Welcome to Australia!
Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
50Trip End Aug 31, 2009
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Where I stayed
Damn!! Damn!!...they have even more Cadbury chocolate flavours here to try. For the record, "Marble" (hazelnut praline center surrounded by a swirled dairy milk/white chocolate mixture) gets a thumbs-up (even after it melted on top of the microwave). The six flavour "Snack" bar gets a thumbs down...the 'ice coconut' flavor just didn't cut it.
Damn!!! Damn!!! Damn!!!...When I was buying the Cadbury bars I forgot to buy Tracy her dairy free chocolate (twice!) ...sleeping on the couch isn't so easy when there's no couch!
And one last woeful Damn!!!!...Australia is not New Zealand!
Given that we have only been here a week or so, our dissatisfaction may prove to be a little premature but there has definitely been a letdown (not unlike 1968*). To be fair however, we enjoyed New Zealand so much, I think any destination (except for maybe Maple Lake) would have been a disappointment. It started out okay with our Hyundai Elantra rental car, which is only 3 years old, is bigger than our New Zealand rental, and (at $21 a day) is priced quite nicely. But after that initial "success", Australia started to go downhill for the reasons listed below. But as Juzzie Smith sings "I'm going to blow now, some good vibin' natural dijeridoo, whoo!", and after a week of quiet reflection I realize my initial negative thoughts were radically overblown. As such, each "negative" below is followed by the more rational "reality":
· As soon as we left the airport, we approached a toll highway with no Australian money in our pocket...Arghh, so much for the plan to avoid the service charge at the airports ATM. Reality: my inner self tells me (or maybe it was Tracy who told me) that only doofuses (doofi?) leave the airport without at least a few dollars of the local currency;
· Upon exiting the highway before the toll gate we immediately got lost, and the map Tracy was attempting to use proved to be woefully inadequate
· Unlike New Zealand, the economically priced motels in Australia generally do not include kitchens (which is an absolute must to keep costs down in these countries). This caused me four days of budget angst that no amount of chocolate could cure. Reality: We discovered that the RV/camping grounds here (known as "holiday parks") also have cabins which approximate what we were getting at a New Zealand motel. The added bonus is that holiday parks tend to have more amenities for children;
· Australians aren't as nice as Kiwis, Example 1: When we were unloading our car at our first stop, a van roared by and a thrown beer bottle smashed into the gutter beside us. Reality: We arrived on January 26, also known as Australia Day, so there was a fair bit of nationalistic pride celebrations in progress
· Australians aren't as nice as Kiwis, Example 2: When I went grocery shopping the first day at Woolworths, I went immediately to Customer Service to procure a customer loyalty card that had given us so much in savings in New Zealand. The snippy clerk basically told me that they didn't have that program in Australia, and I could always go back to New Zealand if I wanted to. Reality: After our exchange the clerk headed down some aisle labeled "Feminine Protection"...I've never been brave enough to venture down that aisle before but I can only assume it is a place where women go when they are in a bad mood. I'll give her a pass too;
· We flew into Brisbane and our first destination was Burleigh Heads (Gold Coast), 100 kilometres south of Brisbane. It was in Burleigh Heads that I read the rental car contract [Note: given the "budget" nature of the car rental company they don't actually have an office at, or nearby, the airport...they just leave the car at the airport for you with the keys in a lockbox...you then mail in the signed contract]
· It's rained every day we have been here. Reality: It's rained every day we have been here;
· In the first three days in Australia we went to two theme parks (Seaworld, Wet & Wild Water Park) and also spent a number of hours in a very big mall...it felt like we were in Florida, or worse, Niagara Falls (given the nearby wax museum and the haunted house)
So, in hindsight my initial dissatisfaction with Australia was unwarranted. As I mentioned above, most of our bad vibes were exaggerated. Quite frankly, the theme parks were a whole bunch of fun, and the beaches we have experienced have been gorgeous! The other aspect of Australia that pulled us from our woeful abyss was this country's offerings when you get away from the coast. Twenty minutes inland from the Gold Coast and you are in an entirely different place with mountains, lush rainforests, and a number of natural spectacles. I remember Tracy commenting on a scenic rock outcropping saying that it reminded her of the escarpment back home. I guess I wasn't entirely out of my dark place when I sarcastically replied, "Oh, that would be the escarpment in Niagara Falls?"
