You might have done so much planning and preparation that you already feel like you know a place before you visit. But as Debora Hoffman discovered when she left her United States homeland, there are always bound to be a few things that you weren’t expecting Down Under…
“Thinking Australia? We found some surprises:
- It’s really, really far away. OK, this one wasn’t a surprise, but it is somewhat astonishing; it takes 30 hours to get to Melbourne. And that’s on Australia’s east coast. To get to Perth, on the west coast, takes another 4 hours. That is a brutal amount of time to be on airplanes, leaving you smelly, cranky and your brain on stun from the four movies you watched.
- Qantas Airlines serves free meals on their flights. And not just the long hauls. We had a full breakfast on our 3 hour flight from Melbourne to Ayers Rock and a ‘snack’ – a substantial chicken tortilla (which in Australian is pronounced tor-til-a) on our 3 hour Ayers Rock to Cairns flight, which, at 3:30 pm was right in the middle of… no meal at all. I can remember getting meals on airplanes, but then I got a Pan Am flight bag too.
- Australians love to abbreviate. Signs all over the resort town of Port Douglas advertized “brekkie” or breakfast. Even in the newspapers, it’s mozzies for mosquitoes. My favorite? Oz, for…what else? Australia.
- Ayers Rock, known locally by its aboriginal name Uluru, is the famous big red rock to visit. But right next door is an even more impressive site, Kata Tjuta, known by the European settlers as The Olgas. Uluru has a lovely 10 kilometer base walk that allows you to circumnavigate in about 4 hours. Seen alongside, it is spectacular. Every few hundred feet brought a new view. My neck got sore from veering right.
- Kata Tjuta is a different experience entirely. It looks like it has been there longer than Uluru and is now element-carved so that trees and grasses grow in the flats between the monolithic red rock sides and trails travel alongside them. We walked both available trails: the Walpa Gorge Walk and the Valley of the Winds Walk. Both had varied, rocky terrain with up close views of the towering, one hundred fifity story high walls. We were not the only ones with a Kata Tjuta preference: the day we hiked Uluru, we saw a handful of walkers at long intervals. The next day at Kata Tjuta? We were never alone.
- It is possible to pack for a 2 season, 2.5 week trip in one carry on wheelie and a back pack. Even our teenage daughters did it. The secret? Packable laundry sheets that look like dryer sheets, but contain laundry detergent and fabric softener. For one load, you use the same sheet in the washing machine and then the dryer.
- We learned that Melbourne’s coffee is as good as Italy’s. And we’ve had both. We were told the local Starbucks is not very popular. Makes sense when it has to compete with the hip laneways, the little pedestrian alleys crammed with coffee places and eateries.
- Australians like Americans. Moreover, they know about us, growing up on the same diet of TV and movies. One parliament member we met at a dinner said to us, “No one thinks Hilary won’t run in 2016” and he compared the Clintons to the Corleone family in The Godfather. I challenge any American to say who is the current Prime Minister of Australia, much less who might run for the office in 3 years.
- We also met a community service group who invited us to share in their cold drinks at the base of Kata Tjuta. When they heard we were from Boston, they told us they had watched in horror the news coverage about the Marathon bombings. They were fascinated to hear how our family left the Marathon finish line just 10 minutes before all hell broke loose and how we sheltered in place during the manhunt in the town next door. They had grieved with us, they said.
- Unlike Americans, though, Australians will eat their national icons. We saw both kangaroo and emu on the menu and in the supermarket. You can buy an entire roo tail for the grill, oops, I mean, barbie. We tried a bit of kangaroo at our outback resort. Tasted just like chicken… or maybe beef. Really it was tough and pretty bland. Luckily, our national icon is protected.
- As a land mass, Australia is about as big as the continental USA, but with many fewer people. At 23 million, it is about 2 million people short of Texas, about 4 times the population of Massachusetts, and only about 7 percent of the United State’s population. And yet on our Great Barrier Reef cruise we met a family from Arlington. Yup – the one in Massachusetts.
- And that Great Barrier Reef? It is great. Really, really worth the 30 hours of travel.”
Ready for an adventure Down Under? You can find out more about tours of Australia with Intrepid on our website.
* photo by Cameron Gaze, Central Australia