We took 18 days to travel the more than 2600 kilometers from Cairns to Sydney. It was hard to judge exactly how much time was needed to make the trip with the objective of optimizing our journey but without too much driving. In the end, it seems it was planned and executed quite well, especially considering that peak travel season started around mid-month when school lets out for vacation. The other big consideration was how to travel in expensive places like Australia while reducing costs. Fortunately almost all hotels, motels and vacation accommodations provide refrigerators and light cooking facilities. We took full advantage by food shopping and making almost all our meals on the road.
Little known factoid: PB and J is one of the major food groups.
Sydney was the most expensive place we’ve been to date. As an example, we had spent a very full Christmas day touring the town and were tired and hungry and more than ready to eat. Several restaurants were closed and we finally stopped into a contemporary looking pub for dinner. I had a hamburger and fries with a draught beer, Cindy had sausages, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut with water and the bill came to $50 (US). To ease some of the costs we stayed in locals’ homes we found through the airbnb website. Overall, we had very positive experiences having had excellent –and interesting– hosts and always more space than we would have in motels or regular guest houses. It’s also a good way to meet locals and get the inside scoop on what to do and see as well as what to avoid.
In Noosa, we did some hiking in the National Park, biked around town and kayaked on the Noosa River.
Tea Tree Bay, Noosa National Park.
The Australian Bush Turkey.
Beautiful Byron Bay was the first town we weren’t able to find accommodations due to its popularity and the onset of high season. It turned out to be fortuitous as we stayed in Lennox Head a few minutes drive south. Byron Bay was über touristy and quite a busy place. More of a village, Lennox Head was quiet and our BNB was only a couple of hundred meters from the beach.
Byron Bay Lighthouse on the Eastern most point of Australia.
Surf culture sans the Beach Boys.
We took a ride inland to a scenic area known as the hinterland situated between the central coast and the outback. It was very hilly and the winding roads were quiet without many cars. This was one of the places I really wished I’d had a road bike; it would have been perfect. We stopped in the town of Nimbin. Formerly a quiet dairy village, it changed after the Aquarius Festival in 1973 to become a “hippie” town, now full of long grey-haired, colorfully dressed residents. It had quite a few “head” shops selling varieties of rolling papers, pipes and drug paraphernalia. It also distinguished itself as the only town I’d seen to date with police officers walking a beat.
“The Entrance”, located about an hour north of Sydney, has daily pelican feedings.
Up close and personal.
We’d been warned about strict enforcement of traffic laws, especially around the holidays. We only saw a handful of patrol cars but you’re constantly being watched and monitored with radar and cameras; and an innumerable number of signs everywhere let you know you’re under surveillance. Here is an incomplete list of the signs we saw on the way to, and in Sydney:
Check speed, heavy fines, loss of license
Speed cameras used in this area
Average speed camera
Red light camera area
How fast are you going?
Road work: speed limits enforced
20 dec to Jan 1: double demerits apply (I assume it’s some kind of point system)
And two types of ‘public service’ billboards to drive home the point:
One is a picture of a police officer’s head and helmet with mirrored aviator sunglasses. Caption: We have our eyes on you!
The second pictures a doctor asking, “Late or crushed skull? Choose wisely.”
I found the multitudinous road signs and surveillance cameras very intimidating.
The “average speed” camera is a real kicker. There are actually two cameras positioned a few kilometers apart that clock a vehicle over the distance and then measures the average speed to determine if it was over the limit. If this were done in the Boston area everyone would be arrested.
Signs notifying the existence of the cameras are sometimes labeled as being for public safety. It’s creepy to know you’re being watched all the time and paranoid-inducing to be continuously reminded of it. At home, you may be on camera but don’t know it. The Boston Marathon-day bombers were quickly caught with cameras’ assistance. Perhaps that’s the best way to use them.
Public hazard warnings are common.
A most sardonic icon.
The Sydney Harbor Bridge, aka, The Coat Hanger.
We hit Sydney with a bang on December 26th, Boxing Day. It’s a national holiday and also the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Everyone comes out at various points along the harbor to see the start of the race.
Seconds before the starting gun.
Minutes after the start competitors are ‘followed’ by motorized spectators.
Five days were bearly enough to take in Sydney. It’s a clean, vibrant international city with a massive harbor. If one were to measure the total linear distance of the shore line of the banks and islands it would surely be an astronomical figure.
The drive down the coast from Cairns featured one beautiful beach after another. Bondi Beach was no exception and it was only minutes away from downtown Sydney.
Next to Bondi is a gorgeous walk which takes you along the coast to more beautiful beaches. Amazing!
England’s answer to rising crime in newly industrialized 16th and 17th century society was banishment, or euphemistically, “transport”. After they lost America to the revolution, Australia became the choice location. The Hyde Park Barracks Museum was about convict life in the colony. Harsh and brutal, it also came with the possibility of starting a fresh life with economic opportunity.
The most surprising experience in Australia occurred on a public bus in Sydney when, just after crossing the harbor bridge, the driver missed the exit. There were some choice curse words from his mouth and a couple of gentle smiles from some other passengers while Cindy and I sat in bewilderment. I looked around the bus and was also surprised that there were no other reactions from other passengers. The driver simply re-routed the bus back to its normal route and it was like nothing had happened. I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere. If it happened in a major metropolitan area in the U.S. I imagine there would have been at least several passengers speaking up.
Australia has a very laid-back feel to it. It consistently ranks as one of the most desirable places to live with the highest level of satisfaction. There appear to be a lot of job opportunities and the cities attract a lot of foreign workers in the hospitality and service industries. One of the reasons the cost of eating out is so high is that the minimum wage is $20 per hour. Tipping is not customary but the hourly wage is guaranteed so there is no need for strikes by fast food workers who get wages that are impossibly low to live on. This is a workingman’s country. The reputation of most work-a-day folks is that there is a “9 to 5” attitude about doing their jobs. I met a young financial analyst who spent his last semester of school in the U.S. and all the resident seniors were hard at work hustling to find jobs when they graduated; he said it served him well providing good motivation at an important time. On another tour we met two young 5th-year medical residents who only worked 38-hour work weeks–the maximum number of work hours per week set by the Australian government!
Retail stores close relatively early and even in metropolitan areas it can appear ghostly sometimes. There was no big commercially charged shopping frenzy before Christmas. Aussies’ big shopping day is the day after Christmas, December 26th, Boxing Day. (Traditionally, it was when servants and tradesman got gifts from their bosses or employers. It’s also a holiday in the UK, Canada, and some other Commonwealth –or former Commonwealth– countries).
It’s no utopia as I’ve heard voices of frustration regarding over-zealous government regulation squashing entrepreneurship and innovation. And on another occassion, a small business-owner, a painter, had been hit by the down-turn in the housing market around the time of the global financial crisis of 2008. He has since recovered but not at the level that he was earlier. He went from 25 employees to about 6 or 7 where he’s been since then. And for me, when I consider all those posted warnings and the constant surveillance it can feel like I’m in a ‘nanny’ state or that an Orwellian “big brother” is watching.
But people I talk to do seem pretty content with their lives. And although the ‘best places to live’ surveys may not be infallible, I believe there is probably some statistical significance to them.
Sometimes I find myself getting annoyed when talking to foreigners from other western nations about things like the recent government shut down, comparative healthcare systems, and the embarrassment that creationists are even slightly involved in American children’s education. But, like Dorothy said in the original land of Oz, “There’s no place like home”.