Flickr Photo Gallery
What Works For Me
2007 - Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K
2006 - UMCA 24-Hour Time Trial
2006 - Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200K
2005 - Last Chance 1200K
2005 - UMCA 24-Hour Time Trial
2005 - Gold Rush 1200K
2004 - Great Southern 1200K
2004 - Manitoba 1000K
2003 - Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K
2002 - Rocky Mountain 1200K
2012 - Round The World
2012 - Australia: Beechworth, VIC
2011 - Australia: Mount Gambier, SA
2011 - Canada: Vancouver Island
2011 - Australia: Hub & Spoke Tours
2010 - Australia: Hub & Spoke Tours
2009 - Australia: Hub & Spoke Tours
2008 - USA: Logan's Pass, Montana
2008 - Australia: VIC
2007 - Europe: Belgium, France, UK
2007 - Canada: Golden Triangle
2006 - Canada: Pine Lake, Alberta
2005 - Canada: Rockies
2005 - Canada: Golden Triangle
2004 - Australia: East Coast
2003 - Europe: France, UK, Wales
Audax Club Parisien
Canadian & International Randonneuring Links
Various Western USA Events
More Long Distance Rides
London Bridge - Great Ocean Road
A few tips regarding travel in Australia … from the perspective of a Canadian who has visited Australia twice for cycling tours, and who has been living in Australia for 5 years. Note that Australia is a big place with lots of variety, therefore YMMV with some of these points.
- Australia has States and Territories – it includes 6 States (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia) and 2 Territories (Northern Territory and ACT).
- Queensland’s capital is Brisbane, with a population over 2.2 million.
- New South Wales’ capital is Sydney, with a population over 4.7 million
- Victoria’s capital is Melbourne, with a population over 4.3 million
- Tasmania’s capital is Hobart, with a population over 200,000
- South Australia’s capital is Adelaide, with a population over 1.2 million
- Western Australia’s capital is Perth, with a population over 1.9 million
- Northern Territory’s capital is Darwin, with a population over 130,000
- ACT’s capital is Canberra, with a population over 380,000.
Canberra (pronounced Can-bra) is also the capital of Australia.
The total population of Australia is over 23 million. If you add up the populations in the cities above, it comes to a total of just over 15 million. The remaining 8 million people are scattered around Australia often in quite small towns and communities.
Compare with Canada, which has a population over 35 million, and USA which has a population over 316 million. Put 3 New Yorks together and you’ve got the whole population of Australia.
- Australia is a very large country – so plan your trip carefully. Australia is the sixth largest country after Russia, Canada, China, the USA, and Brazil. It is approximately the size of mainland USA or the continent of Europe. From Sydney on the east coast to Perth on the west coast is approximately 4000 km. Brisbane, Queensland to Melbourne, Victoria is approximately 1800 km.
Australia has a varied terrain and climate. It tends to be tropical and subtropical in the north, and along the north-eastern coastline. The southern and south-eastern coastal areas tend to be temperate, even experiencing snow in winter on the mountain tops. And the middle is hot and dry desert.
Although Australia is the flattest continent, it does have mountains and hills. The Great Dividing Range runs parallel with the eastern coastline, similar to North America’s Great Divide on the western side of North America. There are some good ski areas in those mountains in the winter. And if you’re planning to do a cycling tour between Sydney and Melbourne, for example, be prepared for some significant climbing.
Most of Australia’s population lives along the eastern coastline in hilly/mountainous subtropical and temperate areas.
- Weather – December, January, and February are summer, and can get quite hot. Wear sunscreen, hats, loose long-sleeved tops, etc. But depending where you are, December can be a funny month … sometimes it can get quite chilly in December. One day it might be 35C … the next 15C.
March, April, and May are autumn. In the north, it will still be quite hot, but in the south autumns can be lovely.
June, July, and August are winter. In the north, it will still be quite hot, but in the south it can get quite chilly. Skiing is a popular activity in the Australian Alps of Victoria and New South Wales. Winter in the south also tends to be rainy, with a climate similar to the Pacific Northwest of North America.
September, October, and November are spring. In the north, spring can be quite hot, but in the south springs can be lovely.
Late spring and early autumn are probably the best choice for travelling, especially in the south.
A bit about the seasons:
- Because of the heat and dryness of summer, there are usually bushfires somewhere in Australia during those months. Pay attention to the weather and the news. Hopefully nothing will happen in the areas you plan to travel, but be prepared to make sudden changes of plan if something were to happen.
- If you are camping for all or part of your trip, campfires are rarely allowed. Most campgrounds (caravan parks) have well-equipped camp kitchens for cooking your meals.
