Leisure - What you can do in your spare time
One thing that can be said of most Australians is that they really know how to live their leisure time to the full. Whether it's enjoying a 'barbie' (barbecue) and game of backyard cricket, cheering their team at football, soccer, rugby, netball (or just about any other sport you can think of), celebrating at one of the many festivals and events held annually across the country or throwing a tent in the car and heading off camping in the wilderness, there's always something happening and many opportunities for visitors to get involved.
Australians love their sport—both playing it and watching it. The number-one watched sport in the country is Australian Rules Football. Around Melbourne you can pass through the suburbs of Carlton, Collingwood, Hawthorn, North Melbourne, Footscray, Essendon, Richmond and St Kilda, all of which have a team in the elite Australian Football League (AFL). This league was once exclusive to the state of Victoria but since 1982 has included other states: the Sydney Swans, Perth's Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles, Port Adelaide and the Adelaide Crows, and the Brisbane Lions. Being part of a crowd at an AFL game is an Australian (particularly Melburnian) must, even if you don't like sport that much.
Then there's the National Rugby League (NRL). The highlight of the season is the annual State of Origin series. Australians who play rugby union dream of playing for the national team the Wallabies, who have always been an internationally dominant force. Apart from the World Cup, Bledisloe Cup games against New Zealand are highly anticipated and form part of a Tri Nations tournament that also includes South Africa.
Surrounded by sea, it's not surprising Australia is a nation of swimmers . There are plenty of public swimming pools throughout the country, as there are great swimming beaches. Surfing is a hugely popular sport and pastime, as is evidenced by big events such as the Bells Beach Surf Classic. Popular beaches are patrolled by surf life savers during summer and patrolled areas are marked off by flags. Even so, surf beaches can be dangerous places to swim if you aren't used to the conditions. Undertows (or 'rips') are the main problem. A number of people are also paralysed every year by diving into waves in shallow water and hitting a sand bar. Check the depth of the water before you leap.
The Australian cricket team are a dominant force in both the test and one-day cricket series. The stars have been Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson. To find out more, including how to find a local club if you're interested in playing, have a look at Cricket Australia's website.
The Australian Open is one of tennis' four Grand Slams. It attracts more people to Australia than any other sporting event. Lleyton Hewitt is a great Aussie star, having won Wimbledon and US Open titles. Tennis Australia's website has a good search engine for finding local clubs all over Australia.
From a participation and spectator viewpoint, soccer is one of the growth sports in Australia, and much hope is pinned on the new A-League . For years local soccer has suffered as young players choose the better competition and contracts on offer in Europe.
There are 1.2 million netballers in the country, which makes netball Australia's most popular participation sport. Women's basketball is also popular, with most Australians believing that Lauren Jackson is the best player in the world, while in men's basketball , McKinnon and Bogut are the stars.
The list of sporting opportunities also include hockey, horse racing, sailing, car racing, golf and cycling. All of the sports listed here are available to everyone, either as a participant or a spectator. Australia has more than 120 national sporting organisations and thousands of state and regional bodies, so there's a good chance there'll be one close by that caters to your interest. Universities and local councils (and the websites listed above) are good places to find out about sporting opportunities in your area. When it comes to watching, you can simply buy tickets on the day at the venue for most sports. Big finals' series, like the AFL or the Australian Open, are likely to sell out and you should buy tickets in advance through an agent such as Ticketek or Ticketmaster .
It doesn't take much to convince an Australian to celebrate or be entertained and it makes sense to follow this light-hearted lead during your stay.
Australia's arts festivals attract people from all over the country to see drama, dance, music and visual arts. The huge Festival of Sydney, which takes up most of January, includes 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. Womadelaide, Adelaide's outdoor festival of world music and dance, takes place in the second week of March each year. 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 celebrating 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 races are held for “boats” constructed entirely of beer cans, while Alice Springs holds the Henley-on-Todd, a boat race on a dry river bed! More mainstream events include the Sydney to Hobart yacht race (from Boxing Day), the Australian Grand Prix (Melbourne, March), Australian Rules Football (around the country from March to September—see Sporting Australia above) and the country-stopping Melbourne Cup horse race on the first Tuesday in November.
Gay festivals include Sydney's massive, flamboyant Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, in February/March, and Melbourne's January/February Midsumma Festival. (See the Events sections of the individual state/territory summaries on this site for more detailed festival listings.)
Australians also love their pubs and bars. You'll usually find one or the other wherever you are in the country. Australia has long had a strong pub culture, which extends from the big cities to the bush (that is, anywhere away from the cities). There are classic Aussie pubs in tiny country towns like the Birdsville Hotel in outback Queensland, and more refined versions, such as Sydney's Paddington Inn Hotel in Oxford Street, Paddington. Bar culture is a more recent phenomenon, with the big cities leading the way, especially Melbourne. Many pubs and bars across the continent also regularly feature live bands and DJs.
Then there's cinema, theatre, dance, clubbing, opera, classical music, jazz. The list of entertainment options is endless. The best way to find out what's on is through local newspapers and free entertainment magazines, newspapers and websites.
Being such a huge and diverse country, there are countless ways to explore this great continent. Following are two sample itineraries to get you started: one a well-trodden route, the other well off the beaten track.
East Coast Run: Sydney to Cairns
Hordes of travellers stay on the beaten track on Australia's sun-loving east coast, following this beach-themed route. From Sydney, meander along the Pacific Highway through central and northern New South Wales towns with idyllic beach locales. Soak up the serenity of Port Stephens, the watersports-mad Myall Lakes National Park and the stunning, plateau-top rainforests of Dorrigo National Park. Join the wild and famous in Byron Bay, then head over the Queensland border into the state capital, Brisbane, via the party town of Surfers Paradise.
The Bruce Highway then winds along the coast into the far north. Nature lovers should visit the whale-watching haven of Hervey Bay and, further north, the blissful Whitsunday Islands, the coral charms of the Great Barrier Reef and the scuba-diving heaven of Cairns.
Across the Continent: Cairns to Perth
The following is a long, difficult route from the tropics to the Indian Ocean—few roads are less travelled than this 4,560 kilometre trail. There are many potential hazards in heading off the beaten track into the Australian outback, so wherever you go, make sure you're well informed and fully prepared. Start in Cairns and head west to Normanton, the biggest town in the Gulf of Carpentaria region, then south down the Matilda Highway to the rough mining town of Mt Isa. To the southwest is the frontier outback town of Urandangi, after which you run into the Plenty Highway, a long—or to some, gloriously desolate—road with plenty of bone-jolting challenges (4WD recommended). Over 500 kilometres later you'll hit the Stuart Highway and then the dead-centre city of Alice Springs.
The Lasseter Highway turn-off takes you to amazing Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the captivating Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) rock formations, beyond which is the beginning of the Great Central Road. This lonely trail, suitable for well-prepared 2WDs and lined with saltbush, spinifex and desert oak trees, stretches 750 kilometres to the tiny gold-mining town of Laverton, from where it's another 400 kilometres to a much bigger gold-mining town, Kalgoorlie-Boulder. Finally, the ocean beckons from behind the beaches of Scarborough and Cottesloe in Perth.