This immense island continent is a rare place of space on an increasingly crowded planet. As well as room to move and clean air, it has a relaxed lifestyle, fine weather, a big bridge and an even bigger, redder rock.
The driest and flattest inhabited continent on earth is also home to dripping wet rainforests. The world's largest coral reef adorns 2300km of an immense coastline, golden sand and surging surf fringe gleaming modern cities as well as pristine forests. It's this vastness and diversity that allows Australia to fulfil the full spectrum of holiday adventure, from active escapade to peaceful retreat.
Australians cities are in constant flux, absorbing fresh influences from far corners of the globe, yet each of the state capitals retain personalities as dissimilar as their climates. In between are deserts, coastal villages, beaches, forests and outback communities, each adding definition to the ever-changing Australian portrait.
At the central tip of the Northern Territory, World Heritage-listed Kakadu is remote but easily accessible. For travellers, it ticks the three big boxes: natural beauty, superb native wildlife and a wealth of indigenous culture.
Names like Barrosa and Hunter Valley are well known to wine connoisseurs, but the state of Victoria holds a host of vineyard gems, many with stellar restaurants attached. Here are the top places to wine and dine in Victoria's wine regions.
Vast green and golden land surrounded by some of the most beautiful blue coastline in the world - wind down the window, crank up the stereo and set the sat nav for 'Australia'.
6 - 8 weeks
The Surf & Sun Run is 2864km of bare blissful beaches, dense national parks, dizzying theme parks, serious surfing, marine wonders and urban fun. You might do it in a fortnight, but what a waste - take a month or two and chill out.
6 - 8 weeks
Pack a tent, do your homework and bid the neighbours farewell for a while - this route takes in around 4750km of the best of the southwest and the outback's big empty. Make the most out of the landscape and take a good two months.
Escape the coast and muddle your way through South Australia's vineyards; Victoria's fertile Murray towns; and New South Wales' amber outback and rich, New Age hinterland. Add two spectacular national parks in Queensland before landing on the coast again. Eight weeks will do this 3700km route justice.
Got questions? We've got answers. Here, experts from Lonely Planet and Visa answer commonly asked questions about travelling to Australia and managing your money while you're there. Have more questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: What exchange rate will I receive when using my Visa card abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] Exchange rates on Visa cards are competitive and may be better than rates available from other sources. You can research Visa's current exchange rate for your destination using the Visa exchange rate calculator. This will allow you to compare it to the exchange rates offered by foreign exchange bureaus. Do remember that there is always a charge for changing currency, no matter where you do it – at a bank, hotel, bureau, online or by buying travellers' cheques. Visa cards are no exception.
Question: Australia has a reputation for scary animals. Should I be scared?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Yes and no. Unless you're bushwalking in summer, you're unlikely to encounter any of Australia's venomous snakes or spiders. Sharks inhabit southern coastal waters and crocodiles lurk in northern waters, but attacks are rare: heed local warnings. Look out for stingers (box jellyfish) in tropical waters from November to April, and cover up against mosquitoes - Australia's most annoying creature!
Question: I've heard about cyclones and floods. What's the risk and how can I avoid them?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Australia does get hit with the occasional tropical cyclone but generally only in the far north of the country and usually only in the wet season (December-April). If you're travelling in the far north in summer, expect monsoonal rains but severe cyclones and floods are relatively rare. Check for warnings at the Bureau of Meteorology website (www.bom.gov.au).
Question: Will I be charged a fee for using my Visa card while overseas?
Answer: [Visa expert] Fees are dependent on your issuing bank and whether they will just charge you the foreign exchange conversion rate or include an additional service charge. Some banks charge an ATM access fee as well. For more details, contact your issuing bank.
Question: Do I need to let my bank know that I'm traveling before I depart? And who at the bank should I tell?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes, it is good practice to let your bank know you will be travelling so they don't decline any of your legitimate transactions. Call your bank's credit card customer service centre - the number is usually on the back of your card.
Question: Can I visit scenes from Neighbours and Home & Away?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Of course! In Melbourne, jump on the Neighbours minibus tour (www.neighbours.com.au) to 'Ramsay St', where you might get to see some filming and meet the stars. In Sydney's northern beaches, Palm Beach is the main setting for Summer Bay from Home & Away. Apart from beautiful sand and surf, you might see some outdoor scenes being filmed.
Question: What is the best way to access cash when I am abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] With your Visa card you can access local currency from 1.8 million ATMs worldwide - just look for the Visa or PLUS sign. All ATM transactions require a PIN so make sure you know yours prior to leaving on your trip. Your PIN should be 4 digits as many international ATMs do not accept longer PINs. It's a good idea to contact your issuing bank before you leave and ask if your cards have daily cash withdrawal restrictions.