Anyway, away from the coast (which, by the way, is called the Hinterland) we went up the scenic Green Mountains, went on a rainforest treetop canopy walk, saw many colourful birds (one of which tried to steal Sarah's sandwich, but was thwarted by her ear-splitting squeal), and even had a wallaby hop right in front of us. Include the brush turkeys wandering about, and the giant lizard we saw on another walk to a funky natural bridge and it all added up to a great day
It was interesting that our first trip inland almost didn't happen because of the two elderly ladies in the natural parks information center. We were thinking that they don't get many "customers" as they tripped over themselves in describing the nearby natural attractions to us. But then again, it probably doesn't help to ask open ended questions like, "What can we do in the area that doesn't remind us of Niagara Falls, or involves feeding each other chocolate bars naked?" (okay, I slipped in that last word under my breath so they probably didn't hear me...but then again maybe they did, as I swear I heard a giggling reference to a Big Turk as we were leaving). Anyway, back to my point, the ladies kept mentioning that all the wet weather has brought out the leeches and we shouldn't really walk in the National Parks...by the time we got out of there we were convinced that the second the sun went behind a cloud we would be attacked by an army of giant blood sucking leeches. You will glad to know that we did in fact get rained on but we made it through the day leech free.
We also discovered that Australia has a whole hippy/New Age culture in various parts of the country. As an example, after our initial stay on the Gold Coast we ventured another 100 km south to a place called Byron Bay
And then there is the nearby town of Nimbin, that started its hippy march to fame with the 1973 Aquarius Festival. Apparently a good number of festival participants never bothered to leave, and Nimbin is now characterized in our guide book as a place where visitors "find themselves hectored by dreadlocked, tie-dyed pot dealers on the main street" but then goes on to say that "this is the stereotype, of course, as not all the pot dealers wear tie dye". Yet, another side to Australia. By the way, Nimbin is also close to a really cool rainforest walk we did to see Protestors Falls...no complaints from the kids at all for this hike, even though we couldn't find any of the red-eyed tree frogs that are prevalent in the area. No leeches there either (even though it was a bit rainy again);
So now, if we weren't already totally confused as to whether or not we like Australia, we start noticing "things" that are neither good nor bad, but just a little weird. To name a few:
· In surfing through the radio while driving, we heard songs #7 and #6 in one station's current Top 10 list
· In driving due south from the territory of Queensland to New South Wales we passed through a one hour time change...go figure!;
· At a children's playground we visited, there was a life sized game of Phosphates and Ladders where the children had to go down the "phosphorous snake" if they landed on squares such as "used too much detergent". It was an educational game, I guess, but still a little strange. By the way, Sarah won because I repeatedly landed on the "washed my car and let the soap run down the drainage sewer" square. Where is the soap supposed to go??...answer me that, Byron Bay hippies!!!
That's it for our introduction to Australia. I think the "further" we get away from New Zealand the more we will enjoy Australia. It certainly has a laid back feel about it, and we have already witnessed the spiritual influence it has had on the children...Michael spent an hour successfully digging a small boulder out of the wet beach. When we asked him why, he just gave a faraway smile and said, "Because to me the trapped rock symbolizes the plight of the aboriginal people, and to break this rock free from its prison of sand gives me hope that all of the earth's ancient tribes can break free of the societal chains that bind them"**. Yikes, we have to keep that boy away from Nimbin!
* That would be the year after the Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup, when the team began a letdown that continues to this day.
** In case there is any doubt, I totally made up that quote (but I'm sure that's what he was thinking...)