The most immediately obvious feature of Aboriginal art is its symbolic nature. Geometric designs such as circles, lines, dots, squares or abstract designs are used in all art forms and often combine to form what seems to be little more than an attractive pattern. Even when figures are used they are also symbolic representations; an emu may be prey or an ancestral being. The symbols do not have a fixed meaning; a circle may represent a waterhole, a camping place or an event. In Aboriginal art, symbols are put together to form a map of the landscape. This is not a literal map where the ‘key’ relates to the topography of a piece of countryside, but rather a mythological map. Features of the landscape are depicted but only in their relation to the creation myth that is the subject of the painting. A wavy line terminating in a circle might represent the journey of the Rainbow Serpent to a waterhole. That landscape may also contain a hill behind the waterhole but if it is not relevant to the serpent’s journey it will not be represented, although it may feature in other paintings related to different ancestral beings. Unlike a conventional map, scale is not consistent. The size of a feature is more likely to reflect its importance rather than its actual size or there may be several scales within a painting. Nor is orientation fixed.To many people Aboriginal art is recognized by its style – dots, X-ray or cross hatching – but what is painted is just as important as how it is painted. Aboriginal people working in traditional forms simply do not paint landscapes, figures or people that they are not spiritually connected to. The idea of painting a landscape simply because it is pretty is utterly foreign to Aboriginal art. Also because of the use of symbols and the fact that Dreaming stories are only known to the ancestral descendants, only the painter and perhaps his or her close relatives will be able to fully understand the meaning of a painting. Those interested should read the excellent Aboriginal Art by Howard Morphy.
Aboriginal people belonged to a territory because they were descended from the ancestors who formed and shaped that territory. The ancestral beings were sources of life and powerful performers of great deeds but were also capable of being capricious, amoral and dangerous. Yet in their actions they laid down the rules for life. They created ceremony, song and designs to commemorate their deeds or journeys, established marriage and kinship rules and explained how to look after the land. In the simple forms related to outsiders, Dreaming stories often sound like moral fables. They were passed on from generation to generation, increasing in complexity or sacredness as an individual aged. With knowledge came the responsibility to look after sacred creation or resting places. Ceremonies were conducted to ensure the continuation of life forces and fertility. Aboriginal people had no concept of land ownership, because they believe that humans, animals and spirits are inseparable from the land; one and the same. Consequently, Aboriginal people of one group had no interest in possessing the land of another group. A different and strange country was meaningless to them. To leave your country was to leave your world.Ceremony and art were at the very heart of life for these were the ways in which Aboriginal people maintained their connection with the ancestors. During ceremonies the actions and movements of the ancestors would be recalled in songs and dances that the ancestors themselves had performed and handed down to each clan or group. Not only did the ancestral beings leave a physical record of their travels in the form of the landscape but also in paintings, sacred objects and sculptures. Ceremonies maintained the power and life force of the ancestors thus replenishing the natural environment. Some ceremonies, such as those performed at initiation, brought the individual closer to his or her ancestors. Ceremonies performed at death made sure that a person’s spirit would rejoin the spiritual world.
Every traveller in Australia will encounter the concept of the ‘Dreaming’ or the ‘Dreamtime’, a complex idea at the heart of Aboriginal culture. Most Aboriginal groups believe that in the beginning the world was featureless. Ancestral beings emerged from the earth and as they moved about the landscape they began to shape it. They could be in any form – humans, animals, rocks, trees or stars – and could transform from one shape to another. Nor were they limited by their form (kangaroos could talk, fish could swim out of water). Wherever these beings went and whatever they did left its mark on the landscape. A mountain might be the fallen body of an ancestor speared to death, a waterhole the place a spirit emerged from the earth, or yellow ochre the fat of an ancestral kangaroo. In this way the entire continent is mapped with the tracks of the ancestor beings.Although the time of creation and shaping of the landscape is associated with the temporal notion of ‘beginning’, it is important to understand that Dreaming is not part of the past. It lies within the present and will determine the future. The ancestral beings have a permanent presence in spiritual or physical form. Ancestor snakes and serpents still live in the waterholes that they created; this is why visitors are sometimes asked not to swim in certain pools, so that these ancestors will not be disturbed. This is also why mining or similar development can cause great distress to Aboriginal people if the area targeted is the home of an ancestral being. The ancestors are also still involved in creation. Sexual intercourse is seen as being part of conception but new life can only be created if a conception spirit enters a woman’s body. The place where this happens, near a waterhole, spring or sacred site, will determine the child’s identification with a particular totem or ancestor. In this way Aboriginal people are directly connected to their ancestral world.
A sprint through history
1970s and 80s
With one of the most impressive bird lists in the world, Australia is a birdwatcher’s paradise and even the most indifferent cannot fail to be impressed by their diversity, colour and calls. The most famous of Australian birds is the kookaburra which is related to the kingfisher. Other than its prevalence, fearlessness and extrovert behaviour, it is its laughing call that marks it out. A much stranger looking specimen is the tawny frogmouth, a kind of cross between an owl and a frog, with camouflaged plumage, fiery orange eyes and a mouth the size of the Channel Tunnel. Due to its nocturnal lifestyle it is hard to observe in the wild and is best seen in zoos and wildlife parks.
Australia is famous for its psittacines – the parrot family – including parakeets, lorikeets, cockatiels, rosellas and budgerigars, which can be seen at their most impressive in the outback, in huge flocks against the vast blue sky. The rainbow lorikeet is a common sight (and sound) in urban areas, while in rural areas and forests the graceful red, white and yellow tailed black cockatoos are also a pleasure to behold. Others include the pink galah, the breathtaking king parrot and the evocatively named gang-gang.
Almost as colourful are the bowerbirds. There are several species in Australia with the most notable being the beautiful but endangered regent bowerbird, with its startling gold and black plumage, and the satin bowerbird. Another member of the bowerbird family is the catbird, which once heard, proves to be very aptly named.
In the bush one of the commonest of birds is the brush turkey, about the size of a chicken, with a bare head and powerful legs and feet. Another well-known bird of the bush is the lyrebird, of which there are two species in Australia. Unremarkable in appearance (rather like a bantam) though truly remarkable in their behaviour, they are expert mimics and often fool other birds into thinking there are others present protecting territory. Their name derives from the shape of their tail (males only) which when spread out looks like the ancient Greek musical instrument.
A far larger, rarer bird of the tropical rainforest is the cassowary, a large flightless relative of the emu with a mantle of black hair-like plumage, colourful wattles and a strange, blunt horn on its head. It is a highly specialist feeder of forest fruits and seeds. Tragically, road kills are common. Their last remaining stronghold in Australia is in Far North Queensland, especially around Mission Beach, where they are keenly protected. They are well worth seeing but your best chance of doing so remains in wildlife sanctuaries and zoos.
