A young Australian's views on travelling Australia and the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Day 19-21 - The end!

Last day of holiday today :/

There is really not very much to report at all. I've had a quiet few days in Melbourne, and am kind of glad to be going home, but I've had a great time as I always do.

I look forward to returning to some of these places and exploring new ones (such as the Grampian Mountains), and going to Canada in 2004.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Andy's Tour Music

The following list of songs are those which I believe will remind me of my holidays in 2003 in times to come. I'll probably edit it at some point in the future.

Charlton Hill "Don't Sail"
George "Release"
Jack Johnson "Horizon Has Been Defeated"
Maroon 5 "Harder To Breathe"
Massive Attack "One Love"
Powderfinger "Waiting For The Sun"
Puddle of Mudd "Away From Me"
RHCP "Fortune Faded"
Sloan "Rest Of My Life"

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Andy's Survival Guide to Launceston (1st ed.)

1. You may have the right of way, but don't assume side traffic actually knows this. They will assume you are not there and drive out anyway without looking. This applies even on foot, as people leaving shops act in the same fashion. Having 360° vision is a necessity.

2. Driving speeds are generally and widely ignored in Launceston, although speed cameras exist at some intersections.

3. When you see a sign in Launceston indicating a hill is steep, they really mean it. If a handrail is provided up a footpath and you can see the roofs of cars that are straight in front of you, these are also good indications. Howick Street in South Launceston and Duke Street in West Launceston are particularly worth noting, as they start off very moderate and then change suddenly.

4. Wear sunscreen. 15 mins in Launceston is like 45 mins in Perth, even though it's further south. I have no idea why, but everyone seems to know this down there.

5. Asking locals for directions is where the city suddenly becomes a small town again. People actually assume you know where the place is, or that it is not hard to navigate to, and give you directions that are anything but clear. Requests to clarify the instructions often reveal that the people don't actually know themselves. This phenomenon exhibits itself even worse in smaller towns.

6. Get to know where payphones are and always have 40c handy. If you get stuck and need a taxi, ringing the taxi number (131008/132227) from a mobile phone will get you a Hobart taxi, which is useless to you.

7. Once you leave Launceston suburban area (eg Perth, Longford), mobile coverage is non-existent. Keep this in mind when planning excursions.

An endnote

The locals are pretty friendly, and it doesn't hurt to talk to them. However, Launceston people see Hobart as the source of most of their woes, and the statistics even seem to bear this out - most major crimes committed in Launceston do in fact seem to be committed by Hobart suburbanites, and they are overrepresented in both the crash statistics and the road toll. Launceston does not see itself as the second city in Tasmania, and points out (again correctly) that Hobart is shrinking and Launceston is growing. It's also common of locals to overestimate the population of their city by up to 50%. Also, Launceston isn't quite as anti-mainland as Hobart is, but you're more tolerated if you come from Queensland or WA than the other states.

Day 14 - 18 - Launceston, Tasmania

Thursday 11 December - Arrived in Launceston, which despite what a lot of mainland Australians think of it, is a great place, even if the pace is somewhat slower than, say, Melbourne or Perth. Like Mt Gambier, it's a city and a town at the same time and seems to have found the balance without turning it into a contradiction. Unlike most other cities, they haven't ripped up their heritage and so there's a lot of beautiful old buildings and houses to see there, and all with the backdrop of the hills and forests around Launceston and which intrude on its suburbs. I spent a while watching the Japanese snow monkeys in City Park (a park which is so green I have trouble explaining it to those back home) and admiring the 1932 John Hart Conservatory in the middle of the park which has both rainforest and alpine settings just metres apart. And I don't know many cities you can stay in a place (North Lodge Motel) twice the size of my last apartment with a complete kitchen for $60 a night.

Friday 12 December - Got the Metro 80 'Shopper Stopper' around Launceston and explored its suburbs from the window of a bus. It was interesting seeing how much you miss when you just stay in the city centre - a mix of nice but rundown houses, stately English-style houses on Hobart Road (which used to be the main highway) and more modern houses in Prospect which reminded me of Perth suburbs like Padbury and Craigie. Later on I tried to walk up Invermay Road in the northern suburbs but driving rain prevented me from doing so. Invermay reminded me a bit of Adelaide.

Saturday 13 December - Spent about 7 or 8 hours walking right around most of the 'Shopper Stopper' suburbs on a beautiful fine day, talked to heaps of locals, and had a great time with the camera (and my thigh muscles got plenty of exercise walking up suburban streets with 35-40° inclines!). However, I managed to get myself chronically sunburnt. The day sounds boring without the photos, so I won't elaborate further.

