What is it about Australia that captures the imagination of the world traveler? Is it the allure of the intrepid mountain climber to scale the rocky face of Ululu, or the thrill of the snorkel or scuba diver to explore the Great Barrier Reef?
Perhaps it’s the compelling history of the Aborigines and the urge to understand these people, who have held on to their culture if not in all of Australia at least in some remote parts.
Could it be the stunning beauty that nature has painted onto this great land, with its formidable rock outcroppings, spectacular waterfalls, and colorful canvases, an achievement of nature’s architect at work? And for the very courageous is there an urge to challenge the Outback, a vast expanse of dry desert land stifling hot during the day and bitter cold at night?
Whatever the reason, Australia stands out as one of the most intriguing places to visit on earth. With over 2,000 islands, more National Parks than any other country and all of her natural wonders, there is such diversity to be found here. Not just in the land, but in the multicultural people, the flora and the fauna.
Although Australia is the world’s smallest continent, flanked by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Indian Ocean to the west, it is well-known for its famous cities, Aboriginal art and the unspoiled wilderness that in some areas nature successfully fights off all of man’s attempts to tame.
The mainland of Australia consists of six states, and two territories
States & Cities
New South Wales
Australian Capital Territory
Australia also has over 2,000 islands scattered in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Many of these islands are National Parks such as Tasmania.
Sydney- Australia’s largest city
Other Areas of Interest:
Uluru-Kata Tjunta National Park– where the great rock face Uluru is located.
Hyden – in Western Australia, 3 miles east of Hyden you will find Wave Rock, a colorful granite wave sweeping over the landscape.
Great Barrier Reef – here you can snorkel and scuba dive among over 2,000 species of fish and other sea life.
Broome – this is where the Asian pearl divers first settled along the coast. The town is fascinating and outside of town the Broome Crocodile Park can be found where over one-thousand crocodiles live and are maintained.
Outback– Here the challenge lies in exploration. Even the most seasoned hiker/explorer should consider an organized tour of this desert land. There are no convenient rest areas, restaurants or gas stations available here on every corner. Popular mode of transport is by 4WD and camel.
Settled more than 40,000 years ago, with immigrating Aboriginal peoples from South-east and South Asia, Australia was pretty isolated from the rest of the world. In 1788 British Settlers arrived bringing with them diseases unknown to the Aborigines subsequently wiping out large numbers of the population. The Aborigines were unprepared for the weapons the British brought with them, and so they were forced off their land living further inland, while their original home was claimed in the name of King Charles III.
Australia was initially formed as a penal colony. The dregs of society were crammed into the holds of ships and had to endure long months at sea. Many died during the eight month crossing, and those who survived were placed into one of two systems once they landed. They were either sold into servitude for the Australian government, or the private land-owners. The government convicts were the convicts who had committed the worst offenses. Shackled together at waist and ankle in heavy chains they were forced to build roads. These chain gangs were also responsible for the entire top layer of Pinchgut Island being removed.
The convicts sold to the private landowners fared somewhat better. They were put upon to do the hard labor required on the farms and while in service, they managed to keep small items of value. Once they were freed, they would then sell these items to make a new life.
By the 1850’s when the gold rush started many British people had arrived along with the Asian and European immigrants, all free settlers. They formed a highly diversified and multicultural society. Among these first settlers were many Asian people, who settled near the coast and began towns such as Broome. There they began to dive for pearls and today many of the towns still show the markers to the cemeteries and graveyards of these oriental divers.
During WWI and WWII Australia had developed into a manufacturing commodity and made great strides in aiding the British during these wars. Coast watchers were also chosen. These civilian men were equipped with telegraphic equipment and set up in remote areas on the coastal line to watch and report about any enemy movements.
The original land-dwellers, the Aborigines were forced when the first settlers arrived, to become second-class citizens. They were only recognized as full citizens in 1966; although an important part of Australian history (they arrived on the mainland over 60,000 years ago) quickly adapting to the climate and the demands the land placed on them. Successful hunter/gatherers, they followed the game becoming seasonal hunters. Using primitive tools and a few crude weapons, they established bands bound by kinship and self-government. By 8,000 BC they had developed the boomerang using it primarily to hunt game. Respecting the land with a spiritual reverence, they held to their traditions and culture.
