Travel Tips for Australia
Sure, it's a long, long flight from anywhere else in the world, but Australia rewards the diligent traveler with many delights. It offers spectacular landscape and abundant and peculiar wildlife. There's sport for both active participant and casual spectator. And of course the people are charming and colorful.
Weather and Climate
Because Australia is situated in the Southern Hemisphere, its seasons are the opposite of what they are in the Northern Hemisphere. Spring runs from September to November, summer from December to February, fall from March to May and winter from June to August. And because of Australia's position south of the Equator, the further south you go in the country, the cooler the weather gets.
Northern Australia is hot all the time. In the Northwest it's hot and wet during monsoon season (December to March) and hot and dry the rest of the year. Central Australia is arid and unbearably hot in the summer. As with many other desert regions, it can get very cold after dark. In the south the summers are either warm or hot, while winter can get cold and even rainy, with snow in the mountains thick enough to provide good skiing.
Australia's generally an informal place, but do bring something nice to wear of you plan to do business, visit a casino, eat in fancy restaurants, or attend any official events. Otherwise, just bring the sort of clothes you'd need for the particular climate region and season of your visit. Considering the great beaches the country has, you'd be foolish not to bring along swim wear.
If you plan to explore the Outback, bring rugged clothing with natural fibers that breathe well. A sun hat and lots of sunscreen are useful pretty much anywhere you go. And don't forget that old stand-by required of all world travelers—say it with me now—a good, solid pair of walking shoes.
Food and Drink
In recent years chefs have worked to develop Australia as a foodie destination. What they've developed is a Pacific fusion, combining elements of the Greek, Thai, Vietnamese, Turkish, Lebanese, Malaysian, Yugoslavian, Indian and even British foods brought to Australia by immigrants. Not surprisingly, fish and seafood are popular in Australia, as well as lamb and more exotic ingredients.
Make sure and try some Vegemite, a salty yeast extract that's spread on bread.
Two native desserts are Pavlova, made of meringue, cream and fruit, and Lamington, a sponge cake covered with chocolate and coconut.
Australian wines have developed an international following, and most wineries are open for tours. Popular grapes cultivated are Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Riesling, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvingnon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Sémillon.
Aussies also love their beer, but most brands are distributed only in specific regions.
Strine is the curious and colorful lingo particular to Australia. It's an odd mix of, among other things, working-class British and Aboriginal terms, mingled together and delivered in a nasal drawl. You've probably heard some Strine without realizing it, especially if you've seen Paul Hogan's “Crocodile Dundee” movies. Notable examples of Strine include the greeting “G'day,” “beaut”--meaning “great,” “sheila”--meaning “woman” and “fair dinkum”--meaning “honestly.” When you hear Strine, and you will, just try to enjoy it. If you attempt to speak it and are not Australian, you'll sound like an idiot.
Nature is Australia's chief glory. The country is home to over 3,400 national parks and quite a few World Heritage Sites, including the Great Barrier Reef and Ayers Rock. Spend a little time in one of these parks and you might come across kangaroos, koalas, crocodiles, echidnas, wombats, wallabies, kookaburras, or even the duck-billed platypus.
If you're near Brisbane in northeast Queensland in August or September take a whale watching tour at Hervey Bay west of Fraser Island.
The pull of the legendary Outback is too hard for the more adventurous travelers to resist. But if you do venture into this arid region, take plenty of precautions. Don't think about going into the Outback between October and April. Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle. Take along one more spare tire than you'll need, so if you get stuck out in the middle of nowhere you can set it on fire and get rescued. Pack lots of extra food and water and warm clothing.
Bring a GPS, good maps, satellite phone and a radio transceiver so you can call for medical assistance.
Exercise caution when driving. Enormous long-distance trucks called “road trains” tear across the Outback at top speeds and the drivers stop for nothing and nobody.
Don't drive at night—animals tend to run out into the road. Don't let the road hypnotize you during the day.
If you break down or get lost, don't abandon your car—it's easier to see from a distance than you are.
Sports and Recreation
Australia's legendary beaches provide some of the finest opportunities in the world for sunbathing, people-watching, boating, fishing, diving and of course, surfing.
The mountains in the Northwest and Victoria are great for snow skiing. Places for camping, hiking and extreme sports can be found all over the country. Leading spectator sports include cricket, tennis, swimming, soccer, rugby league, rugby union and Australian rules football.
Betting is popular here as well, at casinos, as well as horse races, camel races, scorpion races...you get the idea.
The Aborigines are the indigenous people of Australia and their customs, artwork and vocabulary are deeply embedded in the national culture. The best way of interacting with Aborigines is by means of an organized tour group. Indeed, some Aborigines run their own nature tours.
Next to stuffed, plush koala toys, the most popular Australian souvenirs are Aboriginal arts and crafts, especially the didgeridoo. This peculiar musical instrument is best found in the Northern Territory, though factory-made knock-offs can be found all over the country. Expect to pay over $250 for the real thing. Make sure you get certification of authenticity, as well as lessons on how to play the instrument.
Health and Safety Concerns
Don't worry too much about contacting any weird diseases in Australia—it's a sunny, healthy place. You don't even need shots to enter the country unless you've been in an epidemic area during the two weeks preceding your arrival.
Take along your usual medications, bring copies of your prescriptions, attend quickly to bites, scratches and cuts, watch out for dust, pollen, the sun and the heat, keep well hydrated and, as the locals say, “No worries.”
Though Australia is a notoriously laid back place, you can never be too careful when traveling in this day and time. Prior to visiting Australia go to the US State Department website for travel alerts, warnings and general information.
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