Australia: An Essential Guide

Australia is a very old country dating back 40,000 years at the time of native Aboriginal settlement. British settlement dates back just 230 years. It’s also a very large country in terms of land mass. To put it into perspective, the entire land mass of the UK will fit inside the area of Australia 31 times. And Australia will fit into the land mass of Europe 1.3 times. The population of the whole country is minute compared with Britain – roughly the same population of greater London.

If you’re intending to visit the land down under anytime soon, then you need to plan ahead about what you want to see and do. In my opinion, to see the whole of Australia with the best weather, I reckon you need at least 12 months, although you could do it in 6. It really depends on where you want to go and what you want to see. If you just want to do the major cities or the east coast, then the months could be cut down to weeks but you won’t get to experience all that Australia has to offer. Remember, Australia is very large and getting from city to city takes a lot longer than it does in Britain.

Radio Telescope

I grew up in a small country town in New South Wales called Parkes, which is about 300 miles from Sydney. I was 10 years old when my parents moved to Sydney and have called it my home until I moved to the UK in the spring of 2016. Parkes was made famous in 1969 when man first landed on the moon. The radio telescope at Parkes received and transmitted the first images of this historical event to NASA.

Sydney

The largest and most populated city of Australia, Sydney is often said to have the best all-year-round climate. It certainly has the best beaches, especially for surfing, sunbathing and swimming. It has mostly mild winters compared with the UK, and hot, humid summer months, often bringing rain and thunderstorms with spectacular light shows.

Opera House

Sydney has one of the best harbours in the world showcasing the iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House. The culture is very different to most other cities in Australia with a huge beach and surfing culture. Bondi Beach is the main hub of activity although many seaside towns also have spectacular beaches. Manly Beach is also a very popular tourist destination and the best way to get there from the city is by harbour ferry, which takes around 40 mins but allows you to take in the surrounding sights of one of the most beautiful waterways in the world.

Canberra

The official capital of Australia and home to the new and old Houses of Parliament, Canberra has many  many historical sites including the National Art Gallery and War Museum. It’s definitely worth an overnight trip to see Australia’s cultural and military history but be warned, if you hate the cold, don’t venture there during winter as it can get as cold as Britain. It takes approximately 5 hours to drive from Sydney.

Melbourne

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Often dubbed the Little Britain of Australia, it has a similar climate in winter and a really good arts, history and culture scene with plenty of gorgeous restaurants and cafes scattered throughout this city as well as art galleries. Melbourne has a wonderful street gallery called Graffiti Alley which is a must see. It also has an extensive tram network so getting around is fairly easy and efficient. Melbourne is home to what we call Football, Aussie Rules or Australian Football League, AFL for short. The footy scene is just as big here as it is in Britain, but obviously doesn’t have the fan base due to lesser population.

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The Blue Mountains

Just 2 hours drive west of Sydney you’ll find a very spectacular and beautiful part of Australia. The Blue Mountains gets its name from the blue foggy-haze often seen covering the clouds, particularly during the colder months. There are dozens of bushwalking and camping opportunities throughout the park which stretches some 11000 square kilometers (6800 miles). There are caves with amazing limstone sculptures and underground lakes, which completely overshadow the one’s I’ve seen at Castleton here in Britain. Jenolan Caves has been one of my favourite places to visit throughout my entire life and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in New South Wales (NSW). I went there as a kid a few times and quite a few more times as an adult. If you love the outdoors, this is a must do if you come to Sydney.

Byron Bay

Sub-tropical bliss. Beautiful beaches and a laid back culture make this one of Australia’s most popular destinations, both for tourists and people in the cities wanting a slower, alternative way of life.

Perth

Perth is both beautiful but boring.It does have a very pretty coastline with pristine beaches and clear water which is lovely in summer but unless you have family there or intend travelling to other parts of Western Australia, my advice is simply stay on the plane for an extra few hours and get yourself over to the east coast.

North Queensland

The Great Barrier Reef is a must see if you come to Queensland. It can be accessed via Cairns. There is an international airport here with coach transfers available to Port Douglas, the best town to plan a journey to the Great Barrier Reef. The best time of year to visit the reef is during the winter months in Australia, so June, July or August when the temperatures are cooler but not unpleasant and is when you’ll experience clearer waters and better conditions for snorkelling and scuba diving.

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The tropical rainforest of the Daintree is a must see. You can stay in the rainforest but it’s quite expensive. I stayed at a resort called Pink Flamingos, just outside the main town centre of Port Douglas, and in February so probably not the best time of year to go as the weather was very hot and very humid. The outdoor shower in our apartment was needed and welcomed several times a day. The rainforest is only a short drive away and you can hire cars at reasonable prices in town.

