Australia is the sixth-largest country by land area. It is comparable in size to the 48 contiguous United States. Australia is bordered to the west by the Indian Ocean, and to the east by the South Pacific Ocean. The Tasman Sea lies to the southeast, separating it from New Zealand, while the Coral Sea lies to the northeast. Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia are Australia's northern neighbours, separated from Australia by the Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea.
Australia is highly urbanised with most of the population heavily concentrated along the eastern and south-eastern coasts. Most of the inland areas of the country are semi-arid. The most-populous states are Victoria and New South Wales, but by far the largest in land area is Western Australia.
Australia has an area of 7,682,300 square kilometres (2,966,152 mi²) and the distances between cities and towns is easy to underestimate.
Australia has large areas that have been deforested for agricultural purposes, but many native forest areas survive in extensive national parks and other undeveloped areas. Long-term Australian concerns include salinity, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef.
As a large island a wide variation of climates are found across Australia. Most of the country receives more than 3,000°hr of sunshine a year. Generally, the north is hot and tropical, while the south tends to be sub-tropical and temperate. Most rainfall is around the coast, and much of the centre is arid and semi-arid. The daytime maximum temperatures in Darwin rarely drop below 30°C (86°F), even in winter, while night temperatures in winter usually hover around 15-20°C (59-68°F). Temperatures in some southern regions can drop below freezing in winter and the Snowy Mountains in the South East experiences metres of winter snow. Parts of Tasmania have a temperature range very similar to England.
As Australia is in the southern hemisphere the winter is June-August while December-February is summer. The winter is the dry season in the tropics, and the summer is the wet. In the southern parts of the country, the seasonal temperature variation is greater. The rainfall is more evenly distributed throughout the year in the southern parts of the East Coast, while in the rest of the south beyond the Great Dividing Range, the summers are dry with the bulk of the rainfall occurring in winter.
The island of Australia was first settled more than 40,000 years ago with successive waves of immigration of Aboriginal peoples from south and south-east Asia. With rising sea levels after the last Ice Age, Australia became largely isolated from the rest of the world and the Aboriginal tribes developed a variety of cultures, based on a close spiritual relationship with the land and nature, and extended kinship. Australian Aboriginal people maintained a hunter-gatherer culture for thousands of years in association with a complex artistic and cultural life - including a very rich 'story-telling' tradition. While the 'modern impression' of Australian Aboriginal people is largely built around an image of the 'desert people' who have adapted to some of the harshest conditions on the planet (equivalent to the bushmen of the Kalahari), Australia provided a 'comfortable living' for the bulk of the Aboriginal people amongst the bountiful flora and fauna on the Australian coast - until the arrival of Europeans.
Although a lucrative Chinese market for shells and beche de mer had encouraged Indonesian fishermen to visit Northern Australia for centuries it was unknown to Europeans until the 1600s, when Dutch traders to Asia began to 'bump' into the North Western Coast. Early Dutch impressions of this extremely harsh, dry country were unfavourable, and Australia remained for them something simply a road sign pointing north to the much richer (and lucrative) East Indies (modern Indonesia). Deliberate exploration of the Australian coast was then largely taken over by the French and the British. Consequently place names of bays, headlands and rivers around the coastline reflect a range of Dutch, French, British, and Aboriginal languages.
In 1770, the expedition of the Endeavour under the command of Captain James Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on 29 Apr 1770. Cook continued northwards, and before leaving put ashore on Possession Island in the Torres Strait off Cape York on 22 Aug 1770. Here he formally claimed the eastern coastline he had discovered for the British Crown, naming it New South Wales. Given that Cook's discoveries would lead to the first European settlement of Australia, he is often popularly conceived as its European discoverer, although he had been preceded by more than 160 years.
Following the exploration period, the first British settlement in Australia was founded 1788 at what is today Sydney, led by Captain Arthur Philip who became the first governor of the colony of New South Wales. This started a process of colonisation that almost entirely displaced the Aboriginal people who inhabited the land. This reduced indigenous populations drastically and marginalised them to the fringes of society. Originally comprising the eastern two-thirds of the island, the colony of New South Wales was later split into several separate colonies, with Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen's Land) becoming a separate colony in 1825, followed by South Australia in 1836, New Zealand in 1841, Victoria in 1851 and Queensland in 1859. On the other hand, the western third of the island was not settled by Europeans until the British establised a naval base in Albany, then known as King George Sound in 1826. The Swan River Colony was formally established in 1829 at what is today Perth. The Swan River Colony was officially renamed Western Australia in 1832.
While Australia began its modern history as a British penal colony, the vast majority of people who came to Australia after 1788 were free settlers, mainly from Britain and Ireland, but also from other European countries. Convict settlements were mostly along the east coast, with scattered pockets of convict settlements in Western Australia. The state of South Australia, on the other hand, was settled entirely by free settlers. Many Asian and Eastern European people also came to Australia in the 1850s, during the Gold Rush that started Australia's first resource boom. Although such diverse immigration diminished greatly during the xenophobic years of the White Australia policy, Australia welcomed a successive series of immigration from Europe, the Mediterranean and later Asia to formulate a highly diverse and multicultural society by the late 20th century.
The system of separate colonies federated to form the self-governing British dominion of Australia in 1901, each colony now becoming a state of Australia, with New Zealand opting out of the federation. The new country was able to take advantage of its natural resources to rapidly develop its agricultural and manufacturing industries and made a large contribution (considering its small size of population) to the Allied war effort in World Wars I and II. Australian troops also made a valuable, if sometimes controversial, contribution to the wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Australian Diggers retain a reputation as some of the hardest fighting troops along with a great social spirit. Australia and Britain passed the Australia Act in 1986, ending any remnant power the British parliament may have had to pass laws for Australia.
Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant West European economies and that has been remarkably resilient to the recent worldwide economic downturn.
The service industries, including tourism, education, and financial services, account for the majority of the Australian Gross Domestic Product – about 69%. Within the service sector, tourism is one of the most important industries in Australia, as it provides employment, contributes $73 billion to the economy each year and accounts for at least 11% of total exports.
Primary industry - mining and agriculture - accounts for most of Australia's exports. Iron Ore and Coal are by far the largest exports, with wheat, beef and wool declining in importance.
Australia has a comprehensive social security system, and a minimum wage higher than the United States or the United Kingdom. Tradesmen are extremely well-paid in Australia, often more so than professionals.
Australia has a federal system of government, with eight state and territory governments and a national government. Each of these governments has an elected parliament, with the leader of each government, known as the Premier, being the leader of the largest party represented in the lower house. The national parliament is based on the British "Westminster system", with some elements being drawn from the American congressional system. At the federal level it consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Each Member of the House of Representatives (colloquially known as a Member of Parliament (MP)) represents an electoral division, with more populous states having more electoral divisions and hence, more MP's. On the other hand, similar to the US Senate, each Australian state has an equal number of senators, with 12 senators being directly elected by the people in each state, and 2 senators each from the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. The political party (or coalition of parties) which has the most Members in the House of Representatives becomes the governing party and forms the national government. Ministers are drawn from both the House of Representatives and the Senate, though by convention, the Prime Minister comes from the House of Representatives. The current Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is the current leader of the national government and the Australian Labor Party holds a majority in the House of Representatives (relying on the support of independents to retain power).
The Queen remains the notional head of state, and her representative in Australia - the Governor-General - conventionally has a ceremonial and politically powerless role (although retains the ultimate power to dismiss the Prime Minister). In practice, the Prime Minister is seen to wield the most authority in government. A referendum to change Australia's status to a republic was defeated in 1999, but republicanism in Australia remains a regularly debated topic.
The two major political parties in Australia are the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party, which operates in coalition with the National Party. Emerging in power is the social democratic Greens Party, which maintains an environmentalist policy platform and is effectively a partner of the ALP. It should be noted that the Liberal Party is (traditionally) a centre-right, conservative party - the term liberal refers to maintaining a free market economy.
Australia also has a multicultural population practising almost every religion and lifestyle. Over one-quarter of Australians were born outside Australia, and another quarter have at least one foreign-born parent. The most multicultural cities are Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. All three cities are renowned for the variety and quality of global foods available in their many restaurants, and Melbourne especially promotes itself as a centre for the arts, while Brisbane promotes itself through various, multicultural urban villages. Adelaide is known for being a centre for festivals as well as German cultural influences, while Perth is known for its food and wine culture, pearls, gems and precious metals as well as the international fringe arts festival. Smaller rural settlements generally still reflect a majority Anglo-Celtic culture often with a small Aboriginal population, however virtually every large Australian city and town reflects the immigration from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific that occurred after World War II and continued into the 1970s, in the half century after the war when Australia's population boomed from roughly 7 million to just over 20 million people.
There are approximately half a million Australians who identify as being of Aboriginal descent. Many fewer maintain elements of traditional Aboriginal culture.
Contrary to popular mythology, descendants from convicts are in a very small minority, and even during the years of transportation free settlers outnumbered convict migrants by at least five to one.
Australian English was once known for its colour and colloquialisms but has lost a great deal of this to outside influence, although people in rural areas still tend to speak in a broader accent, using many of the slang words that have become outmoded in metropolitan areas. There is very little provincialism in Australia, although accents tend to be broader and slower outside of the large cities. There are overall small pronunciation differences in the cities but these are becoming less common. For example the word "you", which is often rolled off the tongue sharper on the south east coast, almost as "ewe" as opposed to the west coast and other regions. It is also a modern variation to find Afrikaans accents on the west coast modifying the local accents slightly due to the high immigration there. Like in much of the English speaking world, a more educated, white-collar and/or conservative Australian accent tends towards being more softer or general in tones, rather than the sharp tones, however it is a subtle difference overall and it is usually only native speakers who can typically recognise regional variations.
Australians can be socially conservative compared to some European cultures and often have a balanced attitude defining their European origin with their growing Asian influence. They tend to be relaxed in their religious observance. While the Australian sense of egalitarianism has moderated, modes of address still tend to be casual and familiar compared to some other cultures. Most Australians will tend to address you by your first name and will expect that you to reciprocate.
The national holidays in Australia are:
Many states observe Labour Day, but on different days. Most states have one or two additional state-wide holidays, with Victoria and South Australia having a day off for a horse race (The Melbourne Cup and The Adelaide Cup). Western Australia has Foundation day typically the first Monday in June (recognising the founding of the state since 1829) but also celebrates the Queens Birthday at a different date to the rest of the country, either at the end of September or early October, due to the usual June date is such close proximity to Foundation day.
When a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday (and Tuesday if necessary) are usually declared holidays in lieu, although both the celebrations and the retail closures will occur on the day itself. Most tourist attractions are closed Christmas Day and Good Friday. Supermarkets and other stores may open for limited hours on some public holidays and on holidays in lieu, but are almost always closed on Christmas Day (25 Dec), Good Friday, Easter Sunday and ANZAC Day morning.
Peak holiday times
Most attractions in Australia remain open year-round, some operating at a reduced frequency or shorter hours during the off-peak season.
Salaried Australians have four weeks of annual leave and school children in the major population centres have January as a long break. Domestic tourism is strongest during January and the Easter school holidays.
Summer tends to be the peak travel season through much of the south, with the winter (dry) season the peak travel season in the tropics.
Australian teenagers finishing high school celebrate the end of school for 3 weeks at the end of October and early November. The volume of teen revellers can completely change the nature of some of the cities and towns they choose to visit, especially seeing as the vast majority of school-leavers will be of legal drinking age (18).
Australia can have up to five different time zones during the daylight savings period, and three at other times.
In the east, Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria always have the same time. Queensland doesn't observe daylight saving, so it is an hour behind the other eastern states during that period. However Broken Hill, a town in western NSW, which is a law unto itself in many things, keeps South Australian time.
In the centre, South Australia and the Northern Territory are half an hour behind during the winter, but the Northern Territory doesn't observe daylight saving while South Australia does. During daylight saving South Australia remains half an hour behind New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, but moves half an hour ahead of Queensland. The Northern Territory remains half an hour behind Queensland, but moves an hour and half behind New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
In the west, Western Australia is two hours behind the eastern states in winter, and also doesn't observe daylight saving. It moves three hours behind the eastern states that observe daylight saving (remaining two hours behind Queensland).
