For centuries, Australia’s mysterious landscape tantalized the developing world from its remote location, waiting for modernization to finally seize control. Nevertheless, even after its seeming inevitable colonization in 1788, Australia has proven to be a unique and majestic destination. Today, millions still flock to the ‘land down under’ to experience its rare culture, landscape, and climate.
From the unforgiving harshness of Australia’s arid center, to the thriving coastal plains, this remarkable nation boasts a tremendously varied and breathtakingly beautiful environment. Dense tropical rainforests, wildlife-filled wetlands, striking surf beaches, chaotic cosmopolitan cities, rugged mountain peaks…the list of Australia’s fine terrains are almost endless. Luckily for tourists, the country’s domestic transportation is world-class. Yet, visitors should expect to spend quite a bit of time traveling if they want to see it all in one trip.
The best time to travel to Australia depends on the type of vacation visitors are seeking. Exploring the northern tropics should be done a few weeks after the wet season ceases, at the end of March or during April. Sydney and Brisbane on the east coast, between the Sunshine Coast and New South Wales’s southern coast, are perfect during summer, as daylight hours are lengthy and the hot sunny climate makes the beaches perfect.
Skiing the snowfields is recommended during late June, early July when the heaviest snow falls are experienced. However, the sites located throughout Australia’s red center are year-round attractions. The peak tourism season is undoubtedly between November and February, when high tempereatures and favorable weather lure tourists to Australia’s beaches. Hotel rates at waterfront destinations swell during the Christmas and New Year holiday season, but fall dramatically in the winter. Easter is also a peak season in Australia, which usually falls at the end of March or beginning of April.
Currency: Australian Dollar
Official language: English
Indigenous Australians first emigrated onto the continent more than 40,000 years ago, while European influences didn’t start to show until the 17th century. With the colonization of Southeast Asia by European powers, Australia’s northern reaches were constantly visited by Dutch traders. However, the rest of Australia went largely untouched until 1770 when British explorer, Captain James Cook, navigated Australia’s east coast, naming it New South Wales under the British crown.
Eighteen years after James Cook’s discovery, Captain Arthur Phillip led a fleet in 1788 to begin a new British crown colony in New South Wales. He landed at Sydney Cove and immediately began developing the area. Eventually, expeditions of the Australian coastline led to more colonies in the following years, including Tasmania in 1825, South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859.
Despite popular belief, Australia’s population grew through the arrival of free settlers, not relocated British convicts. A population explosion occurred during the gold rush of the 1850’s, and by the turn of the century, the separate colonies voted to become a British dominion and Australia officially became a unified nation on January 1, 1901. After federation, Australia’s economy thrived with its abundance of natural resources, but was limited by lack of manpower.
Following WWII, in which Australia fought on several fronts, a large influx of Europeans immigrated into the country. This was the beginning of Australia’s modern wave of migrants, which also included Asians and Africans over the next 50 years.
Visitors can find out more about Australia’s short yet fascinating history at Sydney’s Australian Museum (6 College Street, Sydney) and the Australian National Maritime Museum (2 Murray Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney). Plenty of colonial remnants are found throughout Australia, including the spectacular Port Arthur Historical Site (Arthur Highway, Port Arthur, Tasmania), which is a well-preserved penal settlement complete with eerie convict quarters.
Australia’s modern culture has been shaped by a number of factors, including Americanization, immigration, ancient heritage, and climate. With much of the population living close to the coast, a strong beach culture dominates society. Even in major city centers, it is not uncommon to see locals wearing beach attire around town. The warm, sunny climate also permits an array of outdoor activities, happily lapped up by locals. A typical Aussie Saturday afternoon is spent at a barbecue with friends or family. Australians are very active yet laid-back people, and this certainly shows through their love of sports, whether they are participating or observing.
Indigenous culture is still prevalent in many parts of the country, and tourists can easily find package tours to learn more. The native Aboriginal people are a proud race, and still practice ancient cultural aspects of tribal life, including dancing, music, art, and even hunting. Arnhem Land is an Aboriginal region in the Northern Territory.
Due to Australia’s enormous size, the country experiences varied weather from one region to the next. The northern reaches are renowned for their tropical climate, receiving much of the country’s rainfall during the summer months of December, January, and February. The months of April to October are known as the dry season, when temperatures are generally lower and precipitation is almost non-existent.
Australia’s eastern coast receives most of the rainfall. However, the arid and semi-arid interior experiences very limited rain levels. The Great Dividing Range which travels down the entire eastern coast, generally experiences four district seasons, with summer temperatures hovering around 79° to 82°F (26 to 28°C), and mild to cold winters ranging between subzero temperatures and 54°F (12°C). Snowfall is part of the winter highland region of Australia’s great southeast.
With much of Western Australia covered by arid desert land, most of the state population lives in the southwestern region. Summers tend to be hot, with averages of about 86°F, whereas winters experience a much milder and wetter climate. It is not uncommon for temperatures in the summer months to skyrocket above 104°F (40°C), and storms to hit frequently.
Unless tourists have an Australian or New Zealand passport, visas are essential for getting into the country. Most tourists will need to obtain a Tourist Visa, although eVisitor visas and Electronic Authority Travel visas are now available for some foreign nationals, including travelers from the United States. The ETA is only AU$20, but must be applied for and received prior to arriving on Australian soil. Check out all visa and travel information at www.immi.gov.au.
Taxis are great when traveling within cities. However, they are not recommended for intrastate travel, as services are quite expensive. Yellow Cabs (+61-7-3391-5955) and Black & White Cabs (+61-7-3860-9999) are two of the largest taxi companies in the country. Taxis charge by the meter, and rates differ according to the time of day and type of taxi ordered. For example, limousine taxis are much more expensive than regular sedans. Streets and roads in Australia are well-signed, so traveling between cities is easy with a rental car. Most cities and towns boast reputable rental companies, but tourists should pre-book vehicles, especially during the summer, the peak road-travel period in Australia.
In cities bound by rivers or harbors, such as Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney, water taxis have become an important part of the transportation network. Water ferries provide a great option for travelers, as inner-city traffic on major roads is common. Taking a river or harbor ferry can make travel faster and far more enjoyable. Ticket prices are generally similar to train fares within the larger cities.
Inner-city bus networks dominate public transportation in Australia. In Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne, major bus lane developments and bus skyways have begun to make this transportation option more convenient. Greyhound and Murray are two of the busiest inter-city coach companies, offering the cheapest transportation between Australia’s major cities. However, due to the great distances required to travel around Australia, coaches and buses are also the most time consuming
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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