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Australia

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  • Corny Point, South Australia
    Corny Point, South Australia
  • Cape York Peninsula, Australia
    Cape York Peninsula, Australia
  • The Three Sisters rock formation in Katoomba, NSW, Australia
    The Three Sisters rock formation in Katoomba, NSW, Australia
  • Koala
    Koala

Capable of winning over the most sceptical of travelling hearts, Australia is a land of savage beauty, big adventure and even bigger horizons. There are good reasons why it finds itself held up as one of the ultimate travel getaways, catering as it does for everyone from the most judicious luxury-seeker to the roughest-hewn backpacker. It has personality in spades. It has landscapes to die for. It has far more than its fair share of sunshine. And if beaches, rainforest and outback aren’t your thing, then its major cities are life-packed destinations in their own right.

In many ways the country breeds extremes. The fiery atmosphere of a gill-packed Aussie Rules match in Melbourne and the champagne-fuelled glitz of a Sydney Harbour cruise seem to belong to another planet entirely when compared to the quiet, epic expanses of the Red Centre and the glorious ocean-bashed coastlines of the west. Likewise, 40,000 years of aboriginal culture sometimes seem an unnatural bedfellow for the famed ‘no worries mate’ BBQ lifestyle of modern times. When taken as a whole, however, the sum of Australia’s quirks and contrasts makes it somewhere as fascinating as it is ferociously diverse.

Knowing where to go is arguably the toughest part. There are well-travelled paths, with Sydney and the east coast being a particularly popular choice, but when you’re faced with a country of this magnitude, potential itineraries are numberless. For the gastro-curious there are vineyards, food festivals, produce markets and local delicacies. For adrenaline nuts there are surf beaches, mountain trails, ski slopes and reef dives. Options are similarly plentiful for hedonists, families, wildlife-lovers and culture vultures. So when the tourist board controversially coined the slogan ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ a few years ago, it raised a fair point.

There are iconic Aussie clichés by the barrel-load (from cork hats, barbecues and koalas to crocodiles, cricketers and bush tucker) but the real beauty of the place lies in the stuff you’re not expecting. The sun-baked open road that suddenly unfurls to reveal a mile-wide panorama of green hills. The cold beer at an outback pub that turns into an evening-long chinwag with the locals. The stroll to the beach that throws up a street market, an open-air concert and an implausibly-hued sunset.

The size of the country (which comprises not only the mainland, of course, but also the not inconsiderable add-on of Tasmania) means that travellers can, and do, make numerous repeat visits. Taking in the whole destination on one trip is nigh impossible (unless you have a couple of years to spare), so it pays to focus on one region at a time. Like its increasingly celebrated food and wine, the country is best sampled unrushed. Set piece sights like the Opera House, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef might draw the majority of the headlines, but they represent the tiniest fraction of the overall appeal. A trip Down Under is now synonymous with escape, exploration and the promise of long-haul adventure – and it’s not easy to see that image changing anytime soon.

  • Capital:

    Canberra.

    Geography:

    Australia's great coastline covers 59,736km (37,119 miles); the country is lapped by the Arafura and Timor Seas to the north, the Coral and Tasman Seas of the South Pacific to the east, the Southern Ocean to the south, and the Indian Ocean to the west.

    Most of the population has settled along the eastern and southeastern coastal strip, with the notable exception of Perth, one of the most remote cities in the world, on the west coast. Australia is the smallest continent (and the largest island) in the world, and terrain ranges from baking red desert to lush green rainforest, and from world-renowned surfing beaches to snow-clad mountains.

     

    It’s partly the extreme diversity of different landscapes that makes Australia such a great travel proposition, in fact – there aren’t many countries that can offer natural features as richly eclectic as Uluru, the Great Ocean Road and the Great Barrier Reef.   

    In the east lies the Great Dividing Range; there are rainforests in the far northeast (mainly in Queensland); the southeast is a huge fertile plain; and further to the north lays the enormous Great Barrier Reef: a 2,000km (1,200-mile) strip of coral that covers a total area of 345,000 sq km (133,000 sq miles).

    Government:

    Constitutional monarchy. Gained independence from the UK in 1901.

    Head Of State:

    HM Queen Elizabeth II, represented locally by Governor-General Peter Cosgrove since 2014.

    Head Of Government:

    Prime Minister Tony Abbott since 2013. All individual states and territories have their own autonomous legislative, executive and judicial systems (though certain powers remain under the jurisdiction of the federal government).

    Electricity:

    220/240 volts AC, 50Hz. Three-pin plugs are in use, although these differ from UK three-pin plugs. Outlets for 110 volts for small appliances are found in most hotels.

    Timezone:
  • Currency Information:

    Australian Dollar (AUD; symbol A$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of A$100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of A$2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10 and 5 cents.

    Credit Cards:

    Major credit cards are accepted. Use may be restricted in small towns and outback areas.

    ATMs:

    Found in all major towns and cities. However you may have limited or no access to ATMs in small towns and outback areas.

    Travellers Cheques:

    Widely accepted in major currencies at banks or large hotels. However, some banks may charge a fee for cashing traveller's cheques. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in a major currency.

    Banking Hours:

    Mon-Thurs 0930-1600, Fri 0930-1700. These hours may vary slightly throughout the country.

    Currency Restrictions:

    The import and export of local and foreign currency is unrestricted. Amounts over €10,000 or equivalent must be declared.

    Currency Exchange:

    Exchange facilities are available for all incoming and outgoing flights at all international airports in Australia. International-class hotels will exchange major currencies for guests. It is recommended that visitors change money at the airport or at city banks.

    Currencies: Exchange Rates:

    • 1 AUD = 1.00 AUD
    • 1 EUR = 1.44 AUD
    • 1 GBP = 1.85 AUD
    • 1 USD = 1.14 AUD

  • Best Time To Visit:

    Australia is in the southern hemisphere and the seasons are opposite to those in Europe and North America. There are two climatic zones: the tropical zone (in the north above the Tropic of Capricorn) and the temperate zone. The tropical zone (consisting of 40% of Australia) has two seasons, summer ('wet') and winter ('dry'), while the temperate zone has all four seasons.

    Spring to summer (October to March): Warm or hot everywhere, tropical in the north, and warm to hot with mild nights in the south. This is the classic tourist season, with northern hemisphere visitors looking to escape winter temperatures and soak up some Antipodean sunshine, although Australia is essentially a year-round destination.

    Autumn to winter (April to September): Northern and central Australia have clear warm days and cool nights; the south has cool days with occasional rain but still plenty of sun. Snow is totally confined to mountainous regions of the southeast. At certain times, the southern part of the mainland (as well as Tasmania) can become seriously chilly, so be prepared to wrap up.

    Drought is becoming more widespread with southeast Queensland, Victoria and South Australia all badly affected.

    Required Clothing:

    Lightweights during summer months with warmer clothes needed during the cooler winter period throughout most of the southern states. Lightweight cottons and linens all year in the central/northern states with warm clothes only for cooler winter evenings and early mornings. Sunglasses, sunhats and sunblock lotion are recommended year round in the north and during the summer months in the south.

    Should you arrive in the country without the appropriate clothing or equipment, however, it’s generally no problem to find high-quality items to purchase – there’s no danger of being left to choose from a substandard selection.