Australia is the largest island continent in the world with a coastline stretching 25,760 kilometers and an area of 7.7 million square kilometers. It is the vast distances between population centers as well as the country's wide-open spaces that, perhaps above all else, have the greatest impact on overseas visitors.
The most recognizable image of Australia may be its outback. However, it is a country of enormous geographical diversity. The landscape varies from the beautiful but barren and harsh "red center", to the lush tropical rain forest of north Queensland, the green pastures of western districts of Victoria, to the snowfields of the New South Wales and Victoria.
Despite such diversity, it is essentially a dry, hot country and the greater part of the interior is uninhabitable. The country's climate and consequent geography largely explain its high level of urbanization: the average Australian, instead of wearing an Akubra hat and mustering cattle on a horse in the outback, is a city dweller. The Australian population is estimated to be 22.8 million inhabits a land area almost as big as continental USA. Over seven and a quarter million people (around 40% of the entire population) live in Sydney and Melbourne. Other major cities - Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth - all have population of more than 1 million.
The country is divided into six states - Victoria, New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, and two territories - the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory. The capital city of each state has a distinct identity, and it is the most populous two - Sydney in NSW and Melbourne in Victoria, that can lay claim to being the country's most sophisticated and cosmopolitan.