If Australia is on your radar for your next big trip, you’re certainly not alone. Drawn to its year-round climate, iconic buildings and stunning natural wonders, 6.4 million visitors landed down under last year, many for the first time. How many of them, though, knew their ‘bonzer barbies’ from their ‘fair dinkum dingos?’ If that furrowed your brow, you must read on and find out the biggest questions you should be asking for your trip to the biggest island in the world.
Do Aussies really eat kangaroos, drink Fosters and go surfing every day?
Yes, no and sometimes. The kangaroo, as well as being a much-loved national icon, is also a popular staple in many an Australian diet. Leaner than most other red meats with only 2% fat, kangaroo steaks are also very high in protein and a great source of omega-3s and B-group vitamins. Foreigners, especially the British, have long been the butt of the Australian beer-drinker’s jokes. Not only do they like their ale warm, they also think Fosters is the beer of choice down under. Whilst it is sparsely available, its way down the list of popular thirst-quenchers for your average Aussie, who is far more likely to unwind after a busy day at work with a VB, XXXX or Tooheys. The fact that Fosters is exported worldwide is a source of great amusement to locals who believe the good stuff is kept for them.
‘Rock up’ (Aussie lingo for ‘arrive’) to Byron Bay, Bondi Beach or Margaret River and you will undoubtedly see the shores littered with hundreds of wave chasers. Surfing is a way of life in many coastal communities and a popular way for city dwellers to pass the weekend. Many companies will encourage visitors to grab a board and try it for themselves, some even offering a ‘stand-up’ guarantee by the end of the lesson.
Where should I go? Australia seems so big!
It is, it’s bloody huge! More than 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coast, mainly due the searing heat and vast expanses of desert found further inland. If you want to stick to the tourist trail, you would generally have Sydney, Melbourne and the Queensland coast (from Cairns to Brisbane) at the top of your list, whilst the more adventurous (and financially able) may venture west to Perth or north to Darwin. First-timers simply have to tick off the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in Sydney and Great Barrier Reef, which can be best accessed from either Cairns or Airlie Beach. Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, is a favourite haunt for Queenslanders looking for some 4WD camping adventures while the kitsch laneways of Melbourne’s CBD will satiate shoppers of all tastes.
When should I visit? It’s sunny every day all year isn’t it?
No. Mount Kosciusko, five hours drive from Sydney, is Australia’s premier skiing destination in winter, whilst the southern states of Victoria, NSW and Tasmania in particular feel the cold and sometimes snow between May and August. That said, they do heat up considerably in summer and northern destinations such as Darwin, Cairns and Brisbane enjoy a tropical climate, which does bring with it some spectacular storms. For the least rain and most comfortable temperatures, September/October or March/April are great times to visit most places.
What should I pack for my visit?
As with your itinerary, it really depends on who you are and what you want to do. Australians are a laid back bunch, so unless you’re travelling in winter, or planning to visit some fine dining establishments, t-shirts, shorts and thongs are very acceptable. Yes, ‘thongs’. That would be Aussie slang for ‘flip-flops’ and a cause of much consternation for many a first-timer traveller. Other essential items include insect repellent, sun protection and closed-in shoes for any hiking you may embark on. Also a short list of what you shouldn`t bring can be found here and here.
Ok, great. I followed your advice, I’m here and having the time of my life. One final thing though. I can’t understand a word they’re saying! “Ah G’Day cobber, how ya goin’? Crack me a tinnie and I’ll help you out this arvo. She’ll be right!” (Welcome, my friend, how are you? Open a beer for me and I’ll help you out this afternoon. Everything will be fine!) It can seem as though Aussie slang is a different language at times, and the further inland you venture, the more indecipherable it will become! Apart from the afore-mentioned thongs, some of the main colloquialisms to grasp are ‘bonzer’ (good/great), ‘woop woop’ (the middle of nowhere), ‘dunnies’ (toilets), ‘early mark’ (leaving early) and ‘fair dinkum’ (trustworthy).
You could spend years reading books, writing lists and watching programmes about this breathtaking country. Or you could come and see the splendour for yourself. I know what I would rather do.