If you've followed my three part series Awesome Australian Road Trips, then you've seen all kinds of natural environments by now - from the beaches at the Gold Coast and the blue waters of the Great Barrier Reef to the Daintree rain forest and the red center. But what's still missing are more wildlife shots! When backpacking Australia there are countless opportunities to see kangaroos, wallabies and koalas in the wild and also in sanctuaries. Of course you may also encounter the occasional snake or a spider on your trip but they are so rare that usually the guide has to point them out to you.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite animal shots from Australia, partly from the Lone Pine Sanctuary in Brisbane in 2010 and from Phillip Island in Victoria in 2016. And I promise there are no creepy crawly pictures - only cuddly fur balls. Ok, maybe one slightly angry bird... ;)
A cassowary - they're very rare in the wild and a bit dangerous. They could kill a man by slicing right through him with their giant claws and have therefore been named the most dangerous bird on earth. They only attack when they feel threatened and to protect their young. They're also ridiculously fast and can totally outrun you. So leave them alone should you be lucky enough to encounter one of these now endangered birds in the wild! Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary - Brisbane
While you can hold a koala at the Lone Pine sanctuary in Brisbane, there is actually a law in Victoria that only allows qualified carers and trained animal handlers to hold and carry the cuddly fur balls. Hence me just snuggling up to this chap and petting him instead of holding him – in all fairness, he did weigh about 12kg according to the carer.
Phillip Island is also the home of the world famous penguin parade. Every evening just after sunset thousands of fluffy little penguins make their way from the ocean where they were eating all day back home to their burrows to feed their young. They are so little that even the fully grown ones are only about 40cm/15in tall.
In order to let visitors be part of this phenomenon, they built a tribune and elevated wooden walkways so that people can see the penguins up close but without interfering with them.
Now you’re probably waiting for some cute pictures of penguins waddling around on a beach but unfortunately I have to disappoint you... you’re not allowed to take pictures during the parade. Reason being that it’s already dark and you’d need your flash to get any decent shots of the little guys. Using the flash would startle them, they’d lose their orientation and won’t find their way back home. And that means baby penguin won’t get its dinner that night. We don’t want to be responsible for that, right?
Although there are always some tourists who think they know better and take pictures anyway, there are wildlife rangers around to tell people off. And rightly so! To have the privilege to see something as incredible as thousands of penguins walking past you so super close is really special and in that moment you’re in the animals’ environment and should behave accordingly. And anyway it’s so much cooler watching it with your own eyes instead of looking though a camera the whole time.
I do, however, have a couple of pictures for you that I took earlier in the day, zooming in from a distance (and without flash of course!). This was at a protected nesting area which we visited on our tour.
And with this our month of Australia-themed posts comes to an end.
I hope you liked the diary & enjoyed the pictures! Australia is such an incredible country which offers so much to visitors and not to mention it’s that huge it takes you quite a while to see everything... so yes, there will be more posts later on as we haven’t even talked about places like Sydney, Melbourne or Tasmania yet! And Australia’s capital may make an appearance as well... ;)
And here it is: the last part of the Aussie Road Trip series! At least for now... ;)
Ayers Rock - Uluru
Ayers Rock, or Uluru, is obviously a must on every itinerary! If you’ve made it this far into the red center then you definitely have to see The Rock! You can either take a day trip out to the Kata Tjuta & Uluru National Park or you can over-night there with an organized tour. I opted for the day trip. Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas, is another large red rock formation in the outback which you will visit on these tours.
And then we were finally off to see the big red rock! Ayers Rock/Uluru is a sacred Aboriginal site complete with cave paintings and its own waterfall – when it rains that is! Tourists often climb the rock and the local Aboriginal people refer to the climbers as “ants” because that’s what you look like that high up – like a small critter. I personally decided against the climb out of respect for the Aboriginal people, their land and their culture. Although it is not prohibited to go up, the local Anangu people ask that you respect their sacred site and do not hike up to the top of the rock as the climb has a special meaning to them and a firm place in their tradition. I believe it is really a decision everyone has to make for themselves but personally I was more than happy to walk around the rock and admire it from all angles rather than walking to the top.