Almost as large, yet flighted, and more often seen around lakes and wetlands, are the brolga and the black-necked stork, or jaribu. The brolga is a distinctly leggy, grey character with a dewlap (flap of skin under the chin) and a lovely splash of red confined to its head. The brolga is equally leggy but has a lovely iridescent purple-green neck set off with a daffodil-yellow eye and rapier-like beak. One of the most impressive birds is the white-breasted sea eagle, which is a glorious sight almost anywhere along the coast or around inland lakes and waterways. They are consummate predators and highly adept at catching fish with their incredibly powerful talons.The fairy penguin, found all along the southern coastline of Australia, is the smallest penguin in the world. The largest colony is on Phillip Islands near Melbourne, where over 20,000 are known to breed in a vast warren of burrows. The emu, with its long powerful legs, is prevalent yet quite shy, unlike that other giant of the outback, the huge wedge-tailed eagle (or ‘wedgie’). Wedgies are most commonly sighted feeding on road kills, especially kangaroos.
Marine mammals and turtles
Along both the eastern and western seaboards of Australia humpback whales are commonly sighted on their passage to and from the tropics to Antarctica between the months of July and October. Occasionally they are even seen wallowing in Sydney Harbour or breaching in the waters off the famous Bondi Beach. The southern right whale is another species regularly seen in Australian waters; likewise the orca, or killer whale. Several species of dolphin are present including the bottlenose dolphin, which are a common sight off almost any beach surfing the waves with as much skill and delight as any human on a surfboard.Another less well-known sea mammal clinging precariously to a few locales around the coast is the dugong or sea cow. Cardwell and the waters surrounding Hinchinbrook Island, in Queensland, remains one of the best places to see them. Australia is also a very important breeding ground for turtles. The Mon Repos Turtle Rookery, Queensland, is one of the largest and most important loggerhead turtle rookeries in the world. A visit during the nesting season from October to May, when the females haul themselves up at night to lay their eggs, or the hatchlings emerge to make a mad dash for the waves, is a truly unforgettable experience.
Marsupials (derived from the Latin word marsupium meaning ‘pouch’) can be described as mammals that have substituted the uterus for the teat. Their reproductive system is complex, the females have not one, but three vaginas and there is a short gestation and a long lactation. It is a specialist system, developed to meet harsh environmental demands.
The most famous of the marsupials are of course the kangaroos and wallabies. There are over 50 species of kangaroos, wallabies and tree kangaroos in Australia. The most commonly seen are the eastern grey and the red. The eastern grey can be seen almost anywhere in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, especially in the wildlife and national parks along the coast. Sadly in the outback most of the red kangaroos you see will be road kill. Tree kangaroos, meanwhile, live deep in the bush and are notoriously shy and are therefore very seldom seen.
Equally famous is the koala (which is not a bear). Koalas are well adapted to the harsh Australian environment, surviving quite happily on one of the most toxic of leaves – eucalyptus. Koalas are easily encountered in the many wildlife parks throughout the country and while cuddling one of these impossibly cute bundles of fur is the most seminal Australian experience, do bear in mind that the wild variety may take exception to being manhandled and attempt to rip your arms to shreds. Sadly, koalas are on the decline in most regions of Australia and over 80% of their natural habitat has been destroyed since white settlement began.There are three species of wombat: the common, northern and southern hairy-nosed variety. Like the koala, they are very well adapted to the Australian environment and spend much of their time asleep. They are also nocturnal. Campsites are the best places to see them where burrows and small piles of dung will provide testimony to their presence. Sadly, like kangaroos and koalas, they are far more commonly seen as road kill. Another familiar family member of the marsupials is the possum. There are numerous species with the most commonly encountered being the doe-eyed brushtail possum and the smaller ring-tailed possum. Both are common in urban areas and regularly show up after dusk in campsites. Another magnificent little possum that may be seen is the squirrel-sized feather tailed glider, which as the name suggests can glide from tree to tree. All the possum species are nocturnal hence the huge eyes. The best way to see them is by joining a night spotting tour, especially in Queensland, where in only a few acres of bush there may be as many as 18 different species. Other marsupials include the rare and meat-eating tiger quoll, which is about the size of a cat with a brownish coat dotted with attractive white spots, the delightful quokka (like a miniature wallaby), bandicoots, the numbat (endangered) and the bilby.
There are only three living species of monotremes in the world: the duck-billed platypus and the short-beaked echidna, both of which are endemic to Australia, and the long-beaked echidna, found only on the islands of New Guinea. Aside from meaning ‘one hole’, their most remarkable feature is that they are mammals that lay eggs.The duck-billed platypus is only found in rivers and freshwater lakes in eastern Australia. They live in burrows, are excellent swimmers and can stay submerged for up to 10 minutes. The duck-like bill is not hard like the beak of a bird, but soft and covered in sensitive nerve endings that help to locate food. The males have sharp spurs on both hind leg ankles that can deliver venom strong enough to cause excruciating pain in humans and even kill a dog. Platypuses are best seen just before dawn. The echidna is not related to the hedgehog but looks decidedly like one. You will almost certainly encounter the echidna all over Australia, even in urban areas, where they belligerently go about their business and are a delight to watch. They are immensely powerful creatures not dissimilar to small spiny tanks. They are mainly nocturnal and hunt for insects by emanating electrical signals from the long snout, before catching them with a long sticky tongue.
Reptiles, amphibians and insects
The range of reptile, amphibian and insect species is, not surprisingly, as diverse as any other in Australia. First up is the crocodile. There are two species in Australia, the saltwater crocodile (or ‘saltie’ as they are known) found throughout the Indo- Australian region, and the smaller freshwater crocodile, which is endemic. There is no doubt the mighty saltie is, along with the great white shark, the most feared creature on earth and perhaps deservingly so. Although you will undoubtedly encounter crocodiles in zoos, wildlife parks and farms throughout the country, you may also be lucky (or unlucky) enough to spot one in the wild in the northern regions. Note that in Queensland the many warning signs next to rivers and estuaries are there for a good reason.
The goanna, or monitor, is a common sight, especially in campsites, where their belligerence is legendary. There are actually many species of goanna in Australia. They can reach up to 2 m in length, are carnivores and if threatened, run towards anything upright to escape. Of course, this is usually a tree, but not always, so be warned!
There are many species of frogs and toads in Australia including the commonly seen green tree frog. They are a beautiful lime-green colour. If you find one do not handle them since the grease on our hands can damage their sensitive skin. Another character worth mentioning is the banjo frog. If you are ever in the bush and are convinced you can hear someone plucking the strings of a banjo, it is probably a banjo frog singing to its mate.Insects are well beyond the scope of this handbook, but there are two, that once encountered, will almost certainly never be forgotten. The first is the huntsman spider, a very common species seen almost anywhere in Australia, especially indoors. Although not the largest spider on the continent, they can grow to a size that would comfortably cover the palm of your hand. Blessed with the propensity to shock, they are an impressive sight, do bite, but only when provoked and are not venomous. Of the huge variety of glorious butterflies and moths in Australia perhaps the most beautiful is the Ulysses blue, found in the tropics, especially in Far North Queensland.
