Australia Wrap-Up

tower of central station
Central Sydney in the morning.

This will be my last Australia post. I think I have finally covered nearly all the things I wanted to say. There are just a few loose ends that I will sum up here.

The main takeaway is that you should definitely go to Australia. I felt like I stepped into a parallel universe where everything was the same; and yet just a bit off. It’s not like England were even the recent immigrants and decidedly English.

It’s actually shockingly like the US (in that they lack an established culture), while somehow simultaneously being nothing at all like anywhere else on Earth. I know that sounds crazy, but when you get there, you will see.

The big highlights to note from the trip are:

AUD
The bills are plastic and feature the Queen of England, and the coins are heavy and weigh you down. Still, very neat. I love foreign money.

1. Stay at YHA hostels if you are by yourself and on a budget. They are mostly wonderful, and extremely affordable. Make sure to buy through their website, and look into package deals (sometimes they run a special on a set amount of days like: 10 days for $200.)

I stayed at the YHA in Bondi Beach, Railway Station Sydney, and the one in Cairns. All were good, with the usual hostel bothers (sharing a room with a stranger) and the usual perks (kitchen to cook in and knowledgeable staff.)

Coastal Walk
Bronte Beach on the coastal walk trail.

2. Snorkeling and diving on the reef will be warm, but if you go around Manly Beach or other popular locations around Sydney (or anywhere south of Sydney); get a wet-suit. It was freezing in the middle of summer (January.)

On a side note, it was totally worth it. I hadn’t been in a cold-water environment since middle school, and the kelp dancing in the waves was magical. So were the groupers.

Blue Mountains
Kangaroos hopping away from us in a National Park.

3. Go to the Blue Mountains, but maybe not with a tour (so you can hike around at your own pace.) I am sorry to say that I can’t recommend the company I took a tour with, though maybe you’d have better luck?

However, I do recommend the Blue Mountains. The land is wide and open like Northern Arizona, and it has the same stark and empty beauty.

rainforest
Sweating up a storm in the rain forest.

4. If you’re going to Cairns for a reef tour, it’s worth it to go to the tourist town rain forest for a day. I got great pictures in Kuranda.

If you like shopping, they have oodles of that. I am not a shopping person, so we went to the butterfly garden and the wildlife park, and ate at a restaurant. The whole thing was really very nice.

We took the Skyrail up, and the train back. I definitely recommend that. Someone here in Guam told me to take a bus up to Kuranda, but if I had, I would have missed some of the best things I saw on the trip! Don’t settle for a bus. Take the Skyrail and the train. Getting there really is half the fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Angel Fish with dead coral behind it on the Great Barrier Reef.

5. I did the live-aboard through Cairns Dive Center and stayed on a boat called The Kangaroo Explorer. It was the most affordable option, but the staff was amazing and the chef was top-notch. Seriously, he blew me away with the food. I had a great time! I cannot recommend these guys enough for kindness, fun, and really creating the best experience they could for all the passengers.

However, the impression I got was that tourists only ever get to see the parts of the reef that are the most damaged, and this is both good (for the reef) and bad (for you.) So… take from that what you will. But I see better turtles and coral in Guam on a Tuesday.

Bondi Beach stop
Big Bus Tour, Sydney.

6. The Big Bus Tour was good. I mean, it’s better to see stuff by just taking the regular trains, because it is cheaper and you don’t feel rushed. However, I didn’t do it to see the sights. I did it to listen to the commentary and enjoy a day of sitting down (after all the walking as a tourist, and then all the running at full speed in the Blue Mountains.) For what I wanted it for, The Big Bus Tour was perfect.

If you, too, need a day of rest; give it a shot. You can do the central Sydney area and the Bondi Beach area all for $50 for the day. Sit on top (wearing a hat and sunscreen) for good pictures, or sit below in the AC and just watch the stuff go by.

As an aside, I have also done this tour in Paris and London. Both were good. Honestly, the Big Bus Tour was the only place I picked up those fun tourist facts (like how the guy who built Oxford Street was paid in rum because that was Australia’s first currency.) The locals don’t like to repeat that stuff over and over so they just stop telling people, but the recorded voice on the Big Bus Tour will say it over and over.

me on hill
In the Chinese Garden in Sydney.

Final Thoughts:

Most of the places I spent money on tourist stuff were great and I have almost no regrets on that score. As for the people, they were fabulous. I found Australians to be kind, well-intentioned, and welcoming. People gave me directions and helped me book trips and purchase things with ease as long as I stuck to the tourist spots.

Now, a few of the pubs I went to refused to try my (US) card and asked for cash. They were off the beaten track, and I imagine they don’t see many Americans (only 30% of us even have passports.) So, I don’t think that was too unreasonable.

Actually, I was surprised how few Americans I ran into. With the exception of the reef tour, I didn’t actually meet any at all. Unfortunately, that did not save me from having to think about Trump. Every Australian I met had a go at me for Trump. Seriously, all of them teased me about living in a country run by a madman.

