September 7, 2012

Australia Recap

This sounds so cliche, but Australia is a lot bigger than we expected! Even after we had been warned several times, we still misjudged the size. 28 days wasn't quite enough time to work our way up the East Coast, let alone the rest of the country. In geography class, Australia always seemed so small and content floating out there in the ocean. But now looking at it on the map, it’s almost the size of the United States. We've also had a reality-check when it comes to world maps. America is not always in the center!

The Economist recently put out their annual report of the world’s most livable cities. 7 of the top 10 cities were either in Australia or Canada. After seeing how orderly everyday life is here, that didn't surprise us at all. Now if only they could knock their food prices down by 30%.

There are poinsettia and daffodil plants blooming right now. It feels weird. Perhaps winter/spring wasn’t the best time to visit because we couldn’t enjoy the beaches and ocean as much as we would have liked. BUT – and this is a huge but – it is not “stinger” season. From November to June there are jellyfish in abundance, that when touched, can make you stop breathing and lose consciousness within minutes. There are boards posted all around Queensland beaches informing people about different kinds of jellyfish and what to look for.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d rather have chilly water temperatures than be constantly worried about losing my life.   

All over Australia’s beaches we have come across the most unusual sand. On Fraser Island the beach was so aerated that we could pop sand bubbles. On Magnetic Island and in Mission Beach, tiny crabs leave behind the most beautiful pieces of artwork.

The sun here is very intense. They don’t sell anything lower than 30 SPF sunscreen. Whether they’re at soccer practice or on a school field-trip, all of the kids wear outback hats as part of their uniform.

The money here is very cool. It’s super colorful and plastic! Leave it to the outdoorsy Australians to create currency that’s waterproof.

They must have had lots of problems with drivers falling asleep behind the wheel, because there are all kinds of fatigue signs along the highways. In Queensland we even saw trivia questions to help people stay awake. By the way, the answer if you're curious is koala.

In Great Britain we noticed the obvious difference in pronunciation, but here it’s the grammar that has stuck out. Instead of “Do you?” it’s “Have you?” Instead of “How are you doing?” it’s “How are you going?” But the weirdest is their complete inability to say a simple, “You’re welcome”. Instead we always get a, “No worries” to which I want to reply, “I wasn’t worried.”

It’s strange to be at dinner and overhear the table next to you casually taking about places like Tanzania. Even though Australia feels like home, we are so clearly in a different area of the world.

Before we got to Australia we joked that we couldn’t wait to try Australian food…whatever that is. What is Australian food anyway? Our Aussie friend Bella explained to us that there’s really no such thing as pure Australian cuisine…they just borrow from everyone else’s and put their own spin on it. One of the only foods I think they can legitimately lay claim to (because no one else wants to) is the almighty Vegemite.

If you have not tasted this before, it’s worth a one-time small sample. A little goes a very long way. It’s a black spread on toast or sandwiches. I guess it would be the equivalent to the American PB&J. Vegemite is owned by Kraft but is made right here in Australia. Tasted on its own, you’d think you’re eating a bouillon cube. Spread in a thin layer on toast, it tastes like how a cigarette smells. I feel fairly confident in saying that…we just came from Europe.

Australians seem to eat a lot of vegetables, salads, french fries, lamb, and a type of cheddar cheese which they call "Tasty". Seriously, that's the name...Tasty. They think they own meat pies, but I’m pretty sure those probably came over with the British settlers. Australian pies are smaller than in England and have flare called “The Stack”, which is basically a heaping pile of mashed potatoes, mushy peas and a swimming pool of gravy on top.

We tried kangaroo burgers a couple of times. There was no patty, just strips of kangaroo meat placed in-between a hamburger bun. Kangaroo tasted like a tough, well-done steak.

One thing that Australians definitely do well is coming up with enticing flavor descriptions. How could you not be coaxed into buying Honey Soy Chicken or Grilled Chorizo & Caramelized Onion potato chips?

