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Australia Wrap-Up

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Well, we sure have enjoyed our time in Australia.  So much so, that we had planned to spend one month there, and ended up spending almost six weeks.  But despite the great, fun six weeks of partying we’ve endured, we are thoroughly exhausted and ready for a vacation from our vacation.  Australia is just one party after another – everyone around is fairly young, in contrast to New Zealand where we felt on the young side of things, and pretty much everywhere you go, you’re expected to get as wasted as possible and party hard.  Most hostels we stayed at were allied in some way with a bar, and it was expected that you should be drinking until the early hours and didn’t deserve peace and quiet until well after midnight, which caused us to sleep less than I would have liked.  Case in point – since Australia day 2 weeks ago, Kenna and I have consumed exactly 2 drinks each.  That’s how burned out we are.  But really, here I am complaining that Australia is too much of a good time – poor us.

Australia
Food 6
Beer/Wine 6
People 8
Weather 10
Cost of Living 4
Quality of Sights and Activities 10
Overall 8

Australia really offered a diversity of great things to do – from the astounding crocodiles and beautiful scenery in Kakadu, to the amazing beaches all along the East Coast, to the buzzing metropolis of Sydney, I really can’t think of a bad time (except that rough patch in Fraser Island).  Though I said this for New Zealand as well, it’s really tough for anyone not to stay entertained in Australia, but for a different reason.  In New Zealand, it was the constant specimens of nature’s beauty that surrounded us, whereas in Australia, everyone and their dog was offering a tour of some kind.  Australia is much more commercialized than New Zealand, which has its good and bad sides, but you definitely aren’t bored.

Our Top 5

Without further ado, here are our top five picks of things to do in Australia:

1. Surfaris

Scott surfing

Scott surfing

Of all the tours we did, and we did a great many, this is one that still stands out as being the best.  I’m not sure if it was because we had just spent 10 days isolated in a house in a Sydney suburb and were ready for a party, or if it was the group of people we were with, or if it was genuinely a well organized tour, but Kenna and I both agree it was one of the best weeks of our lives.  The guys that ran the tour were really nice, chilled out and helpful, and the diversity of activities throughout the week – surfing, beach volleyball, a beach fire, and jam sessions with pro bands – all made the trip an amazing good time.  Oh, and we learned to surf a little too.

2. Diving the Great Barrier Reef
This one is tied for first, depending on who you talk to (since I’m writing this post it goes number 2, if Kenna was writing it’d be first).  This one was a lot like surfaris – balls to the wall every day, diving from dawn until after dark, and thoroughly exhausting, but the crew were fantastic, the food and people were great, and the quality of diving was probably the best we’ve ever had.  If I hadn’t slept through most of the dives with a cold and been miserable and anti-social, it might be number one for me as well.

3. Bundaberg

A sea turtle at the Great Barrier Reef

A sea turtle at the Great Barrier Reef

Though Bundaberg was seemingly a sleepy little town with not much to offer, for some reason the few days we spent there sticks out for us.  Kenna’s always had a keen fascination with turtles, and we got to watch them lay eggs and watch them hatch; and I got to tour a rum factory and sample the product.  And we arrived here after having almost two weeks of straight partying with Surfaris and Byron Bay, and the hostel we stayed at felt almost like home, so it was a really nice break. But the town itself also had a je-ne-sais-quoi, a charm we can’t really describe.  I’d be willing to bet returning to it would yield disappointment, but maybe not.

Scott holding some freshly laid turtle eggs

Scott holding some freshly laid turtle eggs

4. Byron Bay
Byron Bay has a charm all to itself.  It’s a sleepy beach town where surfers rule the roost, but the shirtless carefree nature of the town, with a healthy dose of great nightlife, makes this place a must-see stopover.  A side trip to Nimbin is also a one-of-a-kind experience.

5. Sydney
Amongst the many travellers we’ve talked to, people always say that the first Aussie city you land in is your favorite, which in itself speaks volumes about the country that upon first arrival you fall in love, and our first arrival was no exception.  We spent 10 days in Sydney, way longer than we should have, and we really enjoyed every moment of it. The people are friendly, it has a zillion things to do, it’s easy to get around, it’s clean, it’s beautiful, and I just can’t say anything bad about it.  It’s got the busy metropolitan vibe of New York, combined with the sleepy beach town quality of Byron Bay thanks to its two main beaches (Manly Beach and Bondi Beach), and that combination is totally our style – work hard, play harder.  We’d spend more time here if we could.

It also didn’t hurt that we were here during New Year’s – I think there’s only a couple other places in the world that would throw as big of a party as Sydney, and being 25 degrees outside certainly didn’t hurt.  I think I’d even rather be in Sydney than New York City or Las Vegas, as the vibe was just really fun.

6. Bonus – Kakadu National Park

The beautiful Motorcar falls of Kakadu National Park

The beautiful Motorcar falls of Kakadu National Park

Though we only spent a couple of days here, we really enjoyed our time in Kakadu National Park.  The only drawback is the price – we spent as much on the tour as we did for the Whitsunday’s cruise, or for Surfaris, and almost as much as our Great Barrier Reef cruise, and the value just wasn’t there.  But the sites themselves were breathtaking, and we are really glad to have seen this rustic side of Australia.  For the future, I think I’d recommend a self-guided tour over paying for an overpriced guided tour, as I’m sure renting a 4×4 and a tent would be cheaper than our tour, and we didn’t see anything a self-guided tour couldn’t find as well.



