With the Gold Coast, Great Barrier Reef, Great Ocean Road, and Sydney Opera House, Australia is home to famous icons both natural and man-made. The booming urban landscapes and breathtaking views draw in tourists every year.
But the continent doesn’t consist of one mainland island. Australia actually encompasses the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands as part of its Commonwealth. The 24.6 million people who call Australia home are eager to share their stunning country with the world and are welcoming to visitors.
Australia is a unique country because it actually has eight capital cities, due to its large land size. Each capital city is the seat of government for a state or territory. The seven national capitals of states and territories are Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney. All the capitals are major tourist destinations with their own right. However, there is one national capital, Canberra, which is located in New South Wales.
G’Day – Welcome to Australia
Australia is unique in that it is not only the world’s smallest continent, but also one of the largest countries. Located in the Southern Hemisphere you may have heard their name as “land done under”, “the last frontier”, or even “the oldest continent”.
Just like most vacation destinations, Australia boasts a wide variety of things to do. Because Australia’s landmass is so expansive, it has a myriad of top tourist attractions across the country. Whether you want to just relax on one of their luxury beaches or scuba along the Great Barrier Reef, the options are endless for couples, families, or hopeless romantics.
Commonwealth of Australia
Australian dollar ($A)
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Culture and Language
Australia is a massive island and continent that sits in the Oceania region, between the Indian and South Pacific Ocean. Out of all our continents, Australia is the smallest, but the large land mass does make Australia one of the largest countries. But what makes Australia truly unique is the blend of culture. The dominant cultures are British influenced and from the indigenous, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Indigenous Australian people are extremely unique in human history because they have lived in Australia for 60,000 years and have the oldest living and continual culture on Earth. Australian Aboriginal culture is based on a profound respect for the land and oral traditions. But Australia has a complicated history with its indigenous people, and you will find that their culture is now integrated throughout the country. In most of the major cities, there are places of Australian Aboriginal culture that can be experienced by guests.
Alongside the Australian Aboriginal culture, the British influenced culture after colonization. Even today, Australia is still ruled by the British Monarchy and court system, which makes it a semi-independent state. British culture is present throughout the country with holiday’s like the Queen’s birthday still celebrated. British culture has also influenced the language with English primarily being spoken. But Australia has no official language and English is only the most commonly spoken.
Australia is a thriving country, which means that immigration has helped it become diverse in its culture and language. In both culture and language, you will also see influence from Asian and Middle Eastern cultures from the immigrants who now call Australia home.
To be honest and fair, Australia is more difficult to get into than just flying over and showing up on the doorstep. The country requires an ETA before arrival and is very strict in their biodiversity laws, which declare what you may bring into the country. Before you can take off on an Australian adventure, you will need to obtain an ETA (Electronic Travel Authority).
The ETA is a short-term authorization that allows you to travel to Australia and enter the country. It is meant for short stays and allows for tourism and business negotiations like conferences or enquiries. It does not allow you to work in Australia, so receiving any form of payment would be illegal without a separate work visa.
For US citizens looking to venture down under, you will need a valid passport. There is no minimum time for the passport to be valid, except that it must remain valid for the entirety of your trip in Australia. In order to receive your entry stamp into the country, you are also required to have one blank page.
US citizens are approved to receive the ETA and you can apply online. The details of your ETA need to match your passport exactly and you need to apply for the document and be approved before you travel to the country. If you do not have a valid ETA upon your arrival, you can be denied entry. But with the easy online application process, you can easily pay the fee and await confirmation of your document. The ETA costs $20 Australian Dollars, which is currently $13.54 US dollars.
Australia is also one of the strictest countries with what you may bring with you upon entry. Most food will be denied entry and you cannot bring plants or seeds. Medications are also heavily regulated, so it is best to travel with a valid prescription and a letter from your doctor explaining any medical conditions.
You may be eager to explore Australia, but it is important to consider your spending budget when you plan your trip. Australia is a large country and it is expensive. The cost of a trip that encompasses the entire country would probably cost you about $6000 US dollars on an affordable budget. An affordable budget means staying in hostels, cooking for yourself, and using local transportation.
The most expensive portion of your budget will be the plane ticket. Cheap flights can be booked for as low as $600 US dollars but expect to pay heavy airline fees in baggage and other services (up to $200 US dollars or more, in fees). With high fees on affordable airlines, it may be best to look at an airline that has better tickets with less fees.
The average cost of a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney is about $850 US dollars, but the time of year you go and how far ahead you book your ticket can affect the price. Tourist season runs from December to February, and you will likely see that plane tickets can easily cost more than $1000 US dollars.
