TOP 13 important things you should know before visiting Australia
Australia is a wonderful country to visit. It is so vast and so diverse and the wildlife is something spectacular! And there are some amazing things which we will always remember Australia for. One of them is that even if in other parts of the world people have learnt how to push that wildlife out of their lives, here everyone lives together. Yeah, even with all the poisonous snakes and spiders! The other thing is that this country has made itself accessible to travelers. Yes, even if the border control is strick, it is just to protect their land. Once you`re there, you will see how great are outdoor facilities, how many places of interest can be explored for free! And, of course, then comes the people. They are such friendly nation! We felt so welcomed in Australia and this is why we just didn`t want to leave! We have seen quite a lot of this magical land, and therefore we are happy to share TOP 13 important things you should know before visiting Australia!
Remember that Australia is huge. It is the sixth largest country in the world and a continent by itself! It`s not like going to Italy – here you really have to consider the landmass. Some of Australian cattle stations are bigger than European countries!
Australia has almost 8000 islands and it is home to the most number of micro-nations in the world! But generally Australia is divided in states – each state is totally different from another. In the North, you will find tropical climate, wetlands and rain forests while in East and West there is subtropical climate with pine forests and deserts. The highest peak in the country is around 2228 metres above the sea, but generally Australia is quite flat with not that many mountain ranges.
Remember that every state has different laws and even when traveling between the states you should be aware of the borders, especially when going from Northern Territory to South Australia – you cannot cross the border with fruits, vegetables or nuts so that different plant diseases wouldn`t spread around from one state to another.
Yeah, and also when landing in Australia, you must declare any food or goods of plant or animal origin and sporting equipment (including camping gear). This is not an easy entry, you know. Australia has strict quarantine rules to protect their plant, animal and human health. And if you`re breaking the rules, you will get a high fine.
In Australia, you will come across real remoteness as 85% of people live by the coast. So plan your journey carefully, especially if you’re travelling outside the cities. The gas stations may be located 500 km one from another. Be careful when bushwalking or swimming! Bushland in Australia is rough, so prepare properly before starting your hike. And when swimming remember to swim between the flags and take directions from the lifeguards. And always follow the warning signs! There might be crocodiles, sharks, high tides and unpredictable underwater currents. You can also take the following simple precautions: F – Find the red and yellow flags and swim between them; L – Look out for any safety signs; A – Ask a lifeguard for advice before entering the water; G – Get a friend to swim with you; S – Stick your hand up, try to stay calm, and call for help if you get into trouble.
Travel wisely! Explore your destination before you come! We would definitely recommend you to go outside the bright cities and visit the Outback – desert with incredibly beautiful gorges, bushes that are inhabited by so many animal species, and real vastness. They say – you haven`t really seen Australia if you haven`t been to the Outback. But, if something happens, know the emergency number in Australia – 000. Keep in mind that there are places with no coverage, no water, no people. And that`s why we love Australia – the land where to get in touch with the nature for real.
Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth. But, of course, there are distinctive climate zones. In the North, the wet season is from October to April and dry season from May to September. The wet season is associated with tropical cyclones and monsoon rains. Central region mainly consists of the desert and has very little rain, usually falling during the hottest months from October to March. But generally seasons are different across Australia. E.g., there are dry summers in Perth and humid summers in Brisbane. But whenever you go, remember the sunblock as sun in this country is very strong and can affect your health.
In the hottest months, bush fires are common, and fire can actually start by itself. The worst ever bushfires were burning throughout Australia in December 2019 and January 2020. Half a billion animals were killed! So be aware that Australian summer (November to February) can bring lots of surprises. During the bush fires you may come across the road closures and evacuations. Poor air quality can occur in area of the sites of fires and provoke respiratory conditions.
Australia is also prone to seasonal natural disasters like tropical cyclones, flooding and dust storms. Tropical cyclones occur mainly in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia between November and April. And these tropical cyclones along with heavy rain can cause flooding. In Queensland, e.g., even crocks are swimming in the flooded fields, and that`s no joke. Dust storms occur regularly in Australia, usually in Outback areas.
You can follow the weather by using the weather app – Weatherzone is Australia’s most popular and precise weather app featuring the latest real-time observations.
