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Australia Travel Guide

Australia Travel Guide

Australia

If there ever was a country I could speak to you all year about! Having been born and raised Australian, I didn’t realize that the rest of the world viewed my country as “exotic” until quite recently.  I grew up thinking the Sydney Harbor Bridge was just another bridge, that kangaroos, koalas and echidnas were common, and that it was normal to have access to hundreds of white sandy beaches!  I wasn’t able to truly appreciate that I had access to some of the world’s most stunning landscapes, craziest creatures, fabulous fauna and the absolute best beaches, because I had never known anything else!

Australia is definitely “the lucky country”; not only for its abundance of raw materials, natural wonders and sunshine, but also because it is blessed with a variety of different landscapes, activities enough for multiple trips, and attractions for all tastes.  Whether you are a competitive tanner, diver, surfer, backpacker or wildlife enthusiast, Australia has something for you.

Central and Northern Australia, or the “outback”, are destinations which are foremost on the minds of many tourists, and where all Australian clichés were born. It’s here, amongst the wide-open spaces, that many of Australia’s most recognisable natural icons can be found. It’s here, amongst the 52 national parks and nature conservation reserves, that diverse wildlife such as kangaroos, crocodiles and emus roam free. It’s here where you can share a beer with colourful outback characters in a legendary outback pub, and its here, in the outback, that Australia gained its image as a sunburnt country; one of sweeping red terrain.

Uluru, Australia

Uluru (Ayers Rock) is the sacred mountain of the Aboriginals who have decorated it with paintings and engravings. You can either climb to the top of the 1,142 foot rock (although the Aboriginals request you don’t), or take the 3 hour walk around the circumference.

To the East lies one of Australia’s most spectacular natural regions.  The Blue Mountains are easily accessible from Sydney and since 2000 has been listed as a World Heritage region.  Dense eucalyptus forests cover the mountains, and sandstone has created vertical canyon walls (Grose, Gowett, Cox) where waterfalls (Katoomba and Govett’s Leap) and limestone caves (Jenolan) await those who take advantage of the stunning bush-walks and hiking trails.  The Three Sisters is the Blue Mountains’ most spectacular landmark, an unusual rock formation located at Echo Point Katoomba, and other highlights include Aboriginal rock art sites as well as Featherdale Wildlife Park which provides a natural habitat for hundreds of Koalas.  There are literally hundreds of accommodation options available within the Blue Mountains, however those who love the great outdoors should consider camping.

If considering a trip to the northeast of Australia, drive all the way to the Cape York Peninsular – the tip of Queensland and the northernmost tip of the Australian Continent, Cape York is a completely unspoiled wilderness area of pristine white sand beaches and tropical rain-forest.  Driving there will be an unforgettable adventure; there are two routes available as you head north from Cairns, the Highway route will fully sealed roads, or the inland route via the Telegraph Track – a 4WD battle-camp which should only be attempted by those comfortable with extreme 4WD-ing, and only during May through August.

Swimming with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo Reef. Photo Source: Australia's Coral Coast

Swimming with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo Reef. Photo Source: Australia’s Coral Coast

Western Australia occupies the entire western third of Australia, and offers tourists and travelers a world of awe-inspiring beauty with experiences found nowhere else on earth.  Highlights include Exmouth, where you can swim a short distance from the shore through clear turquoise water to World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef and swim with the gentle Whale Sharks; Karijini National Park with red gorges, waterfalls and natural pools; Kalgoorlie-Boulder which was the setting for the 19th century gold-rush; Monkey Mia which is one of the most reliable locations for dolphin interactions in the world; and Broome in the northwest, which is both the pearling capital of Australia and the gateway to the Kimberley region which accommodated the first Aboriginies almost 40,000 years ago.  Also consider visiting the Bungle Bungle region as well as the Tanami Desert which is home to Wolfe Creek Crater.

To the South lies an island State often forgotten about, however far richer than any of the other Australian States in terms of natural beauty.  Tasmania offers travelers and tourists that crazy thing called fresh air, and you notice it as soon as you step off the ferry (from Melbourne) or plane.  With many national parks, forests, lakes, waterfalls and beaches, Tasmania attracts hikers and bush-walkers from all around the world who are drawn to locations such as Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, Wineglass Bay and Maria Island.  However Tasmania also offers an insight into it’s sandstone heritage – five World Heritage Convict sites such as Port Arthur, The Isle of the dead and Sarah Island are only a short trip from the historic capital of Hobart.  

