- Beach Safety
- Disabled Travellers
- Duty Free
- Rules of the Road
The legal drinking age in Australia is 18. This is strictly enforced, so make sure you have valid identification with you if you plan on buying alcohol or heading out for a night on the town - yes even 30 year olds are regularly carded at clubs. If you purchase alcohol for an underage person you risk serious fines and repercussions. It is illegal to drink in public unless you are at a licensed venue or you're in a so-called ‘wet area’.
Alcohol to go can be purchased from licensed retailers known as 'bottle shops' or the ‘bottle o’ in the local vernacular. Once again if you are drinking at a restaurant, bar or club have valid ID with you lest you be refused service.
With the rules of drinking out of the way, may we boost your spirits by saying that Australians love drinking and you’ll easily find tasty craft beers, delicious Australian wines, including from nearby Mt Tamborine, and interesting cocktails at a plethora of great bars and restaurants throughout the Gold Coast.
Australian beaches are as dangerous as they are beautiful, and no its not sharks or stingers (jellyfish) that you need to worry about on Gold Coast beaches, it's the power of the Pacific ocean itself. If you are not use to surf beaches or even if you are a strong swimmer but find yourself in a rip you can quickly be dragged a couple hundred metres out to sea. the safest way to enjoy a day at the beach is to stick to patrolled breaches and swim between the red and yellow flags - if you are in trouble just wave your arm and lifeguards will assist you. If you do get stuck in a rip the worst thing you can do is try swimming against it, instead swim parallel with the beach to get out of the rip and then make your way back to shore. Yes there are sharks but nets and statistics protect beach goers along most of the Gold Coast - well stats don't actually protect you, but they do tell us that you'd be might unlucky to be eaten by a shark. If you are swimming at dawn or dusk and find yourself amongst a school of fish then get out of the water so feeding sharks won't mistake you for a meal.
The official currency is the Australian Dollar, which has plummeted against its US counterpart since reaching parity (and even higher) back in the height of the boom years of 2012, and has done much of the same against the Euro, making those eye-watering prices in A$ not so wallet-busting for visitors lucky enough to be getting paid in those currencies. Credit cards are widely accepted, although often there is a minimum purchase amount if you are paying by card.
As with most of our knowledge of the world, we learned about Australia's legendarily strict customs and quarantine regulations from an American cultural institution known as the Simpsons, namely the episode titled 'Bart vs Australia', which originally aired back in February 1995. Of course the world's younger generation recently had their own version of this experience, which one day might unofficially be titled 'Reanimated Corpse of Johnny Depp vs Australia', but that's still probably a sore subject for some, so we'll just move on to some facts. You'll want to carefully check through the list of restricted (ie allowed with written permission) and prohibited (ie never allowed under any circumstances) goods on the official website of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Some of these seem quite obvious, such as chemical weapons, radioactive material and narcotics, but there are quite a few more amusing entries, including erasers resembling food in scent or appearance, laser pointers, cheap lighters and anything with the word 'ANZAC' (or similar word) on it.
Australia is generally pretty good at providing facilities and services for disabled travellers. By law public buildings, including galleries, libraries and the like, should be accessible by wheelchair. Much of the public transport fleet these days also is disabled traveller-friendly, and wheelchair friendly taxis are also available. More information about available services and infrastructure can be found on the official City of Gold Coast website at www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au.
In Australia we drive like the Brits on the left side of the road, and seatbelts are mandatory. You need a valid driver’s licence, and if it’s not in English you’ll need a valid translation of it too. The top speed is 110km/h on open highways and generally in built-up areas the speed limit ranges from 40-60km/h. Roads are generally in good condition and everything is well-signposted, so renting a car is a great option for visitors who are looking to travel around a bit, especially into the hinterland.
The lesson gleaned from Australia's regulations concerning duty free concessions, is that alcohol is fine but cigarettes are bad, as 2.25 litres of alcoholic beverages are allowed, while only 50 cigarettes or 50 grams of loose tobacco. So if you're a smoker and used to picking up a full 10-pack carton or two when you travel, you'll want to think twice about before hopping a on flight down under. It's also worth noting that if you exceed the limit, you are charged duty and tax for all of the goods of that type you have in your possession, not only the excess amount. All of the more complicated details about the importation goods other than alcohol and cigarettes, as well as for business travellers, can be found on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection's website.