One of the reasons why we love Australia so much is because of the wildlife here. If in other parts of the world people have just learnt to push it away, here everyone actually has to live with it. And there`s lots of it!
When Australia was discovered by Europeans, more than 50 animal species were introduced here and they, of course, bred. And, yeah, even if cities are growing and wildlife has headed inland, there is so much of chance seeing kangaroos, emu, lizards and so many more wild! Of course, there are many wildlife sanctuaries where you can encounter Australia`s special animals, but then again – if you take a step further from the busy city life, you will definitely be lucky to see animals wild.
There are many camels, kangaroos, dingo dogs – so many as they are even considered to be pests. It is harder to see koalas wild – but, hey, they sleep 20 hours a day! Be aware that many animals can be quite dangerous. There are poisonous snakes and spiders, there are crocodiles, sharks and box jelly fish that can kill you in the water. There is Tasmanian Devil whose bite is the strongest among the mammals considering the body proportions, there are vombats, echidnas, wallabies, turtles, possums, penguins and bats. So many creatures! And, as we were crossing Australia by hitchhiking, we came across most of them wild! Of the over 800 species of animals, about 300 won’t be found anywhere else in the world! Of course, it`s best to treat all the insects, spiders and snakes as poisonous and be careful with wildlife, that`s not your home pet!
The land was originally discovered by the Dutch and named New Holland, while the neighboring island was named New Zeeland, after one of the Dutch provinces. However, although the Dutch discovered many places, they rarely could sustain there, so later on the British came. In the 1700s, after the American Revolution, the British tried to make up for lost colonies by creating new ones, and Australia was one of them. Of course, you probably have heard that Australia is “the land of convicts” because British sent prisoners here, mostly around Sydney. In total, about 165,000 prisoners were deported to Australia over the 80 years. Interestingly, even Australia’s first police force was made up of 12 convicts released for good behavior. But, of course, not the whole nation was made up solely of prisoners! And let`s not forget the Aboriginal – indigenous of Australia. They come from hundreds of different tribes, each with its own language and dialect. Aboriginal rights are now a huge subject in Australian law, as historically Europeans came here and shot indigenous out, claiming their land. Now government tries to make it up somehow. But that creates huge issues. Money compensations are misused, education system is not adapted properly. There are many opinions and conflicts between this Australian modern life and the ancient one. Therefore, when you visit Australia, be mindful and take some time to get to know a bit of the history. You will see many places like museums, galleries, exhibitions and events that are embracing diversity and spreading awareness of cultural differences, asking people to respect and appreciate the indigenous of this land.
And that is the real history Australia has. All of the Australians except indigenous are newcomers. There is no traditional food, dances or songs. That is why it is worthwhile to learn about Aboriginal ancient traditions and customs.
There are around 23 million people living in the vast territory of Australia, mainly by the coast. 85% of Australians are generally coming from Europeans, with British and Irish ancestry. 12% are Asian, mostly from China and India, Vietnam, Philippines, and there are also some Africans. And, of course, the indigenous of Australia – the Aborigines.
It is said that Aboriginal culture is the oldest still existing culture that dates back even 50 thousand years. Aboriginal come from hundreds of different tribes, there were more than 250 Australian indigenous languages from which 20 has left after the European arrival. By the way, words like koala, wombat, kookaburra, kangaroo are coming from Aboriginal languages. But, as we already said earlier, there are huge issues when the third world meets modernization. The Aboriginal education system is not able to offer the knowledge that would enable them to integrate into the society. There are, of course, those Aboriginal who live in cities, but in some ways they still are discriminated. Most Aborigines live in the bush, in their own communities and provide for themselves. There are always two opinions – whether Aboriginal should receive that much tax-payers money to buy cars and booze? Or it`s just Australian society that is not understanding and accepting indigenous traditions? Australia is very interesting and diverse, and the more we got the inside of the story, the more complex it seemed.
Also, won`t be hard to travel around as people speak English, though keep in mind they have their slang, like e.g. flip-flops are called thongs here and dinner is to be “tea”!