By now the weather had gotten worse, the sky was gray and it started to rain. It was still awesome though and our guide told us that only few visitors every year – roughly 1 in 10,000 – see the rock in rain. It’s much easier to get a picture of it in bright sunshine!
Seeing Uluru was really special. We had a picnic not far from it with beautiful views and when the time came to leave we all piled back into the bus. At that precise moment the rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds over the Olgas and shone right onto the rock! Our driver got us all out of the bus again shouting “Guys you gotta see this!” – And there it was: Ayers Rock - in bright red, surrounded by a rainbow with a gray sky as backdrop! It was the coolest thing ever!
Back in Alice Springs I joined another backpacker tour down to Adelaide, the final stop of my first Aussie road trip. After a good couple of hours on the bus driving through the red center we arrived in our overnight stop of Coober Pedy.
It’s a fascinating place and a real little gem (pun intended!). Mainly famous for the beautiful opal mined here, most of the town is actually located underground. Whole apartments have been built into the old mines that are no longer in use. It makes sense considering that temperatures here can easily reach 45C/113F and the old shafts are cool and well ventilated. We joined a guided tour to learn about opal mining and to check out some model flats built underground – complete with furniture and all. People really do live down here! There’s even an underground church you can visit. You just hop across the street, enter above earth (note the sand and rock on its roof!) and the further you go in, the further you actually go down!
Our accommodation was build into a giant hill and rooms were literally carved out of the stone. There is an above-ground main street with a couple of shops, restaurants and a service station as well though. Otherwise it would be totally possible to drive through Coober Pedy barely even noticing it was there.
After having spent the night in our own “cave” we were on our way down south, slowly leaving the outback behind us and getting closer to the buzz of the big cities again. My trip was nearing its end as I only had a few more days left before heading back to Brisbane and doing some grown-up stuff like looking for apartments & finding a temp job to make enough money for my next road trip... but not before I had thoroughly checked out Adelaide in South Australia!
So, I hope you enjoyed this road trip series and maybe it inspires you to go walkabout in Australia yourself some day! :)
When I moved to Australia I spent my first couple of weeks at the Gold Coast. That's where I
planned my backpacking trips, discovered the best smoothie bar ever: Boost, and took surfing lessons in Surfer's Paradise (yes, I did stand up on my first day on the board and yes, I did underestimate the power of salt water, swallowed too much of it & got pretty sick afterwards...tssss).
But I won't bore you with too much text today, instead here are some more pictures! :)
Ok, so I cheated a little and didn’t exactly go overland between Cairns & Darwin, instead I flew. Darwin was super hot but also really laid-back. Not too much was going on during the day but the town came alive at night when the temperatures were more bearable.
I took the bus out to the Museum of the Northern Territory to visit the cyclone booth. I had heard a lot about it and was curious to experience it for myself. Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974 and devastated the city and large parts around it. The cyclone booth at the museum is a dark room where a recording of the actual sound of cyclone Tracy is played. It's really eerie but definitely something you should experience if you're in Darwin! Besides the booth there is also a lot of local art on display and rather randomly a stuffed crocodile called Sweetheart which was infamous for attacking the on-board motors of fishing boats.
I only spent a couple of nights in Darwin and was quickly itching to hit the road again. I got myself booked on the next backpacker tour that left for Alice Springs and thought I’d be on my way down south 24 hours later. Well, not so fast! Not too many weird, unplanned things happen to me while I’m traveling but when they do occur they’re usually really inconvenient (like the time the immigration officer ripped my passport in El Salvador), stupid (like when I get lost because the map was wrong – it’s always the map, right?) and sometimes painful (like the many times I’ve stumbled and fallen face first on the road – e.g. right in front of Buckingham Palace *cringe*) experiences.
