|We left Canberra, Australia’s capital city, and started on the last leg of our trip. We headed south along the Pacific coastline to our end destination of Melbourne. Aussies pronounce it Melbn, not Melburn. We enjoyed a fun little visit at a koala bear reserve. As we strolled under the groves of eucalyptus trees we strained our necks looking up at all the koalas. During the day they are quite sedentary just sleeping and lounging around posing for the tourists. As we turned the corner at the bottom of Australia we headed west along what is now the Tasman sea. We spent a couple beautiful days at one of our favorite spots, Wilson Promontory National Park. The tip of the park is the most southern point of mainland Australia. Only Tasmania lies between mainland Australia and the Antarctic. Here we finally got to see wombats. They were everywhere and seemed quite tame as they hung out in the campground looking for handouts.
Another animal highlight was viewing the Penguin Parade. There is a colony of about 30,000 penguins that live off of St Phillip Island and every night they head for shore and their burrow homes. They don’t all come on shore every night and the night we attended it was estimated about 1000 came on shore near the viewing platform. The “little penguins” as they are called are the smallest of the penguin species at about nine inches tall weighing two to three pounds. They would come on shore in groups, walk across the sand, and then waddle down trails to their burrows making quite a bit of noise as they talked to each other. We sat on viewing platforms and boardwalks and they didn’t seem to notice or care about all the people. While the weather didn’t bother the penguins, us humans had to endure cold rain, hail, and strong winds. I guess that makes the experience much more memorable.
One of Australia’s most iconic drives is the Great Ocean Road which extends for about 250 kilometers. It was built after WWI as a public works project. It hugs the coastline of steep cliffs and iconic spots such as the Twelve Apostles and the Bay of Islands. Really steep cliffs and rocky beaches make this an area of many, many shipwrecks over the years. The seas were really rough and stormy on the two days we spent driving the road making it that much more dramatic.
We finally reached Melbourne, the last stop on our four month adventure. It’s the second largest city on Australia with about five million people. Melbournians pride themselves on being the most ethnically diverse city in Australia. It has a really great, cheap, public transportation system of buses, trolleys, and trains which made it super easy to get around the city. We have found the best way to really learn about a city and its history is to take one of the free walking tours. They are guided by energetic college students who show you the tourists spots but also turn you on to great little restaurants, bars, and eclectic spots known only to the locals. The tours are free but donations accepted. We have found these tours to be as good, even better, than any commercial walking tour. Melbourne has a lot of little ally ways and lanes which are fun to explore. Lots of public street art and wall murals made for interesting finds. At the Victoria National Gallery we viewed a special exhibition of art on loan from the NYC Museum of Modern Art. Up on top of the Eureka Skydeck, Melbourne’s tallest building (89 stories) we timed it just right so that we could see the city in the day, the sunset, and finally the city at night all lit up. Good time enjoying the city and all its activities.
Well, our trip is over and I have some final thoughts about Australia. The wildlife is fantastic and we saw crocodiles, kangaroos, wallaby, emus, wombats, cassowaries, koalas, too many different birds to mention, penquins, whales, seals, dolphins, and quite a few snakes. The only animal that we didn’t see is a dingo. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was definitely one of our most favorite activities. There are many national parks along the coastline and in the outback that are scenic and great for hiking. There are some really incredible beaches that went for miles and miles with beautiful white sand. Aussies are really friendly people and we had more long conversations with them than with people on any of our other trips in Europe, Canada and even the USA. Unfortunately, they always like to talk about you know who and what is going on with our government and country. As one taxi driver told us, Australians pay more attention to America’s elections than to their own elections. Oh, hands down Australia has the cleanest public toilets and the most of any country we have ever visited. Almost every town, no matter how small, had a place to go!
Some other thoughts. Australia’s population lives mostly along the east and south coasts so when you travel in the interior it can be quite desolate with poor infrastructure and not a lot of services. I am so thankful we never broke down when traveling through the outback. We didn’t find Australia very good for bicycling. The cities have bicycle paths but outside of that the roads are too narrow and busy for bicycling. We also found vehicular traffic in both rural and urban areas very unfriendly to pedestrians. Crossing the street was often a challenge and cars often wouldn’t stop even when people are in a crosswalk.
Australian food is a lot like American food with KFC, Subway, McDonalds and Dominoes dominating the corners. Aussies are big meat eaters but there is almost always a vegetarian option on most menus of either Indian or Asian cuisine. Most restaurants, except for fine dining, you order at the counter and they bring the food to your table cutting back on the wait staff. No need to tip and we were told the minimum wage is around $22.00 an hour. Eating out is expensive but when you don’t tip and tax is included in the price it actually is not that bad. Alcohol is really, really expensive both in pubs and stores.
Life is expensive in Australia but because of the very favorable currency exchange rate we enjoyed a 30% discount on everything making it more reasonable. If the exchange rate turns unfavorable, traveling in Australia would be very expensive. Fuel ran anywhere from about $5 to $9 a gallon being most expensive in the outback. Sounds expensive but when we factored in our 30% currency exchange discount and that our motorhome rental got about 40% better mileage than our motorhome in the states it was only about $1.00 more per gallon than what we would have spent traveling in the USA. Campgrounds are really well maintained and on average are probably a little less expensive than USA campgrounds after our currency discount.. Plus, there are lots of free camping areas in communities, along roadsides and even on the beaches. We didn’t do a lot of free camping because we liked having electricity to run the heater/ air conditioner and hot showers. Plus, the commercial and park campgrounds have more convenient locations which is our priority.
All in all, Australia was a great adventure! Thanks for reading our blog.