Planning a Vacation in Australia part 2
More information for the intending
Sydney's icons - the Opera
House, Harbor Bridge, and even a ferry. For sure, your
Australian vacation will include time in Sydney.
Part 2 of a two part introduction to
planning a trip to Australia. See also
of a general series on travel to and in Australia -
click the links on the right hand
side for more articles.
Due to its vast size - and also
its vast 'emptiness' in the middle, you'll need to be somewhat
selective about where you go and what you choose to see and do
in Australia - unless you've got months of time to enjoy 'downunder'.
Fortunate it is all good, and
wherever you go and whatever you do, you are sure to enjoy
yourself and the remarkable things that constitute this friendly
Driving in Australia
Australia, like New Zealand, drives on the other
side of the road (compared to the US and Europe).
See this page for a discussion of
drive on the left side of the road - it is easier than you
think. Australia uses metric measurements for distances and
If you're driving the main
roads connecting the major cities around the coast, you'll enjoy
good quality roads and easy driving conditions. Much of
the time you're on two lane roads (ie one lane in each
direction) but there are some freeway (or 'motorway') sections
as well, and traffic densities are usually moderate once you get
out of the big cities.
However, if you
start driving into the outback, or much north of Cairns into the
rainforest, road quality will deteriorate and may become
unsealed dirt tracks.
A word of warning as well.
If you start traveling 'off the beaten track' you might find
yourself on a road where no other cars come for a day or more at a
time, and definitely in an area with no cell phone coverage
either. If your car has a mechanical problem and breaks
down, you could be stuck for a day or more until someone else
passes. Be sure to travel with an emergency kit of food and
water - especially water.
Rental car companies may
restrict where you can take their cars, and in general, most
rental car companies do not allow you to take their cars off the
main sealed roads.
Open road speed limits are
typically 100 km/hr or 110 km/hr. Until 2007, there were
no speed limits on the open road highways in the Northern
Territory, but there is now a 110 km/hr limit on most roads and
a 130 km/hr limit on the major highways.
Note that Australia has
fairly aggressive enforcement of speed laws, and many speed
cameras, and it may attempt to collect fines from you back in
your home country. Victoria in particular is renowned for the
severity of its enforcement activities.
Most of the major
international rental car companies operate in Australia, and
generally accept US drivers licenses with no problems.
Petrol prices vary across
Australia, with the Northern Territory being the most expensive.
In late March 2010, prices were around about US$4.40/gallon
(A$1.25/liter); by comparison, US prices were about $3/gallon at
the same time. In August 2011, prices were about A$1.33 -
1.40/liter, or about US$5.25 - $5.55/gallon. US petrol
prices were about $3.70 - $4 at the same time.
In other words, petrol in Australia is
about 30% - 40% more expensive than in the US.
Don't be too focused on the
cost of petrol if you're hiring a rental car. Even if you
were to drive 1000 miles while renting a car, you'd spend less
than US$200 on petrol (assuming about 30 mpg) - making it one of
the more trivial costs of an overall vacation.
Australia has a somewhat
confusing approach to time zones. It has three main time
zones - one for the state of Western Australia, called Western
Standard (or Daylight) time, a second for the states 'in the
middle' - ie Northern Territory and South Australia, called
Central Standard or Daylight time, and a third for the eastern
states (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania)
called Eastern Standard or Daylight time.
So far, so good, and that is
simple and easy to understand. But now for the complicated
The central time zone takes an
unusual time offset. Whereas there are two hours between
western and eastern times, as you'd expect, the central time zone
is only 30 minutes behind the eastern time zone (rather than the
one hour as common sense would suggest). This non-standard
timing was adopted in 1899, and attempts to return it to normalcy
(most recently in 1994) have not been successful.
Now for the other somewhat
confusing thing. Just as not all states in the US observe
daylight saving, the same is true in Australia too.
Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia do not
observe daylight saving, the other (more southerly) states do.