But this one was new and most of all annoying. I got up at 4:30am, packed my things and left my hostel in Darwin. Or at least I tried to. Since it was that early there was nobody at the reception and I was instructed to leave the key in a box at the exit. So far, so good. What they omitted was that until the gate was officially opened at around 8am there is a 4-digit code that is used to open it from the inside. I was never given said code and the gate was firmly shut and seriously high. I had to be at the pick-up point for the tour 15 minutes later and started to panic a bit. In the end I spotted a neighbor's trash can outside on the street, I threw my (badly-packed and way too heavy) backpack over the gate and onto the bin, jumped over the fence and was free at last (didn’t even rip my pants! wohoo). I took my bag and was super relieved that I’d still make to the pick-up location on time. At this point I was ready for some serious outback action!
Our first stop was Nitmiluk National Park about 250 km/155 mi southeast of Darwin. We went for a refreshing swim in one of the many pools that form Edith Falls and then hiked up to a look-out spot to enjoy the view over Katherine Gorge. That was also where we spotted our first kangaroo of the trip!
Later that afternoon we stopped at the homestead of a family who made it their mission to teach visitors about dreamtime and Aboriginal culture. We learnt how to paint with traditional colors and listened to didgeridoo music played for us by an Aboriginal Australian.
The last stop of the day was our permanent campsite in the middle of the outback. The tents were big and had actual beds with mattresses in them – I was extremely happy to discover that this was more glamping than camping! Although some of us decided to sleep in swags (a fancy Aussie version of a sleeping bag) under the stars, I was personally more comfortable inside the tent. There was a fully equipped kitchen tent where we cooked dinner, a proper restroom unit with showers and a big fire pit where we roasted marshmallows and danced to salsa music. For somebody like me who is not extremely fond of camping, I was delighted with this basic yet comfortable experience! I had heard a lot about how beautiful the night sky in the outback was but I didn’t expect what I saw: literally a gazillion stars! It was unbelievable and nowhere else in the world had I ever seen such an incredible sky! I have since seen pictures of night skies from other parts of the world that are equally beautiful. Apparently the trick is to get as far as possible away from the big cities to avoid light pollution. National parks, deserts & mountain ranges all make for fantastic star gazing!
Early the next morning we were off to another swimming session but this time in a hot pool in the middle of the outback! I didn’t expect hot springs in Australia but there they were and I was swimming in one - a very surreal experience! Our next stop was Larrimah with its Pink Panther Cafe and the highest Pub in the Northern Territory. By now we were firmly on our way south on Stuart Highway.
After another hour on the bus we arrived at the famous Daly Waters Pub – the whole place seems like a random collection of things: from flags, Gaelic Football jerseys and trinkets from all over the world inside the bar to random artifacts like a traffic light (the most remote traffic light in Australia none the less!) and a helicopter on the roof of a shed. Every traveller leaves something behind here – their ID, a postcard or a message on the wall. It’s a crazy one-of-a-kind place!
In the evening of day two we arrived at another permanent camp, similar to the first one, just that this time the ground was surrounded by huge termite mounds! Those impressive structures are usually found in the west of Australia, but apparently also in the red center where we were now!
On day three a real highlight awaited us: Devils Marbles! Giant boulders strewn across a huge deserted plain and I wasn't quite sure how they got here...
There is of course a totally (geo)logical explanation for them but the idea that according to legend these are the marbles of the devil is a little more mystical :)
The boulders consist of granite and with the big temperature differences between day and night in the desert, they actually expand and contract slightly! Sometimes the stress on a boulder is so much that it cracks or in extreme cases - as above - it splits. Nature at its finest!
After thoroughly exploring the area and wandering around the devil's playground we were off to Wycliffe Well or the UFO capital of Australia – famous for its apparently super frequent UFO sightings.
The last stop before arriving into Alice Springs was the old telegraph station in Barrow Creek.
And then we finally made it into the city of Alice Springs! This is where the backpacking tour ended and we were all off on our own again – but not before meeting up at the Bojangles Saloon for an epic farewell dinner!
