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Australia is the sixth largest country in the world - more or less the same size as mainland USA. However, this vast land has one of the lowest population densities in the world, with only three people per square kilometre. Although known for its modern, cosmopolitan cities, Australia enshrines vast swathes of undeveloped wilderness, making it a good travel destination for those wanting a taste of both urban chic and striking landscapes devoid of people.
Australia is politically divided into six states and two territories, each one offering a different experience for the traveller. There is the drama of the remote 'Outback', the colourful spectacle of the Great Barrier Reef and its coral islands, the excitement of the big, efficient cities, the sun and surf at some of the best beaches in the world, and the tropical rainforests of Western Australia. The list is endless in this diverse land of adventure, which boasts about 2,000 national parks and 14 World Heritage-listed areas, along with more than 7,000 beaches.
Australia is a land of character too, with its melting pot of cultures. For more than 50,000 years the Aboriginal people lived and thrived in the continent's unique environment. It is believed the Aboriginals are one of the world's oldest surviving civilisations, and recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in keeping the Aboriginal culture alive and flourishing in Australia.
This vast continent at the bottom of the world was the last landmass to be discovered by European explorers. Captain James Cook arrived in Botany Bay in 1770 and sparked off waves of emigration to Australia, which for some time served as a penal colony. It was not until 1860 that two explorers - Robert Burke and William Wills - became the first Europeans to cross Australia from south to north. The country remains a magnet for modern explorers and adventurers and has a great deal to offer tourists and holidaymakers.
Both continent and country, Australia spans thousands of miles from coast to coast and is packed full of wonderful sightseeing activities for visitors of every budget and taste. Australia offers tropical rainforests, more than 8,000 species of wildflowers in Western Australia alone, a sublime coastline including the likes of Fraser Island - the world's largest sand island - vast, dramatic dessert landscapes and some great modern cities. This super diverse country boasts about 14 UNESCO-listed areas, 2,000 national parks and 7,000 beaches, ensuring that there is plenty to explore in this Land Down Under.
Head north to explore the rugged bush and ancient Aboriginal cultures while trekking across the Great Outback, visiting Uluru (Ayres Rock) along the way; splash into the crystalline waters of the Great Barrier Reef for a spot of snorkelling; head south towards Sydney for a day of basking in the sun on Bondi Beach; take in the historical sites in the Rocks, the site of the first European settlement in 1788 and the birthplace of Australia; go hiking in the Blue Mountains; and pay a special visit to Hunter Valley for a spot of wine tasting. With all these options and hundreds more, visitors will have trouble narrowing down their itineraries.
Australia is all about the great outdoors, with exciting and unique wildlife to boot and visitors should get out and explore the sights on foot when possible. Travelling along the east coast of the country is best done by bus or car, while those wanting to cross the treacherous great expanse of the country are advised to catch a plane, unless they are interested in an outback safari.
With so many territories offering their own special flavour, it would take a few months, if not years to explore and discover all that this magical country has to offer.
Australia has a hot and sunny climate, with most of the country receiving more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. In summer (December to March) the average temperature is 84°F (29°C). The hottest region is the northern two-thirds of the country, which experiences humid and wet conditions in summer. Further south summer is warm with occasional hot spells and mild nights. Winter (June to August) averages 56°F (13°C) for the country as a whole, with warm days and mild nights in the northern areas, becoming cool and showery in the south (although there are still plenty of sunny days).
Australia is a vast landmass and the climate does vary from region to region so travellers are advised to research the weather in the region they are visiting, but generally the country has very pleasant weather year-round.
The unit of currency is the Australian Dollar (AUD), which is divided into 100 cents. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are freely available throughout the country. Banks and bureaux de change exchange most foreign currencies. Banking hours are generally 9.30am to 4pm Monday to Thursday, and 9.30am to 5pm on Friday, but some banks offer extended hours and some are open on Saturday mornings.
English is the official language of Australia.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Three-pin flat blade plugs are used but are different to those in most other countries, so an adapter is normally required.
US nationals: US nationals must have a valid passport on arrival. A pre-obtained Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) is required for stays of up to three months.
UK nationals: UK nationals must have a passport valid for intended period of stay. A pre-arranged Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) is required for stays of up to three months.
CA nationals: Canadian nationals require a passport valid for intended period of stay. A pre-arranged Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) is required for stays of up to three months.
ZA nationals: South African nationals must have a passport valid for at least six months after their date of departure. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish nationals must have a passport that is valid on arrival. A pre-arranged Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) is required for stays up to three months.
NZ nationals: New Zealanders require a valid passport on entry to Australia. A Special Category Visa (SCV) is issued on arrival after completing a passenger card.
