Brisbane)
  • 08 - Western Australia, South Australia & Northern Territory (Perth, Adelaide, Darwin)

000 is the emergency telephone number in Australia, but the international GSM mobile emergency telephone number 112 also works on mobile phones.

Post

Australia Post is the government's postal service. Most suburbs will have at least one post office. Opening times are mostly from around 8:00 or 9:00am to 5:00pm though larger ones keep longer hours sometimes. A standard letter or postcard sent within Australia will cost $0.60. Internationally, it costs $1.70 to send postcards anywhere in the world. Letters cost $1.85 to send within the Asia Pacific region and $2.60 to anywhere else in the world.[7]. It is also possible to send things as parcels or by express mail. You can also use use private courier companies like TNT, UPS or DHL as they are competitive and reliable.

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References

  1. 1 Estimate from 2012–02–06. Australian Bureau of Statistics
  2. 2 Map 'shows Cook wasn't first' (2007–03–21). News.com.au. Retrieved on 2009–05–27.
  3. 3 Working Holiday Visa (Subclass 417). Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Retrieved on 2009–11–19.
  4. 4 Work and Holiday Visa (Subclass 462). Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Retrieved on 2009–11–19.
  5. 5 Source: About WWOOF Australia
  6. 6 Medicare Australia
  7. 7 Australia Post. Sourced 10 May 2013

Quick Facts

Australia flag

Map of Australia

[edit]

Capital
Canberra
Government
Independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations
Nationality
Australian
Population
22,823,853 [1]
Languages
English, Aboriginal Languages
Religions
Christianity (Catholic, Protestant)
Calling Code
+61
Currency
Australian Dollar (AUD)
Time zone
various (UTC+8 to +10.5)
Summer (DST)
various (UTC+8 to +11.5)

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Australia Travel Helpers

  • Sander

    I spent a year living in and travelling through (part of) Australia, and returned a couple of years later to hit spots I still managed to miss. I never made it further north on the west coast than the Pinnacles Desert, nor to Darwin (shame on me!), and avoided a lot of the more touristy spots on the East Coast, but other than that I explored most of Adelaide to Cairns, with emphasis on the Melbourne and Sydney area.

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    I have travelled by car from Melbourne to Darwin and from Sydney to Cairns, both along the coast as well as through the Outback. Probably I can help you with some Outback questions and how to travel around by car.

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  • Peter

    I live in Melbourne, Australia. If you have any questions about what life is like here or what you should see while visiting, just drop me a note. I'm always happy to help out.

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  • cheap az

    i own my own travel company in melbourne and darwin i have been in the industry for many years i know all the companies products cheap ways on getting around i mostly deal in the backpacker travel for australia new zealand and fiji and im more than happy to give free advice.

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    Currently residing in Melbourne.

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Accommodation in Australia

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