I had two things to tick off my bucket list in this town: I wanted to visit the School of the Air and see the headquarters of the Royal Flying Doctors. (Okay, three things: I obviously also planned to visit Ayers Rock - but that's for my next post ;))
A long time ago I had seen a documentary about the School of the Air. The idea was to bring education to the children who live in the outback and have no way of getting to the nearest school every day. It all started as a radio program. Students in the outback would tune in every day at the same time and study different subjects. Today it’s obviously much easier to reach the children. Thanks to advanced technologies there are now virtual classrooms and the students can see each other and their teacher via webcams. This allows them to work in groups and the teacher who sits in his recording studio - which looks much like a proper radio station – leads the lessons. Exercises, homework and tests are submitted online and the students are prepared for the final national exams – all while being hundreds of miles apart from each other.
If you’re ever in this part of the world consider going to their visitor center to learn more! If you’re really lucky like I was you even get to see a live lesson and say hi to the students via the teacher’s web cam!
There are many ways to support this fantastic institution and one of them is to sponsor their library. They have different books on display which are on loan from a local bookstore and once a visitor buys one of the books for the school they can include it in their library. The coolest thing: each book you buy will have a little sticker in the back with your name and country on it so the children in the outback can actually see that someone from let’s say Ireland has donated this book. The kids can select what they would like to read from the library online and the school then flies out to the homesteads to deliver and pick up the books. Pretty cool, right?
Even though they may be so far away from other children, big cities, let alone other countries, the world comes together for them through the internet! It’s fair to say that I was completely fascinated by the School of the Air and that I felt really grateful to have had the chance to see with my own eyes what I had previously only seen on TV.
A similar institution are the Royal Flying Doctors which are also headquartered in Alice Springs. These brave doctors, nurses and dispatchers make sure that the people living in the outback have access to medical care and if needed hospitals. If an emergency call comes in from a ranch too far away from the nearest town, a fully equipped medical plane is sent on its way to the patient. They can deal with everything from heart attacks to giving birth on board. Ideally though they make it to the next hospital and provide adequate care to their patients.
I hope you enjoyed part 2 of the Awesome Australian Road Trips series! Next week I’ll take to the most iconic Australian sight Ayers Rock & I'll show you what it's like to live underground! Stay tuned!
When I moved to Australia in 2009 I spent my first couple of weeks at the Gold Coast preparing for my backpacking trip up the coast of Queensland. I knew that sooner or later I would move to Brisbane to try to find work so that was a great starting point for my adventure! I later ended up living in Brissie for almost a year and really enjoyed the quality of life - I mean who wouldn't like a free down town shuttle bus, a gym & a swimming pool in the apartment complex and commuting to work by boat?
Brisbane has a fantastic quality of life, is backpacker friendly and it has its own list of attractions to keep you busy while here! The CBD (Central Business District) is a compact area great for shopping (Queen Street Mall), eating out and exploring. South Bank is a beautiful neighborhood with a man-made beach & swimming pool (don’t be tempted to swim in the Brisbane River – apparently bull sharks are living in its murky waters!) and the botanic gardens and city parks are beautiful green spaces ideal for playing sports, running or just chilling out. If you have time for a day trip and want to escape the humid city, go up Mt Cootha for some incredible views of the Brisbane skyline or take the bus out to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to cuddle a koala or feed wallabies.
Mainly known for its sugar cane industry and rum distillery, Bundaberg is a sleepy little town 5 hours north of Brisbane. I decided to stop over here to break up the journey but didn’t quite anticipate how difficult it would be to book accommodation in advance. When I visited in 2009 Bundaberg wasn’t even listed on hostelworld.com (which oddly enough still seems to be the case) – I had to pick a hostel from the Yellow Pages and call the people to make a reservation without seeing any reviews or getting a quote. Note to self: if the place isn’t even on Google it’s probably not a good idea to book it! I remember arriving in Bundaberg at the railway station late at night but luckily the place I had booked was close by. And that’s where the good news ended.
