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The Rest Of The Aussie Story

We´re now in Santiago, Chile, having spent eight days in New Zealand, and I´m just getting to finish writing about our time in Australia. Here in Chile, internet is less than 1USD an hour, versus 8USD in Oz and similarly priced in NZ, hence the delay.

As I mentioned in the short posting about Australia, we spent 19 of the 21 nights we had in Oz sleeping on the ground. It was a growing experience, to be sure. It´s kind of like how we have two pairs of underwear for the entire trip (i.e. wash one, wear one), the experience is worth the cost. We stayed in some excellent campgrounds, some very rustic and some with loads of amenities, and we stayed in a few campgrounds that we really didn´t like so much. Each had its own character and attraction, though, and we enjoyed the experience of being so close to Aussie nature immensely.  

We also saved a considerable amount of money by camping. Oz turned out to be incredibly expensive, as I´ve mentioned. Food was more expensive than in the US, possibly even in Europe. Gas in Oz and NZ both always topped $4.50US a gallon. Beer was too expensive to drink, and even Coke could cost $3 or $4 for a little bottle. It was a little disheartening at times; we wanted to do a lot of things in Oz, because it offers so much, but the cost of things were really prohibitive. Hence, the camping really came in handy. We were already spending much more than expected for our car rental (turns out US insurance companies don´t bother to cover Australia, so we ended up doubling the cost of our rental by purchasing insurance). Hostels were too expensive, at least $20 each in places like Melbourne. So camping was natural for us, with costs from $14-28 AUD for most campgrounds.  

Sleeping on the ground grew old, as one might expect, but we oddly became quite used to it and eventually the bruises on our hips from concrete-like soil conditions disappeared. We did very well on our food, which was almost entirely purchased at supermarkets and cooked on site at the campgrounds. We had a little stove which we used for cooking when there wasn´t a free barbie (Aussie for BBQ) in the campground. We purchased a little percolator in Vietnam that could make two cups of coffee, and faithfully served our caffeine addictions throughout the experience and on into NZ. We got a little tired of eating pasta and rice dishes, or soup from powder, which is unsurprisingly boring; the kangaroo meat was the only meat we could afford, though sometimes we´d splurge and pick up some eggs for a special breakfast (a welcome break from the daily routine of a porridge breakfast). By the time we spent our last night in Sydney in a caravan park, we´d used up all of the food except for a bit of rice, a couple cans of beans, and some fuel; we even polished off the coffee that morning.

One might think that three weeks worth of camping had us pretty dirty by the end. I wouldn´t say that we were as clean as we normally might be, and my beard (after four months of no trimming) caused comparisons (two of them) to the beard Forest Gump had after his coast-to-coast running saga. Still, most of the campgrounds besides the most rustic of them had showers, many quite nice, and we continued to wash our clothes as we have throughout the trip, in a sink. We even used the soiling caused by camping as an excuse to machine-wash our clothes a couple of times, when hand washing just wasn´t cutting throught the grime. Often our little Getz looked like a laundry hamper had exploded, as our clothes were strewn out on the seats and everywhere else possible for drying as we headed to the next destination.

Speaking of the Getz, we rode that little beast like it was an SUV, or as is very popular in Australia, a Ute (short for utility vehicle, these are for all essential purposes and appearances a modern-day El Camino, though Aussies don´t particularly care for that comparison). We took it out on back roads and dusty country lanes so riven with potholes and ruts that we certainly were outside the limitations of our expensive and not so comprehensive insurance (the Getz wasn´t made for bumps or backroads, as its nearly complete lack of shocks demonstrated). It was good to us, though, and we developed a reluctant appreciation for it, perhaps a grudging fondness by the end; in particular, the fact that it could go 35 miles per gallon was quite helpful in Oz. Plus, it had a little hatchback and a shelf behind the back seat where we could cook when it rained, getting shelter for all but our outer shoulders. I wouldn´t necessarily buy a Getz, nor wish one on somebody, but this guy served us as well as it could.

I earlier described our journey through our time in Wilsons Promontory, probably my overall favorite national park in Oz. From there we headed on to Croajingolong Nat'l Park, ending up in a little caravan park in the town of Mallacoota, which is completely surrounded by the park. At first, Mallacoota seemed to us to be quite a po'dunk joint, but it grew on us, as we stayed there three nights. The weather wasn´t so supportive, as it was windy with times of rain throughout those days, and Croajingolong is a wild and wooly place, better appreciated for its unmarred nature than for excellent hiking. I ended up spending most of the time feeding expensive bait to the local fish. Slowly the town became more interesting, especially in that for eleven months of the year it really is a remote, fairly deserted place, but because thousands of Aussies descend on it for a month starting mid-December, it has everything one might need, including a internet cafe/noodle shop/coffee bar/used book store/video rental shop. We spent more time in town, walking and relaxing, than we did wandering through the tangled bush of the surrounding park.

