We’ve been to Sydney, Newcastle, Townsville, Magnetic Island, Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, Mackay, Rockhampton, Rainbow Beach, Agnes Water, Noosa, Brisbane, Surfers Paradise, Colangatta, Wollongong, Berry, Batemans Bay, Narooma and Canberra. We bused about 3,000 kilometers along the East Coast, from tropical Queensland to New South Wales. We drove another 1,000 kilometers South of Sydney and out of the beaten tracks. We walked on dozens of beaches, escaped the floods by a couple of days, spent New Year Eve in Sydney and Christmas at the beach. We took the train, the boat, the bus, walked endlessly and got quite tan. We slept in little huts in the tropics, packed dorms in the city, motels, trailers and hostels. This is Australia.
And of course, we learned a few things along the way:
Australian love signs and warnings — I have never seen a country with so many signs, warning you of all kinds of things. High surf, rocks or coconuts falling, high pedestrian activity, slippery rocks, uneven ground, edge, cliffs, water… all that deserve a big warning sign, displayed prominently. Gotta love the yellow diamond-shaped wildlife-crossing signs too!
Australian food is a bit of fish and chips, BBQ and a lot of Asian food — Food is very expensive in Australia, much more than it should be. I mean, we are not talking haute cuisine here! Burgers are fries can be as much as $15 in regular fast-food joint. A hot dog in a small town? $6.50. Fish & chips, a favourite here, is about $25 for two. Food in supermarkets is super expensive too: one avocado is $2.50, a pack of cookies is $3.00, two yogurts are almost $3.00… and supermarkets keep on advertising “special” prices that are ridiculous for us, such as two tomatoes for $3 or $20 (!) for a pack of 12 cans of Coke.
Australia is much more expensive than it should be — I know I’m ranting again, but seriously, what happened to Australia? The Canadian dollar and the Australian dollar are roughly at par but in Oz is much more expensive. Hostel dorm-beds range between $20 and $40, and double rooms in backpacker places from $50 to $100. A movie ticket is $20, $30 for 3D. Australians don’t seem to realize how expensive their country is compared to others. I chatted with an Aussie who found it perfectly normal to pay $30 for two eggs and toast in a regular (i.e. not the Hilton!) fast-food joint. What can I say to that?
Sometimes, I don’t speak Australian — I’m pretty fluent in British English (“rubbish” for garbage”, “pram” for “stroller” etc.) thanks to reading a lot of books from the UK. But we sometimes a little bit of trouble communicating with Aussie. It’s not just the accent (although some do have a strong accent!), it’s the vocabulary. For instance, we kept on seeing “refuge island” signs and only recently understood they indicated a safe place to cross a road. The “police beat” apparently are a small police station and yes, “Butt Street” made me laugh. We were also confused when people asked us “where are you coming from?” as we assumed they meant it literally, i.e. which city we just came from. Turned out it means “where are you from?”! We did learn to say “oi” instead of “eh”, though.
The Australian wildlife is scary — “Did you know that in Australia, you are never more than a meter away from a spider?” an Aussie once told me. No, I didn’t, but I certainly could have lived without this piece of trivia. In Oz, when locals tell you not to swim because of stingers, crocodiles and sharks, you believe them. Let’s remember that Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin died pierced in the heart by a stingray in 2006. And even tiny animals, like the Irukandji jellyfish and funnel-web spider, can be deadly.
Greyhound Buses are a good way to get around but don’t mind the drivers — For some reason, Greyhound bus drivers are either grumpy or quirky. Some perversely enjoy talking in the loudspeaker for half an hour at 5 a.m. when you just want to collapse on your seat and sleep, while others make jokes no one truly understands. But Greyhound hop-on hop-off passes are a great way to travel around Australia. We took Greyhound from Townsville to Surfers Paradise for almost 3,000 kilometers for less than $200. Can’t beat that.
Australian airports are super laid-back — When was the last time you were able to carry a bottle of water with you past check-in? Have your plane pull out in front of you and walk to it unescorted? I love Australian airports!
Backpacker hostels can be quite crazy — We stayed in a lot of hostels and were in dorms quite a few times. Some places were very friendly but others were just scary. Most backpackers in Australia are first-time travelers and are quite young, in their late teens-early twenties. Booze (especially Goon, the cheap backpacker alcohol), drugs and partying is high on their to-do list and I must admit I tend to have little patience with drunks when I want to sleep. Some hostels were true shitholes, like Maze in Sydney which didn’t even have power jacks or fridges, and where rooms looked like prison cell. In Brisbane, we had to evacuate Base, a huge 500-beds hostel, in the middle of the night and trust me, it was messy.
Driving in Australia is fun, but watch for wildlife — We haven’t seen much kangaroos but quite a few dead wombats and other non-identified animals South of Sydney. Got to take many pictures of the cool signs though.
Australia’s dichotomy is wet and dry, while Canada’s is hot and cold — Queensland is currently experiences one of the worst floods in history. We saw the river rising dramatically when we were there mid-December, especially in Rockhampton. Some roads were already flooded when we went to Agnes Water and the bus could barely drive through. But the country also experiences severe drought and many signs everywhere remind people to save water.