Phillip Island’s Penguin Parade

A unique chance to see the island’s last colony of penguins as they return home from fishing.

For eco-tourists who happen to be in Australia, Phillip Island holds a wonder of nature that is definitely worth taking a night out to see.  This city, located about 90 minutes southeast of Melbourne, hosts a colony of Fairy Penguins.  Each night, these creatures return home from their daytime hunting routine in a grand procession that is referred to as the Penguin Parade.

Fairy Penguins are the smallest species of penguin in the world, standing at just under a foot-and-a-half high on average.  The Phillip Island colony consists of around 32,000 of these creatures who make their homes in burrows in the area.  Though there were once nine colonies in existence, only the one now remains. The others having fallen victim to the importation of invasive species that would hunt them.

Tourists can now go to watch this wonderful nightly migration.  The whole thing lasts for about an hour and during this time, visitors have a chance to see the penguins up close and personal.  There are a few different options for viewing the Penguin Parade.  One can either purchase tickets to the “bleacher” seats, sitting with around a hundred other people, or, if you want to spend the extra cash, there are more private shows located on a different beach, complete with a park ranger to guide you and relay the history and other information about the penguins.

The organization that puts together the parade viewings is devoted to being responsible about the penguins.  Emphasis is put on making sure that human presence does not disturb the penguins while they do their nightly ritual.  Plus, all the money made from tourists goes into various programs dedicated to research and conservation.

The event has become so popular that now more than 650,000 people show up throughout the year to see it.  Apparently, however, the tickets sell pretty fast, so if you want to be there on a specific night you’ll need to plan and purchase ahead of time.  If you’re a penguin lover or just a collector of unique experiences, the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island is a great one to add to your travel list.

Australia’s Dreaming Festival

A celebration of the indigenous cultures of the world


The Dreaming Festival is the mid-year partner to the more popular and longer-running Woodford Folk Festival, though this celebration is dedicated to all-things indigenous.  It is billed as the first of its kind in the country and one of only a handful of such types of festivals in the entire world.  Though it’s a relatively new festival, this year marking its fourth year in existence, it has already managed to gather a following of tens-of-thousands.  If you’re a fan of music, art and obscure cultures, the Dreaming Festival may be right up your alley.

The festival takes place over the course of three days and four nights during the beginning of June in the small town of Woodford.  While there, one can expect to see numerous performances of art, dance, music and theater, as well as plenty of literary presentations, shows of traditional storytelling and even cultural films.  In addition to the entertainment, there is plenty to see that is of a more educational bent as well.  Exhibitions and workshops take place over all three days, dealing with all things cultural, from dance to painting to storytelling and even the making of indigenous instruments.  Lecturers and speakers round out the experience.  And, of course, there are plenty of people around selling food and drink, both traditional and cultural.

Since it is an international event, the indigenous cultures at the Dreaming Festival are not limited to those originating in Australia.  People come from New Zealand, North America, Africa and several other places to take part in this event and make it a truly multicultural gathering.

When visiting the Dreaming Festival, you can either grab up a room at one of many nearby accommodations or, if you want to be a part of the festival’s night life, camp out on the festival grounds.  It’s not as rough as regular camping, since there are hot showers available on site for those of us who need to get clean on a daily basis.  Either way, the Dreaming Festival is a great way to spend some time in Australia, getting a glimpse into all these cultures in one place and seeing things that you might never have the chance to otherwise, and all in a fun and festive atmosphere.

Casino Beef Week

An Australian celebration of its cowboy culture.

Every year in the small town of Casino, New South Wales, people come together to celebrate a culture that most of us here in the U.S. are familiar with.  The Casino Beef Week is an agricultural fair that centers on all things country and cowboy.  Right in the heart of cattle country, the week-long event provides visitors with a chance to see a side of Australia that most tourists are unaware of. 

The town of Casino is a small one, with only about 10,000 people living there.  When Beef Week arrives, however, the population swells to about 40,000.  As the self-appointed Beef Capital of Australia, they have quite a bit invested in making sure that this event showcases the things they’re proud of.