Essentials A to Z
Accident & emergency
Australia is a wonderful place to take children. Far-fetched stories and rumours about poisonous snakes and insects, man-eating sharks and crocs can put parents off but they shouldn’t. If children are aware and sufficiently supervised, Australia will provide a memorable holiday experience for all the right reasons.As far as accommodation is concerned the vast majority of establishments welcome kids and offer reasonable financial concessions. Tourist-based attractions and activities, many of which are directed at the children’s market, usually offer reduced rates for children and family concessions. When it comes to eating out some places welcome children while others don’t. In general you are advised to stick to eateries that are obviously child- friendly or ask before making a booking.
Customs and duty free
The limits for duty-free goods brought into the country include: 2.25 litres of alcoholic beverages for each passenger aged 18 years or over and 250 cigarettes, or 250 g of cigars or tobacco. There are various import restrictions, many to help protect Australia’s fragile ecology. These primarily involve live plants and animals, plant and animal materials (including all items made from wood) and foodstuffs. If in doubt, bring processed food only, though even this may be confiscated. Even muddy walking boots may attract attention. Declare any such items for inspection on arrival if you are unsure.
There are strict prohibitions when exiting Australia. Plant and animal life, including derivative articles and seeds, cannot be taken from the country. Australia’s cultural heritage is also protected and though a dot painting or didgeridoo are fine to take home, some art works and archaeological items are definitely not. See http://www.dcita.gov.au, or call T02-6271 1610, for details.Almost all goods in Australia are subject to a Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 10%. Visitors from outside Australia will find certain shops can deduct the GST if you have a valid departure ticket. See http://www.customs.gov.au, for more details.
Facilities for disabled travellers are spread quite thinly, especially outside the major cities, but high-profile sights and attractions and even parks generally have good access. Qantas, T1800 652660 (TTY), has considerable experience with disabled passengers and offers passengers with a nominated carer a 50% discount. The interstate railways generally have facilities for the disabled but public transport is not always well designed for disabled travel without assistance. The major car hire companies have adapted vehicles available. WeCare Tours and Travel, T02-9670 6668, email@example.com, are a New South Wales-based tour company specializing in tours for the disabled and elderly. Also see http://www.disabilityworld.org, and state sections.For more information, the following organizations are helpful: Access Foundation, Suite 33, 61 Marlborough St, Surry Hills, NSW, T02-9310 5732, http://www.accessibility.com.au, provides information, resource contacts and links; ACROD, PO Box 60, Curtin, ACT 2600, T02- 6283 3205, http://www.acrod.org.au, is the industry association for disability services; and NICAN, Unit 5, 48 Brookes St, Mitchell, ACT 2911 T1800 806769, http://www.nican.com.au, provides information on recreation, tourism, sport and the arts. In Sydney the free leaflet ‘CBD Access Map Sydney’, available from the VICs or information booths, is a very useful map and guide for the disabled. For more detailed information contact Disability Services Australia, T02-9791 6599, http://www.dsa.org.au.
Embassies and high commissions
Gay and lesbian travellers
A-Z of health risks
There are three main threats to health in Australia: the powerful sun, dengue fever and poisonous snakes and spiders.
For sun protection, a decent wide- brimmed hat and factor 30 suncream (cheap in Australian supermarkets) are essential. Follow the Australians with their Slip, Slap, Slop campaign: slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on the sunscreen.
Dengue can be contracted throughout Australia. In travellers this can cause a severe flu-like illness, which includes symptoms of fever, lethargy, enlarged lymph glands and muscle pains. It starts suddenly, lasts for 2-3 days, seems to get better for 2-3 days and then kicks in again for another 2-3 days. It is usually all over in an unpleasant week. The mosquitoes that carry the dengue virus bite during the day, unlike the malaria mosquitoes, which sadly means that repellent application and covered limbs are a 24-hr issue. Check your accommodation for flower pots and shallow pools of water since these are where the dengue-carrying mosquitoes breed.
In the case of snakes and spiders, check loo seats, boots and the area around you if you’re visiting the bush. A bite itself does not mean that anything has been injected into you. However, a commonsense approach is to clean the area of the bite (never have it sutured early on) and get someone to take you to a medical facility fast. The most common poisonous spider is the tiny, shy redback, which has a shiny black body with distinct red markings. It regularly hides under rocks or in garden sheds and garages. Outside toilets are also a favourite. Far more dangerous, though restricted to the Sydney area only, is the Sydney funnel-web, a larger and more aggressive customer, often found in outdoor loos. There are dozens of venomous snake species in Australia. Few are actively aggressive and even those only during certain key times of year, such as mating season, but all are easily provoked and for many an untreated bite can be fatal .Australia has reciprocal arrangements with a few countries allowing citizens of those countries to receive free emergency treatment under the Medicare scheme. Citizens of New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland are entitled to free care as a public patient in public hospitals and to subsidized medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Visitors from Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK also enjoy subsidized out-of-hospital treatment (ie visiting a doctor). If you qualify, contact your own national health scheme to check what documents you will require in Australia to claim Medicare. All visitors are, however, strongly advised to take out medical insurance for the duration of their visit.
Before you go
The Australian, http://www.theaustralian.news .com.au, is the only national paper and has the biggest readership of them all (453,000). It is generally popular, politically middle-of- the-road and publishes a good glossy magazine with the weekend edition. Sydney Morning Herald, considered by many to be the unofficial national tabloid voice. Courier Mail is the main newspaper in Brisbane and southern Queensland. The Age is the main newspaper in Melbourne and Victoria.
Foreign newspapers and magazines are widely available in the main urban centres. It is also possible to buy special weekly editions of British papers such as The Guardian. There are Asian editions of Time and The Economist.There are 5 main television channels in New South Wales and Queensland: the publicly funded ABC and SBS, and the independent, commercial stations, Channel 7, Channel 9, and Channel 10. ABC aims for Australian high-quality content including many BBC programmes. SBS focuses on multinational culture, current affairs, sport and film. It has the best world news, shown daily at 1830.
Banks, ATMs, credit and cash cards
Cost of travelling
Most public payphones are operated by nationally-owned Telstra, http://www.telstra.com. au. Some take phonecards, available from newsagents and post offices, and credit cards. A payphone call within Australia requires $0.40 or $0.50. If you are calling locally (within approximately 50 km) this lasts indefinitely but only a few seconds out with the local area. Well worth considering if you are in Australia for any length of time is a pre-paid mobile phone. Telstra and Vodafone give the best coverage and their phones are widely available from as little as $50, including some call time. There are also some smaller companies like ‘3’ and Optus offering attractive deals. By far the cheapest way of calling overseas is to use an international pre-paid phone card (though they cannot be used from a mobile phone, or some of the blue and orange public phones). Available from city post offices and newsagents, every call made with them initially costs about $1 (a local call plus connection) but subsequent per minute costs are a fraction of Telstra or mobile phone charges.
There are no area phone codes. Use a state code if calling outside the state you are in. These are: 02 for ACT/ NSW (08 for Broken Hill), 03 for VIC and 07 for QLD. To call Eastern Australia from overseas, dial the international prefix followed by 61, then the state phone code minus the first 0, then the 8-digit number. To call overseas from Australia dial 0011 followed by the country code. Country codes include: Republic of Ireland 353; New Zealand 64; South Africa 27; the USA and Canada 1; the UK 44. Directory enquiries: 1223. International directory enquiries: 1225.Telephones numbers starting with 1300 or 1800 are toll free within Australia. Where there are 2 telephone numbers listed in the text, this toll-free number appears in brackets.
