Tag Archives: Australia

12 Thoughts on Travel to Australia

1. It is not as daunting as many people make it out to be

Australia is kind of the other end of the world. So, it is easy for people in North America (Europe as well) to think of Australia as nearly out of reach due to constraints related to time and money. Flights from Los Angeles to Sydney take 14-15 hours. Sitting in an airplane for that long, especially in coach, is quite uncomfortable.

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However, once it’s done, it’s done. Traveling to Australia for the first time felt reminiscent of the first time I spent a weekend away from my family, while I was in high school. Despite the trip being only four hours, the lead up made me nervous and took me out of my comfort zone. I came back with a fantastic experience and a comfort zone expanded. Dealing with jet lag and the change in seasons can be rough, but many regular travelers have come up with some good techniques to manage it.

2. The best time of year to visit is somewhat ambiguous

The northern part of Australia is tropical. Since summer is their wet season, winter is likely the better time of year to visit.

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As for the Southern part of the country, the weather would most likely be more pleasant in the summer (December- February). However, that is the busy tourist season. The Great Ocean Road in June was pleasantly empty. Plenty of locals indicated this to be the better time of year to be here due to the lack of crowds.

If I could chose any time of year to visit Australia again, I would like to try Springtime (Fall in North America). When considering the ideal time to travel, many fail to consider what they are missing back home. Colorado is amazing in winter and summer. Spring and fall can be beautiful as well, but I feel like I am missing less when I travel in these in-between seasons.

3. For Americans, it is one of the easiest places to engage in another culture

Travel can often be far more rewarding when tourists engage in the culture of the place they are visiting, rather than just visit sites. The combination of friendly people and a similar culture makes Australia an easy place for Americans to do this.

4. It is neither expensive or cheap

If someone tells you Australia is cheap, they likely live in New York and typically visit places like London, Paris, or Oslo. If someone tells you Australia is expensive, they likely live somewhere like Indianapolis and vacation in places like Mexico and El Salvador. In reality, prices for things like food, hotels and transit is right in the middle of the pack.

For food and drink, it is important to remember the tipping is not required here and the Australian dollar is worth about 77 cents.

5. Forget the Commercials

I did not hear anyone say ….

  • “Throw another shrimp on the barbie”
  • “Oh Crocies”
  • “Fosters, Australian for beer”

6. Expect a lot of Asian tourists

Half of the world’s population lives in China, Southeast Asia, India and Japan. Australia has only 26 million people. The makeup of the tourists will most certainly be dominated by people from the highly populated and relatively nearby part of the world. Many of the signs along the road contained text in Chinese as well as English, in the same manner that signs in Colorado are written in English and Spanish.

7. There are three different kinds of rugby

And apparently each one has different rules and is associated with a different class of people.

8. Australians have a nuanced view of weather and climate

A bartender in Melbourne told me that “real Australians love the heat”, when referring to temperatures in excess of 45°C (113°F). Yet, there seemed to be a genuine concern about climate change.

In America, especially in the Midwest, it appears that concern for climate change has some connection with weather preferences, particularly frustration with wintertime cold.

9. It is a big country

By area, it is only slightly smaller than the United States, and that is primarily because of Alaska. Trying to see the whole country in two weeks is pretty much like someone saying they’ll see the entire continental United States in two weeks. It is nonsense (or, “rubbish” as they would say). Two weeks is almost the minimum amount of time one would want to allocate to a trip to Australia to make the long flight worth it. One couple I met set out to see the entire country in a recreational vehicle. They plan to do so over two three-month trips.

10. They have some surprising travel preferences

Skiers seem to prefer to travel to Japan over New Zealand.

It is actually cheaper to fly to Hawaii from Australia than from the United States. Most Australians I met have been there at least once. I even heard of people flying to Hawaii for Black Friday Shopping

11. Koalas can be somewhat hard to spot

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12. They are having many of the same discussions we are having

In addition to having the same political divide as the United States, there seems to be similar discussions about a lot of other issues. This book, Australia Reimagined, could have easily been written about America.

