While for many tourists the image of Australia is that of an endless summer of sun, surf and sand, this immense country at the bottom of the world offers so much more, with an astounding array of landscapes, environments and climates. Tropical rain forests descend to rich coral reefs in the far north, while endemic flora and fauna inhabit the cool temperate forests of Tasmania in the south. From the surf-side suburbs of Sydney to the sacred Indigenous lands of the vast “Outback”, you could travel in Australia for months and only just scratch the surface.
When to travel/weather
Being such a huge country that spans numerous different climate zones, the ideal time to travel to one destination in Australia may be quite different from another. The northern region experiences a tropical climate with a distinct ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ season while the south has a temperate climate marked by four seasons.
The Australian summer stretches from December through to February with hot, sunny days along the southern and eastern coastlines and plenty of festival spread across the Christmas/New Year period. This coincides with Australia’s long annual vacation that sees locals descend on the beaches and many tourist destinations throughout the south overflowing with visitors. This is also the start of the northern ‘wet’ season, with heavy daily downpours, high humidity and ‘stinger’ jellyfish at many of the beaches, while the semi-arid central region around Uluru gets scorchingly hot and dry.
While the ‘wet’ season continues throughout the north, the Autumn months of March to May are an ideal time to visit the south, with comfortable temperatures and fewer other tourists, provided you don’t travel during the week-long Easter break when accommodation and transport gets booked out well in advance.
While the winter months of June through to August can get chilly in the south of Australia, particularly in Victoria and Tasmania, this is the start of the northern ‘dry’ season when clear skies and cooler temperatures prevail. With the waters at their clearest for diving the Great Barrier Reef and many Europeans and North Americans on their annual vacation, this is also the peak tourist period. If you are visiting the center of Australia, be aware that while daytime temperatures are pleasantly mild, they can drop considerably at night.
The Spring months of September through to November are perhaps the most ideal time to visit the entire country, with temperatures beginning to rise throughout the southern regions and the north still relatively dry. Towards the end of October, temperatures and humidity here can start to soar in the lead up to the rains, making it unbearably uncomfortable for some.
Food and drink
Australia’s major cities are home to a thriving restaurant and cafe culture that sees innovative gastronomy coupled with a reputation for having some of the world’s best baristas. Those with alternative diets, such as organic, gluten-free and biodynamic, will find no shortage of eating options, while farmers markets are on the rise as urban dwellers search for a more local and sustainable way to shop.
Despite this strong movement, when it comes to typical Australian eating, the backyard barbecue still holds pride of place in many Australian’s hearts as a time to come together with family and friends and indulge in a meaty meal. Most Australian parks and beaches are equipped with barbecues that can often be used free of charge.
Due to Australia’s extensive coastline, seafood plays an important part in modern Australian cuisine, with world-class restaurants offering up freshly caught, local specialties. Don’t forget to try Sydney’s famous rock oysters or the delicious Moreton Bay bugs.
But if you head into the Outback, that’s where you will get to sample some of Indigenous Australia’s traditional foods, known as ‘Bush tucker’. Harvested from the country’s unique flora and fauna, tree grubs, berries and kangaroo meat have all formed an important part of the Aboriginal diet for centuries.
Australia is also renowned for its wine and there are various viticultural regions across the country where you sample some of the country’s finest drops. Many cellar doors also have restaurants attached where locally sourced, gourmet menus are paired with the winery’s products. Each state also has its own beer (or two), while the number of boutique breweries is steadily on the rise
Popular vacation spots
Although it’s not the country’s capital, Sydney is the largest and (some say) the most beautiful of Australia’s cities. With the iconic Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House as a backdrop, explore its excellent museums and galleries, together with the Taronga Zoo and Botanic Gardens, before soaking up the suburban sun at famous Bondi beach.
