Travel Guide Australia

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More than most other countries, Australia seizes the imagination. For many visitors its name is synonymous with endless summers where the living is easy. This is where the adventures are as vast as the horizons and the jokes flow as freely as the beer – a country of can-do spirit and laidback friendliness. No wonder Australians call theirs the Lucky Country.

Interesting facts about Australia

  • With an area of just over 7.5 million square kilometres, Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world.
  • Australia’s population is estimated at just over 22 million, of whom some 85 percent live in urban areas. About 92 percent are of European origin, two percent Aboriginal, and around six percent Asian and Middle Eastern.
  • Much of Australia is arid and flat. One-third is desert and another third steppe or semi-desert. Only six percent of the country rises above 600m in elevation, and its tallest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, is just 2228m high.
  • Australia’s main exports are minerals, metals, fossil fuels, cotton, wool, wine and beef, and its most important trading partners are Japan, China and the USA.
  • At 5614km the dingo fence is the longest in the world, stretching from Jimbour to the cliffs of the Nullarbor Plain. It’s around twice the length of the Great Wall of China.
  • Australia ranks proudly ranks second in the Human Development Index, which measures a country’s progress by its life expectancy, education and income. Norway comes first.
  • Around 22 percent of Australians are descended from convicts.

Where to go in Australia

For visitors, deciding where to go can mean juggling distance, money and time. With an expanse of places to visit, Australia’s tourism means that you could spend months driving around the Outback, exploring the national parks, or hanging out at beaches; or you could take an all-in, two-week “Sydney, Reef and Rock” package, encompassing Australia’s outstanding trinity of must-sees. These are just some of the top places to go in Australia.

Both options provide thoroughly Australian experiences, but either will leave you with a feeling of having merely scraped the surface of this vast country. Visit Australia and experience the two big natural attractions: the 2000km-long Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast, with its complex of islands and underwater splendour, and the brooding monolith of Uluru (Ayers Rock), in the Northern Territory’s Red Centre.

Sydney is the jewel in Australia’s navel. Famous as one of the world’s great gay cities, it attracts LGBTQ visitors from around the world. Melbourne closely follows, but there are scenes in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and to a lesser extent in Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin.

Away from the cities, things get more discreet, but a lot of country areas do have friendly local scenes – impossible to pinpoint, but easy to stumble across. However, Outback mainstays of mining and cattle ranching are not famed for their tolerance of homosexuality, so tread carefully in remote destinations.

Discover more places in Australia

Best places to visit in Australia

Blue Mountains (New South Wales)

World Heritage-listed, the Blue Mountains are a wonderland of ancient forests, deep valleys and lookouts from sheer cliffs, all just an hour or so from Sydney.

Travel advice for Travel Guide Australia

From travel safety to visa requirements, discover the best tips for traveling to Travel Guide Australia

Tall Timber Country (Western Australia)

These primeval karri forests are one of WA’s greatest natural sights. Get a bird’s-eye view from the Tree Top Walk.

Wilpena Pound (Southern Australia)

There are some fantastic hikes in the Flinders Ranges National Park but few top the spectacular scenery at the elevated basin of Wilpena Pound.

Sport at the MCG (Victoria)

Taking in a game of cricket or, better still, Aussie Rules football at the venerable Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is a must for any sports fan.

Fraser Island (Queensland)

The giant dunes and freshwater lakes of the world’s largest sand island form the backdrop to popular 4WD safaris.

Sydney harbour (New South Wales)

Scale the bridge, take a harbour ferry to Manly or just marvel at the Opera House sails at the most iconic location in Sydney, a shorthand for Australia itself.

Atherton Tablelands

With its rainforest, crater lakes and abundant wildlife, you could spend days exploring the Atherton Tablelands.

Best time to travel to Australia

You’ll find reliably warm summers at the coast with regular, but brief, heatwaves in excess of 40°C. Head inland, and the temperatures rise further. Winters, on the other hand, can be miserable, particularly in Victoria, where the short days add to the gloom. The best time to travel to Tasmania is year-round: while weather in the highlands is unpredictable at all times, summer is the best time of year to visit Tasmania to explore the island’s outdoor attractions.

Australian life and culture

Every aspect of Australian life and culture, whether its matey attitudes or its truly great outdoors, is a product of the country’s scale and population – or lack of it. Australia rivals the USA in size, but is home to only 24 million people, giving it one of the lowest population densities on earth. The energy of its contemporary culture is in contrast to a landscape that is ancient and often looks it: much of central and western Australia – the bulk of the country – is overwhelmingly arid and flat. In contrast, its cities, most founded as recently as the mid-nineteenth century, burst with a vibrant, youthful energy.