Next we headed north up the coast a bit to the tiny town of Tathra. It´s a great town, really, and completely ignored by any visitors except maybe Aussies. It has a beautiful bay, a historic wharf from which I had the most success fishing in Oz (I even pulled a big shark up to the wharf, though not out of the water), and best of all, Mimosa Rocks Nat´l Park is just up the road. We spent on night in a little caravan park in Tathra, exploring the park but returning to Tathra so that I could have a morning of fishing; the next night we spent in a very rustic campground in the park itself. We were in a surreal area of eucalypts trees and some kind of palms, and our only neighbor was some older Austrian couple who´d somehow gotten this enormous camper van that looked very much like a converted armoured Wells Fargo truck shipped over from Europe (complete with EU plates). We had a great time camping there, though the posting that some snake called the Death Adder was "not uncommon" in the area cut back on any night hiking (or visiting the outhouse for that matter) we might have planned.

We continued north after exploring the beautiful countryside around that area, up through several national parks to a little town called Potato Point. A great thing about Oz is that unlike the US, most of the national parks do not charge entry fees; in fact, most of the are barely noted by a sign as you pass through them, and there are tons of them, as a glance at a Google map of Oz demonstrates (look for the green areas, which seems to be most of Oz). We only paid to enter into Wilsons Prom, which was definitely worth the cost, though we decided not to visit the Royal Nat´l Park and Jergis Bay because of the high cost versus worthiness ratio. Anyhow, Potato Point is so small it doesn´t even have any businesses, though there is a caravan park in the nearby Eurobadalla Nat´l Park we stayed a night at. There was a whistling wind through the area while we were camping, which wasn´t much fun, and so many kangaroos on the campgrounds the ground was covered in their poo (not so great). 

So, we moved on from there to the Jervis Bay area. As I mentioned, we decided against paying $40 a night to visit Jervis Bay´s world-famous Boodaree Nat´l Park, because for free you can park in the nearby village of Hyams Beach, where if its picture-perfect white sands beach isn´t adequate, you can walk on into the park and its UN Heritage beach Green Patch (which looks the same as Hyams). We found this great little caravan park, quite aged and a bit run down, but the owners were tremendously helpful and nice, and we ended up staying two nights there, a welcome change from packing up on a nightly basis. It was this park where we enjoyed our Roo Dogs, surrounded by (living) kin of those unfortunate beasts, and where we had to slap a possum in the face with a spatula as it became a little too friendly during our dinner. The slap didn´t work, so we had to chuck water at it, which did the trick. That was a relaxing stop, especially given the long day´s drive to get up to the Blue Mountain Nat´l Park the next day.

The Blue Mt Nat´l Park is almost an obligatory visit when going through Sydney. It´s only a little over two hours from Sydney, and it has famous sights such as The Three Sisters, a rock formation seen from the town of Katoomba Falls. That town is so touristy that it´s a bit ridiculous, though the view from its lookouts are nothing compared to some of the scenery we saw in Arizona and Utah. Imagine our surprise when we found that there is free camping further along the highway in the little village of Blackheath, though it is very rustic and the bumpy road there tested the Getz´s ability to weather all conditions (yeah right). Blackheath itself has a fair amount of charm, as it´s far enough up the road that the tour buses don´t bother before heading back to Sydney, and just outside the campground was a trail that went along the beautiful gorge that is the highlight of the park. We had a nice hike there, and despite the oncoming summer holidays, we were nearly by ourselves that night in the park. It was a great last night in the bush of Oz, though hardly what might be considered the Outback.

We drove into Sydney the next day, where we again camped. It was a bit of a shock to be immersed in a massive city again, and of course Sydney is really a world-class city. Melbourne was great, really a fun city, but Sydney has the harbor, a fact that really boosts its esteem in our minds (sorry, Doug and Monique). We spent our last couple of days in the city, trying to see as much of it as possible. We also visited a childhood friend of Jess´s, Elizabeth, who with her husband came to Sydney four years ago and still haven´t pried themselves free from Oz. We had dinner with them, and it was a particular treat not to eat out of a can or a box; Elizabeth even made a salad, which nearly brought tears to our eyes. Funny the little things that you cherish after three weeks of camping.

And so we ended our three week adventure in Oz. After spending five weeks in SE Asia, it was really a breath of fresh (familiar) air to be there, regardless of the high costs we incurred. The animals were something special, a reason to visit Oz on its own, though they had nothing on the people. Aussies are some of the nicest people I´ve ever met. They seem to always be willing to strike up a conversation (I´m surprised we´re not still talking to some of them, as it was hard to pry ourselves away). They are enthusiastic, cheerful, and generous. Naturally, we saw very little of Oz in three weeks, we just beat a little path from Melbourne to Sydney, so we will need to return for another trip to continue on north. As for myself, I´m definitely looking forward to that trip.

Until next time, be safe.



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