Australia by the Numbers: a Wrap Up

Time: 37 days, 3 in Cairns, 6 in Sydney, 4 in Melbourne, 3 on the Great Ocean Road and 21 days in the Campervan down the east coast.
Vans rented: 2, Excalibur from spaceships, a lovely van we slept in for 21 days and loved, and one from Wicked that was pretty horrible.
Friends visited: 2, one on the Sunshine coast, and one in Sydney.
Boat Rides: 3, a scuba trip in Cairns, a sailing adventure in the Whitsundays, and a ferry to Fraser Island.
Bus Rides: 1 Overnight bus from Sydney to Melbourne, not a great experience, but certainly better than the buses in Japan
National Parks: Noosa, Agnes Falls, 12 Apostles, and too many more to count.
World Heritage Sites: 5 – Great Barrier Reef, Wet Tropics of Queensland, Fraser Island, Opera House and Blue Mountains
Wineries visited: 5 and a brewery. Wonderful wines.Best Food:  a multi way tie between delicious cheddar and brie picked up in the Hunter Valley while touring wineries, wonderful pies picked up on the side of the road, Malaysian and Japanese food in Sydney, BBQ Kangaroo, and all the gourmet food we had in Melbourne. Australia has wonderful food. I would highly recommend Green in Northern Melbourne for brunch, especially the breakfast stack and Mamak in Sydney for the best Malaysian.
Worst Food: Again with the Marmite, we tried Marmite flavoured chips, and they were not good.
Best City: Personally I loved Kendall, but I’d have to give this one to Melbourne. A gorgeous city, with beautiful museums, a great market, a free tram, wonderful food, and the best library I’ve ever been in. Sydney was great, with a nice waterfront, but if we were to move to Australia, Melbourne is where we’d settle down.
Worst City: While Cairns had great weather and a nice location near the barrier reef, I wouldn’t spend so much time here next time, as there weren’t many great restaurants and it was really expensive compared to some of the other cities we visited. Best New Experience: It was in Australia that we tried Scuba diving for the first time, and held a Koala, feed a Kangaroo, but I think our best experience was our flight in a 6 seater plane over Fraser Island, something I never thought I would do. So fun!
Worst New Experience: Trying to rent a car from WICKED campervans and instead getting a hideously painted, falling apart van instead. Add that to trying to drive around Melbourne with only a very bad map, and it was the worst experience of our trip. However, that van took us to the Great Ocean Road and back safely, so it all worked out in the end.

Travel Tip: There are free places to stay everywhere! Pick up a copy of the giant book of camping and road maps, “Camps Australia Wide”, if it’s not included with your van rental and you will be able to find all the free sites in every state. Most free sites had nice washrooms and some even had driver reviver booths, with free coffee, hot chocolate and cookies. Perfect for camping in the cold weather.

Will we return: I certainly hope so, it’s a fascinating country and we never made it to Uluru, Tasmania or the West Coast, all places I would like to see.

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Strange Small Towns: Biggenden

While driving through the middle of nowhere we stumbled upon what might possibly the the best small town in all of Australia. Biggenden is definitely not on any tourist map or even on some regular maps, but we spent an amusing half an hour exploring the town.
 Among the highlights was this amazing blacksmith and funeral parlour, complete with the most incredible iron structure I have ever seen.

Here we have a devil of some kind holding a dragon. I can’t even begin to describe it further. I love road trips!

 

 

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The best part!

By far highlight of our trip to New Zealand was reuniting with a long lost friend, Gillian!

We spent four days living with Gill in her gorgeous house in Piha, near Auckland. It was an amazing time full of reminiscing, wine and excellent food. It’s so nice to see people you haven’t seen in years and have no problems jumping right back into the friendship! I can’t wait for my next visit, or perhaps permanent move!

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Camping in New Zealand

After a lot of research in to travel costs and feasibility, we decided the best way to see New Zealand was by car. Having heard about cheap camping opportunities we decided to go for a campervan of sorts. Of course, we hadn’t really planned for the freak snowstorm or other bad weather, and had to delay our trip a few days waiting for the mountain passes to be opened and the driveway to be shoveled. Spaceships campervans are old Toyota lucidas imported used from Japan and retrofitted to sleep two, or if you’re brave and don’t mind a roof rack, four. We picked up the winter warmed pack, a heater, a hot water bottle and  thermos, and were on our way. 

While camping had it’s downsides: the sites were much more expensive than we had planned, it was cold, our van was a little old and extremely embarrassing, we are so happy we choose to camp. 

