What not to do when visiting Australia

The following is a guide for what not to do in Australia, written from a local’s perspective. Hope it helps you in planning your trip to the Land Down Under.

A woman sits on a log in front of Uluru on a sunny, blue-skied day. Discover what not to do in Australia
Who doesn’t love a sunburnt country?

Are you unsure of the things you shouldn’t do in Australia, when visiting?

Maybe you’re confused about what you shouldn’t do in a cultural sense, such as littering, or accidentally committing social faux pas.

Or perhaps you’re worried about whether Australia is safe to visit (it is. Mostly).

If you’re travelling to Australia for the first time, you might feel a bit apprehensive.

Don’t worry. It would be near impossible to travel to a new country and get everything right first go.

I am Australian, have travelled to every state and territory and lived here for most of my life.

Still, I often get things wrong, so learn from my mistakes!

Here’s what not to do in Australia, which will help you make the most out of your trip.


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What not to do in Australia: the golden rules

Front of a kayak, travelling through a creek. There's rubbish piled in this part of the kayak, which has been pulled from the water. The number one thing on the list of what not to do in Australia is litter.
Litter picked up while kayaking in NSW. Don’t be a tosser.

1. Don’t litter

Australia has traditionally been a relatively clean place, when it comes to litter and trash.

The practice of recycling has been hammered into the residents of Oz since I were a wee nipper, and there are strong fines put into place for anyone caught littering.

“Don’t be a tosser!” is plastered across billboards, a catch-phrase that features in government funded ads on the telly. Surely you’d have to be a tosser to toss your trash on any available surface?

THAT BEING SAID, I have noticed that Australia has become somewhat dirtier in the last few years.

I don’t know if people have become lazier, or we just have more trash to contend with. Probably a mixture of both, to be honest.

Either way, please help in keeping Australia beautiful, by disposing of your rubbish in a thoughtful manner. It won’t go unappreciated. I know I’ll be there in spirit, silently applauding you.

Sydney Harbour on a sunny day.
Iconic Sydney.

2. Don’t compare Sydney and Melbourne

When I first moved abroad, I used to have the following conversation with anyone I met who had been to Oz.

Them: “Where in Australia are you from?

Me: “Sydney, originally.”

Them: “Oh, okay.” Pause. “Melbourne’s a lot nicer though, don’t you think?”

Me: …

Well – no. That’s not what I think.

Sydney and Melbourne are very different places.

It’s like comparing chalk and cheese. Or Los Angeles and New York. Edinburgh and London. Beijing to Shanghai.

And frankly, I feel a little bit insulted when people diss my home town of Sydney.

So, if you prefer one city over the other, then great! Please keep it to yourself and certainly don’t start harping on about it to the people who have SPENT HALF OF THEIR LIVES LIVING IN THE ONE YOU LIKE SLIGHTLY LESS.

Signs for cafes along Darby Street in Newcastle.
Lunch at one of Newcastle’s most popular eating destinations, Darby Street.

3. Don’t leave a tip (at this point in time)

Australia doesn’t traditionally have a tipping culture.

This is because our minimum wage is currently quite high in fact, the highest in the world, at $21.38 per hour, with 25% extra loading for casual employees, which covers most hospitality staff.

Throw in the generous penalty rates for morning, nighttime and weekend work and you can get by on a hospitality wage.

I have long discouraged visitors from overseas to leave a tip, in the fear that it will lead to similar practices of other countries, where the onus is left on the customer to make up the wage of the staff.

It should be up to the business owner to pay their staff properly.

As it stands now, I sometimes do leave a tip of a few gold coins, if the meal and service is exceptional (it would be a particularly nice thing to do this on a weekend). At least that way you can be somewhat sure that it’s going back to the staff.

Australia trip tip: Something worth noting is the fact that very few Australian cafes and restaurants split bills, which is ridiculous because it takes like, two seconds and some very elementary maths. I can assure you, this aggravates locals just as much as visitors. So if you’re dining in a group, make sure you have cash on hand or someone who is willing to front the bill with their card and let everyone pay them back electronically. Fun backwards times!
People climbing Uluru in the outback.
People climbing Uluru, back when they could. Gross.