Started up in 1982, the original intent for Beef Week was to promote the town to outsiders.  It was designed as a tourist attraction and to help provide Casino with an identity.  Naturally, since their chief money-maker was cattle, they went with the beef theme.  Since then, it’s grown and become an entertaining festival that hosts a number of fun events for people of all ages.

When checking out Beef Week, one can expect to see such western-themed things as rodeos, steer competitions and wood chopping contests.  There are also parades, drag races, several exhibitions of arts and crafts and the Miss Casino Beef Week competition.  Dancing and music is abundant as is the most popular item at the festival, beef.  All sorts of amazing food is available, though you’d probably need to be a carnivore to enjoy most of it.  And each week-long celebration is themed differently for the year.

But the party doesn’t stop when the Beef Week events shut down for the night.  Once the lights go out, people head down to the local pubs and continue to celebrate in a different way, with plenty of drink, more music and more dancing. 

If you really want to get a taste of Australia’s less-known culture, head to Casino during this time.  It’s a more intimate way to experience the country, meet and hang out with the locals of cattle country and enjoy some damn good steak to boot.

Australia’s Crocosaurus Cove

A chance for the brave of heart to get up close and personal with some crocs.

If you happen to be into crocodiles or just reptiles in general, there’s a place in Australia that is devoted to bringing visitors the best of what the country has to offer.  It’s called Crocosaurus Cove and it’s located in the heart of Darwin City.  It boasts some of the largest saltwater crocodiles in the entire country as well as the world’s largest display of regional reptiles.

While at the Cove, visitors have the chance to participate in many interesting reptile-related activities.  You can hold a real live baby crocodile, watch the staff as they feed the many exotic creatures and even swim in an aquarium right next to a population of crocodiles. 

There’s a turtle sanctuary and aquariums filled with many unusual Australian fish.  If you’re feeling like feeding the crocs yourself, you can use a fishing line baited with a hunk of meat to try to pull them out of the water.  All this is accompanied by many exhibitions of Aboriginal art, highlighting the presence of the native people in the Darwin region.

But what Crocosaurus Cove is best known for is the infamous Cage of Death.  You can, if you happen to be brave enough, sit in a submerged glass box.  In the surrounding water are some of the largest saltwater crocs in captivity.  While they’re generally mellow, even with a meal so close by, sometimes they get agitated and will try to strike the swimmers through the glass.

The Cove focuses on letting visitors interact with the animals on display, so it can be a great place to both see and learn about all these unique Australian creatures.  It’s not too expensive to get in, which makes it a good destination for families on vacation, although the Cage of Death will cost you a pretty penny.  $120 worth of pennies, in fact, but you can get a deal of $160 for two if you bring a friend along.

Barossa Vintage Festival

Nine days of wine, music and entertainment.

The Barossa Vintage Festival is a nine-day event that takes place every other year in the Barossa Valley, a region of Australia known for its wine-making traditions.  This event is not just a wine lover’s dream, but is also put together to be family-friendly, featuring many things to keep people of all ages entertained.  First held in 1947, Barossa Vintage is the longest running and largest wine festival in the country.

The highlight for the adult crowd is probably the wine tasting.  There is plenty of great wine to enjoy as well as many vendors selling the wines that one deems good enough to take home with them.  There are also wine auctions, featuring sales of some of the rarest and most highly praised wines of Barossa.

In addition, there are a variety of other entertaining things to do.  There are musical performances as well as a parade, an air show featuring aerial acrobatics and stunts and a grape treading competition.  For those looking to learn something while visiting, there are many presentation and tours designed to highlight the rich history of the region.  A market gives people the opportunity to purchase a variety of arts and crafts.

Just a few of the more popular events consist of Vine & Vibes - a gathering featuring music, food, wine and partying; Distinguished Vineyards - tours to check out some of Barossa’s many vineyards; and the Vintage Festival Ball.  For the kids there is Carnival Day, featuring lots of activities put together with kids and families in mind, and Town Day, where visitors can learn more about the many villages of Barossa Valley.

