Explore Australia

Australia Travel Guide

Australia is the sixth largest country in the world - more or less the same size as mainland USA. However, this vast land has one of the lowest population densities in the world, with only three people per square kilometre. Although known for its modern, cosmopolitan cities, Australia enshrines vast swathes of undeveloped wilderness, making it a good travel destination for those wanting a taste of both urban chic and striking landscapes devoid of people.

Australia is politically divided into six states and two territories, each one offering a different experience for the traveller. There is the drama of the remote 'Outback', the colourful spectacle of the Great Barrier Reef and its coral islands, the excitement of the big, efficient cities, the sun and surf at some of the best beaches in the world, and the tropical rainforests of Western Australia. The list is endless in this diverse land of adventure, which boasts about 2,000 national parks and 14 World Heritage-listed areas, along with more than 7,000 beaches.

Australia is a land of character too, with its melting pot of cultures. For more than 50,000 years the Aboriginal people lived and thrived in the continent's unique environment. It is believed the Aboriginals are one of the world's oldest surviving civilisations, and recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in keeping the Aboriginal culture alive and flourishing in Australia.

This vast continent at the bottom of the world was the last landmass to be discovered by European explorers. Captain James Cook arrived in Botany Bay in 1770 and sparked off waves of emigration to Australia, which for some time served as a penal colony. It was not until 1860 that two explorers - Robert Burke and William Wills - became the first Europeans to cross Australia from south to north. The country remains a magnet for modern explorers and adventurers and has a great deal to offer tourists and holidaymakers.

A valid passport and a visa or ETA is required for travel to Australia. An ETA is an electronically issued and verified visa, not visible in a passport. ETAs are issued to passengers travelling for touristic or business purposes. Tourist ETAs are usually valid for three months. ETAs are obtainable online at: www.eta.immi.gov.au or through most travel agents. It is highly recommended that passports are valid six months after departure from a holiday destination.

Bushwalking

What the rest of the world calls hiking or trekking, Australians call bushwalking. The term is used to describe both multi-day trails through national parks and wilderness areas, and leisurely walks through urban parks. Australia invites travellers to explore extremely diverse and impressive landscapes, including desert, rainforest, mountains and beautiful coastlines, and it is undoubtedly one of the best hiking destinations in the world.

The most popular multi-day hikes in Australia include the Thorsborne Trail of Queensland, looping the beautiful Hinchinbrook Island; the Fraser Island Great Walk, exploring the UNESCO-listed sand island; the Wilderness Coast Walk along the coastlines of Victoria and New South Wales; the glorious Overland Track of Tasmania; and the Cape to Cape Track of Western Australia.

Serious hiking enthusiasts keen on a real adventure should tackle the longer Australian treks, like the Larapinta Trail of the Northern Territory, a 16 to 20-day trail through the spectacular West MacDonnell Mountain Range, or the Australian Alps Walking Track, a 45 to 60-day trek through the mountains of New South Wales and Victoria.

Those wanting something more leisurely will find that every state and territory of Australia offers pleasant, well-kept bushwalking trails.

Diving

The Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast is the most magnificent marine wilderness and natural reserve in the world, and as such draws divers and snorkellers by the multitude. Jumping off point for those coming to explore the Reef is the city of Cairns. As it is a vast area (the reef is 1.243 miles/2,000km long) visitors need to choose their destination carefully and plan well. The northern reef section runs from Papua New Guinea to Townsville and is not so frequented by tourists. There are some resort islands, but only a few charter boats cover the area and these usually only on multi-day excursions. Most visitors find the most charter and tour options operate between Port Douglas and Townsville, where a multitude of operators offer day trips. All operators are strictly monitored and have to abide by rules and regulations to ensure diving in this region is safe.

Although Queensland boasts many of the best diving sites, New South Wales also promises travellers several good dive destinations, most notably Byron Bay and Jervis Bay. Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory also have a lot to offer scuba divers and snorkellers.

Australia is a year-round diving destination, but the water is warmer between September and April, making this the most popular time to explore underwater.

Surfing

With no shortage of waves, warm waters, consistent breaks and a glowing reputation, the east coast region is the hub of Australia's surfing scene and the best place to hunt for waves. The only downside is that these waters tend to be overcrowded, but that is the price for popularity.

Victoria is a surfer's dream come true with world-renowned Bell's Beach, the point break of which, called the Bowl, is a must and works best in northwest or westerly winds. Other popular breaks include Southside, Centreside, Rincon, Boobs and the popular location of Winki Pop, known to work better under more diverse conditions than other nearby waves.

Superbank stretches from Snapper Rocks Point on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, through Rainbow Beach, the old Greenmount Headland, Coolangatta Beach, and Kirra, for around three miles (5km) and is a recognised and well-frequented break. Curl Curl, colloquially known as Curly, is renowned for some of the best surfing in New South Wales, together with the popular and overcrowded Bondi Beach and Avalon Beach.

Western Australia offers Margaret River, the place where four times world champion Mark Richards experienced his first junior win in 1973, and close by is the notorious exposed right-hand reef break, The Box. Heavy, but amazing, this is the most consistent break on the west coast and works best with easterly offshore winds with southwest swell. At Gnaraloo, Tombstones is a heavy barrelling left-hander that is best surfed from August through February and definitely not for the faint-hearted.

The southwest coast has some excellent offerings with fewer surfers to contend with, although the waves are heavy and the water cold and sharky, while Shipsterns and Clifton Beach just off the coast of Tasmania also boast some fun but gnarly waves.

Dedicated surfers should take a road trip to discover the many secret spots found along this vast stretch of coastline while beginners can enjoy an unforgettable surf experience at one of the many highly-rated surf schools, one of the best of which is Mojo Surf Camp at Coffs Harbour just south of Brisbane.

A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required by travellers over one year of age arriving within six days of having stayed overnight or longer in an infected country. No other special immunizations or medications are required for most trips to Australia; however, insect repellents are strongly advised because of the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses. Another health risk is sunburn, and visitors are advised to take precautions. Medical services are excellent, but can be expensive so travellers should ensure that they have adequate insurance. Australia has a reciprocal health agreement with the United Kingdom providing for free hospital emergency medical treatment; proof of UK residence is required.

Generally an informal attitude, in dress and behaviour, prevails in most social and business situations. Sport, particularly rugby and cricket, is almost a religion in Australia.

There are no mandatory gratuities or restaurant service charges in Australia, and tips are not generally expected, although it is becoming more common in expensive restaurants in the bigger cities to leave some money for good service. Australians are ultimately divided over tipping and there are no reliable rules to apply.

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