4. Respect Indigenous cultural sites

Australia has a fascinating Indigenous culture. It’s the oldest living culture in the world.

We’re very lucky that many important sites for First Nations people are open to the public. Some of them, such as Uluru, are the most popular places to visit in Australia.

One good example of what not to do in Australia used to be climbing Uluru.

The climb was permanently closed in October 2019, but before this, many would do it, despite it being considered disrespectful to the local Anangu people – and there being plenty of other ways to enjoy Uluru.

There were signs around the rock respectfully asking people not to climb, which were often disrespectfully ignored.

Added to this, were signs around the rock respectfully asking people not to photograph certain sections during the three hour Base Walk around the rock.

This was also often ignored.

It’s a damn big rock, so there was plenty else to take photos of, trust me on this.

You may not understand Australia’s Indigenous culture, but being told not to do something and then doing it is pretty rotten.

Koala sleeping in the trees. Leaving local wildlife alone is at the top of the list of things not to do in Australia.
Leave our unique fauna alone to chill.

5. Don’t harass the local wildlife

A friend who’d journeyed out to Australia’s Red Centre returned to tell me this tale.

A tourist had found a Red-Backed Spider in the building – a highly venomous arachnid that is only found in Australia.

The staff came out with cups and paper, in order to capture the spider and move it elsewhere, where it wouldn’t be of harm to any of their patrons (or vice versa).

This man however, insisted they wait so that he could take some photos of the spider.

Startled by the commotion around it, it ran into a nearby pillar.

As it is a spider whose bite can be potentially fatal, the staff had no choice but to spray the pillar with insecticide and it quite needlessly died.

Keen to know what not to do in Australia? Quite simply, don’t be that guy with the camera.

Most of the ‘deadly’ wildlife in Australia are happy to do their own thing. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone too, to go along with their own business.

Australians are sadly just as guilty of this.

I spent a few years living in the countryside, where we had chickens, whose feed attracted mice and rats, who in turn attracted brown snakes or mulgas.

The bite of this snake could kill a fully grown adult male in less than an hour.

We would call up my Tae Kwon Do instructor, who was perhaps one of the coolest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in my life.

He’d appear in his singlet top and footy shorts, his shoulder tattoo of the Superman emblem on display.

After about a half hour of snake charming, he’d pin the creature down, put it in a bag and throw it over the fence of a paddock, far enough away from our farm, so it could continue its life without hurting anyone.

Others weren’t so decent.

A neighbour had seen one crossing road in the middle of nowhere and had deliberately run over it.

He’d then grabbed the dying creature by the tail, DRAGGED IT ALONG ON THE ROAD TO OUR PROPERTY to show it to our family like some sort of perverted trophy.

My parents were pretty much like: “What the hell is wrong with you?”

He shrugged and chucked it over a fence, leaving it there to die.

His actions were not only barbaric, they were illegal. It is an offence to kill, injure or take snakes from the wild.

As I said – leave them along and they’ll leave you alone.

They’re living, breathing creatures that aren’t actually there for anyone’s entertainment.

Four boys stand gripping the chain link fence of the Bogey Hole in Newcastle, while water crashes over them.
The ocean here is badass.

6. Don’t swim in unattended areas

Australian rip-tides are a force to be reckoned with.

If you plan on taking a dip at any major beach, you’d do best to swim between the flags.

These are set up by lifeguards – professionals who know what they are doing.

Then, if you do run, or swim as it were into any trouble, you’ll be within their periphery and will be able to signal for help.

With 10,000-odd beaches, you may often find yourself at one that is completely deserted.

I make sure to never wade more than knee deep in, when I find myself in this circumstance.

I’m too scared of the raw power of the ocean and it’s led me to not die even once.

Australia’s oceans are so deadly that we had a Prime Minister disappear in the late 1960s, presumably drowned.

Then a swimming pool was named after him, certainly a weirdest facts about Australia and demonstrative of our somewhat twisted sense of humour.

Anyway. He went swimming most days, so what chance do the rest of us have?

It’s not only the waves themselves that are dangerous.

Western Australian beaches are notorious for the presence of sharks. It’s their territory, and they don’t always take kindly to it being invaded.

In the summer months, box jellyfish will flood the waters of the north.