From our camping experience in Byron Bay, we knew that Australians have very bizarre marshmallows that taste more like sweet tarts. They’re also pint-sized. No smores in Australia…just weird marshmallows over the campfire that are sure to rot your teeth.

If Americans have Oreos, Australians have Mint Slices (massive Andes mint but in a cookie form) and Tim Tams (two rectangular cookies with a filling in the middle). We made sure to taste test all the different kinds of Tim Tams …even the strange Aussie flavors like Rum Raisin.

Australia is known for its wine like Shiraz and Chardonnay, but we particularly liked their James Squire, Fat Yak, and Beez Neez brews. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, drinks Fosters.
Where to start! There have been so many amazing encounters that the Australian wildlife might go down as one of our top highlights. We’ve seen wild koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, cockatoos, lorikeets, black swans, cassowaries, turkeys, toads, dolphins, humpback whales, dingoes, lizards, goannas, glow worms, crabs, jellyfish, stingrays, sand worms, snakes, bats, butterflies, and fish of all varieties. 

There are two wild animals we never ran across: a crocodile and a shark. Whew!

Aside from our gripes about the hordes of international working visa holders, Australian hostels just are not as good as the rest of the world. They’re lacking on free Internet, breakfast, lockers, and built-in beds. When an undeveloped continent like South America has more Internet access than a developed country like Australia, that’s saying something.

After 8 months of traveling, we have no doubt that Australia disproportionately sends more young travelers out into the world than any other country. Come on Australia! Give international travelers the same benefits that your people are reaping all over the globe.

  -  Aussie Rules footy match at Melbourne’s MCG stadium with our friend Bella
  -  Everything about the Great Ocean Road, but especially the wildlife
  -  Sydney’s beautiful harbor, bridge and opera house
  -  The Blue Mountains’ National Pass trail
  -  Reuniting with our friend Mike after 4 years, and getting to see his home in the Gold Coast
  -  Camping on Fraser Island’s 75-Mile Beach
  -  Humpback whale watching
  -  Whitehaven Beach’s Hill Inlet on Whitsunday Island
  -  Seaplane flight over and into the Great Barrier Reef

Everyone warned us that Australia would be super expensive. We really were able to keep things under control through the big cities – Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. It was after we headed north from Brisbane that we understood what everyone was talking about.

This area of Australia (Queensland) is completely dominated by tour companies. Everyone and their grandma is working on a commission to sell you into something. Unless you’re a local Australian who has friends with 4x4s, boats and connections, you have to be willing to drop big dollars to partake in the landscape. There are no cheap options for Fraser Island, the Whitsundays, or the Great Barrier Reef. You are at the mercy of the tour operators-o-plenty.

For that reason, Queensland has been one of the most frustrating places we’ve traveled to so far. It’s hard to wade through the sea of tour brochures without feeling like you’re getting ripped off or led astray. There is no such thing as a neutral tourist information office in this state.

Queensland: beautiful stuff to see, ridiculous infrastructure for tourism. If I had to give someone advice who’s thinking about coming here, I’d say to find a good travel agent at home, book everything before you get here, and then don’t second guess yourself. Don’t even dare look at a pamphlet. Put your blinders on and just enjoy what you’ve signed up for. Chances are it will be amazing.

We’re doing great! The pace at which we’re traveling has become more manageable again. We’re into month 8 of our trip, and we’re realizing that pretty soon we’ll be saying it’s almost over. We are soaking up every minute that we can.

More than any other country we’ve been to so far, these four weeks in Australia have completely flown by. We think it’s because Australia has not been much of a culture shock. It feels like home – even more so than Great Britain – and aside from the tour company gauntlet of Queensland, it has been all-around easier to travel here.

We are so excited for September. We’ll be celebrating our 3-year wedding anniversary and spending lots of time in one of the most amazing countries in the world. For the next 32 days, we’re going to be touring around New Zealand in a campervan! We are expecting to have little to zero Internet access, so you may not hear from us for awhile. No worries, mate! We’ll be writing and picture taking the entire way with lots to share when we resurface. See you on the flip side!


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