Australia is world famous for its natural wonders and wide open spaces, its beaches, deserts, “the bush”, and “the Outback”.
Australia is one of the world’s most highly urbanised countries; it is well known for the attractions of its large cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth.
Australia is the sixth-largest country by land area. It is comparable in size to the 48 contiguous United States. Australia is bordered to the west by the Indian Ocean, and to the east by the South Pacific Ocean. The Tasman Sea lies to the southeast, separating it from New Zealand, while the Coral Sea lies to the northeast. Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia are Australia’s northern neighbours, separated from Australia by the Arafura Sea and the Timor Sea.
Australia is highly urbanised with most of the population heavily concentrated along the eastern and south-eastern coasts. Most of the inland areas of the country are semi-arid. The most-populous states are Victoria and New South Wales, but by far the largest in land area is Western Australia.
Australia has an area of 7,682,300km² (2,966,152 square miles) and the distances between cities and towns are easy to underestimate. The Government has published a National Public Toilet Map.
Australia has large areas that have been deforested for agricultural purposes, but many native forest areas survive in extensive national parks and other undeveloped areas. Long-term Australian concerns include salinity, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and management and conservation of coastal areas, especially the Great Barrier Reef.
As a large island a wide variation of climates are found across Australia. It is not completely hot and sun-kissed, as stereotypes would suggest. There are regions that can be quite cool and wet. However, a good portion of the country receives more than 3,000°hr of sunshine a year. Generally, the north is hot and tropical, while the south tends to be sub-tropical and temperate. Most rainfall is around the coast, and much of the centre is arid and semi-arid. The daytime maximum temperatures in Darwin rarely drop below 30°C (86°F), even in winter, while night temperatures in winter usually hover around 15-20°C (59-68°F). Temperatures in some southern regions can drop below freezing in winter and the Snowy Mountains in the South East experiences metres of winter snow. Parts of Tasmania and Victoria have a temperature range very similar to England.
As Australia is in the southern hemisphere the winter is June-August while December-February is summer. The winter is the dry season in the tropics, and the summer is the wet. In the southern parts of the country, the seasonal temperature variation is greater. The rainfall is more evenly distributed throughout the year in the southern parts of the East Coast, while in the rest of the south beyond the Great Dividing Range, the summers are dry with the bulk of the rainfall occurring in winter.
Based upon scientific evidence and theory, the island of Australia was most likely first settled more than 50,000 years ago with successive waves of immigration of people from south and south-east Asia. With rising sea levels after the last Ice Age, Australia became largely isolated from the rest of the world and tribes developed a variety of cultures, based on a close spiritual relationship with the land and nature, and extended kinship. Australian people maintained a hunter-gatherer culture for thousands of years in association with a complex artistic and cultural life – including a very rich ‘story-telling’ tradition. While the modern impression of Australian people is largely built around an image of the ‘aboriginal desert people’ who have adapted to some of the harshest conditions on the planet (equivalent to the bushmen of the Kalahari), Australia provided a comfortable living for the people amongst the bountiful flora and fauna on the Australian coast – until the arrival of Europeans.
Although a lucrative Chinese market for shells and beche de mer had encouraged Indonesian fishermen to visit Northern Australia for centuries, it was unknown to Europeans until the 1600s, when Dutch traders to Asia began to ‘bump’ into the Northwestern Coast. Early Dutch impressions of this extremely harsh, dry country were unfavourable, and Australia remained for them a symbolic road sign pointing north to the much richer (and lucrative) East Indies (modern Indonesia). Deliberate exploration of the Australian coast was then largely taken over by the French and the British. Consequently place names of bays, headlands and rivers around the coastline reflect a range of Dutch, French, British, and Aboriginal languages.
In 1770, the expedition of the Endeavour under the command of Captain James Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on 29 Apr 1770. Cook continued northwards, and before leaving put ashore on Possession Island in the Torres Strait off Cape York on 22 Aug 1770. Here he formally claimed the eastern coastline he had discovered for the British Crown, naming it New South Wales. Given that Cook’s discoveries would lead to the first European settlement of Australia, he is often popularly conceived as its European discoverer, although other European nations preceded his arrival by more than 160 years.
Following the exploration period, the first British invasion and settlement in Australia was founded in 1788 at what is today Sydney, led by Captain Arthur Philip who became the first governor of the colony of New South Wales. This started a process of colonisation that almost entirely displaced the Aboriginal people who inhabited the land. This reduced the indigenous population drastically and marginalised them to the fringes of society. Originally comprising the eastern two-thirds of the island, the colony of New South Wales was later split into several separate colonies, with Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land) becoming a separate colony in 1825, followed by South Australia in 1836, New Zealand in 1841, Victoria in 1851 and Queensland in 1859. The western third of the island was not settled by Europeans until the British establised a naval base in Albany, then known as King George Sound in 1826. The Swan River Colony was formally established in 1829 at what is today Perth. The Swan River Colony was officially renamed Western Australia in 1832.
While Australia began its modern history as a British penal colony, the vast majority of people who came to Australia after 1788 were free settlers, mainly from Britain and Ireland, but also from other European countries. Convict settlements were mostly along the east coast, with scattered pockets of convict settlements in Western Australia. The state of South Australia was settled entirely by free settlers. Many Asian and Eastern European people also came to Australia in the 1850s, during the Gold Rush that started Australia’s first resource boom. Although such diverse immigration diminished greatly during the xenophobic years of the White Australia policy, Australia welcomed a successive series of immigrants from Europe, the Mediterranean and later Asia to form a highly diverse and multicultural society by the late 20th century.
The system of separate colonies federated to form the self-governing British dominion of Australia in 1901, each colony became a state of Australia, with New Zealand opting out of the federation. The new country rapidly developed its natural resources including agricultural and manufacturing industries. This development resulted in a large contribution (in relation to size of the population) to the Allied war effort in World Wars I and II. Australian troops made a valuable, and sometimes controversial, contribution to the wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Australian Diggers retain a reputation as some of the hardest fighting troops along with a great social spirit. Australia and Britain passed the Australia Act in 1986, ending the official power that the British parliament may have had to pass laws for Australia, and ended appeals by Australia to British courts. While the parliament lost that power, the Queen of Australia and her appointees retained full rights to exercise all power.
Australia has a prosperous Western-style capitalist economy, with a per capita GDP on par with the four dominant West European economies and that has been remarkably resilient to the recent worldwide economic downturn.
The service industries, including tourism, education, and financial services, account for the majority of the Australian Gross Domestic Product – about 69%. Within the service sector, tourism is one of the most important industries in Australia, as it provides employment, contributes $73 billion to the economy each year and accounts for at least 11% of total exports.
The primary industries – mining and agriculture – account for most of Australia’s exports. Iron ore and coal are by far the largest exports, with wheat, beef and wool declining in importance.
Australia has a comprehensive social security system, and a minimum wage higher than the United States or the United Kingdom.
