I live across the road from two beautiful beaches that are both off-leash.
If you don't have a dog that won't mean anything, but for dog owners this is the golden ticket.
In the mornings, the beaches are joyful places, with dogs of every size and many breeds romping, chasing balls and each other, and generally giving themselves and their owners a workout.
I'm on the beach most days and I've never seen a dogfight, although I imagine they might happen in rare cases, or a dog attempt to bite someone. (Jump on strangers enthusiastically – yes, sometimes.) If there has been mess left behind, I've hardly noticed any.
And yet Australian councils are generally very parsimonious in the amount of time they allow dogs on beaches, allocating a few night-time or early morning hours, if at all, or siphoning off a fragment of sand for dog walkers, and still insisting the dog be kept on a leash. In the cities, recalcitrant owners are almost certain to be hit with a hefty fine.
If you are scared of dogs or annoyed by them, or you believe most dog owners are not responsible enough to clean up after their dog, then this is a good thing. But surely you are in the minority. Forty per cent of Australian households own at least one dog.
I don't have a dog right now but I have never understood Australia's antipathy towards pets, especially when they accompany their owner away from home. I understand there are health and cleanliness issues relating to the service of food, but dogs sit happily and cleanly under tables in Europe and I don't see why they wouldn't do so here.
Even in sanitised America, small dogs travel freely on planes, trains and taxis. I have a friend whose Yorkshire terrier goes everywhere with him – and to luxury hotels, where the dog's Instagram account is full of photos of him romping on the bed and dining on doggy room service.
When people travel with their dogs in Australia, it can be a pain in the neck. The first hurdle is transport. I let my dog fly in the hold once but then had misgivings about it, and didn't do it a second time. She would have been happy under the seat on the plane, but this is not allowed.
Carrying small dogs on trains and in buses seems absolutely fine to me. Some places overseas ask they be kept in a basket or bag. This usually excludes pit bulls or similar dogs. I do acknowledge some people are allergic to pets but some people are allergic to perfume and that's not banned from trains.
Accommodation is also a headache for the travelling hound. Just in time for the Easter holidays, I have been sent a very useful book, Pets on Holiday, by Gareth Brock, a state-by-state round-up of the pet friendly (as opposed to merely "pet tolerant") places to stay, eat out and walk your dog in rural and urban Australia, from Sandy Paws on Belongil, a holiday home on NSW's north coast that sleep six, to the 150-room Novotel Swan Valley Vines Resort near Perth. Off-leash beaches include Cable Beach, in Broome, and pet-friendly cafes include the wonderfully named RSPCA Cranky Flea Cafe in Tuggerah NSW.
Moderately or low-priced caravan parks, holiday villages, motels, guesthouses and holiday houses fill the book. But I noted that there were very few luxury hotels listed in the guide. Those few include Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast and Pier One and the Langham in Sydney. It's very disappointing.
Pampered pooches and their owners who travel five-star in Australia need to look to private rentals. Luxico, founded by Melburnians Alexandra and Tom Ormerod, is a collection of exceptional holiday homes with the bonus of a local expert "Superhost" acting as concierge. (luxico.com.au)
Alexandra comes from a family of animal-lovers and her "fur baby" Herman appears in the pet-friendly advertising. A number of Luxico's larger houses with gardens are most suitable for pets. Pet friendly properties come complete with dog bowl and a map of local off-leash parks, and other items are available on request (e.g. dog beds and cat scratching posts).
Pets need to be pre-approved in writing to ensure the animal is right for the property. Guests with animal allergies are notified if a property has previously had a pet in residence. It's all very sensible.
More Australian hotels need to come to the party. I love a lobby dog.
Listen: Flight of Fancy - the Traveller.com.au podcast with Ben Groundwater
To subscribe to the Traveller.com.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.