Eventually we found these sweet department of conservation guides to the free and cheap campsites, and from then on we were set. No more $35 a night to sleep in a parking lot, now were paying $6 a night to sleep in the gorgeous parks of New Zealand. 

While our van seemed a little sketchy at first, other than the hub cap incident, a dead battery, and a few little peculiarities with the glove compartment, it brought us home unscathed.

Spaceships come fully equipped with cooking equipment, a DVD player and bedding, so it was really easy to pick up and go. They were definitely also the cheapest vehicle to be had, if not the nicest. Hopefully the next time we go we can afford one of those fancy motorhomes with bathrooms and a real bed, but for now, this was perfect.

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The best museum in New Zealand

Well, to be honest, we didn’t visit very many museums in New Zealand, unless you count the many Department of Conservation exhibits we stopped at. Those exhibits were great, amazing even,and brought back fond memories of the visitor’s centre at Algonquin. For the purposes of this contest though, I will count only the actual musuems we visited.

Te Papa in Wellington. 

Absolutely amazing. This museum is free with donation, and has so many excellent exhibits. One floor was entirely designed for the geography nerds among us. Information on earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics and rock cycles was next to interesting displays on the wildlife of New Zealand, which included a huge room displaying the biggest giant squid ever captured. There was even a house which simulated an aftershock of 5.0 magnitude. The next floor is dedicated to Maori traditions, immigration, and the people’s history of New Zealand. There is another floor, but we had to skip it, as we stayed until the museum closed. All through the museum there are interactive displays and children’s centres, as well as innovative exhibits, such as a 3-D movie of the giant squid, and recordings of children talking about the most interesting behaviours of animals. We spent over three hours here and wanted to come back the next day. Scott’s favourite part was a small exhibit outside which showed how the building was engineered not to collapse in Earthquakes including a viewing area of the the buildings supports.

Auckland Museum

Another free with donation musuem, but they make you buy a ticket for $10 as your supposed donation. This museum felt more formal and not as interesting to Scott and I. It’s building was absolutely beautiful and built in the middle of a giant park, so it had location going for it. The three floors contain information about Maori traditions, the natural world, and New Zealand’s contributions to wars around the world. We spent the most of our time on the third floor, learning about New Zealand’s participation in WWI, WWII, and various other conflicts. It was incredibly interesting and engaging, but I think we were comparing it to the excellent war museum in Ottawa, and left not fully satisfied.

Cable Car Museum – Wellington

It seems a little ridiculous to pit this small, focused museum against the two heavy weights, but we really enjoyed this place. At first we only entered to pass time while waiting for the next cable car down the hill, but we ended up staying for nearly an hour. The first floor has a restored cable car you can sit on, as well as an excellent history of the cable car in Wellington. It was fascinating to learn so much about something I knew nothing about before. The basement had another restored car, and the historic winding machine that used to control the cars. My favourite part by far were the videos playing in a screening room, one abut the trams of New Zealand and one about the private cable cars all over wellington. Since the city is built on a hill, many residents have installed their own cable cars for easy access to their homes. I watched the whole movie, and we later saw a few of these cars while driving around. It was definitely worth the visit. 

Weta Cave – Wellington

We made the short trek out here because we were both big Lord of the Rings fans. I distinctly remember watching all of the additional footage on at least one of the DVD’s and being fascinated by the “making of” scenes. This small museum is mostly a gift shop, with collectibles on display and for sale. There was also a video that outlined what kind of work they did for various films and the different departments making up Weta. It was definitely worth a visit just to see some of the life size figurines. 

Winner?

It was a close race between Te Papa and the Cable car Museum, but if I take revisability into consideration, I’d have to give it to Te Papa.  I can’t wait to go back and check out that upper floor. 

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The Great Australian Road Trip

Tomorrow is our last day with our dear Spaceship van… Excaliber. Like all our other spaceships, it’s had its problems, but it’s carried us faithfully all 2,500 km from Cairns to Sydney with many diversions in between. We’re sad to say goodbye to this van and to the caravanning lifestyle we’ve been living for the last month and a half, but it’s time to move on to city living! Caravanning lifestyle, if you’re wondering, involves waking up at 6, driving, going to beaches, seeing giant sculptures of fruit, taking ridiculous photos, making sandwiches, hiking, driving, cooking pasta on the side of your van and going to bed at 7 in the middle of nowhere. It’s been nice. 

Despite driving for what seems like forever, we have only covered a small portion of Australia, and I can’t wait to come back and see more. One benefit of settling down for a while is increased access to internet, so I will probably be posting more regularly from now on!

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