You’re able to enter the water with special wetsuits in some circumstances, but listen to all instructions given by knowledgeable guides.

The sting of these little gelatinous creatures can be deadly.

Lastly, crocodiles are often found on beaches and other water sources (such as creeks, billabongs and rivers) of northern Australia.

I’m pretty sure getting eaten by a croc would ruin anyone’s holiday.

Once again, be very careful on unattended beaches, particularly those up north.

As an Australian, I would only ever feel safe on my own on southern beaches, and once again would not go far into the water, at all.

Hope I haven’t scared you too much! It’s okay. You’ve got this. Just make sure you read up on this guide to beach safety in Australia before you hit the waves.

The Pinnacles Desert, inside Nambung National Park.
The Pinnacles, a popular day trip from Perth and stop-off on this drive. Takes forever to reach WA.

7. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get to places

I think this is a concept that is hard for people who aren’t from large countries to understand.

Driving from coast to coast in Oz is roughly the equivalent of driving from the West Coast of Ireland, across Europe and into Russia.

Keep in mind that there isn’t a road that goes straight through the centre of the country, too.

Don’t believe me? Go have a play on this website. I’ll see you in a few hours.

****

That was fun, wasn’t it?

Anyway, I’ve heard of some pretty overly ambitious itineraries for travel around Australia.

My favourite so far has been some family friends from the UK who thought they’d take two weeks out of their lives to drive the entire way around Australia.

Honestly, you’d be lucky to make it from Sydney to the tip of Queensland and that’s not taking jetlag into accord. Check out these saner road trip ideas for Australia, instead.

I’ve heard and roughly agree that it would take minimum three months to do a road trip around Australia properly.

So, unless you have a lot of time and money up your sleeve, plan smart and accordingly.

8. Don’t joke about “putting another shrimp on the barbie” (or make any other references to Crocodile Dundee)

Crocodile Dundee was written with American audiences in mind.

A “shrimp” in Australia is a short person. We call the actual animal “prawns”.

Don’t make this joke. We’ve all heard it before and have done so for the last forty years.

Let that dead horse that you’re so keen to flog have its dignity, please.

9. Don’t ask questions about the absence of Fosters

Australians love their beer (and depending where you are, their craft beer), but Fosters doesn’t have the same reputation here that it has overseas.

It’s rarely drunk here and hardly anyone likes it. End of story.

Read these other tips to avoid looking like a tourist in Australia.

A woman takes a photo of the Sheep Hills silo art, by street artist Adnate, which pays homage to four Indigenous Australians of the area and the night sky.
Fantastic silo art in regional Victoria.

10. Don’t make quips about Australia’s colonial background

Australia’s modern history is bloody. Disturbing. And recent, with deaths in custody ongoing.

As many should know, Australia was already inhabited by a race when the English laid claim to the land in 1788 – Aboriginal peoples, whose language, customs and overall identity was attacked and outlawed.

The repercussions of this are still very much evident today.

Not to mention that the country has an identity that is built on immigration.

Yes, there will be descendants of the first few settlers still knocking about the place.

There are ten pound “Poms” and Irish folk who travelled here of their own volition, in search of a better life, or presumably just a bit of sunshine every now and then.

Then there are the Chinese who arrived during the 1850s gold rush, the Italians and Greeks who moved here during the 1950s, or those who continue to flock to the shores of the “Lucky Country” to this day (often being denied entry, but that’s another sad and irritating story).

We are a proud multicultural country with a violent recent history that’s not worth getting into from an outsider’s point of view.

The silhouette of a pelican on a post against a blinding sunset over water. One of the top things not to do in Australia is stare straight at the sun.
The sun has a blinding bite.

11. Don’t underestimate the raw power of the Australian sun

The Australian sun has an incredible bite to it, which I believe is due to the hole in the Ozone layer and sciences that I don’t quite understand.

As a result, Australia has a high rate of skin cancer, with two out of three Aussies being diagnosed with it by the time they are 70.

Scary stuff.

Don’t be afraid to take a holiday to Australia during winter.

The weather isn’t that bad. It’s actually nicer in some parts of the country and as it’s not peak season, prices for accommodation will drop accordingly.

