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.
Continue reading to find out more about...
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 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.
Best places 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.
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.
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.
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.