In North America
Abercrombie and Kent, 1520 Kensington Rd, Suite 212, Oak Brook, Illinois, 60523-2156, T800-554 7016, http://www.abercrombiekent.com. Well-established US company offering a diverse range of luxury, locally guided global trips to Australia.
Earthwatch Research and Exploration, PO Box 75, Maynard, MA 01754 USA, T978-461 0081, http://www.earthwatch.org. Excellent ecotourism trips to Eastern Australia in combination with conservation research on Australian wildlife. Offices in USA, UK and Australia.Wilderness Travel, 1102 Ninth St, Berkeley, CA, 94710, T1800-368 2794, www.wilderness travel.com. 10 or 12-day cultural, wildlife and hiking trips to Australia from $5000.
In UK and Ireland
Australia Travel Centre, 43-45 Middle Abbey St, Dublin, Ireland, T01-804 7100, firstname.lastname@example.org. Good source of advice for those travelling from Ireland.
Contiki Wells House, 15 Elmfield Rd, Bromley, Kent BR1 1LS, T1300 188635, http://www.contiki.com. One of the world’s largest travel companies catering primarily for the 18-35s market with numerous affordable Australian options.
Travelbag, T0800-804 8911, www.travel bag.co.uk. Reputable UK based firm offering a good range of general and tailor-made trips to Eastern Australia at reasonable prices.Wildlife Worldwide Chameleon House, 162 Selsdon Rd, T0845-130 6982, http://www.wildlifeworldwide.com. One of the best wildlife-oriented global operators offering tailor-made, mainly small group trips to Australia including Queensland’s Lamington National Park and the Great Barrier Reef.
Visas and immigration
Weights and measures
Planning your trip
Canoeing, kayaking, rafting
Head for ...
Great Barrier Reef (QLD), page
Kosciusko National Park (NSW), pageWhitsunday Islands (QLD), page.
Climbing and abseiling
Although much of Australia is flat as a tack there are a few fabulous climbing spots. Most of the recognized routes are in the eastern half of the country in the Great Dividing Range. If you want to find out more get hold of Climbing Australia: The Essential Guide by Greg Pritchard, or see the website http://www.climbing.com.au, which picks out abseiling operators.Canyoning is a sport almost exclusively restricted to the Great Dividing Range of New South Wales and involves a combination of climbing, abseiling, wading and swimming through the canyons and gorges of the Blue Mountains and Manning Valley.
Head for ...
Blue Mountains (NSW), pageGlass House Mountains (QLD), page.
Cycling and mountain biking
Head for ...
Cairns (QLD), page
Hunter Valley (NSW), pageMelbourne (VIC), page and.
From the very tip of Queensland to the very bottom of Australia’s east coast, there are unlimited scuba diving possibilities. What makes this coast so interesting for divers is that the huge expanse covers several different climatic zones. The far north is tropical, then as you head south it goes to subtropical, eventually becoming temperate and the sheer variety of marine species is vast. The undoubted highlight is the Great Barrier Reef, the planet’s longest coral reef system. Stretching for 2000 km, it has 3000 individual reefs, 1500 species of fish, 400 corals and 4000 molluscs. A major attraction across all regions, though, is the shark, closely followed by marine mammals.Australia’s oceans are known for as many rare and indigenous marine species as land ones. Both http://www.diveoz.com.au and http://www.scubaaustralia.com.au have some very useful general information as well as fairly comprehensive, though not qualitative, state-by-state directories including sites, dive centres and charter boats. Details of several multi-day diving trips can be found on http://www.divedirectory.net.
Head for ...
Byron Bay (NSW), page
Great Barrier Reef (QLD), page
Great Keppel, page
Jervis Bay (NSW), page
Lady Musgrave Island (QLD), page
Sydney (NSW), pageWhitsunday Islands (QLD), page.
Australian wine will need no introduction to most readers. Many of the best-known labels, including Penfolds and Jacob’s Creek, are produced in South Australia but there are dozens of recognized wine regions right across the southern third of Australia, where the climate is favourable for grape growing and the soil sufficient to produce a high-standard grape. The industry has a creditable history in such a young country, with several wineries boasting a tradition of a century or more but it is only in the last 25 years that Australia has become one of the major players on the international scene, due in part to its variety and quality. There are no restrictions, as there are in parts of Europe, on what grape varieties are grown where, when they are harvested and how they are blended.
Visiting a winery is an essential part of any visit to the country and a day or two’s tasting expedition is a scenic and cultural as well as an epicurean delight. Cellar doors range from modern marble and glass temples to venerable, century-old former barns of stone and wood, often boasting some of the best restaurants in the country. In New South Wales the Hunter Valley provides one of the best vineyard experiences in the world with over 100 wineries, world-class B&Bs and a range of tours from cycling to horse-drawn carriage.
Australians themselves drink more and more wine and less beer. The average rate of consumption is now 20 litres per person per year, compared to eight litres in 1970. Beer has dropped from an annual 135 litres per person in 1980 to 95 litres now. The price of wine, however, is unexpectedly high given the relatively low cost of food and beer. Even those from Britain will find Australian wines hardly any cheaper at the very cellar door than back home in the supermarket.The vast majority of beer drunk by Australians is lager, despite many being called ‘ale’ or ‘bitter’. The big brands such as VB (Victoria), Tooheys (NSW) and Castlemaine XXXX (QLD) are fairly homogenous but refreshing on a hot day. If your palate is just a touch more refined, hunt out some of the imported beers on tap that are predominantly found in the pseudo-Irish pubs in almost all the main coastal towns. Beer tends to be around 4-5% alcohol, with the popular and surprisingly pleasant tasting ‘mid’ varieties about 3.5%, and ‘light’ beers about 2-2.5%. Drink driving laws are strict and the best bet is to not drink alcohol at all if you are driving. As well as being available on draught in pubs, beer is also available from bottleshops (bottle-o’s) in cases (slabs) of 24-36 cans (tinnies or tubes) or bottles (stubbies) of 375 ml each. This is by far the cheapest way of buying beer (often under $3 per can or bottle).
Eating and drinking
The quintessential image of Australian cooking may be of throwing some meat on the barbie but Australia actually has a dynamic and vibrant cuisine all its own. Freed from the bland English ‘meat and three veg’ straitjacket in the 1980s by the skills and cuisines of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Lebanese and other immigrants, Australia has developed a fusion cuisine that takes elements from their cultures and mixes them into something new and original.Asian ingredients are easily found in major cities because of the country’s high Asian population. Australia makes its own dairy products so cheese or cream may come from Tasmania’s King Island, Western Australia’s Margaret River or the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland. There is plenty of seafood, including some unfamiliar creatures such as the delicious Moreton bugs (crabs), yabbies and crayfish. Mussels, oysters and abalone are all also harvested locally. Fish is a treat too: snapper, dhufish, coral trout and red emperor or the dense, flavoursome flesh of freshwater fish such as barramundi and Murray cod. Freshness is a major feature of Modern Australian cuisine, using local produce and cooking it simply to preserve the intrinsic flavour. Native animals are used, such as kangaroo, emu and crocodile and native plants that Aboriginal people have been eating for thousands of years such as quandong, wattle seed or lemon myrtle leaf. A word of warning, however. This gourmet experience is mostly restricted to cities and large towns. There are pockets of foodie heaven in the country but these are usually associated with wine regions and are the exception rather than the rule.