There are no official abbreviations or names for Australian time zones, and you may see a few variations used. EST, CST, WST along with EDT, CDT are sometimes used. Sometimes AEST, etc, with the 'A' prefix distinguishing them from the North American time zones with the same names. In conversation, the abbreviations aren't used. People tend to say Sydney time, Brisbane time, or Perth time. Expect blank stares from most if you start talking about Central Summer Time.
In those states which observe daylight saving, it commences on the first Sunday in October and ends on the first Sunday in April.
All visitors - apart from citizens of New Zealand - require a visa in advance of travel.
If you are visiting for a holiday of less than three months, there are three types of visas you may apply for, depending on your nationality:
In most cases, Electronic Travel Authorities and eVisitors are approved instantly and the visa will be issued and available for use immediately. If further enquiries are needed you may be asked to return to the application system later to see if you've been approved. In the worst case scenario your application can be diverted for manual checks that can take weeks. Best to apply early, just in-case.
If you are visiting Australia for employment, study or for medical treatment you will need to obtain the appropriate visa. If you are staying longer than 3 months continuously you are ineligible for an ETA or eVisitor, and should apply for a Tourist Visa (subclass 676).
For all tourist visa classes you must be able to demonstrate your ability to support yourself financially for the time you intend to spend in Australia. If you have a criminal conviction, obtain advice from the Australian Embassy or visa processing centre.
All fees are payable in Australian Dollars, converted to your local currency at the current rate of exchange.
If you are transiting through Australia, remain airside for a maximum of 8 hours, have a confirmed onward booking, have the correct entry documentation for the onward destination and are a citizen of New Zealand, the European Union, Andorra, Argentina, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Nauru, Norway, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, South Africa, the Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Korea (ROK), Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom (regardless of nationality status), the United States, the Vanuatu or Vatican City, you do not need to apply for any advance visa. All other passengers who transit through Australia must apply for a free-of-charge Transit Visa (subclass 771) prior to travel.
New Zealand citizens may travel to and work in Australia for any length of time without a pre-arranged visa. Non-citizen permanent residents of New Zealand are not eligible for visa-free entry. New Zealand citizens may still be rejected entry on the basis of criminal convictions or being HIV positive, and should seek advice before travel.
Customs and quarantine
Australia has strict quarantine requirements regarding importing animal and vegetable derived products (any food, wooden products, seeds, etc). You must declare all such material and baggage is frequently scanned and may be examined by dogs. You may be fined $220 on-the-spot if you fail to declare, or even prosecuted in very serious cases. Processed and sealed commercially prepared foods (chocolates, cookies, etc) are often permitted. They will be examined and returned to you, but still must be declared. Some prohibited items can be treated by quarantine at your expense and picked up at a later time.
Some shells, coral and items made from a protected species are also prohibited to discourage the trade in items that may originate from a threatened ecosystem or species.
While there are no restrictions on the amount of money that can be brought in or out, Australian customs also requires you to declare if you are bringing A$10,000 or more in or out of the country and you will be asked to complete some paperwork.
Australia is a long way from anywhere else in the world, so for most visitors, the only practical way of getting into Australia is by air.
Approximately half of all international travellers arrive first in Australia in Sydney, the largest city, (IATA: SYD; ICAO: YSSY). After Sydney, significant numbers of travellers also arrive in Australia in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. There are also direct international services into Adelaide, Cairns, Darwin, the Gold Coast and Christmas Island though these are largely restricted to flights from New Zealand, Oceania, or Southeast Asia.
To Sydney it is a 3 hour flight from New Zealand, a 7-11 hr flight from countries in Asia, a 14 hour flight from the west of the United States and Canada, a 14 hour flight from Johannesburg, a 13-16 hr flight from South America, and up to a 24+ hour flight from western Europe. On account of long journey times from some destinations, some travellers from Europe opt to have a stop-over, commonly in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.
If you have to change to a domestic flight in a gateway city, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth all have distinct domestic terminals, requiring some time and complexity to transit, check the guides. Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns and the Gold Coast have all gates in the one terminal building or within easy walking distance of each other.
There are some routes into Australia that are operated by discount airlines. These can often be combined with other fares to make getting to Australia cheaper. Select your point of entry and exit to give you a cheaper round-trip, and possibly some interesting stopover opportunities on the way.
November to February is the cruising season, and there are usually about 10 ships that arrive in Australia from other countries during this time. You can cruise to Australia, and then fly home.
Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean, all offer cruises to Australia across the Pacific.
Alternatively, you may sail to Australia in your own yacht, but beware of customs regulations. See Australian Customs for details
By overland transport
There was a time when a couple of tour operators offered overland trips from London to Sydney, with only a short hop by air from South East Asia to North Western Australia while the bus went by barge. Currently, the only such tour operator is Madventure which runs 4 different routes: 26 weeks through Iran, Pakistan, & India; 26 weeks through the Caucasus & Central Asia; 64 weeks around Africa, the Middle East, & South Asia; and 64 weeks through Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, & Central Asia.
For those determined to travel overland as much as possible from Europe, you can travel independently to Singapore from Europe by train and/or bus on scheduled services, and fly from there to Perth (3,500 flight kilometres). For the truly determined overland traveller, you can get a ferry from Singapore to Indonesia and make your way across to Bali, where you can fly to Darwin (2,000 flight km). For the intrepid, ferries to West Timor, a bus to Dili and a flight to Darwin will mean only 700 km in the air.
Australia is huge but sparsely populated, and you can sometimes travel many hours before finding the next trace of civilisation, especially once you leave the south-eastern coastal fringe.
Almost all modern Australian maps, including street directories, use the Geocentric Datum of Australia (GDA) as their grid reference, which is for all purposes identical to the WGS84 used by the GPS. You can locate most things on an Australian map or street directory if you just have the "GPS coordinates".
There are restrictions on carrying fruit and vegetables (including honey) between states and even between regions of states that are involved in fruit growing. If you are driving long distances or interstate, or flying between states, don't stock up on fruits and vegetables.
Australia has a generally well-maintained system of roads and highways, and cars are a commonly used method of transport. Most of the state capitals are linked to each other by good quality highways. Some parts are dual carriageway but many sections are one lane each way. Major regional areas have sealed (paved) dual-lane roads, but isolated areas may have poorly maintained dirt roads or even tracks. Distances and speeds are specified in kilometres and fuel is sold by the litre. There are no tolls on roads or bridges outside of the urban areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Australia drives on the left. Overseas visitors who are used to driving on the right should take care when they first drive, and again when they are driving on country roads with little traffic.
Generally, overseas licenses are valid for driving in Australia for three months after arrival. If the licence is not in English an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required in addition to your licence. Licensing regulations and road rules vary slightly from state to state.
Australia's low population density and large size makes for long driving times between major centres. Some indicative travel times, not including any rest periods, are:
It is almost impossible to predict your travel time just by knowing the distance. Seek local advice for the best route, and how much time to allow. Averaging 100 km/h or more is possible on some relatively minor highways when they are straight and there are few towns. On other national highways that traverse mountain ranges and travel through small towns, even averaging 60 km/h can be a challenge.
While major highways are well serviced, anyone leaving sealed (paved) roads in inland Australia is advised to take advice from local authorities, check weather and road conditions, carry sufficient spare fuel, spare parts, spare tyres, matches, food and water. Some remote roads might see one car per month or less. Cellular coverage is non-existent outside of major highways and towns and you should take some precautions in case of emergency. It is a good idea to advise a person you know and trust of your route and advise them to alert authorities if you do not contact them within a reasonable amount of time after your scheduled arrival at your destination. Carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or satellite phone should be considered when travelling in remote areas, especially where you may not be able to make contact for several days. Police will not automatically start looking for you if you don't report in. Make sure you get one with a GPS built in. These can be borrowed from some local police stations, such as those in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. If you want to hire one, sort it out before you leave a major city, as you won't find hire places in small towns. Expect to pay around $100 to hire for a week, or $700 to buy one. Don't expect an immediate rescue even if you trigger a PLB. Heat and dehydration at any time of year can kill you. If stranded, stay with your vehicle and do what you can to improve your visibility from the air. Do not take this advice lightly; even local people die out there when their car breaks down and they are not reported missing. If you do have to abandon your car (say you break down and then get a lift), call in quickly to the local police station, to avoid the embarrassment and cost of a search being started for you.
Major cities around Australia have multiple outlets providing a wide range of rental vehicles from major international rental companies. In smaller towns car rental can be difficult to find. One way fees often apply from smaller regional outlets.
Budget price car and camper rentals
Catering to the vast number of young European and American backpackers traversing the country are several low-budget car rental companies which rent cars and campers of varying quality. Prices ranging as low as $30 per day. Check the extra charges very carefully and make sure that you are not paying the same or more for a lesser quality vehicle. The East Coast from Sydney to Cairns is especially abundant with happy, hungover youths travelling around in these vehicles.
The very cheapest cars you can hire can be manual (stick-shift). Anything larger will usually be automatic.
There is a substantial second hand market in cars and campers for backpackers wishing to do extended road trips around Australia. Take common sense precautions if purchasing a car. Free state government services are available to ensure it is unencumbered by a finance arrangement and that it has not been previously written off as a result of an accident.
See: Driving in Australia
Due to the large distances involved, flying is well-patronised in Australia. Services along the main business travel corridor (Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane) are run almost like a bus service, with flights leaving every 15 min during the day.
The only way to get the best airfare is to visit each of the airlines pages directly, and compare fares. Never assume that the Qantas fare will be more expensive, as their online deals are often the cheapest available on a route. The best fares are always available on the most competitive routes. Consolidator websites and travel agents almost invariably add a surcharge to direct booking. Use them to compare, but always check the airline website before booking.
There are four domestic airlines in Australia that operate jet aircraft linking capital cities and major destinations.
Several airlines service regional destinations. Expect discounts on these airlines to be harder to come by, and for standard airfares to be above what you would pay for the same distance between major centres.
Visitors from countries with well-developed long distance rail systems such as Europe and Japan may be surprised by the lack of high-speed, inter-city rail services in Australia. A historical lack of cooperation between the states, combined with sheer distances and a relatively small population to service, have left Australia with a national rail network that is relatively slow and used mainly for freight. As a result, travel between major cities will not only be faster by air, but often cheaper as well. Train travel between cities is, however, more scenic, and tourists are likely to see more of Australia travelling by train than they would otherwise see, as well as cutting down on their carbon footprint. It is also often a cost effective way of getting to regional towns and cities, which don't have the frequent and cheap flights found between the capital cities.
The long-distance rail services that do exist are mainly used to link regional townships with the state capital, such as Bendigo to Melbourne, or Cairns to Brisbane. In Queensland, a high speed train operates from Brisbane to Rockhampton and Brisbane to Cairns. Queensland also has passenger services to inland centres including Longreach (The Spirit of the Outback), Mount Isa (The Inlander), Charleville (The Westlander) and Forsayth (The Savannahlander). There are also inter-city train services operated by Great Southern Railways on the routes Melbourne-Adelaide (The Overland), Sydney-Adelaide-Perth (Indian Pacific), Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin (The Ghan) however as noted above, these are not "high speed" services, so if you do not enjoy train travel as part of your holiday in its own right then this is probably not for you.
Tasmania has no passenger rail services. The Northern Territory has the rail line linking Darwin to Adelaide through Alice Springs only, and the Australian Capital Territory has only a single railway station close to the centre of Canberra.
Long distance train operators
There is no pass that includes all train travel throughout Australia. However, if you are a train buff that intends travelling extensively by rail, there are some passes that may save you money. Plan your trip carefully before investing in a rail pass. Country train services are infrequent and can arrive at regional destinations at unsociable hours.
There are four passes that all include Great Southern Railways (GSR) services and optionally NSW Countrylink and Queensland Rail that are available to overseas travellers only. Remember that NSW Countrylink operate the XPT services from Sydney to Melbourne, so passes that include NSW Countrylink can also be used on that service.
Local public transport
Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Wollongong and Newcastle have train and bus services integrated into the city public transport, with trams also running in Melbourne and Adelaide, and ferries in Sydney and Brisbane. The remaining capital cities have bus services only. See those city guides articles for public transport details.
Some regional cities and towns have local bus services, but see the destination guides for service information, as frequency can be poor and weekend and evening services non-existent.