Trump actually personally screwed me while I was in Australia as well. He shut down the government so that the value of the US dollar plummeted. The exchange rate (which is usually very favorable) dipped surprisingly close to 1:1. So, I guess I can’t escape US politics anywhere in the world, even down under.

edge of the world
From the Blue Mountain Tour.

Anyway, I would recommend the crap out of Australia if you were choosing a place to visit. I know the Maldives look attractive and Europe calls to everyone. I know Japan is top on all the anime-geeks lists. But, Australia has something about it that is magical, and I am really glad I took the time to go. You should, too.

And if you are worried about those stories you heard about Australia being dangerous, let me put that fear to bed right now. I saw nothing dangerous. Not one thing. Seriously, they say it’s dangerous, but it’s super tame in the cities, in the Blue Mountains, and even out on the reef.

I suppose you should take into account the fact that I grew up in Arizona (think: scorpions in your shoes, rattlesnakes with skin-rotting venom, Gila Monsters, and Tarantulas.) And, I guess, the fact that I live in Guam and am frequently harassed by Giant Beach Roaches and Huntsman Spiders here. But even so; I expected to see more dangerous stuff, and I really didn’t. I came back with a few black aunt bites, but that is all.

shirt in store
This map is full of lies. It’s actually quite safe in Australia.

Blue Mountains

overview of mountains
The view from the parking lot.

I took a tour of the blue mountains through a company called Barefoot Down under. I chose them specifically because the flier claimed that only a “moderate” level of fitness was required (while other tours said the hiking was “hard” or “difficult.”)

As a cancer survivor with a heart condition, I struggle. I mean, I am not unfit. I run three times a week at the gym and I swim nearly every day. I can and have hiked all day. In fact, just last year I did the 888 stairs to the top of Ulsan-Bawi in Seoraksan.

pathway in forest
Stairs that the tour operator thought we should run up. Not walk, mind you. Run like a mountain lion was chasing us.

That said, I can’t go at break-neck speeds. I can’t run up and down trails. I do need to hike slowly. And that is why I chose the tour group that said the difficulty was only moderate.

Unfortunately, the tour group leader decided that running was the only way to hike.

Honestly, it would have been fine if we got to Wenworth Falls recreation area, and then he pointed out the easy trail to me to get to the falls. It was short, and I saw children and old people on it. After all, I had disclosed that I had a heart condition, and if he was planning on running wildly down the trails, then he should have let me do my own thing and given me a time to meet back up with the group.

However, he didn’t.

me in woods
Just sat by myself in the woods. All alone. Waiting for over an hour.

He took me into the jungle and then told me the path he was taking to the falls would be “too hard for me” and to “just sit at the trail fork.” I sat. And sat. And sat. He never came back for me and the group did not return. I ended up deciding to hike back out on my own, and I sure am lucky I did! The tour guide had decided to take everyone out going a different way, and I would have missed them all and got left in the forest by myself.

To add insult to injury, he had his wife e-mail me to say “You have wondered off. Please return to the tour or you will be left behind.” When I got back to the city and had wifi, I checked it and when I saw that i was livid. He told me to stay behind, and then planned to say I wandered off and it was my own fault.

Luckily, I decided to hike out on my own.

pathway
Upper pathway, which is nicer than the lower trails.

However, I couldn’t very well yell at him in front of everyone when I re-joined the group (and boy did he look surprised to see me.) After all, one of the other girls on the tour told me that he had pretended to try to come and find me (which I know he didn’t, because I did not move.) Ergo, he played it up for them so that he could make sure it looked like my fault.

I took the high road and tried to act cheerful for the rest of the day. We went to a restaurant with overpriced kangaroo burgers, a street full of graffiti, and an overlook to take pictures. However, the whole time I was thinking about how the guide had tried to leave me in the woods because I confessed to having a heart condition and he wanted to run all day.

 

kangaroo burger
Kangaroo Burger. Not really very good, but I had to try.

The thing that gets me is this: He could have just said “This hike is rated difficult” on the flier. If he had done so, I never would have gone on the tour. I wouldn’t have paid a bunch of money to see Wentworth Falls (which I never got to see.) I would have looked for another tour, or taken a bus up to the park and hiked at my own pace like my friends did when they went to the Blue Mountains.

So basically, the tour flier is misleading. It is not “moderate” in difficulty. It is “hard.” That is something they should change immediately. I have no idea how Wenworth Falls looks, and I spent about an hour in the woods reading my book instead of finding out because the tour guide told me that I was “breathing too hard” as he was literally running up a hill and I tried to follow, and so he told me that I should “wait here until the group returns.” I was pretty disappointed.

On the upside, we did come across Chris Darwin (the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin) completely by chance. So, I got to meet him. At least that was something.

edge of the world
One of the only good pictures I got, from an overlook we drove to.