One of Australia’s favourite hobbies, fishing, is in some areas the only recreational activity available to locals and is pursued with an almost religious obsession. As you head north, surfboards begin to disappear from vehicle roof racks, only to be replaced by the ‘tinnies’, short aluminium boats that allow the fishing family to go where they please. Inland fishing, mostly for barramundi in the north and the feral trout in the south, requires a licence in some states, though beach and sea fishing do not.Whatever your requirements, tour operators and hire companies will usually organize it for you. Excellent offshore sports fishing is widely available as a day tour, usually for around $150-250. There are several excellent websites on recreational fishing in Eastern Australia, including http://www.fishnet.com.au and www.sportsfish australia.com.au.
Head for ...
Cairns (QLD), page
Kosciusko National Park (NSW), page
Port Macquarie to Byron Bay coast (NSW), pageSydney and around (NSW), page.
Public transport is generally good and efficient and often easier than driving. Most cities have good metropolitan bus services, though some are curiously unaware of tourist traffic and there is many an important outlying attraction poorly served by public transport, or even missed off the bus routes completely. Some cities are compact enough for this to be a minor irritation, others are so spread out that the visitor must invest in an expensive tourist bus service or taxis. In such places staying at a hostel or B&B with free or low-cost bike hire can save a lot of money.By far the best way of seeing the East Coast is under your own steam, or with a tour operator with an in-depth itinerary. The further from the cities you go, the more patchy and irregular public transport becomes. All the states have networks based on a combination of air, bus and train. Some of these services connect up at border towns but you are advised to check first. If short on time and long on funds, flying can save a lot of time and effort, both interstate and within New South Wales and Queensland. In some cases it is the only real option. Most other interstate options involve long-distance buses, and on a few routes, trains.
State and interstate bus services offer the most cost-effective way of constructing an itinerary for a single traveller. The main operator throughout New South Wales and Queensland is Greyhound Pioneer, T1300 473 946, http://www.greyhound.com.au (referred to simply as Greyhound throughout this guide), while in Victoria the principal service provider is V-Line, T136196, http://www.vline.com.au. Its networks follows all the main interstate highways up and down the coast with offshoots including the Blue Mountains, New England (Hunter Valley), Armidale, Charters Towers, the Atherton Tablelands and so on. As well as scheduled routes and fares, they offer a range of passes. There are also many other smaller regional companies. Most are listed under the relevant destinations. Countrylink, T132232, http://www.countrylink.nsw.gov.au, also offers coach services to some centres in conjunction with rail schedules between New South Wales and Queensland. In Victoria rail is also covered by V-Line.
Greyhound offers two varieties of jump-on, jump-off passes. The Day Pass allows you to travel anywhere on the Greyhound network with the number of consecutive days you choose with a kilometre limit. There is an option of three-day (1000 km limit, $133), five-day (1500 km limit, $201), seven-day (2000 km limit, $267) and 10-day (3000 km limit, $360) pass. The Explorer Pass commits you to a set one-way or circular route and is valid for between 30 and 365 days. There are a couple of dozen options including Sydney-Cairns at around $371 and an All Australian at $2827.Backpacker buses There are now several operators who make the assumption that the most important part of your trip is the journey. These companies combine the roles of travel operator and tour guide, taking from two to five times longer than scheduled services (a good indicator of just how much they get off the highway). They are worth considering, especially if you are travelling alone. In terms of style, price ($85-160 per day) and what is included, they vary greatly and it is important to clarify this prior to booking. Some offer transport and commentary only, others include accommodation and some meals, a few specialize in 4WD and bush camping. A few, including Oz Experience offer jump-on, jump-off packages and are priced more on distance. The popular option of flying Sydney to Cairns independently and then returning by bus (or vice versa) is also worth considering and would coast about $675. The main backpacker bus company in NSW and Queensland are Oz Experience, T1300 300028, http://www.ozexperience.com.
If you live in a small and populous country travelling by car in Australia will be an enlightening experience, as well as an enervating one. Distances are huge and travelling times between the major cities, towns and sights can seem endless, so put on some tunes and make driving part of the whole holiday experience.
You should consider buying a car if you are travelling for more than three months. Consider a campervan if hiring or buying a car. Traffic congestion is rarely an issue on the East Coast route – only Sydney has anything like the traffic of many other countries, so driving itineraries can be based on covering a planned distance each day. Up to, say, 100 km for each solid hour’s driving. The key factor in planning is distance. It is pretty stress-free and as the distances can be huge, drivers can get bored and sleepy. There are a lot of single-vehicle accidents in Australia, many the result of driver fatigue.
The other major factor when planning is the type of roads you may need to use. Almost all the main interstate highways between Sydney and Cairns are ‘sealed’, though there are a few exceptions. Many country roads are unsealed, usually meaning a stony or sand surface. When recently graded (levelled and compacted) they can be almost as pleasant to drive on as sealed roads, but even then there are reduced levels of handling. After grading, unsealed roads deteriorate over time. Potholes form, they can become impassable when wet and corrugations usually develop, especially on national park roads, with heavy usage. These are regular ripples in the road surface, at right angles to the road direction that can go on for tens of kilometres. Small ones simply cause an irritating judder, large ones can reduce tolerable driving speeds to 10-20 kph. Generally, the bigger the wheel size and the longer the wheel base, the more comfortable the journey over corrugations will be. Many unsealed roads can be negotiated with a two wheel-drive (2WD) low-clearance vehicle but the ride will be a lot more comfortable, and safer, in a 4WD high-clearance one. Most 2WD hire cars are uninsured if driven on unsealed roads. Some unsealed roads (especially in the outback) are designated as 4WD-only or tracks, though individual definitions of some differ according to the map or authority you consult. If in doubt, stick to the roads you are certain are safe for your vehicle and you are sufficiently prepared for. With careful preparation, however, and the right vehicles (convoys are recommended), traversing the major outback tracks is an awesome experience.
If you stray far from the coast, and certainly anywhere outback, prepare carefully. Carry essential spares and tools such as fan belts, hoses, gaffer tape, a tyre repair kit, extra car jack, extra spare wheel and tyre, spade, decent tool kit, oil and coolant and a fuel can. Membership of the NRMA (NSW) or the RACQ (QLD) is recommended , as is informing someone of your intended itinerary. Above all carry plenty of spare water, at least 10 litres per person, 20 if possible. As far as the best make of vehicle for the outback, in Australia it is the iconic Toyota Landcruiser every time. Break down in a cruiser and the chances are spare parts can be sourced quite easily, without waiting days for foreign hard-to-come-by items.