Australia has a federal system of government, with eight state and territory governments and a national government. Each of these governments has an elected parliament, with the leader of each government, known as the Premier, being the leader of the largest party represented in the lower house. The national parliament is based on the British “Westminster system”, with some elements being drawn from the American congressional system. At the federal level it consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Each Member of the House of Representatives (colloquially known as a Member of Parliament (MP)) represents an electoral division, with more populous states having more electoral divisions and hence, more MP’s. Similar to the US Senate, each Australian state has an equal number of senators, with 12 senators being directly elected by the people in each state, and 2 senators each from the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. The political party (or coalition of parties) which has the most members in the House of Representatives becomes the governing party and forms the national government. Ministers are drawn from both the House of Representatives and the Senate, though by convention, the Prime Minister comes from the House of Representatives. The current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is the current leader of the national government and the Liberal-National Coalition which holds a majority in the House of Representatives.
The Queen remains the head of state, and her representative in Australia – the Governor-General – according to conventional wisdom and lampoon – has a ceremonial and politically powerless role (while holding the ultimate power to dismiss the Prime Minister). In practice, the Prime Minister is believed to wield the most authority in government. A referendum to change Australia’s status to a republic was defeated in 1999, but the issue remains a regularly debated topic.
The two major political parties in Australia are the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party, which operates in coalition with the National Party. Emerging in power is the social democratic Greens Party, which maintains an environmentalist policy platform and is effectively a partner of the ALP. It should be noted that the Liberal Party is (traditionally) a centre-right, conservative party – the term liberal refers to maintaining a free market economy.
Australia has a multicultural population practising almost every religion and lifestyle. Over one-quarter of Australians were born outside Australia, and another quarter have at least one foreign-born parent. Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney are centers of the multicultural. All three cities are renowned for the variety and quality of global arts, intellectual endeavors, and cuisine available in their many restaurants. Sydney is a hub of art, culture, and history containing the world class architectural gem, the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Melbourne especially promotes itself as a centre for the arts, while Brisbane promotes itself through various multicultural urban villages. Adelaide must be mentioned in addition, as it is known for being a centre for festivals as well as Germanic cultural influences. Perth, also, is known for its food and wine culture, pearls, gems and precious metals as well as the international fringe arts festival. There are quite a few more that deserve mention, but this gives an idea via introduction. Smaller rural settlements generally reflect a majority Anglo-Celtic culture often with a small Aboriginal population. Virtually every large Australian city and town reflects the effect of immigration from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific that occurred after World War II and continued into the 1970s, in the half century after the war when Australia’s population boomed from roughly 7 million to just over 20 million people.
There are approximately half a million Australians who identify as being of Aboriginal descent. Less maintain elements of traditional Aboriginal culture.
Descendants of the population of convicts mentioned in the country’s history are currently a smaller minority compared to the estimated 50% of the population originally comprised of them when Britain and others landed on the shores and inhabited the land. Long ago during the involuntary transportation and relocation from Europe and other places, it must be noted that all records were not kept nor available to others, nor have those records that existed all survived the uses of people throughout history.
The English of Australia were once known for local colour and colloquialisms but that largely has been lost to outside influence and influx. People in rural areas still tend to speak in a broader, colloquial accent and have a different manner, using many of the slang words that have become outmoded in metropolitan areas. Accents tend to be broader and slower outside of the large cities. There are overall small pronunciation differences based upon culture of origin in the cities, but these are becoming less common. Speech has become more generic. For example the word “you” colloquially, is often rolled off the tongue sharply on the south east coast, almost as “ewe” as opposed to the west coast and other regions. Another modern variation based upon migrants from Africa is found in Afrikaans accents on the west coast, modifying the local accents slightly due to the larger population and numbers of Afrikaans and Boer African immigration there. In the urban English speaking world, an educated, white-collar and/or conservative Australian accent is softer or generic in tonal quality, rather than the sharp tones in some rural areas. Regarding other variations in speech, usually native speakers can recognise the subtle regional variations.
A trend among Australians is social conservatism compared to some European cultures and an acquired balanced attitude, defining their European origins within a preference for the growing Asian influence. They tend to be relaxed regarding religious observance. The Australian sense of egalitarianism in its gungho form has moderated; while modes of address still tend to be casual and familiar compared to some other cultures, such as Asian. Most Australians will tend to address you by your first name and will expect that you reciprocate.
The national holidays in Australia are:
Many states observe Labour Day, but on different days. Most states have one or two additional state-wide holidays, with Victoria and South Australia having a day off for a horse race (The Melbourne Cup and The Adelaide Cup). Western Australia has Foundation Day typically the first Monday in June (recognising the founding of the state since 1829) but also celebrates the Queen’s Birthday on a different date than the rest of the country, either at the end of September or early October, due to the usual June date’s close proximity to Foundation Day.
When a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday (and Tuesday if necessary) are usually declared holidays in lieu, although both the celebrations and the retail closures will occur on the day itself. Most tourist attractions are closed Christmas Day and Good Friday. Supermarkets and other stores may open for limited hours on some public holidays and on holidays in lieu, but are almost always closed on Christmas Day (25 Dec), Good Friday, Easter Sunday and ANZAC Day morning.
Most attractions in Australia remain open year-round, some operating at a reduced frequency or shorter hours during the off-peak season.
Salaried Australians have four weeks of annual leave and school children in the major population centres have January as a long break. Domestic tourism is strongest during January and the Easter school holidays.
Summer tends to be the peak travel season through much of the south, with the winter (dry) season the peak travel season in the tropics.
Australian teenagers finishing high school celebrate the end of school (colloquially known as “Schoolies”) for a week beginning at the end of October to mid to late November (depending on area). The volume of teen revellers can completely change the nature of some of the cities and towns they choose to visit, (particularly the nationally popular Gold Coast) especially seeing as the vast majority of school-leavers will have reached the legal drinking age of 18.
Australia can have up to five different time zones during the daylight savings period, and three at other times.
In the east, Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria always have the same time. Queensland doesn’t observe daylight saving, so it is an hour behind the other eastern states during that period. However Broken Hill, a town in western NSW, keeps South Australian time.
In the centre, South Australia and the Northern Territory are half an hour behind during the winter, but the Northern Territory doesn’t observe daylight saving while South Australia does. During daylight saving South Australia remains half an hour behind New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, but moves half an hour ahead of Queensland. The Northern Territory remains half an hour behind Queensland, but moves an hour and half behind New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
In the west, Western Australia is two hours behind the eastern states in winter, and also doesn’t observe daylight saving. It moves three hours behind the eastern states that observe daylight saving (remaining two hours behind Queensland).
There are no official abbreviations or names for Australian time zones, and you may see a few variations used. EST, CST, WST along with EDT, CDT are sometimes used. Sometimes AEST, etc, with the ‘A’ prefix distinguishing them from the North American time zones with the same names. In conversation, the abbreviations aren’t used. People tend to say Sydney time, Brisbane time, or Perth time. Expect blank stares from most if you start talking about Central Summer Time.
