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|Introduction to Australia
Australia's biggest attraction is its natural beauty. The landscape varies from endless sunbaked horizons to dense tropical rainforest to chilly southern beaches. Scattered along the coasts, its cities blend a European enthusiasm for art and food with a laid-back love of sport and the outdoors.
Visitors expecting to see an opera in Sydney one night and meet Crocodile Dundee the next will have to re-think their grasp of geography in this huge country. It is this sheer vastness that gives Australia - and its diverse population - much of its character.
In cities, visitors will experience a blur of fashion-festooned boutiques and plate-clattering restaurants, then lose themselves in a long fluid moment inside a beer or wine glass. In the interior, they might be harangued by the thump of rocks under their 4WD, only to be transfixed by a slow, silent swirl of outback dust. Around the coast, they'll take an endless breath in the depths of a rainforest, then slowly realise they have an entire beach to themselves.
Full country name: Commonwealth of Australia
Area: 7.68 million sq km
Population: 19.5 million
Capital City: Canberra
People: 92% Caucasian, 7% Asian, 1% Aboriginal
Religion: 75% Christian, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 0.5% Jewish
Government: independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations
Head of State: Governor General Michael Jeffery
Head of Government: Prime Minister John Howard
GDP: US$418 billion
GDP per capita: US$22,000
Annual Growth: 4%
Major Industries: Minerals, oil, coal, gold, wool, cereals, meat, tourism
Major Trading Partners: Japan, ASEAN countries, South Korea, China, New Zealand, USA, EU
Member of EU: No
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Visas: Every nationality except New Zealanders need visas. Tourist visas and Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visas are valid for three months, but longer-term visas can be applied for. ETAs are just under 11.00; standard visas cost 35.00.
Health risks: sunburn (Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Monitor your exposure to direct sunlight closely. UV exposure is greatest between 10am and 4pm so avoid skin exposure during these times. Always use 30+ sunscreen, apply 30 minutes before going into the sun and repeat regularly to minimise damage), heat exhaustion (Heat exhaustion occurs when fluid intake dows not keep up with fluid loss. Symptoms include dizziness, fainting, fatigue, nausea or vomiting and pale, clammy skin. Rest in a cool, shady area and fluid replacement with water or diluted sports drinks will usually correct the problem. Heatstroke is a severe form of heat illness that occurs after fluid depletion or extreme exertion in high heat. This is a true medical emergency, with heating of the brain leading to disorientation, hallucinations and seizures. Prevention is by maintaining an adequate fluid intake to ensure the continued passage of clear and copious urine, especially during physical exertion)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +10 (Eastern Standard Time), GMT/UTC +9.5 (Central Time), GMT/UTC +8 (Western Time)
Dialling Code: 61
Electricity: 220-240V ,50
Weights & measures: Metric
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Christmas is part of the long summer school vacation and during December and January you can be forgiven for thinking that half of Australia is on holiday. This is when accommodation is almost always booked out.
Australia's arts festivals attract culture vultures from all over Australia to see mainstream and fringe drama, dance, music and visual arts. The huge Festival of Sydney, which takes up most of January, is the umbrella for a number of events from open air concerts, to street theatre and fireworks. The Adelaide Arts Festival takes place at the beginning of March in even-numbered years. Each year, Womadelaide, Adelaide's outdoor festival of world music and dance, takes place in the second week of March. Melbourne has a Comedy Festival in April, the world's biggest Writers' Festival in September and the fabulous Melbourne International Festival in October. A couple of festivals to celebrate Aboriginal arts and culture include the Stompen Ground Festival, which is held in Broome in October and the Barunga Wugularr Sports & Cultural Festival, held near Katherine in June.
Sporty fun includes Darwin's Beer Can Regatta in August, when a series of boat races are held for craft constructed entirely of beer cans; Alice Spings holds the Henley-on-Todd, a boat race 'run' on a dry river bed. More mainstream events include the Sydney to Hobart yacht race (from Boxing Day); the Australian Open tennis championship (Melbourne in January); the Australian Grand Prix (Melbourne in March); Australian Rules Football (around the country from March to September); and the country-stopping Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday in November.
Gay festivals include Sydney's massive, outlandish Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, in February/March, and Melbourne's January/February Midsumma Festival.
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|Best time to Visit
Any time is a good time to be in Australia. Summer (December to February) can get uncomfortably hot but it's great beach weather. Up north, the summer wet season is very, very humid and the sea is swarming with box jellyfish. Winter (June to August) offers skiing in NSW and Victoria. In spring and autumn the weather is mild.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Australian Dollar
If you're travelling from Europe or the USA, Australia is pretty easy on the wallet. Food, in particular, is great value. Accommodation is also reasonably priced, and if you're staying in hostels, on-site caravans (trailers) or camping, and making your own meals, you could conceivably get by on about AUD35.00 to AUD45.00 a day. Travel will be your biggest expense - distances are huge - so if you're moving around a bit, eating out once or twice a day and staying in budget hotels, plan for closer to AUD85.00 a day. If you're only staying for a couple of weeks and plan to take a few internal flights, you'll be looking at more like AUD170.00 a day.
