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Introducing Australia

Sure it's got deadly spiders, snakes and sharks, but they don't stop people from coming here, never mind living here. And for good reason. From the prehistoric gorges of Kakadu National Park, to the white sails of the Sydney Opera House, Australia is a country as big your imagination. Kick back on a beach as white as your mother's wedding dress in Western Australia; lose yourself in the labyrinthine laneways of culture-rich Melbourne or be humbled by red desert sunsets over Uluru. Turn south to visit hundred year old giants that loom large in the forests of Tasmania or take on Sydney, a heady mix of surf, sun, money and sex, and you'll soon realise Australia is a place to be discovered, not feared.

The locals seem to be cursed with an insatiable yen for the unknown and they bend to it willingly, fleeing for weeks, months even, into that vast spot in the middle called the outback. And it's a big out back; you can travel indefinitely without coming within cooee of a phone call or an email. Nuts! Instead you have to make do with landscapes that shift from saffron to ochre beneath a seamless canopy of deep indigo. And then there are ancient Aboriginal cultures, dazzling salt pans, secretive reptiles, rough-cut canyons and pristine gorges. Some Australians simply go walkabout, traversing national parks filled with such devilish critters as koalas, sugar gliders and knee-high wallabies. Others whiz through world heritage rainforests on mountain bikes or apply ropes to their limbs, chalk to their hands, truly skimpy shorts to their nether regions and scale lofty summits like bronze-backed insects. And some simply launch themselves into the sky with parachutes attached to their backs.

Then there are the Australians who feel separation pains if they stray from the coast. So they don't. They sport permanent golden hues, adopt languid gaits and wear cheeky grins. They glue themselves to surfboards, kayaks and boats and loll in the surf for hours (days even!). As if that weren't enough, they flee to the Whitsunday Islands (Qld), the Ningaloo Reef (WA) or the immense Great Barrier Reef (Qld) and spend days under the water defending themselves from kaleidoscopic marine life, colossal whale sharks, giant turtles and mischievous dolphins.

Fortunately, this lovely country is not without its urban havens, and in its dizzying cities you'll find folk who indulge in saner delights. Rather than risk life and limb in the feisty Australian bush, they litter the beaches like comatose seals, reluctant to move unless emergency dictates. Or they populate pubs with enormous beer gardens and focus all their energy on the pint/schooner bicep curl. They watch hours of sport and possess a vast amount of knowledge about most games, without ever having actually played them. Of course Australia's metropolises also offer glorious ways to wrap your head around the country's culture in myriad museums, theatres, festivals and galleries. A solid study of the bars and restaurants will reveal the population's helpless addiction to coffee, seafood, organics and global cuisine; and the wine industry delights discerning connoisseurs from around the world.

Ask an Australian what issues make them tick and you'll get a diversity of responses to match the multicultural mix. In general, they're a pretty laid-back mob and the fundamentals of family, friends and fun tend to keep them relatively placated. To avoid 'spirited' discussions it's best to keep talk regarding lacklustre performances of Australian sports teams to a minimum. Many Australians feel a strong connection to the land, regardless of their background, and in recent years, the fragile state of the environment has emerged as a universal equalizer. As much of the world tackles climate change at a theoretical level, Australians experience it at a micro level. This is the driest continent in the world, and water restrictions are now the norm in most cities. But Australians tend to face such difficulties with the same cocky spirit as anything else, and although the question of when will it rain/how will it rain/will it please bloody rain is a constant, they cope with little complaint.

So yep, it's a tough life down under. But only if you're averse to wide open skies, dramatic landscapes, countless activities, fine wining and dining, and friendly locals. We know, because we've done our research.