The Great Ocean Road Day 3: Final Day

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The iconic 12 apostles is not the only intriguing coastal rock structure in the Port Campbell area. Continuing westward along the Great Ocean Road for the next several kilometers, spectacular oceanic limestone rock structures continue to appear.

First there’s The Arch, the only place I have ever seen a mini waterfall in an ocean.

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Then there is London Bridge. The name London Bridge was given to this structure back when it was attached to the mainland. In 2005, London Bridge literally fell down, due to waves and erosion.

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The South Ocean is quite turbulent. Everywhere along the Great Ocean Road, particularly in winter, there is a steady barrage of strong waves. There is a reason so many shipwrecks occurred here. As a result, this section of the coast is in a constant state of change. Watching the waves come onshore inundating the limestone rock, gradually eroding it and paving the way for the next structural change, is like watching science in action.

At the grotto, visitors can walk down to an arch-like structure where waves periodically crash in.

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Some of the larger waves can lead to mist on the other side of the arch.

After these structures, the Great Ocean Road once again ventures inland, transitioning to farmland.

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It would make sense that the Allansford Cheese World is in an area surrounded by farms, right near the end point of The Great Ocean Road.

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The Allansford Cheese World produces far more varieties of cheddar than I ever would have thought to be possible. I had always thought of cheddar as one of many types of cheese, which would include Swiss, Pepperjack, Havarti, etc. Visitors to the Allansford Cheese World can sample a dozen different types of cheddar, some of which are really innovative.

It was here I noticed myself slipping back into an American-like stand-offishness when it comes to dealing with people. For the entire trip, I felt Australians to be generally more friendly than Americans. In conversations with Australians, I did not experience the need for the conversation to provide some kind of value, or the assumption that everyone was in a rush to get to their next activity that is characteristic of many conversations I have with Americans. On my final day on the Great Ocean Road, as if trained by years of cultural experience I found myself starting to engage in conversation without being fully engaged, with the time and my next activity on my mind. I could not believe I was doing this.

Although the Great Ocean Road ends here, but most tourists continue on, at least to the town of Warrnambool, where visitors can supposedly see whales. A 30 minute visit to the pier, where one sign promised us “A Whale of a Time”, turned out to be a bust.

I guess there is a danger in trying to fit an activity like this, dependent on complicated natural forces and animal behavior, into any kind of schedule. However, I wanted to continue west, to the Tower Hill Nature preserve, a set of volcanic lakes where koalas often hang out. It would be a shame to visit Australia and not see at least one of those, and at this time of year daylight in Australia is limited.

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I made a major mistake here as well. Based on our life experiences, we often internalize assumptions and operate based on them without thinking. Being from Colorado, I have a base assumption that all “hikes” involve a climb, to some sort of peak or cool looking overlook.

After two such hikes, in hopes of seeing koalas, an employee at the visitor information center informed us that koalas need trees with moisture and would likely be found down by the lakes. This walk needed to be flat, not up a big hill.

For some reason, despite their actual demeanor, koalas feel like a picture of innocence. A small, furry, cuddly creature constantly hanging onto a tree and sleeping 20 hours per day. I actually wanted to pet them.

Port Fairy would be our final destination.

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We’d have one last adventure here, a short walk onto Griffiths Island.

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Where we would have one final wildlife encounter, fairly up close with the wallabies!

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A trip that many would consider “once in a lifetime” was coming to an end. I sat on a rock gazing out at the Ocean as the sun gradually faded behind me. It felt like a real life version of the fade outs often used at the end of movies and videos. Looking straight outward, I was amazed at how vast the Ocean is. I began to imagine what is on the other side, pondering more adventures. Uncertain as to the exact direction I was facing, I imagined multiple possibilities of what laid straight in front of me.

I imagined the jungles of Madagascar, with monkeys and other forms of wildlife roaming around in the trees and a lone explorer with a knife trying to trudge through the trees and mud.