Credit cards (particularly Visa and MasterCard) are widely accepted (and pretty much compulsory if you're going to rent a car), and ATMs all over the country accept credit and Cirrus cards.
Tipping is gaining a foothold in Australia, particularly in cafes and restaurants in the bigger cities, and a tip 10-15% is usual. However, you won't cause offense if you don't tip. Taxi drivers are always grateful if you leave the change.
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Canberra is often described by Australians who haven't been there as a boring town, full of politicians, bureaucrats - and not much else. But those who go there find a picturesque spot with beautiful galleries and museums, as well as excellent restaurants, bars and cafes.
As Australia's capital, Canberra pulls out the big guns when it comes to sightseeing. Souped-up national versions of art galleries, war memorials and libraries come extra-large and with lashings of grandiose gravitas. The city's impressive sights are ringed around its focal lake.
When the early colonists arrived and began building Adelaide they used stone. They wanted to build a solid, dignified city, a civilised and calm place, with a manner no other state capital in the country could match. Nowadays, much to the wowsers chagrin, pubs and nightclubs outnumber the churches.
The 'city of churches' has a superb setting, with a centre ringed by green parklands and a backdrop of hills. Bouncing between its musuems, fine galleries, metropolitan beaches and historic houses will keep you busy, and then there's daytrips into the Mt Lofty Ranges.
Brisbane has shucked its reputation as a backwater and emerged as one of the country's most progressive centres. It has several interesting districts, a good street cafe scene, a great riverside park, a busy cultural calendar and a thriving nightlife.
Brisbane is known for its showiness - think artificial beaches and tourist arcades - but it also has gracious architecture and tranquil parks. Its galleries and musuems are legendary, and if you need a break from the built environment it's refreshingly close to bushland and wildlife.
Cairns shines with the carnival atmosphere of travellers all year round and the city is positively booming. In 2003 the foreshore was given a Hollywood makeover, with lagoons and the spanking Pier Marketplace, equipping Cairns to be a truly international tourist destination.
This juicy chunk of far north Queensland will bamboozle you with its awesome natural beauty both on land and sea. With its lush rainforests and stunning reefs, Cairns' attractions can suit the coddled tourist and the intrepid outdoor types alike.
The 'capital' of northern Australia is closer to Jakarta than it is to Sydney, and closer to Singapore than it is to Melbourne, so it should come as no surprise that it looks outward to Asia as much as it looks inland to the rest of Australia.
When Cyclone Tracy levelled Darwin in 1974, she took with her a lot of its streetscapes, but there are still a few colonial buildings to give a feel for what went before. The city's musuems focus on everything from pearling to crocodiles to the night Tracy came to town.
Great Barrier Reef
One of Australia's greatest assets is the magnificent reef that runs along almost the entire coast of Queensland. Considered one of the world's natural wonders, it is the most extensive reef system and the biggest structure made by living organisms on earth.
Hobart is Australia's southernmost capital city. The fact that it is also the smallest is the key to its particular charm. A riverside city with a busy harbour, its mountain backdrop offers fine views over the beautiful Georgian buildings, numerous parks and compact suburbs below.
Many say that Hobart's history as a demonically harsh penal colony and the site of some of Australia's worst massacres of indigenous people lingers in the form of melancholy ghosts, lending an eerie chill to the idyllically peaceful honey-stoned colonial buildings and Irish-looking landscapes.
Melbourne is dubbed marvellous for a reason. Healthy hedonism masquerades as high art: Melburnians are equally passionate about football and ballet, fashion and restaurants. They are ravenous for music and hot for theatre. It's a smorgasbord of a city that that you'll want to sink your teeth into.
Melbourne's easy-going pace is perfect for enjoying its gracious Victorian architecture, its green wealth of parks and gardens, and its many cultural highlights. Most of the city's main sights are just a short walk or tram-hop apart, with plenty of latte pick-me-up opportunities on the way.
Perth is a vibrant and modern city sitting between the cerulean Indian Ocean and the ancient Darling Ranges. It claims to be the sunniest state capital in Australia, though more striking is its isolation from the rest of the country - Perth is over 4400kms (2750mi) from Sydney by road.
Desert the cluttered rectangle of the city centre and go looking for the beauty that makes visitors fall for Perth: Indian Ocean beaches, hillside hideaways, romantic Fremantle, cosmopolitan Subiaco and the select, comfortable suburbs which fringe the Swan River.
Sydney is Australia's oldest city, the economic powerhouse of the nation and the country's capital in everything but name. It's blessed with sun-drenched natural attractions, dizzy skyscrapers, delicious and daring restaurants, superb shopping and friendly folk.
Sydney Harbour's sandstone headlands, dramatic cliffs and stunning beaches define the city. But whichever way you look, from the white sails of the harbour to the arc of The Coathanger to the toned flesh on Bondi, Sydney is serious eye-candy.
Uluru is the most famous icon of the Australian outback and a site of deep cultural significance to the Anangu Aboriginals. The 3.6km (2.2mi)-long rock rises a towering 348m (1141ft) from the pancake-flat surrounding scrub. It is especially impressive at dawn and sunset when the red rock spectacularly changes hue.
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