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Australia: all you need to know!

Thinking of planning a holiday in Australia? Popular destinations include Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays, Tasmania, Byron Bay and Alice Springs. Before you head off do a bit of research and know the do’s and don’ts. It’s worth a visit, so here’s our mini guide to help you plan your trip: when to go, what to say, what you need before you go and more!

The basics

Population: 25 million

Capital: Canberra

Religion: Predominantly Christian

Emergency number: 000

Australia Sydney

Fact file

  • Australians eat both animals that feature on their coat of arms: the kangaroo and the emu.
  • The world’s largest urban Greek population outside of Athens is in Melbourne.
  • Australia’s unique football code, Aussie Rules, is believed to be based on the Aboriginal game of Mangrook.
  • When Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t stop fighting over which of them should be the capital city, Canberra was selected instead. Despite the rumours, though, it’s not halfway between the two cities – it’s much closer to Sydney.

The key dates

  • 26 January: Australia Day; though there is some controversy about the date, this is the country’s official national day.
  • 25 April: Anzac Day, marking the anniversary of the first major military conflict involving troops from Australia and New Zealand in World War
  • 5 November: Melbourne Cup, the horse race that “stops a nation”.
  • 31 December: New Year’s Eve is always done in style, and with plenty of fireworks.

The hot spots

Popular destinations include Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, the Whitsundays, Tasmania, Byron Bay and Alice Springs. Among the 19 World Heritage Sites are Kakadu, the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and the Sydney Opera House.

Some itinerary ideas

  • Sun and surf: Brisbane – Sunshine Coast – Cairns – Great Barrier Reef
  • Cool capitals: Sydney – Melbourne – Great Ocean Road
  • Outback: Darwin – Kakadu – Alice Springs – Uluru
  • Food and wine: Perth – Fremantle – Margaret River

How to stay healthy

  • Pack plenty of factor 50+ sunscreen, wear a hat, and stay out of the midday sun.
  • If you’re driving in remote areas, tell someone where you’re going, and carry much more water than you think you’ll need.
  • If you’re on the beach, follow the safety instructions applied by the lifeguards.

While you’re there, please don’t…

  • Touch any of the native flora or fauna without knowing what it is first! Australia justifiably has a reputation for having lots of creepy crawlies and other nasties. Case in point: 20 of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world are found in Australia.
  • Attempt to swim in rough conditions at any of the country’s beaches. Drownings are common – sadly, particularly among foreigners who fail to spot rips and sweeps.

Before you go, read …

  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas – explores what happens when a man slaps someone else’s child at a barbecue. It might not give you a rounded sense of Australia, but it’s a conversation starter.
  • The Shiralee by Darcy Niland – follows a father’s journey across New South Wales, and captures the spirit of the outback.

Before you go, watch …

  • The Castle – filmed on minuscule budget, this comedy of a family trying to prevent their home from being demolished is loved (and heavily quoted) by locals.
  • Mad Max – for an eye-opening view of a dystopian Australian future.
  • Also, if you plan on doing a driving holiday in “the Outback”, Wolf Creek is a film you shouldn’t watch before you go!

They said it

“If I was whisked away…I think I could put up with anything, except not seeing the Australian landscape. It would be torture to have it cut off.” – Arthur Boyd, Australian painter

“Let no-one say the past is dead; the past is all about us and within.” – Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal (Kath Walker)

“You don’t really understand what makes the Australian nation tick unless you understand the great affection Australians have for sport.” – Former Prime Minister John Howard

Brisbane Australia

Important questions

Do I need a visa?

Unless you’re an Australian or New Zealand citizen, you’ll need a visa or Electronic Ticket Authority (ETA) to enter the country. NZ passport holders can apply for a visa upon arrival. For more detailed info regarding what type of visa you require, go to border.gov.au, or you can pay the Australian High Commission a visit at 25 Napier Road.

How long will it take me to get there?

Between 8 and 12.5 hours. The time difference from Hong Kong ranges from zero hours (Perth) to two or three hours (Sydney, depending on daylight savings periods).

What’s the money situation?

The Australian dollar (AUD) is the national currency of Australia. Foreign currency and travellers’ cheques can be changed at most banks or licenced money changers. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are readily available.

When’s the best time to visit?

Australia has four seasons, but the climate can vary greatly due to the size of the continent – check your destination before you go. The north generally has warm to hot weather year-round, while southern states experience cooler winters. Remember, too, that the seasons are opposite to the northern hemisphere, so Christmas is in the summertime.

What’s the lingo?

English. Still, you may find yourself failing to understand a conversation or two thanks to the heavy use of Australian slang (or “Strine”). Here are some phrases to get you started:

  • Fair dinkum: The real thing
  • Having a Barry: Not going well
  • Flat out like a lizard drinking: Busy at work
  • Bludger: Lazy person
  • Woop Woop / the back of Bourke: A long way away

Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?

With five million immigrants from 160 countries, Australia has a rich cultural diversity, which generally means its people are friendly and relaxed around visitors. In fact, communication can be quite direct: first names are often used immediately, even for strangers, and there’s a tendency to get straight to the point. (Or to put it in Strine: there’s no beating around the bush!)

What’s a must-try dish?

A meat pie. You don’t always get a good one, but when you do it’s a memorable thing. Be sure to add lashings of “dead horse” (tomato sauce).

What should I buy as a souvenir?

Food-wise, it’s hard to go past a jar of Vegemite or a packet of Tim Tams – and a couple of bottles of Australia’s world-class wine, of course. Other than that, a didgeridoo or boomerang, or a clothing product made of leather or sheep’s wool.

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Six quick getaways from Hong Kong
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