Sydney Harbor aerial view. Photo by Andrew Xu
This small continent but massive country is diverse, laid back, wild and as big as Europe, providing an eclectic hoard of experiences and endless space for isolation seekers. Spectacular deserts, rainforests, waterfalls, canyons and a huge array of strange flora and fauna are just some of the reasons to go this distance.
White sand beaches stretching to infinity provide some of the best snorkelling, surfing, diving and lounging on the planet. Cities are home to cutting edge arts, music and cafe cultures, and if you get your timing right the sun will shine on your Australia holidays.
Amazing contrasts lie in the anonymity of the Outback and Red Centre, underpinned by an ancient and fascinating Aboriginal past.
Australians are very straight talking people, tricky at first for repressed, po-faced Brits, but actually it’s a plus point. Get used to it! If you want to stay longer, work options for foreigners are ample and varied.
Uluru fly protection, Red Centre.
• The place is HUGE, so unless you have infinite time you must limit your your itinerary and it’s going to cost you to get around. Planes and car rentals are the most time effective way to take Australian holidays, buses the cheapest.
• Nor is accommodation especially cheap, though you can rough it on a budget.
• The southern hemisphere sun is way more intense than the north and needs constant care to avoid burns and possible skin cancer.
• Winter (June – August) can be cold in the south, particularly if you were expecting to spend your days in a swimsuit.
• Australia’s deadly critters require considerable respect and attention. We once swam in a suburban Sydney pool, and found a couple of funnel web spiders cooly paddling about in it – visit Dangerous Animals.
• Outback flies can be incredibly persistent and irritating while leeches, ticks and mites acquired when hiking can lead to swellings, rashes or infections.
• Travelling long distances to some towns expecting an interesting, lively culture and finding a dull, mall and beer dominated town can be depressing.
• Spooky, desolate mining district are reminiscent of moonscapes, without a trace of vegetation or humanity. Or maybe that’s a good thing?
Great Ocean Road view of the Twelve Apostles, near Melbourne-ish. Photo by Richard Mikalsen
A wild Koala, literally up a gum tree over the Great Ocean Road.
Probably the biggest disappointment for visitors is the difficulty of seeing Australia’s unique wildlife outside zoos. Many people expect to see ‘roos hopping all over Sydney and that’s unlikely to happen in built up areas.
If you stay on the east coast – with a side trip to Uluru perhaps – you will be very lucky to catch a glimpse of a kangaroo or koala in the wild.
The Bugcrew saw wild things for the first time part way down south on the Great Ocean Road – ‘roos hanging out at Anglesea Golf Course and koalas hanging from roadside eucalypti like fat furry fruit.
It requires a lot more than a two week runaround to get pictures of Australia’s animals, though birds are pretty omnipresent – cockatoos, mynahs and parrots especially.
Some wildlife parks are excellent, spacious and very user-friendly, letting visitors get very close to – even hand feed – ‘roos, wallabies, emus and birds.
The Bugcrew were particularly impressed by Adelaide’s Cleland Wildlife Park and have pictures of the experience there.
Wallaby meets girl, Cleland Wildlife Park, Adelaide.
Climbing Uluru in the Red Centre of Australia
Trekking and camping: half-hour bushwalks to month long ‘walkabouts’ can be found in the canyon and rockscapes of the Northern Territory, as well as around Cairns, the Blue Mountains, Tasmania, the Grampian Mountains near Melbourne and many other spots.
Tropical Rainforest excursions: can be done independently or with guide in the Daintree Forest near Cairns, Kakadu National Park near Darwin, as well as many locations in Western Australia. The wilderness of Cradle Mountain in Tasmania is a terrific off-the-beaten track option.
Camel trekking: in the desert, mainly out west.
Driving: Buying a used vehicle (sharing with a couple of mates is almost certainly cheaper than renting for long trips) and exploring the coast and vast, red interior is a popular, lowish-cost option for more experienced tourists, offering a glorious sense of freedom and adventure.
Water sports: Resorts on the East coast such as Cairns, Port Douglas, Byron Bay, Hervey Bay and the Whitsundays offer everything from sailing, scuba lessons, white water rafting, sea kayaking, to lazing in the sun tho’ little in the way of safe sea swimming, but free beachside ‘lagoons’ are fine for posing and paddling.
Charlotte Pass ski village at an altitude of 1760m, Australia’s first ski resort. Photo flyingpurplemonkeys
Skiing: in the Snowy Mountains, Great Dividing Range.
Weird and wonderful: dip into the outback towns and rodeo-ranch lifestyle for a fair dinkum insight into the Ocker Ozzie world.
Check out the country’s peculiar obsession with BIG things – truly heroic models of crocodiles, kangaroos, lobsters, bananas and more, in the 20 metre high range and randomly scattered around the country.
Visit Nimbin, a small town that’s been colonised by the New Age, and decorated to match, rainbow apparel optional.
