The Australian Dollar in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 is brightly colored and honors famous Australians. There are also $1 and $2 coins as well as smaller change. ATM machines are common and major credit cards accepted, traveller's checks not so much.
English is the official language, but you may want to brush up on Aussie slang and expressions if new to the island. "Thanks" becomes "ta." "mosquito" is "mozzie." "Pash" in Aussie means a long passionate kiss and a "pash rash" is the beard burn that may result. "Root," by the way, means sexual intercourse, so watch what you're rooting for! Sports fans down under "barrack" for their home teams.
Most human habitation is along the southeastern coast facing the Pacific Ocean with Perth the urban outlier to the west, bordering the Indian Ocean. Originally a British colony, Australia is populated mostly by Caucasians, about 25 percent of English descent. Aboriginal Australians, descendants of indigenous peoples, make up about three percent of the population.
Australia is most famous for the Australian Open, Ugg boots, its beaches and the Sydney Opera House and celebrities like Kylie Minogue, Hugh Jackman, the Hemsworth brothers, Cate Blanchet, Portia de Rossi, Naomi Watts, Heath Ledger, Keith Urban, Elle Macpherson, Rupert Murdoch and US-born/Australian-reared Mel Gibson.
Gay visitors will find the most mainstream LGBTQ culture in Sydney, the country's largest and oldest city and home of the famed gay Mardi Gras festival. A "rainbow ribbon" stretches around the inner city and into the suburbs with gayborhoods most concentrated around Oxford Street in Darlinghurst and King Street in Newtown. In the more European Melbourne, LGBTQ life is mostly on the north or south side of town. Brisbane, Canberra and Perth also have gay communities.
The campy Broken Heel Festival at the Palace Hotel celebrates the filming of "Priscilla Queen of the the Desert" each September in a drag extravaganza. The three-day bash offers a little bit of everything - disco, divas, drag queens and kings, cabaret and live music. The Palace Hotel, built in 1889 as a coffee palace, was used as a set in the 1994 cult classic. You can even book the "Priscilla Suite" where the characters in the movie stayed. Broken Hill is an old mining town way out in the outback of New South Wales. The closest city is Adelaide, 311 miles (about 500 m) to the southwest.
Australia, the fourth largest wine producer in the world, has more than 60 wine regions spread around Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, but you don't have to go far off the tourist track to visit top vineyards. Hunter Valley, a 2.5-hour drive north of Sydney, is the country's oldest wine region. That's where you'll find Rosemont Estate and the 160-year-old Tyrrell's Wines that wins top prizes for its Vat 1 Semillon. Down Melbourne way, the Yarra Valley is a hour's drive northeast of the city and home to Levantine Hill Estate, Oakridge Wines, Soumah and Yering Station.
Think pricey macadamia nuts come from Hawaii? Think again. They are Australian natives, a treasured food for Aborigines and first identified by a European in the early 19th century. By the 1860s, an Aborigine named King Jacky was collecting and trading them with settlers. South Africa recently surpassed both Australia and Hawaii in producing these nutritious morsels.
Passenger trains travel on a network that covers 20,371 miles (32,784 km) and includes the longest stretch of straight railway line - 297 miles (478 km) across the treeless Nullarbor Plain. Great Southern Rail operates two breath-taking overnights - The Indian Pacific and The Glan - which allow time for stop-overs and guided tours along the way. The Indian Pacific runs across the continent from Sydney to Perth by way of Adelaide. The Glan (named for the Afghanistan camels brought to cross the desert) goes from Adelaide to Darwin with a stop in Alice Springs. It also has daily service between Melbourne and Adelaide. Other rail services exists between and within states and in some cities. Travelers traveling the east coast by train can take advantage of the Australian Rail Pass.
Australians are a car-loving lot, having the second highest car ownership in the world. They are surpassed only by Canadians and Americans in the distance traveled by car. They travel long distances and short on federal highways, state highways and local roads. As a former British colony, Australia drives on the left hand side of the road with distances measured in kilometers and speed in kilometers per hour. Plan a head for fuel and provisions when heading into the "Outback."
Australia's bus service is extensive and reasonably priced and includes options like backpacker buses. Traveling by bus may not be the cheapest way to go, and some stretches can be downright boring, but long-distance buses come with air-conditioning, toilets and videos. Check with Greyhound, the national coach operator, for various kinds of passes, including hop-on/hop-off and flexible travel.
More than 50 international airlines serve Australia with peak travel in December and January. Sydney, the busiest airport in the country and the world's oldest commercial airport, is the hub for Quantas, the country's flagship carrier. Quantas offers customers off a Walkabout Pass for up to six cities in Australia plus New Zealand when booked at the same time as the international flight.