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Australia lingers long in every impression. From burning red desert to bustling metropolis, aboriginal lifestyles to surf culture, the land down under seems to serve up a feast of preconceptions. This vast island, cast adrift in the South Pacific, seems to ignite the imagination unlike anywhere else. Australia. Just picture it and it’s impossible to focus on a single image; Sydney, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, the desert, the beach, everything in between. We’ll let you into a little secret. All that dreaming, all that unadulterated reverie of Australia…it’s pretty much exactly what Australia is like when you visit.
Let’s indulge a little on the country’s appeal. Over 20,000 miles of virtually untouched coastline, a series of cities founded on ingenuity and intrigue, endemic wildlife skipping around all over… This is where you’ll find the world’s biggest monolith, it’s longest reef, oldest rainforest, longest surviving culture, and a completely new definition of uninhabited wilderness. With Australia, there’s never a debate about whether you want to go. It’s hard to find a soul on the planet who isn’t in-spired by the thought of this immense island nation.
The question is more about how to transform Australia from fantasy to reality. First up are the practicalities. Just flying across the country takes five hours, nothing but scorched landscape beneath the wingtips. Even on the ever popular East Coast you can drive for hours without seeing anything but sugar plantations and the odd kangaroo. Second up is cost. Australia’s transformation from rugged hinterland into sophisticated nation knows no boundaries, and the spiraling costs have many visitors surviving off boxed wine and jam sandwiches. Finally, there’s the dilemma of finding time. Such a vast far flung destination deserves oodles of time. So what can realistically be squeezed into an itinerary if you don’t have three months to spare?
Consider the three questions and Australia can easily be left to rot in the annals of travel day-dreams. But as the Aussies would say, no worries. The locals’ serene and easygoing attitude forms the paradigm for this guidebook. There’s no need to completely overthink Australia. This is an indelibly easy country to travel in and this guidebook believes in giving you all the information and tools to turn a dream trip into reality. All the core practicalities are considered, helping you plan an itinerary regardless of how much time you have to spend. Costs are outlined, along with numerous ways to reduce them without reliving days of being a squalid student.
This guidebook is about all the essential information you need to plan and realize a trip to Austral-ia. Because once you’ve got it planned the country will do the rest. So jump forward into a nation of superlatives, into a mesmerizing concoction of escapism and adventure. Some people say that Australia is a country for finding yourself. We prefer to think it’s a country for getting lost, amidst the finest landscapes and experiences on the planet.
Australia at a glance
Let’s start with the obvious. Australia is huge. It’s also vastly unpopulated, a handful of cities containing the large bulk of a 25 million population. This is a place of wilderness and hinterland, a dry and barren land that evokes all the impressions of desert and the bush. Traveling between destinations almost always takes a day, even if you’re flying, yet arrive for just a week and there’s plenty to discover with a realistic plan. Sandwiched between desert and ocean is a thin coastline of development and greenery, home to the iconic cities and more deserted sand than you could ever possibly imagine.
The East Coast is more developed with Sydney and Melbourne providing the most popular entry points to the country. Most visitors stay east, traversing the renowned wonders that dot a long coastline, including the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands. South of the two famous cities but still firmly on the eastern side, you’ll find the Southern Coast and island of Tasmania. The West Coast is far less developed, save for the rapidly expanding and beautiful city of Perth. Journeys here are more off the beaten track, the intrepid coastline a place for real adventure. The red center is exactly that, a vast red desert where you can drive 1000 miles without seeing another person or building. It’s achingly authentic, but can be brutal and unpleasant for the unprepared.
Land in a city and you’d be forgiven for an immediately blinding by the lights. Australia can be as developed and futuristic as anywhere in the world. However, at its heart, the country retains the tranquil atmosphere of days gone by. Even the Sydney city slickers will jump off work early for a surf. Settling into the local rhythm happens almost instantaneously; expect to be gently rolling on an anything-is-possible mentality. Not in an American Dream kind of way. Think instead, that if anything is possible, then there’s time for a beer in the meantime. Australia and Aussies are fun, always focused on absorbing the best of life and having a laugh. You can’t help but smile, especial-ly with the endless days of sunshine, exuberant coating of nature, and encompassing wonder that seems to cascade from the hotel window.
Australia’s tourist infrastructure matches its modern world status. Roads are in excellent condition, flights connect remote destinations, and the range of accommodation always impresses with its quality. Arrive in the most far-flung destination and there will be a tour company offering some kind of unique trip. Just to get you excited, here are a few examples:
• Sydney is surrounded by green, dissected by a river, and fringed by memorable surf. Yet it’s also a marvelous blend of ultra plush development and old-world ambiance, one that’s stuffed with iconic sights and must-see landmarks. (See Chapter 5: Sydney and Around).