Wildlife walks: not as easy as you might think to find wild things in a short time, apart from funnel-web spiders.
Some prime locations are Kakadu National Park in the north, a World Heritage Site, very scenic but over-touristy, with Aboriginal art. Flinders Range in the south-east, and Freycinet Peninsula in Tasmania. If you want to really get away from civilisation, try visiting distant Kimberley.
Surfing: a national obsession so available just about everywhere except the NE Barrier Reef area, with plenty of schools and rental equipment.
Many backpacker places lend out body boards for free and wet suits are for hire if the water’s chilly. Tuition on full-size boards anywhere up the east coast is quite competitive.
The Bugcrew enjoyed surf life in Sydney’s suburb of Manly, with its young buzz and big clean beach with good waves, but just north of Brisbane the lovely, calm, affluent town of Noosa also specialises in surf lessons on big, soft beaches with a lot more space than Manly or Bondi could ever offer.
Whale watching: along the east coast off Eden (NSW) and Fraser Island (Queensland), and on the south coast off Warrnambool, both July-Sept. Dolphins all year round in all directions!
Turtle Hatching: mid Oct- end of April in Bundaberg, Queensland.
See Animal Pictures
LGBT couple enjoying Adelaide Fringe festival. Photo by Trentino Priori.
8-30 January, Sydney Festival, a solid tho’ conservative arts event, no fringe madness.
26 January, Australia Day, nationwide but especially lively in Sydney with the Big Day Out music festival, a Regatta and more.
late January-mid February, Midsumma, gay Melbourne.
1st weekend of February, Melbourne Blues Festival, excellent.
1st Friday of February-early March, Sydney Mardi Gras. A huge and deservedly famous celebration of gaiety in all artistic spheres. Fun for straights too!
mid February-early March, Perth Arts Festival, a massive art attack.
early March, a weekend, Melbourne Moomba Waterfest. An extravagant family festival.
March every 2 years, even dates, Adelaide Festival. A superb, innovative event.
early March, 2 weeks, Quicksilver Pro Surfing, Surfer’s Paradise.
mid March, 1 week, Surf Life Saving Championship. A muscular event.
From 4th Thursday of March for a month, Melbourne Comedy Festival.
1st Sat/Sun of June, Manly Food & Wine Festival, Sydney.
2nd Sat/Sun of June, Melbourne Good Food & Wine Show.
July, Darwin Beer Can Regatta. Racing craft made of empties. b
3rd Friday of July for 3 days, Boulia Desert Sands Camel Racing, Queensland. A big giggle.
1st Saturday of October, Sleaze Ball, Sydney. An unbelievably queer event.
28 Sept-16 October, Floriade, Canberra. A flowery celebration of spring.
October for 2 weeks, Melbourne Arts Festival. A city-wide arts and culture event.
1st 3 weeks of October, Western Australia Pride, Perth. The west’s biggest thing.
1-14 November, Sculpture by the Sea, Sydney. An extensive display on Bondi’s gorgeous coastal path.
November-February, alternative gatherings across the country, in particular around the hippy mecca of Nimbin and Byron Bay on the East Coast.
19-23 December, Parmalat Christmas Celebrations, Brisbane. Jolly, no holly.
26 December, Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, a great harbour spectacle.
31 December, New Year’s Eve Fireworks, Sydney. A spectacular blow-out.
December 31, Sydney Pride New Year’s Eve Party.
Thanks to considerable Asian, Middle Eastern and European immigration the dishes available and styles of cooking have increased immeasurably in Australia recently, improving quality and variety no end, although this is limited to larger towns. And the price is right too!
Apart from delicate Greek, Italian, Lebanese, and all the classic Asian dishes, chunky unsubtle meat pies are also popular – a relic of English cuisine.
Unsurprisingly seafood is big on the Aussie agenda, as are all sorts of tropical fruit for dessert, though the favoured dessert is Pavlova – a sweet meringue cake.
And then there’s bush tucker, derived from native Aboriginal foods, such as possum-tail soup, kangaroo kebab, crocburgers (chicken/porky), emu au vin (also tasteless but the wine’s good), bunya nuts, witchetty grub sashimi (peanut butter taste) and, of course, crunchy ant entree.
Beware: ‘tea’ often means the evening meal, and an ‘entree’ is an appetizer, cougettes are zuccini, peppers are capsicums and aubergine eggplants.
Vegetarians are fairly well catered for and shouldn’t go hungry, outside the outback at least, and then there’s always witchetty grubs.
Tipping: Not exactly customary but a growing trend. 10-15% would be welcome but not mandatory.
Visas to Australia
Needed by all except Kiwis! Standard is 3 months but longer is possible. Online visas, (ETA) are available for citizens of UK, USA, Canada, most of Europe, Malaysia and Japan.
Young people between 18 and 30 who want to holiday and work in Australia can do so for up to a year. To apply for this visa, you must hold a valid passport from an eligible country. More official information
General information on Australia Visas