Sunday 14 December - Walked around Invermay again, and then went on a Tigerline bus tour up the Tamar Valley. There was only three of us on it as it's low season (the high season starts just after Christmas), but I have to admit I was unimpressed with the lack of stops. We went through Grindelwald, one of the area's major attractions, without actually stopping there, yet managed to stop at a vineyard down the road for 15 minutes. One big highlight was Seahorse World at Beauty Point, where we got to check out tonnes of seahorses, sea dragons, sea monkeys and other unusual creatures in both natural and artificial settings - it's an amazing lesson in a bit of nature you don't normally get to see and is well worth a visit. Then it was off to another winery (via the Batman Bridge, the only bridge across the 6km-wide Tamar River) before returning home. That evening was the Carols by Candlelight in City Park, and while initially enjoying the fact I could hear the entire thing with my doors and windows closed in my motel without having to pay to get in, it started to seriously annoy me when the doors rattled with the bass drum, so I ended up going for a late-night walk to Cataract Gorge to check out the floodlights.

Monday 15 December - The late-night walk led to me sleeping at 1:00am, just after finding out about Saddam's capture from ABC NewsRadio. Let us just say that waking up at 8:55am for a 9:30am bus departing 20 mins from you, while needing to have breakfast and get dressed and ready, is not a good start to a morning. However getting to Perth (the Tasmanian one), a peaceful country town of about 1,500 people just 20km from Launceston, was well worth it. I freely admit my main reason for wanting to go to the town was a curiosity to see what the other Perth was like. After amusing myself taking photos of the Perth Roadhouse and such things, I discovered the South Esk River and some really beautiful picnic spots. I ate and gathered supplies at the Perth Roadhouse before moving onto Highway B52 to walk to Longford, about 8km away by the route I took. Because of the savage sunburn I got on the 13th, I decided to wrap a towel around my head to cover my neck, and this evidently amused and/or shocked quite a few of the highwaygoers (I got a few toots from excited teenagers though). I later found out (after taking off the towel) that some Longford residents had reported to local shopkeepers that an Arab was walking along the highway.

I spent the afternoon on a $35 cruise (Afternoon Discovery) of the Tamar River in a ferry, which I'd strongly recommend to anyone, if not for the fantastic views, but for the interesting bits of history and trivia one finds out on the way. The story of Bruno, the large bull who somehow ended up living by himself on an island for 23 years, was quite entertaining. It's strange to think the founders of Melbourne, the pioneers of the Australian airline industry and the cousin of Alfred Nobel all came from this little region of the world.

My final view of Launceston wasn't that interesting, but this was my own fault. I'd prepared an itinerary for my parents' benefit and noted the air flights in Perth time. So at 8:30am I dutifully turned up to the airport ... 4 hours early for my flight. I spent the time with a pair of teenagers who'd missed the 6am flight, and at 2pm we were all happily in Melbourne, where I wrote this update from. :P

Friday, December 12, 2003

Day 12 - 13 - Wilson's Promontory

9-10 December - I departed Melbourne and walked all around Wilson's Promontory with Bunyip Tours. It was a great tour and I saw a lot of amazing stuff, but I have to admit I jumped in the deep end and was ill-prepared - I spent most of the time trying to keep pace with 2/3 of the group and had to look down to avoid tripping over roots on the rocky terrain, so did not really get to see much of the forest and mountains and stunning backdrop - although I saw enough to be seriously impressed.

Furthermore, it was 32°C and approximately 90% humidity, with a minimum of 27°C - the sort of conditions for which there's never enough drinking water. This is *very* atypical weather for the region - more like North Queensland! Anyway, we slept in tents. Each of me and the non-English-speaking guy I shared it with insisted the other snored. So at the end of the trip I was absolutely exhausted, a bit sick, and seriously underslept.

On the upsides, we got to play beach cricket, saw a lot of wildlife after dark, and had a great organic dinner and got to hear the tour guide playing the didgeridoo.

10-11 December - After a bit of drama getting to Port Melbourne by tram, and forgetting to get my ticket from check-in (the staff were very friendly though), I climbed aboard the Spirit of Tasmania. This is not a boat, this is an experience! Imagine the Hyatt Hotel and your state capital's casino mixed together, and that's kind of like what it was like. The beds were comfortable and in rooms that actually reminded me of some motels I've been in. The restaurants were pretty good. If not for the amazing view off the sides, one wouldn't even know one was floating. But if you wanted to be reminded, you could go outside and see the sea and experience a bit of spray and so on if you wished to. It's something I've got to do again - and intend to one day.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Day 5 - 11 - Melbourne, Phillip Island

I have fallen behind with the updates so here goes.

2 December - I caught the V-Line (state-owned country rail and bus service) to Melbourne to see the spectacular Australian band George live in concert at Federation Square (a new complex which still manages to remind me of a failed university art project). When I get back to Perth I'll make a full posting about the concert, but it was absolutely awesome to see them again. They're one of those few bands I'd drop anything (or cut short a visit to Apollo Bay) to see. En route to Melbourne, we went through Geelong, which is much bigger and busier than I expected. I'll have to check it out at some point.

I stayed at the Queensberry Hill YHA, which was like a large motel but with dorm beds instead of your standard motel room layout. It was extremely clean, and actually quite nice for an inner city hostel - I hope it preludes what I'm going to experience in Canada. Walking home from the concert provided the most amazing show of lightning (about 3 a second for about half an hour) - I later heard some eastern suburbs were completely flooded and it was the biggest storm Melbourne had had in 100 years.