As there are different people groups, there are different cultural things to keep in mind. Aboriginal have some protocols that they wish everyone to follow. Firstly, remember that Aboriginal have their sacred lands, like, e.g. Uluru or Ayers Rock. They were never happy that people climbed up their object of worship, but now the access is finally closed. All the sacred land should be respected, as well as nature and wildlife in general!
Also, when someone in Aboriginal society dies, all the photos and pictures of that person is hidden in order to show the respect to the dead and to the grieving family. And it can last up to several years! So those who love taking photos – be mindful when and where to do that! Though this particularly refers to newspapers and television. And, of course, Aboriginal society also practices different faiths and religious rituals. Aborigines never value human beings as the highest level of nature, but believe that after death it is transformed into nature, so nature is very important and appreciated.
In general, arts and music is huge. Therefore this is a good place to dip into these spheres. Exhibitions, galleries, music festivals, shows, parades – this is Australia!
Interestingly enough, this is also the only nation in the world that eats the animals on their coats of arms – kangaroos and emus. But of, course, these might not be on every dinner table or in barbecue party. Though when you are invited, do not show up empty handed – it is just that everyone brings even some snacks or a bottle!
In Australia we enjoyed that nature is treated with respect and conservation is important. Many countries in the world don`t care at all, but here people are protecting the nature, recycling, taking care of their environment. And you should, too!
7. Meet your own nation!
As we already talked about this, Australia`s population mainly consists of Europeans. And it was so interesting for us – two travelers that are coming from such a small country like Latvia – to meet our own people there! The first Latvian registered in Australia was in 1829. In 1891, already 160 people in Australia called themselves Latvians. Of course, Latvians had to fight for their identity. And much was invested in preserving Latvian culture. Latvians organized closed community groups, dance and theater groups. At Sunday schools Latvian families were taught Latvian language, geography, history, traditions and festivities. Latvians created their own newspaper and published books in Latvian. And it was just incredible to meet people who have born in Australia in Latvian families and had been educated in these small Latvian schools and communities! And we are sure that you will be able to find your nation here as well! Just Google it, find the gathering premises and get to know how your nation has reached this far land of wonders!
It can be quite challenging to move around Australia, especially in those vast, remote areas. Driving distances are long and empty. But then again, the landscape always changes, and all of this land is inhabited by incredible wildlife!
One popular way to get around is renting a car. In this case, remember to keep left! And, if you do not wish to pay huge amounts of money for the rental car, there are two options. One is to buy a car and later on sell it. Many do that, so just be careful yourself not to buy damaged car for a high price! Another option is to get a relocation car or campervan – that can even secure your accommodation! Campervan relocation deals can be as cheap as 1 AUD a day plus gas! Where`s the trick? No tricks, really. There are many travelers who are renting campervans for their huge trip around Australia, but they rarely end up in the same place they have started. So then companies look for people that can get their campervans back, and then traveler like you come into the picture. Search through the relocation cars and campervans available on different websites and submit a request. If your request is accepted, you will be notified and the rental car operator will get in touch with you to organize the pick up details. You will need to pay some security fee that can be couple of hundreds. You know – if something happens with the car, you lose your money. But if all is good, you travel almost for free!
But be a wise driver as accidents happen often, especially in the dark. On roadsides the accident places are usually marked – black stripe crossed with white in the middle means there was a lethal accident in that certain place. Red stripe crossed with white in the middle means there was an accident but nobody died. Just to know – a car with the letter L on the back means that the driver is Learning to drive. Those with letter P on the car are on their Probation. They get the letter P after receiving their license and they have to have it for two first years. There are restrictions for this kind of drivers, e.g. the speed limit is 100 km/h.
You can drive in Australia using your European driving license as long as you remain a temporary overseas visitor. Of course, you shouldn`t be disqualified from driving anywhere and your license shouldn`t be suspended or cancelled.
Remember that in Australia, gas stations might not be on every corner! It might get too hot and sudden storms and strong winds can make driving difficult. Take particular care when driving on unsealed roads and in the dark!