In those states which observe daylight saving, it commences on the first Sunday in October and ends on the first Sunday in April.
|State/Territory||Standard Time||Daylight Saving Time|
|New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania. ACT||UTC+10||UTC+11|
|New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) (NSW) & (ACT)|
New South Wales is Australia’s most populous state. The Harbour City of Sydney is Australia’s largest city. The coast of New South Wales is lined with beach side communities, each one offering experiences for the traveller. A little inland are the mountain ranges of the Blue Mountains and Snowy Mountains, as well as the purpose built capital city of Canberra, excised from New South Wales. Further inland still expect sweeping plains, turning from agriculture to desert the further inland you venture.
|Northern Territory (NT)|
From the red deserts surrounding Uluru and Alice Springs up to the tropics of Darwin and Kakadu National Park, the Northern Territory is stunningly beautiful, and easier to access than you might think.
Famous for its sunny warm weather, Queensland offers coastal exploration from the vibe of the Gold Coast to the tropics of the Great Barrier Reef to the bustling city of Brisbane. It is also home to tropical rainforests of the Daintree National Park, and the island resorts of the Whitsundays. Inland lies the ranges of the hinterland, and further on the vast expanses and beauty of outback Australia.
|South Australia (SA)|
Renowned for the fine wines of the Barossa Valley, the beauty of the Flinders Ranges and the outback, the wildlife and nature on Kangaroo Island and the beaches and events and culture of the City of Churches, Adelaide.
Separated from the mainland by Bass Strait, Tasmania has rugged beauty of Cradle Mountain and the west, the beaches of the east, and the complete wilderness of the south. Hobart was the site of the second European settlement in Australia, and many historic sites are well preserved. The island has well developed facilities for travellers.
Small, vibrant and with something for everyone, Victoria has dramatic surf beaches along the southwest and central coast, green rolling farmland and photogenic national parks. The diversity of rural Victoria is very easy to access due in part to its size and well maintained roads. Australia and Victoria’s sporting, shopping, fashion and food capital is Melbourne.
|Western Australia (WA)|
A vast state. The south-west contains the state capital and major city of Perth closely surrounded by the wildflower, wine growing and scenic destinations of Margaret River and Albany. In the far north are the tropics and the beach side destination of Broome. Small townships, roadhouses, mining communities and national parks scattered around the long distances between.
All visitors – apart from citizens of New Zealand – require a visa in advance of travel.
If you are visiting for a holiday of less than three months, there are three types of visas you may apply for, depending on your nationality:
In most cases, Electronic Travel Authorities and eVisitors are approved instantly and the visa will be issued and available for use immediately. Nationals of certain countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania and other Eastern European EU member states, are rarely issued eVisitor visa automatically and must provide additional documentation.
If you are visiting Australia for employment, study or for medical treatment you will need to obtain the appropriate visa. If you are staying longer than 3 months continuously you are ineligible for an ETA or eVisitor, and should apply for a Visitor Visa (subclass 600).
For all visitor visa classes, you must be able to demonstrate your ability to support yourself financially for the time you intend to spend in Australia. If you have a criminal conviction, obtain advice from the Australian Embassy or visa processing centre.
All fees are payable in Australian dollars, converted to your local currency at the current rate of exchange.
If you are transiting through Australia, remain airside for a maximum of 8 hours, have a confirmed onward booking, have the correct entry documentation for the onward destination and are a citizen of New Zealand, the European Union, Andorra, Argentina, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Nauru, Norway, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, South Africa, the Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Korea (ROK), Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom (regardless of nationality status), the United States, the Vanuatu or Vatican City, you do not need to apply for any advance visa. All other passengers who transit through Australia must apply for a free-of-charge Transit Visa (subclass 771) prior to travel.
New Zealand citizens may travel to and work in Australia for any length of time without a pre-arranged visa. Non-citizen permanent residents of New Zealand are not eligible for visa-free entry. New Zealand citizens may still be rejected entry on the basis of criminal convictions or being HIV-positive and should seek advice before travel.
Australia has strict quarantine requirements regarding importing animal and vegetable derived products (any food, wooden products, seeds, etc). You must declare all such material and baggage is frequently scanned and may be examined by dogs. You may be fined $220 on-the-spot if you fail to declare, or even prosecuted in very serious cases. Processed and sealed commercially prepared foods (chocolates, cookies, etc) are often permitted. They will be examined and returned to you, but still must be declared. Some prohibited items can be treated by quarantine at your expense and picked up at a later time.
Some shells, coral and items made from a protected species are also prohibited to discourage the trade in items that may originate from a threatened ecosystem or species.
While there are no restrictions on the amount of money that can be brought in or out, Australian customs also requires you to declare if you are bringing AUD10,000 (or equivalent in foreign currency) or more in or out of the country and you will be asked to complete some paperwork.
Australia is a long way from anywhere else in the world, so for most visitors, the only practical way of getting into Australia is by air.
Approximately half of all international travellers arrive first in Australia in Sydney, the largest city, (IATA: SYD). After Sydney, significant numbers of travellers also arrive in Australia in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. There are also direct international services into Adelaide, Cairns, Darwin, the Gold Coast and Christmas Island though these are largely restricted to flights from New Zealand, Oceania, or Southeast Asia.
To Sydney it is a 3 hour flight from New Zealand, a 7-11h flight from countries in Asia, a 14 hour flight from the west of the United States and Canada, a 14 hour flight from Johannesburg, a 13-16h flight from South America, and up to a 24h+ flight from western Europe. On account of long journey times from some destinations, some travellers from Europe opt to have a stop-over, commonly in Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.
If you have to change to a domestic flight in a gateway city, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth all have distinct domestic terminals, requiring some time and complexity to transit, check the guides. Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns and the Gold Coast have all gates in the one terminal building or within easy walking distance of each other.
There are some routes into Australia that are operated by discount airlines. These can often be combined with other fares to make getting to Australia cheaper. Select your point of entry and exit to give you a cheaper round-trip, and possibly some interesting stopover opportunities on the way.
November to February is the cruising season, and there are usually about 10 ships that arrive in Australia from other countries during this time. You can cruise to Australia, and then fly home.
Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean, all offer cruises to Australia across the Pacific.
Alternatively, you may sail to Australia in your own yacht, but beware of customs regulations. See Australian Customs for details
There was a time when a couple of tour operators offered overland trips from London to Sydney, with only a short hop by air from South East Asia to North Western Australia while the bus went by barge. Currently, the only such tour operator is Madventure which runs 4 different routes: 26 weeks through Iran, Pakistan, & India; 26 weeks through the Caucasus and Central Asia; 64 weeks around Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia; and 64 weeks through Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, & Central Asia.
For those determined to travel overland as much as possible from Europe, you can travel independently to Singapore from Europe by train and/or bus on scheduled services, and fly from there to Perth (3,500 flight kilometres). For the truly determined overland traveller, you can get a ferry from Singapore to Indonesia and make your way across to Bali, where you can fly to Darwin (2,000 flight km). For the intrepid, ferries to West Timor, a bus to Dili and a flight to Darwin will mean only 700 km in the air.
Australia is huge but sparsely populated, and you can sometimes travel many hours before finding the next trace of civilisation, especially once you leave the south-eastern coastal fringe.
