Australian Natural Adventures
Wildlife, Nature & Soft Adventure Tours
Custom Australia, New Zealand & Pacific tours and travel
Australian and New Zealanders are a casual, friendly lot, and tend to treat each other equals. They’re happy to chat, and lend a hand. They tend not to blow their own horn too much, so most introductions will be first and last name – often a nickname – rather than Dr this or Secretary that. Shaking hands – male and female – is more usual than hugs or kisses. Although usually pretty straightforward and direct, matters of politics, religion and salary or position are generally not talked about, or the value of one’s house, car, or other possession. Such talk leads to comments such as “he’s got tickets on himself” –not a good thing. Australian and New Zealand English is a bit more like English English, but with plenty of American influence. It’s not a bad idea to try to pick up the difference in accents between the two countries – neither takes well being called the other! Some words have different meanings, or emphases. You’ll pick this up as you go along – and you won’t cause embarrassment, although you may cause a bit of laughter. A lot of TV in Aus/NZ is from the US, so there’s familiarity with American English, news, etc. Generally, humor Down Under is more English, with a bigger emphasis on word humor and less on physical humor – although every loves someone making a physical fool of himself. The humor is pretty dry (sometimes you won’t even know there was a joke), and often self-effacing – and that may cut the other way as well, so don’t take offense. Teasing is a national sport, so don’t take things personally, or at face value. Often, the opposite of the attribute is the point of the comment – so a comment such as “well, he always is a bit quiet” probably means he’s the rowdiest of the bunch.
Paying your way is important Down Under. While picking up the tab is often an act of braggadocio in the US, a failure to at least try to do so may be seen as bludging (rhymes with fudging) – mooching – in Australia. So the fight to see who pays in not about ego, but about not being seen as a bludger. If someone buys you a drink – “shouts” you – then it’s your turn next. It’s considered bad form to leave a bar with a round – everyone in the party buying drinks – unfulfilled. This can obviously lead to more drinking than you may intend, but it’s also unfriendly to say you’ll get your own. The simplest way out is to buy a round, but not one for yourself. That’s OK. Or to make a point of saying that it’s your turn to start next time – but only if there will be a next time.
It’s also considered the right thing to do if you are invited to someone’s home for dinner to bring a bottle of wine (not food). This goes for picnics as well. If it’s an afternoon at their pool, or similar, some beer, or wine, should be brought along. If you forget, don’t offer to go out and get something later – you’ll be told not to, but the damage will be done. It is OK to drop in, deposit some of your party, then immediately go back out to get something making it clear that that was the plan all along.
See above for in-home dining. There are two main sorts of restaurants in Australia and New Zealand – licensed and BYO. At licensed restaurants you buy the drinks from the restaurant. At BYOs you Bring Your Own, and there’s a corkage fee which covers glasses etc. You pour it yourself. The majority of average cafes and restaurants are BYO. You cannot BYO to a licensed restaurant. Even restaurants located within in a hotel – which is where most of the bars are – can be BYO; you just nip into their take-away (take-out) bottle shop to purchase something to drink.
Although meat and three is still the staple for most Aussies and Kiwis, restaurants tend towards a cosmopolitan cuisine, with a significant Asian influence. It’s not uncommon to see a Greek dish with an Asian touch, or a purely Indonesian dish mixed with otherwise standard offerings. Seafood is especially prominent, with Australia utilizing tropical fish and crabs, and New Zealand its bounty of shellfish and coldwater fish. Serving sizes are generally aimed at feeding, not fattening ,you.
There isn’t the rush to eat in A/NZ as there is here – eating out is more of an event than a routine part of the week’s meals. So expect to dine later – 8pm is common – and to take longer; 2 or 3 hours is usual. Most restaurants take and expect bookings – a line of people waiting for a table is rare, as restaurants only allow for one or two covers per session. If a table is booked for 8pm, the restaurant will not sell it to diners at 7pm, or even 6.30. In many restaurants there is no hostess station and you seat yourself. Servers will not hover over you, and won’t tell you their name and personal history. Once seated, it’s common to have a pre-dinner drink – this is done at the table, not at a bar. When you are ready to order, signal (politely) to a server. The same goes when you need anything additional, and when you are ready for the bill (check). You’ll often take this to a cash register at the front for payment. Tables will get one bill; it’s up to you to sort out who pays for what, not the restaurant or the server. Water, let alone iced water, has to be requested, usually each time. Soft drinks are single serve, no endless refills, as is coffee (although at US tourist oriented hotels breakfast coffee may be unlimited, but if you have to order another cup, you’ll probably pay again.). Southerners especially beware, if you order tea, you’ll get it hot, in a cup. Iced tea (let alone sweet tea) is a specialty drink found at summer cafes.