The owner let me in, took my money for three nights without giving me any change and then invited me to join him in the strip club next door. I excused myself and went up to the room. It was dirty and I prayed there wouldn’t be any bedbugs but all I wanted at that point was to sleep. At 5am a man came knocking on our door screaming something about fruit picking. At that point the other couple that also stayed in the room got up and left for work. Luckily the sun rises quite early in Queensland so by the time I got up and got dressed it was light outside. In the light of day the room looked even worse and I drew the line at “eek there’s brown water coming out of the tap!” when trying to brush my teeth. I wanted to get out of there asap.
By 6.30am I was out and about trying to find another hostel. I got breakfast, chatted to an old local man who used to work for Bundaberg Rum and wandered around for a good while admiring beautiful Queenslanders (traditional timber houses) before walking into a second hand bookstore to check out Aussie travel guides for hostel recommendations. I was lucky and found one nearby! The Cellblock Backpackers – a former prison turned into affordable accommodation. Complete with a backyard, a clean kitchen and huge comfy beds it was a different world compared to the other place. I booked a room for the next two nights, paid and went back to hostel #1 (at this point I really can’t even remember what it was called), picked up my bag and the owner even gave me a full refund for the other two nights! I couldn’t wait to move into my prison cell together with nine other inmates. I spent the next two days strolling around the Botanic Gardens, visiting the Historical Museum and stepped back in time in the Hinkler Hall of Aviation. Bert Hinkler was a pioneer aviator in the early 20th century who had his complete house shipped from England to Australia and had it rebuilt brick by brick here in the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens!
Townsville & Magnetic Island
After three days in Bundy it was back on the overnight train for me and off to Townsville. This little place had gotten onto my radar when I read about an island full of koalas just off the town’s coast so I decided to stop over. Townsville itself is a buzzing place with seriously laid-back people and full of beautiful Queensland architecture.
I got up early on my first day there and went to the pier to catch the boat over to Magnetic Island – the place with the biggest wild koala population in Australia! It was a perfect day for wildlife spotting and when I arrived on the island a bus took me all the way up to where the main hiking route started -The Forts Walk.
My first impression:
Oh dear! I knew that when snakes feel vibrations on the floor from walking people they steer clear of the paths – they’re more scared of us than we are of them! I frantically stamped by hiking boots with every step I took to let them know I was there and not keen on meeting them and it must have worked! I didn’t see a single death adder (or for that matter any other poisonous snakes/spiders/scorpions in my entire 12 months in Australia!). But back to the koalas: it took me a while to spot the furry marsupials hanging out in the eucalyptus trees but soon enough it got easier and I saw quite a few!
Apart from wildlife this hike is also popular because of the fort at the top of the hill. You can still go inside the empty concrete compound which was used in WWII to watch out for invading enemies’ boats. Today all you see from up here is a beautiful view over Cleveland Bay!
Another short train ride two days later and I was in Cairns – the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef! Ohhh the excitement! I arrived at the hostel, checked in and straight away booked two day tours: a sailing boat snorkelling trip to the Great Barrier Reef and a bus trip up to the Daintree rain forest.
It’s hard not to have a great time in Cairns! It’s the backpacker city in Australia. The main party/meeting/dining place in town is the saloon bar The Woolshed. It’s all about affordable food (some hostels give out vouchers for discounts on dinner & drinks), party music and pub quizzes. It’s impossible not to make friends on a night out in the Woolshed.
The Great Barrier Reef
Then came the big day: I was off to the Great Barrier Reef on a huge red & white sailing boat. I had a light breakfast (not light enough as it turned out) and made my way down to the pier to board the boat together with all the other snorkelers and divers. We settled in, kicked back and relaxed. The sea was rough, the sky was gray and shortly after we had left the safety of the bay I became violently ill. I had never been seasick before! The staff on board suggested that I sit on deck in the back of the boat facing the horizon and get some fresh air. Off I went armed with my brown paper bag only to find the deck crowded with many other brown-paper-bag-clutching people. Together we suffered and I made a new friend or two before we came to a stop in the middle of the ocean and the snorkeling equipment was handed out.