Then there`s bus travel. Yes, that might be quite pricey as distances are huge. There are several bus companies. Greyhound Australia runs in every state except South Australia and Western Australia. Try hop-on hop-off fares instead of individual tickets to get from city to city. Firefly Express runs between biggest cities of Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide. Premier Motor Service goes along the East coast from Eden to Cairns and also has flexible hop-on hop-off fares. For bus travel explore this homepage https://www.busandcoachdirectory.com.au/
Alternatively, consider taking the train. The most notable long-distance rail journeys in Australia are Tilt Train that goes: Brisbane – Rockhampton; Indian Pacific that goes: Sydney – Broken Hill – Adelaide – Kalgoorlie – Perth; The Ghan that goes: Adelaide – Alice Springs – Katherine – Darwin; Spirit of the Outback that goes: Brisbane – Longreach; NSW TrainLink that goes: Brisbane – Sydney – Melbourne. Check the homepage of https://www.australian-trains.com/
And then there`s hitchhiking. Well, we did cross the desert from Darwin to Adelaide, and it took us 7 days, with stopping! It is possible even if not that common! Sometimes we waited longer, sometimes we just got our thumb up and the car was there! Generally Australians are nice, and it is the best way to get to know the country for real!
And when in the city, look for free buses and trams – almost all Australian cities provide free public transport in the city centre, and sometimes even free bicycle ride (you just need to leave your passport for security). But to get further away from the city centre you need to buy the ticket. The tricky thing is that sometimes you won`t be able to purchase a single paper ticket. Like, e.g. in Melbourne, you need to buy the card on which you put the ticket after. Yeah, if you are a tourist, you most likely won`t use that card again and it is wastage of money as the card cannot be returned or used in other cities. But it is what it is.
9. Accommodation and outdoor facilities
You might find accommodation quite pricey in Australia. Though, of course, there are different options. AirBnb is quite common. The rooms owned by locals are usually cheaper or in the same price range as private hotel rooms, but in AirBnb you will have a bit more space. One of the cheapest options would be a hostel, where even a private room can be found in “ok price”, but then again – cheaper ones will have their disadvantages as, e.g., cleanness issues. But if you are good with everything that gives you the roof on the head, why not!
Of course, there are many campgrounds – those outside the cities will be cheaper. And the facilities usually are amazing! Picnic tables, electric barbecue, showers, toilets.. Everything that is needed! Australia is definitely the best for outdoor travelers! There are remote campgrounds without reception – basically just a space with all the facilities, where signs tell you how to pay for your stay (usually homepage). Those places are cheaper, can be 8$ a night.
In the hotels, usually check-in is in the afternoon (at around 3PM), but if you arrive early, most of the places will be ok with checking you in the room a bit early. Most likely you will to be asked for security fee to receive the key. Also, remember that rentals are listed per week not month!
And, when talking about general facilities – it is amazing that there are free toilets all across Australia, sometimes even showers. There are electric barbecues in the parks and picnic tables. Even with that poisonous wildlife Australia is just perfect country for camping and outdoor fun! Just remember to be tidy and clean after yourself!
10. Food and Drinks
Even if Australians do not have their own traditional food as they basically came to this land quite recently, here you can still find some interesting and unique things to try. Most of them will be animal origin though, like meat of kangaroos, emus, crocodiles, sharks and camels.. So if you wish to try something “Australian”, this is one option.
Yeah, they call meat pies and sausage rolls traditional dish, but that`s anyways coming from Great Britain and is not that interesting. Instead try Vegemite. Vegemite is a thick, dark brown Australian food spread made from yeast extract with various vegetable and spice additives. As they say – either you love it or hate it. Popular is Barramudi fish or Asian sea bass. If you have a sweet tooth, Lamington – Australian cake – is a good option. It is made from squares of butter cake coated in an outer layer of chocolate sauce and rolled in desiccated coconut. Another traditional sweet is Tim Tam – a brand of chocolate biscuit. It consists of two malted biscuits separated by a light chocolate cream filling and coated in a thin layer of textured chocolate. But the most interesting is the way these biscuits are used – often Australians remove the corners of the biscuits and then use the very biscuit as a straw to sip out the beverage that comes with it – tea or coffee.
By the way here you will often see that products have their five star health rating on the packet so that you know which is healthier than others.
Beer and wine is very popular in Australia. Actually, Australians really drink beer like water! And very important thing – beer always has to be cold! Yeah, brands like Fosters and Victoria Bitter (or VB) are not the best ones – that we had heard from many. So if you bring your beer to the party, don`t choose these!