Australian mains are of the same 220-240 volt variety that are found in most of the world outside of the North and Central America and Japan, so if you're coming from Europe you won't need to worry about bringing along or buying a voltage converted (although you generally don't need to worry about that anyway, since these days most device chargers include built in converters). However, you will almost certainly need a plug adapter, as Australians use a rather strange-looking, two- and three-pronged angled plugs, which do have the added benefit of making wall sockets look like the mask from Scream.
English is the official language, so if you can’t read this guide you’ll have a tough time, although even if you are an English speaker you may struggle with some of the local vernacular. About one in four Australians were born overseas, so whatever language you speak you’ll likely be able to find a restaurant somewhere where you can proudly order your national cuisine in your native tongue.
Much as America is divided along Democrat-Republican lines, and the UK along the Tory-Labour divide, Australia has two dominant political parties; Labour (centre left with its roots in the union movement) and the Liberal - Nationals Coalition (centre right mix of economic liberals, social conservatives and rural interest politicians; currently the Liberal’s Malcolm Turnbull is the Prime Minister). That said both major parties have seen their support decline in recent times and minor parties probably have more sway in Australian politics compared to our Anglo cousins’ democracies. Politics is a divisive issue (is there somewhere where it isn’t?), so it really depend who you talk to as to the state of Australian politics. Although if we're honest (and we usually are), you'd probably be best advised to avoid political discussions whilst on holiday in the Gold Coast, and just concentrate on enjoying yourself.
Nominally, Australians are predominantly Christians of one sort or another though most people don’t actively practise any religion. The richly diverse Australian society includes people and communities of all faiths. Unfortunately, there have been a number of racial abuse instances, particularly towards Muslims, at the hands of a xenophobic minority of Australians - if you experience such abuse or harassment contact the police (000) immediately.
Rules of the Road
Out of all the places we’ve travelled, Australians are definitely the most cautious law abiding drivers we’ve ever encountered. The European habit of optional use of indicators won’t go down well in Australia, nor will speeding even if you are marginally over the limit, while tailgating is also a no-no. You know what they say, 'when in Rome do as the Romans', well when in Australia definitely don’t drive like a Roman, follow the road rules carefully. Policing is very strict with speed and red light cameras all over the place, and fines for speeding are quite expensive. The blood alcohol limit is 0.05%, or two drinks and then one drink per hour for a person of average size, and we wouldn’t push it, as fines for going over the limit are even more dear than for other infractions (but sadly still not exactly uncommon, as evidenced by the number of lawyers on the Gold Coast specialising in drink driving offences). If you are in an accident call the emergency services on 000.
The US, and most of the rest of the world, could learn a thing or two about their war on drugs from Australia, who have waged and basically won a war against cigarettes. Yes they are still legally available if you are over 18, but they are taxed through the roof so will cost you an arm and leg (coincidentally, the terrifying health warnings on the packets often feature smoking related amputations). If the price doesn’t deter you, you’ll also have a hard time finding somewhere to actually smoke, with plenty of public spaces officially deemed smoke free zones. And if you do smoke make sure to put your butt in the bin.
Tipping is not mandatory. Generally wait staff are well paid in Australia so if you are short for change don’t feel guilty if you don’t tip. That said, if you can afford to it never hurts to show your appreciation for good service.
Public toilets are free and generally well-maintained throughout the Gold Coast. Found in malls, parks and at plenty of the region's beaches, where public showers and change rooms are also provided.
All visitors to Australia require a visa in advance, although for citizens of most European countries, the United States, Canada and the richest bits of Asia this is not much more than a formality that can be done online for little or no fee. All EU and EEA states, as well as those dodgy little tax haven micro-states like Lichtenstein and Andorra, can apply for a so-called eVisitor visa, which is free and usually approved within 12 hours, while Americans, Canadians, Japanese and the other usual suspects can apply for an Electronic Travel Authority visa, which is also done online and usually approved in less than a day, but does cost $20. Unfortunately, those who aren't lucky enough to carry one of these golden passports have to apply for a regular Visitor visa, which costs between $135 – 340, requires applicants to meet certain health standards and also show proof of sufficient funds for their intended stay.