Australia Trip Tip: Try your darnedest to stay out of the sun at its strongest moments – between 11am-2pm. Wear protective clothing and a hat. Slap on sunscreen if necessary (a non toxic one is preferable, if you’re braving the water). A sunburn may very well ruin your holiday.
Art of a goanna balancing cup of tea on its head.
Regional NSW.

12. Don’t stick to the cities or the East Coast

One of the things I love most about my country, is the diversity in its cities, towns and overall landscape.

You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you stuck to the well-worn tourist path of Melbourne-Sydney-Cairns, for sure.

There are so many different and varied places you can visit in this country.

You can check out our small towns and our best regional cities.

Or plan a whole trip around seeing amazing public art or some strange monument.

Who doesn’t love getting off the beaten path?

What not to do in Australia in a nutshell

In summary, here are the main things you shouldn’t do when visiting Australia.

  • Don’t litter
  • Don’t swim unattended in the ocean
  • Don’t underestimate the size of the country
  • Don’t stay on the well-worn track
  • Don’t commit a cultural faux pas
  • Don’t disturb the local wildlife.

Stick to these points and you’ll be right!

Enjoy your time in the Land Down Under! There’s nowhere else like it on earth.

For more like this, read this list of Australian slang words and peruse a guide to local etiquette. And here are some of the best books about Australia, to read before you visit.

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Here's what you should NOT do when visiting #Australia - from harassing the local wildlife, to underestimating the raw power of the Aussie oceans and sun. These travel tips will have you blending in with the locals in no time at all. / Australia Travel / Australia Travel Tips /


Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of these lands and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

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53 Comments

  1. As shrimp on the barbie is out of the question (not that I’d ever say that anyway) is it culturally appropriate for me to say G’day mate to everyone I see? As someone who obsessively watched Neighbours for at least 10 years of their life, I happen to know people do say that at least sometimes!
    I like, really really really really enjoyed reading this! An insane amount. When I was travelling with my ex last year he originally wanted to cut out Central America and go to Aus & NZ instead. For two weeks. TWO WEEKS. I vetoed that because I’d always been told that you need AT LEAST a month to see just the highlights of Australia alone, and that’s not even touching on NZ and Hobbiton (my dream destination tbh). The actual size of countries outside of Europe blows my tiny little British mind, I’ll be honest.

    1. No! Not at all. People do say G’Day all the time (mostly men) and call each other mate, regardless of gender. So, Neighbours isn’t lying in that regard. And yeah, good decision. Even visiting Australia alone for two weeks would be a waste of time and money. I came home for a week inbetween finishing up in Doha and moving to the UK and was jetlagged for a really ridiculously long time.
      And also, thank you for liking it. I really enjoyed writing it and the posts I like the best tend to fade into oblivion!

  2. I found this post super interesting – I never knew about the tipping culture. I honestly don’t think I’ve read that in a single blog post before! x

    1. Thanks Amanda! I’m glad it was beneficial. I guess it’s the norm for Aussies and we don’t think twice about it… and then everyone else just assumes it’s the same as other western countries across the world.

      1. Having worked in Aussie restaurants and cafes for 20yrs i would say i only half agree. We always had a ‘tip jar’ on the counter for customers who enjoyed their meal and service. But the money would accumulate through the year and would be used to take all the staff out for dinner as a reward for Good work. So please, if you think they deserve it, leave a tip

        1. That is my point too, Sonya. If the service is good and the money is going back to the staff (in the form of a tip jar or cold hard cash left on a plate), then tip away. In London, where I used to live, there’s an automatic 12.5% added onto every bill (and it is left up to the customer to dispute this if the service is not good) and no way of ensuring that that money actually goes to those who deserve it. I would hate to see that happen here.

  3. It drives me nuts hearing people say they want to climb Uluru. Like, do your research. Not only is it dangerous, how could you go to a country and then disrespect the Aboriginals? Not cool.

    1. It’s not cool at all and you can’t miss the fact that it’s ill-advised when you’re there, as there are signs everywhere. So yes, flagrant disrespect at its worst.