- On the other hand, summer can also bring cyclones and some dramatically heavy rainfalls … especially further north. Pay attention to news about washed out roads, floods etc. The wet season (monsoon season) in the northern tropical area lasts about six months between November and March
- This is the weather site I usually use: http://www.weatherzone.com.au/
If Brisbane is on your itinerary, for example, have a look at the climatology for Brisbane: http://www.weatherzone.com.au/climate/station.jsp?lt=site&lc=40223 … as you can see, January and February are the rainy months. Usually something monsoonal will come through. Those are also the hot and humid months.
On the other hand, if Melbourne is on your itinerary, have a look at the climatology for Melbourne: http://www.weatherzone.com.au/climate/station.jsp?lt=site&lc=86071 … as you can see, January and February are hot and dry months.
And Hobart: http://www.weatherzone.com.au/climate/station.jsp?lt=site&lc=94029 … January and February are similar to Melbourne, but a bit cooler.
- You might also find this site useful for figuring out time zones, when the sun might set, weather, holidays, etc. http://www.timeanddate.com/
- We drive on the left side of the road, in right-hand drive vehicles. Easy enough to manage on straight bits of road … tricky at intersection. Be very careful when you’re turning … it’s so easy to turn into the wrong lane.
- Also note that as a pedestrian, you’ll have to look both ways very carefully before you step into the intersection. The vehicles could be coming at you from a different direction than you expect.
- If you decide to rent (hire) a vehicle, especially if you rent (hire) one from a smaller town/city, there’s a chance it will be manual/standard … not automatic … although this has been changing in recent years. If you do end up with a manual/standard, you will shift with your left hand, not your right. That can take a bit of getting used to, and you might want to drive around the block or parking lot a few times before venturing out on city streets. The pedals for acceleration, brake, and clutch are in the same position, left to right, as it is in America.
- If you rent (hire) a vehicle, you will want to inspect the car carefully with the agency, and you will want to take out the insurance policy … as you would when renting (hiring) a car anywhere. But be sure to check the info packet for both the car rental and the insurance for restrictions. There may be restrictions regarding gravel roads, night driving, and wildlife after dark. Your insurance may be invalid if you have an accident while travelling on a gravel road, or if you hit a kangaroo after dark. Also “deductable” is known as “excess”.
- And … you’ll discover this yourself, but you’ll find that the windshield wipers come on when you go to signal … or if you want to put the windshield wipers on, you’ll find yourself signalling. Those levers are on the opposite sides to what you might be used to. Oh, and it’s “windscreen” not “windshield”.
- Regarding fuel … you will acquire it at a “service station” or a “service centre”. In North America, you can often find gas stations located on the outskirts of cities in collections of hotels, gas stations and fast food places. In Australia, service stations or service centres may be hidden somewhere within towns, although you may be able to find the occasional one in the middle of nowhere on a main highway.
- Regarding the fuel choices … there is diesel, petrol and gas. Chances are you’ll want diesel or petrol, not gas, but you will want to check. Gas is LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) or LNG (liquefied natural gas). Take extra care that you put the right fuel in your car.
- Regarding fuel prices … they’re in metric, of course, and they are fairly expensive, especially compared with US fuel prices. If I am not mistaken, $1.50/litre works out to approx. $5.68/gallon. (1.5 * 3.80)
- Regarding road speeds … usually 100-110 km/h on the highway and 50-60 km/h in built-up areas. But of course, pay attention to the signs. If your car rental and insurance package allows you to drive at night, slow down and keep alert. In many areas there are a lot of animals on or near the road … kangaroos and wallabies, in particular, tend to hop out onto the road and get hit. They can cause a lot of damage – smashing radiators or badly damaging front suspensions.
- An additional comment regarding road speeds. For reasons I haven’t quite put my finger on yet, we can cover 100 km in 1 hour on a 100 km/h road in Canada or the US. But the roads in Australia aren’t always conducive to those speeds, even if that is the posted limit. Perhaps many Australian roads are a little narrower or a little windier. I recommend using 80 km/h in your calculations to figure out how long it will take you to get somewhere.
- If you are not inclined to drive, there are planes, trains, and buses. If you are unsure what transportation options might be available in a particular area, check the local Tourist Information Centre. Most towns will have a Tourist Information Centre which should be able to provide you with the information you seek.
- Make use of the Tourist Information Centres. Most towns have Tourist Information Centres which can provide you with accommodation guides, sight-seeing ideas, transportation options, etc., but quite often the staff will assist you to find a place to stay as well. They’ll call around and see if this place or that place has anything available. You can do this yourself online too … but using the Tourist Information Centres can be a good option.
- If you will be staying in larger cities, you should be able to find accommodations and eating places open almost 24-hours a day, and there should be a good variety of options available.
