Friday, February 17, 2012

Australia in a Nutshell

A view of the Outback from our airplane

Sara's Top Three:
Melbourne - Australian Open
Sailing the Whitsundays and GBR/scuba
The Great Ocean Road Trip

David's Top Three:
Tennis at Rod Laver Arena
Sailing the Great Barrier Reef
The Barossa Valley

The number of animals in Australia, specifically deadly animals, is insane. There are animals from the water, the air, and the land that can and will kill you. Some are smaller than your thumb while others are more than 17 feet long. After New Zealand where nothing can kill you, this was quite a shock to the system. We saw ants, bats, lots of birds, a cassowary, dolphins, echidnas, eastern quolls, tons of fish, frogs, kangaroos, koalas, lizards, sea turtles, sharks, spiders, stingrays, a starfish, Tasmanian devils, toads, wallabies, and wombats - and probably plenty of others that we are forgetting. We have had our fill of wildlife for a while!

 Like NZ, we did a lot of driving in Australia - it is a fabulous way to see this vast country. We rented three cars, one in Tasmania, one in Melbourne for the drive to Adelaide, and another in Queensland. I didn't expect we could drive more miles that we had in NZ, but we did by almost double. We drove a total of about 3,868 km (about 1,000 in Tasmania, 1,141 to Adelaide, and 1,727 in Queensland). We filled up our cars at least nine time at an average of AUS$60 per tank - less than NZ by just a bit. The cars we rented in Melbourne and Queensland didn't have cruise control, and and we regretted that. In NZ the road is so curvy that we rarely would have used cruise control. Australian roads are very different with long stretches of very straight and very flat roads when cruise control would have really come in handy. No speeding tickets!

8 nights in YHA hostels (which we were very impressed with), 8 nights in hotels, 2 nights in a beach house, and 3 nights on a boat. Due to the crowds for the Australian Open, we booked our stay in Melbourne a few months ago. Christie and Jay took care of booking all of our accommodation in Tasmania, which was awesome! Other than those bookings, we had no problems at all just booking everything else along the way. We found several places the day of and others a week or so prior.

Security and Safety
Other than being harmed by an animal, I felt completely safe during our entire stay in Australia. Flying from Melbourne to Tasmania and back, none of us had our IDs checked. Our boarding passes were checked, but we weren't once asked for an ID or passport - crazy! Gas stations here still let you pay after pumping your gas - seems like a small detail, but somehow every time we got gas, which was a lot, I took notice of this and realized Australians are a bit more trusting of each other than we are in Atlanta.

Even with the strong AUS$, we found food to be a bit less expensive in Australian than it had been in New Zealand. This was noticeable in both restaurants and grocery stores. We continued with our trend of breakfasts and lunches "in" whenever possible, meaning that we ate a lot of breakfasts of granola and yogurt (a new staple) that we purchased from grocery stores, as well as many PB&J sandwiches with fresh fruit. We did introduce some hummus, bread, cheese, and tomatoes to the mix, which felt very refined after our simpler meals. Our dinners were mostly eaten out and our favorite was Thai, which is great as we head to Thailand in a few days! Alcohol was outrageously expensive -- $40 for two 6-packs at a package store. This meant we didn't drink too much . . . but what we did drink, specifically in the Barossa Valley, was excellent! The quest to eat a bit healthier succeeded somewhat, although for a week or so Sara developed a bad habit of needing a Crunchie candy bar every day. A Crunchie is a delicious honeycomb wrapped in melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate -- seriously good. (David says, tastes like cardboard)

Landscape and Climate
Tasmania was similar to New Zealand in some ways. Lots of trees and mountains. It seemed dry but but not too dry. It is a harsh place. The parts of Victoria that we saw were Melbourne and the coastline, and it definitely didn't seem too dry in those areas at all. South Australia is extremely flat and extremely dry - the driest state on the driest continent in the world. We definitely saw that on our drive. Queensland was green and lush along the coast and in the rainforest. Driving in Queensland we saw tons of crops - the most common being sugar cane.

There is so much to do in Australia!! There are information sites in most major towns, which we used some, but they were not nearly as helpful as the ones in NZ.

At the airport in Melbourne we picked up a SIM card for our unlocked phone from Optus. It was less expensive than the card in NZ and came with ten times more minutes -- a good deal.

Free internet was a lot more common in Australia than it was in NZ. Oftentimes our hotels had free Internet or we could get online at a cafe or library. Towards the end of our time in AUS we also learned that McDonalds has free wi-fi, which we ended up using twice. Not bad! We were limited to the iPad because David's computer failed soon after we arrived in Australia. That has complicated things. He is hoping to replace the hard drive and recover files and email in Singapore.

Other than Tasmania where long pants were needed at night, Australia was hot!!! We wore a lot of sunscreen and hats and tried to stay as cool as possible, which wasn't always easy. The places we stayed (including the boat) had A/C so that was a huge treat. Everyone we saw seemed to dress very casually, even in cities. Like NZ, shoes were optional. It was common to see people barefooted in grocery stores and even in some restaurants.

There are six states and one territory in Australia and they seem to all be on a different time. Many of the time zones are 30 minutes apart, which seemed odd. Thanks to the radio for letting us know that we had just gained 30 minutes entering into South Australia from Victoria. The most confusing was flying east from Adelaide to Cairns when we gained half an hour and were suddenly behind both Adelaide and Melbourne even though we were east of both of them. Apparently Queensland does not participate in daylight savings. The confusion was made worse when the clock in our rental car from Cairns was off by an hour. We spent the majority of an afternoon with no idea of the time. We just knew we were within an hour or two of 2 pm. Good thing we had nowhere we needed to be!

Awesome!! Australians are great. They have a wonderful sense of humor and always have a smile on their faces. They are very welcoming and are happy to show off their great country.

This stuck out to us on both of our trips to Australia. When a local is either spelling something for you or telling you a number they say "double" or "triple" instead of saying the letter or number twice. For example Woolloomooloo is "w, double o, double l, double o, m, double o, l, double o." This does have a bit of a song-like quality when coming from the mouth of a local, but it meant we needed to ask for it to be repeated about five times before we could get it right.

Some of the phrases we heard the most were "How you going?;" "Good on you;" and "G'day mate."

Guide Book
Lonely Planet redeemed itself. We liked our guidebook - "Lonely Planet Australia."

Still to do
Drive from Darwin to Ayers Rock; explore the outback; Perth and the West Coast!

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