Larger towns and cities have taxi services.
Some trains allow you to carry your car with you on special car carriages attached to the back of the train.
The Ghan and the Indian Pacific allow you to transport cars between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Perth, and Darwin. You cannot remove your car at any of the intermediate stations.
Queensland Rail have motorail services on the Sunlander and the Spirit of the Outback, allow cars from Brisbane to Cairns and Longreach.
Bus travel in Australia is cheap and convenient, although the distances involved can be daunting. Greyhound has the largest bus route network.
Many major Australian cities have ferries as part of their public transport system. Some smaller roads in the regional areas still have punts to carry cars across rivers and canals. The islands of the Barrier Reef have some scheduled services, and there are a few cruises that cross the top of Australia as well.
However, large inter city transportation ferry services are not common.
It is legal to hitchhike in some states in Australia, so long as certain guidelines are followed. However, it is less commonly done than in neighbouring New Zealand. In Australia hitchhiking is often frowned upon by locals and police, especially in metropolitan areas.
Hitch hiking is illegal in Victoria and Queensland. It is also illegal to stand on the verge or walk along freeways (often called "motorways" in New South Wales) in all states (effectively making hitchhiking illegal in many practical places, in all states).
If forced to hitchhike due to an emergency you may find a motorist willing to take you to the nearest town to obtain help. (Some major inter-city highways and freeways have telephones to request help.)
It's most common to see a tourist hitching in rural areas. The best time to hitchhike is early morning. The best location is near, but not on, the main exit from the town you are in.
Cycling the long distances between towns is not particularly common, and most long distance highways in Australia have poorly developed facilities for cyclists. Nevertheless some intrepid travellers do manage to cover the longer distances by bicycle, and have a different experience of Australia. Trips and routes need careful planning to ensure the correct supplies are carried. To cycle between Sydney and Brisbane you would have to allow 2-3 weeks with around 80-100km per day.
There is much to see in Australia that you can't see easily in its natural setting anywhere else:
Australian flora and fauna is unique to the island, the result of having been isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years. Amongst Australian animals are a large group of marsupials (mammals with a pouch) and monotremes (mammals that lay eggs). Just some of the animal icons of Australia are the kangaroo (national symbol) and the koala. A visit to Australia would not be complete without taking the chance to see some of these animals in their natural environment.
Wildlife parks and zoos
In the wild
Australia has many landmarks, famous the world over. From Uluru in the red centre, to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in Sydney.
See some of the Big things in Australia.
Sport is an integral part of the Australian culture from the capital cities to country towns. The majority of games are played over the weekend period (from Friday night to Monday night).
It has been said that if there are two flies crawling up a wall, then you just need to look around to find the Aussie who will be running a book.
Gambling is illegal for under-18's. This can often restrict entry to parts of pubs, clubs, and casinos for children.
Expect everyone to speak English. Generally the only Australians who are not fluent English speakers are older people who immigrated as adults.
There is no single commonly used second language. It is fairly rare to find signs in a second language, except in urban areas with a high population of Asian immigrants and students, where signs and restaurant menus in Vietnamese and Chinese are a common sight; and also around Cairns in tropical Queensland where some signs (but not road signs) are written in Japanese, due to the large number of Japanese tourists. Some warning signs at beaches are written in several foreign languages.
Australians usually do not speak a second language fluently unless they are part of a family who immigrated recently. As Australia has a large number of immigrants, there are a number of minority languages spoken by a sizable number of Australians including (but not limited to) Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, German, Italian, Polish and Greek. In Australia's Chinatowns in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, Cantonese is the dominant language.
Australian slang should not present a problem for tourists except possibly in some isolated outback areas. A few words and euphemisms that are considered offensive elsewhere are common vernacular in Australian speech. Fanny, as in the UK, means vagina and is not used widely. The word "thong" generally refers to flip-flops in Australia, and not necessarily a G-string as it does in most other places. Still, Australians are familiar enough with the differences to know what you mean, but they may still have a laugh at your expense.
Visitors who do not speak basic English will find communicating with Australians difficult, and should do some advance planning. There are some tour companies who specialise in offering package deals for Australian tours complete with guides who speak particular languages.
There are over a hundred Aboriginal languages still known and spoken by Aboriginal people. These languages are all different, and you won't see an Aboriginal phrasebook in the travel bookshops. Many Aboriginal place names derive from Aboriginal languages that have been lost, and their meanings remain uncertain. Aboriginal people living in rural Aboriginal communities continue to speak their respective languages. The Torres Strait Islander people, who originate from a group of islands in northern Queensland near Papua New Guinea also continue to speak their own languages. Almost all Aboriginal people speak English as well, although some elders may not be fluent.
The standard sign language in Australia is Auslan (a contraction of "Australian Sign Language"), a member of the British Sign Language (BSL) family. Another closely related language is New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). When interpreters are present for public events, they will use Auslan. Users of BSL or NZSL may be able to understand Auslan; the languages share a significant amount of vocabulary and syntax, plus the same two-handed manual alphabet. By contrast, users of languages in the French Sign Language family, which includes American Sign Language and Irish Sign Language, will not be able to understand Auslan. Much of the vocabulary and syntax are different, and those languages use a one-handed manual alphabet.
Dorm accommodation in a capital city is around $30, but can run as low as $15 in Cairns or cheaper backpacker centres. A basic motel in the country or in the capital city suburbs would cost around $100 for a double. City Centre hotel accommodation in capital cities can be obtained for around $150 upwards for a double. Formule 1/Motel 6 style hotels (which are not common) can be around $60-$90 for a double.
Car hire will cost around $65 a day. Public transport day passes from $10-20 per day depending on the city.
A cafe meal costs around $10-$15, and a main course in a restaurant goes from around $17 upwards.
A basic takeaway meal - a burger, fancy sandwich, or couple of slices of pizza would cost $5-10, a Big Mac costs $4.50, and you can usually grab a pie for around $3, or a sausage roll for $2.50. A takeaway pizza from Pizza Hut big enough to feed two costs around $10.
A middy/pot (285ml) of house beer will cost you around $4, and a glass of house wine around $6 in a low end pub. To take away, a case of 24 cans of beer will cost around $40, or a bottle of wine around $8.
An airfare between neighbouring eastern capitals is around $120 each way but can get as low as $60 if you book at the right time, or around $350 to cross the country assuming that you are flexible with dates and book in advance. A train trip on the state run trains will usually cost slightly less. A bus trip, a little less again. A train trip on the private trains will be the most expensive way to travel.
There is usually no admission charge to beaches or city parks. Some popular National Parks charge between $10-20 per day (per car, or per person depending on the state) while more out of the way National Parks are free. Art Galleries and some attractions are free. Museums generally charge around $10 per admission. Theme parks charge around $70 per person.
Australian currency is known as the dollar, and the currency symbol is "$". There are 100 cents in every dollar. The dollar is called 'the Australian dollar' usually written as 'AUD' or A$ when it is necessary to distinguish it from other currencies. No other currency is accepted for transactions in Australia.
The coin denominations are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2. The note denominations are $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. Australian notes are produced in plastic polymer rather than paper. If the total of a transaction is not a multiple of 5 cents the amount will be rounded to the nearest five cents if you are paying in cash. The exact amount will be charged if paying by card.
The dollar is not pegged to any other currency, and is highly traded on world foreign exchange markets, particularly by currency speculators. Its exchange value to other currencies can be quite volatile, and 1-2% changes in a day are a reasonably regular occurrences.
Money changers in Australia operate in a free market, and charge a range of flat commissions, percentage fees, undisclosed fees built into the exchange rate, and a combination of all three. Generally the best bet is to avoid airports and tourist centres when changing money, and use banks in major centres. Expect fees to vary considerably between institutions. Always get a quote before changing money.
Cash dispensing Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in almost every Australian town. Australian ATMs are deregulated and may impose a surcharge over what is charged by your bank or card issuer. The fees can vary between institutions and between locations, but are usually around $2. The ATM will display the charges and you will have the option to stop the transaction before you are charged. Check with your bank as to what additional fees they apply to withdrawals in Australia.
Dedicated currency exchange outlets are widely available in major cities, and banks can also exchange most non-restricted currencies. These exchange outlets - especially the ones at the airport - can charge 10% over the best exchange that can be obtained from shopping around. Australian banks usually offer an exchange rate around 2.5% from the current exchange midpoint. A flat commission of $5-8 can be charged on top. Some outlets advertise commission free exchange, usually accompanied by a worse rate of exchange. Don't assume every bank will offer the same exchange. A simple calculation will let you know what offers the best deal for amount you wish to exchange. There are vouchers for commission free exchange at American Express available in the tourist brochure at Sydney Airport.
There is also no need to arrive in Australia with cash if you have a Cirrus, Maestro, MasterCard or Visa card: international airport terminals will have multiple teller machines that can dispense Australian currency with just the fees imposed by your bank plus the ATM fee.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Australia. Almost all large vendors such as supermarkets accept cards, as do many, but not all, small stores. Australian debit cards can also be used via a system known as EFTPOS. Any card showing the Cirrus or Maestro logos can be used at any terminal displaying those logos. The use of credit or debit cards for transactions under around A$5.00 is generally discouraged, and some stores may even have a minimum purchase amount to use a credit or debit card.
VISA or MasterCard are commonly accepted and are both accepted everywhere credit cards are accepted. American Express and Diners Club are accepted at major supermarket and department store chains and many tourist destinations. JCB is only accepted at very limited tourist destinations. Discover is never accepted.
Credit card surcharges are imposed at all car rental agencies, travel agents, airlines, and at some discount retailers and service stations. Surcharges are far more common for American Express and Diners Club (typically 2%-4%) than they are for VISA and Mastercard (typically 1.5%).
Bargaining is uncommon in Australian stores, though vendors are usually willing to meet or beat a quote or advertised price from a competing retailer. It's also worth asking for a "best price" for high-value goods or purchases involving several items. For example, it would not be unusual to get 10% off an item of jewelry that was not already reduced in price. The person you are dealing with may have limited authority to sell items at anything other than the marked price.
Tipping is never compulsory and is usually not expected in Australia. Staff are seen to be paid an appropriate wage and will certainly not chase you down for a tip. It is acceptable to pay the amount stated on the bill. When Australians do tip, it will often be in the form of leaving the change from a cash payment (usually as a convenience so the change does not hang around loose on someone's person - not as a gratuity), rather than a fixed percentage.
In a suburban or country restaurant where table service is offered, they will certainly take a tip of 5%-10% should you decide to leave one, but it is almost always not expected, and locals usually do not leave any. In a cafe or more informal restaurant, even with table service, and even in tourist centres, leaving a tip is unusual. Sometimes there is a coin jar by the cashier labelled 'Tips', but more often than not, diners do not leave one.
Tipping is also not expected in taxis, and drivers will typically return your change to the last 5 cents, unless you indicate that they should round the fare to the nearest dollar (it is not unusual for passengers to instruct the driver to round up to the next whole dollar).
Australia's base trading hours are Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM. Shops usually have a single night of late night trading, staying open until 9PM on Fridays in most cities and on Thursdays in Brisbane and Sydney. Sunday trading is common but does not exist in all rural areas. Opening hours beyond these base hours vary by the type of store, by location, and by state. See the guides for more local information.
Major supermarket chains in main centres are generally open at least until 9pm. Smaller convenience stores like 7/11 are open 24 hours in major centres. Fast Food restaurant chains are commonly open 24 hours or at least very late.
Fuel/Service stations are open 24 hours in major centres, but often close at 6pm and on Sundays in country towns.
Australia's weekend is on Saturday and Sunday of each week. Retail trading is now almost universal in larger cities on weekends, although with slightly reduced hours. Again, Western Australia is an exception with restrictions on large stores opening on Sundays. In smaller country towns shops are closed on Sundays and often also on Saturday afternoons.
Tourist-oriented towns and shops may stay open longer hours. Tourist areas within cities, such as Darling Harbour in Sydney has longer trading hours every night.
Australian banks are open Monday-Friday 09:00-16:00 only, often closing at 17:00 on Fridays. Cash is available through Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) 24 hours, and currency exchange outlets have extended hours and are open on weekends.
Australia has a sales tax known as the Goods and Services Tax or GST that applies to all goods and services except unprocessed foods, education and medical services. GST is always included in the price of any item you purchase rather than being added at the time of payment.
