Travel Information - C
Canberra is Australia's purpose-built capital city and makes for an interesting and fun few days as a side trip from Sydney. Parliament House is worth visiting, especially when parliament is sitting, the National Gallery is very impressive, the hands-on science exhibition, Questacon, is a delight for kids of all ages and the Australian War Memorial extremely moving. There is an excellent range of accommodation and while there are day tours, an overnight stay (at least) is recommended.
Rental cars are readily available throughout Australia from Budget, Avis, Hertz, Thrifty, Europcar and several smaller operators. Vehicles are generally no more than eight months old, with automatic transmission and air-conditioning. Renters have to be 21 or older and hold a current driver's licence. An international licence is not necessary. Renting a car is the best way to explore many parts of Australia at you own pace. Roads are good, well sign-posted and the driving is easy even if you are accustomed to driving on the right hand side of the road.
Temperature Conversion: For visitors more accustomed to using Farenheit for temperatures than Celsius, the simplest method for an approximate conversion is to double the Celsius temperature and add 32. Hence, 20 degrees Celsius = (2x20)+32 = 72 degrees Farenheit.
Being a vast country, Australia's climate varies from wet and tropical, dry and hot or cold and snowy depending on where you are. Sydney is in the southern Temperate Zone and does not suffer extremes of cold or heat. Seasons in Australia are the reverse of North America and Europe. Summer is December to February, autumn (fall) March to May, winter June to August, and spring September to November. The Sydney climate is similar to coastal California and the northern Mediterranean. Summer temperatures can exceed 30 degrees Celsius with high humidity, particularly around February.
The further north you go, the hotter it gets with a definite 'wet' season in Tropical North Queensland - Great Barrier Reef and the Top End of the Northern Territory. For those who like to ski, there is excellent snow and facilities in New South Wales and Victoria in Winter.
Capital city temperatures:
- Cairns Summer 31.5C Winter 18.1C
- Brisbane summer 29.9C Winter 11.5C
- Whitsundays summer 29.7C winter 12.2
- Alice Springs summer 36.0C winter 6.0C
- Hobart summer 22.0C winter 13.0C
- Melbourne summer 26C winter 15C
- Sydney summer 26C winter 8C
- Darwin summer 32C winter 19C
- Adelaide summer 30C winter 14C
- Perth summer 31C winter 9C
Wherever you go though, remember that the Australian sun is very powerful so sunscreen and a hat should be part of your everyday hand luggage.
On the whole, Australia is a very casual place. A suit or sports jacket with a collared shirt or polo neck is acceptable for men at top class restaurants. Unless it is a gala performance at the opera or a very formal dinner, it is rare to see black or white tie or ball-gowns, though you are very welcome to 'dress up' if you want to. It is not uncommon to see opera, ballet and live theatre patrons wearing jeans. Jeans and a sports shirt are fine during the day and quite acceptable at casual restaurants at night. Pubs don't much care what you wear so long as its neat and clean, but they and almost everyone else will insist you do not wear thongs, work-boots or bare feet. Pubs near beaches don't mind thongs (an Australian rubber-soled adaptation of a Japanese sandal with a thong between the toes) during the day.
The rule for most establishments is 'enclosed footwear'. Sneakers, joggers, sandshoes, and sandals are fine for men and women except in up-market restaurants and exclusive clubs during the day. In the evening, wear what you would in a city in North America or Europe to the sort of place you want to visit and you will not go far wrong.
Places of worship expect to be treated with respect according to their traditional standards. A church, synagogue, Hindu or Buddhist temple or mosque in Sydney is no different to anywhere else.
Heavy overcoats are not worn. Light windproof and showerproof coats with a zip-out lining are ideal and take little space to pack. Gloves and hats are useful if you really feel the cold, but a scarf and warm pockets will do. Most locals wear easily-removable layers such as a shirt, pullover and jacket or a shirt, jacket and light overcoat.