In New South Wales’ stunning Northern River’s region, Byron Bay is a captivating beach side town that lures many to stay much longer than they intended. Apart from some of the country’s best surf beaches, its streets are lined with innovative boutiques and galleries, and cafes serving organic and sustainable fare. It also hosts one of Australia’s biggest annual music events, the Blues and Roots Festival, that features some of the world’s most loved international artists.
The Great Ocean Road
One of Australia’s most beautiful scenic drives follows Victoria’s southern coastline west from Melbourne. Winding its way through patches of rainforest that open out to spectacular panoramic views, it also has plenty of stretches of white sandy beach to swim and surf. Rather than do the entire 243 kilometers (150 miles) in one day, the Great Ocean Road is a trip best enjoyed over a few, allowing you to embark on some of its hikes and camp out under the stars.
To the north of Cairns in far north Queensland lies the Daintree Rainforest - a magnificent tract of tropical rainforest that is home a huge diversity of floral and faunal species, including the prehistoric Cassowary bird. In addition to numerous hikes through its lush interior, there are crocodile boat cruises to get up close to these fierce creatures, mangrove exploration trips, and Aboriginal cultural tours exploring the indigenous history of the region.
The Great Barrier Reef
Few visitors come to Australia without witnessing the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest of its kind and home to an astonishing diversity of marine life, including a number of rare and endangered species. From snorkeling to scuba diving and island hopping sailing tours, there are plenty of ways to experience this natural wonder along its 2,300 kilometer stretch.
Uluru / Ayers Rock
Mushrooming in the center of Australia’s desert, Uluru or Ayer’s Rock, is Australia’s most iconic landmark. This red-hued inselberg rock is drenched in ancient history and indigenous “Dreamtime” stories that make it so much more than just a spectacular geological feature. Watch the day’s first rays illuminate its surface, take a tour around its base with an Aboriginal guide, and hike through the nearby King’s Canyon.
Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island, ringed by stunning white sandy beaches and home to a lush rainforest dotted with idyllic fresh water lakes to swim in. Hire a 4x4 to explore its furthest reaches, witness the immense shipwrecks washed up on its shores, and see some of the island’s rare and unique flora and fauna.
Kakadu National Park
Encompassing the traditional lands of a number of Australia’s Aboriginal people, the stunning landscapes of Kakadu National Park are one of the country’s most unique environments and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is rapidly transformed between the ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ seasons, with spectacular cascades, billabongs and crocodile-infested rivers coming and going with the rains, followed by a myriad of animal and bird life.
Southwest Wilderness, Tasmania
Few visitors to Australia venture down to the small southern island of Tasmania, but those that do will be rewarded with one of the largest areas of temperate rainforest left in the country. The Southwest Wilderness is an awe-inspiring region that encapsulates a rugged, wind-swept coastline, pristine beaches, and a forest rich in rare and endangered species.
English is the official language in Australia and almost everyone speaks it. In the more rural regions and far north of the country, the accent is generally quite strong and sometimes difficult for foreign visitors to understand.
Within the indigenous community, there are more than one hundred different Aboriginal languages spoken, making it difficult to choose just one to learn.
The currency in Australia is the Australian dollar (AUD) and Euros, US dollars, Pounds and New Zealand dollars can all be exchanged easily either at the airport or in exchange bureaus in all major cities, although often with an added commission fee.
ATMs are widely distributed throughout all towns and cities, and accept Visa, MasterCard, Maestro or Cirrus. American Express and Diners Club are accepted for the payment of goods in some large supermarkets and tourist destinations (although with a higher surcharge), while Visa and MasterCard will be accepted almost everywhere and with lower fees.
With generally high staff wages, tipping is not compulsory in Australia, but most people will leave some change from their payment in a ‘tip box’ at cafes and restaurants for good service.
Health and Safety
While Australia is both a safe country and relatively free from infectious diseases, it does have very strict quarantine laws that limit the introduction of any food or agricultural products. On arrival your luggage will be carefully screened by customs officials and snipper dogs and there are heavy penalties if you are caught with any banned goods.