Australia is called The Land Down Under, because it lies entirely in the southern hemisphere. It is an island continent, stretching about 3,700 kilometres from north to south, and about 4,000 kilometres from east to west. The surrounding bodies of water are the Timor Sea and the Arafura Sea to the north, the Coral Sea and the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Tasman Sea and the Great Australian Bight to the south, and the Indian Ocean to the west. The closest country is Papua New Guinea, which is separated from Australia by the Torres Strait. New Zealand lies to the southeast.

Most of Australia is flat and dry. The largest mountain range is the Great Dividing Range, a low chain of mountains running parallel to the east coast from Cape York in the north to Melbourne in the south. Within this mountain range is Mount Kosciusko, Australia’s highest point, at 2,228 metres. Other mountain ranges are the Darling Range in the southwest, the Hamersley Range on the west coast, and the King Leopold and Durack Ranges on the north coast

Central Australia is an area of deserts and grassland, known as the Outback. Many of the rivers and lakes in the Outback dry up in the summer. In the centre of the continent is an enormous monolith called Uluru (Ayers Rock). The interior also contains Purnululu, or the Bungle Bungles, a sandstone plateau that the wind has carved into unusual shapes of pinnacles, domes and waves. 

Off the northeast coast of Australia is the Great Barrier Reef, the largest underwater coral formation in the world. The island of Tasmania lies to the southeast.

Winter in Australia is from June to August, and the summer months are December to February. Summers are hot and winters are relatively mild. The far north experiences wet and humid conditions, the central east and west coasts have a warm, temperate climate, and the south coast and Tasmania are cooler. About 70% of the country receives very little rainfall and has become arid or semi-arid. Unreliable yearly rainfall can lead to droughts, which can last for years. 

Many unusual plants have adapted to Australia’s dry climate. About 95% of these plants are found only in Australia. The most common tree is the eucalyptus or gum tree. The acacia and wattle may become tall trees or stunted shrubs. There are thousands of species of wildflowers, such as kangaroo paws, Christmas bells, orchids and sturtpei. 

About 400 animal species are native to Australia. Nearly half are marsupials, mammals that raise their young in pouches, such as kangaroos, wallabies, possums and koalas. Other unusual animals include the platypus and the echidna, which are egg-laying mammals. Reptiles include crocodiles, lizards and many poisonous snakes. The cassowary and emu are very large, flightless birds. Kookaburras, large birds with a loud, cackling cry, and black swans are also native to Australia.
  Did you know?

The colourful coral of the Great Barrier Reef is made from a liquid emitted by trillions of tiny sea creatures called coral polyps. This liquid eventually hardens and becomes shell-like. There have been campaigns to preserve the Great Barrier Reef, since its popularity as a tourist sight has led to its deterioration.