Rules and regulations To drive in Australia you must have a current driving licence. Foreign nationals also need an international driving licence, available from your national motoring organization. In Australia you drive on the left. Speed limits vary between states, with maximum urban limits of 50-60 kph and maximum country limits of 100-120 kph. Speeding penalties include a fine and police allow little leeway. Seatbelts are compulsory for drivers and passengers. Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal over certain (very small) limits and penalties are severe.
Petrol costs Fuel costs are approximately half that in Britain and twice that in the US, but due to the recent increase in the price of crude are following the global trend and rising rapidly. In late 2007 they were fluctuating between $1.25 and $1.35 a litre in city centres and marginally more in the outback. Diesel is traditionally more expensive than unleaded at about $1.35, but it’s less prone to price fluctuations. When budgeting allow at least $15 for every estimated 100 km (62 miles). A trip around the eastern circuit can easily involve driving 20,000 km plus. Picking an economical vehicle and conserving fuel can save hundreds of dollars.
Motoring organizations Every state has a breakdown service that is affiliated to the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), http://www.aaa.asn.au, with which your home country organization may have a reciprocal link. You need to join one of the state associations: in New South Wales NRMA, T132132, http://www.nrma.com.au, in Victoria RACV, T131329, http://www.racv.com.au, and in Queensland RACQ, T131905, http://www.racq.com.au. Note also that you may only be covered for about 100 km (depending on the scheme) of towing distance and that without cover towing services are very expensive. Given the sheer distances you are likely to cover by car, joining an automobile organization is highly recommended but read the fine print with regard to levels of membership in relation to coverage outside metropolitan areas and the outback. Several publishers produce countrywide and state maps. Regional maps are also available and the most useful for general travel. The best and cheapest of these are generally published by the above motoring organizations.Vehicle hire Car rental costs vary considerably according to where you hire from (it’s cheaper in the big cities, though small local companies can have good deals), what you hire and the mileage/insurance terms. You may be better off making arrangements in your own country for a fly/drive deal. Watch out for kilometre caps: some can be as low as 100 km per day. The minimum you can expect to pay in Australia is around $250 a week for a small car. Drivers need to be over 21. At peak times it can be impossible to get a car at short notice and some companies may dispose of a booked car within as little as half an hour of you not showing up for an agreed pick-up time. If you’ve booked a car but are going to be late, ensure that you let them know before the pick-up time.
Several publishers produce country-wide and state maps. Regional maps are also available and the most useful for general travel. The best and cheapest of these are generally published by each state’s motoring organization .
AUSLIG, the national mapping agency, publishes 54 x 54 km topographical maps, at 1:100,000 scale, of every such size area in Australia, recommended for any long-distance trekking or riding. Most areas are now in print, but if not black and white copies can be obtained. For a map index, place name search, details of distributors or mail order, contact T1800 800173, http://www.auslig.gov.au. AUSLIG also publishes a 1:250,000 series, covering the whole country, useful for those heading outback on 4WD trips. If you’re thinking of tackling one of the major outback tracks, such as the Great Central Road, Tanami, Birdsville or Strzelecki, then get hold of the appropriate map published by Westprint, T03-5391 1466, http://www.westprint.com.au, which is the acknowledged expert in this field.Recommended outlets are given throughout the book, listed in the Shopping sections of the larger towns and cities. Specialist map shops to contact or visit before your trip include the following outlets (who also provide internet shopping): Stanfords, 12-14 Longacre, London, WC2E 9LP, T020-7836 1321, www.stanfords. co.uk; and Rand McNally, 150E 52nd Street, Midtown East, New York, T212-758 7488, http://www.randmcnally.com.
Train travel up and down the east coast is a viable mode of transport and can be a delightful way to get from A to B, especially if you are short of time. Given the distances between the main centres, Australia lends itself to rail travel and you may find routes with such evocative names as Sunlander, Spirit of Capricorn and Savannahlander irresistible. That said, a car or coach is a better option if you wish to explore or get off the beaten track. The east coast offers endless beaches and numerous national parks that are well away from any railway stations. Also bear in mind the track gauges differ in NSW and Queensland so the crossing between the two takes in an intriguing transition by road. Also note that overnight travel by rail is possible but often expensive if you wish to find comfort in your own compartment and to do it in style. Well worth considering is a jaunt into the outback from Rockhampton to Longreach on board the Spirit of the Outback, or from Cairns to Forsayth on the Savannahlander.
In New South Wales, Countrylink, T132232 (within Australia), www.countrylink .nsw.gov.au, offers rail and rail/coach services state-wide and to Brisbane. There are several Countrylink travel centres at principal stations in Sydney including the Sydney Central Railway Station, T02-99379 3800. A useful website for travel throughout New South Wales is http://www.webwombat.com.au/transport/nsw.htm.
In Queensland, Queensland Rail, T132232, http://www.qr.com.au, offers a range of rail services up and down the coast and into the outback. Brisbane (Roma Street) Transit Centre in Brisbane, T07-32362528, hosts offices for most major coach and rail service providers and is a fine source of general travel information. Outback Queensland is also well served by all of the above but stopovers and less frequent travel schedules are obviously the norm.In Victoria state, V-Line, T136196, http://www.vlinepassenger.com.au, is the principal service provider.
There are international flights direct to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns and it is quite possible to have different points of arrival and departure that complement your intended itinerary. If there is not a direct flight to your primary choice there will usually be a same-day connection from Sydney or Melbourne. It is usually possible to book internal Australian flights when booking your international ticket, at lower prices than on arrival. Some do not even require a stated departure and arrival point. If you have any plans to fly within New South Wales or Queensland check this out prior to booking.Fares will depend on the season, with prices much higher during December and January unless booked well in advance. Mid-year tends to see the cheapest fares. Qantas, http://www.qantas.com.au, is Australia’s main international airline and flies from most international capitals and major cities. Most other major airlines have flights to Australia from their home countries or Europe capitals.
Discount flight agents
Ebookers, http://www.ebookers.com. Comprehensive travel ticket booking website.
Expedia, http://www.expedia.com. Another travel site based only on the internet, with lots of background information.
STA Travel, T0871 2300040, www.statravel .co.uk. Specialists in student discount fares, IDs and other travel services. Branches in most major cities. In Australia: STA, T134782, http://www.statravel.com.au.
Trailfinders, 194 Kensington High St, London W8 6FT, T020 7938 3939, http://www.trailfinders.com. Particularly good on personalized itineraries and adventure travel.
Flight Centre, T133133, http://www.flightcentre.com.au.
Harvey World Travel, T132757, http://www.harveyworld.com.au.JetSet, T136383, http://www.jetset.com.au.
From North and South America
Gliding and hang-gliding
Gliding is particularly popular in inland towns, often bordering the wheatbelts, where there is a rich harvest of sunny days and strong thermals and most commonly out on the plains of inland New South Wales. For a comprehensive list of gliding clubs see http://www.gfa.org.au.
Hang-gliding, while still requiring thermals for extended flights, makes use of elevated areas for take-off and so is most popular in upland and coastal cliff areas.Flying in microlights, effectively hang gliders with engines and wheels and also known as ‘trikes’, and ultralights, similar but more airplane-like, is a fast-growing activity in Australia where weather and space make it an ideal sport, or simply a way of getting around.