I imagined the vast expansive ice sheets of Antarctica.

I imagined the far more nearby mountains of Tasmania, quiet for the winter season, but coming to life with young adult hikers and adventurers in the Springtime.

Despite the fact that my adventure would slowly be ending, the reflection of the orange light on the ocean surface felt like an invitation and promise of more to come.

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The Great Ocean Road Day 2: The Twelve Apostles

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Just like that the weather turned. A couple of hours after the sun went down After our first day on the Great Ocean Road, the wind started howling and the rain started falling. It was weird to be on top of a van while a storm was coming through. At first I was scared that the van would tip over, but I reminded myself of the amount of wind needed to actually do that, at least 85 miles per hour (135 km/hour). As much as I lament the amount of places in the world, particularly at work, where emotions are expected to ignored, it is still great to overcome an irrational fear with knowledge and logic.

I was surprised to awaken and find that I had slept in, until about 8:30 A.M. Given how early I had gone to sleep, due to the sun setting at 5:10 P.M., this meant that I had slept nearly 11 hours! While I had hoped to get an earlier start that day, I could not believe how refreshed I felt. Lately it feels like there are multiple competing theories about sleep, in particular related to whether or not lost sleep can be made up for. Based on my experiences, it feels like it can. The experience reminded me of coming home from college and immediately sleeping 12 hours at my parents house after stressing out about finals and final projects for weeks (as well as living in the dorms). After sleeping 11 hours, for the first time in what feels like years, I did not feel any sleepiness or need for caffeine!

No matter how much people plan, changes in weather create the need for some adjustments. The wind and rain made it feel not exactly pleasant outside. The beaches, as well as some of the walking trails, were empty that day. The town of Apollo Bay is bigger than Torquay and Lorne, and where the Great Ocean Walk, a 104 km trail that leads to the Twelve Apostles, begins.

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About 3 km West of Apollo Bay, is the first place along the Great Ocean Road, nearly halfway through the drive, deviates from the coastline.

Map of Great Ocean Road

Even here, the ocean is still always kind of in sight, but the inland traverse into the hills provides some variety in the scenery.

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It is this section of the coast, near Cape Otway, conditions felt at their windiest. Sort of like a peninsula jutting out into the Southern Ocean, the area is often referred to as “shipwreck coast”. 19th Century historical events here include a number of documented shipwrecks, but also the construction of the Cape Otway Lighthouse, Australia’s oldest. This lighthouse established the first connection between mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania, via both shipping routes and telegraph messages.

In the afternoon the rain stopped, but the wind continued to howl. The sun even gradually started to return. However, the cold wind straight off the coast would still make it a less than pleasant day for any kind of long walks or hikes. It ended up, however, becoming the perfect conditions for a once in a lifetime experience. A helicopter ride over one of Australia’s most iconic destinations; The Twelve Apostles.

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At AUS $145 ($110 US) per person, the cost of this epic journey is quite reasonable! The ride itself lasts about 15 minutes, and quickly soars over some iconic images, including The Great Ocean Road.

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Of course, the Twelve Apostles.

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And, many of the similar limestone structures further West.

While the helicopter ride provided an arial view of these beautiful oceanside structures, the Gibson Steps, located just a couple of kilometers to the East of the Twelve Apostles, provides a view at beach level.

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The Gibson Steps are exactly what one would expect, a staircase that leads down from the overlooking cliffs to the beach. Walking down and up the steps requires being outside for only about 10 minutes, so the less than pleasant weather was not too much of a factor.

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We camped that evening in Port Campbell, a town of barely 600 permanent full time residents with a beautiful beachfront. In the summer, this place is a lot more crowded. In the winter, it was quite empty.

This was the evening that having traveled to the Southern Hemisphere in June messed with my mind the most. Port Campbell in winter has a clasic quiet small town feel. The Main Street bar with a faded neon light outside it. The three block stretch of lit roads surrounded by darkness in all directions. The quiet street with a few people walking around but most inside the restaurants or their own homes.