Traffic drives on the left! This is important not only if you are driving, but when you walk across roads. You must look to the RIGHT first – not the left. Never just step off a curb – think first. Pedestrians have absolute right of way, even when not on a crosswalk, and also have right of way at intersections – so when driving watch out for them on your entry street before turning. Streets can be legally crossed as long as you are more than 20 meters from an intersection or pedestrian crossing. Pedestrian must obey pedestrian crossing and normal intersection traffic lights. If there is a tram stop or safety zone in the middle of the street and the lights start to flash or change, you must remain in that area until the light go green again.
To keep yourself correctly oriented when driving frequently look out and down from the driver’s window – you should see the road’s dividing line. (If the passenger can see it, you’re in trouble!) Concentrate at turns – coming out of a turn, especially from a divided road onto a two-way, is where most accidents happen, and unless you are concentrating you may naturally swing to the wrong side. And speaking of turns, there is no left (right in the US) turn on red. Wait until the light turns green. Also different is that the vehicle turning right has right of way, not the vehicle turning left; ie, the vehicle in the intersection, not the one by the curb. When turning right it correct to pull into the intersection, including at lights as soon as they turn green, then turn when there is no on-coming traffic, or once the traffic light turns orange or red. Naturally, watch out for light runners, but this is not as prevalent over there as in the US. Traffic rules state you should stay on the left lane on a multi-lane highway unless you're overtaking, even if you are doing the speed limit. Other drivers will usually make you aware of this if you forget. If you have reason to be going slowly on two-lane road, and traffic is backing up behind you, it is normal courtesy to pull over and let them pass, then continue on your way.
Road signs are literal – no stopping means just that; no standing means you can stop only to let a passenger on and off, and no parking means the driver has to be in the car with the motor running, and ready to move on immediately if necessary. Loading Zones are for commercial vehicles, not passenger vehicles, however if you’re just dropping off a passenger, or it’s quiet and you can move off immediately a commercial vehicle needs the place – wave to let the driver know – then you’re usually OK. Not so if a parking or police officer is there, though. Bus and taxi zones are similar, but be very quick to move, before the taxi or bus starts to pull in. Look at the road center striping; you cannot park opposite double lines, or broken lines if the unbroken side is towards you. Your parked car must be in the same direction as the traffic. And on the subject of double lines, they cannot be crossed for any purpose, including turning into driveways etc. Just allowing any part of your vehicle on, not even over, a double line is an offence.
Speed limits are strictly enforced – you can and will be ticketed for exceeding the limit by as little as one or two kph. Generally the limit on open roads is 100kph (62mph) – this includes two and even one lane country roads - and in built-up areas 50kph, sometimes 60. Speed limits are usually well posted. The police do not care if your speedo actually is reading low, and can prove it; you’ll still be ticketed. Similarly with double lines – your wheels cannot touch them, nor can you cross them for any reason, even to turn into a driveway. The alcohol limit while driving is 0.05, and police regularly set up road blocks and test every driver regardless of driving behavior. Talking on a cell phone while driving is illegal – thank you Aussie & Kiwi common sense.
Stop signs mean a full stop, not a “rolling stop.” “Give Way” means “Yield.” You cannot do a U-Turn at an intersection with traffic lights unless it signed “U-Turn Permitted.” At uncontrolled intersections traffic on the right has right of way, regardless of order of arrival. Through traffic has right of way at T intersections. Seat belts are compulsory for drivers and passengers.
Roundabouts may be a bit confusing at first, but are designed to keep traffic flowing – do not stop unless there is a car on your right to give way to and try to just slow so you merge rather than stop and start; it is not necessary to stop if it is two-lane roundabout and the other vehicle is in the inner lane (of course you must only drive into the outer lane). In two lane roundabouts you use the outer lane if you are going to turn left or go straight ahead, the inner lane for turning right or going straight ahead. You must signal your intent to exit the roundabout, either left or right.
The hardest trick is the infamous Melbourne hook turn. This occurs where both streets at an intersection have tramlines, and a vehicle must not wait on a tramline to complete a turn – remember this whenever driving in Melbourne; their 35 tons of steel and iron have right of way at all times. All the relevant intersections are posted, as per the illustration. The procedure is to pull into the intersection in the left lane, with your right turn indicator on. Thr ugh traffic will pass on your right. Once the lights turn, swing to the right across the intersection into your new street. It’s easier than most people make out; it’s just a standard right turn made from the leftmost lane after the lights turn and traffic has cleared. As you cannot block trams, turning right on a street with tram track means waiting in the lane to the left of the tracks, not on the tracks. Make sure you allow room for the body of the tram, by the way. Your turn may block traffic, but oh well.