Receipts (tax invoices) will contain the GST amount, which is one eleventh of the total value of taxable supplies.
Sales tax refunds
If you buy items over $300 at one place at one time you can obtain a refund of the GST if you take the items out of Australia within 30 days. Pack the items in hand luggage, and present the item(s) and the receipt at the TRS, after immigration and security when leaving Australia. Also allow an extra 15 minutes before departure. The refund payment can be made by either cheque, credit to an Australian bank account, or payment to a credit card. There is no refund available for services.
Places to eat
Vegemite, a salty yeast-based spread, best spread thinly on toast. If you aren't up for buying a jar, any coffee shop will serve vegemite on toast at breakfast time. It may not even be on the menu, but the vegemite will be out the back in the jar next to the marmalade. If you do buy a jar, the secret is it to spread it very thin, and don't forget the butter as well. It tastes similar to Marmite or Cenovis. Australians are quite used to the taste, and may spread the Vegemite very thick; but this is not recommended for first-timers.
The Tim-Tam, is a chocolate fudge-filled sandwich of two chocolate biscuits, all dipped in chocolate. You can buy a packet (or two) from any supermarket or convenience store. Tim-Tams are required to perform the Tim-Tam Slam manoeuvre. This requires biting off both ends of the Tim-Tam, then using it as a straw to drink your favourite hot beverage, typically coffee. The hot drink melts the fudge centre and creates an experience hard to describe. Finesse is needed to suck the whole biscuit into your mouth in the microseconds between being fully saturated and dissolving. Tim-Tams are sold in packs of 11, so be sure to agree on the sharing arrangements before buying a packet with your travel partner, or onward travel arrangements may be disrupted. During summer, Tim-Tams are often stored in the freezer, and eaten ice cold.
The lamington is a cube of sponge cake covered in chocolate icing and dipped in desiccated coconut. It's named after Lord Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. The home-baked form can be found at a local Saturday morning market, or you can buy one from a bakery if you are desperate. Avoid at all costs the plastic wrapped varieties sold in supermarkets.
The pavlova is a meringue cake with a cream topping usually decorated with fresh fruit. Served on special occasions, or after a lunchtime barbecue. Often the source of dispute with New Zealand over the original source of the recipe.
ANZAC biscuits are a mix of coconut, oats, flour, sugar and golden syrup. They were reputedly sent by wives and care organisations to world war soldiers in care packages, but the story is likely apocryphal. They are available from bakeries, cafes and supermarkets, and are popular in the lead up to ANZAC day (25 April).
Damper is a traditional soda bread that was baked by drovers and stockmen. It has basic ingredients (flour, water and perhaps salt) and usually cooked in the embers of a fire. It is not routinely available in bakeries and only commonly served to tourists on organised tours. Best eaten with butter and jam or golden syrup as it is dry and bland.
A pie floater is a South Australian dish available around Adelaide. It is a pie inverted in a bowl of thick mushy pea soup. Similar pie variations are sometimes available in other regions.
A Chiko roll is a deep-fried snack inspired by the egg roll or the spring roll. Despite the name, it contains no chicken. Its filling is boned mutton, vegetables, rice, barley, and seasonings. Its shell is thicker than an egg roll, meant to survive handling at football matches. Available anywhere you can buy fish and chips.
Cuisines widely available in Australia, often prepared by members of the relevant culture, include:
Eating vegetarian is quite common in Australia and many restaurants offer at least one or two vegetarian dishes. Some will have an entire vegetarian menu section. Vegans may have more difficulty but any restaurant with a large vegetarian menu should offer some flexibility. In large cities you will find a number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, as well as in the coastal backpacker-friendly towns along the east coast. The market town of Kuranda or the seaside towns of Byron Bay are a vegetarian's paradise. In other regional areas vegetarians are often poorly catered for, but most towns will have a Chinese restaurant that will provide steamed rice and vegetables. Sydney and Melbourne in particular cater well for vegans and vegetarians with a large number of purely vegetarian restaurants, vegan clothing stores and vegan supermarkets.
People observing kosher or halal will easily be able to find specialist butchers in the capital cities, and will also find a number of restaurants with appropriate menus and cooking styles. Outside the capital cities, it will be much more difficult to find food prepared in a strict religious manner.
All of the capital cities and many regional towns in Australia host a "farmer's market", which is generally held each week in a designated area on a Saturday or Sunday. These markets mostly sell fresh fruits and vegetables, as hygiene standards in Australia forbid the selling of meat directly from market stalls. Butchers who set up shop at a farmer's market would usually trade their wares from a display cabinet within their truck. The attraction of markets is the lower prices and freshness of the produce. The attraction for the traveller will be the cheap and excellent fruits on offer - depending on the region and season. In regional areas the market is usually held outside the town itself in an empty paddock or sports field, markets in capital cities are easier to reach but the prices are typically more in line with those you would find in supermarkets. See the destination guides for details.
Drinking beer is ingrained in Australian culture. Although Fosters is promoted as an Australian beer overseas, it is rarely consumed by Australians in Australia, and is almost impossible to find. Beers are strongly regional and every state has its own brews: Coopers and West End in South Australia, Carlton and VB in Victoria, Tooheys in NSW, XXXX in Queensland, Boags and Cascade in Tasmania, and Swan in Western Australia. There are also local microbrew choices, which can be harder to find, but are often worth seeking out. A wide range of imported European and American bottled beers are available in all but the most basic pub.
Light (Lite) beer refers to lower alcoholic content, and not lower calories. It has around half the alcohol of full strength beer, and is taxed at a lower rate, meaning it is also cheaper than full strength beer.
Because Australians like their beer to stay cold while they drink it, draft beer glasses come in a multitude of sizes, so that you can drink a whole glass before it warms up in the summer heat. The naming of beer glasses varies widely from state to state, often in confusing ways: a schooner is 425 ml everywhere except South Australia, where it's only 285 ml, a size that's known elsewhere as a middy or pot, except in Darwin where it's a handle, but in Adelaide a "pot" means a 570 ml full pint, and a pint means what a schooner does elsewhere, and... you get the idea. The local beers and the local descriptions are covered in detail in the state guides.
Bottle naming is a little easier: the standard sizes across Australia are the 375 ml stubby and the 750 ml long neck or tally. Cans of beer are known as tinnies and 24 of them make up a slab, box, carton, or a case.
Australia produces quality wine on a truly industrial scale, with large multinational brands supplying Australian bottleshops and exporting around the world. There are also a multitude of boutique wineries and smaller suppliers. Very good red and white wine can be bought very cheaply in Australia, often at less than $10 a bottle, and even the smallest shop could be expected to have 50 or more varieties to choose from.
The areas of the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley, and Margaret River are particularly renowned for their wineries and opportunities for cellar door sampling, but northern Victoria and Mudgee, also have a large variety. You are never too far from a wine trail anywhere in southern Australia.
Try the local wines wherever you can find them, and ask for local recommendations. Try not to get taken in by the label, or the price tag. The best wine is rarely the one with the best artwork, or the most expensive price. However, it is probably wise to avoid the house wine if it comes straight from a cask (4-litre container). Wines at the cellar door are almost invariably sold at around 20% premium to the same wine in the shops in the local town.
If you still prefer overseas wines, the Marlborough region of New Zealand is usually well represented on wine lists and in bottle shops in Australia.
See also Grape grazing in Australia.
Bundaberg Rum (Bundy) is an Australian dark rum particularly popular in Queensland and many Queenslanders will not touch any other brand of rum, while many other Australians will not touch Bundy. It is probably the most famous Australian made spirit, mass produced in Bundaberg and available everywhere.
You will have to search much harder to find other Australian distilled spirits, mostly from niche players, but there are distilleries in every state of Australia if you look hard enough. Drop into the Lark Distillery on the scenic Hobart waterfront precinct. Pick up a bottle of 151 East Vodka in Wollongong or after a few days in Kununurra you are definitely going to need an Ord River Rum.
Mixed drinks are also available, particularly vodka, scotch, bourbon and other whiskey mixers. Jim Beam bourbon is probably the most commonly drunk, so those from Kentucky should feel right at home. Spirits are also available as pre-mixed bottles and cans but are subject to higher taxation in this form, so it is cheaper to mix them yourself. Spirits are served in all pubs and bars, but not in all restaurants.
The legal drinking age throughout Australia is 18 years. It is illegal either to purchase alcohol for yourself if you are under 18 years of age. It is illegal to purchase alcohol on behalf of someone who is under 18 years of age. The only legally acceptable proof-of-age is an Australian drivers licence, state-issued proof-of-age card or a passport, and it would be wise to carry one if you want to purchase alcohol or tobacco and look under 25. It is illegal to go into a gambling area of a pub or club when under 18.
Often there is a lounge, restaurant or bistro area in a pub or club that permits under-age people provided they are accompanied by a responsible adult over 18 and don't approach the bar or wander around. Some city pubs even have video games and playgrounds for children. Some country pubs have large open areas out in the back where kids can run and play.
In general, you can take alcohol (say a bottle of wine or beer) to consume at a park or beach. However, in the state of Queensland public consumption of Alcohol is illegal. Alcohol consumption is banned in some public places as 'street drinking'. These are often indicated by signs and is particularly the case in parks and footpaths where public drunkenness has been a problem. However, if you are a family with your picnic basket and blanket out at lunchtime with a bottle of wine, you are unlikely to encounter any problems.
Alcohol can be purchased for consumption on premises only in licensed venues: pubs, clubs and many restaurants. You can purchase alcohol for private consumption in bottle shops, which are separate stores selling bottled alcohol. In some but not all states you can buy alcohol in supermarkets. In those states where you can't, bottle shops and major supermarkets are often found in very close proximity. Although licensing laws and hours vary from state to state, and individual stores have different trading hours, as a rule of thumb, alcohol is generally available in towns to take-away seven days a week, between the hours of 8AM and 11PM, from bottle shops, supermarkets, licensed grocers/milk-bars and pubs. Outside of these hours though, it is almost impossible to buy alcohol to take home; unless you're in the middle of Sydney or Melbourne, so if you're planning on a party at home; it's a good idea to stock up and check on the local trading hours so you don't run out at 00:30 with no opportunity to buy more. Alcohol is not available at petrol stations or 24-hour convenience stores anywhere in Australia.
Public drunkenness varies in acceptability. You will certainly find a great deal of it in close proximity to pubs and clubs at night time but much less so during the day. Public drunkenness is an offence but you would only likely ever be picked up by the police if you were causing a nuisance. You may spend the night sobering up in a holding cell or be charged.
Driving while affected by alcohol is both stigmatized and policed by random breath testing police patrols in Australia, as well as being inherently dangerous. Drink driving is a very serious offence in Australia, punishable by a range of mechanisms including loss of license. The acceptable maximum blood alcohol concentration is 0.05% in all states, often lower or not allowed for operators of heavy vehicles and young or novice drivers. Police officers are also empowered to randomly test drivers for the recent use of prohibited drugs. The operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of prohibited drugs or alcohol will always result in arrest and a required court appearance many weeks from the date of arrest and it can comprehensively disrupt travel plans. Random breath testing is common early Saturday and Sunday mornings, and many people are caught the morning after.
Buying a round of drinks is a custom in Australia, as in many corners of the world. It is generally expected in a pub that when you arrive and make your first trip to the bar that you will offer to buy a drink for others you are drinking with. This is what's known as a 'shout'. In entering a shout you are expected to take turns buying drinks for everyone in your shout when it is your turn. It is considered poor etiquette to drink something much more expensive that what others in the shout are drinking. If you cannot keep pace during a shout you are still expected to buy a round of drinks when it is your turn and as such it is advisable to drink with people who pace themselves at a similar rate. If someone from outside the shout offers to buy you a drink politely decline and let them know you are already in a shout. Likewise if someone buys you a drink don't be surprised if they expect one from you later on in the evening as it's now your shout. If you don't want to join a shout, or would like to drop out of one this can be awkward in some groups, however if you provide a viable reason such as having to drive or being on medication people will normally respect this explanation. It is considered very poor etiquette to leave before your shout.