Daylight saving is more or
less the opposite of when we (in the northern hemisphere) have our
daylight saving. They switch to daylight saving on the first
Sunday in October and switch back to standard time on the first
Sunday in April.
The subject of time zones and
daylight saving continues to be controversial in Australia as the
country tries to create a more uniform and consistent approach.
Australia has its own
currency, the Australian dollar (with one hundred cents making
up the dollar).
At the time of writing (August
2011) the Australian dollar is unusually strong compared to the US
dollar, with each Australian dollar being worth about US$1.04.
The smallest denomination coin
is a 5c piece. Other coins are for 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2.
Bank notes are made out of a
long lasting plastic material, and are in $5, $10, $20, $50 and
Credit cards are widely accepted,
on much the same basis as in the US or other countries.
Small shops in small towns may not accept credit cards, larger
stores in larger towns almost certainly will. Visa and
Mastercard are most common, American Express slightly less
ATMs are located in many
locations in the cities, and can usually be found in towns as
well. Most ATMs will accept most foreign bank cards.
There is a bank at the
international airports that offers money changing services for
all incoming flights.
We recommend you don't get any
cash in your home country, but simply change some of your home
money into Aussie dollars upon arrival, either at one of the
airport ATMs or at the airport bank.
We also recommend you be sure to
keep a reasonable amount of emergency cash on hand as you travel
around NZ (or any other country). Sometimes you can find
yourself traveling in an area with no ATMs, or the ATMs you do
encounter are not working, and more stores than normal won't
accept credit cards, then all of a sudden, you come across a
'must have' souvenir you want to buy, or perhaps have some sort
of unexpected minor emergency, and if you don't have the needed
cash, you can't buy the item or easily solve the problem.
Tipping (as in no tipping,
As a general rule,
Australians seldom tip each
other, although tipping is perhaps a little more prevalent in
Australia than in New Zealand.
In both countries, there is no
need for tipping. People earn fair living wages
without the need for tips to boost their income, and people
provide good service without the need to be bribed to do so.
The closest to a tip these days
is to occasionally round up a bill. For example a
restaurant bill of $57.40 could be rounded up to $58, or in rare
unusual circumstances, $60.
In the past, Australians would
refuse to accept a tip. Many still will. But some
will now take your money, although they don't expect it, and
rather than gratitude, they are quietly thinking to themselves
'stupid American giving me money for no reason'.
And, at the same time, other
Australian will be looking at you hatefully, because your
tipping practices are threatening to enjoy Australia's 'no tipping'
Read my lips : Don't tip.
Electronic Issues :
Phones, Video and Power
Australia has four main cell
phone companies - Optus, Telstra, Three and Vodafone.
Voice calls are on the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequency bands, and
data service is on 850 MHz, 900 MHz, and 2100 MHz.
If you have a quad band cell
phone, it should work fine in Australia with an Australian SIM.
Cell phone service is
generally good in the major cities and medium sized towns, but
once you get into less populous areas, it is 'catch as catch can',
and you might find yourself traveling for hundreds of miles with
no cell phone service available.
Electronic and electrical
items use a distinctive three flat pronged and angled plug, the
same as in China and New Zealand. rather than American wall plug
connector. Power is 230V and 50 Hz.
Australia uses the PAL system for
its television and video, and is in a different DVD region.
If you are buying blank video-tape, you will have no problem
using video tape purchased in Australia, but if you are buying a
pre-recorded video, make certain, if it is a VHS tape, that it
is in your home country's format (ie NTSC for North America).
If you are buying DVDs, make sure
they are either coded for all regions or
for your region (region 1 for the US) and also make sure it is
compatible with your format (eg NTSC).
For more information
Click the links in the top
right of this page for additional helpful information about
travel to and in Australia.
This article is part 2 of a two part introduction to
planning a trip to Australia. Please also visit
part one for more about
planning a vacation in Australia.
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26 Aug 2011, last update
21 Jul 2020