- If you will be staying in smaller towns, the front desk of most types of accommodation will close by 7 pm … even in peak season. If you are going to arrive somewhere later than 7 pm, book ahead and mention that you’ll be late. They may be able to leave a key in an envelope or something. If you don’t book ahead, and you arrive in a town after 7 pm, chances are you won’t find anything open. You’ll be sleeping in your car.
Caravan Park Sign
- Regarding the location of hotels and other accommodations … in many North American cities, as you drive into the city, you’ll go through a collection of hotels, motels, gas stations, and fast food places located right on the outskirts of the city. That setup isn’t as common in Australia. Accommodation, fuel and food are often kind of hidden somewhere within the city or town. You’ve got to keep your eyes open and pay attention to the signs. There will often be small signs that look like street signs, but usually blue in colour with white or gold text, pointing you to a hotel, B&B, or caravan park.
- Regarding the rooms themselves … chances are they will be a whole lot smaller than anything you may have experienced in North America. This causes a very common comment. Most rooms will be large enough to house a double or queen-sized bed, with a night table on either side, and maybe a desk … without much walkway in between. Very similar to what you’ll find in Europe. But this is one of the reasons we like the caravan park cabins … they tend to be a little bit roomier.
- In the peak season (beginning of December to end of February), you may want to book a little bit in advance. For example, on a Monday, you might want to book the next weekend’s accommodation, if you know where you’ll be. That’s school holiday time, and anywhere remotely touristy and on the coast will be busy, especially on the weekends.
- In the peak season, you may also need to be a bit flexible. In some areas, accommodation may be entirely booked out, and you may have to go to the next town to find something.
- Anything located right next to the beach will likely be booked early … but if you look at places 2 or 3 or 20 km away from the beach, you might find something. And always check … sometimes you can get lucky and land something in a prime location. The more money you’re willing to throw at it, the greater your options are as well.
- If you’re planning to be here over the Christmas week (Christmas Eve to the day after New Year’s), plan where you’re going to be then, and book it by the end of October / beginning of November.
- If you plan to stay in hotels (Best Western, Travelodge, Comfort Inn, Novotel, Mercure, etc.), you’ll find them in most mid-large cities but less frequently in smaller towns. And you’ll be looking at $125 and up per night. In peak season (mid-December to mid-February), you’re likely to pay $150 and up.
- However, if you are working with some budget restrictions, there are some less expensive options:
- Budget Motels including but not limited to:
Budget Motel Chain
Accor Hotels (Especially Ibis)
- These tend to be pretty basic, sometimes rather old fashioned (1970s décor), and sometimes rather rundown. They might do for a night or two, but I probably wouldn’t want to base myself in them for a week or more, unless you happen to find an above-average gem somewhere. They generally run between about $100 and $125/night.
- Pub Hotels – these are rooms above a pub and can usually be found in smaller towns. The quality varies … but some are quite nice and they’ve often got a lot of character. Prices range from as low as about $50/night (you might be sharing a toilet for that price) to about $100/night.
- B&Bs – these can be interesting and different, and from my rather limited experience … quite nice. And in Tasmania in particular, you’ll find more B&Bs than you will hotels, motels, etc. Some pub hotels are also registered as B&Bs. These will likely be in the $100 and up range.
- Caravan Parks – these are usually our choice of accommodation. Caravan parks in Australia are not just campgrounds, although they usually have a tent area and a caravan (RV) area. Most caravan parks have cabins. These cabins are self-contained units with bed(s), a living area, a kitchen, and most often an ensuite … although you’ll want to check that. Sometimes you’ll find cabins with no ensuite, and you’ll use the caravan park toilet block. The cabins range from something with a rather 1970s décor to something that is quite modern and nice. And the prices range depending on time of year, where the caravan park is located, and the cabins available. A deluxe cabin (modern, separate bedroom, ensuite) might be $125+ … a standard cabin could range from about $70-$125 … a non-ensuite cabin might be less expensive.
- Big4 is the big caravan park chain:
They are usually quite good … they maintain a certain standard. But they tend to be a little more expensive.
- Discovery Holiday Parks and Top Tourist Parks are a couple other large chains/groups:
http://www.discoveryholidayparks.com.au/ and http://www.toptouristparks.com.au/
We’ve had mixed results with them, but generally good. They tend to be a little less expensive than Big4.
- There are a few other chains/groups, and there are also small privately owned caravan parks here and there. But most towns have a caravan park nearby.
- Hostels – these are mostly found in cities or tourist areas, and there are quite a few of them. You can get a bed for about $20-$40/night each (shared toilets), or a private room for somewhere between about $75 and $125 (may have a shared toilet or may be ensuite). And yes, people of all ages stay in hostels.