3 December - Moved into the Miami Motor Inn and found the same level of friendly customer service I'm accustomed to there after 3 visits in 3 years, but sadly suffered from a flu I'd caught somewhere in around Apollo Bay.

5 December - Off to Phillip Island, about 130km SE of Melbourne and home of the famous Penguin Parade, aboard Duck Truck Tours, run by the Amaroo YHA on the island. This tour, for A$70, is one of the best I've ever been on anywhere and I would not hesitate to recommend it. I think the local, knowledgeable guides have a lot to do with it. We got to see a lot of wildlife (koalas, wombats, dingoes, penguins) up close during the course of the day and the group of people was also great. (After doing many tours, I can say for sure that the group you're with can really make or break the tour). I found out while on the tour that my proposal to line it up with the Wilson's Promontory tour was not going to happen as that tour had been cancelled, but I was able to book onto one on 9-10 December.

6 December - I stayed overnight at Amaroo YHA after the penguin parade, and spent most of the morning walking around the township of Cowes and its beaches, which for a town of 3,000 is very well equipped to handle the millions of tourists it gets every year. I enjoyed some fresh treats from the bakery before returning to Melbourne.

Now I'd like a Melbournite to explain to me what is so amazing about St Kilda that everybody raves about it and insists I must see it. After spending an hour on Fitzroy Street, I concluded that it was a nice looking street with a tram line down the middle, lots of cafes on either side and a beach at the end of it. This is not unlike many areas in Melbourne, including one or two near where I am staying. Even the English backpackers I talked to, when I asked them, could only think to recommend its profusion of pubs.

8 December - In what turned out to be a 36°C day (the weather predicted 23°C - not bad going!), I walked up Lygon Street in Carlton and right around the Royal Park/University areas north of the city. Lygon Street is somewhere I'll have to go back to one day to explore what it offers - plenty of cafes and a great range of them, but no tram line down the middle.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Day 4 - Great Ocean Road

I wrapped up Sunday with a visit to the mutton bird colony on Griffiths Island where I couldn't help being impressed with the birds as they swooped in from the ocean to find their burrows by the thousands.

Woke up to a breakfast of homemade pancakes courtesy of the driver, Shane, and then we headed off to check out Tower Hill wildlife reserve. Rule number one of running a tour like this - any unexpected wildlife WILL make the tour fall behind time. :P We saw quite a few koalas at Tower Hill, including a young one climbing down a tree, looking at our camera-laden busload of tourists with that kind of facial expression meaning "What the hell are you looking at?" It was quite amusing :)

Next stop, Allansdale cheese factory, where you can buy authentic Australian cheese. Then we turned onto the Great Ocean Road, which doesn't actually hit the ocean for its first 50km, but when it does so, it does so with style. As it was maxing at about 17°C temperature-wise, I was actually starting to come down with a bit of a cold, so I took it fairly easy around the attractions.

From here on, we did the standard Great Ocean Road thing - basically look at a very impressive bunch of big limestone rocks sticking out of the ocean in improbable ways and marvel and take lots of photos. In order, we visited Bay of Islands, Bay of Martyrs (or Massacre Bay), London Bridge (no longer a bridge), the town of Port Campbell, Loch Ard Gorge, the 12 Apostles and Gibson's Steps. We got surprisingly fine (although cold) weather for the entire afternoon so hopefully my photos will have turned out OK. I had the opportunity once again to meet heaps of interesting people at each of the attractions (and usually take their photo with their camera for them).

After a rainforest walk at Mait's Rest (as per last year), we stopped for the night at Apollo Bay. This was the point where I left the Wayward tour, having made a few new friends, and stayed at the Apollo Bay Backpackers - which was an excellent, very informal establishment with TV, internet and so much local information it wasn't funny. The room was clean and had a great view of rolling hills and the surrounding country-style houses. I had a nice shower in their well-maintained bathrooms.

My main complaint about Apollo Bay (which is a great town which I do intend to spend more time in later) is that once you leave the touristy bit on the front street (Great Ocean Road), the roads have no kerbs, no footpaths, no lights, and these crudely dug tunnels at the side of the road for drainage purposes which are easy to fall into at night. But it would be easy to live there for a while - surf culture rules the place.

Day 3 - Port Fairy

Settled into the backpacker accommodation - we have a dorm and shared accommodation. It's very clean compared to some backpacker type places I have seen. I'm going to explore the town as soon as the rain stops - it was originally called Belfast, is about as old as Melbourne, and is home to the world's biggest mutton bird (short-tailed shearwater) community.

(Added later:) I wrapped up Sunday with a visit to the mutton bird colony on Griffiths Island where I couldn't help being impressed with the birds as they swooped in from the ocean to find their burrows by the thousands. It was a very cold, rainy walk around the coast - if you ever plan to do this I hope you have better than suitable rain gear!

A pop-blaring van full of Israeli young people was my transport home. I owe them one. :)