A few operators offer hang-gliding and paragliding lessons and some one-off flights. You’ll find a listing of top sites at www.hgfa .asn.au, the website of the Hang Gliding Federation of Australia, T03-9379 2177.A few operators around the country offer scenic flights in 2-seat microlights but if you’re interested in getting more involved contact one of the local clubs listed at http://www.auf.asn.au.
Head for ...
Byron Bay (NSW), pageCentral QLD Coast, page.
Australia has a great number of horse riding schools and station stays, both offering recreational rides and you can’t travel far in the more populated regions without finding one. Rides can be from 30 mins to several days’ duration.The high country, between Mansfield, in Victoria, and Canberra, is where the most awesome Australian horse riding can be experienced but there are many places along the East Coast that offer fine scenic trails or multi-day treks and these are listed under the relevant destination.
Head for ...
Airlie Beach (QLD), page
Cairns (QLD), pageKosciusko National Park (NSW), page.
Parachuting and bungee jumping
Many of the several dozen skydiving clubs in Australia offer short, usually one-day, courses in parachuting (also known as skydiving), including a jump or two. Some cut out much of the training by organizing tandem jumps where you’re strapped, facing forward, to the chest of the instructor. If a quick thrill is all you’re after then the latter is the better option as it usually involves 30-60 seconds of freefall, by far the most exhilarating part of the experience, and costs around $300-400.If you fancy jumping out into thin air without a parachute then bungee jumping is just about the safest option going and available from a site just north of Cairns.
A list of skydiving clubs affiliated to the Australian Parachute Federation, T02-6281 6830, can be found at http://www.apf.asn.au, and there are numerous opportunities to make the big leap all along the East Coast and around Sydney.A list of bungee operators can be found at http://www.bungee-experience.com.
Head for ...
Cairns (QLD), pageSydney (NSW), page.
Most tourist merchandise seems to consist of soft toy kangaroos and koalas or brightly coloured clothing featuring the same creatures. Another typical item, which perpetuates the Australian stereotypes, is the hat strung with corks. Don’t even think about it.
Corkless hats, however, are a popular and practical souvenir, particularly the distinctive Akubras, made from felt in muddy colours. Along the same lines, stockman’s clothing made by RM Williams is also popular and very good quality. Two of the company’s bestsellers are elastic-sided boots and moleskins. The Driza-bone long oilskin raincoat is also an Aussie classic. Australian surfwear is sought after worldwide and is a good buy while in the country. Look for labels such as Ripcurl, Quiksilver, Mambo and Billabong.
Australia is also a good place to buy jewellery. Sydney in particular offers plenty of choice for precious gems such as opal, pearl and diamonds. The widest range will be available in the cities but, as in most countries, products are often cheapest at the source and a wonderful memento of a particular place.
Aboriginal designs are as ubiquitous as cuddly toys and printed on everything from t-shirts to tea towels. Some of these designs can be beautiful but be aware that many have no link to Aboriginal people and do not benefit them directly – check the label. Desert Designs is a successful label printing the stunning designs of the Great Sandy Desert artist Jimmy Pike on silk scarves and sarongs. It is possible to buy genuine Aboriginal arts and crafts but it is more commonly available in country areas close to Aboriginal communities or from Aboriginal-owned or -operated enterprises. Buying arts and crafts from reputable sources ensures that the money ends up in the artist’s pocket and supports Aboriginal culture, skills and self reliance.Many people are keen to buy an Aboriginal dot painting, usually acrylic on canvas, and there are different styles, depending on the region the artist comes from. The best paintings sell for many thousands of dollars but simple works on canvas can be as little as $100. A good painting will cost at least $800-1500. Take your time and have a good look around. Visit public and private galleries where you can see work of the highest quality – you may not be able to afford it but you’ll learn something of what makes a good piece of Aboriginal art. Sydney has a number of excellent commercial galleries selling Aboriginal arts and crafts .
Skiing and snowboarding
&Bs and self-catering
Caravan and tourist parks
Hotels, motels and resorts
At the top end of the scale, especially in the state capitals, the Gold Coast, Moreton Bay Islands, Fraser Island, Whitsunday Islands, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef Islands there are some impressive international-standard hotels and resorts with luxurious surroundings and facilities, attentive service and often outstanding locations. Rooms will typically start in our L range. In the main cities are a few less expensive hotels in the A-B range. Most ‘hotels’ outside of the major towns are pubs with upstairs or external accommodation. If upstairs, a room is likely to have access to shared bathroom facilities, while external rooms are usually standard en suite motel units. The quality of pub-hotel accommodation varies considerably but is usually a budget option (C-D). Linen is almost always supplied.Motels in Australia are usually depressingly anonymous but dependably clean and safe and offer the cheapest en suite rooms. Most have dining facilities and free, secure parking. Some fall into our D range, most will be a B-C. Linen is always supplied.
National parks, farms and stations
Sport and activities
Surfing and waterskiing
If an Aussie lives near the beach there’s a fair bet they’ll be a surfer; if they’re inland and anywhere near water then it’ll be waterskiing. This makes for a great many local clubs, tuition and equipment hire. Surfing is generally best in the southern half of the country, from Sydney north to the QLD border.Windsurfing and kitesurfing are also widespread, with Noosa (QLD) being a good place to learn the new art of kitesurfing.
There are quite a few websites dedicated to surfing, including http://www.surfinfo.com.au, which links to a great many surfie retail and travel businesses, and www.real surf.com, which has condition reports from all the major spots around the country. You can make surfing the core activity on your travels with a number of companies offering specialist surf tours up and down the East Coast. A four-night trip between Sydney and Byron Bay will cost around $500, http://www.surfaris.com.au.Information on windsurfing can be found at http://www.windsurfing.org, with club, holiday and tuition details on the state pages.
Head for ...
Byron Bay (NSW), page
Coolangatta (QLD), page
Newcastle (NSW), page
Noosa (QLD), pagePort Macquarie (NSW), page.
Taking a tour
Walking and trekking
Australia boasts a great range of short, day and overnight walks, mostly in the many national parks, and even a few multi-day treks that rank alongside the world’s best.
Many of Australia’s natural ecologies are particularly sensitive to human activity and you should take care to disturb as little as possible. All the state conservation authorities have a minimal impact bushwalking code, published on their websites and printed on the park notes for all the national parks. Most of the longer walks, and some even as short as two hours, have a walker registration system in place – essentially ensuring that if you get lost or injured someone will come looking. If there is no such system in place make sure someone (it can be the local park ranger or the police) knows where you are going and how long you plan to be.The indefatigable Tyrone T Thomas has penned the best series of books on walking in Australia.
Head for ...
Blue Mountains (NSW), page
Kosciusko National Park (NSW), pageThorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island (QLD), page.