Almost all modern Australian maps, including street directories, use the Geocentric Datum of Australia (GDA) as their grid reference, which is for all purposes identical to the WGS84 used by the GPS. You can locate most things on an Australian map or street directory if you just have the “GPS coordinates”.
There are restrictions on carrying fruit and vegetables (including honey) between states and even between regions of states that are involved in fruit growing. If you are driving long distances or interstate, or flying between states, don’t stock up on fruits and vegetables. These restrictions are enforced very strictly at airports and sea ports and it is not very uncommon to see sniffer dogs trained to find these goods.
Australia has a generally well-maintained system of roads and highways, and cars are a commonly used method of transport. Most of the state capitals are linked to each other by good quality highways. Some parts are dual carriageway but many sections are one lane each way. Major regional areas have sealed (paved) dual-lane roads, but isolated areas may have poorly maintained dirt roads or even tracks. Distances and speeds are specified in kilometres and fuel is sold by the litre. There are no tolls on roads or bridges outside of the urban areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Australia drives on the left. Overseas visitors who are used to driving on the right should take care when they first drive, and again when they are driving on country roads with little traffic. One major frustration for visitors is that many Australian vehicles reverse all controls when they are redesigned to mount the driver’s controls on the right front seat, including the levers on the steering column. This causes newly arrived visitors to inadvertently operate the windscreen wipers when they are trying to signal a lane change or turn on headlights, and vice versa.
Generally, overseas licenses are valid for driving in Australia for three months after arrival. If the licence is not in English an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required in addition to your licence. Licensing regulations and road rules vary slightly from state to state.
Australia’s low population density and large size makes for long driving times between major centres. Some indicative travel times, not including any rest periods, are:
It is almost impossible to predict your travel time just by knowing the distance. Seek local advice for the best route, and how much time to allow. Averaging 100km/h or more is possible on some relatively minor highways when they are straight and there are few towns. On other national highways that traverse mountain ranges and travel through small towns, even averaging 60km/h can be a challenge.
While major highways are well serviced, anyone leaving sealed (paved) roads in inland Australia is advised to take advice from local authorities, check weather and road conditions, carry sufficient spare fuel, spare parts, spare tyres, matches, food and water. Some remote roads might see one car per month or less. Cellular coverage is non-existent outside of major highways and towns and you should take some precautions in case of emergency. It is a good idea to advise a person you know and trust of your route and advise them to alert authorities if you do not contact them within a reasonable amount of time after your scheduled arrival at your destination. Carrying a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or satellite phone should be considered when travelling in remote areas, especially where you may not be able to make contact for several days. Police will not automatically start looking for you if you don’t report in. Make sure you get one with a GPS built in. These can be borrowed from some local police stations, such as those in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. If you want to hire one, sort it out before you leave a major city, as you won’t find hire places in small towns. Expect to pay around $100 to hire for a week, or $700 to buy one. Don’t expect an immediate rescue even if you trigger a PLB. Heat and dehydration at any time of year can kill you. If stranded, stay with your vehicle and do what you can to improve your visibility from the air. Do not take this advice lightly; even local people die out there when their car breaks down and they are not reported missing. If you do have to abandon your car (say you break down and then get a lift), call in quickly to the local police station, to avoid the embarrassment and cost of a search being started for you.
Major cities around Australia have multiple outlets providing a wide range of rental vehicles from major international rental companies. In smaller towns car rental can be difficult to find. One way fees often apply from smaller regional outlets.
Conditions upon the use of rental vehicles usually exist on travelling into or out of Western Australia and the Northern Territory or on the car ferries to Tasmania, Kangaroo Island and Fraser Island. Rental cars in capital cities usually have unlimited mileage. In small towns they usually only include 100km a day before a surcharge is applied. Some companies allow travel on any gazetted road, while others forbid travel on a gravel/dirt road unless you hire a four wheel drive. Always ensure you thoroughly check the vehicle for any damage, including all window glass and the roof panels, and document any found in detail with the renter before leaving the depot.You will need to have a licence written in English or an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your home country to drive anywhere in Australia. Check the contract conditions carefully if you are under 25 and also check that your licence class matches the vehicle you wish to rent before you book it.
Catering to the vast number of young European and American backpackers traversing the country are several low-budget car rental companies which rent cars and campers of varying quality. Prices range from as low as $30 per day. Check the extra charges very carefully and make sure that you don’t end up paying the same or more for a lesser quality vehicle.
The very cheapest cars you can hire can be manual (stick-shift). Anything larger will usually be automatic.
There is a substantial second hand market in cars and campers for backpackers wishing to do extended road trips around Australia. Take common sense precautions if purchasing a car. Free state government services are available to ensure it is unencumbered by a finance arrangement and that it has not been previously written off as a result of an accident.
See: Driving in Australia
Due to the large distances involved, flying is well-patronised in Australia. Services along the main business travel corridor (Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane) are run almost like a bus service, with flights leaving every 15min during the day.
The only way to get the best airfare is to visit each of the airlines pages directly, and compare fares. Never assume that the Qantas fare will be more expensive, as their online deals are often the cheapest available on a route. The best fares are always available on the most competitive routes. Consolidator websites and travel agents almost invariably add a surcharge to the direct booking price. Use them to compare, but always check the airline website before booking.
There are four domestic airlines in Australia that operate jet aircraft linking capital cities and major destinations:
Several airlines service regional destinations. Expect discounts on these airlines to be harder to come by, and for standard airfares to be above what you would pay for the same distance between major centres.
Occasionally rail fares may be far cheaper than air fares for holders of ISIC cards and other internationally recognised concessions (especially on NSW TrainLink and V/Line services), however it is best to weigh up whether the saving is worth the long journey time.
The long-distance rail services that do exist are mainly used to link regional townships with the state capital, such as Bendigo to Melbourne, or Cairns to Brisbane. In Queensland, a high speed train operates from Brisbane to Rockhampton and Brisbane to Cairns. Queensland also has passenger services to inland centres including Longreach (The Spirit of the Outback), Mount Isa (The Inlander), Charleville (The Westlander) and Forsayth (The Savannahlander). There are also inter-city train services operated by Great Southern Railways on the routes Melbourne-Adelaide (The Overland), Sydney-Adelaide-Perth (Indian Pacific), Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin (The Ghan) however as noted above, these are not “high speed” services, so if you do not enjoy train travel as part of your holiday in its own right then this is probably not for you.
Tasmania has no passenger rail services. The Northern Territory has the rail line linking Darwin to Adelaide through Alice Springs only, and the Australian Capital Territory has only a single railway station close to the centre of Canberra.
There is no pass that includes all train travel throughout Australia. However, if you are a train buff that intends travelling extensively by rail, there are some passes that may save you money. Plan your trip carefully before investing in a rail pass. Country train services are infrequent and can arrive at regional destinations at unsociable hours.
Some regional cities and towns have local bus services, but see the destination guides for service information, as frequency can be poor and weekend and evening services non-existent.
Larger towns and cities have taxi services.
Some trains allow you to carry your car with you on special car carriages attached to the back of the train.