A nomadic people they left their stories on the rocks and in the caves. Rock paintings can be seen all over Australia as you travel into the regions. These types of paintings are now transferred to canvas and hung in major art dealers’ galleries all over the world. Today many aborigines are working in sync with the Australian government in an attempt to better their living conditions and become recognized for what they are; a truly unique group of people who respect the land their ancestors first discovered.
For being an ancient land filled with wonders, Australia is also beset with modern day problems. Strong perpetual winds blowing in off the oceans deposit large amounts of saline in the lands found inland. This saline works down into the soil and causes root death of plants, trees, bushes and crops. Once the plant life is dead, the species that depend on these plants to survive also suffer. This causes the demise of biodiversity. Even before some species can be identified, they can become extinct.
Farmers fumigating their crops used methyl bromide as the general agent to dust over their land. This has contributed to the depletion of the ozone –layer and today, methyl bromide and anything that comes in an aerosol spray can is not legal to buy there.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority established an Act of Parliament in 1975 in order to save the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living reef systems from pollution, poachers and vandalism. Prior to this Act, the reef was pillaged by over zealous divers who wanted a piece of this wonder to take home. Many species of sea life were poached right out of the water and sold in other countries. The Great Barrier Reef is home to extensive sea grass beds, mangrove forests, and sponge gardens. Many of the Reef’s marine species rely on coastal freshwater wetlands and estuaries as breeding and nursery areas. Extensive land development along the shores has resulted in the polluting of these waters and the degrading of this unique system. Over 2,000 species of fish also depend on this reef for their survival. The reef is important to the economy of Australia as its mere presence supports ecotourism.
Air and water pollution is among the main issues facing Australia today. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, lead and particulate emissions are eating away at the quality of air. Over-developed shorelines are resulting in more pollutants spilling into the pristine oceans. The Australian government has vowed to reduce these emissions by the end of 2006 and have appointed a committee to address these issues along with other pollution concerns.
Australia is the word’s smallest continent, but it is the sixth largest country. The main population lies near the coast to the east and the south of the Great Dividing Range. These plateaus were formed over 80 million years ago, when a geological upset occurred pushing these rocks out of the earth towards the sky.
Inland and west lay the large expanse of dry, desert land known as the Outback. Although unbearably hot during the day, it can get bitter cold at night. Years can go by before the Outback sees one drop of rain, and living there is a hardship that only a few care to endure.
The land is a study of contrast. From desert sands to tropical rainforests, to lush grasslands, and even glacial mountains, the land is as diverse as the people who choose to live there.
The climate is as varied as the land is vast. For the most part the climate is arid. The Outback is hot and arid; the Southern half of Australia has warm summers and mild winters. To the north, you don’t have four seasons you only have two; a dry season and a wet one. The wet season brings with it monsoon rains and even occasional tropical cyclones.
Australia has three time zones:
Eastern Standard Time (EST)
Western Standard Time (WST)
Central Standard Time (CST)
Eastern Australia is two hours ahead of Western Australia. Central Australia is one-and-a-half hours ahead.
Daylight Savings Time is observed from October to March and only in New South Wales, ACT, South Australia and Victoria.
Rich in natural resources, Australia is a major exporter of coal, gold, meat, wool, alumina, wheat, machinery and transport vehicles. Competition from International markets continues to impede Australia’s growth and a severe drought in 1994 all but crippled their agricultural hold on the market. Because of this, Australia has looked elsewhere and recently ecotourism has risen to the forefront. A strong contender in economic growth because of the many activities that can be offered based around the natural wonders the land itself has always provided. Canberra’s emphasis on economic reforms is a key factor behind the economy’s strength.
Traveling to Australia
Because Australia is surrounded on all sides by water, the only way to access the mainland is by boat or plane. All the state capitals have major airports, many have major ports and this is invariably the first stopping place for International travelers. The best time to visit Australia is between May and October. The Southern coastline is a popular destination for many tourists. If you are a skier you can hit the slopes of the Victoria Alps in June through September. If you want to catch the spectacular colors of winter at Kakadu National Park, plan to visit during the wet season.