Our queasy stomachs calmed down and once we were in the water all the suffering was forgotten and we happily swam with turtles, harmless reef sharks and even some of Nemo’s relatives! In some parts the reef grew so high that it was even visible above the water. After a while we hopped back on the boat and sailed off to a sandbank (which was also a bird sanctuary) for our second snorkel session. Walking into the shallow water from the beach you had to watch out not get scratched by the reef and once you were floating you needed to take care not to step or stand on the fragile coral formations. I wore a foam float around my waist to make sure I stay afloat. We saw more beautiful schools of fish and now that the sky had cleared up the colors were amazingly vibrant! In the afternoon we sailed back into Cairns in beautiful weather.
Daintree National Park
And the next morning another item on my bucket list was about to be ticked off: Daintree.
By bus we went all the way up to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest, visited Mossman Gorge on the way & had a quick stop in Port Douglas. We ate home-made wattle seed ice cream, went on a crocodile spotting river cruise and had a picnic at the beach. We played with wallabies, listened to exotic bird song and learnt that there’s a tree – the Stinging Tree – that has leaves with tiny little needles which will cause you agony when you touch them, not to mention when bush walkers use them as uhm toilet paper...
This trip was easily one of my personal Australian highlights! But see for yourself...
I hope you liked this first part of Awesome Australian Road Trips! Stay tuned for part 2: Darwin to Alice Springs coming up next :)
Ok, so strictly speaking the term “road trip” is a bit of a misnomer here as I have not driven a car anywhere in Australia! But yes, I’ve seen all the cool stuff and I’ve still spent a fair amount of time on the road so let’s just stick with that term ;) I’ve taken trains and buses and traveled with organized backpacker tours – all without the hassle of renting/buying a car, finding other travellers to join & share the gas bill or worrying about getting stranded in the desert without fuel or water. That said if you’re a well-prepared driver and travel with a fun bunch of people -ideally in a colorful VW bus- I’m sure Aussie road trips are an awesome adventure!
But what if you don’t have a license, aren’t keen on inviting strangers to travel with you or just don’t feel like driving a car through the outback by yourself? Well, you don’t have to! Australia is well prepared for backpackers and the transport infrastructure is pretty amazing even in the remotest parts of the country! If you just want to get from A to B then overnight trains and Greyhound buses are your best option. If you’re afraid you’re going to miss out on sights on the way then choose from one of the many organized backpacker tours! They will get you to your destination and will also stop at that cool rock formation for pictures or give you time to swim in that secret billabong.
I’ve lived in Brisbane for a year on a working holiday visa and throughout that year I went walkabout a couple of times. Sometimes I left for several weeks, other times just for a long weekend.
My very first trip took me from Brisbane up to Cairns from where I flew to Darwin and then made my way down to Alice Springs and on to Adelaide on backpacker tour buses. All together I was traveling for almost 5 weeks and I took three trains, several boats, buses, a plane and uhm a taxi (I kind of got lost in Townsville trying to find my hostel...oops!).
So let’s hit the road/tracks together in this new three part series called Awesome Australian Road Trips starting here on Global Hippie Glam in January! :)
Welcome to Wellington! The last time I was down here I was only vegetarian, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect now that I've also scratched dairy & eggs off the menu and am following a more plant-based diet.
On the 3 hour flight over from Melbourne, Qantas had an amazing fully vegan meal on board for us, including cookies! There's a reason why they're still my favorite airline (it probably also helped that their in-flight entertainment was superb - KUWTK anyone?!).
Once I arrived in Wellington I explored some supermarkets and the choice of healthy vegan options wasn't too bad. However, when I'm travelling I also like to eat out at local restaurants. So without further ado, here are my favorite veggie-friendly eateries in & around Wellington, plus one real little little gem I found in Blenheim on the South Island!
1) Burger Fuel - NZ Burger Chain
Vegetarian & vegan burgers, soy milkshakes & incredibly tasty kumara fries, what's not to love?!