• The wild West Coast is a place for beach dreamers, for those that imagine thousands of miles of sand without a single footprint. Jump out into the Indian Ocean and tropical marine worlds serve up kaleidoscopic beauty, like swimming with whale sharks in Ningaloo. (See Chapter 11: The West Coast)
• Kangaroos and koalas feature highly on all postcard images of Australia, yet few can picture how closely they merge with urbanity. Just outside the colorful artistic streets of Mel-bourne you can spot hundreds of marsupials thriving in their natural habitat. (See Chapter 6: Melbourne and Victoria).
• Visible from space and stretching half way down the East Coast, the Great Barrier Reef needs little introduction. Yet for all the boasting about size, there’s a wonderful intimacy to exploring its colors and weirdness. (See Chapter 9: The East Coast).
• Running between Melbourne and Adelaide, the Great Ocean Road is perhaps the country’s most dramatic expanse of cliff lines and sandy havens, the bays interluded by staggering rocky pinnacles that stand isolated in the water (See Chapter 6: Melbourne and Victoria).
• Peculiar Tasmania runs with its own style, the island’s geography more reminiscent of nearby New Zealand than the mainland. It’s a place for outdoor adventures, wild camping, and the most laid-back characters around (See Chapter 8: Tasmania).
• Kangaroo Island isn’t just home to the hopping version of marsupials, it’s one of the final utopias for koalas. Expect to find almost all Australia’s endemic wildlife without even having to leave your chalet balcony (See Chapter 7: South Australia).
• It’s just a rock. But what a rock! Towering above the desert, burning red Uluru is the world’s largest monolith. Yet it’s far more than aesthetic fancy, this is the heartbeat of aboriginal culture and a genuine journey into remote desert. (See Chapter 10: The Red Center).
• Explore the seemingly endless hinterland of Kakadoo National Park, an evocative mix of desert and green in the north of Australia’s red center. (See Chapter 10: The Red Center).
• Cruise through the elegant vineyards of the Barossa Valley, Australia’s premier wine destination rolling with picturesque backdrops and long days of sensual tasting (See Chapter 7: South Australia).
• Stand on the very eastern edge of Australia at Byron Bay, the high rugged cliffs looking out onto breaching whales and other marine beauties (see Chapter 9: The East Coast).
• Gaze out onto the mystical haze of the Blue Mountains, the surreal color juxtaposed with a rich canopy of eucalyptus trees and some sublime hiking trails (see Chapter 5: Sydney and Around).
• Hire a car and drive south of Perth, the Indian Ocean coastline completely deserted and filled with untamed surfing spots. You can drive for miles and see nothing but pristine beach awaiting your footprints (see Chapter 11: The West Coast).
• Tasmania is 45% national park and its free to camp almost everywhere. So lace up the hiking boots and find a sublime piece of nature beneath the stars (See Chapter 8: Tasmania).
• Wander the Melbourne riverside and soak up the atmosphere of a city priding itself on art and culture; buskers, street artists, colonial relics standing over eclectic gourmet restaurants, and a treasure found down every side street (See Chapter 6: Melbourne and Victoria).
How to Use This Guide
This guidebook is split up into three distinct sections, each building on the last and offering a thorough impression of Australia. You’re not going to find page after page of individual hotel listings or information what to eat on a Tuesday night in Airlie beach. This planning guide provides every-thing you need to plan and make your dream trip a reality. Australia is about getting lost so there’s no need to concoct an hourly itinerary. However, arrive without a plan and this huge country can feel scarily inaccessible. So we stick to the essential information and ensure you can soak up the indelible local style and maximize the fun.
At the same time, this guidebook should be all you need to travel Australia. This is a remarkably easy country to travel in. English is the local language (albeit with a few twangs of indecipherable slang), tourists are always well catered for, and chatting with strangers is just what you do. Use this guidebook to plan your trip and everything else will take care of itself. If it’s important then we’ve included it. If it’s not, then it didn’t make the cut. Australia is far too good a country to waste pages listing below par restaurants or experiences that blitz the credit card for nothing in return.
Chapter 2 provides all the basics on Australia. It’s about how to get around, where to sleep, how to get good value and limit your costs, and all the basics for planning potential routes. It’s the country in a nutshell, a quick fire run through what’s important before you travel. Importantly, it answers the three questions that inhibit most Australian travel dreams: practicalities, cost, and time.
Chapter 3 focuses on how to fully immersive yourself in the Australian experience. It covers culture and tradition, from what they drink in the pub to the languages spoke by Aboriginal tribes. Having some form of Australian mindset elevates the experience from postcard image to real travel experience. Yes, Australia is full of seemingly must-see sights and you’ve already probably got a list in your head. But the country’s unique appeal also lies in the atmosphere that pervades throughout. Chapter 3 helps ensure that you’re fully braced to go on walkabout and shout “fair dinkem” when it all works out.