  4. We are looking forward to traveling there next year for the birds, and to see the Great Barrier Reef before it’s gone (yes, sad thought) and this is very useful. We love hiking too, and it’s good to note that there are places sacred so should not be disturbed. Thank you for this.

    1. You’ll love the birds, Iva! I am beyond sad about the reef too – I wish our government weren’t so single-mindedly obsessed with destroying it. Hoping to get back to it this year and am scared to see how much, well deader it’s looking since I last saw it in 2003.
      Hope you have a great time in Oz.

  5. This is a bloody good article mate, (sounding very Australian! And I’m Aussie aha). Aussie is all laid back unless it’s about ocean & sun safety and not being a tosser!
    Also worried sick about the penalty rate cut – I hope every hospo worker still gets a fair standard of living with, at least, the high minimum wage remaining, for now!
    Cheers mateee

    1. Cheers! Yes, it is one of those things where you think “if it ain’t broke…”. Guaranteed we won’t see wages rising any time soon.
      Sometimes I think this country really is going to the dogs.

  6. This is a great article and I’m grateful you said it and my husband can read it so it’s not actually coming directly from me…which means maybe he will listen, HAHA! 😉 Great info. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  7. I loved this! I moved to Australia about 3 years ago and when I first came to visit, I had no idea how powerful the sun was here. I assumed as I previously lived in Southern California that I was going to be fine. NOPE! I also didn’t know you weren’t allowed to climb Uluru. I’ve seen tourist packages promoting the hike. That just seems so wrong to me!

    1. Yeah, it’s a burner, that’s for sure! You can climb it, it was part of the agreement when the land was handed back. It’s just considered disrespectful to the local people and when you look at it, you can see where the path is wearing down the rock itself. Yeah, that’s super scummy! Why would they do that?!

  8. Great article LC. As a fellow Aussie, I agree with all of these points. I was only discussing tips with some people from the US a couple days ago. As difficult as it seems to us to learn their tipping rules, these people could not get their head around the fact that we don’t tip! Clearly we need to be pointing it out more often.

    1. I think so too and highly applaud the fact that we do not have a tipping culture. It’s up to the businesses to pay their staff properly… customers should not be left to pick up the slack. Although I do think this is changing, which is wrong, wrong, wrong!

  9. What an excellent article! Thanks for posting all of these great tips. I have never been to Australia, but it is on my destination list. I like the fact that you mentioned having respect for the land and for wildlife. I didn’t realise people actually climb Uluru. Even if it was safe to climb, I would not do it because I do not wish to disrespect the people. When it comes to wildlife, you are right – leave the animals alone. I’d rather just enjoy viewing them from a safe distance and let them do their thing. One of my favourite Australian animals is the salt water crocodile. From what I know and have researched, it’s best not to swim in any river, lake or billabong, or even get close to the water’s edge – especially in the Northern Territory. I’ve read about most of the fatal crocodile attacks that have happened over the years and it amazes me how many people still swim in these waters, despite posted warning signs. I’d rather be Croc Wise (as the ad campaign states) and respect the crocodiles’ habitat by not entering the water, than to risk my life. 🙂

    1. And an excellent comment in return, thanks Lea! Totally on board with you in that we need to respect these creature’s natural habitat. There’s a similar issue to the Crocs with the sharks in Western Australia. You enter their territory, knowing there’s a risk of attack from them. And people have been bitten and some, killed. So, the previous state government decided it would be best to cull the endangered sharks, which thankfully prompted a nationwide protest. I think most people just think it won’t ever happen to them and to be honest, it probably won’t – the odds are fairly low. That being said, as you pointed out – it doesn’t hurt to play it safe! Hope you make it to Oz someday.

  10. Wish I had read this before I first came to Australia a couple years ago…

    Especially about the waves, I had no clue. I only went up to my knees, and the undertoe was so strong that I totally fell over and had to grab my bikini bottoms before they fell off! Yikes!

    1. Oh no! If it’s any consolation, I have had my bikini top come off countless times in the Aussie surf. It’s a rite of passage, really!

  11. Thank you for this very informative article L.C.!

    I’ll be in Australia in Sept 2017 coming from Canada and we will stick mostly to the big cities, (sorry, we could only afford three weeks off) Melbourne-Sydney-Cairns! Your article has provided some good tips & ideas! We will do our best to step out of the beaten path every chance we get…

    Australia is such a big country, I can’t wait to see it!!