Known throughout the world for its wide open spaces of barren bushland, red earth, rocks and dry trees, Outback Australia is where the majority of Australia’s Aboriginal population live, where you will find spread out sheep stations, road trains rolling by, and well known Australian wildlife.

The Northern Territory is a truly unique travel destination for both foreigners and Australians alike, and there is enough diversity and opportunity for adventure to suit every traveler’s itinerary.

Chambers Pillar, Nitmiluk National Park, Kakadu National Park, Kings Canyon and Uluru (Ayers Rock) are some of the more noteworthy attractions; however, why not take a helicopter or other small aircraft to discover remote areas of the outback? While the rugged scenery is stunning from the ground, I can assure you it is even more spectacular from the air!

Is 4WDing more your pace? 4WD tracks lead you straight to UNESCO World Heritage areas such as Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Hiking trails end at dramatic, cavernous gorges where the year round warm weather makes for perfect swimming conditions. Additionally Simpsons Desert, known as the true “Red Centre” of Australia is as easily accessible by 4WD and the perfect day trip from the desert city of Alice Springs.

Extreme fishing tours give you the opportunity to feed crocodiles (from afar!), and catch barramundi. Bird watching tours are popular in the outback and you won’t ever have enough film to capture the amount of breathtaking moments. Or you can also relax in one of the countless resorts and enjoy your extraordinary surroundings by the pool!

Darwin is the perfect location to start or end your outback adventure. A cosmopolitan city, and a melting pot of different cultures, it’s quite easy to fly into Darwin, but why not cross the country on a great Australian road trip or on a slow train? When else will you have the opportunity to watch for wildlife, admire aboriginal art, and trek through rocky gorges and rainforests while sleeping in a swag and eating bush food?

The Ghan is a train which crosses the country twice a week between Darwin and Adelaide. I recommend a road trip, personally, as it gives you the flexibility and freedom to explore off the beaten path, and discover the Northern Territory at your own pace.

Along the East Coast of Australia you will find the Great Barrier Reef, which according to Australian’s is the eighth wonder of the world!  The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system comprising of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 picturesque tropical islands which stretch over 2,600 kilometres and some of the worlds most beautiful, sun-soaked golden beaches.  The reef is where dream vacations become a reality, and some of the most popular destinations include Hamilton, Drunk, Heron, Lizard and Fraser Islands, all offering plenty of opportunity for water sports, wildlife-watching, and plenty of coral for snorkeling.

The North Coast of Australia is just as stunning as the East, however less tourism means you can enjoy the likes of Melville and Bathurst Islands practically by yourself!

Byron Bay along the Southeast Coast is another popular coastal destination for those wishing to avoid the large crowds which converge on Sydney’s popular Bondi Beach.  Beaches along the south coast between Adelaide and Melbourne make a trip to Australia worthwhile – and not to be missed is a drive of the Great Ocean Road where travelers have access to iconic Australian attractions such as the 12 Apostles, located in Port Campbell National Park.  Warrnambool and Torquay are great bases to explore the Great Ocean Road.  Traveling even further south to Tasmania, travelers should plan a trip to Wineglass Bay and Norfolk Island for wild and natural beauty.

Wineglass Bay, Tasmania. Photo Source: DMCA

Wineglass Bay, Tasmania. Photo Source: DMCA

Australia is known for having unusual wildlife, and Australian animals are unlike any found elsewhere in the world! From kangaroos and koalas, to platypi (platypus), emus, Tasmanian devils, some 60 species of parakeets, and wombats – Australia has a huge range of wonderful wildlife and exotic species which provoke a sense of wonder and awe throughout the rest of the world.

Koalas mostly live in the forests of Queensland, however also have many colonies throughout Southern Victoria. Kangaroos can be found all over the country, including around Adelaide, Canberra, as well as in the National Parks of Kakadu and the Blue Mountains.  Kangaroo Island off South Australia also accommodates koalas, opossums and whales.

Western Australia is a mecca for marine wildlife; the dolphins in Shark Bay and whale and hammerhead sharks around Ningaloo Reef off Exmouth never disappoint.  Nor do the giant crocodiles and termite mounds in Kakadu.

