This page provides a list of the main things to see in Australia. "++"
identifies the top attractions.
New South Wales (any time):
Queensland (best in April-November):
- ++Sydney: ++Opera House, +Wintergarden, The Rocks, +downtown skyscrapers
- Blue Mountains (50 kilometres west of Sydney)
- Canberra: Parliamentary Triangle, War Memorial
- ++Mungo National Park/ Great Wall of China (876 km west of Sydney, 400km east of Adelaide, 550 kms north of Melbourne)
Victoria (very hot in jan):
- Brisbane: Skyline, The Mansions, City Hall
- +Carnarvon National Park (593 kms northwest of Brisbane and and 300 kms southwest of Rockhampton, but stretches of dirt road may be impassable even to 4WD cars after rains)
- +Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world (drive 3.5 hours north of Brisbane to Rainbow Beach and take the ferry at Inskip Point, or take a bus or fly from Brisbane, then transport is by 4WD car, walking, mountain bike, small plane or boat)
- +Undara National Park (1,339 km northwest of Brisbane, reachable by air, by car in half a day from Cairns, or by bus from Cairns)
- +Great Coral Reef Barrier and Heron Island (south of Cairns north of Brisbane)
- +Hinchinbrook Island (171 kms north of Townsville, 203 kms south of Cairns and 1240 kms northwest of Brisbane, with access by water taxi only and guided tours)
- Gold Coast
- Noosa (Sunshine Coast)
Tasmania (best in november-april):
- Melbourne: State Library, St Paul's Cathedral, Town Hall, Flenders St Station, +Rialto Towers, Eureka Tower, Freshwater Place, St Patrick, St Michael
- +Grampians National Park (260 kms from Melbourne or 3.5 hours by car on the way to Adelaide)
- Great Ocean Road and Twelve Apostles
- Phillip Island Nature Park
South Australia (very hot in november-february):
- Ross Bridge
- Wineglass Bay
- +Cataract Gorge in Launceston
- +Cradle Mountain National Park
- Lake St Clair
- Launceston: Penny Royal World
- New Norfolk: old town
- Oatlands: old town
Northern Territory (may-november):
Western Australia (only reachable may-november):
- Adelaide: Ayers House (1855)
- +Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island (213 kms southwest of Adelaide on the way to Melbourne, reachable by flight from Melbourne or ferry from Cape Jervis and Penneshaw)
- +Flinders Ranges National Park (400 kms north of Adelaide or 5 hours by car) including +Brachina Gorge (20-km self-guided trail)
- Adelaide Hills
- Fleurieu Peninsula
- Coober Pedy
New Zealand (south to north):
- ++Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park (162 km northwest of Perth)
- +Valley of the Giants (400 kms south of Perth)
- ++Wave Rock (339 kms east of Perth)
- Broome (2200 kms north of Perth and north of Karratha)
- +Karijini National Park (310 kms or a 5-hour drive south from Karratha/Roebourne, which has a tiny airport, and 1,055 kms north of Perth)
- +Kimberley region of about 423,000 square kms with fewer people per square km than almost any other place on Earth (east of Broome, south of Wyndham), including ++Purnululu National Park/ Bungle Bungles in east Kimberley (250 km south of Kununurra only in the dry season by 4WD car)
- Kalbarri National Park
- Ningaloo Marine Park
- Devonian Reefs National Parks (Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, Gelkie Gorge)
- Wolfe Creek Meteor Crater
- Rottnest Island (quokkas)
- ++Fiordland National Park / Milford Sound (southwestern tip of the southern island near Queenstown, fjords, waterfalls, mountains)
- Queenstown (southwestern tip of south island)
- Routeburn Track
- Westland National Park (western coast of south island, glaciers)
- Welcome Flat Hot Pools
- Mt Cook (western coast of south island, highest mountain)
- Abel Tasman National Park (northern tip of south island, best coastal scenery)
- Kaikoura (northeastern coast of south island)
- Christchurch (east coast of south island)
- Wellington (northern tip of south island): The beehive of Parliament
- The Tongariro (north island near Rotorua, volcanos)
- Rotorua (middle of north island)
- Huka Falls (middle of north island)
- Waiotapu geothermal park (south of Rotorua)
- Bay of Islands (northern tip of north island near Auckland, 150 islands)
- Coromandel Peninsula (north island, near Auckland)
A Comparison Table
|Longest river||Murray River: 2375 kms||Mississippi River: 3730m|
|Highest mountain||Mt Kosciuszko: 2228m||Mt McKinley: 6194m|
|Lowest point||Lake Eyre: -15 m||Death Valley: -86m|
|Largest lake||Lake Eyre: 9,500 square kms||Lake Superior: 82,410 square kms|
|Tallest waterfall||Wallaman Falls 346m||Yosemite Falls: 739m|
|Longest slot canyon||?|| Buckskin Gulch: 21 km|
|Largest desert||Great Victoria: 647,400 square kms|| Great Basin Desert: 492,097 square kms|
|Longest coastline||26,000 kms|| 20,000 kms||
In 2010: AUS$1=US$1
The wet season in Australia is December - March (difficult to travel north of Alice Springs, up the Queensland Cape and in northern Western Australia)
The warmer months in New Zealand are November to April
Australia and New Zealand are very similar to the USA, except for a few things: 1. they use the metric system (the USA is the only country in the world that doesn't), 2. the price is the price (in the USA the price is never the price), 3. they are not fat, 4. they don't indulge in the ghetto-style slang (the f word, "dude", "hey man", the "like" used every three words).
