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Australia - New Zealand
Most people harbour a particular image of Australia, such as the Opera House or blood-red Uluru (Ayers Rock). Yet these famous icons do scant justice to the richness of Australia's natural treasures and its cultural diversity. Australia offers a wealth of travel experiences, from the vastness and drama of the outback, to the spectacle of the Great Barrier Reef and its islands, the cosmopolitanism of Sydney and arguably some of the best beaches in the world. Visitors expecting to see an opera in Sydney one night and meet Crocodile Dundee the next will have to re-think their grasp of geography in this huge country. It is this sheer vastness, and the friction between the ancient land steeped in Aboriginal lore and the New World cultures being heaped upon it, which gives Australia much of its character.
Full country name: Commonwealth of Australia
Area: 7,682,300 sq km
Population: 19.5 million
Capital city: Canberra (pop: 313,000)
People: 94% European descent, 4% Asian, 1.5% Aboriginal
Languages: English, Aboriginal languages (plus numerous other European, Arabic and Asian languages)
Religion: 75% Christian, 1% Muslim, 1% Buddhist, 0.5% Jewish
Government: Independent member of the British Commonwealth
Prime Minister: John Howard
Governor-General: Dr Peter Hollingworth
GDP: US$418 billion
GDP per head: US$22,000
Annual growth: 4%
Inflation: 2%
Major products/industries: Minerals, oil, coal, gold, wool, cereals, meat, tourism.
Major trading partners: Japan, ASEAN, South Korea, China, New Zealand, US and the EU.
Facts for the Traveler

Visas: Every nationality except New Zealanders need visas. Tourist visas and Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visas are valid for three months. ETAs are just under US$11; standard visas cost US$35. Longer-term visas can be applied for.
Health risks: Sunburn, heat exhaustion, drowning
Time: There are three time zones: Eastern Standard Time is UTC +10; Central Time is UTC +9.5; and Western Time UTC +8.
Electricity: 220-240V
Weights & measures: metric
When to Go :
Any time is a good time to be in Australia. Summer (December to February) can get uncomfortably hot just about anywhere, even sometimes in Tasmania. If you're in the southern states during these months it's great beach weather and great melanoma weather. Up north, this is the wet season, when it's very, very humid and when the sea is swarming with box jellyfish. On the upside, the Top End is beautifully green and free of tourists at this time.
Events : Christmas is part of the long summer school vacation and during December and January you can be forgiven for thinking that half of Australia is on holiday. This is when accommodation is almost always booked out.
Australia's arts festivals attract culture vultures from all over Australia to see mainstream and fringe drama, dance, music and visual arts. The huge Festival of Sydney, which takes up most of January, is the umbrella for a number of events from open air concerts, to street theatre and fireworks. The Adelaide Arts Festival takes place at the beginning of March in even-numbered years. In odd-numbered years, Womadelaide, Adelaide's outdoor festival of world music and dance, takes care of February. Melbourne has a Comedy Festival in April, the world's biggest Writers' Festival in September and the fabulous Melbourne International Festival in October. A couple of festivals to celebrate Aboriginal arts and culture include the Stompen Ground Festival, which is held in Broome in October and the Barunga Wugularr Sports & Cultural Festival, held near Katherine in June.
Sporty fun includes Darwin's Beer Can Regatta in August, when a series of boat races are held for craft constructed entirely of beer cans; Alice Spings holds the Henley-on-Todd, a boat race 'run' on a dry river bed. More mainstream events include the Sydney to Hobart yacht race (from Boxing Day); the Australian Open tennis championship (Melbourne in January); the Australian Grand Prix (Melbourne in March); Australian Rules Football (around the country from March to September); and the country-stopping Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday in November.

Gay festivals include Sydney's massive, outlandish Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, in February/March, and Melbourne's January/February Midsumma Festival.