The Ghan and the Indian Pacific allow you to transport cars between Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Perth, and Darwin. You cannot remove your car at any of the intermediate stations.
Queensland Rail have discontinued their motorail service.
Bus travel in Australia is cheap and convenient, although the distances involved can be daunting. Greyhound has the largest bus route network.
Many major Australian cities have ferries as part of their public transport system. Some smaller roads in the regional areas still have punts to carry cars across rivers and canals. The islands of the Barrier Reef have some scheduled services, and there are a few cruises that cross the top of Australia as well.
However, large inter city transportation ferry services are not common.
It is legal to hitchhike in some states in Australia, so long as certain guidelines are followed. However, it is less commonly done than in neighbouring New Zealand. In Australia hitchhiking is often frowned upon by locals and police, especially in metropolitan areas.
Hitch hiking is illegal in Victoria and Queensland. It is also illegal to stand on the verge or walk along freeways (often called “motorways” in New South Wales) in all states (effectively making hitchhiking illegal in many practical places, in all states).
If forced to hitchhike due to an emergency you may find a motorist willing to take you to the nearest town to obtain help. (Some major inter-city highways and freeways have telephones to request help.)
It’s most common to see a tourist hitching in rural areas. The best time to hitchhike is early morning. The best location is near, but not on, the main exit from the town you are in.
Cycling the long distances between towns is not particularly common, and most long distance highways in Australia have poorly developed facilities for cyclists. Nevertheless some intrepid travellers do manage to cover the longer distances by bicycle, and have a different experience of Australia. Trips and routes need careful planning to ensure the correct supplies are carried. To cycle between Sydney and Brisbane you would have to allow 2-3 weeks with around 80-100km per day.
There is much to see in Australia that you can’t see easily in its natural setting anywhere else:
Australia has many landmarks, famous the world over. From Uluru in the red centre, to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House in Sydney.
See some of the Big things in Australia.
Sport is an integral part of the Australian culture from the capital cities to country towns. The majority of games are played over the weekend period (from Friday night to Monday night).
It has been said that if there are two flies crawling up a wall, then you just need to look around to find the Aussie who will be running a book.
Gambling is illegal for under-18’s. This can often restrict entry to parts of pubs, clubs, and casinos for children.
Expect everyone you interact with in Australia to be able to speak English, whether it is their first language or not. Locals and more recent arrivals of all ages and backgrounds are expected to and usually do speak at least basic English, as well as the majority of tourists. As Australia is a multicultural society, you will notice the presence of many other languages and accents. Australians who were born in Australia or immigrated as children will speak English with the Australian accent. Australians who immigrated to Australia as adults generally will not have the Australian accent. The Australian accent has very little if not any geographic variation; although Australians sometimes have their own theories about geographical accents; for example Adelaide, Melbourne and North Queensland “accents”. In reality however, the Broad, General and Cultivated Australian accents which linguists accept all exist, can be found anywhere in Australia. Anywhere in the country you will find some people speak slower with broader accents and use more slang; often associated with regional areas, whilst many more Australians will have the General Australian accent; often associated with major urban areas, or the less common Cultivated accent: often associated with the highly educated, the latter two are both often easier to understand for visitors than the Broad accent. Australia is traditionally a land of immigrants, plus there are many people from all over the world working or studying in Australia, plus many tourists from overaeas. Because of this, Australians are very used to speaking with others whos first language is not English or who are not used to hearing the Australian accent. They will speak slower and clearer with you and avoid any local vocabulary. It is also worth noting many Australians of non-English speaking family backgrounds will generally always prefer to speak English with people outside their family. Even if they speak your language fluently at home or grew up with that language inside their home they will often pretend they cannot speak it with a visitor from that country.
Australian slang should not present a problem for tourists except possibly in some isolated outback areas. A few words and euphemisms that are considered offensive elsewhere are common vernacular in Australian speech. Fanny, as in the UK, means vagina and is not used widely. The word “thong” generally refers to flip-flops in Australia, and not necessarily a G-string as it does in most other places. Still, Australians are familiar enough with the differences to know what you mean, but they may still have a laugh at your expense.
Visitors who do not speak basic English will find communicating with Australians difficult, and should do some advance planning. There are some tour companies who specialise in offering package deals for Australian tours complete with guides who speak particular languages.
There are over a hundred Aboriginal languages still known and spoken by Aboriginal people. These languages are all different, and you won’t see an Aboriginal phrasebook in the travel bookshops. Many Aboriginal place names derive from Aboriginal languages that have been lost, and their meanings remain uncertain. Aboriginal people living in rural Aboriginal communities continue to speak their respective languages. The Torres Strait Islander people, who originate from a group of islands in northern Queensland near Papua New Guinea also continue to speak their own languages. Almost all Aboriginal people speak English as well, although some elders may not be fluent.
The standard sign language in Australia is Auslan (a contraction of “Australian Sign Language”), a member of the British Sign Language (BSL) family. Another closely related language is New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). When interpreters are present for public events, they will use Auslan. Users of BSL or NZSL may be able to understand Auslan; the languages share a significant amount of vocabulary and syntax, plus the same two-handed manual alphabet. By contrast, users of languages in the French Sign Language family, which includes American Sign Language and Irish Sign Language, will not be able to understand Auslan. Much of the vocabulary and syntax are different, and those languages use a one-handed manual alphabet.
Australia uses the Australian dollar (AUD) and the currency is symbolised locally as “$”. There are 100 cents in every dollar.
No other currency is officially accepted for transactions in Australia. (Although it was not unusual to find some of the older New Zealand coins in your change from time to time, it is now practically unheard of since New Zealand completely overhauled and resized its coinage. It no longer matches the size of Australian coins.)
The coin denominations are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2. The Australian coins are large and heavy relative to their value. For example, the Australian ten cent coin is the size of a US 25 cent coin and the Australian fifty cent coin is among the largest circulating coins anywhere in the world by size. The note denominations are $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. Australian notes are produced in plastic polymer rather than paper. If the total of a transaction is not a multiple of 5 cents the amount will be rounded to the nearest five cents if you are paying in cash. The exact amount will be charged if paying by card. Old paper notes or bronze 1c and 2c coins will be exchanged at a bank but will be difficult at shops.
The dollar is not pegged to any other currency, and is highly traded on world foreign exchange markets, particularly by currency speculators. Its exchange value to other currencies can be quite volatile, and 1-2% changes in a day are a reasonably common occurrences.
Money changers in Australia operate in a free market, and charge a range of flat commissions, percentage fees, undisclosed fees built into the exchange rate, and a combination of all three. Generally the best bet is to avoid airports and tourist centres when changing money, and use banks in major centres. Expect fees to vary considerably between institutions. Always get a quote before changing money.
When arriving in Australia with more than AUD$10,000 in any currency you must declare it to customs on the arrival card and complete paperwork you will be provided.
Cash dispensing Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in almost every Australian town. Australian ATMs are deregulated and may impose a surcharge over what is charged by your bank or card issuer. The fees can vary between institutions and between locations, but are usually around $2. The ATM will display the charges and you will have the option to stop the transaction before you are charged. Check with your bank as to what additional fees they apply to withdrawals in Australia.