2) Hell Pizza - NZ Pizza Chain
Yes, they have dairy-free mozzarella :) There's one vegan-friendly pizza on the menu called "Sinister", or you just order "The Creator" and build your own pizza entirely, like I did in the pic below. My choice of toppings were: asparagus, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, pickles & vegan cheese
3) Auntie Mena's - an institution in Wellington City!
Yummy vegetarian Asian food right on Cuba Street. Think noodles, rice & mock chicken. Some great vegan options are also available.
4) Raw - Petone
Just outside Wellington you'll find a pretty little beachy suburb called Petone. Apart from beautiful boutiques, international food stores and tons of coffee shops there's also this brand-new place right on the main street, Jackson Street, called Raw. Their smoothies are incredible & the bounty balls are to-die-for (yep, they do taste like the Bounty bars)!
Extra tip: if you ever make it down to Blenheim on the South Island, check out Café Ritual for some super tasty meals, cakes & smoothies. Of course their coffee is awesome too!
...and no matter where you're flying in from, you will most likely be jet-lagged. And that's a good excuse to check out all those funky little cafes in Wellington & elsewhere in NZ.
Kiwis know their coffee - so your taste buds will be thrilled! Soy milk is pretty much available everywhere these days, with some cafes even offering rice or almond milk!
It's been 6 years now that I've lived in Brisbane, Australia. I spent a year traveling around the country, working in call centers and petting koalas.
Australia is a backpacker's dream: if you're eligible for the working holiday visa, then it's super easy to live & work Down Under for a year or even two (provided you don't mind fruit picking for 3 months in order to qualify for the 2nd year visa). There are plenty of hostels and backpacker tours on offer and the infrastructure is pretty good considering it's such a huge country. You can Greyhound (bus) your way around the country, take epic train journeys (on the Ghan between Adelaide & Darwin or the Indian Pacific between Adelaide & Perth) or you can just buy a car, caravan or hip VW bus and go on a road trip.
Either way, you're in for an adventure of a lifetime!
There are a lot of stereotypes about Australia and during my stay I found out that some of them are true and others are total myths. So without further ado, here's my list of 7 things I learnt about Australia:
1) Not everything is deadly!
Australia is full of potentially harmful animals like snakes, spiders and scorpions. There are trees with poisonous stinging leaves and the ocean is teeming with sharks and jelly fish. It's an incredibly dangerous country!
Or is it?! I've lived in & traveled all around Australia for a year and have not encountered any of the above. Sure, if you go looking for them you might find them but if you use common sense you most likely won't get harmed. So be careful putting your hands in places where you can't see what's lurking there (under a stone, in a letterbox, in a pile of leaves, etc).
I also quickly got into the habit of shaking out my shoes every morning before putting them on. But honestly, the chance of a huntsman in your bedroom or a scorpion in your heels is fairly small, especially in the big cities. As for snakes they're generally more scared of you than you are of them and statistically most accidents involving poisonous snakes happen when (drunk) people try to show off handling them... duh!
And yes, Australian beaches are safe - well, where the signs indicate so
at least. Just watch out for warnings and flags that tell you to steer clear of the water during jelly fish season or when there are dangerous rips and under currents in the water. And most touristy beaches do have shark nets & life guards. So go on and enjoy the waves!
2) Border Control is real!
Remember that TV show Border Control? It’s not a joke! This is what happens at Australian airports all the time. I’m very careful with my luggage but even I had my shoes scraped out, my lettuce sandwich taken away (after a national flight) and had to declare every single wooden item in my suitcase, from a small picture frame to chop sticks. And the drug swipes... nowhere else in the world have I been swiped as often as in Australia. So make sure you do not buy those funny looking mushrooms in China. In fact, don’t bring any food items that contain nuts, honey, seeds, fruit or veg into the country at all – chocolates & candy are usually fine though.