If you are intending to study in Australia, you may need to be on a visa class that allows this, rather than a tourist visa. Students and academics invited to visit Australian universities will generally also need an appropriate visa, even if their visit is of a short enough period to be covered by a tourist electronic visa. For extremely short term or part time courses, check with your Australian consulate or embassy.
Australian students attend high school for six years, and enter university at seventeen or eighteen years of age. (In Australia, neither "school" nor "college" are used to refer to tertiary institutions; they are referred to only as "universities" - in fact, some primary and secondary educational institutions are referred to as 'colleges'). Australian undergraduate programs are usually three to four years in length. A fifth year is compulsory in some professional undergraduate programs such as engineering, law, medicine and dentistry. Students in three-year degree programs can take an optional fourth year known as honours if they want to proceed into a postgraduate research program, whereas students enrolled in four year programs can typically incorporate their honours thesis into their fourth year.
Australia does not have universities whose prestige competes with Harvard or the other Ivies in the US or Oxford or Cambridge in the UK. However many are ranked in the top 200 in the world (Times Higher Education Supplement).
All tuition at university level is in English, save for courses that specifically focus on other languages. Students who have not previously earned a qualification in an English speaking program (or passed high school English) will have to take one of a number of English competency tests before being allowed to enrol.
Postgraduate studies in Australia fall into two classes: coursework and research. Coursework degrees are generally at the Masters level. Research degrees are at the Masters and Doctoral level.
There are 42 Universities in Australia that all compete vigorously for overseas students. All have administrative departments and sections on their websites which describe the courses available to overseas students, and they will help you to apply and obtain accommodation and transport. Applications for university courses (and the appropriate visa) will need to be lodged before coming to Australia. Courses range from single year diplomas to full length undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. There is a choice of the sandstone universities, with their history and prestige, modern city universities with their vocational programs, and regional (country town) universities, with open space and cheaper accommodation.
Undergraduate admission to university is centralised at the state level. You make a single application for admission to the state admissions body stating your course preferences. The universities select students from this common applicant pool based upon their ranking and preferences. Unless you are applying for a creative arts degree, your ranking will be based solely on previous academic performance at both high school and previous university studies.
Postgraduate admission is managed by individual universities and you will need to apply separately to each institution you are considering.
The full fees payable by overseas students are competitive compared to many Western universities. Australian citizens have the option of substantially reduced fees and also have the option of deferring payment until they are earning income. Other students will generally be required to pay full tuition on enrolment each semester.
Scholarships are rarely awarded for undergraduate or postgraduate coursework degrees. A comparatively large number of scholarships are available for postgraduate research usually covering both tuition, where required, and living costs. These are awarded by individual universities.
Accommodation is readily available in most Australian cities and tourist destinations. It comes in a number of different styles.
Camping is a popular pastime. Most caravan parks will rent camping sites by the night, where you can pitch a tent, and these are available in most towns and cities. The caravan park will provide showers and toilets, and sometimes washing and cooking facilities. Sometimes for an additional fee. Expect to pay around $20 for a tent site, and a few dollars per person. You can even find caravan parks right on the beach, with lagoon swimming pools and playgrounds all free for guests.
National parks often provide free camping sites, which expect you to be more self-sufficient. Often toilets are provided and sometimes cold showers. Camping permits are sometimes required at popular parks, with some popular spots filling up during the holidays in summer. In Australia it is common to be within an hours drive of a national park or recreation area that will permit some form of camping, even in the capital cities. Expect to pay around $5-$10 per night per person for a camping permit, and national park admission fees in the more popular national parks (eg: Wilsons Promontory National Park, Kosciuszko National Park, etc), however entry and camping is free in the majority of national parks further from population and tourist centres.
Some other camping areas are run by government or even local landowners. Expect around $10 per person per night, depending on the time of year.
You can try your luck sleeping on a beach or pitching a tent overnight in a highway rest area, or out in the bush for a free bed. Most rest areas and beaches prohibit camping and many even prohibit overnight parking to discourage this. Generally the closer you are to civilisation or a tourist area, the greater the chance of being hassled by the authorities.
Camping in state forests is often preferable to national parks if you're after a camping experience over sightseeing, as collecting of your own fire wood is allowed (sometimes felling of trees is permissible dependent on the area) and camping is not restricted to camp sites. Some other activities that are generally allowed in state forests that are not allowed in national parks are: bringing in dogs/pets, open fires, motorbikes and four-wheel driving. State forests are generally free to stay in, although you will need to check locally if public access is allowed.
Hostels and Backpackers
Budget hostel-style accommodation with shared bathrooms and often with dormitories is approximately $20-$30 per person per night. Facilities usually include a fully equipped kitchen with adequate refrigeration and food storage areas. Most hostels also have living room areas equipped with couches, dining tables, and televisions.
There are several backpacker hostel chains in Australia. If you are staying many nights in the same brand of hostel, consider their discount cards, which usually offer a loyalty bonus on accommodation, and other attraction and tour discounts negotiated by the chain.
Most pubs in Australia offer some form of accommodation. It can vary from very basic shabby rooms, to newly renovated boutique accommodation. The price is usually a good reflection of what you are in for. It is still quite unusual to have a private bathroom, even in the nicer pubs.
Outside of the major centres, the pub is called a Hotel. A motel won't have a public bar. A motel that does have a bar attached is called a Hotel/Motel.
In very small towns local pubs offer the only accommodation available to travellers. Accommodation in these pubs tends to be budget-style with shared bathrooms but private rooms.
Pub accommodation is even available in the centre of Sydney, making getting back to your room after a beer a simple endeavour.
If you travel as a single, and want a private room, pubs usually have single rooms at a discount over a double room. Most motels will charge the same price for one or two people sharing a room.
Typically, motel-style accommodation will have a private room with a bed or number of beds, and a private shower and toilet. Many motels have family rooms, that will usually have a double bed and two single beds in the one room.
Motel rooms in the cities will generally cost upwards from $80. Usually the cost is the same for one or two adults, with any extra people charged an additional fee. Prices for additional children can range from free to $20 per child. During quiet times its not unusual for motels to offer standby discounts.
Most motels will serve a cooked or continental breakfast to your room in the morning, for an additional charge. Some may have a restaurant or serve an evening meal. Some may have a toaster in the room.
A number of local and international chains offer motel-style accommodation:
All state capitals have at least one major hotel at 5 star standard, with several available in the major capitals. The majority of Australia's hotels are located in the Central Business Districts (CBD) of the capital city. Hotel services and hospitality are often excellent such as room cleaning services, free morning newspapers, meals to your door and a high-speed internet connection up to 24mb/s (often with a premium fee).
All hotels have a restaurant (or bistro, depending on the type of hotel you are staying in). The restaurant or bistro often serves food that is comparable to many other up-market restaurants outside the hotel. Also on the ground floor would normally be a fully equipped bar.
Cabins are an economical way for families to stay while travelling. Sometimes built on private land, sometimes in caravan parks, cabins typically have a kitchen / lounge area, and one, two or three bedrooms.
Much as the name suggests, this usually involves a cabin or homestead accommodation on a working property. Suited for a stay of two or more days, this accommodation usually allows you to get a little involved in the running of the farm if you wish. It is common for dinner to be provided in the homestead, and a breakfast pack to be provided to your cabin.
Holiday homes are homes rented by their owners, often using local real estate agents or specialised web sites. Sometimes located in prime positions, but also sometimes in the residential sections of cities and towns. Minimum rental periods of at least 2 days usually apply, rising to a week during periods when they are busy. At a minimum will have bedrooms, a lounge, bathroom.
Bed and Breakfasts
Bed and Breakfasts tend to be a premium form of accommodation in Australia, often focussed on weekend accommodation for couples. They certainly don't offer the discount form of accommmodation they do in part of the United Kingdom, and the local motel will usually be cheaper.
Sometimes extra rooms in a person's home, but often a purpose built building. You should expect a cosy, well kept room, a common area, and a cooked breakfast. Possibly private facilities. Substantial discounts often apply for mid-week stays at bed and breakfasts.
There are many true resorts around Australia. Many have lagoon pools, tennis, golf, kids clubs, and other arranged activities. The island of the Whitsundays have a choice of resorts, some occupying entire islands. Port Douglas also has many resorts of a world standard.
Serviced apartments are widely available, for stays as short as one night. Amenities typically include kitchen, washer and dryer, and separate bedrooms.
Caravanning, Campervan, Motorhome and RV
Caravan parks exist in most towns and cities in Australia that will provide powered and unpowered sites for Caravans. You will commonly see the Grey Nomad brigade on their trips around Australia in motorhomes and caravans.
The camper trailer has also become very popular in Australia. It is perfect for the Australian camping lifestyle, whether it be weekends away or an extended trip into the great outdoors where no facilities exist. You will need to be self-sufficient and carry suitable spares and a good tool kit
Station Wagons / Vans
In most parts of Australia it is illegal to sleep in your vehicle but it is possible to get around this by simply rigging up curtains all around the windows so no one can see in from the outside. Trade vans can be picked up for as little as $1,000, with a more trustworthy van setting you back no more than $3,000-$4,000. Add a mattress, pillow, portable gas cooker, cookware and a 20 lt water container and you are off. If you get caught the fine could be as much as $150 each, so do it at you own risk. But if you are strategic in where you stay you probably won't get caught. Just be sensible and don't disturb the locals. Also, be aware of parking restrictions in certain parts of the cities and town, including overnight parking restrictions. The parking inspectors can be ruthless and a $100+ fine is not uncommon.
All cities and towns in Australia have free public toilets. Many parks, and most beaches have free electric BBQ's as well. Popular beaches have fresh water showers to wash the salt water off after you swim, so for those on a tight budget (or for those that just love waking up at the beach) simply wash in the ocean (please do not pollute the ocean or waterways by using detergents or soaps) and rinse off at the showers. Almost all taps in Australia are drinking water, the ones that aren't will be marked. Service stations (petrol/gas) almost always have taps, so these are a good place to refill the water containers each time you refuel.
Some of the best experiences you may have in Australia will be by taking that road on the map that looks like it heads to a beach, creek, waterfall or mountain and following it. You may just find paradise and not another soul in sight. And lucky you, you've got a bed, food and water right there with you.
Travelling in a small group lowers the fuel bill per head, as this will likely be your biggest expense.
Enjoy, and respect the land by taking your rubbish/bottles/cigarette butts with you and disposing of them properly.
Australian citizens, New Zealand citizens and permanent residents of Australia can work in Australia without any further permits, but others will require a work visa. All visitors who do not hold Australian permanent residency or citizenship (including New Zealand citizens who aren't also Australian permanent residents or citizens) are not allowed to access Australian social security arrangements for the unemployed, and will have limited, or more usually, no access to the Australian government's health care payment arrangements.
Payment and taxes
Most Australian employers pay via direct deposit to Australian bank accounts. Open a bank account as soon as you arrive. Your passport will not be enough ID to open a bank account. You will need to show the bank teller 100 points of ID .
As soon as you have an address it is wise to apply for a Tax File Number (TFN). You can apply for it online (though, only in Australia) for free at the Australian Tax Office website , though you can generally get it quicker if you just go to one of their offices. The Australian financial year runs from July 1 to June 30, and tax returns for each financial year are due on October 30, four months after the accounting period concludes. Check with Australian tax agents about Australian tax liability and filing an Australian tax return.
Australian employers will make compulsory payments out of your earnings to an Australian superannuation (retirement savings) fund on your behalf. Temporary visitors who are not citizens of either Australia or New Zealand can have this money returned to them  when they leave Australia.
Working holidaymaker scheme
Australia has a working holidaymaker program for 18-30 yr old citizens of certain countries. It allows a stay in Australia for 12 months from the time of first entry. You may work during that time, but only for 6 months at any one employer. The idea is for you to take a holiday subsidised by casual or short-term jobs. If you're interested in a working holiday, some useful skills and experience might be: office skills to be used for temp work; or hospitality skills to be used for bar or restaurant work. An alternative is seasonal work like fruit-picking, although much seasonal work will require that you work outside the major cities. Working for 3 months in seasonal work will allow you to apply for a second 12 month visa.
You can apply online for a working holiday visa, but you must not be in Australia at the time. It takes just a few hours to process usually and costs about $330 (as of January 2013). On arriving in Australia ask for the working holiday visa to be "evidenced", so you can show your future employer.
