The trouble with Australia is that there’s just so much of it – an island that thinks it’s a continent. Dispel any notions that Australia is all big red rocks and sizzling Outback: it’s truly a land of diversity, from the tropical far north – Northern Territory’s Top End, Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, teeming with kaleidoscopic sea life, and its lush rainforest – to the surf, fine wines and huge tingle trees of Western Australia’s south-west. Australia’s cities are buzzing – Sydney’s nightlife and beaches are as tantalising as its harbour views, blessed with the ‘Old Coathanger’ bridge and Opera House; Melbourne is the hotspot for cosmopolitan café culture, Adelaide is a regal, arty lady while Perth is the hot new kid, the sunniest state capital. True, Australia has vast swathes of Outback wilderness to explore, as well as the beautiful Blue Mountains of New South Wales, the gorges of the Kimberley and wildlife-rich Kangaroo Island. Not forgetting Tasmania, with wild rainforest, convict heritage and Australia’s best beers… In fact, there’s so much to say about Australia that we’ve created separate destination hubs for the East Coast, Tasmania, the Outback and Western Australia.
You can join an organised tour of Rottnet Island – but it’s fun just to catch the ferry and hire bikes to scoot around – keeping an eye out for quokkas on the road and whales out to sea.
Though Perth is famously sunny, outside summer the evenings in the south of Australia can be chilly – take a fleece or sweater.
Wanderlust web intern Holly Gurr on the one thing she wished she'd known on arrival:
"Despite a forewarning from residents and previous visitors, the sheer expense of Australia is something that is hard to get to grips with. Those who are quick with calculations will soon realise that most consumer items are incredibly expensive. Plan out a budget before you go and stick to it!."
The vastness of the country means it’s pretty much always a good time somewhere. Winter (June-August) is cold in the south, but pleasant and less humid in the north of NT, Western Australia and Queensland, where summer (November-March) means The Wet – rain, and lots of it. Spring (September-November) and autumn (March-May) offer good conditions in most regions.
School holidays, especially the long summer break (January), can see crowds at popular beaches and parks.
Sydney International Airport (SYD) is about 10km south of the city. Perth International Airport (PER) is about 13km east of the city. Darwin International Airport (DRW) is about 12km north-east of the city. Adelaide (ADL), Brisbane (BNE), Cairns (CNS) and Melbourne also receive international flights.
Many airlines, including low-costers, run internal flights in Australia; a number of smaller airlines serve regional communities. Greyhound Australia is the main national bus company, with comfortable coaches; many smaller companies have more expensive local networks, while hop-on-hop-off tours provide useful routes round popular backpacker circuits.
The train service is essentially limited to three major routes: the Indian Pacific (Sydney-Adelaide-Perth); the Overland (Melbourne-Adelaide); and the Ghan (Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin). There are also lines north from Sydney to Brisbane and Cairns, branching into inland Queensland, and suburban routes.
Car hire allows freedom – but you should be well prepared for Outback driving, and aware of the long distances involved.
Australia has the lot – campsites and caravan parks (great for campervanners), hostels, motels, B&Bs and pubs, stylish guesthouses and hotels. The big cities also boast some of the coolest design hotels.
Yes, you can have billy-can tea, damper bread and a meat-pie floater at the footy – but Australia’s come a long way in the gourmet stakes.
There’s fine wines, notably from Western Australia’s Margaret River, New South Wales’ Hunter Valley and the Barossa and other winery areas of South Australia. Beers are booming, from the Tassie breweries Boag’s and Cascade to South Australia’s Coopers and numerous new boutique breweries.
And high-quality ingredients, countless ethnic influences (notably Italian, Greek and Vietnamese) and a burgeoning gourmet aesthetic mean you’ll rarely struggle to find delicious food, even in the boondocks.
Australia is a pretty safe region, with few opportunities for getting sick; no specific vaccinations are mandated unless you’ve arrived from a yellow fever-infected destination.
Venomous snakes and spiders are present but shy; bites are rare. Keep an eye out for box jellyfish warnings along beaches, and be wary of swimming in crocodile-infested regions (especially in the Northern Territory).
Heat can be dangerous: cover up, use sunblock and always ensure you have plenty of water, especially in the Outback.
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