A holiday to Oz is the trip of a lifetime and with a few preparations, you’ll have the time of your life. Here are ten things you need to know before visiting Australia.
The country is huge
No messing. This is a nation that isn’t just a country, it’s a continent. The vast size of Australia is easy to underestimate when you’re trip planning, so think about distances and journey times when you’re creating your itinerary. It takes four hours to fly from Perth in the west to Sydney in the east and more than two days to take the train from Darwin up north to Adelaide down south. Short hops these are not. Make sure you check out the map and build in plenty of time for stops if you’re planning an epic Aussie road trip.
And about that road trip…
Remember, they drive on the left in Australia. If your driving licence isn’t in English, you’re going to need an official translation or International Drivers Permit. When you hit the open road, take plenty of water and make sure you keep an eye out for kangaroos to avoid a shock collision.
Don’t check in your suitcase before reading up about what you can and can’t bring into Australia – their customs rules are legendary for being tough. To protect the country’s agriculture, most animal and plant products must be declared and many will be confiscated if you try to bring them into the country. There’s a long list that includes souvenirs made from wood or plant material and even leftover airline food. Ignorance isn’t going to cut it. You don’t want to begin your holiday facing a hefty fine before you’ve even left the airport.
The weather can be extreme
Timing is everything when it comes to your big Oz adventure. Get it wrong and you’ll be struggling with the fierce desert heat at Uluru and ruining your trip with torrential downpours if you fetch up the north smack bang in the middle of The Wet. Cyclone season hits the north from November to April; when Cyclone Yasi barrelled into north Queensland in February 2011 it made landfall with more power than Hurricane Katrina. Though we foreigners associate Australia with warm sunshine and blue skies, when the weather doesn’t play ball you’ll know about it.
Don’t mess with the Aussie sun
While we’re on the subject, the sun packs a fair old punch, particularly in the Antipodean summer. Follow the advice of a classic 1981 ad campaign and slip, slop, slap – that’s slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat. If you’re not used to the heat, stay in the shade when the sun’s at its strongest. No one wants a dose of sunburn spoiling their vacation.
But the Aussie obsession with the barbie is a delight nevertheless
Head to the beach on a sunny day and you’ll find communal barbecues ready to be fired up for an al fresco lunch. This need to grill is as ingrained in Australian culture like nowhere else on the planet. Whether it’s a fat slab of steak or a bunch of juicy snags or a fistful of plump shrimps, you’ll find they taste better if they’ve been cooked on the barbie.
Snags, you say, what are snags?
Australian slang is both great fun and highly frustrating. The local habit of shortening words might be one you’ll be happy to pick up – afternoon becomes arvo and sandwich is the catchier sanger. You’ll be pleased to be on the receiving end of cobber (friend) and of course strewth, a term of exasperation, is wonderfully descriptive. Watch a few episodes of long running Aussie soaps like Neighbours or Home and Away before you go and you’ll be right. (And snags are sausages, just so you know.)
Watch out for those critters
You won’t find the place swarming with stray kangaroos, but Australia’s unique wildlife is a big draw for those heading Down Under. Sleepy koalas and dinky wallabies will have even the toughest cooing over how cute they are. But alongside these crowd pleasing mammals live a bunch of the world’s most venomous snakes, poisonous spiders and dangerous crocs. Gen up before you go so you can tell a Huntsman from a Sydney Funnel Web.
Show some respect
Aboriginal Australians descend from a long line of indigenous people – the earliest human remains are thought to be some 50000 years old. Learning about the Aboriginal culture and showing respect for its beliefs and practices is vital. Regrettably, not everyone has done so in the past. The Anangu people, whose territory includes Uluru, have long requested that tourists refrain from climbing the rock, which is associated with traditional migratory paths. In 2019, Uluru officially becomes off-limits by law.
Get off the beaten track
While we don’t blame you for wanting to get out your bucket list and tick off the Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef, it would be a shame if you limited yourself to the well-worn tourist trail. Factor in a trip to at least one of the country’s less famous attractions and get to know the country a little better. But don’t expect to do it all in one trip – you need to give yourself a good reason to go back!