    1. Aw, three weeks will be grand! There’s plenty to see along that route – I recommend Newcastle and Kangaroo Valley in NSW, Victoria has some lovely wine regions if you’re a fan of the drink and pretty much all of QLD is jaw-droppingly beautiful. If you get the chance, Port Douglas is an hour’s drive from Cairns and is a stunner of a spot, plus acts as a gateway to the nearby Daintree Rainforest. Dandenong National Park, which is an hour from Melbs is really nice too.

      Have a great trip!

  12. I had no idea that shrimp was a small person in Australia.
    Here in New Zealand we call prawns shrimps when they are small, I love shrimp cocktails, and only prawns when they get to a decent sized and more likely to be served with the head still attached.
    Love all our pointers particularly the one about not needing to tip. I hope it doesn’t become the norm here either.

    1. Haha it’s not used a lot but definitely more than a prawn! I think we call them prawn cocktails but I do agree, they are so delicious.
      Dunno about NZ but it’s definitely becoming more prevalent in Australia, particularly as the govt have cut weekend penalty rates for hospo and retail workers. It’s BS.

    2. Spot on, C Kilgour, that is exactly how I (an Australian born person of 55 years) call them: the small ones are called shrimps and the bigger ones are prawns. The name of the cocktail depends upon the size of the crustacean lurking in the dish. I expect a shrimp cocktail to be full of heaps of tiny peeled shrimps, and a prawn cocktail to have half a dozen or so big prawns often hanging over the side of the glass with hopefully the body peeled but I expect that the head and tail might be left on.

    1. Haha agreed! One person from each country around the planet should be tasked with writing one and it can be handed to all prospected visitors (and residents alike!).

    2. Mate, I’m from southern queensland and the only shrimp we have here is a freshwater variety with loong skinny nippers, they are not available commercially but can often be bycatch when fishing for freshwater yabby (Crawfish, crawdaddy, crayfish, maron, redclaw, lobby…) and are fantastic bait for freshwater fish. Basically a freshwater prawn with nippers.

  13. Hi LC,
    I only just came across this post (it was suggested for me on Pinterest) and really quite loved it. Will definitely send it to a few friends who are going or have recently been to Australia. Actually, I’m rather happy that climbing Uluru will not only be discouraged but forbidden in the future. I’ve been to the Yulara-area twice and must say I LOVED walking around it. How else can one see how alive the surface of this magnificent monolith looks or feel its literal rawness? Also: The colours!
    Keep producing such awesome content (pretty please) because I am looking forward to reading it 🙂
    Best from Vienna, Austria (not Australia),
    Alice

    1. Hi Alice,

      Oh, thank you! This was such a lovely comment to read. I am so happy it will be forbidden too! You would’ve seen how the path the climbers have taken have left what looks like a scar on the surface of the rock. And totally agree – the walk around it was three of the most stimulating hours of my life.

      Best from Melbourne.

  14. Thanks a lot for your beautiful article. I’ve been in Oz and Tassi for three months – not enough time to see everything I wanted to see. I definitely have to come again – minimum one month for tassi and another three months for west coast, Alice Springs and Uluru. Hope I will see my favourite wildlife animal again: beautiful and cute echidna 🙂

  15. Australia is among the most amazing places I have visited in the past year and really these places mentioned in the post are very good for sightseeing and sightseeing. I like the region because of the variety of options for having fun with friends. I loved the post 🙂

  16. Thanks for all the tips! Visiting Wollongong & NSW area in September and trying to consume lots of info in order to be the best visitor possible. Tipping info is appreciated, and it’s crazy to me that it’s not an automatic thought in everyone’s head to not litter and respect the land and those on it. Leave it the way you found it….that’s not difficult!

  17. Thanks for all the useful tips, which will definitely help me during my planned visit in Oz in coming October. Honestly speaking, I like the Australian culture of not giving tips for any paid services, because it’s sometime embarrassing when you don’t know the expectations of the tips receivers.

  18. This is a fantastic write-up and as a fellow Aussie I agree with everything you’ve written. Well done mate! ????????????

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