Chapters 4 – 11 offer detailed information about destinations in Australia and how they can be worked into a realistic itinerary. Australia is a huge country yet it doesn’t have many roads or air-ports, so planning a route is easier that you might expect. Each chapter is self-contained and moves in a geographical order, meaning that it’s easily explorable on its own. It’s also a link with other chapters for those planning wider Australia trips. With each chapter you’re introduced to the region and the travel practicalities, then individual destinations are detailed with a focus on the experiences and highlights.
Travel Routes and Itineraries
Route planning is easier that you might imagine in a country of this size. In essence, Australia has one coastal road that travels almost 20,000 miles around the country, and then a couple of barren roads that cross the desert. So you won’t be encountering too many indecipherable crossroads. Virtually nobody has the time to cover it all on a single vacation, so your travel route and itinerary will depend on the airports that dot the country. Note that while some places look relatively close on the map, distances in Australia are huge. For example, Sydney to Melbourne is a 12 hour drive.
Each chapter of this travel guide is based around one or two entry airports. A wider network of flights then extends from these entry airports, connecting many remote dots. However, these re-mote airports are serviced by a small handful of flights, so you’ll inevitably have to arrive from or depart to one of the larger airports below.
• Sydney – Largest entry airport and start or end point for longer trips along the East Coast.
• Melbourne – Tucked away in the south of the country. Used as a base to explore Victoria.
• Adelaide – Southern Australia entry point. Relatively small airport.
• Brisbane / Cairns – Airports in the center and north of the East Coast.
• Perth – Major airport and city on the West Coast.
• Ayer’s Rock / Alice Springs / Darwin – Tourist focused airports in the red center with main-ly domestic flights.
Classic Routes at a Glance
With one week: With one week, the best option is usually to combine two of the entry airports above, with three or four days in each exploring the surrounding area. The most popular choice is Sydney and Cairns.
With two weeks: Two main options. Choose three or four of the entry destinations and hop be-tween them. Or hire a car and explore a part of the coastline with a one way trip. Cairns to Brisbane, Brisbane to Sydney, Sydney to Adelaide, or Perth to Broome.
With three weeks: Enough to fly across the country and pick a handful of destinations. There are numerous possibilities with the genuine chance to combine both East Coast and West Coast.
One month: Again, enough time to fly around the country. Also enough time for a serious road trip and just about long enough to travel Cairns down to Sydney on the East Coast. Don’t over-stretch yourself though. One month won’t be long enough to see all of Australia.
Up to two months: For financial reasons, most choose to rent a vehicle for most of their trip, usually with a couple of flights to start or end the trip.
When To Go and Understanding Different Seasons
There’s no prizes for guessing the mainstay of the Australian climate. A fierce sun rolls around a cloudless sky for almost the entire year. Australia is hot, and with a gaping ozone hole up above, it quickly dishes out discomfort for anyone unprepared. This is the country of desert and bush fires remember, so slap on the sun cream and respect the lack of water. However, Australia stretches a few thousands latitudinal miles and there’s a few anomalies that have to be considered. There’s never a bad time to visit Australia, but the time of year will undoubtedly form part of your travel planning. Below is a very brief overview:
The Hot Summer (December to February)
Best for: Melbourne and South Australia.
Not as good for: The Red Center and the West Coast.
Summer is hot. Hot, hot, hot. Desert temperatures regularly stay above 100°F and the West Coast can become blisteringly dry. You’ll be hard pressed to find a scrap of rain anywhere other than the tropical East Coast, a factor that entices people to Southern Australia and the cities of Sydney and Melbourne. There’s many beach destinations that can fulfill classic images of postcard heaven at this time of year. The northern East Coast is hot all year round although it’s more tropical in summer with regular downpours. Christmas and early January is peak season in the cities and prices can be astronomical.
The Cooler Half of the Year (May to September)
Best for: Just about everywhere, particularly the Red Center and East and West Coasts.
Not as good for: Melbourne and Tasmania.
The winter months bring a slight respite from the heat and the desert can now be explored at more manageable temperatures. The East Coast will have clearer skies and the West Coast also benefits from a slight dip in the mercury. Tropical East Coast is at peak season now. While Sydney has a mixed winter the weather isn’t off-putting, but Melbourne and Tasmania have more European climates; grey skies and sub 60 temperatures aren’t quite the image most people have of Australia. Also remember that you’ll have two to four less daylight hours during winter.
The Shoulder Months (March – April, October – November)
Best for: A trip incorporating diverse parts of Australia.