We are accustomed to the relatively gradual changes in daylight patterns as the seasons progress. Even in periods like April and October, the amount of daylight, at most changes by a couple of minutes each day. Having experienced the daylight expansion in the Northern Hemisphere from April to June, I’d inured to sunset being sometime around 8 P.M. and complete darkness onsetting closer to 9. Being in complete darkness in a quiet small town made 6:30 P.M. feel almost like 10. Without seeing too many people out and about, it is easy to feel like we had arrived at everyone’s bad time.

 

A Mini Safari at Kakadu National Park

The word Safari is typically associated with groups of people out looking for the kinds of wild animals usually only seen at the zoo. The word Safari originated from an Arabic word that literally means “to travel”. For some, a safari represents a kind of once in a lifetime experience that typically lasts for one to several days.

The Yellow Water Cruise is not a safari. It is an Indigenous-owned operation that takes tourists on a two-hour boat cruise in the central part of Kakadu National Park.

It is one of the best places in the world to see crocodiles in their natural habitat, and the reason most visitors to the national park take this cruise. I came onto this cruise with the mentality that its sole purpose was to look for crocodiles. Before departing, there was a series of safety instructions given by our tour operator where we were specifically told not to take selfies with the crocodiles.

What I ended up getting honestly felt like a very small scale, and river-based version of what we commonly think of as a safari. We see a bunch of animals in their natural habitat on a journey through wilderness.

For the first 10-15 minutes of the journey, we primarily saw birds.

It was maybe 20 or 30 minutes into the journey that the crocodiles began to appear. The first one we saw from a distance. However, one of the other boats was already looking at the crocodile. Our tour guide told us we would just “catch the next one”. He then informed us that there were tens of thousands of crocodiles in these seas, and that he would “bet his job” that we will see another one. He also informed us that the crocodile diet mainly consisted of fish, something good to know.

They did begin to appear.

While some were in the water, plenty of crocodiles could be found just sitting on the ground in the wetlands directly adjacent to the river.

One was even stationed – protecting a bunch of eggs.

Then, we actually got up close and personal to a couple!

At this point, I was glad to have heard that these creatures primarily eat fish. I would not attract their attention. Nor would the candy I happened to have in my shorts pocket (still a dumb idea).

Then we began to see some other animals in their natural habitat.

As we paddled around the river, seeing the crocodiles swim around, then packs of wallabies and finally buffalo, I began to feel a strange resemblance to the zoo.

The wide-open areas with packs of animals, and trees in front felt like the habitats set up at zoo exhibits. The background landscape, with its rolling hills, and blue skies that fade into the horizon, looked like those backdrop drawings placed behind the animals, as if to try to fool both the animals and the visitors into feeling more like the animals are in their natural settings.

Only this is the real thing.

It probably helped that the water buffalo we saw is a species that is originated in India and Southeast Asia, not Australia. They were brought to the Northern Territory as it was being settled in the 19th Century and were able to live in the relatively similar habitats in far northern Australia. If one is to consider the past 150 years a mere blip in evolutionary history, on the Yellow Water Cruise visitors can see animals from multiple continents all from the same boat.

It is an amazing feeling to be right in front of something that had always felt so distant. However, this was real. The wide-open plain in which the animals were grazing and hoping around was truly wide open with the animals having room to roam. The crocodiles were swimming along in the river, sometimes at fast speeds.

And, the backdrop in which the blue sky fades into the horizon really was a reflection of the time of day about half an hour before sunset.

Finally Forced to Slow Down

I couldn’t believe I had made such a dumb mistake. Shortly after entering Kakdu National Park, the vehicle we had rented suddenly started sputtering.

The car slowed down, and we had to pull to the side. We were stranded.

It didn’t take long for us to realize what had gone wrong. At the gas station we had stopped at right before entering the park, at the Mary River Roadhouse, we had accidentally put the wrong fuel in the car- diesl.