Once you’ve bought your ticket, accommodation is the next biggest cost in your budget. There are options to make housing affordable, but you would be staying in a shared room in a hostel. The average cost for a hostel ranges from $13-$24 US dollars per night. A private room can cost you up to $75 US dollars per night. If you want to stay in a hotel, expect to pay about $140 US dollars per night. Although, there are plenty of luxury hotels that can easily cost several hundred dollars per night.
However, an affordable option if you are traveling with a group or want more space, would be to book accommodation through Airbnb. Most homes, that give you access to the entire property, will cost about $140-$160 US dollars per night, which is the same as a hotel. But you may find more affordable prices by renting an apartment for as low as $50 US dollars per night.
While airfare and accommodation are the biggest parts of the budget, they aren’t the only parts. You will also have to consider the cost of food, drink, and entertainment. Australia has a unique blend of culinary dishes and a few internationally known items. Meat pies are extremely popular throughout the country. Morton Bay Bugs are also a tasty dish that is very similar to lobster but reported to be even better. Australians also cook up their national animal, the kangaroo and grilled on the barbie (Australian slang for barbeque).
Two famous Australian products that may be recognized from the States are Vegemite and Tim Tams. Vegemite is a yeast extract that is spread on buttered toast. It has an extremely salty flavor and comes in an infamous yellow jar. Tim Tams are a sweet treat that offer two biscuits (cookies) layered and smothered in chocolate.
For drinks, you can head out to the bars, but except it to be pricey. A beer costs an average of $6 USD. But there are happy hours that can reduce the price by 50%. In Sydney, the Opera Bar sits right on the harbor and provides an excellent view of the Opera House. Guests can relax and enjoy a variety of bistro foods and cocktails. In Adelaide, the Pink Moon Saloon has a cabin inspired interior and a large selection of tasty food and drinks.
Overall, tourists on a budget should expect to spend about $150 US dollars per day between your accommodation, food, drink, and entertainment. However, a backpacker budget could use as little as $55 US dollars per day if you stay in hostels, cook food, and hang with the locals. As with any trip, you can always spend more per day, depending on your personal budget.
How to Get Around
Australia is a big place and if you are looking to travel the entire country, be ready to spend a pretty penny. Flights from the East Coast to the West Coast can be very costly, but it can take you days to make the journey by bus. Airline tickets can cost $200 US dollars just to travel coast to coast on a one way ticket. But a bus won’t save you any money. To go coast to coast can take up to 4 days and will cost you about $500 US dollars.
If you are staying on one coast, buses are the way to go. On the East Coast, bus tickets are inexpensive because destinations are relatively close together. Most buses will cost about $23 US dollars for a ticket traveling up and down the East Coast. Trains are another option, but they are very expensive, as well. A ticket from Sydney to Perth will cost $468 US dollars.
A rental car, or van, is another option to get around, if you are looking to go the distance. Many people who want to see the country will travel in a group and rent a camper van. Jucy is a popular company that has camper vans, but don’t expect cheap prices. It can still cost up to $39 US dollars per day. But if you want to go to the Outback, we highly suggest you have your own car because of the remoteness of the landscape.
However, if you’re staying in one city, it’s best to walk or take the local bus to save money. Many of the big cities have excellent transportation that can cost less than $3 US dollars for a ticket. As a last resort, taxis are available, but the base fare is about $2.40 US dollars and then $1.45 US dollar per kilometer. For short trips, you may consider taking Uber. It is estimated that currently a 4-kilometer ride will cost about $10 US dollars.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
While Australia is absolutely massive, the top places to visit happen to be the 8 capitals located throughout the country. Here, we will give a brief overview of each capital.
Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia and it rests on the waterfront with more of the metropolitan area moving inland. The city has deep roots in the arts, with the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum. The Adelaide Art Festival is an annual event that is a major celebration of the arts. With a laidback lifestyle, Adelaide also has multiple stunning beaches for tourists to explore. The Glenelg is a family-friendly beach and the most popular in the area.
Brisbane is the capital of Queensland and is located on the Brisbane River. The South Bank is the city’s cultural center with world class art galleries and entertainment venues. The city is also abundant with posh and popular eateries. But if you want to get out of the urban setting, the Somerset and Lockyer Valleys are full of waterfalls, lookouts, and mountain trails. Moreton Island will get you into the ocean where you may encounter wild dolphins and can snorkel in the tides.
Canberra is actually the country’s capital and was founded as the seat of government for the new nation. One of the most popular attractions in the city is the Australian War Memorial, which is kid-friendly and is constantly updating their exhibits. Both the New and Old Parliament Houses rest in Canberra and both are open for public tours. The center of Canberra is the Lake Burley Griffin, which is close by to other attractions like the National Library, National Gallery, and National Museum.
Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory and is a unique blend of culture, food, and nature with a variety of Australian Aboriginal art museums, open air markets, and animal encounters. At Mindil Beach, you’ll find a beautiful sunset market during the dry season that boasts a strong Asian influence with the food and culture. For a big adventure, try the Crocosaurus Cove to get up close and personal with living dinosaurs, you can go cage swimming with crocodiles. Or sit back and relax, while you watch an outdoor film at the Deckchair Cinema. The laid-back vibe is great for a family vacation.
On the island of Tasmania, Hobart is the capital and it is known for being the perfect blend between nature and urban explorations. The city is nestled on the waterfront with a dynamic backdrop of mountains. Tourists can walk the city streets and meander the Brook Street Pier or take a hike to the top of Mount Wellington. And if you’re hungry, head over to the Farm Gate Market which happens every Sunday.
Melbourne is the capital of Victoria and it is one of the most unique cities to visit because it blends fine dining, galleries, fashion, and sport events into one city. This diverse city feels both ancient and modern. The cobbled laneways are lined with coffee shops and boutique shops. The newer markets are famous amongst the locals and offer a rich array of food, crafts, art, and fashion. And for the sport lovers, Melbourne is home to a host of sport events like the Melbourne Cricket Cup, Rip Curl Pro surf event, and the Formula 1 Australia Grand Prix. With a taste of everything, Melbourne might just be a perfect city.
Perth is the capital of Western Australia and it is known for being a beach lovers paradise. There are a variety of beaches located around the city that have pale white sand and stunning turquoise water. But what makes Perth really great is that many of the beautiful beaches are also lined with small cafés and family-friendly areas. The most popular beaches are Leighton, Trigg, and North Beach.
Sydney is the capital of New South Wales and an international icon for Australia. Easily one of the most recognized cities, the harbor front location boasts an impressive view of the skyline with the infamous Sydney Opera House. With some of Australia’s most well-known landmarks, tourists are eager to explore the city for themselves. Bondi Beach is close to the city center and the most popular beach in the area with designer food, shops, and incredible surfing. The Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge are icons for the city and easily some of the most visited, photographed, and recognized. With a variety of itineraries, Sydney is easily on the top of everyone’s Australia Bucket List.
Points of Interest
While the cities are vibrant, Australia is also home to a variety of famous points of interest. You may find that there is a specific adventure that you have in mind based on these points.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the largest living structures on Earth and it boasts over 3,000 coral reefs, 600 islands, and multiple coral cays. It is also one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World and tourists can grab a snorkel to explore the diverse marine life. But tourists should be clean and tidy because it is also one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world and needs help to be preserved.
Uluru-Kata National Park
Uluru is one of the most recognized photographs that tourists can take in Australia. The large natural rock formation is at the center of the park and rises up 1141 feet up from the land. One of the most popular times to visit the rocks are at sunset when the fading light changes the landscapes colors. But Uluru is also a sacred site and it is best to respect the park rules. Aboriginal guides and rangers will provide the best experience in the park with guided tours.
Fraser Island is located off the East Coast of Australia, nearby to Brisbane. The island is the largest sand island in the world and frequently listed as one of Australia’s top outdoor adventures. The Seventy Five Mile Beach provides shipwrecks for exploration, while The Cathedrals are stunning sandstone cliffs that are perfect for a budding nature photographer. Plus, the Champagne Pools have crystal clear, spring fed creeks and lakes where you can go exploring or dip your toes. For animal lovers, Fraser Island is also host to a diverse animal species including dingoes, sugar gliders, sharks, dolphins, and whales.
Kakadu National Park
Located in the Northern Territory, Kakadu National Park is the world’s second largest national park and Australia’s largest. The immense borders hold a diverse ecosystem with mangroves, swamps, rivers, gorges, wetlands, rock formations, and waterfalls. A diversity of wildlife also could have you encounter a variety of mammals, reptiles, and fish. It is also thriving with both saltwater and freshwater crocodiles. The park can be explored by foot, car, boat, and air but it is best to avoid visiting from November to April because the wet season brings heavy flooding.
Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road runs for 186 miles along the Southeast Coast. There are a variety of towns and attractions situated along the route including Torquay, Allansford, and Warrambool. One of the most famous sections along the road is home to the natural rock formations called the Twelve Apostles. A few national parks are also situated along the road and provide a getaway into dense rainforests with excellent hiking trails and waterfall destinations.
Get Out and Go
Australia is immense country that has is extremely diverse in its people, culture, and landscape. With so many gorgeous locations and booming cities, you can’t choose a bad destination. Whether you want to explore the urban streets or head out into the Outback, Australia is a country that will stun you with its beauty and surely have you going back to explore even more.