Koalas at Kennet River, Victoria

Koalas at Kennet River, Victoria

 

Most tourists immediately recognize Sydney as the most interesting city within Australia, and with the modern architecture of the Sydney Opera House, a lively and vibrant harbor, green spaces like the Royal Botanic Gardens and Hyde Park, cultrural heritage (the Rocks)  and outrageous festivals and events such as the Gay Mardi Gras, they’re not wrong!  Australia does, however, have many more cities around the country which are equally as unique and interesting.

Alice Springs is a unique city located in the heart of the desert; Melbourne is an upbeat, artsy city known for its urbanism; Adelaide is the city of churches and is situated at the foot of Mount Lofty; Perth is the isolated Capital of Western Australia and known for it’s marina and maritime museum; Canberra (Australia’s Capital Territory) is the political Capital of the nation; and Hobart for it’s culture, heritage and warf.  All of these cities are well worth a visit.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

For the experience of a life-time be sure to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge!

 

Outback

The best time to hit the Center of Australia is between April and the end of September.

Great Barrier Reef

The best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef (best visibility) is between July and the end of December.

Sydney

The city is at it’s best during March and April, as well as June through September.  Sydney does put on a mean fireworks display for New Years Eve however if you decide to visit during late December. Make sure you choose the right Sydney hotel with harbour views, otherwise you’ll be stuck in the crowd.

South

You want to stick to January through April to visit the south during the warmer months of the year.

West

Head West anytime between October and April for good weather.

Festivals

January 26 is Australia Day, and huge celebrations are held across the country.  This is NOT Australia’s independence day, rather  commemorates the establishment of the first European settlement in Australia.  Australians come together to celebrate their country and their culture.

During March Melbourne holds Moomba, which is the Festival of Melbourne, and Sydney holds an annual Mardi Gras.

December 26 is Boxing Day; a nation wide holiday marked by post Christmas shopping sales and one of the biggest cricket matches of the year.

A popular way of exploring Australia is by hiring a camper-van and hitting the road.  Prices generally spike between November and February during summer.  This is the most epic way of experiencing Australia, as there are so many colorful towns spotted inbetween the major cities which you often miss when you’re rushing through an itinerary.

The quickest way of exploring Australia, however is by flying.  The major Airlines which operate throughout Australia are Qantas and Virgin, and both carriers operate out of the majority of Australian cities.  My personal preference is to fly with Qantas, however I have often opted to fly with Virgin as they generally offer cheaper flights and more direct routes to smaller cities.  Tiger Airways is a budget airline which runs flights out of the capital cities – while you’ll be able to book these flights for as low as $20 be warned that you get what you pay for.  There is a whole reality TV show dedicated to Tiger Air which showcases their continual delays, cancelled flights and passenger problems.  Maybe go with a more reliable airline if you absolutely have to be somewhere by a certain date!

Camper-van is a popular method for getting around Australia.

Camper-van is a popular method for getting around Australia.

Safety is not a concern in Australia.  If you are driving through the country make sure to take the proper precautions in relation to long drives – also watch out for wildlife on the roads, especially when driving at night. Hitting a Kangaroo will ruin your vehicle!  Don’t laugh – it happens everyday!  Oh, and we drive on the left in Australia!

Try not to hitchhike through the center of Australia.  While it may be perfectly safe, Australia has some horrible history of missing backpackers who were hitchhiking.

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria.

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria.

Pros: An amazing country unlike any other in the world.  The size of the country means there are activities enough for a number of trips, and there is something to suit every traveler.

Cons: Generally expensive for tourists.  Very cold in the South during Winter (July to September), and very hot and humid in the North during Summer.  Many tourists are deterred by the long haul flight.

Travel Documents: To travel to Australia tourists are required to present a valid passport and visa.  Citizens of the UK and NZ only need to present a visa for visits of more than 90 days.   You can apply online for an Australian Tourist Visa.

The official language spoken throughout Australia is English.  Some Aboriginal dialects are spoken as you travel through the Northern Territory.  The Australian Dollar is traded as currency.

Travel Time: From New York to Sydney you’re looking at a 22 hour flight with stopovers generally in Asia.  London to Sydney is a 21 connecting flight.

Traveling through Australia is expensive.  You should budget around $2500-$3500 US for two weeks worth of travel and excursions. 

A great resource I used for information on Australia was Rudy Maxa’s ‘100 countries, 5000 ideas“.
Featured Photo Source: Equipe Viaggi
Australian Map Photo Source: TAT Foundation

 Have you been to Australia?  Do you have anything to add?