To be on the safe side declare all food & everything you think contains wood. The punishment for bringing illegal stuff into the country is pretty harsh. You may wonder why a place like Australia -which is home to some of the most poisonous animal & plant species- gets so freaked out if you accidentally import an organic apple from New Zealand in your backpack? It’s all about a very sensitive eco-system. Even a tiny fruit fly from New South Wales can wreck havoc on Western Australia’s harvest. So be careful, declare everything you’re not sure about and most importantly – never ever lie to the customs officers! It’s their job to protect their country. They’re usually super friendly though ;)
3) Australia really is that big!
At least for a European it’s hard to believe how huge exactly this place is! If I fly 4 hours east from London I probably end up somewhere in Russia – a completely different country, culture & language. But try flying 6 hours east from Perth and you’re still in Australia – probably somewhere around Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Same language, same country – ok, at least a different time zone. So don’t underestimate the size of it especially if you’re planning a road trip. You may be much further away from the next gas station / town / landmark than you think. So prepare well and never travel into the outback alone! Seriously.
4) Funny foods
Australia may not (yet) be known as a culinary destination but it will surprise you. Or at least shock you a tiny little bit when you discover kangaroo flavored dog food. Considering that most major cities here have a substantial Asian population you’ll also find all sorts of yummy Chinese, Thai & Japanese goodies – in your average supermarket that is.
How about home-grown bananas or juicy mangoes? Mainly harvested in Queensland, Aussies don’t depend on banana imports from the Americas. And the mangoes here are some of the yummiest I’ve ever tried.
Best of all, there are some incredible ice cream flavors to be found! The most random ones I tried were Wattle Seed and Black Sapote in Daintree in Northern Queensland.
5) Mind the sun!
Yes, the hole in the Ozone Layer is real! So don’t even try to outsmart it – you’ll lose - especially if you’re as fair-skinned as yours truly. The worst sunburn I ever got was in 15C/59F & cloudy conditions in Perth. So slip on that shirt, slop on some sunscreen & slap on a (pretty wide-brimmed) hat when heading out. It’ll quickly become second nature to use sunscreen with your morning beauty routine. Even if you just head out to the shops, protect yourself and you’ll be rewarded maybe not with a tan but definitely with beautiful, younger-looking, healthy skin. And don’t forget some stylish shades to protect your eyes!
6) Go wildlife spotting!
Great zoos & sanctuaries teeming with Aussie wildlife can be found everywhere but if you’re not a fan of animals in man-made surroundings then head out to the bush! Of course always get a guide or ask locals for tips on where it’s safe to go walk-about on your own. I went koala-spotting on Magnetic Island, just off the coast of Townsville in Queensland. It’s a trail up a hill with crumbling old forts and incredible views out over the bay. It takes some time & practice but after a while you become a pro at spotting the grey fur balls munching eucalyptus leaves in the trees. Magnetic Island is also said to be the biggest colony of wild koalas in Australia. The warning signs at the bottom of the track may freak you out a little – but I haven’t seen a single death adder while strolling (ok, frantically stomping my feet in heavy hiking boots at every step) up the hill.
7) ...and nobody actually drinks Foster’s in Australia. It’s just more of an export thing ;) Vegemite on the other hand is a very real part of the
Probably one of the most beautiful, magical & picturesque places I've ever been to: Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand. Of course it didn't hurt that we had our flight cancelled and were "forced" to stay an extra night due to strong snowfall... I couldn't imagine a cooler place to be snowed in! It's impossible to describe the breathtaking landscape - so I'll stop talking and show you some pictures instead.
Sure, it's a bit out of the way but if you make it all the way down to New Zealand you have to go to Queenstown! It's basically a must-see for every self-respecting backpacker.
What's there to do apart from gawking at the beauty of your surroundings? Once you come to terms with the fact that you might as well have found paradise, you can choose from a wide range of activities: skydiving, speed-boating on the lakes, skiing in the mountains, ice-skating in the hockey rink and lots more. Take a ride up to the top with the funicular to get the best view or simply get a hot chocolate and a Cookie Time cookie (an institution in NZ) and sit at the pier and chill. There's even a bird sanctuary where you can spot Kiwis!
No matter what you'll end up doing, this is a destination so utterly beautiful that the memories of it will last forever more... I promise :)