Not as good for: The hottest areas can still be uncomfortable, especially if you’re not used to the sun.
These seasons merge into each other, but as a general rule, the shoulder months provide a good time to take in all of Australia. Nowhere will be in prime season, however, these are rare months where everywhere is accessible and relatively comfortable weather wise. Just remember that the Red Center could still be touching 100°F.
Travel Costs and Organizing Your Money
Australia is not cheap. In fact, it’s beginning to top the charts of expensive travel destinations. Gone are the days when a weak Australian dollar made this a backpacker’s paradise. With an ever-growing mining industry, the country’s economy and currency continues to accelerate and day to day expenses can make your eyes water. In addition, most visitors must consider the vast distances between destinations and the inaccessibility of some attractions. These add further pressure on the credit card. However, Australia is still achievable on most budgets as long as you’re studious and selective.
Example Budgets for an Australia Trip
It's challenging to define example budgets in Australia. Much will depend on the length of your visit and how much time is spent in the cities. The following is a very rough guide and the overlap between costs is intended. Reduce it by up to 30% if you're coming for a month or more, but add 30% if the itinerary sticks to the major destinations and you're flying between everywhere. All costs are in Australian dollars. Take away 10 – 15% for costs in US dollars.
• Super budget traveler ($70 – 90) – With this kind of budget you’ll be mostly camping (with the odd night in a dorm), cooking all your meals, carefully selecting the paid attractions, and avoiding nights out. It’s certainly achievable, especially if you’re renting a vehicle and making a long Australia trip.
• Budget traveler ($90 – 120) – This constitutes staying in hostels, cooking almost all your meals, socializing for free (not in the bars) and focusing more on natural attractions than city sights.
• Conscientious traveler ($120 – 180) – A decent sized budget that still means sleeping in hostels and cheap accommodation but ensures you can eat in a few restaurants, incorporate more tours and excursions, and enjoy a couple of ice cold sundowners.
• Standard traveler – ($150 – 250) – You’re on vacation so you’ll be enjoying yourself and trying not to think too much about the budget. Extra money means far more excursions and eating out, as well as not being limited to hostels and the cheapest accommodation.
• Upmarket traveler (US$250 – 500) – Spend more and you start living a more luxurious lifestyle, namely hanging out in bars and restaurants, taking your pick from excursions, and whizzing around the country with some more upmarket hotels.
• Luxury traveler (US$500 +) - Travel in style and Australia adds a coating of exclusivity to your vacation. Think boutique hotels, all the tours, plenty of time living the city life, and some of the Southern Hemisphere's finest restaurants.
Example Costs in Australia
To start building your own budget, here are some examples of typical costs. All costs are in Australian dollars.
• A good campsite – $10pp
• A dorm bed – $25 – 35pp
• A double in a dorm or budget hotel – $60 – 100
• A schooner or bottle of beer in a pub / bar – $7 – 10)
• Meal for two with drinks at a good but not gourmet restaurant – $70 – 100
• Journey of 300 miles by public transport – $20 – 40
• Full day tour of famous natural attraction – anywhere from $100 – 200
• Takeaway lunch with coffee from a cafe – $15 – 20
Easy Ways to Reduce Your Costs When Traveling in Australia
Coming from almost anywhere you will find Australia expensive. Which can be disheartening when you’re on vacation and shouldn’t be worrying about budgets. It’s possible to swipe everything on the card and worry about it later. It’s also possible to consider a few easy ways to reduce the costs and ensure that the beauty of Australia can be firmly realized.
• Avoid peak season – This is true everywhere in the world but magnified in a country with such high accommodation costs. Christmas and New Year prices smash through the ceiling as Australians also head out on vacation.
• Take advantage of online accommodation offers: There’s a surplus of accommodation at off peak times and the internet is where to find the cut price deals.
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Australia lingers long in every impression. From burning red desert to bustling metropolis, aboriginal lifestyles to surf culture, the land down under seems to serve up a feast of preconceptions. This vast island, cast adrift in the South Pacific, seems to ignite the imagination unlike anywhere else. Australia. Just picture it and it's impossible to focus on a single image; Sydney, Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef, the desert, the beach, everything in between. We'll let you into a little secret. All that dreaming, all that unadulterated reverie of Australia...it's pretty much exactly what Australia is like when you visit. Let's indulge a little on the country's appeal. Over 20,000 miles of virtually untouched coastline, a series of cities founded on ingenuity and intrigue, endemic wildlife skipping around all over... This is where you'll find the world's biggest monolith, it's longest reef, oldest rainforest, longest surviving culture, and a completely new definition of uninhabited wilderness. With Australia, there's never a debate about whether you want to go. It's hard to find a soul on the planet who isn't in-spired by the thought of this immense island nation.