Photo Courtesy of Tobias Keller
The land down under may seem like a world away, but it’s a dynamic destination that caters to music lovers and fashionistas, urban adventurers and discerning gastronomes, the nature-intrigued and seasoned outdoors explorers. Now reopen to international travelers, Australia beckons with all that it o…ffers. You may come for the very great barrier reef in Queensland and discover scuba diving led by Indigenous guides; or pair Victoria’s ski scene with its wine scene. Maybe you should consider a longer trip...
What to know before you go to Australia
“I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of rugged mountain ranges, of droughts and pouring rains,” goes a traditional Australian tune. It’s true: This is a land of extremes. But play it right and Australia will provide ample opportunities for perfect surfing or skiing or traipsing around the many stunning national parks. Winter is June to August, when most of Australia hits a low season. This is the time to ski in the Kosciusko National Park or on Victoria’s Mount Hotham. It’s also the best time to visit northern Australia. Between May and September the Northern Territory, northwestern Australia, and Queensland offer ideal weather. In summer, these areas swelter, either too humid or too hot, inciting some travelers to make a U-turn to more friendly climes down south. From September to May, southern Australia is at its peak. Every other traveler looking for antipodean escapades arrives at this time of year, but there’s plenty of land to go around. December to February have most Sydneysiders and Melbournians pumping up the air-conditioning, while braver tourists define new tan lines on Bondi and Manly beaches.
They don’t call Australia “the land down under” for nothing. It’s a long flight from just about anywhere. And once you’re here, the various must-see destinations are spread over vast distances, so some logistical planning is necessary. As of March 31, 2022, most travelers from the United States with proof of full COVID-19 vaccination could enter Australia, but there are restrictions. Some Australian states or territories may have different entry requirements and exemptions. Find the latest rules at homeaffairs.gov.au.
FLIGHTS As of 2022, there were nine nonstop inbound flights to Australia from the U.S., stopping in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, or Perth. Interstate flights are easily accomplished via Qantas, Jetstar, Tiger, and Virgin.
To see the whole continent in under a month is a serious undertaking and will involve trains, planes, a few automobiles, boats, and a ferry or two. A less daunting project would be to take on the East Coast in one trip, spending time in Sydney and Melbourne, exploring Adelaide and the Great Ocean road by car, taking a car-ferry or flight to Tasmania, popping in to Canberra, and jetting up to Queensland for the tropical experience. Western Australia is simple to navigate by train, car, or tour bus, but don’t even think about going into the outback alone in summer. The interior outback, known as the Red Center, is best reached by organized tour, available as luxury excursions, adventure operations, backpacker units, and every other imaginable collective. You can take four-wheel-drives off road, but carry water (five liters per day, per person), bring a high-frequency radio transceiver, and be sure to respect Aboriginal sacred land, national park rules, and animal crossings at dusk and dawn. (Neither party comes out well from an on-road clash with a large kangaroo.)
Foreigners’ overused jokey adage to “throw another shrimp on the barbie” no longer sticks. First of all, Australians call them prawns. Second, Australian gastronomy has surpassed the humble barbecue. It remains a happy summer stalwart in backyards across the country, but what happens elsewhere is more interesting. The country’s food scene has been largely overlooked abroad, and for the most part the global food media have shunned Australia’s culinary experience, focusing instead on its cuddly native critters and extraordinary landscapes. It’s also true that the nation’s food culture is really coming of age. What was a less than inspiring restaurant scene just a couple of decades ago has blossomed in recent years. Restaurants such as Attica, Quay, Sepia, and Flower Drum can stand up to the world’s best.
The new year kicks off the traditional cycle, and less than a month later the country celebrates Australia Day. Officially it marks the anniversary of the arrival of the British in Sydney on January 26, 1788. Mindful of the original inhabitants of the land, the day is now simply a celebration of being Australian. Folks light the barbecue, play cricket on the beach, and take to the outdoors. Every happy Australian stereotype comes out on one glorious public holiday. Parties don’t come much more mind-blowing than the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, the biggest of its kind in the world. Go along to cheer on the sequined, feathered, Lycra-wearing ensemble as they celebrate equal rights.
Hippies, rockers, folk fans, indie types, country listeners, jazz groovers: There are festivals across Australia for every sort of music lover. Travel north to Byron Bay to revel in the stunning bushland setting of Splendor in the Grass, and go to Victoria for the Falls Festival, relocated from Tasmania following a two-year pandemic hiatus. See where Keith Urban started his career at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. There’s Tropfest for film lovers, and the Sydney, Melbourne, or Byron Bay Writers Festivals for the more literary.
Australia is a wide, stunning, varied land. To travel around it well requires great research and good advice. Locals love nothing better than spouting off about their favorite places, the best eats, the must-nots and must-dos. “Shout” (buy) a local a beer and you’ll get better insider advice than you could from a guidebook, and probably a really good laugh.
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