The Great Barrier Reef is the most accessible from Port Douglas but can take around 90 minutes to get to by boat. But don’t worry, many operators have floating pontoons where they often serve a fresh seafood lunch and cold beer. From here you can hire scuba diving gear and try finding Nemo, or you can spend time simply snorkling around the coral reef located nearby.

Creepy Crawlies

Unlike Britain, Australia is populated with many types of poisonous and often deadly creepy crawlies such snakes, spiders, crocodiles, jelly fish and man-eating sharks. But don’t let that put you off coming…there are precautions you can take and as long as you’re properly educated about what to expect. For example, a classic Australian necessity is mosquito repellent, especially where it’s humid, which is most of the east coast. These little blood suckers or mozzies as they’re more commonly known aren’t deadly but can leave the surface of your skin itchy for days.

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It’s important to appreciate and understand what these creatures can do to you if you don’t take the appropriate steps to protect yourself.

Do not disobey warning signs of dangerous rips or beach closures. They are there for your protection.

Climate & Weather

You can visit Australia any time of year and still get modestly good weather and mild temperatures regardless of where you area. The summer months are December, January and February but spring can get quite warm as well. Even the autumn months like March can see higher than average temperatures and humidity. The further up the east coast you go, the more hot and humid it will get. If you want to get a tan and enjoy the beach, then these hotter months are the best. Cooling off in the ocean is, well, an unbeatable experience. It renews you.

Tip: Be sure to buy plenty of SPF 50+ sunscreen. If you have pale skin, you’ll most likely burn and believe me, sunburn is not something you want to endure while you travel as it can last for a couple of weeks. Sunglasses and a hat with a wide brim are also a necessity. Shade is your new best friend.

Outback Australia

I spent 6 months of my life living and working in outback Australia. The township of Marla is located in South Australia, 2 hours drive north of Coober Pedy and 5 hours south of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Uluru, the big red rock near Alice Springs is a must see and you can get various bus transfers and tours from Alice Springs.

opal

Coober Pedy is the opal capital of the world, producing a rare but very beautiful gemstone, rich in vibrant colours. Because it gets so hot in the outback, residents of Coober Pedy mostly live underground where the temperature is a constant 22C. The alternative is unbearable, particularly in summer where temperatures can reach upwards of 55C. If you wish to try underground living there is a hotel in town you can stay at.

Getting There 

I’ve seen return flights advertised for around £625 for the budget traveller from Britain to Australia. Remember, it’s a long way and can take around 24 hours flying time to get to the east coast. If you can, try and obtain some sleeping tablets and allow yourself a couple of days to recover from jet lag upon arrival.

Getting Around

Be prepared to travel long distances to get where you want to go. Unlike Britain, you will need to drive many hours to get to a new town or city. For example, just to get from the coast to the Blue Mountains will take you around 2 hours driving time. Sydney to Brisbane or Sydney to Melbourne will take around 10 hours drive time each way. The alternative is to fly and most major cities have airports. Be aware though that if you wish to fly to smaller country towns, flights can often be expensive. Rail is generally a cheaper option than the British equivalent but can take a long time to get anywhere. The same applies with buses, although being the cheapest option, it’s also the longest. My bus trip from Adelaide to Marla took a whopping 13 hours each way.

If you’re travelling around Sydney on any train, bus or ferry, you’ll need to purchase an OPAL card, which is essentially the same as a London Oyster card…prepaid fares. There are trams but like here, they’re expensive and only go limited places. Similar travel cards exist for most other major cities. Trains in both Melbourne and Brisbane are expensive for casual users.

A car is essential if you wish to drive around Sydney and explore up and down the coast. Many tourists with more time on their visa often buy a second hand Combi van and drive it around Australia. They’re relatively inexpensive to buy and run and have been a big hit among overseas visitors who wish to see as much of Australia as possible without spending too much money.

So there you have it. Naturally, there have been some places I’ve missed such as Tasmania and Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory…as these places I’ve yet to actually visit myself but at least it gives you a rough idea of where to go and what to see.

If you have any questions or need further advice, don’t hesitate to reach out via Twitter @aussietravellr or via the contact form on this site.

 

About AussieTravelr

Aussie bloke who recently relocated from Sydney, Australia to Manchester, UK. I'm an avid photographer, writer, baker and more recently a travelr. A lover of good food and frivolity with a new passion for canals and narrowboats.

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