Serviced by over 50 International Airlines, you can catch flights to Australia from virtually anywhere in the world. Quantas is an easily recognized airline that flies in and out of Australia weekly. Flights between Australia and Europe encompass over 24 hours. Flights from Los Angeles, California to Sydney take about 14 hours. Keep in mind the time difference and plan accordingly, whether you want to schedule stopovers to catch up on much-needed sleep, or travel virtually non-stop with changeovers if required to get there faster. Air fares are expensive, so keep your eyes open for good deals being offered during the slower times of travel. Prior to landing you will be handed documents to fill out. These documents and your passport will be required at the Entry Control Point.
Customs Quarantine and Entry Control Points
At the Entry Control Point you will be asked to declare anything you are bringing in, and fresh food will be thrown away as Australia has strict custom requirements when it comes to bringing things into their country. With these restrictions heavily enforced, Australia has managed to stay free of certain diseases and insect pests found elsewhere. No fruits, vegetables, meat or other food products are allowed to be brought in unless they are made in a factory and found on the list of approved imports. You will not be penalized if illegal substances are found, but they will be tossed out or destroyed.
If you attempt to smuggle in any of these illegal substances, you will be heavily fined and quite possibly even tossed in jail.
Visas and Documentation
Visitors to Australia must present a valid passport that expires well beyond the date of departure. That Visa needs have been issued in the visitor’s country of origin, unless the visitor happens to live in New Zealand. To apply for a passport you must apply by mail or in person to the Australian Embassy nearest you. Allow at least 4 weeks for processing. You will have to provide proof that you are traveling there, and also show you have enough monies to not allow you to become stranded during your stay. Once you arrive, if you wish to stay longer, you can contact the Department of Immigration and ask for an extension. If you ask for an extension longer than a year, chances are strong you will be denied. You can also now apply online for a visa at http://www.immi.gov.au/visit/index.htm
Traveling by Ferry and Cruise Ship
Arrival by cruise ship is generally done by sailing into Sydney. These cruises are expensive, and there is a waiting list as they are part of a world-wide travel package offered by many of the cruise lines. If you can fly into Asia, you can catch a Princess Cruise line from there and lessen the waiting period. You will receive top-of-the-line service both on the ship as well as at the passenger terminal when you dock.
When traveling to Tasmania taking the ferry over a plane is viable option. Spirit of Tasmania I ferry from the Devonport- Melbourne route (about 10 hours) this travel is at night. Tasmania II travels from Devonport to Sydney in about 20-22 hours. During the day there are daytime crossings at peak hours.
Traveling within Australia
Most of the cities offer busses, open trolleys, or trains. Train travel is inexpensive, but the trips are long and there are not trains available in all places like in other countries. If you take a train from Sydney to Melbourne you are looking at a ten-and-a-half hour trip. However the first-class sleeper accommodations on the longer trips are luxurious and you are treated to spectacular scenery. Traveling motorail means you can take your car with you on the train. There is a central free phone number to contact Rail Australia to sort out your travel plans, or talk to your travel agent.
You can of course travel by car, or four-wheel drive. Rental cars are available at airports, and in some of the rural towns and all the cities. If your drivers license is in English, and you can prove you are a tourist (and no, hanging a camera around your neck and wearing a Hawaiian shirt won’t work). Then you do not have to apply for a special driving permit. If you have another license besides an English one, you will need to carry a translation. You must have this on your person at all times while driving.
You should also consider the benefits of a comprehensive insurance program. You never know what could happen while in this strange and wondrous land. If you are planning on traveling into the remote areas you should rent a 4WD. They are more expensive, but offer you better protection against the type of terrain you are likely to encounter. Take into account gasoline prices as well. The farther into the remote territories you travel, the more the likelihood of gas prices rising.
