The nation-continent of Australia, considered the world’s largest island, boasts a spectacular diversity of landscapes and ecosystems. The temperate, tropical and subtropical coasts give way to grassland, then to the barren outback, forming bands of concentric climate zones. Australia’s lowest point could well be considered the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef; the highest point is Mount Kosciuszko (7,310 feet) in the Great Dividing Range that stretches along the east coast. The country earned its “Land Down Under” moniker because of its remote location in the Southern Hemisphere.
Much of the population of Australia lives in its urban centers, most of which are in the eastern states and the coast. The Commonwealth of Australia, comprising six states, is a federal parliamentary democracy. The capital city is Canberra.
The official language of Australia is English. About 250 languages were spoken by the Aboriginal people when Europeans settled here; today, half of these are still spoken and all but 13 are considered endangered.
Life in Australia
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open 6 or 7 days a week between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Smaller shops are closed on Sunday, although shopping malls are open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday and also remain open till 9:00 p.m. on Thursday. Banks are open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Some are open on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants, lunch is between 12:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., and dinner is usually served from 6:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Tipping: Tipping in Australia is not obligatory, even in restaurants and bars. However, gratuities are not added to your bill and tipping 10% for exceptional service or kindness is at the discretion of the visitor.
Taxi drivers aren’t generally tipped, but you could round up the total, letting the driver keep the change. For luggage assistance, a small tip of one to three dollars is appropriate.
Australia public holidays: Australia public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. For details, visit the tourist board’s website to view a public holiday list.
The Aboriginals: The Aboriginals are the indigenous people of Australia. By some accounts, their presence on the continent dates back 125,000 years. Over millennia, a diverse array of cultures, customs and languages developed among Aboriginals. The arrival of Europeans in the 18th century brought great change, including deadly epidemics and land loss. Today, approximately 670,000 people identify themselves as Aboriginals. A good overview of Aboriginal history and culture is available here.
Australian cuisine has its roots in the “bush tucker” diet of flora and fauna of the indigenous Aboriginal people, from wild game to wildly growing fruits and vegetables. As a British colony, Australian kitchens took their cue from British and Irish traditions, with lamb, beef and other livestock-based dishes. Yet the locals haven’t lost their appetite for al fresco dining, often referred to as a “Barbie.” This national pastime and strongly held tradition consists of marinated meats and fresh-from-the-ocean seafood cooked outdoors over an open fire or grill. Juices might be sopped up with “damper,” a simple bread. Visitors with bolder palates may sample barbecued kangaroo, emu, wild goat or even camel. Today, the Aussie menu gains its flavors and techniques from the many cultures that have since landed on the country’s shores, from Mediterranean to East Asian.
The migration of Mediterranean peoples throughout the 20th century has replaced the doughy damper on many tables with focaccia bread, and taught Aussies some time-honored techniques in curing meats, producing cheese, and replacing heavy lards with olive oils. It’s common to find Lebanese tabouli and hummus, Greek tzatziki, pizza, pasta and other staples of the so-called Mediterranean diet on the Australian table. Not to be out-flavored, the Asian population of Oz has also spiced up many a dish. The curry of India, the pho of Vietnam, the lemongrass of Thailand and the dim sum of China all have a hugely popular following.
The very best Australian cuisine, readily available at the dining establishments on Country Walkers’ itineraries, creates a tantalizing fusion of all these things, so you’ll have the chance to sample the best dishes of a varied and exciting culinary culture.
Australian wine is heralded among the best in the world. The nation is the fourth largest exporter of all manner of vintages, from sweet whites to bold reds. It is a young industry, with the very first vine cuttings brought from South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope in 1788. And though there are no native grapes in the island-nation, many oenophiles claim that the viticulture here has a powerful worldwide influence. Australia’s most famous wine is Penfolds Grange, which has won more than 50 gold medals since 1962. Robert Parker has even claimed that it rivals Bordeaux wines for its exotic and concentrated nature.
The seasons in Australia are opposite those in North America. Australia has a range of climates that vary by region. In general, spring through fall (that is, September through May) is the best time to visit on an active vacation, with long sunny days ideal for walking. Wildflowers blanket the hills in summer and fall and winter months, though sometimes stormy, can make for exhilarating walks.
In the mid-elevations (3,000 feet) of the Great Dividing Range along the east coast, days hover in the 60s and 70s, though some summer days might reach into the 80s or 90s. Evening temperatures are in the 40s and 50s. Rainfall is possible at all times. Though the most rain tends to fall January through March, it is typically no more than 6 inches each month. Along the Southern Ocean, there are few extremes of temperature, with days in the 60s and 70s. Occasional higher temperatures make for great swimming weather. Evenings are in the 40s and 50s. Rainfall is much lighter, characterized by lighter yet frequent showers; the least rain falls at the height of summer (December through February).
U.S. citizens: Passports are required. Visas are not required for stays of 90 days or less; however, you must show proof of onward travel (your return airline ticket). For more information, visit the U.S. State Department’s website.
Australia uses the Australian dollar (AUD). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 AUD. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
Contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when travelling, and to inform them of your travel destination and dates so they do not freeze your accounts when they see charges appear from a foreign country.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s) and some U.S. dollars to exchange.
Since you will likely need AUDs to pay for your taxi to the hotel or for any unforeseen situations, it is a good idea to change some money or withdraw some local currency immediately upon your arrival at the airport.
No immunizations are required to enter Australia. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Electricity: Alternating current of 240V and 50Hz is used in Australia. Plugs have two flat blades that form an inverted “V” and a grounding blade. Find a full listing of electrical outlets here. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Australia’s country code is “+61.” Cell phone coverage throughout Australia is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
New South Wales and Victoria, Australia are in the Australian Eastern Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time plus 16 hours. You can follow this link for more information on worldwide time zones.
There are many international airports throughout Australia. An extensive domestic flight network can help you make connections with all Australia cities and major towns.
- International Airports in Australia
- Adelaide Airport
- Brisbane Airport
- Cairns Airport
- Darwin – Darwin International Airport
- Gold Coast – Gold Coast Airport
- Hobart International Airport
- Melbourne Airport
- Perth – Perth Airport
- Port Hedland International Airport
- Sydney Airport
- Townsville International Airport
RailAustralia: (Australia’s alliance of privately operated rail companies). Visit this informative website for information about the many ways you can explore Australia’s spectacular landscapes and cultural centers by train. The Discovery Pass lets you cover a lot of territory for 2 weeks or 1, 3 or 6 months at one price. The Ghan train is the country’s renowned rail line from north to south. And the Spirit of Queensland offers sleeper cabins and access to the Great Barrier Reef.
Other local transportation
In addition to its rail network, Australia has several regional airlines and many regional bus lines. Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). Most major car rental agencies are available at Australian airports and train stations. For more information contact Country Walkers, or read the “Transport” page of Australia’s tourist board website.
If you rent a car in Australia, remember to drive on the left side of the road and to pass on the outside right lane. It’s important to keep this in mind also when crossing streets!