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Monday, February 27, 2012

Easing out of Australia and our comfort zones

One of my favorite lines from comedian Stephen Wright is “You can’t have everything—where would you put it?”  That applied in a sort of inverse way to our 35 days in Australia.  We flew into Melbourne near the end of January and were flying out of Brisbane five weeks later.  Those two cities are about 16 hundred miles apart, and Australia is a country best experienced, we had been told more than once, on the ground.  We wanted to see more of the country, but knew there just wasn’t enough time to see as much as we hoped.  Our ground strategy proved to be a solid one as we wound our way first down the Great Ocean Road, to the south and west of Melbourne, then back to the east and north in the direction of Sydney and then Brisbane. 

After spending much of our 27 days in New Zealand in the car, trying to see as much as we could, we opted for a more relaxed pace in Australia.  Our time in New Zealand was marked by several one-night stays, which usually meant driving as far as we felt comfortable during the day, spending some time finding a place to stay, eating dinner, then watching a movie or some TV at the hotel or apartment or cottage.  The decision to have more two-and three-night stays in Australia was more relaxing and gave us a much better feel for our various stops along the way.  But it also meant leaving some things off the "to-see" list.  

Going to Perth in Western Australia was completely out of the question and we wound up crossing off Adelaide in South Australia as well.  That was just a little too far to the west to give us some doable drives back toward Sydney and then Brisbane.  There was also the romantic ideal of renting a four-wheel drive vehicle and forging our way into the outback.
 Our fear, however, was that the reality would be that you drive for hours on end to get somewhere where there is nothing.  Back home in Ohio, we have Indiana for that, so we decided that the only Outback we would see would be in Kenwood.

Ayers Rock, or Uluru, also had some appeal.  It’s a striking geological formation that lends itself to dramatic pictures and can be seen from outer space.  

But the nearest town, Alice Springs, is a few hundred kilometers away from Uluru and a long way away from Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.  So that was scratched off our destination list as well.  Now that our time in Australia is behind us, I think most of the choices we made were wise ones. 

Seeing Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles was spectacular.  I’ve never seen anything like it and it was a definite highlight of our time so far on this trip.   

We also loved our time in the seaside town of Lorne, which provided our first koala and kangaroo sightings, as well as the kookaburra, the bird that makes a very loud call that sounds like a series of laughs.  

That gave us an idea for a new animal club, but we were a bit bothered by the only conceivable acronym:  The KKK.  While our group would have nothing but the best of intentions for animals of all species, including the human kind, those three letters together have something of an ugly past, so we tabled that one.

Those three creatures were certainly a reoccurring highlight for the entire family.  We stopped by several sanctuaries where visitors could get varying degrees of contact with kangaroos and koalas.  At one called Potoroo outside Merimbula on the Sapphire Coast between Melbourne and Sydney, we got to touch a koala for the first time.  The keeper holding the koala for us to pet said she had never seen one in the wild, which made us realize how special the three sightings we had during our drive were. 

Kangaroos are a bit more common and we saw several of them along the way, and at three sanctuaries got the opportunity to feed them.  Annie was smitten immediately, and it’s difficult to resist their gentle nature and cute mannerisms.  

We also discovered that they really like the spot at their lower neck and upper chest scratched.  They will definitely be one of the things we miss the most about Australia. 

Our transition from Down Under to Asia is going to mean some changes in the overall feel of the trip.  Heading into Indochina means English won’t be the first language in many cases.  Fiji, New Zealand and Australia have all be extremely easy from that standpoint.  There are some phrases that take some getting used to, especially on Australia.  How ya going, instead of how’s it going.  Good on ya, rather than good for you.  And they really do say G’day mate a lot.  Another thing that you discover on an extended visit to Australia is that Foster’s is most certainly NOT “Australian for beer!”  In my excursions into the bottle shops, I rarely if ever saw Foster’s for sale and never saw anyone drinking one during our time there.  XXXX,  Carling, Pure Blonde, Carlton Draught and Victoria Bitter seemed to be the most common.  Of those, I’d have to say Pure Blonde was my favorite, it’s a pilsner, that goes down easy on a hot day or with a plate of fish and chips. 

Much like in New Zealand, the people we encountered along the way in Australia were without exception very friendly.  Everyone seemed happy to see us, and those that we engaged in conversation about the trip seemed to have a genuine interest in our adventure.  We shared travel stories with many people, and picked up some good tips for our future destinations, which we plan to put to good use. 

One other thing that sticks out as we leave behind the southern hemisphere is how just letting things happen has led us to some great experiences.  A random stop in the town of Thames in New Zealand dropped us into an outdoor summer street festival. 

Our arrival in Melbourne came about the day before Australia Day, their biggest holiday of the summer.   

Our time there also co-incided with the Australia Open, with tennis festivities all around. In Manly, north of Sydney, we found ourselves in the middle of the Australian Open of Surfing, giving us a great taste of summertime life in Australia.  A casual late-afternoon early-evening stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney gave us glimpses of several weddings as couples took advantage of a summer Saturday.

In the gardens we also saw hundreds of fruit bats, flying around and gathering in tall trees making a very unusual sound and emitting an unforgettable odor.   

We also enjoyed the buzz of a massive crowd queing up for a movie showing at the Open Air Theatre of Sydney, with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as a backdrop.  None of those preceding events were planned, we just stumbled across them. 

When planning this trip back home in the comforting cloak of familiarity in Madeira, one of the goals was to experience completely different cultures and surroundings.  That’s a challenging proposition.  Australia and New Zealand have been pretty easy.  Driving on the other side of the road took a little getting used to, but there are helpful signs at every turn to KEEP LEFT.  In Sydney, they did their best to help pedestrians to keep from becoming casualties. 

But in many ways, the previous weeks have seemed a lot like visiting places in the States.  The food is pretty much the same, with the exception of vegemite of course.   

And “same” is not why we took this trip.  It’s time for something completely different as we head to Singapore and then Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.  Bangerts, you're not in Madeira anymore!


  1. How I have so loved that lower side of the equator, I will love the next even more. Just a bit worried about the kids nutrition. What would it be without a worry from me? :-)

  2. Thanks for your concern and for following our adventure. Marley has discovered a love of Butter Garlic Naan, which we had at an Indian Restaurant last night. We hope to expand that palate as we go!