When visiting another country, it is important to learn some things about how that country works, especially when it comes to getting around. Besides the most obvious difference, that Australians dive on the left side of the road, there are differences in fuel, with disel being far more prevalent here than it is in the United States. Most gas stations here have all options presented at the pump like this.

There was no excuse for the mess up at the Mary River Roadhouse. The pump I used to gas up the vehicle was labeled quite obviously.

And the nozzle did not even fit properly into the gas canaster. Yet, I continued.

It’s not the kind of mistake I typically make. In fact, I often pride myself as to having never made other similar mistakes, like locking my keys in my car. This one just happened, costing us hours as we had to arrange a tow to get the car’s gas tank drained and re-filled with the proper fuel.

In this situation, the easiest thing to do is have a break down. After all, tons of activities await us in Australia’s largest National Park. And, we have limited time here.

Yet, there was noting to do but wait for roadside assistance. Lamenting over the mistake would not get the car repaired any faster and becoming anxious about what activities were being missed could not make the ones we do end up being able to do any better.

After a deep breath, I ended up spending most of the several hours having some fairly in-depth conversations with people, both people who had come with me to the park, as well as strangers that helped us out by giving us a ride to our hotel room.

All while just taking in the scenery that was in front of me.

We talked about life, we talked about travel, how we handle our personal relationships, and what we had learned from our experiences. Some of it was quite deep and personal. I came away feeling more connected to the travel companions I came to the park with, and with a new connection to a nice Australian couple who had just retired and were now able to travel all around the country in a nice camper.

Overall, it still ended up being a good day.

My uncharacteristically dumb mistake was really life forcing me to slow down. The two months prior to this trip were stressful and exhausting for a variety of reasons. I felt like I had -2 minutes to spare at all times, constantly rushing from one activity to another. What I needed, at that time, wasn’t to reenact a scene from Crocodile Dundee. It was to slow down, capture my thoughts and become more connected with what was around me. Through the process of exhaustion, and random luck, the forces of life gave me what I had needed.

One Cloudy Day in Sydney

The day started with fog. It wasn’t thick enough to cause major travel hazards. But, it was thick enough to obstruct views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge from the Central Quay train station platform, as well as the 25th floor of a nearby hotel. The hotel concierge would not recommend activities like ferry rides and bridge tours so long as the visibility was as low as it was.

Luckily, that fog would gradually lift over the course of the day.

This would give way to an afternoon that was just cloudy, with five afternoon hours to explore Sydney, as early June has some of Sydney’s earliest sunsets.

It ended up still being a pretty good day to walk through The Royal Botanical Gardens.

The low-level cloudiness of the day, if anything, provided a unique experience. The thick layer of cloudiness felt like it added an element of mystery to the trek through the gardens, with its variable, but often dense vegetation.

Embedded in the trees are plants from many parts of the world, some unexpected.

At the far Northeast end of the garden is Ms. Macquaries Point. There are several paths to get there, each with different vegetation. It is a large garden visitors could easily spend multiple hours at. The view of downtown, from across the bay, is perhaps the best one in the city.

The Sydney Harbor Bridge Tour is supposed to be an epic experience. However, it is expensive (~ AU$ 300), and probably would not have been cost effective on a day like this. Ferry rides to Sydney’s North Beaches, however, cost only AU$15 round trip.

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These ferries track right next to Sydeny’s defining skyline features as it connects downtown with communities like Manly Wharf.

Manly Wharf feels similar to many coastal communities in America, particularly in California. Despite less than ideal weather conditions, surfers ventured in and out of the waves of the Pacific Ocean all afternoon while coastal birds wandered among the humans looking for food scraps.

Over time, their presence becomes something everyone is just accustomed to, part of the background like the sound of the ocean waves or the humming of one’s kitchen appliances.

The great thing about venturing to places like this is the ability to imagine the day to day lives of people who live here. Central Quay is, of course, the most “touristy” part of Sydney. There is nothing wrong with being a tourist. Attractions are attractions for a reason; they are great places to visit. However, most of the other people walking around places like this are also tourists, not living their typical day-to-day lives.

