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Sydney’s iconic opera house and harbour bridge (Shutterstock)

The trouble with Australia is that there’s just so much of it – an island that thinks it’s a continent. Dispel any notions that Australia is all big red rocks and sizzling Outback: it’s truly a land of diversity, from the tropical far north – Northern Territory’s Indigenous lands, Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, teeming with kaleidoscopic sea life, and its lush rainforest – to the surf, fine wines and huge tingle trees of Western Australia’s south-west.

Australia’s cities are buzzing – Sydney’s nightlife and beaches are as tantalising as its harbour views, blessed with the ‘Old Coathanger’ bridge and Opera House; Melbourne is the hotspot for cosmopolitan café culture, Adelaide is a regal, arty lady while Perth is the hot new kid, the sunniest state capital. True, Australia has vast swathes of Outback wilderness to explore, as well as the beautiful Blue Mountains of New South Wales, the gorges of the Kimberley and wildlife-rich Kangaroo Island. Not forgetting Tasmania, with wild rainforest, convict heritage and Australia’s best beers.

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When to go

The vastness of the country means it’s pretty much always a good time somewhere. Winter (June-August) is cold in the south, but pleasant and less humid in the north of NT, Western Australia and Queensland, where summer (November-March) means The Wet – rain, and lots of it. Spring (September-November) and autumn (March-May) offer good conditions in most regions.

School holidays, especially the long summer break (January), can see crowds at popular beaches and parks.

International airports

Sydney International Airport (SYD) is about 10km south of the city. Perth International Airport (PER) is about 13km east of the city. Darwin International Airport (DRW) is about 12km north-east of the city. Adelaide (ADL), Brisbane (BNE), Cairns (CNS) and Melbourne also receive international flights.

Getting around

Many airlines, including low-costers, run internal flights in Australia; a number of smaller airlines serve regional communities. Greyhound Australia is the main national bus company, with comfortable coaches; many smaller companies have more expensive local networks, while hop-on-hop-off tours provide useful routes round popular backpacker circuits.

The train service is essentially limited to three major routes: the Indian Pacific (Sydney-Adelaide-Perth); the Overland (Melbourne-Adelaide); and the Ghan (Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin). There are also lines north from Sydney to Brisbane and Cairns, branching into inland Queensland, and suburban routes.

Car hire allows freedom – but you should be well prepared for Outback driving, and aware of the long distances involved.

Health & safety

Australia is a pretty safe region, with few opportunities for getting sick; no specific vaccinations are mandated unless you’ve arrived from a yellow fever-infected destination.

Venomous snakes and spiders are present but shy; bites are rare. Keep an eye out for box jellyfish warnings along beaches, and be wary of swimming in crocodile-infested regions (especially in the Northern Territory).

Heat can be dangerous: cover up, use sunblock and always ensure you have plenty of water, especially in the Outback.