Australia: What to Know Before You Go
Visits to Australia are rarely about just one thing. Trips usually combine a variety of activities and locations: cities and outback, nightlife and wildlife, rainforest and reef, fine dining and fine wine. Given the incredible landscapes and thousands of animal species unique to the continent, your trip will undoubtedly feature experiences found nowhere else.
Reaching Australia involves an overnight flight (13.5 -15 hours) nonstop from Los Angeles, Dallas, or Vancouver. Trans-Pacific flights touch down in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. Most travelers choose Qantas, but options include Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, United, Delta, and Air Canada. If you fly Qantas internationally, you can get discounts on Australian domestic flights. It is possible to arrange a stopover in Fiji, Tahiti, or Hawaii to break up your flights with a bit of tropical island relaxation. Sydney can also be reached by cruise ship from New Zealand.
It should be said that Australia is a very large place. You can explore small areas by car, but getting from place to place usually requires a flight (given travelers’ commonly tight schedules). You can get to nearly every corner of the country by air. Domestic flights range from less than an hour to 5 hours for a coast to coast journey.
Train journeys are also popular, especially through the outback. Lines run in an upside down T, connecting Darwin south to Adelaide and Sydney west to Perth.
- Diving and Snorkeling: Some Australia’s most incredible sights are underwater. The Great Barrier Reef is awe-inspiring. Swim with exotic fish, coral, or with sharks and whales. Take a day trip out to the reef or stay longer on a liveaboard multi-day cruise. Out west, Ningaloo, a vast fringing reef offers tropical adventure off the beaten path.
- Wildlife Spotting: There is an incredible and diverse array of wildlife found in Australia and nowhere else. Kangaroos are nearly everywhere. But you can also go on the search for koalas, wallabies, wombats, platypuses, Tasmanian devils, and dingoes. Bird-watch for kookaburra or emus. Or check out marine life like penguins, whales sharks, and more. Want to hold a koala? Visit a wildlife sanctuary. Even if you’re short on time, you can still head to one of the country’s phenomenal zoos.
- Beach Bumming & Watersports: Australia is home to thousands of miles of sandy beach. Locals have perfected nearly every way to launch yourself through the surf. To the north, there are tropical island beaches. To the south, there are incredible sandy expanses even in the heart of big cities like Sydney.
- Wine: Australian wine is famous the world over. The most popular bottles come from the valleys around Adelaide. There are also major wine regions around Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth. Take a day or overnight vineyard tour paired with chocolate, cheese, or olive oil tastings.
- Scenic Tours: Set off alone or on a guided tour of some of the most stunning landscapes on earth. See the barren red desert of the outback, the lush rainforest at Daintree, the stunning Blue Mountains, bizarre rock formations, scrubby bush, or an island made of dunes.
- Fine Dining: Australia boasts cuisine on par with the best restaurants of Paris, New York, or anywhere else. Sydney has terrific fine dining (as you’d expect), but Melbourne is a culinary revelation. Outside of the big towns, you can take a chef-led journey like the one that includes cooking lessons on the Mornington Peninsula. Food is important here. Nearly every tour we offer features food that is simply sumptuous.
- Aboriginal Cultural Activities: Some Aboriginal cultures here are more than 40,000 years old. You can visit cultural centers to see local art, play the didgeridoo, learn about local tribes, get the proper technique for throwing boomerangs and spears, or take a lesson in dot painting. For a more in-depth experience, head out to a tribal area like Arnhem Land.
- Golf: There are top notch golf clubs throughout the country. The most famous and popular courses in the country are just outside of Melbourne — Kingston Heath and Royal Melbourne are just a couple.
Australia is known for its luxury resorts—mostly in remote locations like deep in the Outback or on islands off the Great Barrier Reef. All the major chains have branches in the country and there are several local hotel chains at all levels of quality. There are also quite a number of boutique hotels and resorts.
Australia’s English roots have given way to a cosmopolitan cuisine. Aussies now combine Asian and European influences to make great use of their local produce and seafood. Try the crayfish (lobster), prawns, Sydney rock oysters, and Tasmanian salmon. Or have a taste of the ‘barbie.’ Australians barbecue everything, from the steaks and burgers you’d find in America to kangaroo, crocodile, and buffalo. Wash it down with a local beer. Every state has a favorite. Your bartender won’t be shy filling you in on the best one in town. Or pair your cuisine with one of a hundred terrific Australian wines.
What to Wear
With such a big country, there are totally diverse weather patterns based on region and season. What you should wear depends on where you are going and when. In the northern tropical areas, there are dry and wet seasons. In the south, there are four seasons, like in North America. Regardless, Oz is a pretty casual place where formal wear is rarely needed. Even at the opera (and there is great opera here), you’ll find people in jeans.
Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Holiday Travel
Australia is a very popular holiday destination, which means accommodation books out fast over the Christmas to New Year’s Eve period. (Sydney in particular is the #1 destination in the world for New Year’s Eve.) We recommend booking your holiday travel to Australia at least 4 months in advance (6-8 months if you want a wider range of options). Please note hotel prices are higher than average during the festive season.
Australia: Where to Go
Queensland – Great Barrier Reef, Whitehaven Beach, Daintree Rainforest, and Sunshine Coast
New South Wales – Sydney, Hunter Valley wine region, Blue Mountains, and Byron Bay
Victoria – Melbourne, Great Ocean Road, Yarra Valley wine region, and Australia’s top-ranked golf courses
Northern Territory – Classic Australian outback, Ayers Rock, Darwin, and Aboriginal culture
South Australia – Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Australia’s top wine regions, and outback
Tasmania – Nature and wildlife, wine, scenic beaches, and colonial history
Western Australia – Perth, Ningaloo Reef, Margaret River wine region, and Cable Beach
Australian Capital Territory – Canberra, hot air balloons, and Snowy Mountains
Map of Australia
Courtesy of Tourism Australia. Click to view full-size map.