Sponsored work visas
The easiest way to get a work visa is to find an Australian employer who will sponsor you. However, this is just 'easier', not 'easy' as such. Your employer will need to demonstrate that they cannot hire anyone with your skills in Australia, and the approval will take several months. If in search of sponsorship, be prepared for a long wait. Note that getting the visa might take a couple of months from the beginning of the application process, and that you will need a medical examination by a doctor approved by the immigration officials before it can be granted (among other things, you will need a chest x-ray to show that you do not have tuberculosis). Check with your local Australian High Commission, Consulate or Embassy and the the Immigration Department's website .
You can apply to immigrate as a skilled person or business person, but this process will take longer than receiving a work visa. You can also apply for permanent residency as the holder of a work or study visa, but your application will not be automatically accepted. After four years of permanent residency you are eligible to apply for Australian citizenship.
There are several volunteer opportunities in Australia. Many worldwide organisations offer extended travel for those wanting to volunteer their time to work with locals on projects such as habitat restoration, wildlife sanctuary maintenance & development, scientific research, & education programs.
Unless you are actively trying to insult someone, a traveller is unlikely to insult or cause offence to an Australian through any kind of cultural ignorance.
Australian modes of address tend towards the familiar. It is acceptable and normal to use first names in all situations, even to authority figures or people many years your senior. Many Australians are fond of using and giving nicknames - even to recent acquaintances. It is likely being called such a name is an indication that you are considered a friend and is it would be rare they are being condescending.
While attitudes towards alcohol in Australia have moderated in recent years, there is still much goodwill in venturing and accepting the sharing of a drink (mainly beer) amongst newly made acquaintances. In rural locations especially, refusing the offer of a quiet drink is still something that is capable of causing offence. Within the bounds of health, safety and culture, one should try and accommodate this custom, even if you only partake of a glass of lemonade.
It is generally acceptable to wear revealing clothing in Australia. Bikinis and swimming attire is okay on the beach, and usually at the kiosk across the road from the beach. It is normal to wear at least a shirt and footwear before venturing any further. Most beaches are effectively top optional (topless) while sunbathing. Just about all women wear a top while walking around or in the water. There are some clothing optional (nude) beaches, usually a little further removed from residential areas. Thong bikinis (more commonly called g-string bikinis in Australia as thongs refer to flip-flop footwear) are fine on all beaches and some outdoor pools for both women and men although they are not as common as conventional beachwear. Some outdoor pools have a "top required" policy for women.
Like many Western countries, public concern in Australia relating to child sexual predators has increased to the extent that it is now often contentious to take photographs in public that even inadvertently include images of other people's children. You may be approached in such an instance by parents who will insist that it is illegal to take someone's photograph without their permission, although this is incorrect. However, you should use your discretion and endeavour to omit any children (other than your own, of course) from any photograph that you take, even if they are in the background. If you so wish to take photographs of an adult person, you should try and obtain their consent for the sake of simple politeness.
Cover up a little more when visiting places of worship such as churches or mosques. In warm conditions casual "t-shirt and shorts" style clothing predominates except in formal situations. Business attire, however, is considered to be long sleeved shirt, tie, and long trousers for men, even in the hottest weather. (In the northern part of the country, a short sleeved, open neck shirt with slacks, known as 'Darwin Rig', is acceptable).
Using Australian stereotypical expressions may be viewed as an attempt to mock, rather than to communicate. If you pull it off well, you might raise a smile.
Australians are often self-deprecating, and are rarely arrogant. However, it is rude to ever agree with a self-deprecating remark. Boasting about achievements is rarely received well.
Most Australians are happy to help out a lost traveller with directions, however many urban dwellers will assume that someone asking "Excuse me", is going to be asking for money, and may brush past. Looking lost, holding a map, looking like a backpacker or getting to the point quickly will probably help.
It is best not to mention the name of a deceased person to an indigenous Australian. Though Aboriginal custom varies, it is best to avoid the possibility of offence.
Permission to photograph an Aboriginal person should always be asked, but in particular in the more remote areas such as Arnhem Land. There is an old belief among them that the flash of a camera will steal their soul.
Some areas of land are sacred to Aboriginal people, and require additional respect.
Many areas of Aboriginal land are free to enter. Some areas carry a request from the Aboriginal people not to enter, and you may choose yourself whether or not to honour or respect that request. An example of an Aboriginal request is climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock). No law prohibits people from climbing the rock (except in heat, rain or strong winds), however, local indigenous communities (The Anangu) request that you do not climb. Uluru holds great spiritual significance to the Anangu. The Anangu feel themselves responsible if someone is killed or injured on their land (as has happened many times during the climb) and request tourists not to place themselves in harm through climbing. Many people who travel to Uluru do climb, however, so you certainly won't be on your own if you choose to do this.
Some Aboriginal land requires permission or a permit, and some areas are protected and illegal to enter. You should check before making plans to travel off the beaten track. Permits are usually just a formality for areas which regularly see visitors, or if you have some other business in the area you are travelling through. Often they are just an agreement to respect to the land you are travelling on as Aboriginal land. Some Aboriginal Land Councils make them available online.
If you need to refer to race, the politically correct term is Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal people is usually okay and referring to sacred sites and land as Aboriginal sites, or Aboriginal land is okay too. Avoid using Aborigine or Aboriginal as a noun to describe a person, as some people see negative connotations in these words. The contraction "Abo" is deeply offensive and should never be used. The word Native should also be avoided when referring to a person, as should colour-based terminology such as Black or White (the polite term for Australians of British or Irish descent is Anglo-Celtic).
Gay and lesbian travellers
Australia has an equal age of consent set at 16 for all states except Tasmania and South Australia where the age is 17. Queensland outlaws 'sodomy' for under 18s, but is generally supportive of homosexuality. Gay marriage is not granted in Australia, however, Australia strives to offer official 'de facto relationship' recognition to gay couples that is equal to that offered to straight couples - a special Interdependency Visa exists as a gay counterpart to the traditional marriage-based migration route.
Attitudes to homosexuality are similar to those found in the urban United States. Violence against gay people is also at a level similar to the United States. While inner Sydney is one of the most gay-friendly places in the world, caution is advisable in rural areas and parts of the greater metropolitan areas, as well as in Queensland and the Northern Territory, the most conservative areas of the nation.
Sydney is Australia's gay capital, and hosts one of the world's most famous gay pride parades - the Sydney Mardi Gras. Less known is the Alice Is Wonderland Festival - a popular gay and lesbian pride festival around central Alice Springs in late April/early May.
The number 000 (called 'triple zero' or 'triple oh') can be dialled from any telephone in Australia free of charge. This number will connect you with emergency operators for the police, fire brigade, and ambulance service. The first question that the operator will ask is which service you need.
If you require assistance during a flood, storm, cyclone, tsunami, earthquake or other natural disaster you can contact the State Emergency Service in each state (except for Northern Territory) on 132 500. You will be connected with your local unit and help can be organised from there. Note that if the emergency is life-threatening, call triple zero.
If you want to contact these services but the situation is not an emergency, don't call 000: you can call the police assistance line on 131 444. Poisons information advice, which can also advise on snake, spider and insect bites, is available on 131 126. Information on locating the nearest medical services can be obtained by calling 1800 022 222 (except for Tasmania).
You can dial 000 from all mobile phones. Mobile phones sold in Australia recognise it as the emergency number and will use any available network to place the call. However, if you have a phone obtained outside Australia, using the universal emergency number 112 is a better idea. Using 112 will use any available network, will work even if your phone is not roaming, and will work even if the phone does not have a SIM. 112 works from Australian purchased phones too.
Hearing or speech impaired people with TTY equipment can dial 106. Those with Internet connectivity can use the Internet Relay Service, via the website .
Calls from fixed line (landline) phones may be traced to assist the emergency services to reach you. The emergency services have limited ability to trace the origin of emergency calls from mobile phones, especially outside of urban areas, so be sure to calmly and clearly provide details of your location. Because of the number sequence for emergency calls, around 60% of calls to the emergency numbers are made in error.
Nobody will likely respond to your call unless you can effectively communicate to the operator that you need assistance. If you are in need of assistance, but cannot speak, you will be diverted to an IVR and asked to press 55 to confirm that you are in need of assistance and have not called by accident. Your call will then be connected to the police.
Emergency numbers from other countries (for example, '911' in the USA) do not work in Australia. '112' will not work from a landline phone.
Keep a sense of perspective. Tourists are far more likely to be killed or injured as pedestrians, drivers or passengers on Australian roads than all the other causes of death and injury combined.
Driving between cities and towns can take longer than you think, especially if you are used to freeway or motorway driving in Europe or North America. Speed limits vary by location, road and by state. Avoid the stresses of fatigue by not planning to drive too far in a day.
Driving between towns and cities comes with a risk of hitting or crashing due to swerving to avoid wildlife. Kangaroos have a habit of being spooked by cars and then, bewilderingly, jumping in front of them. Take extra care when driving through areas with vegetation close to the road and during dawn and dusk when wildlife is most active. Wildlife is not usually an issue in major urban areas (with the exception of Canberra where a series of parks provides ample habitat for kangaroos, which often cross major roads).
Urban Australians jaywalk, dodge cars, and anticipate the sequence of lights. Although most drivers will stop for a red light, running the amber light is common, so ensuring the traffic has stopped before stepping from the curb is always a good idea. People from countries who drive on the right will take a while to get used to looking the correct way when crossing.
Around 10-20 overseas travellers drown in Australia each year. Most of these drownings occur at ocean beaches, where statistics put visitors at significantly higher risk than locals. Check the Beach Safety website .
Beach goers should swim between the red and yellow flags which designate patrolled areas. Beaches are not patrolled 24-hours a day or even during all daylight hours. In most cases the local volunteer surf lifesavers or professional lifeguards are only available during certain hours, and at some beaches only on weekends, and often only during summer. If the flags aren't up, then there's no one patrolling - and you shouldn't swim. If you do choose to swim, be aware of the risks, check conditions, stay within your depth, and don't swim alone.
Hard surfboards and other water craft such as surf skis, kayaks etc., are not permitted between the red and yellow flags. These craft must only be used outside of the blue 'surfcraft permitted' flags.
Australian ocean beaches can sometimes have strong rips that even the strongest swimmers are unable to swim against. Rips are invisible channels of water flowing away from the beach. These channels take out the water which the incoming surf waves bring into shore. Beach goers can mistakenly use these channels or areas since they can appear as calm water and look to be an easier area into which to swim. Problems arise when the swimmer tries to swim back into shore against the outgoing current or rip, tire quickly, and end up drowning. Rips can be recognised by one or more of these signs: a rippled appearance when the surrounding water is fairly calm; foam that extends beyond the break zone; brown, sandy coloured water; waves breaking further out on either side of the rip.
If you are caught in a rip at a patrolled beach, conserve your energy, float or tread water and raise one hand. The surf lifesavers will come out to you. Don't wait until you are so tired you can't swim any more. You will probably find that local swimmers or surfers will also quickly come to your aid. Usually the flags are positioned where there are no rips, but this isn't always the case as rips can move.
If you are caught in a rip at an unpatrolled beach stay calm to conserve energy and swim parallel to the beach (not against the pull of the current). Most rips are only a few metres wide, and once clear of the undertow, you will be able to swim or catch a wave to return to shore. Never swim alone. Don't think that the right technique will get you out of every situation. In the surf out the back of the beach, treading water can be hard with waves pounding you every few seconds. Unless you have seen it happen, its hard to appreciate how quickly a rip can take you 50 m out to sea and into much larger wave breaks. If you are at an unpatrolled surf beach, proceed with great caution and never go out of your depth.
Beach signs often have a number or an alphanumeric code on them. This code can be given to emergency services if required so they can locate you quickly.
Crocodiles and Box Jellyfish are found on tropical beaches, depending on the time of year and area. Sharks occur on many of Australia's beaches. See the section below on dangerous creatures. Patrolled beaches will be monitoring the ocean for any shark activity. If you hear a continuous siren, go off at the beach and a red and a red and white quartered flag is waved or held out of the tower as it indicates a shark sighting, so make your way to shore. Once it is clear, a short blast of the siren will be sounded, which usually means that it is safe to return to the water.
