Visiting Australia

Sand dunes on The Coorong

I received a message the other day from a bloke from Sweden called Mattias. Over the last year or so, he and I have corresponded via Google+. He told me he and his wife were planning to visit Australia next year, and was looking for some advice from “the only Australian I know”. My first instinct was to point him towards Swedes in Australia, a terrific site (in Swedish) created by a Swedish-born Australian, Anders Liljeqvist. It’s taken me a little longer to come up with my own detailed advice. But here goes…

WHEN’S THE BEST TIME TO TRAVEL: The best time of the year, generally speaking, would be spring and autumn, as that’s the time of the year when you’ll most likely avoid the weather extremes. Summer can be extraordinarily hot in many parts of the country with cyclones in the tropics and bushfires in the south-eastern parts of the country. Although winter is fairly mild in most parts of the country, it can still be a little cold and miserable. That said, Winter is probably the best time of the year to visit the tropical centres like Broome, Darwin and Cairns, as it’s the dry season. Early to mid-spring is probably the best time of the year (October/November) as the temperatures are generally pleasant and there’s a lot of social activity to be had with a number of festivals, as people emerge from our relatively mild winter slumber.

MY OVERALL FAVOURITE PLACES TO VISIT: Throughout my life I’ve lived and worked in a number of states and territories, and have visited all of the others. So I thought it might be useful to share links to the most memorable tourist adventures…

Pinnacles and Lancelin / Western Australia: This was a really amazing place to visit. Lots of fun and visually amazing.

Broome / Western Australia: Although the only time I’ve visited Broome the weather was extraordinarily hot, it’s a really fantastic place, offering a great opportunity to see some wonderful countryside and coastline as well as an insight into Indigenous culture.

Canberra / ACT: Although our national capital has a reputation for being rather boring, I really like Canberra, as it is home to our major cultural collections including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Science Centre and Parliament House. On top of that, it’s also located in a really beautiful piece of the Australian bush. You can catch a bus from Sydney to Canberra for about $15 (if you book a few days in advance).

Lennox Head - one of the great secrets is Lake Ainsworth. The lake is surrounded by ti-tree, giving the water a dark colour. We used to call it the coke lake as a child, as the colour of the water resembles coca cola. Itś great to go for a swim in the ocean and then to chill out at Lake Ainsoworth. Total secret - dont tell anyone!

Lennox Head – one of the great secrets is Lake Ainsworth. The lake is surrounded by ti-tree, giving the water a dark colour. We used to call it the coke lake as a child, as the colour of the water resembles coca cola. It’ś great to go for a swim in the ocean and then to chill out at Lake Ainsworth. Total secret – dont tell anyone!

NSW North Coast / New South Wales: This was the area where I was born and raised, so I probably am a little biased. That said, it’s a beautiful place and is very popular with both Australians and overseas visitors. My favourite “local tip” is to go for a swim at Lake Ainsworth at Lennox Head.

Other recommended places would definitely include the Hunter Vallery (wineries), Uluru, and some of the rainforest areas of North Queensland. I could mention many others, but thought it would be pointless. You would need more than a few weeks to visit all of the great places on offer. Travelling to Australia, I think it’s important to recognise many Australian cities are like other cities around the world. What I think is important is to balance a visit to the city with visits to some of the uniquely beautiful landscapes, as well as making sure you get some experience of Indigenous culture, the oldest living culture in the world.

SYDNEY: And of course, Sydney. At the risk of sounding parochial, if you only had one Australian city to visit, it would definitely be Sydney. All of the other capital cities have their charms and strengths, but Sydney is both the largest and the most interesting city in Australia. Sydney combines the best world class attractions (Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Blue Mountains, historical buildings relating to European settlement) with excellent food, cultural life (great galleries, theatre etc) and a lovely temperature range for most of the year.

The view from the pedestrian walkway on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The view from the pedestrian walkway on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

AIRLINES: The best prices I’ve found for Stockholm to Sydney airlines in recent years have been with Air China, generally about $1400 AUD. The budget carriers in Australia are Jetstar and Virgin Blue, and they often have discount flights if you book in advance.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR SWEDES: Don’t underestimate the size of Australia. This map gives you a good idea of the land mass involved. What would be an easy day trip by car in many countries is actually a long day trip, or even more likely a flight. For many years, Australians found Sweden an expensive place to visit. As a result of a strong dollar, that’s balanced out. Sydney and Stockholm are now pretty much on a par when it comes to daily living expenses. Although the AUD and SEK can vary, over the last couple of years, 1 AUD is fairly equal to about 6 SEK. The other thing Swedes often underestimate is the strength of the Australian sun. A friend, Gustav, visited Sydney a couple of years ago and proclaimed he didn’t need to wear sunscreen as he “tanned naturally”. Within hours of walking around in the middle of summer, his skin was bright red. Wear sunscreen! I’d also recommend mosquito repellent when you’re close to inland waterways, due to the possibility of some mosquito-born viruses.

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