When to go
One of the joys of the East Coast is that at any time of year there is always some section where the weather is just right. The converse, of course, is that those particular about their destination need good timing. Due to its southerly position Victoria is the coldest and wettest state, especially in winter. However, that said, inland areas of the state (including Melbourne) can get very hot in summer (hotter than Sydney) with much of its interior currently sharing New South Wales and Queensland’s protracted drought issues. The heightened variance in Victoria’s climate is due to the influence of northerly winds from the interior and the ocean-borne influences from the south and west. The former, known as the ‘southerly change’, is essentially Victorian for ‘put the fire on and find the umbrella’. Melbourne is famous for its ‘four seasons in one day’ with a southerly change from a northerly influence seeing the temperature drop dramatically by over 20°C, often with lively thunderstorms.
Broadly speaking, the peak season between Sydney and Brisbane is from mid-December through to the end of January. Conversely autumn, winter and spring (March to October) is considered the peak season north of Rockhampton (Tropic of Capricorn), when dry, warm weather is the norm. The ‘stinger season’ between October and May also presents its own dangers. Generally, accommodation and tourist sites in all three states stay open year round, the main exceptions being in the far north in mid-summer (December to March).Watch out for school holidays and peak seasons, when some areas get completely booked out months in advance (particularly between Sydney and Brisbane). School holidays tend to take place from mid-December to late January, a week or two around Easter, a couple of weeks in June and July and another couple during September and October. If planning a long trip, say three months or more, try to make spring or autumn the core of your time. Also note that during big sporting events such as cricket (summer) and rugby tests (winter) as well as the Aussie Rules Football finals (again in spring, especially in Victoria), you are strongly advised to book transport tickets and accommodation as far ahead as possible.
Where to go
With a combined landmass of over 2.7 million sq km, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland form an area 11 times the size of the UK. Although the interior does not possess the same diverse scenery as the UK and is certainly far less populated (14% of the UK’s population and 7% of the USA’s), it is obvious that if you have no more than one or two weeks for a visit, you can dismiss the idea of trying to see too much of all three states and certainly of attempting to see very much of the outback – unless you intend to fly.
This is why the route from Sydney to Cairns in particular is so popular: a 2685-km journey along the world’s favourite coastline. The entire journey covered in this guide, from Melbourne to Cairns via the coast (approximately 3725 km), stopping only to sleep, takes six days by car (Sydney to Cairns, four). To give US residents some idea of scale, the distance between Seattle and San Diego (essentially the entire western seaboard of the USA) is just over 2000 km.Where you choose to visit will primarily be determined by the time of year. Broadly speaking, the far north from October to April is extremely hot, humid and monsoonal. Cairns still gets visitors who want to see the Great Barrier Reef, but most people will want to enjoy the glorious summer weather in the southern regions and avoid the humidity up north. A visit during May to September not only opens up the north, but also allows an itinerary to range almost anywhere within the two states.
One- to two-week trip
A trip of one or two weeks could only ever sample a specific area between Sydney and Cairns with perhaps a flying visit (literally) to Melbourne. The following tips suggest making the most out of Sydney, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Cairns with your own transport. Other specific recommended destinations en route include the Myall Lakes National Park, Byron Bay, Fraser Island, Magnetic Island (off Townsville) and the Whitsunday Islands.If you visit Sydney, allow at least three days to do it justice. Add to that a three-day trip to the Blue Mountains, a two-day trip to the Hunter Valley vineyards or, alternatively, the Myall Lakes National Park. Brisbane will require at least two days and the Gold Coast at least three days with added exploration of Coolangatta, the Gold Coast hinterland national parks and (from Brisbane) Moreton or North Stradbroke Islands or Noosa also being recommended. Cairns and the Barrier Reef could occupy anyone for months, never mind a week or two. However, the ‘must see and do’s’ include a reef island trip with snorkelling or a dive (you can do an introductory dive even if you are not certified), Kuranda and the rainforest gondola, Daintree, Cape Tribulation and the perfect retreat from the coastal heat, the Atherton Tablelands.
Over one month
To make the trip by car or campervan between Melbourne and Cairns, taking in the cities, the prime destinations mentioned above and other recommended side trips comfortably will require 10-15 weeks one way. You can then fly back to Sydney or Melbourne, or, if you own a vehicle, endure the 4-6 day drive. Of course provided you have the time you should aim to arrive in Melbourne as opposed to Sydney, then do the entire trip from Melbourne to Cairns, using Sydney and Brisbane as the two main city stops along the way. As well as the locations mentioned above other recommended short-stay destinations (with an emphasis on ecology and camping) include:
Melbourne to Sydney Ben Boyd National Park, Batemans Bay (Murramarang National Park), Jervis Bay (Booderee National Park).
Sydney to Brisbane Barrington Tops National Park, Yuraygir National Park and Byron Bay Hinterland national parks.Brisbane to Cairns Cooloola Coast (Great Sandy National Park), Lady Musgrave Island (from Town of 1770), Heron Island (from Gladstone), Hinchinbrook Island (from Cardwell), Lizard Island (Great Barrier Reef from Cairns or Cooktown), Undara Lava Tubes (from Cairns), Cooktown and a 4WD tour to Cape York.
Three- to four-week trip
Ideally, this is the minimum amount of time a visitor from Europe or the USA should spend in the region. A three to four week trip could comfortably involve a few days in Sydney, then a trip north to Byron Bay, or the lesser visited Port Macquarie, or alternatively a visit to Brisbane and the Gold Coast then a rather hurried drive to Cairns. The route south of Sydney to Melbourne has lots to offer but, if pushed for time, the New South Wales and Queensland coasts undoubtedly take precedence. That said, a flight to Melbourne is recommended to explore Australia’s ‘second city’. The one-way 2685-km trip between Sydney and Cairns in four weeks by car is possible, but pushing it, so you may like to consider doing one of the sections below, then flying from Brisbane to Sydney or Brisbane to Cairns and perhaps from there to Melbourne. Although there is not much in it, of the two coastal sections the Queensland trip (Brisbane to Cairns) is the best. Added to the city-based suggestions in the one-to-two week section above, you should consider the following itineraries:
Sydney to Brisbane Between Sydney (5 days) and Brisbane you can visit Port Stephens (2 days), Myall Lakes National Park (3 days), Hunter Valley (2 days), Port Macquarie (3 days), South West Rocks (2 days), Bellingen including the Dorrigo and New England National Parks (2-3 days), Coffs Harbour (2 days), Iluka and Woody Head (2 days) and Byron Bay (4 days). All are recommended.Brisbane to Cairns Between Brisbane (3 days) and Cairns, the Sunshine Coast and Noosa (3 days) are excellent locations for a short break along with an additional day trip along the hinterland Blackall Range. Fraser Island (3 days) is, of course, a major highlight, while Bundaberg (especially the turtle rookery) and the twin towns of 1770 and Agnes Waters are both great venues off the beaten track (2 days each). Around Rockhampton (1 day) try to take in Yeppoon and Great Keppel Island (2-3 days) and around Mackay the Eungella National Park (1-2 days). In and around Townsville don’t miss Magnetic Island (3 days) and Charters Towers (1 day). Airlie Beach (2 days) and the Whitsunday Islands (2-3 days) are almost obligatory while just south of Cairns, Mission Beach (2 days) and Dunk Island (1-2 days) are also well worth visiting. With all that to consider, make sure you leave at least 5 days in and around Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.