Australia’s iconic southern charm contrasts with hard outback life in this huge country of red dust and cosmopolitan cities. Party along the east coast cities while spending your days at the beach, or head ‘cross country to dodge kangaroos, explore opal mines and walk around Uluru (Ayers Rock). And, of course, there’s plenty of wine and lager along the way.
Australia travel resources
Australia divides the Pacific and Indian oceans, with East Timor, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to the north and New Zealand –three hours flight away — the largest of many Pacific nations off the eastern coast.
Australia is a continental landmass, the sixth largest country in the world. The mainland measures a massive 7.682 million square kilometres. Australia is also comprised of Tasmania in the south east and the Torres Straight Islands, part of Queensland in the north. The country is divided into six states (Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania), and two territories (Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory).
Australia’s size leads to a wide range of tourism experiences, many with water at the heart of it. The surf, beach and babes image is still strong on the east coast, where sport fishing and diving is also hugely popular. The other iconic Australian image, the great red centre, is the place to head for on massive road trips through the dusty outback.
Sports play a major part in the country’s cultural landscape, so expect to watch some netball, cricket, rugby, league or AFL along with dozens of other sports. Australia is home to some premier wine districts in both the east and west, while craft beers are slowly but surely pushing back against the big lager producers.
City focus: Perth
Perth sometimes gets a bad rap from Australia and the international community because it’s so isolated. Sure, it’s on the other side of the country from the capitals of the other states, but that just brings it closer to Asia, Europe, and oh — the rest of the world.
Despite its distance from the other Australian cities, Perth manages to be a popular stop for tourists, who make it a base to explore the beaches, wine regions, and national parks of the West. Slow, relaxed but maintaining a lively calendar of music and theatre events — not to mention the Red Bull Air Race — there’s always something going on if you’re willing to scratch the surface.Read more about Perth
Getting to and from Australia
It may be cheaper to fly with low-cost carriers to an Asian hub then hop down to Australia, rather than doing a straight long-haul flight. Most flights to and from South America route through New Zealand, which can help if you plan to spend time there on the way.
Cruise ships ply the waters from Asia, the Pacific Islands, and New Zealand — although there are fewer ships from Asia than one might expect.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no bridge from Sydney to Auckland.
Getting around Australia
Australia is a land of huge distances, which impacts significantly on amount you can see while there. If you are in a hurry, fly; otherwise sit back and enjoy the view. By far the most popular option for backpackers is to buy or hire a van or car for the duration of your stay.
There is a good network of interstate coaches that allow you to hop from one major city to another, as well good statewide bus services in Queensland, the Gold Coast, NSW and Victoria.
Things aren’t so easy in the Northern Territory or Western Australia, although tourist coaches operate limited routes.
The Australian intercity train network is slow and it often costs less to fly. A journey from Sydney to Melbourne, for example will take over 12 hours, and the Indian Pacific railroad — stretching all the way from Perth to Sydney — is a truly mammoth journey: 4325km over four days.
Local trains are usually quite efficient, with Melbourne’s tram and train system being a great example of public transport, although it still has its problems.
Airline costs can be quite competitive, with four major players: Qantas, Tiger, Jetstar and Virgin Blue covering many routes. Smaller regional airlines service smaller destinations and are worth a look when seating on other services are busy or expensive. Although Qantas is the traditional player, they can have the best online pricing — but expect to pay for wine and beer separately on the weekend.
Car and camper rental
Australia is prime road trip country, with thousands of miles of empty highway, well-maintained camping spots and amenities … plus plenty of quiet beaches for those with an itch to surf. Distances are huge, so take care not to push yourself too far. Rest often and remember to drive on the left.
Major car rental companies all operate in Australia. We recommend checking out Travellers’ Auto Barn for rentals and vehicle sales, or the hybrid people-mover/camper van from Spaceships Australia. Insurance is recommended, as a breakdown in the outback could mean getting a tow for several hours, or sometimes days, if the vehicle can’t be fixed on site.
Travelling outside the main east coast routes presents unique dangers. We’ve compiled some of the best safety advice from the boss over at Travellers’ Auto Barn.
Cycling and hiking
Cycling across Australia is gruelling, but it has been done. Estimate around one to three months journey, although this could be decreased: the current record is around 8 days. Massive trucks, called “road trains” thanks to the number of carriages, power down the highways causing concern to cyclists.
Australia has some fantastic hiking routes, with Tasmania probably having the most to offer. That said, hiking trails run through all of Australia’s States and Territories, so you can explore everything from rain forest to arid desert.
Australia is home to crocodiles, wild dogs, ostriches, kangaroos and wallabies (which can all be dangerous when roused) as well as a host of poisonous insects, reptiles and plants. Do your homework before you start into the wild.
Top 10 things to do in Australia
- Dive the Great Barrier Reef. Visit the world’s largest living thing and dive the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland’s coast. If you’re on the west coast, explore the quieter Ningaloo Reef for Indian Ocean goodness.
- Go wine tasting. Australia is home to premier wine regions, like the Barrossa, McLaren Vale, Margaret River and Hunter Valley.
- Visit Uluru at the red centre. This massive rock has a mystic draw to it that entices visitors from around the world. Situated near Alice Springs, there’s a good chance to explore outback life.
- Down some espresso in Melbourne. Melbourne is Australia’s most delicious city, with premier coffees from small producers and roasters alongside worldwide cuisine.
- Get out of the cities Travel the roads between cities, and make sure you take off down side roads whenever it’s safe (deviating from the main highways in the outback isn’t recommended). The unique, empty landscape is captivating.
- Take a photo of the Sydney Opera House. Nobody know why there’s such a strong compulsion to get across the harbour and snap yourself infront of the iconic Opera House … but why the hell not?
- Drive the Great Ocean Road. Australia’s most famous drive takes you past stunning beaches, koala-filled eucalyptus forests, the Twelve Apostles and more. Organised day trips are available from Melbourne, but taking your time is recommended.
- Visit a zoo or wildlife park. Australia is home to some strange and wonderful animals and plants. Find out a little by stopping in at a park or two.
- Eat some kangaroo. The delicious, lean meat is served in sausages, but I much prefer a marinaded steak washed down with some Little Creatures beer.
- Visit a mini-mountain range. Australia has lots of flat surfaces, but you can find your mountain getaways in the Atherton Tablelands or the Blue Mountains while Tasmania and the central and western outback offer interesting landscapes too.