YHA is, of course, the main hostel chain:
and their hostels are generally pretty good … meeting a certain standard. However, there are heaps and heaps of other hostels out there … some good, some not so good.
- Camping – you can camp in most caravan parks. Most have basic sites with no power and deluxe sites with power. The price range varies widely depending on the type of site you choose, the location of the caravan park, and the time of year. But a basic site might be between $25 and $40, and a deluxe site with power could be $30-$50.
Rest Areas on main highways often allow up to a 48-hour stay for free. You won’t get a shower, but there should be a toilet.
If you type ‘Free Camping Australia’ into Google (without the ‘ marks), you’ll get a list of sites that will provide you with a list of free camping options.
For example, this site appears to be quite thorough, but there are other sites as well:
- Larger centres will have a decent choice of restaurants and fast food places open at all hours. Smaller towns will have bakeries, take-aways and pubs, and these may have limited hours.
- Bakeries – these are very common lunch choices located in most towns. Like a North American bakery, they sell loaves of bread, buns, etc. but that seems to be a sideline. They are mainly cafes. You can get sandwiches, salad rolls (buns with lettuce, tomato, cheese, ham, etc.), meatpies (you’ve got to have a meatpie … it’s a traditional Australian food), a selection of sweet choices, and coffee, tea, soft drinks, etc. They are usually quite reasonably priced, and have a little seating area inside and out. However, most close by 5 pm … some even close earlier.
- Take-aways – these are Australia’s answer to fast food. Sometimes they are stand-alone places, other times they are part of small grocery stores or convenience stores. Sometimes they have a seating area … sometimes they don’t. Most commonly you’ll find things like potato wedges, potato cakes, dim sims, battered fish, chips (aka French Fries), or if you order from the menu you’ll get hamburgers etc. … usually fried stuff. They are quite inexpensive … good for quick snacks. If these places are attached to a grocery store, they might close at 5 pm when the grocery store closes. If they are stand-alone or attached to a convenience store, they might be open till anywhere between about 6 pm and 8 pm.
- Pubs – these are similar to what you’ll find in the UK. They usually have accommodations upstairs of varying quality, an eating area on the main floor, and a bar and/or lounge adjacent. The food served in the eating area is usually what they call “typical pub fare” … chicken parmigiana served with a side of chips and salad, roast dinner (roast pork or beef, served with chips or mashed potatoes and veg), carbonara pasta, and fairly often you’ll find some sort of vaguely oriental dish. The food is usually pretty good, but if you order the carbonara pasta, for example, you will not get complimentary garlic bread like you might if you ordered a pasta dish in a restaurant in Canada. You’ll have to order that separately. A pub meal will usually run between about $15-$25 each … plus extras (drinks, garlic bread, desert, etc.) Pubs generally start serving about 6 pm and start wrapping it up by about 8 or 9 pm. Drinks go on until 11 pm, I think.
I will also add RSLs here. RSL stands for Returned & Services League of Australia and many towns have RSL clubs which have a pub-like restaurant. The food served is usually “typical pub fare” and is generally quite good. On occasion the place you stay might give you a coupon for an RSL meal that night, or might mention that the RSL is serving meals … and they can be a good choice for dinner.
- Tipping – in Australia waiters are paid good wages, therefore tipping is not required unless the diner feels the service and food has been above expectation.
- Coffee – there are two main kinds of coffee in Australia.
- Instant. A lot of people drink instant at home and in the office, and service station convenience stores may have a table set up where you make your own instant coffee.
- Italian. Most restaurants, bakeries, pubs, etc. will serve a super-strong, heart palpitating, coffee. I find the coffee I’ve encountered in the US to be quite weak … if that’s the sort of coffee you’re used to, brace yourself. Personally, I was used to the strength of Canadian Tim Horton’s coffee, and thought it was quite strong. But I have a lot of trouble drinking the coffee here … it’s simply too strong. I have to water it down or add a lot of sugar.
Which brings me to another point about the coffee.
- If you’re used to mochas and lattes etc. you will find them here … and they are usually pretty good.
- If you’re used to drinking cream or some sort of artificial whitener in your coffee, you won’t find that here. In Australia, people use milk in their coffee, and it seems like the vast majority of Australians use milk in their coffee. When you order a coffee, order it as “flat white”.
- If you are one of the rare black coffee drinkers (like me) … order “long black” and if you think it might be too strong, order it “long black with hot water on the side”. I’ve also heard a few people refer to black coffee as “American coffee”.
And about refills and “bottomless cups” … no such thing here. When you are finished your coffee, if you want more, you buy another one. They don’t come around with a coffee pot topping up your coffee every 15 minutes.