Multi-lane highways are not as common as in the US, and as the maximum speed limit is usually100kph, allow 80kph as the average speed achieved for distance travel.
If you are driving in the country at night, especially up north, out west, in Tasmania or on Kangaroo Island be very watchful for kangaroos and wallabies; like deer they will suddenly enter the roadway with no forewarning. There’s a reason for all those steel contraptions on the front of country trucks and cars. It is best to avoid driving at night in these areas if at all possible.
If you have the misfortune to be driving “The Track” – the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory, or anywhere where road trains operate, do be aware that they can take a half a mile to stop, and will not risk jack-knifing their “dogs” – trailers – by pulling half off the road. Give them wide berth at all times, including pulling completely off one-lane roads to let them pass – they can’t drop their wheels onto the shoulder as can cars. Many outback and some country roads are one or one and a half lane, and require you to drive half on the road and half on the shoulder (if there is one, otherwise drive on whatever’s there) when passing another car. Slow down if there is gravel or stones along the side, as they can fly up and break windscreens, surprisingly even your own.
Lastly, don’t be too embarrassed when you turn on the wipers instead of the turn indicator – every tourist does it. Often. Most importantly, remember the Golden Rule: yield – give way in Australian/NZ lingo – to the right. But also don’t forget the Iron Rule – old and big iron gets right of way over new and small iron.
Sharks, snakes and spiders. Yes, they all are there, some are extremely deadly, and generally they are common. But most get well out of your way before you know they are there – Australia doesn’t have the equivalent of rattlesnakes that just lay there – and New Zealand has only a couple of poisonous spiders and no snakes. Most visitors see none of above, even when trying to. Sunburn is a far greater threat on the beach, or maybe a sore neck pretending not to look around – most beaches have no restrictions against topless sunbathing or swimming, and then there’s those little speedos all the lifesavers and others wear…..
The northern one third or so of Australia suffers from the presence of deadly jellyfish along the coast from about December to March, and under no circumstances swim in the sea at this time – death can be swift, and the stings are unbelievably painful. You can swim out on the Great Barrier Reef at this time, however. Many northern beaches have special mesh enclosures safe for swimming. Many beaches, especially surf beaches, are patrolled by volunteer life savers on weekends and during holidays. There’ll be a pair of yellow and red flags; always swim between these, as there could be unsafe water a little way outside them. The lifesavers keep tabs on rough conditions, and close beaches accordingly; more popular areas are scanned for sharks both from lookout towers and by airplane. You can tell if one is seen by the mass migration of swimmers from the water. If you see this, don’t just wonder what’s happening – get out of the water. If you are on a patrolled beach, and you get into difficulties, raise your arm above your head – this should attract the watchers attention.
Waving will mostly be thought to be just that – waving. Most Australian beaches are surf beaches, with waves and currents. Generally the sort of conditions that would close any US east coast beach is considered just a normal shore break in Australia. The waves on all coasts roll in with no interruption for thousands of miles, and often develop considerable power. Be aware that you’ll get tired more quickly, due to the continual jostling of the rougher water. Keep an eye on a landmark on shore, to avoid finding yourself further out, or further along the beach than you thought.
All food and water in Australia/NZ is safe to consume (even Vegemite!) Most casual restaurants are seat yourself, and even at bars with tables you usually buy your drinks at the bar, rather than wait for a waitress at your table. Australia and New Zealand both have many fine restaurants, innovative cuisines, plenty of fresh fruit (including many you will not be familiar with) and some of the world’s best wines to wash it down. Make sure you try something different while you are there.
Both Australia and New Zealand are low-crime countries, but as always, wealth flaunting and inappropriate behavior can lead to trouble. Lock your car, and don’t leave valuables lying about. But as you’ll see once there, most local people take no particular precautions when out and about.
Australia has an excellent and simple phone system. The cheapest (usually) and easiest way to call home is to purchase a phone card, available everywhere, and use public phones. There are two kinds, one primarily for local calls, with which you just dial the number, and the kind familiar to users here, best used for international calls. Unless you have a special model, and an appropriate international plan, your cell phone won’t work overseas; even with such a plan the calls will be far more expensive, and incoming calls will cost considerably more for the caller than their normal international rate. If you must have a cell phone you can rent one there (or even buy one second-hand), and buy minutes as required. Internet cafes are widespread, so for a few dollars you can log on to check and send emails. If you have a proprietary ISP such as AOL or Compuserve you can use their “.com” site to access and send your messages. Setting up a Yahoo account will give you more facilities, such as message storage. But remember, being on vacation means just that – you’ll enjoy your stay more by saying to your friends and family “talk to you when we return.”