Tropical cyclones (hurricanes) occur in the tropics during summer. Information on and advanced warnings of severe weather is available from the Bureau of Meteorology’s warning page  or by calling the National Telephone Weather Services Directory on 1900 926 113.
In the tropical north the Wet Season occurs over the summer months of December, January and February, bringing torrential rains and frequent floods to those regions. It is not unusual for some coastal areas to be cut off for a day or two while the water recedes. It can still be a good time to visit some of the well populated, tourist-oriented areas, and, except in unusually heavy flooding, you can still get to see the pounding waterfalls and other attractions that can make this an interesting time to visit.
Floods in outback and inland Australia are rare, occurring decades apart, so you would be unlucky to encounter them. However, if you are planning to visit the inland or the outback and the area is flooded, then you should reconsider. The land is flat, so the water can take weeks to move on, leaving the land boggy. Insects and mosquitoes go crazy with all the fresh water pooling around, and these things eat insect repellent for breakfast and are still hungry. Roads close, often adding many hours to driving times. Many attractions often lie on a short stretch of dirt road off the main highways, and these sections become impassable, even if the main road remains open. Plan to return in a few weeks, and the land will still be green, the lakes and rivers will still be flowing, and the bird life will still be around.
The wettest period for the south of the country is usually around the winter months of June, July, and August. There is rarely enough rain at one time to cause flooding. The capital cities are rarely, if ever, significantly affected by floods.
National parks and forested areas of southern Australia, including some parts of major cities next to national parks and forests, can be threatened by bushfires (wildfires) in summer.
If the fire risk is extreme, parks may be closed, especially the backcountry areas, so you will need to have an alternative plan if you intend to camp or hike in parks during summer. If there is a fire in a park, it will usually be closed entirely.
Entire country towns can sometimes be evacuated when there is a bushfire threatening them. Often there can be no signs of the fire at evacuation time, but you should leave early, as evacuating through a fire front is dangerous. The best advice is just to move on, and not stay around to watch.
Make sure any fires you light are legal and kept under control. The fire service operates a fire ban system during periods of extreme fire danger. When a fire ban is in place all outdoor fires are forbidden. Most parks will advertise a ban, and it is your responsibility to check the local fire danger levels. Fines or even gaol terms apply for lighting fires that get out of control, not to mention the feeling you may get at being responsible for the property, wildlife, and person damage that you may cause.
If you are caught in a bushfire, most fires will pass over quickly. You need to find shelter that will protect you from the smoke and radiant heat. A house is best, then a car, then a clearing, a cave, or on the beach is the best location. Wet everything what you can. Stay low and cover your mouth. Cover yourself with non-flammable (woolen) clothing or blankets, and reduce the skin directly exposed to the heat. If you have access to a tap gather water early, don't rely on water pressure as the fire front approaches. If your holiday goes no further than cities, major towns, and beaches, this won't really concern you.
Australia is a very dry country with large areas of desert. It can also get hot. Some parts of the country are always in drought.
When travelling in remote areas, away from sealed roads, where the potential to become stranded for up to a week without seeing another vehicle is very real, it is vital that you carry your own water supply (4 gal or 7 L per person per day). Do not be misled by entries on maps such as 'well' or 'spring' or 'tank' (or any entry suggesting that there is a body of water). Nearly all are dry, and most inland lakes are dry salt pans.
Many cities and towns have water restrictions, limiting use of water in activities like washing cars, watering gardens, or public showers. It is common to see signs in accommodation asking visitors to limit the length of their showers.
Poisonous and dangerous creatures
Australia is home to many of the deadliest species of insects, reptiles and marine life on the planet. However the average tourist is unlikely to encounter any of these in an urban environment. The vast majority of deaths from bites and stings in Australia are due to allergic reactions to bees and wasps.
Some of the information spread about Australia's dangerous wildlife is blown out of proportion. However, you should take warnings about jellyfish and crocodiles seriously in the tropics, and keep your distance from snakes in the national parks and bushland.
If travelling in rural areas it would be a good idea to carry basic first aid equipment including compression bandages and to learn what to do after a snake or spider bite.
Snakes and spiders
Australia is home to six of the top ten deadliest snakes in the world. Never try to pick up any snake, even if you believe it to be a non-poisonous species. Most people bitten by snakes were trying to pick up the snake, kill the creature, or inadvertently step on one whilst out walking. Snakes will generally try to put as much distance between themselves and you as possible, so if you see a snake while out walking, simply go around it or walk the other way. Walking blindly into dense bush and grassy areas is not advisable, as they are places where snakes may hide. For the most part, snakes fear humans and will be long gone before you ever get the chance to see them.
It is common to see spiders in Australia, and most will do you no harm. Wear gloves while gardening or handling leaf litter. Check or shake out clothing, shoes, etc that have been left outside before putting them on. Don't put your fingers under rocks, into tree holes, where spiders might be.
The world's deadliest spider is the Sydney Funnel Web spider, found in and around Sydney and eastern New South Wales. Until the late 1970s a bite from this spider could result in death, but anti-venom is now available. The spider is anywhere up to 5 cm large, and is usually black. If you are in an area that is known for having Funnel Web spiders and you are bitten by a spider that you believe could be a Funnel Web it is important you get to hospital as quickly as possible. Funnel Webs can seek shelter indoors when there is a lot of rain, however they are usually found under rocks, especially if recent gardening has taken place.
The Red Back spider (usually easily identified by a red mark on its abdomen), is common and after a bite it is important to seek medical attention, however it is not as urgent as with a Funnel Web. Red Backs typically hide in dark places and corners. It is highly unusual to see them indoors, however they can hide in sheds, around outdoor tables and chairs and under rocks or other objects sitting on the ground.
Anti-venom is available for most spider and snake bites. If bitten you should immobilise the wound (by wrapping the affected area tightly with strips of clothing or bandages) and seek immediate medical help. Do not clean the wound as hospitals can test venom residues to determine what species anti-venom should be used. If you are in an isolated area send someone else for help. The venom of some snakes (the taipan in particular) can take effect within fifteen minutes, but if the wound is immediately immobilised and you rest it is possible to delay the onset of poisoning by one to a few hours, depending on the creature. If possible, you should attempt to identify the creature that bit you (in the case of spiders it might be possible to trap it in a jar and take it to the hospital) so that the appropriate anti-venom can be administered swiftly.
First aid treatment for spider bites may vary in Australia compared to other areas of the world. Always seek medical advice after a bite has occurred.
Travellers in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory, or northern Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal stings from the Box Jellyfish if swimming in the ocean between October and May. They are very hard to detect and can be found in very shallow water. Stings from these jellyfish are 'excruciating' and often fatal. Vinegar applied immediately to adhering tentacles will lessen the amount of venom injected, but immediate medical assistance will be required. The danger season varies by location. In general the jellyfish are found close to shore, as they breed in the estuaries. They are not generally found out on the Great Barrier Reef, and many people swim on the reef without taking any precautions. Seek out reliable local information. Some locals at the beach can be cavalier to the risks.
Irukandji are another species of tiny (fingernail sized) jellyfish that inhabit the waters off Northern Australia and the surrounding Indo-Pacific islands. They are also very hard to see, and can be dangerous, although stings are rare. Unlike the box jellyfish they are found out on the reef. The initial bite can go unnoticed. There is debate as to whether they can be fatal, but they certainly can place a victim in hospital, and cause extreme pain lasting days. If you have nausea or shooting pains not long after emerging from the water seek medical treatment.
A "stinger-suit" that is resistant to jellyfish stings costs around $100 or can be hired for around $20 a week.
Blue ring octopus
Found in rock pools around the coasts of Australia is the tiny Blue Ring Octopus. Usually a dull sandy-beige colour, the creature has bright blue circles on its skin if threatened. The Blue Ring Octopus is rare and shy. Avoid placing your hand under rocks or in crevaces in rock pools or near the shore as this is where they tend to hide. Most locals do the same. It has a powerful paralysing toxin which can result in death unless artificial respiration is provided. In the history of Australia there are only two confirmed deaths by Blue Ring Octopus.
Travellers in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory or north Western Australia should be aware of the risk of fatal attacks by saltwater crocodiles in and adjacent to northern waters (ocean, estuarine and fresh water locations) between King Sound, Western Australia, and Rockhampton, Queensland. Saltwater crocodiles in these areas can reach 25 feet in length and can attack in water without warning. Despite what their name implies, they can be found in both salt and fresh water. On land, crocodiles usually lie motionless, but they have the ability to move with extraordinary speed in short bursts. There are relatively few attacks resulting in injury — most attacks are fatal. Dangerous swimming areas will usually have prominent warning signs. In these regions only swim in inland waters if you are specifically advised that they are safe. Since 1970 there has been about one crocodile attack on a human each year.
The smaller freshwater crocodile is, unlike the saltwater, timid and will avoid humans if possible. The freshwater may attack to defend itself or its eggs or if startled. They can inflict a nasty bite but due to their small jaws and teeth this will rarely cause death in humans.
The Gympie bush (Dendrocnide moroides), also known as the stinging tree, is a stinging plant, whose microscopic stinging hairs on leaves and branches can cause severe pain for up to several weeks. They are mostly found in North-east Queensland, especially in rain forest clearings. However, the Gympie bush and other closely related species (there are about five) of stinging tree can be found in south-east Queensland, and further south in eastern Australia. People bushwalking in such areas are advised not to touch the plant for any reason.
Crime rates in Australia are roughly comparable with other first world countries: few travellers will be victims of crime. You should take normal precautions against bag snatching, pick pocketing and the like. There are some areas of the large cities that are more dangerous after dark, but there generally are no areas that the police refuse to patrol or that are dangerous to enter if you aren't a local.
Australian police are approachable and trustworthy, and you should report assaults, theft or other crime to the police as soon as possible. Under no circumstances should you offer an Australian police officer (or for that matter, any other government official such as a customs officer) a bribe or gratuity, as this is a crime and they will enforce the laws against it.
When leaving your car alone, make sure it is locked, that the windows are rolled up, and that there are no obvious targets for theft in the vehicle, as thieves will often smash windows to get at a phone, GPS or bag that is visible in the car.
Racism is a sensitive subject in Australia. There are laws against any form of racial vilification or discrimination with jail terms possible for breaches of some states racial vilification laws. It isn't hard to find someone who will express some form of racist views in a pub in Australia. It is much rarer to find someone who will openly express aggression towards any racial group. Australia is outwardly a multicultural and racially tolerant society.
Some language used for ethnic groups that you may find offensive may not be considered offensive by the standards of some Australians. Terms such as Yank, Pom, Paki and to a lesser extent Wog are used in casual conversation in the presence of those respective nationalities, often between friends, and as such are not seen as offensive. However, tread carefully before using slang racial descriptors yourself, to avoid the possibility of offence. Some will choose a racial abuse term if involved in an argument, over a more general abusive term.
Additionally, the term "nigger" does not carry with it, the same connotations as it does in other parts of the world, though is generally frowned upon.
The indigenous population of Australia are sometimes called "Abos". This is considered a racist term.
It is not offensive to use Aussie (Ozzie) to describe Australian people, in fact many Australian's use it to identify themselves, though some see it as low-brow. They are likely to apply it to things (Aussie Rules, etc.) as well as to themselves. When the chant of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie - Oi Oi Oi goes up at an international sporting event, some Australians will cringe, and others will join in. Often this depends on their own perceived social standing, or their state of inebriation, or both. In parts of Australia that are racially fractured, Aussie and Australian can both be used as a divisive terms to identify racial heritage. Ensure that you use the terms Aussie and Australian inclusive of Australians of all racial heritage.
Attempts to scam tourists are not prevalent in Australia; but take some precautions such as finding out a little bit about your destination. There have been instances of criminals tampering with ATMs so that cash is trapped inside them, or so that they record card details for thieves. You should check your transaction records for odd transactions after using an ATMs and immediately contact the bank controlling the ATM if a transaction seems to be successful but the machine doesn't give you any cash. Always cover the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN to prevent any skimming devices which have cameras recording your PIN.
Opium, heroin, amphetamines (speed), cocaine, LSD and ecstasy among other drugs are all illegal both to possess and to sell in all states of Australia. Trafficking offences are federal offences, and carry a long jail term. Australia shares information on drug trafficking with other countries, even those with the death penalty.