The general warning is that the ratio of things to see divided by how much it costs to see them is probably the lowest of all the countries (more than 130) that i have visited so far. Australia and New Zealand are famous for nature, but nature is often substandard compared with other countries in the world, rarely truly amazing, while the costs are indeed amazing (at least in Australia). The Lonely Planet is particularly misleading, as it sends you on all sorts of expensive excursions defining them as "spectacular" when in fact the only spectacular thing is the price. I know that books are printed to be sold but a little honesty would not hurt.
(2010) Australia is one of the most expensive countries in the world. I was sleeping for $18-25 in Japan (private room). Here it's impossible to find a single room under $40. A bed in a dormitory for eight is the same price ($25-30) as a private room in Tokyo (same kind of hostel). It is terribly difficult to find a single room because Australia is obsessed with couples: most hotels have only double rooms and dormitories. No surprise that dormitories seem to be far more popular than in the rest of the world. Most Australian cities don't have a subway so you have to take an old-fashioned bus from the airport to downtown, and it's $15 each way: the same service as in the average African country but at the cost of the most expensive Western city. The Australian dollar just reached parity with the USA dollar (it rose dramatically in a few years), which might explain. Still: Internet at $4/hour, a small bag of chips ($1 in the USA) is $2-3 here (regular convenience store), a soda can ($1 or less in the USA) is $2.50. You have to pay for wireless internet at most hostels and it's $10 a day. A meal at an average restaurant is $20-30 ($12-15 in the USA). For these prices one would expect good services. Compared with East Asia, instead, the services are average at best. As i am writing, there are no train and no bus links between Melbourne and Sydney (Australia's biggest cities) because of floods caused by rains. This would be an easy 3-hour train ride in Japan or Germany. Long-distance transportation is not much better than in Africa or Indochina, certainly a far cry from what you get in Japan and China these days. Both buses and trains are as expesive as flights, so one might as well fly all the time (if you don't mind the expense of getting to the airport with the old-fashioned shuttle). In 2010 Australia does not have a real subway (Sydney has a tiny monorail, and both Sydney and Melbourne have commuter trains that stop at underground stations). You quickly learn that Australia is a money-sucking machine: the moment you arrive in a city you are supposed to pick from the portfolio of available tours and spend $100-200 a day.
The tourist visa for Australia is easy and free for European citizens (a bit more difficult and expensive for USA citizens). You apply online at http://www.immi.gov.au (eVisitor if you are from Europe). You then receive an email with a reference number and your passport number is stored in their database. When you arrive, they scan your passport and read the visa information. Basically, all you have to do is hand them your passport. The eVisitor for Europeans is good for one year and allows you multiple entries (each one up to three months). In theory you don't need to print the confirmation that you got a visa, but in practice you must because the airline that takes you there will ask to see it (so much for paper-free procedures). Ditto when you want to leave Australia for any other destination: the airline will want to see proof that you are legally in Australia (the visa on your passport doesn't seem to be enough proof).
It is terribly difficult to find a decent single room in Australia or New Zealand because these countries are obsessed with couples: most hotels have only double rooms.
Melbourne has two airports. Bus from Melbourne international airport to downtown: $15 each way. Bus to the other airport (Avalon): $20. Cheap hostels are spread all over town, but mainly Southern Cross Station and Windsor seem to have the highest concentrations, the latter having the cheapest. A few blocks from Southern Cross Station there are Discovery, Elizabeth and Backpackers, each one block away from the other. Melbourne is the capital of stencil art: don't miss the murals.
Accomodation in Sydney's central business district near Central Station: Maze Hostel on Pitts St between Central Station and Town Hall for $45 single room or dorm bed for $26 (overpriced but very popular); West End across the street; Sydney's Backpackers at Goulburn & George St (one block away) for $22 in a six-bed dorm with (lo and behold) free and fast Internet, the only hostel i found in the whole of Australia and New Zealand that didn't charge for wi-fi (sydbackpackers.com).
Visiting Sydney's Opera House costs $35 (2010)
From town hall to Sydney's airport: take the train to Rockdale ($4) and then the bus #400 ($3.30). Note that the bus can be awfully late.
Brisbane: train from airport to downtown $15. Hostel Tinbilly across from Roma Street Station $28 for dorm bed, YHA is $31, all the others are in that range of prices. The airport train continues to Gold Coast, so that's the easiest way to visit the Gold Coast (the Miami Beach of Australia). Both the Lone Pine Koala sanctuary and the Australian Zoo are very depressing experiences (the former costs $28, the latter $50). Wi-fi is available only at the State Library (across the river) not at the public library.