- Soft Drinks – You may find the sizes of bottles in convenience stores, cups in fast food places, and glasses in restaurants to be a little smaller than expected. On a hot day in the US, you can order "the largest cup you've got" at the local fast food place, and you'll get something the size of a bucket. In Australia, you can order "the largest cup you've got" and you'll get something that equates to about a "medium" in the US. That might be an exaggeration, but only slightly. In a restaurant, a "large orange juice" will be a relatively small glass.
- Sweet Foods – Australians have a different taste palette to North Americans. They like creamy stuff rather than sugary sweet stuff. So in the bakeries, you’ll find lamingtons (a vanilla cake that may have cream in the middle and dipped in chocolate and coconut), vanilla slice (a creamy square), custard tarts (creamy tarts, sometimes with fruit), etc. etc. Personally, these things don’t have enough flavour for me, but the Aussies rave about them. J I tend to go for the mud cake (a rich chocolate cake, usually with a proper icing), or the peppermint slice (a sweet slice sort of vaguely similar to a Nanaimo bar). The carrot cakes are usually pretty good too.
- Pavlova – if you’re here at Christmas, try to get ahold of pavlova. Pubs might serve it as a desert. While I don’t care for most of the creamy stuff, pavlova has to be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It is basically sweet meringue and cream with fruit. Heavenly!
- Aussie Hamburger – these are found in take-away places and they are very different from what you’ll find in McDonalds or Hungry Jacks (you know Hungry Jacks by the name Burger King). Order an Aussie hamburger “with the lot” and you will get a full meal in one burger. Your burger will include bun, at least one hamburger patty, and … a fried egg, bacon, cheese, tomato, lettuce, pickles, a slice of beetroot, and a slice of pineapple. J Not kidding!! Get at least one while you’re here … on a day when you’re really hungry.
- Meatpies – these come in a variety of flavours … beef, lamb, steak, steak and kidney, curried beef, beef and cheese, shepherd’s pie, etc. etc. etc. Some places might even include kangaroo or rabbit in the meat pies. But if meat isn’t really your thing, they usually also have quiches, and one of my favourites is a cauliflower and cheese pie I can find in a few places.
- Sausages (AKA Snags) – Sausage Sizzles are popular in various locations. Local groups (Lions Club, local Swim Teams, etc. etc.) will set up a little pavilion outside Bunnings Hardware stores, or in the middle of town, or in the middle of a park, or occasionally in high traffic rest areas and they will sell sausages. For $2 you’ll get a sausage on a piece of bread, with fried onions if you want, and with mustard and/or tomato sauce if you want. The price may vary slightly, but it’s usually pretty low.
You aren’t guaranteed to encounter one of these, but if you’re travelling past a Bunnings and the smell of grilled sausages and fried onions fills the air, turn in and have one. The money goes to the club putting on the sausage sizzle and you get an inexpensive lunch.
- Fish and Chips – if you are near the ocean, try the fish and chips. I’m not a seafood eater, but I do like battered flake and chips now and then. You might know this already, but flake is shark, and is a non-fishy tasting white meat. If you are a seafood eater, enjoy the variety!
- Chips – these are similar to French Fries, only much bigger. If you’ve been to the UK, imagine “fish and chips”. These are often served with pub meals, but we’ll also have them as a snack, especially when we’ve been cycling. We go into a take-away and ask for “one serve of your minimum chips”, and we get quite a lot of chips, enough to share between the two of us, served wrapped in a paper or in a cardboard bucket. Not particularly healthy, but tasty.
- Chicken Salt – this is salt with a seasoning added to make it taste vaguely like roast chicken. When you order chips, you’ll likely be asked if you prefer salt or chicken salt. Or they may provide shakers and you can add it yourself. You can also find chicken-flavoured potato chips in the supermarket or convenience stores. But you won’t find dill pickle chips!
- Tomato Sauce – this is similar to Ketchup (although the ingredients are a bit different), and it is used in a similar way to Ketchup … on chips, on meatpies, on hamburgers, on sausages. Also, it is not pronounced to-may-to sauce, it is pronounced to-mah-to sauce.
Not endorsing either of these products, but here is the ingredient list for each so you can see the difference.
Heinz Ketchup (USA) - corn syrup, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, natural flavoring, onion powder, salt, spice, tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes
Heinz Tomato Sauce (AU) - concentrated tomatoes (contains 174g tomatoes per 100ml), sugar, salt, food acids (acetic acid, citric acid), natural flavours (contain garlic). contains 78% concentrated tomatoes.
- Fruit – Australia grows a lot of fruit. Stop by the fresh fruit markets along the way and try some. Ripe mangos are among my favourites … so different from the ones I tried in Canada, so much better. If you’re in the north, try the bananas. And cherries are a Christmas fruit here, so if you’re here over Christmas and into January, you should be able to find fresh cherries.