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Here it is different. At the bars, people were cheering on their local team in Australia’s favorite sport- rugby. The shops along the wharf provide not only the kinds of services tourists need, such as restaurants and ice cream shops, but also grocery stores and gyms. Patrons at the bar would encounter others they are already familiar with. Living near this beech and taking a 30-minute ferry ride to work every day feels like an amazing life!

There were also plenty of families in the area, many enjoying the beech, and preparing to take the ferry downtown for the Vivid Light Festival. This festival runs for something close to a month at Sydney’s darkest period, with various light displays illuminating Sydney’s downtown buildings.

It was also quite well attended. It makes perfect sense for an event like this to occur this time of year in Sydney. Sydney’s winters are not that cold. Saturday was a chilly day with temperatures in the 10-15°C (50-59°F) range. This, although not cold from the standpoint of anyone that has lived in cold cities in the Northern United States, felt cold enough to encourage many locals to wear wintry clothing, including coats and hats. For the entire day, most people appeared dressed the way New Yorkers would dress for an evening in December with temperatures just below freezing.

One day stops are never a guarantee. This is especially true in places with variable weather conditions; mid-latitude destinations in wintertime. Travel is often a delicate balance, between planning and spontaneity, between maximizing time and finding time to relax, and between the desire to take part in everything and the limitations of the human body. It is possible to use perhaps the scarcest human resource, time, to its fullest while traveling by doing things like visiting popular destinations in wintertime for one day. However, it requires the understanding that not everything will always go exactly according to plan. Being aware of what is going on, weather and other considerations, while noticing events like like Vivid Light Festival and being open to trying them out will usually lead to a great experience regardless of circumstance. Sometimes, when circumstances require adjustments to be made, the experience can even end up better than the one originally planned.

The Longest Flight of My Life

Nearly 14 and a half hours on an airplane can be quite an intimidating prospect. It is the longest flight that I have ever taken in my life and I can’t imagine a longer one in my future. The flight itself turned out to be both surprisingly easy and surprisingly challenging at the same time.

The most obvious challenge on a flight that leaves at 11 P.M. is sleeping. Airplanes are not comfortable places to sleep. Despite this, I was able to get at least six hours of solid sleep. However, I spent much of the flight in and out of sleep and a good part of the second half of the flight trying to force myself to sleep.

I was trying to avoid jet lag. Sydney, Australia is 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles. It actually ends up feeling more like going back 7 hours and just losing a day. The flight departed on a Thursday evening and landed in the morning on a Saturday. Friday just didn’t exist! Understanding that 7 A.M. in Sydney is 2 P.M. in L.A., and that without any kind of adjustment my Saturday in Sydney would be short (I’d likely get sleepy at 4 P.M., which is 11 P.M. in L.A.), I came up with a plan.

First, I forced myself to stay up a couple of hours after boarding. This was relatively easy as the flight provided dinner service. Then I tried to force myself to sleep as much as possible. A little over halfway through the flight, it became harder to sleep in the unnatural position of an airplane seat.

This was the most difficult part of the flight, as is often the case, but it was not nearly as difficult as I had thought it would be. Maybe this is a sign that our lives are too sedentary. Being seated for 14 hours in a row is obviously not natural. However, many of us have had days with similar amounts of time spent seated. Ten hours at a desk job, with an hour and a half of commuting and some time at home in front of a computer or television at home has created a surprising number of similar days. I have somewhat different reasons for having had days like this, but the 14+ hours of sitting on an airplane felt almost disturbingly too natural to me.

The sun rose right as the flight was preparing to land. It left me with one question. Why did I just leave summer to visit winter? In Sydney, on Saturday, I would last until just after 9 P.M. before falling asleep. Not bad. Maybe long flights to the other side of the world are far more manageable than we all think, and we all should take advantage of opportunities to visit “The Land Down Under.”