ABOUT Australia’s six states became a nation under a single constitution on 1 January 1901. Today Australia is home to people from more than 200 countries. Australia experiences temperate weather for most of the year but the climate can vary due to the size of our continent. The northern states typically experience warm weather much of the time, with the southern states experiencing cooler winters. Australia is also one of the driest continents on earth with an average annual rainfall of less than 600 millimetres. Unless you are an Australian or New Zealand citizen, you will need a visa to enter Australia. There are important things you should know before applying for, or being granted, an Australian visa. These include applying for the right type of visa, application requirements, your obligations while in Australia and the importance of complying with visa conditions. For more detailed information visit the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship website. Australia’s national currency is the Australian dollar which comes in denominations of $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes. Coins come in 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent and one and two dollar denominations. With more than 80 per cent of Australians living within 50 kilometres of the coast, the beach has become an integral part of the famous laid-back lifestyle. From Saturday morning surf-club training for young ‘nippers’ to a game of beach cricket after a barbeque. Australians jostle for a spot on packed city beaches, relax at popular holiday spots and drive to secret, secluded beaches in coastal national parks. Australians go to the beach to enjoy the sun and surf or to sail, parasail, fish, snorkel, scuba dive and beach comb. It’s where they socialise and play sport, relax and enjoy romance. It’s also the site for celebration. On New Year’s Eve, revellers dance in the sand and watch fireworks at Manly and Bondi beaches in Sydney and Glenelg in Adelaide. Many beaches host citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day and on Christmas Day up to 40,000 international visitors converge on Bondi Beach wearing Santa hats and swimming costumes. Australia’s most famous beaches - Bondi and Manly in Sydney, St Kilda in Melbourne, Surfers Paradise on the Queensland Gold Coast, Cottesloe in Perth and Glenelg in Adelaide – attract locals as well as international tourists.

CLIMATE Like all countries in the southern hemisphere, Australia's seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere. December to February is summer; March to May is autumn; June to August is winter; and September to November is spring.

BEWARE Australia is a huge country. You should take regular rest breaks when driving long distances - there are many rest stops provided. There are extremely remote outback areas, which can present unexpected hazards. If you intend travelling to such areas you should plan your trip with care and seek and follow local advice on what precautions to take. In addition, when travelling to remote tourist areas of the outback, it is essential to leave your route details and expected time of return with the relevant local tourist authorities or police, your hotel/hostel, or with friends and relatives. Ensure that you also notify them if your travel plans change and when you finally return. Many tourists are reported missing, only to be found safe and well at their next destination. If you are hiring a car immediately on arrive, be extra careful - you will be jetlagged and tired from your flight.

Australia is home to a number of dangerous animal species, from crocodiles, jellyfish and sharks to poisonous insects and snakes. The Wet Tropics Management Authority website has information on dangerous marine life and dangerous animals. As a visitor, you may drive in Australia on a valid UK driving licence, which covers the class of vehicle you use. You must carry your licence when driving, in addition to a valid passport. An international driving permit is not sufficient and must be accompanied by a separate valid driving licence. There is an on-the-spot fine for not having your licence with you. Ensure that you are adequately covered for insurance purposes, including if you borrow a car from a friend or relative.

The Australian authorities will take action against anyone who imports or is found to be trafficking illegal substances. Prosecution can lead to a lengthy jail sentence and non-Australian nationals are usually deported at the end of their sentence. Deportation may lead to a ban on returning to Australia for several years. Laws, and the penalties for breaking them, can differ from state to state. Australian authorities are rigorous in their efforts to keep out any pests and diseases that could affect plant, animal and human health. All luggage is x-rayed on arrival, whether arriving by plane with visitors or by mail. Any items of quarantine concern are further inspected, treated and, if necessary, confiscated and destroyed.

You will be given an incoming passenger card on the plane, on which you must declare any food or goods of plant or animal origin. These goods include nuts, dried fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, biscuits, cakes and confectionery, teas, coffees and milk-based drinks and sporting equipment (including camping gear), amongst others.