- Department Stores:
- K-Mart is a large department store associated with the supermarket Coles, and stores may be 24-hour.
- Big W another large department store associated with the supermarket Woolworths. It usually closes up by 5 or 6 pm, except for late-night shopping on Thursdays and Fridays.
- Target, similar to Target in North America. It may be open till 9 pm.
- Harris-Scarfe is a mid-range department store which has been around a very long time, and can be found everywhere but Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
- Myer is a higher-end department store.
- Note: there is no Walmart in Australia.
- Woolworths and Coles are the two large supermarket chains. They may be open till about 8 pm, or possibly later if you’re in a larger centre.
- IGA is smaller supermarket often found in smaller towns, and you might also find Foodworks or Aldi and a few other smaller ones.
- Bunnings – probably the biggest hardware store
- Mitre-10, Home Timber and Hardware, True Value, K&D, Thrifty Link, and several others … at least one of which will likely be located in a city or small town near you.
- You can acquire the usual hardware products you might expect as well as a certain amount of kitchen and camping gear.
- Chemist (also known as Pharmacy):
- Chemist Warehouse – probably the least expensive and most extensive of the pharmacies
- Terry White
- And numerous others
- These will range from small outlets where you can acquire medical stuff (painkillers, allergy medication, vitamins, bandages, etc.) to small department stores where you can also acquire shoes, cosmetics, toiletries, health food, etc.
- Outdoor Goods:
- Anaconda - http://www.anaconda.com.au/
- Kathmandu - http://www.kathmandu.com.au/
- Mountain Creek - http://www.mountaincreekoutdoors.com.au/
- Mountain Designs - http://www.mountaindesigns.com/
- Rays Outdoors - http://www.raysoutdoors.com.au/
- BCF - http://www.bcf.com.au/
- These are only a few! Sports and outdoor pursuits are popular in Australia, so you’re likely to find some sort of outdoor shop in just about every town you visit.
- In the larger cities, and even in some smaller centres, you’ll be able to find just about anything you’re looking for. There are a wide variety of retail shops and there is usually something open late. So if you run out of toothpaste, or break a tent peg, or discover you want warmer attire, chances are you’ll be able to find what you need.
- Outside of the larger centres (and sometimes also in the larger centres) things tend to close early. Whole towns may roll up the footpaths (sidewalks) by 5 or 6 pm. Most bakeries, take-aways, cafes, grocery stores and other shops will be closed by then … even in the peak tourist season. As mentioned above, accommodations usually close up by 7 pm and sometimes even earlier than that. You may find the occasional grocery store that stays open till 8 pm and the pubs should be open at least till then.
- Many shops are also closed on Sundays, or perhaps will close early on Sundays, especially in smaller centres.
- Sizing … Australia sizes are different than North American sizes. I’m not going to try to explain what the conversion is because I don’t think it is straightforward, given the fact that each clothing and shoe manufacturer does something slightly different within their own sizing, and given the fact that each size conversion chart I’ve looked at says something different. However, if you took a Size 8 women’s shoe in Canada or the US, chances are you’ll take something slightly smaller in Australia, like perhaps a Size 7. And if you took a Size 12 dress in Canada or the US, there’s a chance you might take the next size up like a Size 14 or 16 in Australia. Always try it on.
- Prices … some things in Australia will be more expensive than what you’ll find in the US, and may be more expensive than what you will find in Canada. A common complaint about Australia is that it is “so expensive” … so just be prepared that some things are going to cost more than what you are used to paying, especially in small towns and touristy areas. However, some things are quite comparable, especially if you purchase them from a department store or supermarket. Fresh fruit and veg markets usually have pretty good prices on their fresh fruit and veg.
A few other comments
- The flight here is very, very long! If you do a Vancouver to Sydney, or a Los Angeles to Sydney, or even worse a Los Angeles to Melbourne, you’ll be in the air at least 15 hours. These choices might be the most efficient, least expensive options … and I’ve done each of them a few times … but you might consider breaking the flight up, if possible, by flying to Auckland or Hong Kong or somewhere on the way.
On our most recent trip to North America, we went via Auckland. It was about 3 hours between Sydney and Auckland, 11.5 hours to Los Angeles, and about 3 hours to Vancouver. A lot nicer than the 17 hour Los Angeles to Melbourne flight.
However, whichever flight you choose, take precautions … drink lots, get up and walk around, stretch, wear compression stockings, and you might talk to your Dr about taking aspirin to prevent DVT.
When you arrive, plan to spend the first couple days sleeping and wandering around like a zombie. Don’t plan to drive anywhere or undertake any monumental excursions. Just spend some time relaxing and regrouping. And there’s a chance you’re going do things like wake up at 4 am and want to eat a big meal, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a few snacks nearby.
