Special purchases include excellent local wines; wool, clothing, leather and sheepskin products; precious or semi-precious stones; and modern art sculpture and paintings. Surfing products are also a big buy around coastal towns and resorts.
Indigenous artworks and artefacts are prolific in some parts of the country and paintings, boomerangs, didgeridoos and other objects are on view and for sale in Darwin, Alice Springs and the state capitals; many depict stories from Australian Aboriginal mythology. Ensure you are purchasing an authentic item, however, as much so-called Aboriginal art is fake, consisting of designs ripped off from the real artists. The best places to buy are outlets supported or owned by Aboriginal communities.
The country's national gemstone, the opal, makes beautiful jewellery and the best places to buy are at or near opal mining towns such as Coober Pedy in South Australia. Towns like Broome in Western Australia grew on the back of pearl diving, and cultured pearls are still sold in large quantities.
Opening hours for most stores in the cities are Mon-Fri 0900-1730, Sat 0900-1700. Late-night shopping is available on Friday to 2100 in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart and Darwin. Late-night shopping is available on Thursday at the same times in Sydney, Canberra and Perth. Major stores in some states are open Sun 1000-1600. Most supermarkets are open until 2000, and are sometimes 24-hour. Corner stores, restaurants and snack bars are open in most cities until well into the night.
Nightlife in Australia
Theatre and performance arts are especially good in Sydney and Melbourne; the Sydney Opera House (www.sydneyoperahouse.com) regularly hosts the country's top orchestras and opera companies. Melbourne is Australia's cultural city (although you’ll find no shortage of Sydneysiders keen to debate the topic) and has a nationwide reputation for its live music scene; venues range from premier music-hosting places such as The Forum (www.forummelbourne.com.au) to backstreet pubs in Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond. Comedy is also popular in Melbourne, a fact borne out by its starring role in the city’s annual fringe festival. South Australia is commonly regarded as the 'Festival State'; Adelaide has a multitude of entertainment to choose from at the Adelaide Festival Centre (www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au).
Most cities have a healthy clubbing scene pulling top national and international DJs. The venues themselves range from glitzy superclubs to less discerning (but often no less enjoyable) party palaces. Big-name rock and pop acts also tend to take in Australia on their world tours these days, and a there are a good number of music festivals over the course of the year, covering everything from metal to electronica.
Traditional pubs range from huge double-storey monoliths in Western and South Australia, to graceful Victorian edifices in Victoria and New South Wales. Trendy bars attracting the style-conscious are very popular night-time venues. Melbourne's central business district is full of hole-in-the-wall bars.
In rural areas the pub is the standard venue for socialising. Local drinking holes off the beaten track tend to be very simple affairs, and in many cases also very friendly.