Dedicated currency exchange outlets are widely available in major cities, and banks can also exchange most non-restricted currencies. These exchange outlets – especially the ones at the airport – can charge 10% over the best exchange that can be obtained from shopping around. Australian banks usually offer an exchange rate around 2.5% from the current exchange midpoint. A flat commission of $5-8 can be charged on top. Some outlets advertise commission free exchange, usually accompanied by a worse rate of exchange. Don’t assume every bank will offer the same exchange. A simple calculation will let you know what offers the best deal for amount you wish to exchange. There are vouchers for commission free exchange at American Express available in the tourist brochure at Sydney Airport.
There is also no need to arrive in Australia with cash if you have a Cirrus, Maestro, MasterCard or Visa card: international airport terminals will have multiple teller machines that can dispense Australian currency with just the fees imposed by your bank plus the ATM fee.
Credit cards are widely accepted in Australia. Almost all large vendors such as supermarkets accept cards, as do many, but not all, small stores. Australian debit cards can also be used via a system known as EFTPOS. Any card showing the Cirrus or Maestro logos can be used at any terminal displaying those logos. The use of credit or debit cards for transactions under about $5.00 is generally discouraged, and some stores may even have a minimum purchase amount to use a credit or debit card. Note that the term EFTPOS is often used to mean cards of any kind – so a sign in a shop indicating an “EFTPOS minimum” refers to credit and debit cards of any kind.
VISA or MasterCard are commonly accepted and are both accepted everywhere credit cards are accepted. American Express and Diners Club are accepted at major supermarket and department store chains and many tourist destinations. JCB is only accepted at very limited tourist destinations. Discover is never accepted for internet-based payments, but if your card also carries the Diners Club logo, it will work at any physical store that accepts Diners Club.
Travelex sells prepaid Australian dollars credit/debit cards at airport locations with a 1% commission off what you load onto it. The big advantage here is you can bring Australian cash acquired at home through proper exchange channels and turn it into plastic with no exchange fees and minimal service charges without need for exchanging currency at the airport or carrying large amounts of cash everywhere. Excellent for security and you can get two cards with different numbers drawing from the same loaded money, allowing any two people to share a card on the same account. Other prepaid Australian dollar stored value cards bearing MasterCard or Visa emblems are available at larger post offices or grocery stores. Read terms and conditions closely, some can refund unused balances but only to an Australian bank account. Others you just have to spend it all in Australia or abroad. Travelex will refund unused balances for cash at airport locations for a $10.00 fee. Be careful using these cards for car hire. Agencies generally accept only cards with raised print for car hires and the name of the renter on it (prepaids do not have this). Even if you hire the car with a foreign card but settle the bill on return with a prepaid they often will not accept it, even with the other card as a backup. You will have to settle using the foreign card most of the time. Sometimes they don’t pay attention and you get away with it but don’t plan on it. Elsewhere these cards work everywhere MasterCard/Visa are accepted without incident.
Credit card surcharges are imposed at all car rental agencies, travel agents, airlines, and at some discount retailers and service stations. Surcharges are far more common for American Express and Diners Club (typically 2%-4%) than they are for VISA and Mastercard (typically 1.5%).
Dorm accommodation in a capital city is around $30, but can run as low as $15 in Cairns or cheaper backpacker centres. A basic motel in the country or in the capital city suburbs would cost around $100 for a double. City Centre hotel accommodation in capital cities can be obtained for around $150 upwards for a double. Formule 1/Motel 6 style hotels (which are not common) can be around $60-$90 for a double.
Car hire will cost around $65 a day. Public transport day passes from $10-20 per day depending on the city. Petrol is approximately 33% more expensive than the US, 10% more than Canada, and about 40% cheaper than Europe…. but can be even more expensive in remote areas where choices are few and the vendors more than a little enterprising to reflect additional delivery costs.
A cafe meal costs around $10-$15, and a main course in a restaurant goes from around $17 upwards.
A basic takeaway meal – a burger, fancy sandwich, or couple of slices of pizza would cost $5-10, a Big Mac costs $5.50, and you can usually grab a pie for around $4.50, or a sausage roll for $3.50. A takeaway pizza from Pizza Hut big enough to feed two costs around $10.
A middy/pot (285mL) of house beer will cost you around $6, and a glass of house wine around $6 in a low end pub. To take away, a case of 24 cans of beer will cost around $40, or a bottle of wine around $8. A pack of Marlboro Cigarettes goes for over $25 and is rising.
A standard 500ml bottle of soft drinks, such as Coca-Cola or Pepsi will cost around $3.00 in a large grocery store, $4.20 at a corner convenience store (called milk bars) or $5.20 or more at outback roadhouses. Cans run around $1.00 or more if bought in the 24 pack at grocery store. Bottled water isn’t much cheaper. You can make yourself feel better about it by buying brands that are not available in foreign countries, such as the delicious Kirk’s Dry Ginger Ale. Some American brands are not available. Ordinary coffee takeaway such as from a petrol station will run around $4.00 but usually comes with a biscuit too.
An airfare between neighbouring eastern capitals is around $120 each way but can get as low as $60 if you book at the right time, or around $350 to cross the country assuming that you are flexible with dates and book in advance. A train trip on the state run trains will usually cost slightly less. A bus trip, a little less again. A train trip on the private trains will be the most expensive way to travel.
There is usually no admission charge to beaches or city parks. Some popular National Parks charge between $10-20 per day (per car, or per person depending on the state) while more out of the way National Parks are free. Art Galleries and some attractions are free. Museums generally charge around $10 per admission. Theme parks charge around $70 per person.
Because of Australia’s high wages and taxes compared to other countries such the USA, you will find prices of things involving service such as restaurants especially high by comparison. A rule of thumb is the restaurants will cost close to double what you would expect of the same thing in the USA, and that holds for beverages also.
Bargaining is uncommon in Australian stores, though vendors are usually willing to meet or beat a quote or advertised price from a competing retailer. It’s also worth asking for a “best price” for high-value goods or purchases involving several items. For example, it would not be unusual to get 10% off an item of jewelry that was not already reduced in price. The person you are dealing with may have limited authority to sell items at anything other than the marked price.
Tipping is never compulsory and is usually not expected in Australia. Staff are seen to be paid an appropriate wage and will certainly not chase you down for a tip. It is acceptable to pay the amount stated on the bill. When Australians do tip, it will often be in the form of leaving the change from a cash payment (usually as a convenience so the change does not hang around loose on someone’s person – not as a gratuity), rather than a fixed percentage.
In a suburban or country restaurant where table service is offered, they will certainly take a tip of 5%-10% should you decide to leave one, but it is almost always not expected, and locals usually do not leave any. In a cafe or more informal restaurant, even with table service, and even in tourist centres, leaving a tip is unusual. Sometimes there is a coin jar by the cashier labelled ‘Tips’, but more often than not, diners do not leave one.