Rules of the Road
Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road. They yield to the right in the majority of cases. You also must yield to emergency vehicles, maintain the posted speed limit at all time and everyone in the car must wear seat belts. Be a courteous driver, don’t drive while intoxicated and if you get into an accident you are required to report to the nearest police station within 24 hours. Watch out for wildlife on the road. Hitting a kangaroo can prove deadly, not only to the kangaroo but to you as well. If you are traveling in the different cities, be sure to find out the specific rules that apply, for they do change. Make sure you have plenty of road maps and road guides and be careful while driving in the city. Have plenty of change on-hand for the parking meters.
Your best bet is to have a 4WD when traveling the Outback. Make sure you have current maps, advise someone at all times where you are going, and when you think you will arrive. Carry emergency supplies with you including road flares (for night) matches, water, food, blankets, compass, first-aid kit, extra shoes and socks. Make sure you know where the gas stations are, mark the towns on your map and don’t deviate from your route. Check your tires, and make sure your spare is good. If you do happen to break down, stay in your car until help arrives. You will have more of a chance in your vehicle than braving the Outback on foot.
English is the primary language for most Australians. It is used within the schools and it is generally the older individuals that are not fluent in English. Hotel workers, retail clerks, and anyone else directly working with the public will be speaking English. There are however over 200 Australian indigenous languages. Centuries ago there were more, but over time they have been destroyed or endangered. Only in the remote parts of Australia are these languages even spoken. You will also encounter Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian and Greek due to the influx of immigrants that settled here. There is no official second language. English is the most common.
Banks generally offer the best exchange rates, and in the cities and towns you should be able to find one or two main Australian banks in order to make the exchange. If you bring in more than $5,000 during your visit, you must declare this at customs when you enter the country.
The Australian currency is known as the dollar and the symbol is $. It is written out as AU$ (or Australian Dollar). It is worth between $0.50-.080 United States cents. The exchange rate lies heavily on the US dollar. No other currency is considered during this exchange.
Although single cents might still be used in rare instances the Australian coins $0.01 and $0.02 is no longer in circulation. The prices of items or services are thus rounded up to the nearest $0.05.
You are better off by carrying small denominations of bills, in order to finance your trip.
International Credit cards are widely accepted. Australian money (called notes) is produced in plastic polymer rather than on paper.
ATM machines are available at most places but you will have pay a hefty surcharge. ATM’S dole out bills in larger denominations and merchants will have a hard time making change for you.
Goods and Services Tax or GST is the universal sales tax. Exempt from this universal tax are food items. The tax is included in the price of the item not added at the time of sale. You can find duty-free shops in some of the larger cities, but to be exempt of the tax you will need to provide a copy of your ticket and your passport.
Dining out in Australia
Using local produce and meats, Australian chefs have successfully blended the flavors of Europe, Asia, the United States and the Middle East to create this highly successful cuisine. Each region is different, but you can taste such wonderful foods like Yum Cha, a Chinese dish featuring stuffed dumplings and meat or fish, pavlova a meringue dessert made with passion fruit or seasonal delights. Australians are famous for their world-renowned barbecues, so if you get a chance, don’t pass one up.
Kangaroo meat is routinely served in many establishments. Vegetarian diets are common to find. People observing religious restrictions on their diet will be able to find within the cities special butchers as well as restaurants that cater to their desire. Once they travel outside to the remote areas they may experience difficulty locating specific foods.
You are not allowed to smoke in the public restaurants, nor are you allowed to drink alcoholic beverages out in public on the many transit systems.
Lodging & Accomodation
You can find any sort of lodging to fit your needs, and your pocketbook. Exotic tropical resorts, youth hostels, hotels and motels, converted sheep stations, overnight camping in remote areas, Bed & Breakfasts, efficiency apartments, houseboats; you name it you will find it.
An average overnight stay in a typical motel will run you about $50.00 per night. You will have a bed, a private room and a separate shower and toilet. Breakfast comes with the room.