A valid passport and a visa or ETA is required for travel to Australia. An ETA is an electronically issued and verified visa, not visible in a passport. ETAs are issued to passengers travelling for touristic or business purposes. Tourist ETAs are usually valid for three months. ETAs are obtainable online at: www.eta.immi.gov.au or through most travel agents. It is highly recommended that passports are valid six months after departure from a holiday destination.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required by travellers over one year of age arriving within six days of having stayed overnight or longer in an infected country. No other special immunisations or medications are required for most trips to Australia; however, insect repellents are strongly advised because of the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses. Another health risk is sunburn, and visitors are advised to take precautions. Medical services are excellent, but can be expensive so travellers should ensure that they have adequate insurance. Australia has a reciprocal health agreement with the United Kingdom providing for free hospital emergency medical treatment; proof of UK residence is required.
Most service providers in Sydney don't expect a tip, so travellers shouldn't feel pressured into giving one, though a tip of 10 percent is standard in restaurants. Passengers usually round up to the nearest dollar or more in taxis.
The crime rate in Australia is low; however, travellers should be aware that tourists could be targeted by petty criminals. Visitors should be vigilant about personal possessions and travel documents, particularly in popular tourist destinations such as along the Gold Coast. Tropical cyclones normally occur between November and April in some parts of Australia, particularly in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. There is a serious risk of bush fires in summer (November to March), especially in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and ACT. Also during the summer months, the shallow coastal waters of northern Australia and Queensland become infested with marine stingers, commonly known as box jellyfish, whose sting is highly dangerous and can be deadly. Visitors should pay attention to signs on beaches and follow the instructions of local lifeguards to avoid injury.
Generally an informal attitude, in dress and behaviour, prevails in most social and business situations. Sport, particularly rugby and cricket, is almost a religion in Australia.
Those doing business in Australia are sure to find that the friendly yet professional corporate atmosphere of the country will provide them with an exciting opportunity to develop their careers. The business culture of Australia is a bit of a hybrid breed, incorporating the trappings of British formality and conservatism, the egalitarian ethos of Scandinavian countries, and the dynamic, innovative approach to business that is generally thought of as American in origin - rounded out, of course, with typical Australian warmth and humour. The approach to management in Australia is consultative, pragmatic, and strictly non-hierarchical. Those in positions of relative power are accorded respect by virtue of their personal qualities, not simply because they happen to be the boss.
Business etiquette in Australia further reflects this egalitarian ethos. Business people should use titles initially, though they will almost certainly be told to dispense with them - at which point, they should refer to their colleagues by their first names. They should maintain eye contact when speaking to their associates, as this is regarded as a sign of forthrightness and trustworthiness - qualities that Australian business people tend to favour over showiness, self-aggrandisement or empty promises. Business meetings in Australia should be scheduled about a week in advance, and then confirmed a few days before they are due to take place.
Colleagues should be punctual, as lateness can be seen as a symptom of flakiness or indifference. Business meetings in Australia do not generally proceed from a set agenda. Rather, they are viewed as open forums, in which ideas are to be debated and discussed. In fact, over-preparing for a meeting can make participants seem pushy - as though they wish to bully others into adopting their opinions on the issue at hand. The dress code for business in Australia remains surprisingly traditional: dark suits and ties are the norm for men; for women, business suits, worn either with pants or a skirt. As a general rule, business people should avoid loud jewellery and accessories as to Australian eyes they might make them seem arrogant. The official language of business in Australia is English, and business hours are generally from 8.30am (or 9am) to 5pm (or 5.30pm), Monday to Friday.
The international dialling code for Australia is +61. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be quite high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Travellers to Australia over 18 years do not have to pay customs duty on 2.25 litres of alcohol; and 50 cigarettes or 25g of cigars or tobacco products (note that all tobacco products in your baggage are included in this category, regardless of where they were purchased). Gifts are included in the A$900 duty-free allowance. Fresh produce and animal/plant products are prohibited.
Australian Tourist Commission, Sydney: +61 (0)2 9360 1111 or www.australia.com
Embassy of Australia, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 797 3000.
Australian High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7379 4334.
Australian High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 236 0841.
Australian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 423 6000.
Australian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 664 5300.
Australian High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 6411.
Embassy of the United States, Canberra: +61 (0)2 6214 5600.
British High Commission, Canberra: +61 (0)2 6270 6666.
Canadian High Commission, Canberra: +61 (0)2 6270 4000.
South African High Commission, Canberra: +61 (0)2 6272 7300.
Embassy of Ireland, Canberra: +61 (0)2 6214 0000.
New Zealand High Commission, Canberra: +61 (0)2 6270 4211.
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