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