They don’t call Australia “the land down under” for nothing. It’s a long flight from just about anywhere. And once you’re here, the various must-see destinations are spread over vast distances, so some logistical planning is necessary. There are no restrictions on foreign citizens entering Australia, but a visa is usually required. Whether you arrive by boat or plane, security is high and customs restrictions can be daunting. Many inbound flights to Australia stop at Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, or Perth.
Interstate flights are easily accomplishe via Qantas, Jetstar, Tiger, and Virgin. To see the whole continent in under a month is a serious undertaking and will involve trains, planes, a few automobiles, boats, and a ferry or two. A less daunting project would be to take on the East Coast in one trip, spending time in Sydney and Melbourne, exploring Adelaide and the Great Ocean road by car, taking a car-ferry or flight to Tasmania, popping in to Canberra, and jetting up to Queensland for the tropical experience. Western Australia is simple to navigate by train, car, or tour bus, but don’t even think about going into the outback alone in summer. The interior outback, known as the Red Center, is best reached by organized tour, available as luxury excursions, adventure operations, backpacker units, and every other imaginable collective. You can take four-wheel-drives off road, but carry water (five liters per day, per person), bring a high-frequency radio transceiver, and be sure to respect Aboriginal sacred land, national park rules, and animal crossings at dusk and dawn. (Neither party comes out well from an on-road clash with a large kangaroo.)
The new year kicks off the traditional cycle, and less than a month later the country celebrates Australia Day. Officially it marks the anniversary of the arrival of the British in Sydney on January 26, 1788. Mindful of the original inhabitants of the land, the day is now simply a celebration of being Australian. Folks light the barbecue, play cricket on the beach, and take to the outdoors. Every happy Australian stereotype comes out on one glorious public holiday. Parties don’t come much more mind-blowing than the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, the biggest of its kind in the world. Go along to cheer on the sequined, feathered, Lycra-wearing ensemble as they celebrate equal rights. Forget Milan and Paris: The Mercedes Benz Australian Fashion Week in March has style setters and celebrities cooing over local labels such as Sass & Bide, Lover, Collette Dinnigan, Camilla and Marc, Jac + Jack, Anna & Boy, and Willow, among others.
Hippies, rockers, folk fans, indie types, country listeners, jazz groovers: There are festivals across Australia for every sort of music lover. Big Day Out is one of the largest rock, pop and indie music festivals, stopping at several states. Travel north to Byron Bay to revel in the stunning bushland setting of Splendor in the Grass, and go to Tasmania for the Falls Festival. See where Keith Urban started his career at the Tamworth Music Festival. The Hunter Valley’s Jazz in the Vines appeals to all ages. There’s Tropfest for film lovers and the Sydney, Melbourne, or Byron Bay Writers Festivals for the more literary.
Kate Gibbs is a journalist, cookbook author, and blogger living in Sydney, Australia.