As the world's largest island, this vast sun-drenched country is an enticing melting pot of cultural, geographical and climatic diversities. Famous the world over for for its natural wonders including Uluru (Ayre's Rock) and the Great Barrier Reef, iconic landmarks of the Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Melbourne's Federation Square, scorching barren deserts, glorious beaches, the boundless "outback", fine wines and laid-back attitude, this fascinating country is a popular destination for good reason.
Being in the southern hemisphere, the seasons in Australia are opposite to those of Europe and North America with winter in June to August and summer in December to February.
There are two climatic zones in Australia; the tropical zone, in the north above the Tropic of Capricorn, and the temperate zone, covering approximately 60% of the country. The tropical zone has just two seasons; summer and winter while the temperate zone has all four seasons. Spring and summer tends to be warm or hot everywhere, more tropical in the north and hot with mild nights in the south. Autumn and winter sees northern and central parts with clear warm days and cool nights and the south with cool days and occasional rain but still plenty of sunshine. Most rainfall occurs around the coast and much of the centre is arid or semi-arid. Temperatures have been known to drop below freezing during the winter months in some southern regions, however, snow is usually confined to the mountain regions of the south east. Most of Tasmania has a temperature range very similar to that of the UK.
Australians observe a number of public holidays including:
1st January - New Year's Day
26th January - Australia Day
25th April - ANZAC Day
Second Monday in June - Queen's Birthday
25th December - Christmas Day
26th December - Boxing Day
When a public holiday falls on the weekend (Saturday or Sunday) the following Monday, and Tuesday if necessary, are sometimes declared public holidays in lieu.
Most tourist attractions are closed during public holidays and shop opening times may alter.
The main airports in Australia are Sydney Airport (SYD), Melbourne Airport (MEL), Brisbane Airport (BNE), Perth Airport (PER), Adelaide Airport (ADL) and Canberra Airport (CBR).
Being such a vast country, air travel in Australia is relied upon heavily for getting around. An extensive network of scheduled services operate around the whole country with the principal domestic routes connecting all major towns and cities.
A number of international cruise liners dock at Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart.
Internally there are a number of options for travelling around by water. Notably, the Spirit of Tasmania, a daily overnight car ferry service, links Melbourne and Tasmania.
Over 40,000 km (24,850 miles) of track covers Australia with two main services spanning the country from coast to coast. The twice weekly Indian Pacific runs the 4,350km (2,704 miles) to cross the famous Nullarbour Plain to link Sydney with Adelaide. This service takes 3 days and 3 nights.
The Ghan runs twice weekly taking two nights to cover the 2,979 km (1,891 miles) between Adelaide and Darwin whilst passing through the beautiful Alice Springs.
All long distance trains are fully air-conditioned with first and second class sleeping carriages available as well as good lounge, bar and restaurant facilities.
Australia benefits from a fairly well-maintained system of roads and highways with most state capitals linked by major highways.
The average driving time from Melbourne to Sydney is 9-10 hours (900km/560 miles), Brisbane to Cairns 12-13 hours (1,000km/620 miles) and Melbourne to Perth 40 hours (3,500km/2,175 miles).
As distances between towns and cities can be considerable, it is advisable to carry spare water, petrol and equipment when travelling long distances.
Traffic drives on the left. Seat belts must be worn at all times and drivers must have their driving licence with them when driving. Speed restrictions apply with a limit of 50kph (31mph) in built-up areas, unless otherwise sign-posted, 80-110kph (50-68mph) on country roads and highways.
An excellent national coach system links most major towns and cities.
The official language of Australia is English with most of the population speaking it as their first and only language.
The domestic currency is the Australian Dollar which divides into 100 cents.
The domestic electricity voltage is 230-240V 50Hz with three pin plugs widely used. Adaptors are readily available.
In case of an emergency 000 can be dialled from any public or domestic line, free of charge. This will connect you to the emergency operators for Police, Fire and Ambulance services.
The universal emergency number, 112, can be dialled from mobile phones.
The country dialling code for Australia is +61.
Australia has three time zones:
Eastern Standard Time (EST) for the eastern states, Central Standard Time (CST) for the Northern Territory and southern Australia and Western Standard Time (WST) for Western Australia. CST is 30 minutes behind EST and WST is 2 hours behind EST.
Daylight saving is implemented in most states, with the Northern Territory and Queensland the exceptions. Daylight saving comes into effect in October. Specific times vary on the region.
A visa is generally required when visiting Australia. The type of visa you require depends on your nationality, purpose of visit and length of stay. Contact you local embassy before travelling for more details.
Cash machines, or ATM's, are commonly available in almost every town and city throughout the country.
Most major credit cards are widely accepted throughout Australia.
Tipping is discretionary in Australia with most Australians, when they do tip, simply rounding up the bill or leaving the change rather than tipping a set percentage. It is perfectly acceptable to simply pay the amount stated on the bill. In top capital city restaurants where table service is provided, a tip of between 5-10% is sufficient.
Australia enforces strict customs regulations regarding fresh food products. Some regulations may also apply when travelling from state to state. It is advisable to check regulations before travelling.
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