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Spending Christmas at the beach or skiing in August may seem strange but the fact is, Australia's seasons are the opposite of the northern hemisphere - summer starts in December, autumn in March, winter in June and spring in September. Due to its size, geographical location and the lack of extensive high mountain ranges Australia has a wide range of climates but generally no extremes. The average temperature ranges from 23-26 degrees Celsius above the Tropic of Capricorn with the southern areas more temperate although subject to variations. This and the fact that Australia is the driest continent on earth makes our land a great all-year destination. In fact in their winter you can ski in the southern states one day and be diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland the next.

Australia is the only country occupying a whole continent - albeit the smallest one, lying on and extending north and south from the Tropic of Capricorn. With an area covering 7,682,300 km2 (2,966,136 square miles) it is the sixth largest country of the world after Russia, Canada, China, the US and Brazil. The coastline consisting of tranquil bays, wonderful beaches with pounding surf, rocky outcrops and dramatic sheer cliffs is 36,735km (22,812 miles) long. Australia is bounded by the dark blue waters of the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Arafura Sea to the north, lapped by the turquoise waves of the Indian Ocean to the west, and the mighty Southern Ocean to the south. Australia occupies one of the oldest landmasses and the flattest of all continents, the highest point, Mt Kosciuszko being 2228m (7,310 feet) in the Australian Alps between NSW and Victoria. The fertile coastal strip hides a dry and inhospitable centre, the Outback - a photographer's delight with its colours of flaming red, rich brown, pale yellow and orange interspersed by the bluish-green of low scrub and the linen-white trunks of ghost gum trees. This seemingly endless land is broken by saltlakes, starkly beautiful mountains like the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs, Flinders Ranges in South Australia and the mysterious rock formations of Ayers Rock/Uluru, Mt Olga/Kata Tjuta, and Mt Augustus. The longest river, originating in Queensland, is the Darling measuring 2736km.

Flora and Fauna
Don't be surprised to encounter a hopping kangaroo or running emu - a large flightless bird - while driving along in the countryside.

Our national symbols, featured in the Australian coat of arms are found throughout the continent in large numbers. Australia's isolation for more than 55 million years has created a unique sanctuary of animals and plants found nowhere else in the world. Australia's marsupials did not have to compete with highly developed mammals and there are still over 100 species which flourish in ideal conditions. Take our cute koala for instance, sleeping peacefully on a branch high above the ground in a gum-tree with the young holding itself tight to mum's back. Keep your eyes wide open, they're hard to see but can be spotted in national parks and forests along the east coast. Wildlife sanctuaries let you observe them from close range and some even allow visitors into the enclosure. Australia hosts a really interesting animal group, the monotremes, egg laying mammals, that are often referred to as living fossils, like the platypus - a river dwelling little animal with duck bill and an agile furry body resembling an otter. Another representative of this group is the echidna or spiny anteater. While visiting a zoo don't forget to observe the wombat, a large, grazing, burrowing marsupial. Essentially nocturnal, wombats have been in Australia for 15 million years and are found in many parts of Australia. The Tasmanian Devil, a carnivorous marsupial is a fascinating animal. Now only found in the wild in Tasmania, the nocturnal Tassie Devil is basically a scavenger, with a loud screech and powerful jaws.
There are 520 lizard species in Australia that range from small squeaking geckos to the spectacular frill-necked lizard and the swift moving goanna that can reach a size of 2m.
Whales migrate from Antarctica during winter to warmer waters off Australia. The mighty humpback travels along the east coast while the southern right whales frequent the south and the western coast, bearing up and plunging into water again, playing and frolicking.
The Great Barrier Reef along the east coast off Queensland is the longest and most complex living coral system in the world and provides a habitat for a wide range of marine animals.
Another area noted for its prolific wildlife is Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory - enjoy the sight of waterbirds, crocodiles, wild buffaloes or go fishing for the prized barramundi
Discovering Australia's birds is one of the delights of visiting Down Under, with more than 750 species of birds recorded, 300 of which are found nowhere else in the world.

Listen to the unique laugh of the kookaburra, a large kingfisher, enjoy the sight of the many different parrots, feed the brilliantly plumed rainbow lorikeets in Queensland, or watch as hundreds of small fairy penguins march up the beach to their burrows every night at dusk on Phillip Island.
Australia has many vegetation regions. Fill your lungs with the heavy scented air of the rainforests, or the distinctive smell of the eucalypt, commonly called gum tree. Wildflowers turn open country into a blaze of colour in spring and some of the best known are the waratah, Sturt's desert pea, kangaroo paw and the Christmas bush. .

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