Australia: Beyond the Black Stump

An Australian idiom “to go beyond the black stump” means that no matter how far you go, you still can’t get beyond the black stump, and this is a good metaphor for a vacation in Australia. Such a vast and varied country is impossible to explore in one or numerous treks, but wherever you go in the land down under, you are certain never to be bored.

Getting in, out, and about

To get into Australia for tourist purposes, you must have a valid US passport and apply for an electronic visa from the Electronic Travel Authority website, which can be accessed here: https://www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETA/etas.jsp. This will allow you to stay in the country for up to 90 days. The fee for this visa is around $18-19 USD. In addition, you can leave the country and reapply for a new visa as many times as you wish within a 12 month period. However, this visa does not permit you to work in Australia. You may be asked to furnish proof that you can support yourself financially during your stay.

Travelers with HIV or tuberculosis may be barred from entering the country. You must carry your passport with you at all times while you’re in Australia or risk the possibility of detainment, being fined, or being deported if you’re caught. Australia also bars entry to any individual who has been sentenced to incarceration for more than 12 months, regardless whether that sentence has been served or not.

There are no required vaccinations to enter Australia. The US CDC recommends that you are up to date on the common vaccinations such as those against tetanus, the measles, or polio. Some travelers may find it advisable to get additional vaccinations, such as those against Hepatitis A & B, Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, or rabies. Your decision to take any of these additional vaccinations should be largely determined by your vacation itinerary. Consult with a local doctor about your vacation plans to determine if any additional vaccinations would be appropriate for your plans.

Australia covers a vast area, and much of the population is concentrated on the eastern and southeastern side of the continent. Consequently, it’s quite possible that you will have to travel long distances to get from one area to another. Since Australia’s rail service is underdeveloped, your best options include taking a local flight or renting a car.

If you need to fly from one Australian city to another, your best approach at finding bargain prices is to check the individual websites for each carrier. Keep in mind that Australia is composed of multiple states and some items, such as produce, are prohibited from being transported from one state to another. If you stock up on fruit and other snacks for a trip, make sure to familiarize yourself with any customs restrictions before doing so.

If you rent a car, keep in mind that driving occurs on the left side of the road. Also, cars have the steering wheels on the right side, with everything reversed, such as windshield wipers and turn signals. The roads are good for the most part in Australia, particularly in the more highly populated parts. However, if you have to travel from one city to another, be sure to check with locals about your route and any issues you may have to account for. Large stretches of Australia are devoid of any semblance of civilization, so you must plan accordingly. If you are traveling on a budget, you can even find low cost car rental services, but be sure to read the fine print to make certain that you really are getting a bargain.

Australia maintains a legal blood alcohol limit of up to .05%. Australian police often conduct random traffic stops and do not need to witness erratic driving in order to pull you over. If you are caught or refuse a sobriety test, you can be prosecuted, and you will have to go in front of a judge before being able to leave the country. It is also illegal to hold your cell phone while driving, but using a hands-free device is acceptable. Generally, your foreign driver’s license allows you to drive the same class of car in Australia, although some states have additional restrictions, such as you must have a valid International Driver’s Permit. You can find specific requirements for driving in each state at this website: http://australia.gov.au/faq/existing-licence-driving-in-australia

Inside the major cities, you can get around using extensive public transport systems that include rail, tram, and bus travel. The type and extent of public transport may vary from city to city, but most of the larger cities are easy to get around in this fashion. In the major cities, car traffic can be rather heavy, so it may often be the case that using public transportation is your best and most efficient option.

The traveler’s tongue

Australians speak English almost exclusively. While you may find many distinct terms and slang words and phrases that are distinctly Australian, it’s not difficult to understand these within their context. Although Australia has a rather diverse population in terms of ethnicity, finding speakers of other languages will be primarily limited to parts of large cities that host a big immigrant population, and even in these places, English speakers will predominate. Among some of the Aboriginal communities, they will speak their native languages, but since there are over a hundred distinct Aboriginal languages, you will be hard-pressed to find language books that cater to these.