- VISA – You will need to acquire an ETA to gain entry to Australia, and you will be allowed to remain in Australia for a maximum of 3 months with that ETA. If you are under 30, you can acquire a Working Holiday Visa which will allow you to stay longer, and also pick up employment during your visit.
- Restrictions – there are a whole lot of things you cannot bring to Australia, especially not unpackaged food and any kind of plant material.
- Money – we use Australian dollars which look somewhat similar to Canadian money (plastic and different sizes and colours), but the change comes in different denominations than Canadian change. In Australia there are $1 and $2 coins, as well as 50¢, 20¢, 10¢, and 5¢ coins. There are also no pennies, so everything is rounded to the nearest $0.05. If you are paying cash for something, and it comes to $5.78 on the till, they’ll ask you for $5.80. But your next transaction might come to $7.32 and they’ll ask you for $7.30. So it all averages out.
You can acquire money from an ATM (also known as a “hole in the wall”) with a card with a chip. If you are from the US, you may need to check with your bank to ensure that your chip will work internationally. You will get charged a fee each time you withdraw money.
And don’t forget to take note of the current exchange rate.
Taxes – included in the price of goods. So if the price tag says $20 it is $20 … not $22.50.
Tips – Australians don’t usually tip. We might if the service was particularly good in a decent restaurant, but otherwise no.
- Emergency Number – is not 911 … it is 000.
- Measurement system – metric. Very metric. More metric than Canada. If you try to talk in imperial, you’re going to get some very blank looks.
- Electricity – is 240 volts, and the power sockets are different. If you are going to bring electronic equipment, you will need to get an adapter which you can pick up in North America from various places. I’ve seen them in department stores, larger pharmacies, and of course in various places at the airport. You can also get adapters in Australia if you forget to pick one up before you travel.
A basic adapter should be able to power your laptop and charge your mobile phone (cell phone), but may not run a hairdryer. You might have to check the watt and voltage information for the electronic equipment you bring, or just refrain from bringing a lot of electrical equipment.
Also most power sockets have a switch. So if you turn your electric blanket on at night and wonder why it isn’t heating up, the switch might be off. Oh and the switches are upside down … to me anyway. I keep turning things off instead of on, or on instead of off.
- Heat and Electric Blankets – Australian houses, hotels, cabins, etc. are not as well insulated as Canadian houses, hotels, cabins, etc. This means that if it is hot, the inside of our buildings will likely be hot, unless they’ve got a decent air conditioning system. It also means that if it is chilly (especially at night), the inside of our buildings will be quite chilly. If the temperature drops to 10C outside, the inside might only be 12C or 15C. Of course, most buildings have heaters (often small electric heaters) which do a fairly decent job of warming things up, but you don’t necessarily want to run them all the time.
So many accommodations, especially in the south, will provide electric blankets. Unlike the ones I’ve seen in North America, the electric blankets here are located underneath the bottom sheet, on the mattress. You might not even notice them at first. But if you check near the head of the bed, down near the floor, there might be a thick wire emerging from the bed and a small control device.
I like the electric blankets on a chilly night BUT … there have been incidents with them, and I won’t have one in our house. So don’t leave it on unattended.
- Tourist Information Centres – I’ve mentioned them earlier under driving and accommodation, but I’ll mention them again here because they’re great!! And they’re everywhere – just about every town has one. If you want to know what to see in an area, the Tourist Information Centres will have brochures and pamphlets letting you know what’s available. They’ll also often have staff who can help you book things, get tickets for stuff, etc. And of course, they’ll have maps to help you get around.
They are usually my first stop when I go into a new area. In fact, there’s one across the street from where I work, and I drop in every now and then to see if there are any interesting tours or something coming up.
- Public Toilets – there is a good chance that the cafes, bakeries, take-aways etc. that you frequent, especially in the smaller towns, will not have toilets. Occasionally some will, but much of the time they’ll send you to the public toilets. Most, if not all, towns have public toilets. These may be located in a park, next to the Tourist Information Centre, or just randomly here and there. As you drive or cycle into a town, look for the Public Toilet sign to find one. The sign will look like a street sign and may be blue in colour with white or gold text. It will likely have the word Toilet on it, and possibly symbols of a man and a woman.
Fascinating! There is even a Public Toilet website. This is news to me.
Ladies … only toilet paper gets flushed. All (almost all) toilet facilities will provide you with a receptacle for things other than toilet paper.
- Language – Australian English is probably closest to UK English. If you know the UK terms for things, you should do all right, but a few tips:
- Toilet – it is not “restroom” and it is rarely “washroom” … if you need to “go”, ask for the “toilet”. Or “loo” … “loo” will do, but most of the time the room or building where you will “go” is a “toilet”.
