Oz. Infinite space, desolate panoramas, sublime coastlines - a plethora of images spring to mind when trying to put this colossus of the Southern Hemisphere into words. Yes, it is the home of Ayers Rock and the Great Barrier Reef, of Bondi Beach surf and the Sydney Opera house, but it also provides an explorer with deserts in which to lose themselves, a historian with centuries of aboriginal culture to peruse and an escapist with never-ending islands from which to choose.Urban flavour
If it's not doing vast, open spaces and fabulous coastline, Australia focuses on its melting-pot cities - housing an astonishing 89 percent of the country's population and real hotbeds for art, music and theatre. Sydney is King of the surf, boasting chilled-out beaches, bars and an expanding grid of great shopping. Melbourne's electric vibe spills from its hip cafes and bars, always ready with up-and-coming artists and musicians to satiate a cultural soul.Hit the road
There's only one way to truly get to the heart of Australia and that's by road. Pick up a hire car, or even a campervan, and drive off in any direction you see fit. You'll find miles and miles of well-maintained roads and not a soul to disturb you, secluded dirt tracks and incredible natural camping spots. From breath-taking national parks to simmering bush and outback, there's no better place on earth to embrace Mother Nature.Melting pot
The Australian population combines and scrambles gene pools and cultural heritage from all over the world. More than thirty different nationalities came to settle this wide expanse of sea and sand, arriving in droves from Europe to join indigenous populations - many of whom quickly died out due to infectious diseases but whose presence is still felt in a multitude of aboriginal dance, music and art.Get active
There's nowhere quite like it for sports. From world-class tennis tournaments to lush golf courses ready for the taking, Australia provides the avid sports fan with plenty to chew on. But if you're not into cricket and you don't particularly enjoy surfing, take off on your own two feet to explore some of the world's most unique natural habitats. Trek the rugged Northern Territory or wind through Tasmania's wild landscapes, it doesn't come much fresher than this.
Australia is a land so vast that post is delivered by plane. Combine its size with its far-side-of-the-world location and you'll agree that a minimum of three weeks allows enough time to explore the country in all its glory. Most flights make a stopover in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, South Korea or Sri Lanka, making the 24-hour travel time a little more bearable.
Those making a first-time trip often take the triangular route from Sydney, through the Red Centre and up to Cairns. If you decide to go with a tour group, most stop off at Uluru (Ayres Rock), before continuing on to Cairns for the Great Barrier Reef. To this basic route, you can also add stops in Darwin, known for its beautiful natural parks, as well as Adelaide and Melbourne on the south coast.
For those adventuring into the outback in a 4x4, it's good to know exactly what you'll be facing before you go. Always take reserves of water and food in sufficient quantity, as well as spare tyres and necessary breakdown equipment. Always notify police or supply stations of your departures and take a mobile phone or radio transmitter to keep in contact with emergency services in case of problems. Normal driving rules apply on unsigned tracks and beaches - however, if you pass a vehicle, always remember to put your indicator on to indicate which side you are going to pass on.
More than elsewhere, the sun in Australia is very dangerous for skin, and can cause several cancers. Take high rate sun protection (minimum 15), or total sun block and suitable clothing for very sensitive skin (together with a wide-brimmed hat). Hitch-hiking is not advisable. It is actually forbidden in the state of Queensland. If, however, you do use this type of transport, always make sure that you are set down near to a service station or in an inhabited area. In Australia, you hitch-hike by putting your index finger up, not your thumb.
Taking items through customs is very controlled and bag-checking is frequent. Apart from wine, do not try to take food through - it will be immediately confiscated for health reasons.
The first inhabitants of Australia were the Aboriginals. For years, conflict raged between English invading forces and the native people before the colonisers secured the land for themselves. Though the situation has been marginally rectified, you will still come across white Australians who believe Aboriginals to be an inferior race. But if you get a chance to visit an aboriginal community during your trip, you'll discover a people who live simply and harmoniously with nature, passing wisdom and knowledge from generation to generation - some of it never written down.
The music and dance of the Aboriginals is known all over the world, from the foot-stomping, body-painted routines to the hypnotising sound of the didgeridoo. This wind instrument dates from the Stone Age and its sound is utterly incomparable, capable of deep-throated, chest-expanding booms to quick, punchy rhythms.
As a collective, Australians are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you'll meet. Whether it's nature, sea, sport or beer (they are the foremost consumers in the world), every occasion brings with it the perfect opportunity to enjoy life. Barbecues are one of the most prized national traditions, always complete with plenty of beer, wine and succulent meat. It might also be handy to know in the big cities that a lot of restaurants are BYO (Bring Your Own), meaning that you can bring along your own alcohol (sometimes there's a charge of 3 or 4 Australian dollars).
Find weekly weather forecasts for Australia . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Australia . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Australia .