The Barossa Vintage Festival is a celebration of Barossa Valley’s history, demonstrating a little bit of all this region has to offer, from the wines to the people to the history and culture.  Next year’s event will take place from March 30th to April 7th.  If you’re a fan of wine, check out what Barossa has to offer during this festive time of the year.


A celebration of Germanic heritage (and guns) in Australia.

Schutzenfest translates as “shooting festival,” and although there is a fair share of shooting going on during the event, the major focus is on celebrating Germanic traditions and heritage.  These festivals are very popular in Germany and also manifest elsewhere across the world, including Adelaide, Australia.  In order to celebrate the large amounts of German immigrants that came to the country nearly 200 years ago, they put on their own popular event.


Many different versions of Schutzenfest have been held in Adelaide over the years, the first recorded taking place in 1865.  They continued until World War I stopped them, but once the Second World War had come and gone, they resumed, becoming an annual tradition in 1964.  Organized by the South Australian German Association, Schutzenfest now brings in more than 20,000 people and is the largest folk festival in this part of the country.

When you attend Adelaide’s Schutzenfest, expect plenty of great German food and drink, including loads of beer.  Accompanying this is traditional German dancing and music to create a festive atmosphere.  And, as the name implies, there is indeed some shooting.  A shooting competition is held to honor the age-old tradition of marksmanship that was quite important for defending one’s self back in the day.

There are also plenty of other things to keep one busy aside from shooting and drinking.  There are activities for the kids, Strong Arm Beer Stein Lifting Competitions and a variety of cultural displays to show off German descendants’ pride in their heritage.

Whether you come from German stock or just happen to be in Australia at the time, stop through and enjoy Schutzenfest with the locals.  Drink some beer, eat some good German food and enjoy the company of some native Southern Australians.

Australia’s Big Day Out

A five-city tour of rock that hosts some of the best musicians in the world.

Yet another great Australian music event, Big Day Out promises the best and delivers on that promise in spades.  It takes place in late January of each year, during the heat of the Australian summer, touring through five of the country’s best cities.  Sydney, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth all host the festival as it makes its way across the land.


Big Day Out started up way back in 1992 with just a single performance - one day in one city.  Fortune intervened that year when Nirvana, still relatively unknown at the time, signed up for the festival.  Before Big Day Out came to be, Nirvana released their first album and people flocked to see them live, ensuring that this event would be remembered. 

The following year, they added more cities to the tour and even more the next year, making the festival what it is today.  Now, Big Day Out moves from city to city, playing the major venues as well as having many “sideshows” where lesser known bands play at smaller venues as part of the organized event.

Now known as one of the best rock festivals in the world, Big Day Out brings plenty of music from a variety of musicians, both local and international, that are guaranteed to please most everyone.  Rock, electronic music and more all show up to take their place on one of the seven or eight stages that the event sets up.

Over the years, music giants such as The Ramones, Nirvana, Metallica, Neil Young and more have made their way to play at Big Day Out.  For those looking at something different, the event also features The Boiler Room.  Often referred to as a “festival within a festival”, this is a separate section of the event that focuses on bombarding the audience with electronica and dance music as opposed to rock.

This year, the tour brings Big Day Out through Sydney on January 18th, Gold Coast on the 20th, Adelaide on the 25th, Melbourne on the 26th and Perth on the 28th.  The headliners for this year are the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Killers - two giants of the music world.  But these are just two bands in what looks to be an excellent line-up.  Big Day Out is a great way to both experience Australia and get in some memorable concerts during a vacation.

Parkes Elvis Festival

A great gathering of Elvis impersonators and lovers of all things Elvis.

Fans of Elvis Presley rejoice, for there is a festival in Australia made just for you.  While Elvis-themed events are nothing new, the celebration in Parkes is one of the largest, bringing in more than 20,000 people in recent years to express their love of this iconic cultural phenomenon.


It happens every January during the second weekend, set to coincide with Elvis’s birthday.  For five days, from Wednesday to Sunday, people dress up as the singer, enjoy his music and participate in all sorts of themed events.  This passing year marked the 20th anniversary of this successful undertaking.