Tipping is also not expected in taxis, and drivers will typically return your change to the last 5 cents, unless you indicate that they should round the fare to the nearest dollar (it is not unusual for passengers to instruct the driver to round up to the next whole dollar).
Australia’s base trading hours are Monday-Friday 9AM-5PM. Shops usually have a single night of late night trading, staying open until 9PM on Fridays in most cities and on Thursdays in Brisbane and Sydney. Sunday trading is common but does not exist in all rural areas. Opening hours beyond these base hours vary by the type of store, by location, and by state. See the guides for more local information.
Major supermarket chains such as Coles and Woolworths and department stores like K-Mart and Target in main centres are generally open at least until 9pm. Smaller convenience stores like 7/11 are open 24 hours in major centres. Fast Food restaurant chains are commonly open 24 hours or at least very late.
Fuel/Service stations are open 24 hours in major centres, but often close at 6pm and on Sundays in country towns. Even in cities with populations exceeding 50,000 finding a 24 hour petrol station can be difficult, or at least should not be assumed to be easily found. Make sure to locate one in advance if you have an early morning flight with a rental car to return.
Australia’s weekend is on Saturday and Sunday of each week. Retail trading is now almost universal in larger cities on weekends, although with slightly reduced hours. Again, Western Australia is an exception with restrictions on large stores opening on Sundays. In smaller country towns shops are closed on Sundays and often also on Saturday afternoons.
Tourist-oriented towns and shops may stay open longer hours. Tourist areas within cities, such as Darling Harbour in Sydney has longer trading hours every night.
Australian banks are open Monday-Friday 09:00-16:00 only, often closing at 17:00 on Fridays. Cash is available through Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) 24 hours, and currency exchange outlets have extended hours and are open on weekends.
Australia has a sales tax known as the Goods and Services Tax or GST that applies to all goods and services except unprocessed foods, education and medical services. GST is always included in the price of any item you purchase rather than being added at the time of payment.
Receipts (tax invoices) will contain the GST amount, which is one eleventh of the total value of taxable supplies.
If you buy items over $300 at one place within 60 days of departing the country, you can obtain a refund of the GST upon leaving Australia. As of April 2013 the items can be purchased in separate transactions, as long as the total comes to over $300 and they are all from the same store. Pack the items in hand luggage, and present the item(s) and the receipt at the TRS, after immigration and security when leaving Australia. Also allow an extra 15 minutes before departure. The refund payment can be made by either cheque, credit to an Australian bank account, or payment to a credit card. There is no refund available for services. You also cannot get a refund if you are too close to your flight departure time. A flight departure screen assists agents and they will refuse your transaction if your flight is on it. Check for current regulations about buffer time for flights if you want a GST refund.
The Tim-Tam, is a popular chocolate fudge-filled sandwich of two chocolate biscuits, all dipped in chocolate. You can buy a packet (or two) from any supermarket or convenience store. Tim-Tams are required to perform the Tim-Tam Slam manoeuvre. This requires biting off both ends of the Tim-Tam, then using it as a straw to drink your favourite hot beverage, typically coffee. The hot drink melts the fudge centre and creates an experience hard to describe. Finesse is needed to suck the whole biscuit into your mouth in the microseconds between being fully saturated and dissolving. Although performed by some Australians, the manoeuvre is rarely performed and the Tim-Tam is generally eaten by itself. During summer, Tim-Tams are often stored in the freezer, and eaten ice cold.
The lamington is a cube of sponge cake covered in chocolate icing and dipped in desiccated coconut. It’s named after Lord Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. The home-baked form can be found at a local Saturday morning market, or you can buy one from a bakery if you are desperate. Avoid at all costs the plastic wrapped varieties sold in supermarkets.
The pavlova is a meringue cake with a cream topping usually decorated with fresh fruit. Served on special occasions, or after a lunchtime barbecue. Often the source of dispute with New Zealandover the original source of the recipe.
ANZAC biscuits are a mix of coconut, oats, flour, sugar and golden syrup. They were reputedly sent by wives and care organisations to world war soldiers in care packages, but the story is likely apocryphal. They are available from bakeries, cafes and supermarkets, and are popular in the lead up to ANZAC day (25 April).
Damper is a traditional soda bread that was baked by drovers and stockmen. It has basic ingredients (flour, water and perhaps salt) and usually cooked in the embers of a fire. It is not routinely available in bakeries and only commonly served to tourists on organised tours. Best eaten with butter and jam or golden syrup as it is dry and bland.
A pie floater is a South Australian dish available around Adelaide. It is a pie inverted in a bowl of thick mushy pea soup. Similar pie variations are sometimes available in other regions.
A Chiko roll is a deep-fried snack inspired by the egg roll or the spring roll. Despite the name, it contains no chicken. Its filling is boned mutton, vegetables, rice, barley, and seasonings. Its shell is thicker than an egg roll, meant to survive handling at football matches. Available anywhere you can buy fish and chips.
Cuisines widely available in Australia, often prepared by members of the relevant culture, include:
Eating vegetarian is quite common in Australia and many restaurants offer at least one or two vegetarian dishes. Some will have an entire vegetarian menu section. Vegans may have more difficulty but any restaurant with a large vegetarian menu should offer some flexibility. In large cities you will find a number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, as well as in the coastal backpacker-friendly towns along the east coast. The market town of Kuranda or the seaside towns of Byron Bay are a vegetarian’s paradise. In other regional areas vegetarians are often poorly catered for, but most towns will have a Chinese restaurant that will provide steamed rice and vegetables. Sydney and Melbourne in particular cater well for vegans and vegetarians with a large number of purely vegetarian restaurants, vegan clothing stores and vegan supermarkets.
People observing halal diets will easily be able to find specialist butchers in the capital cities, and will also find a number of restaurants with appropriate menus and cooking styles. People observing kosher diets can easily find kosher food in suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne that have a high amount of Jews (eg. Caulfield in Melbourne, Bondi in Sydney). In other cities it is very hard to find kosher food, and the little kosher food there is, is usually imported from Melbourne or Sydney, so it is very overpriced. Outside the capital cities, it will be much more difficult to find food prepared in a strict religious manner.
All of the capital cities and many regional towns in Australia host a “farmer’s market”, which is generally held each week in a designated area on a Saturday or Sunday. These markets mostly sell fresh fruits and vegetables, as hygiene standards in Australia forbid the selling of meat directly from market stalls. Butchers who set up shop at a farmer’s market would usually trade their wares from a display cabinet within their truck. The attraction of markets is the lower prices and freshness of the produce. The attraction for the traveller will be the cheap and excellent fruits on offer – depending on the region and season. In regional areas the market is usually held outside the town itself in an empty paddock or sports field, markets in capital cities are easier to reach but the prices are typically more in line with those you would find in supermarkets. See the destination guides for details.
Drinking beer is ingrained in Australian culture. Although Fosters is promoted as an Australian beer overseas, it is rarely consumed by Australians in Australia, and is almost impossible to find. Beers are strongly regional and every state has its own brews: Coopers and West End in South Australia, Carlton and VB in Victoria, Tooheys in NSW, XXXX in Queensland, Boags and Cascade in Tasmania, and Swan in Western Australia. There are also local microbrew choices, which can be harder to find, but are often worth seeking out. A wide range of imported European and American bottled beers are available in all but the most basic pub.