Question: What do I do if I lose my card?
Answer: [Visa expert] Call your bank immediately to cancel your card. In an emergency, you can get a temporary card replacement or cash disbursement in 24-48 hours with the help of Visa's Global Customer Assistance Service (GCAS).
Question: If the shopkeeper offers to charge me in my home currency instead of the local currency, is that a good idea?
Answer: [Visa expert] When you travel internationally, some merchants may offer you the option to convert your purchases into your home currency at the register. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and means the merchant - not Visa or your issuing bank - is converting the currency. While you may appreciate the convenience of knowing the exact price in your home currency at the point-of-sale, you should be aware that the merchant may charge you for this service. Visa requires that you be given a choice to either accept or decline DCC. In addition, Visa requires merchants offering this service to inform cardholders of the exchange rate including any applicable commissions or fees being charged. Only agree to this do this if you think you are getting a good deal.
Question: Can I use my Visa credit, debit or prepaid card in Australia?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes. Australia is well and truly a card-carrying society. Visa and other globally recognised cards are widely accepted, for everything from hostel beds and restaurant meals to adventure tours, and a credit card is pretty much essential (in lieu of a large deposit) if you want to hire a car. They can also be used to get cash advances over the counter at banks and from many ATMs, depending on the card, but be aware that these incur immediate interest.
Question: Australia is a big place. What's the best way to get around?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] If time is short and you're travelling between capital cities or remote places like Cairns or Uluru, air travel is fast, frequent and relatively cheap. For romantics there are some classic rail trips (like the Ghan and Indian Pacific) and a network of bus routes fills in the gaps. For flexibility, though, hiring a car is the best way to explore locally. Major car-hire firms can be found in all main cities and airports - a small car costs from $40 a day plus insurance.
Question: When is the best time to visit Australia?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Australia's climate varies enormously from north to south, so there's good weather somewhere in Australia year-round. The best time to visit the southern half of the country - anywhere south of Queensland - is from spring to autumn (September-May). The best time to be in the tropical north or outback is the Dry season (May-September).
Late January or early February
Nearly 40,000 revellers let loose to over 40 alternative international acts and dozens of Australian rock bands at this huge one-day, open-air pop/rock music concert that tours Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and the Gold Coast. http://www.bigdayout.com/
Late February/early March
This world-famous festival started in 1978 as a political march commemorating New York's Stonewall riots and has evolved into a month-long arts event culminating in a flamboyant street parade. Around 700,000 spectators line the streets to watch the rampant 200-float parade cavort the length of Oxford St. http://www.mardigras.org.au/
Annual festival of world music, arts and dance, held over three days in Adelaide and attracting crowds from around the country. One of the world's best live-music events, with more than 300 musicians and performers from around the globe. http://www.womadelaide.com.au/
This international jam attracts high-calibre performers and local heavyweights. Book early. http://www.bluesfest.com.au/
The annual NT Writers' Festival event, in May, includes song, storytelling, visual-art collaboration, theatre, performance poetry, history, biography, poetry and fiction. http://www.ntwriters.com.au/
The sleepy settlement of Laura comes alive biennially for three days with the largest traditional Indigenous gathering in Australia. http://www.quinkancc.com.au/
Late July/early August
Two weeks of the newest and the best in local and international film. http://www.melbournefilmfestival.com.au/
This four-day festival is held in north eastern Arnhem Land. It's one of the most significant festivals, a large-scale celebration of Yolngu culture that includes ceremonial performances, bushcraft lessons, a yidaki (didgeridoo) master class and an academic forum. Serious planning is required to attend, so start early.
Drawing the huge crowds, this series of boat races on the dry bed of the Todd River is a typically Australian light-hearted denial of reality. The boats are bottomless: the crews' legs stick through and they run down the course. http://www.henleyontodd.com.au/
Yummy month-long celebration of food and wine with street festivals, cooking classes and farmers markets. http://www.cravesydney.com/
First Tuesday in November
On the first Tuesday in November, Australia's premier horse race is run in Melbourne. Many country towns schedule racing events to coincide with the day and the nation does actually stop for the big race. http://www.melbournecup.com/
December 28 - January 3
This week-long, harbourside event is a celebration of Tassie's gastronomic prowess and features theatre, kids' activities, concerts, buskers and New Year's Eve shenanigans. Stalls represent the who's who of Hobart's restaurant scene. Try the paella with mussels and chorizo with a local Sauvignon Blanc. http://www.tastefestival.com.au/