When Australia closed its borders in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, it implemented some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world. International tourism has been suspended and even the Ozzies have been banned from coming and going. The COVID-zero approach worked for a while: Australia kept its death rate remarkably low for most of the pandemic. But once the majority of its citizens aged 16 and over had been vaccinated, the government turned around, adopting what some have called a “let it rip” approach, lifting lockdowns and mask mandates precisely when where Omicron was starting to rise.
While the decision remains controversial, tourism is moving forward. On February 21, Australia reopened its borders to fully vaccinated visa holders from a number of countries, including the United States, building on a late 2021 relaxation of travel restrictions that allowed visitors to New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and South Korea to be the first foreigners to return.
To enter, Americans must present a valid Australian visa, proof of full vaccination (defined as two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which includes Pfizer, Moderna and J&J), and a negative rapid antigen or PCR test taken within 24 hours of departure. With the exception of Western Australia, whose own reopening is scheduled for March 3, this allows vaccinated tourists to travel without quarantine in much of the country. Visa holders who are not fully vaccinated will still need a valid travel exemption to enter and may be subject to additional state and territory quarantine requirements.
Despite the myriad challenges posed by the extended closures, life has continued apace, with new hotels, museums, restaurants and cultural experiences launching at an impressive pace. Here’s what travelers should expect from Down Under, just in time for the country’s reopening, organized by region.
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New South Wales
Sydney is getting a slew of new hotels in 2022, including options from Capella, W, and the first Ace Hotel in the Southern Hemisphere. Land as soon as possible? Grab a suite at the glamorous Kimpton Margot Sydney, which opened earlier this month in a historic Art Deco building on Pitt Street. The first Kimpton in Oz, the 172-room hotel has a chic rooftop pool, restaurant by celebrity chef Luke Mangan, and custom Lekker bikes for tooling around Surry Hills and Darlinghurst.
For nature lovers, there is a new snorkeling experience with seals at Montague Island (Barunguba) run by Sapphire Coastal Adventures. Small-group tours cross the coast between Bermagui and Narooma in Batemans Marine Park, four hours south of Sydney. The stretch is home to large colonies of Australian and New Zealand fur seals and razorbills, gray nurse sharks and nesting seabirds. Lucky swimmers may even spot a dolphin or whale gliding through the water.