No immunizations are required for Australia or New Zealand, unless you have been to a Yellow Fever country – South America or Africa – in the previous six days, when a Yellow Fever Certificate is required. We highly recommend that your tetanus shot is up to date – though no more prevalent down there than here, tetanus can stop a vacation in its tracks. There’s no rabies in either country.
Both Australia and New Zealand have excellent medical facilities, and doctors, hospitals and medicines are cheaper than in the US. Many US insurance plans do not cover or restrict services overseas – please check with yours. We highly recommend travel insurance; although excellent care is available locally, associated transport costs, especially from remote areas can be high, and aren’t usually covered by your own insurance. Australian Natural Adventures can assist you in obtaining travel insurance from a reputable third-party insurer. US prescriptions cannot be filled in Australia or New Zealand. If you wish to replenish your supply while overseas you will need to visit an in-country doctor for a local prescription. Such visits are inexpensive. We recommend taking a copy of your current prescription(s) with you to ensure an exact replacement. Please note that some specialized drugs may not be available overseas.
If you are scratched by coral on the Great Barrier Reef, no matter how minor, have the boat crew attend to it – coral contains particularly nasty bacteria which can cause rapid infection.
The greatest medical risk in Australia is sunburn; the sunny climate and clear skies help Australians have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Even in cloudy weather burning is possible; for fair-skinned people skin damage can occur in as little as 20 minutes in summer. Cover up with a hat and sunscreen.
To help recover lost cameras or memory cards photograph your name and address and leave the image on each memory card. Taking a photo of your hotel name when you arrive may also help quickly return a lost camera, or just photograph your hotel list. Although large capacity memory cards can hold all your photos, they do get corrupted, and we recommend using several smaller cards rather than one large one. Downloading photos via the internet from time to time can also prevent loss of those precious memories. Don’t wait until you arrive to learn about your new camera – saving $50 at the duty-free store or on a last-minute web bargain isn’t a deal if you lose the memories of a $5000 once-in-a-lifetime trip.
As you enter each town or area take a photo of the town’s name, as the first shot and when you depart. Six months later you’ll be able to tell where you took the shot and work out general scenery in between. This also works for hotels, attractions, etc.
Ziplock bags are the duct tape of travel; always carry a few of various sizes. In flight they can be used to enclose tubes that might leak due to pressure changes, including ballpoint pens. Large sizes can hold wet swimsuits, useful if you want to be in the water on the day of your return. They’re also good for smelly or just dirty socks. Also take a few plastic grocery bags for larger dirty items, such as shoes. A little laundry detergent in a ziplock will also be useful along the way. On the beach or in a boat a ziplock is useful for carrying your camera to avoid sand and salt spray; securely fastened it will keep water out for long enough if your camera (or phone) is briefly dropped in water.
While a poncho or other wet gear should be part of your luggage, a decent travel umbrella is very useful in the tropics especially, as the rain is often of short duration and comes straight down. Umbrellas roll back up into their sheath, and can be placed in a grocery bag when wet, whereas bulkier wet weather gear is harder to keep separate from dry clothes, and is often makes you pretty steamy while wearing it.
If you plan to buy clothing locally, save space on your return by taking old clothes that you no longer wear, wear them until you replace them during your stay with local goods, then leave them in Australia, preferably with locals who will use and appreciate them. This way your bag will be no fuller on the return then when you departed the US.
Save space by putting non-prescription pills in one container, but don’t forget to include a guide – colors, eg – as to what each one is. Prescription pills are best left in their own container, or if you buy them in bulk transfer to a small one but make sure you take your prescription with you to avoid problems at borders.
If you a birder, and taking a guide, here’s a suggestion to make IDs easier. Go through the book, and work out which birds occur in the area you’ll be visiting, and maybe the altitudes. Use colored dots from the office supply store to mark the plates of the possibilities. We use codes such as blue for lowland only, green for above 1000m only, etc; dots can be overlapped for wider ranges. An “R” for “very rare” can be written on the dot to further refine things. When you have to quickly look at a page of unfamiliar and confusingly similar birds, the possibilities will stand out from the rest. It’s quicker, and more concise than making written notes. This also works for general destination guidebooks so when you are in a city you can quickly see the must-sees and must-dos.