In a hostel, expect to share your room with others, and use a community toilet. You can find a list of backpacker’s hostels at http://home.vicnet.net.au/~hostels/
If you find yourself out of money on your vacation and you want to work in Australia to raise the funds to get home, unless you have a work visa, or live in New Zealand, you are out of luck. To obtain a work visa you need to treat it just as you did your passport. Expect about 4 weeks from the time applied till you hear back and apply through the Australian Embassy nearest your home. You will need a complete medical exam including a chest x-ray to show that you do not have tuberculosis.
The quickest way to get a work visa is to find an Australian employer who will sponsor you. If you want to take a working holiday, this can be arranged, but you need to do your research first.
Australia has a unique system for people between the ages of 18-30 in certain countries. It’s called a Working Man’s Holiday. You can stay in Australia a full year, but you can’t work for the same employer longer than 3 months. Thus you travel the country looking for work, while taking a holiday. If you have solid clerical skills, know the restaurant business or would be willing to be a fruit-picker this might be just what you are looking for. See Australia while making some pocket change at the same time.
Australia is subjected to adverse weather conditions including cyclones, annual floods and wildfires. Be aware of the dangers in your area that you wish to explore before setting out to do so. Make sure you are traveling when good weather is predicted not during the ‘Wet” season. If you are traveling during the dry season be prepared with supplies necessary for your survival should something unexpected happen to you.
Travelers should be aware of where their valuables are, and protect their pocketbook and wallet from pick- pockets and other thieves. Staying within the popular tourist spots in the cities will help ensure your safety, but if you happen to get lost and end up in the wrong section of town remain calm and find your way back quickly. Because Australia is so close to Asia, heroin trafficking is common in the back alleys and back streets. So try and stay on main streets.
After parking your car, make sure you lock it, and that the windows are securely closed. Don’t leave packages or purses on the seat; tuck all valuables away in the trunk.
Watch your ATM usage as some machines are tampered with and your money will get “stuck” inside. Just like in other countries, hitch-hiking is dangerous. You will see a lot of hitch-hikers, but you would be wise to let someone else pick them up. 000 can be dialed from any land phone in Australia, and is free. It connects you with an emergency operator and the operator will then channel your call to the correct party to help you. Do not dial this number unless it is an emergency.
If you are on a cell phone you can also dial 112 to obtain similar assistance.
Because Australia is so stringent with the visitors coming into the country, they have very little endemic, communicable diseases. Most of Australia’s tap water is perfectly safe to drink. If the area you have traveled to has a bacteria alert for their water, simply boiling the water will then make it safe to drink. In the highly populated areas, you will find first-rate health care, and in the remote areas you will have to travel great distances to reach a hospital.
Australia is inhabited with some of the most venomous creatures in the world. Taking precautions such as wearing thick socks, heavy boots, making sure you have a good first-aid kit in your vehicle, and keeping a careful eye out for where you are walking, chances are slim you will meet one of them. If you happen to get bit by a snake, stay calm and try to identify the snake that bit you for the people who will come to lend medical aid.
If you swim in remote areas of the coast, be aware of salt-water crocs, box jellyfish and riptides. Wear sun block at all time during the day.
Bushfires are common and spread fast. Just keep your wits about you and you should be just fine. But know what to do in case of a spider or a snake bite.
Australia has a vast resource of inexpensive internet options for tourists. Internet cafes are quite popular throughout the denser populated parts.
Overseas calls to Australia is +61
Australia uses and 8-digit local phone number for customers with a 2-digit STD area code.
To get an outgoing line you would need to dial 0011
Emergency calls should be dialed as 000
02 Central East (New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory)
03 South East (Victoria & Tasmania)
04 Mobile phones Australian-wide
07 North East (Queensland)
08 Central & West (West Australian, South Australian and the Northern Territory)
Local calls are about A$0.25 on most Land Lines and A$0.40 on all Telstra Pay Phones and not timed. Public telephone booths are abundant, but if you are staying at a hotel or motel, use the pay phone in the lobby instead of your room phone to save money. Pre-paid mobile phones are available at a reasonable cost. They are rechargeable.
Australia’s nickname is “Lucky Country.” Certainly after visiting this spectacular place you will have to agree it is aptly named, and you are one of the Lucky ones to be able to experience it!