Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Australia (March 29, 2002)

This is another installment in the series: 'Round the World Revisited. I sent this email from Australia on March 29, 2002 during our 6 month journey around the world.

Greetings from Australia (Oz)!

Quiz: translate the following phrase from Australian
into English: "I've got tinnies in me eskie, mate!"
(answer at the end of this message)

First some observations about the differences between
New Zealand and Oz.

1. Northern Australia is hot! In fact, I dare say it's
freakin' hot! In Cairns and Darwin it seems to hover
around 99 degrees (that's 37 to the locals) with high
humidity. At night it gets all the way down to about
85. Southern NZ was getting a bit chilly by the time
we left.

2. Australia is swarming with 20-25 year old kids
running around in swimwear looking for cheap beer. And
the tourism infrastructure is really geared to cater
to them. The average NZ tourist is slightly more
mature and sober.

3. Prices. Food in Australia is dirt cheap, but cars
are not. We paid US$12 per day for a nice 4-door car
in NZ, but in Oz cars are running about US$30 per day
for a tiny Daihatsu with a squirrel cage for an

On to our adventures. We started in Cairns on the
north east coast, and did a 3 day live-aboard diving
trip on the great barrier reef. We also took the
advanced open water diving course. A great time,
except for the broken air conditioning on board the
ship (refer to #1 above). We did 8 dives plus
snorkelling, including a night dive, deep dive (28
meters/90 feet), and a boat/drift dive. Great marine
life -- colorful corals of every variety, giant clams,
white-tipped reef sharks, giant Maori wrasse
(friendly, approachable, and several hundred pounds),
turtles, etc. Visibility wasn't spectacular, but

Next was a few days' driving around the tropical
north, including the Wet Tropics World Heritage area
(rain forest preserve). It's fairly rare in that the
rain forest comes right down to the coast. We were
able to spot a wide variety of wildlife, including
crocodiles, cassowaries (huge flightless birds),
lizards, wallabies, brush turkeys, scrub fowl (build
huge ground nests 9 feet tall and 15 feet across),
giant yellow orb spiders (bigger across than your
hand), possums, pademelon (tiny marsupials) etc. But
no luck spotting the elusive Platypus.

Next stop Darwin, in north-central Australia (the
Northern territory, which is NOT a state, kind of like
the old territories of the western U.S). Our primary
aim here was to visit the huge Kakadu national park.
We're here at the end of the wet season, although this
has been a relatively dry season. We did a guided 3
day tour, and our guide was a real Aussie character,
ala "Crocodile Dundee" or Steve Irwin (the Crocodile
Hunter). He loved to hike around barefoot and had a
vast knowledge of "bush tucker" (outback foods),
aboriginal culture, and the flora and fauna. Plus he
told some great stories! The tour was great and we saw
some amazing country, with impressive sandstone
formations covered with lush vegetation, ancient
(10000+ year old) aboriginal rock art, and beautiful
water falls and swimming holes. We really got off the
beaten track where there were no trails, and he even
got us to follow him barefoot up a canyon
appropriately called the "garden of Eden" where we
climbed up a waterfall and took in the scenery. It
definitely wasn't your typical tour of 50 old farts
packed into a big tour bus.

We also did a 1-day tour at Litchfield Nat'l Park,
which was similar scenery and swimming, but much more
crowded. The highlight for me was seeing hundreds of
huge black bats -- flying foxes -- hanging from the
trees, and a little rock wallaby with a joey (that's a
baby) poking it's head out of her pouch.

Here's a question for you MBA types out there: how
does a pub give away free meals and free beer and
still make money? There's a bar in Darwin which gives
away free dinners 7 nights a week -- all you have to
do is get a ticket from any tour company. So 7 of us
from the Kakadu tour went for our free meal after our
tour, and were surprised that the food is actually
pretty good. Not only that, but after we sat down, the
bar tender brought 3 free pitchers ("jugs") of beer to
the table. By now we've had 3 free meals at this
joint. Not bad! There was a place in Cairns that had
free meals too -- they really compete to bring in the
partying crowd of young backpackers.

Next we're off to Katherine Gorge, where we'll do some
exploring before we begin a 4-day volunteer project
with Australian Conservation Trust. We'll be
revegetating an area of thermal pools (presumably
damaged from too many people visiting the area), and
hopefully meeting some great people. We've done
trail-building projects back home and the people we
meet are always interesting.

Quiz answer: "I have cans of beer in my ice box,

We hope all is well back in the USA! Happy Easter!

--Brad and Amy

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