Penalties for possession or sale of small amounts of marijuana are typically lower than for other drugs, and vary between states. In South Australia, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory jail terms do not apply to first time marijuana offences. Small scale (personal) marijuana growing is decriminalised in the ACT, South Australia and Western Australia, so tourists can expect smoking weed to be more accepted in these places. Some states can issue on-the-spot fines for small amounts of marijuana whereas others always require a court appearance. Foreigners should not expect more lenient treatment than locals from Australian police for drug offences.
Amongst the youth in Australia drugs are tolerated and ecstasy can sometimes seem as normal as having a beer. Travellers to the main cities are more likely to experience Alcohol violence over any form of drug violence or problem, if you choose to possess an illicit substance police patrols can be high within Metropolitan areas bringing Police Dogs through even the smallest of Pubs.
Exposure to the sun at Australian latitudes frequently results in sunburn. Getting sunburnt can make you feel feverish and unwell and may take a few days or weeks to heal depending on the severity. It means you can't go back out into the sun until the sunburn fades, so getting sunburnt on the first day of your beach holiday can seriously reduce the fun of your trip. It can take as little as 15 minutes to burn in Australia on a fine summer's day. You should wear sunscreen (SPF 30+), clothing, and a hat to shade the sun.
Reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours throughout the day as it wears off quickly if you are sweating or swimming. Make sure to cover all parts of your body. UV radiation in the middle of the day can be double what it is in the early morning or later afternoon, so if possible avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day. Daily UV forecasts are issued by the Bureau of Meteorology and are available online. 
If you are heading to the beach, consider buying a sun-tent (less than $20 from discount and hardware stores). You can't hire beach umbrellas at Australian beaches, and they are very exposed.
Australia's cleanliness standards are high. Restaurants are required to observe strict food preparation standards and food poisoning is no more common than it is in other first world nations.
The tap water in Australia is almost always safe to drink, and it will be marked on the tap if this is not the case. The taste and hardness of the tap water will vary considerably across the country. Bottled water is also widely available. Carrying water on hot days is a good idea in urban areas, and it is a necessity if hiking or driving out of town. At sites where tap water is untreated, water sterilization tablets may be used as an alternative to boiling.
Australia does not have endemic communicable diseases that will require non-standard vaccinations. Like many other countries, it will require evidence of yellow fever vaccinations on entry if you will have been in a country with a risk of infection within 6 days before your arrival in Australia. There is no rabies in Australia.
Mosquitoes are present all year round in the tropics, and during the summer in southern areas. Screens on windows and doors are common, and repellent is readily available. Ross River Virus is spread by mosquitoes in the tropics, and can make you sick for a few weeks. There have been cases of dengue fever. Malaria is not present in Australia.
As described above, 000 is the Australian emergency services number and in any medical emergency you should call this number and ask for an ambulance and other emergency services as necessary, to attend.
Australia has first world medical standards. In particular, it is safe to receive blood transfusions in Australia, as donors are screened for HIV, hepatitis and many other blood borne illnesses.
However, since Australia's population density is low, parts of Australia are a long way from medical facilities of any kind. Towns with populations of 5,000 or more will have a small hospital capable of giving emergency treatment in serious emergencies, and larger towns will have a base hospital capable of routine and some kinds of emergency surgery. In severe cases, particularly any kind of injury requiring microsurgery, you will need to be evacuated to one of the capital cities for treatment. Evacuation procedures are well established and normally involve being evacuated by plane or helicopter. For this reason travel insurance or ambulance membership is highly recommended for those travelling to remote areas as helicopter evacuation could cost thousands.
Capital cities will have medical centres where you can drop in, often open on weekends or until late. In country towns you may have to make an appointment, and may have no alternative other than the closest hospital after hours and weekends. You can also expect to wait a few hours if your condition isn't urgent.
Australian citizens and permanent residents who live in the country can receive health care through the taxpayer funded Medicare.
Travellers from New Zealand, Ireland, United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Italy, Slovenia, Malta and Norway are entitled to free reciprocal Medicare treatment for medical problems that occur during their visit, but should familiarise themselves with the conditions of the reciprocal arrangement. For example Irish and New Zealanders are only entitled to free treatment at a hospital, whereas the other reciprocal nationalities are entitled to subsidised treatment at general practitioners as well. No reciprocal programs cover private hospitals, and the full cost will have to be met. Consider travel insurance. If not a citizen or permanent resident of a reciprocal country, you can expect to pay around $60 to see a general practitioner, plus any additional costs for any pathology or radiology required. The charge to pay to visit a local hospital can be much more expensive, private hospitals even more so, up to $500 even if you are not admitted, and thousands if you are. Further information about reciprocal healthcare arrangements is available from the Department of Human Services  .
Australia offers many Internet access options for travellers. Be aware that many internet companies cap usage, finding an unlocked Wi-Fi connection is uncommon.
Internet cafés abound in most centres of population that normally cost $4-$5 per hour. Many internet cafés have 12-20 computers sharing a single broadband connection, sometimes making the internet painfully slow. If possible ask if you can check the speed of a café's connection before forking out $4-$5 for an hour.
Public libraries usually offer some for of Internet access to travellers, either free or for a small fee. Some restrict access to email, promoting research use of their facilities. Others offer Wi-Fi as well as terminals, with Wi-Fi usually being free of restrictions.
Major hotels offer Internet access, usually for a fee. It is still unusual to find in-room Internet access in smaller hotels and in motels. Most youth hostels and backpacker accommodation have at least an Internet terminal at reception.
Some accommodation providers offer Wi-Fi to their guests, almost always with a charge.
GPRS and 3G wireless Internet connections are available through all cellular phone networks. Australia has cellular networks operated by Telstra , Optus  and Vodafone , and each of the networks have several resellers with different price plans. OpenSignal provide independent cellular coverage maps of Australia.
If you have a 3G/UMTS-enabled phone, make sure it supports the appropriate frequencies: 850/2100 MHz for Telstra, and 900/2100 MHz for Optus and Vodafone. Also check with your home carrier for data roaming fees (likely quite expensive).
4G LTE Networks have been rolled out via Telstra and Optus in major cities on the 1800mhz frequency band.
Several carriers offer prepaid 3G access with no contract from around $25 per month with various bundles and inclusions, which can be found in shopping centers and supermarkets. For around $40 you can get a USB modem or WiFi dongle. If you plan to stay for more than a month, LiveConnected  (which runs on the Optus network) offer the best value mobile plans with no contracts, starting at $8 per month, however the service must be ordered online. TPG (also runs on Optus network) is another company which offers mobile and broadband services, and offers the most affordable mobile and ADSL broadband. 
It should be noted that while most phone providers will give good coverage in metropolitan and most regional areas, Telstra's mobile network is generally regarded as to having superior coverage, particularly in less built up areas. However, their rates are often significantly higher. See coverage maps for Vodaphone , Optus  and Telstra .
There are no restrictions on overseas residents getting an Australian prepaid SIM card. In fact, it is extremely easy to go into Woolworths/Safeway (Australia's largest grocery chain) and buy a SIM card over the counter (though no calls are included). Take your passport for identification in case it is required.
There are many small but reliable ISPs offering dialup Internet the $12–$15 per month flat rate range.
There are also several ISPs who have a pre-paid arrangement at about $1 per hour of use. It can be surprisingly difficult to find Australian dialup ISPs with instant online signup, but they do exist (Beagle  is one).
You can buy prepaid dialup cards for several ISP's from Dick Smith stores, for around $20 per month unlimited. In the cities, many small business mobile phone shops sell a large range of prepaid phone cards, including prepaid dial-up cards. The ISPs Dodo  and Planet  for example have prepaid internet cards available for around $10 a month from a variety of retail outlets.
If moving around, check that your ISP has an access number that can be reached via a local call from landlines nationwide (the access number starts with 019 or 13), rather than just in the ISP home city. All prepaid cards that can be purchased from Dick Smith have access from anywhere in Australia for a local call fee.
The country code for international calls to Australia is +61. When dialing from overseas, omit any leading '0' in the area code.
For example, the local number for the Broken Hill tourist information is 8080 3300. The area code is 08 as Broken Hill is in the Central & West area code region. To dial the number from Adelaide or anywhere else inside the same area code region you can optionally omit the area code, and just dial 8080 3300. To dial the number from Sydney or anywhere in Australia outside the area code region, you will need to dial 08 8080 3300. If you don't know your area code region, you can still dial the area code, and it will still work. To dial the number from overseas you will need to dial your local international access code (00 for most of Europe or 011 in the USA and Canada) and then dial 61 8 8080 3300, that is drop the leading '0' from the area code.
There can be many ways of writing the same number, as people try to present the number from the caller's perspective.
are all the same number, and the same rules apply. If you are dialing within Australia the area code must begin with a '0'. If you are dialing internationally, there is no leading '0'.
Australian Area Code List:
The outgoing international dialing access code (from within Australia) is 0011 (note, "00" and "011", common elsewhere in the world, will not work in Australia).
Local calls are about AUD$0.25 on most fixed lines and AUD$0.50 on all Telstra Pay Phones.
Calling special numbers internationally can often work - just try dialing the number prefixed with the +61 country code. Many locations will give an alternative direct number for use in international dialing. You can use the non-geographical number search on e164.org.au  to look up a normal number from a 13 or 18 number.
You may make reverse charge calls by using the number 1800 REVERSE (1800 7383773).
Mobile Cellular Phones
Australia has three nationwide cellular (mobile) phone networks based on the GSM standard (900 and 1800mhz) operated by Telstra , Optus  and Vodafone . There are also four UMTS networks, two of which are nationwide. One is operated by Telstra (UMTS 850mhz, also marketed by Telstra as Next G) and the other by Optus (a combination of UMTS 2100mhz and 900mhz). The other two networks are limited to capital cities, are on the 2100mhz band and are operated by Vodafone and Three . Vodafone have announced a nationwide 3G (UMTS) rollout on the 900mhz band.
For those holding foreign SIM cards, international roaming is generally seamless onto Australia's GSM 900/1800 and 3G (UMTS/W-CDMA) networks, subject to agreements between operators. Check with your home operator before you leave to be sure.
All carriers offer service in major cities, large towns, and major highways on the East Coast. No carriers offer service in unpopulated areas away from major roads. Telstra's 850mhz 3G network provides wider coverage in smaller towns and lightly populated areas.
Web address for coverage maps are linked below:
You can buy a cheap prepaid mobile phone in Australia with a SIM for around $40 in most retail outlets, supermarkets, and post offices, or a SIM for your existing phone at around $2-$3. You can then top it up with credit using recharge cards you can purchase at all supermarkets, newsagents, some ATMs, and other outlets.
Prepaid calls cost roughly 60c per minute plus 30c flagfall, again depending on the network. SMS is generally 25c. You can buy a seemly infinite variety or packages, caps and bundles, with combinations of data, sms, call time, and SIM cards. Read the fine print, and as a rule, the more "value" that is included in your "package" or "cap", the more expensive the elements of the package are. For example call charges can rise from 60c to $1.20 per minute on a $29 cap that includes $150 value. All is fine if you stay within the minutes allowed for the cap you choose, but it can cost a fortune very quickly if you exceed what you thought you would use.
There are no restrictions on overseas residents getting a Australian prepaid SIM card. Take your passport for identification in case it is required.
If you need comprehensive coverage in rural and remote areas, you can use a satellite phone. Iridium, Globalstar and Thuraya satellite services are available in Australia. Expect to pay around $120 per week to hire a satellite phone, plus call costs. Satellite messaging units, which send your location and a help SMS or email, that can be hired for around $80 per week.
These units are only available from specialist dealers, often only in major cities (away from the remote areas you may be visiting). You should be able to acquire or hire these units in your home country before departure if you wish.
Text messages can be sent from many public phones, using the keypad in much the same way as a mobile phone. Follow the instructions on the phone display.
Australia Post  runs Australia's postal service. Letters can be posted in any red Australia Post posting box, which are found at all post offices and many other locations. All stamps can be purchased from post offices, and some stamps can be purchased from newsagents and hotels. Posting a standard letter costs $0.60 within Australia (up to 250g), or $1.40 for the rest of the world (up to 20g only). 'Domestic' and 'international' stamps are different, as international is tax free, therefore, so make sure you use the right stamp. Parcels, express post and other services are also available.