The Outback

The most iconic scenery is the Outback, the vast fabled desert that spreads west of the Great Dividing Range into the country’s epic interior. Here, vivid blue skies, cinnamon-red earth, deserted gorges and geological features as bizarre as the wildlife comprise a unique ecology, one that has played host to the oldest surviving human culture for up to 70,000 years (just 10,000 years after Homo sapiens is thought to have emerged from Africa).

This harsh interior has forced modern Australia to become a coastal country. Most of the population lives within 20km of the ocean, the majority of these occupying a suburban, southeastern arc that extends from southern Queensland to Adelaide. Urban Australians celebrate the typical New World values of material self-improvement through hard work and hard play, with an easy-going vitality that visitors, especially Europeans, often find refreshingly hedonistic. A sunny climate also contributes to this exuberance, with an outdoor life in which a thriving beach culture and the congenial backyard “barbie” are central.

Australia’s indigenous people

Although visitors might eventually find this low-key, suburban lifestyle rather prosaic, there are opportunities – particularly in the Northern Territory – to experience Australia’s indigenous peoples and their culture through visiting ancient art sites, taking tours and, less easily, making personal contact. Many Aboriginal people – especially in central Australia – have managed to maintain a traditional lifestyle (albeit with modern amenities), speaking their own languages and living by their own laws. Conversely, most Aboriginal people in cities and country towns are trapped in a destructive cycle of racism, poverty and lack of meaningful employment opportunities, often resulting in health problems and substance abuse. To give just one example, life expectancy rates for Aboriginal Australians are ten years lower than those of the rest of the population. There’s still a long way to go before black and white people in Australia can exist on genuinely equal terms.

Aboriginal art

Aboriginal art has grown into a million-dollar industry since the first canvas dot paintings of the central deserts emerged in the 1970s. Though seemingly abstract, early canvases are said to replicate ceremonial sand paintings – temporary “maps” fleetingly revealed to depict sacred knowledge. In the tropics, figurative bark and cave paintings are less enigmatic but much older, though until recently they were ceremonially repainted. The unusual X-ray style found in the Top End details the internal structure of animals. The Northern Territory – and Alice Springs, in particular – are the best places to look.

Eccentric Australia

It could be part of the Australian psyche that celebrates renegades. Perhaps it is just the standard set by such utterly odd wildlife as the platypus. Whatever the cause, Australia enjoys eccentricity like few other first-world nations, even down to the playful rough-and-tumble of its slang, Strine. The further you go from the big cities, the quirkier Australia gets. You could base an entire visit around a tour of kitsch sights like the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour, the Big Pineapple at Nambour or the Big Prawn at Ballina; for more inspiration see wilmap.com.au/bigstuff. Country and especially Outback pubs are often reliable outposts of the weird and wonderful. Yet for true glorious weirdness head to small festivals like the World Cockroach Races staged in Brisbane every Australia Day, or Darwin’s riotous Beer Can Regatta in July, with boat races in craft made entirely from beer cans.

Gay and lesbian Australia

Australia is a fixture on the Queer map thanks to its great climate and laidback lifestyle. Sydney is Australia’s gay-friendly capital, especially in March when hundreds of thousands of people pour in for the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. Despite its reputation as a macho culture, the country revels in a large and active scene: you’ll find an air of confidence and a sense of community that is often missing in other parts of the world.

Sydney is the jewel in Australia’s navel. Famous as one of the world’s great gay cities, it attracts lesbian and gay visitors from around the world. Melbourne closely follows, but there are scenes in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, and to a lesser extent Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin.

Away from the cities, things get more discreet, but a lot of country areas do have friendly local scenes – impossible to pinpoint, but easy to stumble across. However, Outback mainstays of mining and cattle ranching are not famed for their tolerance of homosexuality, so tread carefully in remote destinations.

Gay and lesbian contacts

  • Pinkboard pinkboard.com.au. Popular, long-running website with useful “Graffiti Walls” full of parties, personal ads and classifieds sections with everything from house-shares, party tickets for sale, employment, and a help and advice section. Posting ads is free.
  • The Pink Directory thepinkdirectory.com.au. Online directory of gay and lesbian business and community information.
  • DNA dnamagazine.com.au. The nation’s best-selling Queer title, an upmarket lifestyle magazine for gay men.

Tourist services and travel agents

  • GALTA (Gay and Lesbian Tourism Australia) galta.com.au. An online resource and nonprofit organization that promotes the gay and lesbian tourism industry with good links.
  • Gay Travel gaytravel.com. Online travel agent, concentrating mostly on accommodation.
  • International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association iglta.org. Trade group with lists of gay-owned or gay-friendly travel businesses.

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written by Andy Turner
created 3/24/2014
updated 4/26/2021
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