And then there are plenty of wineries across the country. And wine here is something spectacular! Though here you won`t really see Australian drinking Yellowtail as that`s not considered to be a good wine.
Weather can affect the price of wine quite much. When there is a rapid temperature change, it might affect the grape ripening speed. E.g., if grapes for the white wine are usually collected by technology (and therefore white wine is a bit cheaper), while red grapes are collected by hand, then some years white grapes have to be collected by hand as they get too fragile. And then the price of wine goes up.
Interestingly enough, if alcohol is being sold in the premises, it is their obligation to give the water for anyone that asks for it, too. Of course, not a whole bucket, but so to quench the thirst. Therefore – if you are out of your drinking water, head to the bar and get some for free!
But when you head out for a drink, keep in mind that there are some restricted areas where one can drink and where cannot. Often it is said that alcohol cannot be consumed in public after 10PM while in other places it`s the dry law, like in Darwin – alcohol cannot be consumed in public at any time.
But generally – there`s saying in Australia – it is good to abstain from drinking twice a week!
If you buy booze, buy it in Dan Murphy`s shops – the cheapest option in Australia! Often there`s also free degustation – try out different beers, wines or stronger spirits and decide what to buy. Some drinks are even suspiciously cheap there.
If you do not wish to pay more for a drink in a bar, just go to BYO (bring your own alcohol) restaurants. And remember that it is not that common to leave tips unless you really want it as service charges are included in the bill.
Most common supermarkets in Australia are Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, Costco, Foodworks.. Woolworths is probably the most popular store while Aldi is the cheapest from all of them. Though remember that in some towns, even in city of Adelaide, these grocery stores are shut before 6PM. National celebrations also affect the working hours of stores, so prepare – otherwise you might go hungry. Usually in these grocery stores it is allowed to go inside even with the large backpacks on, but if you will beep by the exit the security will have to check your bag. Though they are so kind that it shouldn`t be a problem.
One interesting thing, quite popular in Australia is dumpster diving. What`s that? Dumpster diving is taking unused items discarded by the shop owners, but deemed useful to the picker from these grocery store`s containers. Surprisingly, this is something even wealthy people are doing as it is just stupid system that supermarkets throw out so many good things that are only a day out of expiry date. Dumpster divers have even their homepage and map with containers where many goods can be found.
Then there are markets to shop. Usually vegetables and fruits are cheaper here than in grocery stores. Yeah, if they are suspiciously cheap then probably they`re coming from those containers we talked about earlier. But generally in the markets you will find many interesting souvenirs and gemstones like opal. But here Mondays can be the days of closing. And carry some cash in your wallet – cards aren’t always accepted and will often carry a surcharge if they are.
12. Explore the cities for free!
Australia is amazing in so many ways, and one cool thing is that cities have made everything so accessible even for budget travelers! The buses and trams are usually for free in the central part of the cities. Some cities provide free bicycles in exchange for your passport while you`re using the bike. Then there are entrance-free art galleries, museums, exhibitions.. Just incredible! There are free tours in factories (like, e.g. chocolate factory in Adelaide) and free city walking tours. Occasionally there are free events and concerts. And yeah, in some wineries there are even free wine degustation! Therefore, even if Australia may seem a bit pricey at the beginning, you actually don`t need to spend much to see and explore so many things and places!
13. SIM and Internet
Well, Australia is vast, so keep in mind that there won`t be coverage everywhere. But generally there are three big mobile phone networks in Australia – Vodafone, Optus and Telstra. There is also SIM-only plan for $10 or less per recharge. Telstra is considered to be the best one of these. It covers 99% of the Australian population and may be the best choice for travelers visiting remote areas. Vodafone network covers 96% of the Australian population and is a great choice for those who are staying within the populated areas. You can purchase SIM card in supermarkets, convenience stores or international airports. But, like it was in our case, to activate SIM you would need the receipt!
When it comes to the internet, in major cities you will find many free wifi spots, while in the Outback you will just need to be with the nature!
Enjoy you travels! Australia is a great destination that will unfold more and more magic on every step!