“Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong, under the shade of a coolabah tree….” And so go the words to “Waltzing Matilda,” a song that has immortalized life in the harsh Outback of Australia. And so too has been born the myth of a hearty people living in a harsh land, remote and forbidding. There is truth to the legend, but only in part. Australia is many things; arid, vast, empty, but also urban and sophisticated.
The Land Down Under, The Land of Oz, The Antipodes – these are just a few of the names that have been given to the world’s smallest continent. Of all the landmasses on earth, none is as unique and distinctive as Australia. In both its physical and cultural environments, there is no place on the planet that bears any similarity to Australia.
For those of us living in North America or Europe, the continent of Australia holds great fascination. It is the place that most of us place high on their list of countries to visit. And when you talk to people who have been there, it is rare to ever find anyone who was disappointed with their visit.
This traveler’s companion has been prepared for those who are planning a cruise along Australia’s eastern coast. It is meant to serve as a brief guide to understanding the nature of the land, its history of settlement and the lifestyle of the Australian people. This is not a Frommer’s or Fyodor’s guidebook with detailed listings of restaurants, hotels and sights to see. It is a concise introduction to the country with the second half of the book devoted to brief descriptions of what you can expect in the ports of call that make up most cruise itineraries.
As the author of this traveler’s companion, I feel fortunate to have lived in Australia. As a professional geographer, I made it my mission to travel widely across the continent during the years that I was there. I traveled over 40,000 miles by car plus additional thousands of miles by air and rail. I have visited every portion of the country, with special attention given to the Outback. Of all the many souvenirs I brought back from Australia, the one I treasure the most is my Doctor of Philosophy degree, which I earned at the University of New England during my tenure in the country. I consider it a privilege to hold a degree from this superb university, located in the New England Tablelands of northern New South Wales. It will forever tie me to Australia. And now I continue to be drawn back for visits to the Land Down Under as often as possible.
What do you need to do to prepare for your cruise? This question involves numerous sub topics that will be explained. There are many questions people have regarding visas, the long flight over, what to pack with regard to weather conditions, currency issues and health concerns. I will address many of those issues here. If you have specific and personalized questions, please contact me at my web page through the “Ask Doctor Lew” page. I will respond with answers to your personal questions. The web site is http://www.doctorlew.com.
VISAS: Australia does require a visitor’s visa for most nationalities. It can generally be obtained directly by applying on-line through the following web page: http://www.travelvisaaustraliaa.com where you will find the countries eligible for the electronic visa program. The visa is issued on line and you simply print it out and keep it with your passport for entry. And unlike most visas, Australia’s is very moderately priced.
THE LONG FLIGHT: It does not matter if you are coming from North America or Europe, the flight to Australia is long. From North America there are non-stop flights to Sydney from Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Toronto and New York. From the west coast it takes about 14.5 to 15.5 hours, usually overnight. QANTAS often has a flight from Los Angeles that leaves in the morning, arriving in Sydney around Midnight or 1 AM, but with the time and day change, it is around 7 PM the next evening. Crossing the International Dateline westbound, you will loose a whole day by advancing on the calendar. For example if you leave Los Angeles around 10 PM on Sunday, you would arrive in Sydney 6:30 AM on Tuesday even though only 14.5 hours had passed.
Flights from European cities such as London, Paris, Frankfurt or Zurich take around 15 hours, but you do not cross the International Dateline. The calendar simply advances with the hours, as you fly eastward.
I highly recommend Business Class because most airlines today offer the full flat beds, which are so much more comfortable than being in coach or even the upgraded coach class. Yes it is more expensive, but there are non-refundable Business Class fares if you purchase well ahead of traveling.
WEATHER: Most cruises around Australia occur during the Southern Hemisphere summer, which would include the months of December through March. Fortunately the sea breezes do keep the coastal cities relatively comfortable. Adelaide would be the warmest because of its proximity to the arid interior. Temperatures can reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but the evenings do cool down. Melbourne and Sydney will have daytime temperatures in the 80’s combined with a moderate amount of humidity. Hobart is generally cool with temperatures below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. But as you travel north along the Queensland coast, it begins to become more tropical. Temperatures are still in the 80’s, but the humidity definitely increases. And by the time you get to Darwin, it is both hot and very humid. The northern coast does experience a monsoonal condition with afternoon and evening thundershowers during the summer months. In Darwin the rain comes in waves with sunshine in between. It can sometimes rain five to six times per day, heavy but lasting for only 30 minutes at a time.
If any tours are offered to the interior, especially to the Outback, you must be prepared for relatively hot and dry weather in the southern half of the continent, and relatively hot and wet in the north. But more difficult for the visitor to experience is the problem with bush flies. These are tiny flies that are always seeking moisture, so they try to cluster around your eyes, nose and mouth and also anywhere you perspire and it dampens your clothes. Many people in the Outback wear hats with mosquito netting to cover the rest of the head, and this does make life easier. This is simply a fact of life in the interior, and Australians just accept the condition. In the far north of Top End there are also mosquitos because of the amount of rainfall and the fact that the ground becomes waterlogged in many areas.
WHAT TO PACK: Australia is rather informal and casual during summer months. Men and women wear short pants much of the time, but like in Bermuda, high top socks are common. Even the military and police will be seen in short pants with high top socks as a standard uniform. Business people also dress casually, men wearing short sleeve shirts with or without ties and women wearing lightweight skirts and blouses. Very few upmarket restaurants would require smart casual dress for evenings during the summer.
On board ship, especially while in the southern waters around Tasmania and Victoria, it can get chilly out on deck, especially in the evenings. And in December, Tasmania and Victoria can still have cool days with temperatures in the 60’s. Thus a light sweater or jacket is necessary.
As you go north into Queensland, you will cross the Tropic of Capricorn and be in a truly humid tropical environment. Thus lightweight clothing is recommended. And a head covering is advisable because of the intensity of the sun. This would also be true for any journeys into the Outback.
CURRENCY: The unit of exchange in Australia is the Australian Dollar. On the open currency market it will fluctuate between $1.10 to $.20 Australian to the U. S. Dollar. The coins produced come in denominations of 1,2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins along with $1 and 2 coins. Banknotes, made out of a polymer material, come in units of $5, 10,20,50 and 100.
All prices in Australia include taxes. Thus if something is priced at $10.95, that is the price you will pay at the cashier. Unlike the United States and Canada, taxes are not added on at the time of payment.
All major shops and restaurants accept Visa, Master Card and most other major credit cards.
If you like this introduction, my entire book plus many other traveler’s companion books are all available here.
I would also invite you to join me in 2015 and 2016 during the summer months, as I will be cruising the Baltic Sea with Silversea Cruises.
For more information about joining Dr. Lew Deitch on one of these cruises, contact us.
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