- Service Station or Service Centre or Petrol Station – rather than “gas station”. A location where you can get fuel (diesel or petrol), and also snack foods. Many service stations also have toilets and some will have attached take-aways.
- Big Smoke – the large city in the area. In Victoria, the Big Smoke is Melbourne.
- Footpath – it is not “sidewalk” it is “footpath”.
- Biscuit – could be a “cookie” or could be a “cracker”, but will not be a “scone”, and you don’t have it with meat dishes.
- Chook – as in, perhaps, “Chook and Chips” on the menu at a take-away place, or “Oh, look, a black chook” … is “chicken”.
- Jumper – not a “dress”, but rather a “sweater”. Often a warm woollen sweater.
- Push bike – is a bicycle. I don’t really like the term, but nevertheless, there it is. If you’re cycling in Australia someone might come up to you and ask you about your “push bike” or “pushie”.
- Rubbish – it is never “trash” and rarely “garbage”, but if you need to throw something out, you’ll put it in the rubbish bin.
- Brekky – breakfast, morning food
- Lunch – lunch
- Tea – also known as “dinner”
- Dinner – what North Americans might call “supper”, an evening meal served after 5 pm.
- Supper – late night snack, when you raid the fridge at 10 pm.
- Capsicum – pepper, as in green or red pepper
- Rockmelon – cantaloupe
Have a look at some of these links, but don’t go crazy using the terms. Different terms are used in different areas and contexts … hard to explain until you’ve been here a while. Chances are you won’t hear half of the terms in these links (I haven’t … and I’ve been here for 5 years!), but it’s possible they might help you understand what is being said when someone says something to you.
- Wildlife – Australia doesn’t have bears, cougars, and wolves here, but the wildlife can still be dangerous … don’t get too close to any of it unless you’re in a wildlife reserve and park personnel are helping you to hold a koala or Tasmanian devil. And pay attention to any warning signs around. Also look before you step, touch, move, sit, etc. … just get in the habit of looking before you do anything.
Regarding crocs … they’re in the north. We don’t get crocs in Victoria or Tasmania. But if you are travelling in the north, pay attention to warning signs.
Regarding small, pretty octopus … don’t touch!! Google “Blue-Ringed Octopus” before you travel.
Regarding jellyfish … all jellyfish will sting. Some worse than others. If you’re swimming and you feel like someone has just shuffled across a carpet and given you a static electricity zap in your shin or foot, look closely. Chances are you’ll see a tiny little blob of jelly in the vicinity. You’ve been stung by a little jellyfish! The pain from one of those might be as short-lived as a static shock or it might last a day or two. I’ve been stung numerous times over the years here.
However, there are some jellyfish that can seriously injure or even kill people. Google “Box Jellyfish” … but it isn’t the only one. There are numerous kinds of jellyfish. Many beaches will have jellyfish nets up to keep them out of swimming areas. Heed the nets! Some beaches will have bottles of vinegar hanging nearby. Apparently vinegar is supposed to ease some of the sting.
Regarding sharks … if there is ocean, they’re out there. There are relatively few encounters but it is recommended that you swim at patrolled beaches or where there are other people.
When you go to a beach area, look for the warning signs … most will have some sort of warning signs about something, often about a whole list of things. Swim between the flags or within the netted areas. Be careful about rips.
Ants that bite!
Regarding spiders, large ants, and snakes … just presume they can all bite/sting and keep your distance.
Regarding insects and spiders in general … there are a lot of them here. Lots of interesting and different ones. I spent the first couple years here saying, “What on earth is that?” And they do get inside, even into the best hotels. Chances are, somewhere along the way, you’ll see some sort of insect or spider in your accommodation, in a restaurant, in a public toilet or somewhere. It’s just a fact of life. Also, Australia has a lot of flies. The “Aussie Salute” is the waving of one’s hand in front of one’s face to brush the flies away. From my experience, those flies can be especially bad when slowly cycling up a hill on a hot day.
- Bags – Tasmania has banned the lightweight plastic grocery bag. Therefore, most supermarkets and several department stores (K-Mart and Big W in particular) will not provide you with free bags. You will either have to buy bags when you get to the check-out, or you’ll have to provide your own.
This is only applicable to Tasmania … other States have not banned plastic bags.
- Sightseeing – I might be able to help with that, especially in Victoria and Tasmania. If you let me know where you’re going and what you’d like to see, I could probably drop a hint or two.
And of course if you have any questions about the things I’ve mentioned above, let me know!! I can try to elaborate and explain.
“[Australia] is the home of the largest living thing on earth, the Great Barrier Reef, and of the largest monolith, Ayers Rock (or Uluru to use its now-official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world's ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures - the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish - are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. ... If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It's a tough place.” -- Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country