    24 Comments

  1. Awesome! This is exactly what i need. Heading there next year.

    Thanks Megan! :)

    • Thanks Mariza! Glad I could be of help :) Feel free to email me with any other questions you may have.

  2. Thanks Megan. I am currently living in the Northern Territory. Moving to Cairns at the end of August.

    • How fantastic Katelyn! Let me know what you think of Cairns – have only been through really briefly but it seems like a great city!

    • Thanks! Glad to be of help :)

  3. Great tips! I’m planning on doing the work & holiday visa there next year, so hopefully my trip will be more affordable!

    • Fantastic – my husband did the same visa so let us know if you have any questions :) You’ll have a great time!

  4. We had a great experience in Australia at the end of 2012 and early 2013. We spent the majority of our time on the East coast in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast with a day trip down to Sydney which was awesome. This is a really helpful guide though for other spots that we are particularly interested in exploring. I have just posted a Dream Destination of Melbourne which is really appealing, I would love to head there during the Aussie Open so hopefully we can make it happen!

    • Glad to hear you loved Australia – I’m fairly bias but it’s the best country in the world!! Brisbane and the Gold Coast are great choices for a holiday – hopefully you get the opportunity to get back and do some more exploring of the surrounds and lesser known areas.

      Haven’t yet headed to the Aussie Open but I do love Melbourne – pretty great dream destination with Phillip Island and the Great Ocean Road at its doorstep!

  5. Lots of useful information here and it reminds me of how much there is to do in Australia. I am on a working holiday in Australia and have found that I have spend most of my time in the cities and Tasmania when I did my farm work for my 2nd year visa. I would love to go to the outback, WA and the Kimberleys. The great train journeys are also very appealing!

    • So glad you enjoyed the guide Eloise – there really is just so much to do, it’s definitely a country which is incredibly diverse!! Awesome to hear that you’re currently in Australia now, and psyched to hear you made it to Tasmania. I’m a Hobart girl so my mission in life is to put Tasmania on tourists radars – it’s such a beautiful spot, probably the most!!

      Safe travels – do try to make the time for the outback, WA and the Kimberleys, and let us know if you’re looking for any other travel tips :)

  6. Hi Megan!

    Have you been to Tasmania yet? I’m heading there for a few days while I’m in Australia and didn’t see any posts on it. Thanks!

    • Hi Jen! I’m actually from Tasmania, so I can definitely set you up with some tips – shoot me an email and I’ll send you a guide I wrote; meganjerrard@gmail.com

      Have a wonderful trip! I maintain that it’s one of the best states in Aus! :)

  7. Such a lovely country! I wish I could visit it one day and experience the Aussie life. But I will have to apply for an Australian Tourist Visa first.

    • Definitely worthwhile applying for the visa to come. Hope you have the chance to experience Australia soon Yanny. Happy travels!

  8. Nice trip

    • Thanks Jhon – glad you enjoyed the guide :)

  9. The Whitsunday Islands is another Australia icon. I go to Whitehaven beach 3 times a week for the last 4 years and love it more every time :) . We are defiantly blessed to be living in such a diverse country

    • Would you believe, I haven’t actually made it to the Whitsunday Islands yet!! Though I’ve seen the film and the photos, and Whitehaven beach 3 times a week sounds like you’re living the dream! Hopefully we’ll have a chance to make it there soon :)

  10. Did you visit the Sydney Opera house while there? My husband and I have been planning on visiting Australia and have been thinking about doing an opera! Not sure if it seems more impressive than it really is?

    • Hi Melissa! The Opera House is pretty spectacular in person, especially the first time you see it. I haven’t taken in an Opera, but have attended many concerts and choir recitals here and it’s a very memorable experience, which I think lives up to the hype. I definitely recommend including it as part of your trip. While you’re there, I also recommend doing the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb – it’s reasonably pricey, but absolutely worthwhile especially if you do it at night – the views over to the Opera House and over the harbor with the city skyline reflected in the water are stunning.

      Feel free to reach out if you have any other Q’s in the lead up to your Australia trip. Happy travels!

  11. Amazing photos Meg! That rock Uluru looks amazing, almost as good as The Opera House (which is the first “thing” when people think about Australia).

    • Thanks Mark! Uluru really is quite spectacular … especially as the sun sets, it’s awe inspiring to watch the rock glow red :) Hope you have the chance to visit Aus soon!

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