Light (Lite) beer refers to lower alcoholic content, and not lower calories. It has around half the alcohol of full strength beer, and is taxed at a lower rate, meaning it is also cheaper than full strength beer.
Because Australians like their beer to stay cold while they drink it, draft beer glasses come in a multitude of sizes, so that you can drink a whole glass before it warms up in the summer heat. The naming of beer glasses varies widely from state to state, often in confusing ways: a schooner is 425 ml everywhere except South Australia, where it’s only 285 ml, a size that’s known elsewhere as a middy or pot, except in Darwin where it’s a handle, but in Adelaide a “pot” means a 570 ml full pint, and a pint means what a schooner does elsewhere, and… you get the idea. The local beers and the local descriptions are covered in detail in the state guides.
Bottle naming is a little easier: the standard sizes across Australia are the 375 ml stubby and the 750 ml long neck or tally. Cans of beer are known as tinnies and 24 of them make up a slab, box, carton, or a case.
Australia produces quality wine on a truly industrial scale, with large multinational brands supplying Australian bottleshops and exporting around the world. There are also a multitude of boutique wineries and smaller suppliers. Very good red and white wine can be bought very cheaply in Australia, often at less than $10 a bottle, and even the smallest shop could be expected to have 50 or more varieties to choose from.
The areas of the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley,McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Margaret River are particularly renowned for their wineries and opportunities for cellar door sampling, but northern Victoria and Mudgee, also have a large variety. You are never too far from a wine trail anywhere in southern Australia.
Try the local wines wherever you can find them, and ask for local recommendations. Try not to get taken in by the label, or the price tag. The best wine is rarely the one with the best artwork, or the most expensive price. However, it is probably wise to avoid the house wine if it comes straight from a cask (4-litre container). Wines at the cellar door are almost invariably sold at around 20% premium to the same wine in the shops in the local town.
If you still prefer overseas wines, the Marlborough region of New Zealand is usually well represented on wine lists and in bottle shops in Australia.
See also Grape grazing in Australia.
Bundaberg Rum (Bundy) is an Australian dark rum particularly popular in Queensland and many Queenslanders will not touch any other brand of rum, while many other Australians will not touch Bundy. It is probably the most famous Australian made spirit, mass produced in Bundaberg and available everywhere.
You will have to search much harder to find other Australian distilled spirits, mostly from niche players, but there are distilleries in every state of Australia if you look hard enough. Drop into the Lark Distillery on the scenic Hobart waterfront precinct. Pick up a bottle of 151 East Vodka in Wollongong or after a few days in Kununurra you are definitely going to need an Ord River Rum.
Mixed drinks are also available, particularly vodka, scotch, bourbon and other whiskey mixers. Jim Beam bourbon is probably the most commonly drunk, so those from Kentucky should feel right at home. Spirits are also available as pre-mixed bottles and cans but are subject to higher taxation in this form, so it is cheaper to mix them yourself. Spirits are served in all pubs and bars, but not in all restaurants.
The legal drinking age throughout Australia is 18 years. It is illegal to purchase alcohol for yourself if you are under 18 years of age. It is illegal to purchase alcohol on behalf of someone who is under 18 years of age. The only legally acceptable proof-of-age is an Australian drivers licence, state-issued proof-of-age card or a passport, and it would be wise to carry one if you want to purchase alcohol or tobacco and look under 25. It is illegal to go into a gambling area of a pub or club when under 18.
Often there is a lounge, restaurant or bistro area in a pub or club that permits under-age people provided they are accompanied by a responsible adult over 18 and don’t approach the bar or wander around. Some city pubs even have video games and playgrounds for children. Some country pubs have large open areas out in the back where kids can run and play.
In general, you can take alcohol (say a bottle of wine or beer) to consume at a park or beach. However, in the state of Queensland public consumption of Alcohol is illegal. Alcohol consumption is banned in some public places as ‘street drinking’. These are often indicated by signs and is particularly the case in parks and footpaths where public drunkenness has been a problem. However, if you are a family with your picnic basket and blanket out at lunchtime with a bottle of wine, you are unlikely to encounter any problems.
Alcohol can be purchased for consumption on premises only in licensed venues: pubs, clubs and many restaurants. You can purchase alcohol for private consumption in bottle shops, which are separate stores selling bottled alcohol. In some but not all states you can buy alcohol in supermarkets. In those states where you can’t, bottle shops and major supermarkets are often found in very close proximity. Although licensing laws and hours vary from state to state, and individual stores have different trading hours, as a rule of thumb, alcohol is generally available in towns to take-away seven days a week, between the hours of 8AM and 11PM, from bottle shops, supermarkets, licensed grocers/milk-bars and pubs. Outside of these hours though, it is almost impossible to buy alcohol to take home; so if you’re planning on a party at home, it’s a good idea to stock up and check on the local trading hours so you don’t run out at 00:30 with no opportunity to buy more. In the state of New South Wales, takeaway alcohol cannot be sold after 10pm. Alcohol is not available at petrol stations or 24-hour convenience stores anywhere in Australia.
Public drunkenness varies in acceptability. You will certainly find a great deal of it in close proximity to pubs and clubs at night time but much less so during the day. Public drunkenness is an offence but you would only likely ever be picked up by the police if you were causing a nuisance. You may spend the night sobering up in a holding cell or be charged.
Driving while affected by alcohol is both stigmatized and policed by random breath testing police patrols in Australia, as well as being inherently dangerous. Drink driving is a very serious offence in Australia, punishable by a range of mechanisms including loss of license. The acceptable maximum blood alcohol concentration is 0.05% in all states, often lower or not allowed for operators of heavy vehicles and young or novice drivers. Police officers are also empowered to randomly test drivers for the recent use of prohibited drugs. The operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of prohibited drugs or alcohol will always result in arrest and a required court appearance many weeks from the date of arrest and it can comprehensively disrupt travel plans. Random breath testing is common early Saturday and Sunday mornings, and many people are caught the morning after.
Buying a round of drinks is a custom in Australia, as in many corners of the world. It is generally expected in a pub that when you arrive and make your first trip to the bar that you will offer to buy a drink for others you are drinking with. This is what’s known as a ‘shout’. In entering a shout you are expected to take turns buying drinks for everyone in your shout when it is your turn. It is considered poor etiquette to drink something much more expensive that what others in the shout are drinking. If you cannot keep pace during a shout you are still expected to buy a round of drinks when it is your turn and as such it is advisable to drink with people who pace themselves at a similar rate. If someone from outside the shout offers to buy you a drink politely decline and let them know you are already in a shout. Likewise if someone buys you a drink don’t be surprised if they expect one from you later on in the evening as it’s now your shout. If you don’t want to join a shout, or would like to drop out of one this can be awkward in some groups, however if you provide a viable reason such as having to drive or being on medication people will normally respect this explanation. It is considered very poor etiquette to leave before your shout.