So why did an Elvis festival pop up in Australia?  Apparently, Parkes has a very high ratio of his fans among the population.  Several of them got together back in 1993 and put the festival together.  It started quite small, lasting for just a single day with only a couple hundred people taking part, but has grown each year since its founding.  More events were added to the line-up and more people began to show up.  Finally, it expanded to two days and eventually to the five day celebration that it is today.

Parkes Elvis Festival boasts more than 150 Elvis-themed events over the course of its five days.  There are Elvis concerts throughout the city, an Elvis Gospel Church Service, a street parade featuring costumed impersonators, Elvis Lawn Bowling and “Elvis in the Park”.  The less Elvisy things involve food-themed events, classic car and art exhibitions, dances and many other novel activities.

In 2013, Parkes Elvis Festival is set to take place from January 9th to the 13th.  The popularity of the festival means that the small town is overwhelmed, so hotels get booked up months in advance.  Luckily, the Elvis Express train runs straight to Parkes from Sydney and traveling on that bit of transportation has its own assortment of Elvis activities and is an experience all its own.  If you’re a true Elvis fan and want to meet others who share your passion, check this unique and entertaining event out if you happen to be in Australia at the time.

Falls Music and Arts Festival

Australia’s musical alternative for celebrating the coming of the New Year

In the two towns of Lorne, Victoria and Marion Bay, Tasmania, a less than 20-year-old New Year’s tradition has sprung up and become a sell-out event that brings in music lovers from around the world.  The Falls Music and Arts Festival is one great way to bring in the New Year if you happen to be in Australia at the time.

Begun in 1993, the original Falls festival was a one day event and took place only in Lorne.  Even so, that first year brought in around 11,000 people.  This eventually led to the opening of another location in 1999, that of Marion Bay.  It also prompted them to expand the festival from one day to four.  Nowadays, Falls festival runs from December 29th to January 1st and brings in about 16,000 people every year.
This event brings in some pretty big bands from around the world.  Performances are mostly musical and generally of the blues and roots genres, though rock, hip-hop and electronic music also plays rolls in the festival.  In addition to the music there are numerous groups and individuals putting on acts of comedy, burlesque, puppetry, cabaret, dance, theater and other visual art performances.
If you plan on going, you’d better be ready to rough it up a bit.  Camping is the way to stay at Falls and there are limited resources on the site, particularly a lack of hot water and flushing toilets.  Luckily, New Years happens to fall during the Australian summer, so freezing cold nights aren’t too much of a problem.
The popularity of the event means that tickets are sold out almost as soon as they go on sale, so don’t count on getting there this year unless you can find someone scalping them.  They also tend to be pretty expensive, so be prepared to pay.  But whether you go to one location or the other, this is a great way to celebrate New Year’s in Australia and perhaps spend some time before or after the festival enjoying the many sites that the country has to offer.

Brisbane’s Backbone 2high Festival

A festival dedicated to mentoring the youth and innovative performing arts

Backbone 2high Festival in Brisbane, Australia is not necessarily associated with what you might think it to be based on the name.  Instead of being an event with a focus on getting high, it’s actually an artistic extravaganza, bringing together some of the strangest and most interesting performances in the country.

Founded in 1993, the festival takes place at the Brisbane Powerhouse.  This gathering is dedicated to the youth of Australia and the innovative display of performance art.  Each year, 12 young people, aged between 18 and 26, are brought together to organize the event, under the tutelage of more experienced mentors.

Around 60 different young performers participated in the festival last year.  Their acts consisted of music, some of it completely improvisational, performance art, opera, theater, comedy and other visual arts.  They also decorated the event with their art installations, some of them being crafted right before the eyes of attendees.  No holds are barred at 2high and the artists are free to create pretty much anything that they feel inspired to.

The Backbone 2high Festival is an amazing opportunity for the Australian youth to get some serious, real-world experience in the fields that they choose to study, leading to the potential for some excellent jobs in the artistic industries.  Audiences can come and enjoy these new and possibly one day famous artists.

So many varied things are presented at the event that all types of people come from around the region to check it out, from families to art geeks.  This year, the festival takes place on October 29th.  It’s completely free to attend and can be a great chance for those visiting Australia to see what their young folks are creating.