7.  Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Kenna and a koala

Kenna and a koala

Ok, this is turning into a top 7.   But we can’t forget this Koala sanctuary just outside Brisbane, as it allowed us to cross off one of the most important things to see before we left Australia, being the only place we were able to see Koalas and Kangaroos up close.



Recommendations

Don’t book ahead

One of our biggest regrets, mostly because it put us way over budget and constrained our choices, was booking everything ahead. Upon arrival to Byron Bay, we decided it was time to plan the entire rest of our time in Australia all in one go, all with one company, and we went to Peter Pan’s Travel to help us out.  For this decision, as we later found out, we overpaid for almost every tour we went on, we weren’t informed of the prices of each tour (Kakadu cost us almost $400 for 2 days, and had we known that, we probably wouldn’t have gone there), and our timeline was fairly rigourous (going from the hard party in the Whitsundays to our dive trip in Cairns with a 10 hr drive in between was probably a bad idea, and led to this lingering cold that really screwed up my dive trip and possibly diving in Indonesia as well).  Booking ahead and planning is generally good, but we found that each tour we went on was much cheaper buying it last-minute direct from the tour company rather than through the travel agent.

Avoid the bus

While we didn’t experience the bus first hand, we heard enough horror stories to make us really happy that we rented a car instead.  If you’re over 25, then a car is much more convenient and equally, if not more, economical than getting on the bus.  Our car cost us $27/day, and the convenience and peace-of-mind it offered us was invaluable.  We were able to leave our passports and laptop locked away in the glove compartment, without having to worry about leaving it with hundreds of other bags in luggage storage.  We were also much more flexible with our schedules – while we were able to get a good night’s sleep and do a long drive the next day, lots of people were forced to board buses at 11 p.m. and endure 10-12 hr rides on the uncomfortable conditions of the bus.

We also heard many horror stories of Australia’s various bus services:

  • One guy was forced to sit in the isle for 10 hrs without a seat belt, which is illegal, and consequently he received a free pass anywhere in Australia after he threatened to blog about the experience and blackmail them.
  • Another few people were on a bus where the windows wouldn’t close properly, and when they were driving through torrential rain on the way to Cairns, occasionally a pool of water would dump through the window whenever the bus tipped a certain way, soaking the unlucky soul beneath.

Tip: check out vroomvroomvroom.com for awesome car rental advice. We used them to find our awesome cheap car (we used Hertz).

If you’re under 25, don’t bother with a car – a couple of 18 yr olds from Calgary were paying over $100/day for their old beater, while we had a brand new awesome Corolla for $27/day.

Things we love:

  • Cordial
    Why we don’t have this in North America is beyond me.  It’s concentrated juice that you mix with water, it comes in way more flavors than our frozen concentrated juice, but it’s much more convenient as you don’t need to freeze or refrigerate it.
  • Meat pies
  • Bundaberg rum pre-mix cans
  • Ginger beer – like Ginger Ale but with a lot more ginger.
  • Beets and pineapples on sandwiches
  • Goon

Scott drinkin some Goon

Scott drinkin some Goon

Goon, or boxed wine, is the hot dog of wines – everything you find on the floor, including fish guts, goes in it. It’s fairly tasty for what it is, but the hangover is brutal.  But most importantly is the effect it has on the libidos of women – we called it panty remover and leg spreader.   Lastly, who doesn’t love 4.5L of alcohol for $11?

Things we don’t love:

In stark contrast to New Zealand, the beer here all tastes like Budweiser unless you buy a commercial international brand like Guiness or Heineken.  And it’s damned expensive.

Phrases we’ve picked up:

  • Rubbish (garbage)
  • Petrol (gas)
  • Swimmy (bathing suit)
  • Eskie (cooler)
  • Sunnies (sunglasses)
  • … And many more that we can’t remember.

Warning, we’re probably going to use these awesome phrases when we return, so be prepared.

McDonald’s genius business model

I’m not a big fan of McDonald’s. Growing up, my parents raised us as McDonald’s haters, and I can only remember one occasion where we ate McDonald’s for dinner, and only then was it to enjoy McDonald’s short-lived pizza experiment.  And yet, somehow in the past month, I’ve spent more time in McDonald’s restaurants than any other time, including that short time in high school everyone goes through where our group of friends would go there all the time. A few days ago, on a long drive from Airlie beach to Cairns, we stopped at no less than 4 McDonald’s.  Why? The answer is why the president of McDonald’s Australia deserves a huge bonus – free wifi and cheap coffee.  In oz, it’s on average about $3.80 for a small coffee, but it’s all espresso-based coffee.  Nowhere can you find cheap filtered coffee like in North America, except McDonald’s.  McDonald’s does sell the espresso based drinks too for the standard price, but also offers cheap $2.50 filtered coffee. They’re like the Tim Horton’s of Australia.  Combine that with the free wifi, where at almost every McDonald’s you can find at least one person on their laptop enjoying the free connection, and I’m sure it’s doing well for their bottom line.

Well, that about wraps up our thoughts on Australia.  We’re now on to the real adventures of Indonesia and the rest of South-East Asia.  More on that to come!

2 comments to Australia Wrap-Up

  • Marc Chiswell

    WOW…

    I can’t wait for free WIFI here in NA.

    sounds like you are still having a great time!

    Miss you guys

  • Dave

    these posts keep getting longer. I can totally agree with the bus stories. I got maybe two hours of sleep going from Byron to Sydney overnight. I am glad you guys had such a great time in oz and loved it as much as we did please travel safe as your continue your journey through southeast Asia.

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