Australia the 3rd Time AroundAuthor: LSKahn (More Trip Reviews by LSKahn)
Date of Trip: December 2012
This was my third home exchange trip down under based entirely on home exchanges. The other two trips included NZ. This one did not. No offense, NZ, but this is just the way it worked out. In 9 1/2 weeks down under I paid for exactly 5 nights in hotels. One was at the airport in Sydney where I met a friend from the US coming to do part of the trip with me and the other 4 nights were in Tasmania. The trip began on November 7th when I left the US. I arrived in Australia on the 9th--the International Dateline having erased November 8th. I returned to the US on Jan. 16, 2013. Cost for the entire holiday including airfare (about $2,000) was $8,000-9,000.
The trip was structured around 3 home exchanges. Those exchanges were 3 1/2 weeks in Blaxland (Blue Mountains), NW of Sydney about an hour on the train; 12 days in the Australian Capital Territory (north of Canberra) and, finally almost a month in Sydney (home was in Camperdown; train stop was Newtown). Tasmania was done with 4 nights on the West Coast (2 nights Queenstown, 2 nights Strahan in hotels) and 3 nights return of hospitality in Hobart.
The first 3 weeks did include a lot of rain in the Blue Mountains. I did a moderate amount of walking--including the hike from the 3 Sisters to where you get on the cable car. I got really excited when I saw some fabulous Australian birds in the wild. In my opinion, the birds and plants in Australia are much more interesting than the kangaroos and koalas--but that is just me. On rainy days, I went into Sydney because you really can't do what you want to do in the Blue Mountains when it rains. I did knock off the "Alexander the Great" exhibit from The Hermitage at the Australia Museum in Sydney. My exchangers were also kind enough to leave me a 5th row center ticket to the Australia Ballet at the Opera House--which I really enjoyed. In the Blue Mountains I went to Katoomba 3 times to do different things including an aboriginal performance and lunch at Lillyfels. I also visited Jenolan Caves (You drive through a cave to get to the parking lot!). I also did a lot of local touring and drank many coffees in local coffee shops. I learned how to use the train into Sydney.
Then it was off to Tasmania. I had been there once before and saw the prison at Port Arthur on that trip, so no need to repeat that. I went first to Queenstown for 2 nights and then to Strahan for two nights--both on the West Coast. In Queenstown I took a tour of a copper mine. You actually drive into the mine and end up over a kilometer down when you get to the "face"--where the mining is actually done. The West Coast of Tasmania has been defaced and polluted by mining! The tour was, however, fabulous. Based in Strahan, I did the steam train to Queenstown and the boat tour of the Gordon River--both worthwhile experiences. The 3 nights in Hobart included a visit to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). It is a reason by itself for visiting Hobart--really terrific. I also took in the Salamanca Market (just another Australian market but writ large) and drove up Mount Wellington.
When Tasmania was over, I flew back to Sydney (Jetstar) and then took the Murray's bus to Canberra (a very boring bus ride through miles and miles of repetitive scenery), then took a bus and a taxi to get to the exchange home--the nicest home I had of the entire trip. Canberra is sort of a collection of suburbs looking for a city. There really is no city with nightlife, etc., but there are tons of good museums. Unlike the usual rule in Australia they were mostly all free (the science museum has a charge). I visited them all and also drove through changing scenery to Bateman's Bay on the south coast one day (closest beach to Canberra). The drive was interesting. Bateman's Bay, however, was like a thousand beaches I have visited. I ate lunch overlooking the water and went home. I also visited a couple of wineries and a cheese and chocolate place on another outing. The Australian War Memorial Museum requires more than a full day to take it all in. I went twice.
Well, what can one say about Sydney? The "guts" of any visit to Sydney are Sydney Harbor and the Opera House. While in Sydney, I went to the Opera House twice. One was for a concert that was terrible. I was told afterward that stuff in the Opera House is often mediocre because the tourists buy anything. I thought it was going to be a serious concert. It was so bad that I actually left early. Be aware that tickets for everything in Sydney are expensive and there is no same day/half price ticket booth as there is in Melbourne (or indeed in Washington, DC) where I make my home. The second performance was a comedy group. It was so so--but much cheaper than the despised concert.
I did climb the Harbor Bridge. I selected the Discovery Tour--which involved more walking but you did not have to climb the ladders since I was (and still am) recovering from massive surgery on my left shoulder and cannot yet pull hard on it. You get to the top. It was satisfying to know I could still do something like that despite the shoulder injury. The guide was very good and tolerated my slowness. It is expensive. I timed the climb so I did it before the prices went up for the Xmas holidays. Price was $218 Australian (AU dollar is worth more than the US dollar so watch it). For New Year's Eve I took a boat in the Harbor to see the fireworks for $300 Australian. That price did not include any food--just the boat! Well, you only live once.
Sydney is not a metropolis the size of New York City--nor does it have the cultural life of Melbourne. What you need to do is get out and about the Harbor to the various look outs. You eat lunch at the look outs, take photos and return. I did eat at both Watson's Bay and Fort Dennison (you need to use the Captain Cook ferry to get to Ft. Dennison as the public ferry does not go there). I stopped at Garden Island to see the Naval Museum as well. The harbor is what Sydney has that no other place does.
At the end of my stay, the Sydney Festival was on and I saw 2 performances. "The Secret River"--based on the book of the same name--concerned the relationship of the Whites and Aborigines and was very interesting. Australia's problems with the Aborigines somewhat parallel problems in North America with indigenous tribes, but are, in my opinion, much worse. Because Aborigines live largely in remote areas, most White Australians simply put them out of their mind and move on. There is a lot of despair, drug use, alcohol use, suicides, etc. Of course, no one really knows what the solution is anymore than they do in North America. Some Aborigines have, of course, have joined mainstream culture but there is still an acceptance problem with European Australians. In many ways, North America and Australia have similar problems, but there are some differences.
After 3 trips down under I am not going to make my announcement "This is my last trip to Australia" because I really never know what is going to happen with home exchanging. I have already had an inquiry from Western Australia near Perth. Perhaps in 2015, perhaps not. I still have yet to go to either Uhluru/Ayers Rock or the Great Barrier Reef, so I suppose I will have to return sometime.
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