Most buildings are air-conditioned, so it is a good idea to be able to take off a layer easily. A windproof parka-style jacket is ideal for sightseeing and walking.
For those who like organised tours or prefer road transport to rail or air there are many companies offering efficient and relatively inexpensive transport to most parts of Australia.
Australia has a sophisticated communications network covering voice, facsimile and data equal to any in the world. All but the smallest and most remote hotels and motels provide in-room direct dial telephones for local international, interstate, country and local calls. Most city hotels provide a second line for modems. Hotels charge a premium on telephone calls and many have meters which charge by the minute.
Australia has very cheap telephone rates, though, unlike some countries, local calls are charged for. Local calls cost 25 cents (40 cents from public telephones) and are not timed. Most public telephones take coins and pre-paid phone cards, which are available from newsagents. Many small shops and petrol stations have phones for public use. These do not take cards. Visitors are advised to carry $1 and 20 cent coins.
Australians are among the largest per capita users of mobile (cellular) telephones in the world. There are digital networks with global roaming capability enabling visitors to use their own mobile phones. If it's not automatic, arrange to have your global roaming facility enabled before you leave home. Mobile telephones can be rented. Pre-paid SIM cards providing network access, a phone number and a percentage of the value in calls, are available in $50 and $100 denominations. The networks provide good coverage in cities and major country areas. Holding a mobile telephone to your ear while driving is an offence and you can be stopped by the police and fined. Some rental cars are equipped with hands-free rental phones. Otherwise give the phone to a passenger or pull off the road and stop.
Australians are big users of credit and account-linked debit cards - referred to by locals as `plastic'. Visa and Mastercard are very widely accepted. American Express and Diners Club are generally accepted by larger establishments and specialty shops in cities and tourist areas. JCB cards are generally limited to hotels and restaurants with a significant Japanese clientele. Most locals use Visa or Mastercard or account-linked charge cards. Do not rely solely on Amex or Diners or JCB. Many doctors, dentists, chiropractors and other health professionals accept Visa and Mastercard, as do most petrol stations. Pay cash for small purchases. Pubs, as opposed to bars in hotels, don't like `running a tab' as locals pay for their drinks as they go. If they will run a tab, the bar staff will insist you give them a credit card until the bill is settled. All banks have automated teller machines (ATMs) accessible 24-hours a day, generally outside the branch or in the foyer. Check with your card issuer that your charge or account-linked credit card can be used in this way, and at which bank, as none accept every brand of card.
Crocodile attacks (like shark attacks) make great newspaper copy but they are extremely rare. Having said that, crocodiles are not the friendliest of nature's creatures. Australia is home to both freshwater and saltwater crocs but areas where they live in the wild are sign-posted and only a fool would disregard the signs. If you want to see how well camouflaged, fast and strong they are, visit a crocodile sanctuary.
The Australian dollar is divided into 100 cents. One and two cent coins are no longer in circulation, but many items in shops and supermarkets are priced in odd amounts, such as $1.97 or $9.99. The law provides that the TOTAL bill is rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents. So $19.97 becomes $19.95, $19.98 becomes $20.00. Australia's bank notes were the first in the world to switch to a commercial advanced plastic compound with imbedded security devices to make forgery extremely difficult. Australia's bank notes are colour coded for ease of use and have beautiful graphic renditions of famous Australians and Australian motifs, eg aboriginal designs. - Bonus - they also will survive a trip through a washing machine or swim!
Chances are you will be greeted at your airport of arrival by a smiling person in a blue uniform who will greet you with "g'day". It may feel casual but Australian customs are quite strict and heavy penalties can apply to people bring prohibited goods in to the country. Foodstuffs are on the whole not allowed, drugs (apart from prescription) are a big no-no (see Drugs) and some timber products may not be allowed. If in doubt, declare any goods by going to the red channel. People with nothing to declare should proceed through the green channel.