Tasmania. Generally speaking, people are a lot friendlier in Tasmania than in the cities of the East Coast. Hobart: $10 bus from airport to town. Bus to Oatlands: $20. Bus from Oatlands to Launceston: $23. Each one hour. Launceston Backpackers: $21 for dorm or $35 for single. Shuttle from Launceston to its tiny airport (15 minutes): $14. You can see the whole of the historic cities (such as Outlands and Ross) in less than one hour: they are truly tiny. Cradle National Park is considered the best of Tasmania's parks, but beware that all tours are simply a walk around the main lake, which is an average lake like you can see in any mountain region of the world with a pathetic waterfall and virtually no wildlife. They run about $120 per person. Definitely not worth the money (and this is the best one). If you organize your own multi-day trek in the park, it might get more interesting. Just beware that this is neither the Alps nor the Sierra Nevada.
Great treks of Australia: Larapinta trail (230 kms, april to september, from Alice Springs to Mt Sonder), Goldfields trail (210 kms, spring and fall, from Ballarat to Bendigo in Victoria), Heysen trail (1200 kms, may/june or september/october, from Capte Jervis to Parachilna Gorge in South Australia) and Cape to Cape (135 kms, october to december, West Australia)
New Zealand (2010): $1=NZ$1.25. Internet: $3/hour. Wi-fi: free at the public library otherwise NZ$10=$7.5 at hostels. Christchurch's Frienz hostel NZ$22=$18 for dorm bed. Queenstown's Southern Laughter hostel NZ$26 for dorm bed. Just like in Australia, it is difficult to book a single room: they generally have dormitories and doubles, but nothing in between, so it's either $20 for a bed or $60 and up for a double.
New Zealand does not require a visa for most countries. They do require a return/ongoing ticket and the airline that takes you there will check that you have one. New Zealand is very strict about a lot of items that you are not allowed to bring into the country, including food and medicines. There is an instant fine for breaking that law (no mercy). They also randomly select passengers to go through a thorough Israeli-style search. When i arrived at midnight at the Christchurch airport in october 2010, they detained me for more than one hour, searching everything i had in my luggage and asking me all sorts of questions about my private life. These stone-age bureaucrats haven't yet realized that you can just google somebody's name and get a lot more information. The zealous scrutinizer was scribbling my replies on a notebook (no, not the computer but an old-fashioned paper one using an old-fashioned pen). She wanted to see my return ticket, blissfully unaware that today air tickets are electronic. She wanted to see my hotel reservation, blissfully unaware that today you book them on the Internet. She searched everything but never thought of checking my laptop (that contained information about everything i did and about that entire trip) and not even my camera (that had more than 1,000 pictures of where i had been that month). It wasn't just the waste of time (at midnight) that annoyed me but the fact that the whole process was obviously obsolete. After one hour of interrogation she learned a lot less about me than she would have learned from an Internet search. For example, she never asked me if i am a writer and i never told her. Therefore she never found out that i published 17 books, that i have a website and that this whole story will be published on the Internet for a very long time.
New Zealand is obviously geared for tourism. They have a color brochure for every little attraction and town. The infrastructure is as primitive as in Australia. Do not count on fast, frequent and modern transportation like in Asia. Do not count on Japanese-style superfast trains. And there is virtually no overnight transportation. The vast majority of buses only leave in the morning. If you need a connection, you have to spend the night there, no matter how early you arrive: the next bus invariably leaves only in the morning, usually between 7am and 8am. Hence it takes a long time (or renting a car, which is expensive) to visit even a small region. Be prepared for a slow pace. You can't see a few towns each day and travel by night like in China, India, Japan, Indochina, etc. In general, you'll have to join (expensive) tours to see what you want to see or rent a (expensive) car. Most of what they offer is organized recreational activities: bungy jumping, paragliding, rafting, etc. A few independent activities are also available although not as widely publicized: hiking, biking and kayaking. The people are invariably friendly and honest: it's like going back a century or journeying into fairy tale.
Tour bus (that stops along the way) from Christchurch to Queenstown: NZ$89. Bus and cruise from Queenstown to Milford Sound: NZ$159. Hostel in Christchurch (Friendz) NZ$23 in 4-bed dorm. Hostel in Queenstown: NZ$26 in eight-bed dorm.
There is a bus from Christchurch to Queenstown that stops several times along the main attractions in between, including Mt Cook ($89). It takes the whole day. It takes one day for the bus ride from Queenstown to Milford Sound and the cruise around it ($159). Many consider this the most beautiful part of New Zealand.
A good website to compare airfares is http://www.zuji.com.au but don't buy from them: buy directly from the airline's websites. If you buy from a travel agency, you won't be able to make changes and manage your booking (the agency owns it, not you). These websites offer zero customer support. If you buy directly from the airline, instead, you own your ticket and can make changes over the Internet. Cheap airlines are Jetstar, Pacific Blue and Virgin Blue.
Traveling to other countries of Oceania is not cheap from Sydney: Tonga $650, SAmoa $750, Solomon $920, Fji $700, Vunuatu $600 (october 2010). The "Visit South Pacific" pass does not exist (despite what many websites claim).