Money matters in Australia

Australia uses the Australian dollar as its currency. Prices in Australian dollars are written the same way locally as prices in US dollars are in the US, with the $ symbol in front of the number. Money changing is not regulated in Australia, so when you go to change your money, the rates and fees you find can vary considerably. Avoid the money changers at airports, since these rates tend to be the worst.

ATMs are ubiquitous throughout Australia. Generally they charge a $2 fee for their use in addition to whatever your bank may charge. Most businesses in Australia also accept major credit cards, such as Master Card and Visa.

Tipping is not commonly practiced in Australia. Most wait staff at restaurants are paid a livable wage and do not rely on tips in order to survive. The same goes with taxis. If you decide to leave a tip, rounding up to the nearest whole dollar is the most appropriate method.

Australia is comparable in terms of expenses to the US, and much more expensive than many other destinations in that part of the world. For budget travelers, you can find cheaper hostel prices, but expect to spend around $30 USD a night per person for accommodations. Food prices tend to be slightly more expensive in Australia than in the US, so that an inexpensive entrée can range from $13 to $20 USD. If you are frugal, stay in hostels or camp, use public transportation, eat two small meals a day, and limit your activities to low cost and free excursions, you can get by reasonably on $150 to $175 USD a day, but make certain you budget extra for potential long distance traveling if you are going to travel through many different cities.

Highlights of a vacation to Australia

Since this country covers its own continent, there is not a particular time to go that’s superior to others. No matter what time of year you go, you’ll find plenty to do. Here are just a few of the highlights of a trip to the land down under:

• Sydney. Referred to as the Harbour City, Sydney was the first settlement by Europeans and has since become the largest city in Australia. With numerous bays that stretch into the city, Sydney has numerous beaches including the famous Bondi and Manly beaches. Remember that no trip is complete without taking in the fabulous Sydney Harbour Bridge and the unique architecture of the Sydney Opera House. Check out the earliest settlement structures in Sydney at the Rocks, or for a fantastic view of the city, head to the top of Sydney Tower. Throughout and around the city are gorgeous parks where you can spot some of Australia’s unique wildlife, such as wallabies and kangaroos.
• Great Barrier Reef. The largest coral reef in the world can be reached from Cairns or from many other coastal cities in Queensland. Take a glass-bottomed boat or go scuba diving and swim among a diverse array of marine life. There are also numerous islands to stop off on your way, such as the Whitsunday Islands, where you can find numerous resorts.
• The Outback. This wide stretch in Southern Australia is about as remote as you can get, but there are numerous attractions for those wanting to wander beyond the black stump. In addition to numerous canyons and strange rock formations, you can see all sorts of strange fauna. The night-time sky, particularly on moonless nights, will dazzle you with more stars than you can see from almost anywhere else on the planet. Check out Coober Pedy, an opal mining town where most of the residents live in caves below the ground. Remember, if you decide to take a walkabout in this area, plan well. Numerous travelers have lost their lives by getting stranded in this area without enough supplies. One great option is to look for special tour packages where you can have the expertise of a guide on hand.
• Gamble. Throughout Australia, people are crazy for pokies (the Aussie term for slot machines), and you can find them everywhere along with full range casinos where you can try your luck.
• Tasmania. The only island in Australia to be its own state, Tasmania is a great place to go for adventure travel and to see wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else. The famous Tasmanian Devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world, but it is starting to die out. Another famous resident of Tasmania is the wombat, but be very quiet if you want to spot one. Nearly half of Tasmania’s land mass is reserved for national parks, and the landscapes there are varied and stunning, a great place to hike.
• Perth. This isolated city in Western Australia is a perfect starting point for many tourist activities that haven’t yet been spoiled by overexposure. With numerous beaches and access to Australia’s second largest coral reef, a fantastic dance music scene, and a generally laid back vibe, Perth is a great place to unwind.

This list of highlights only scratches the surface of what all there is to experience in Australia. Other great towns include Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide, as well as too many amazing national parks to name here. Beware, though, the more you see of Australia, the more you’ll want to come back, but you may never get beyond the black stump.