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Tips for Travellers

Post 1


A friend (42 here on the guide) and I are planning a two-week trip to Australia and New Zealand next year. She's thinking November, but I think it will be far too hot in Australia as that's your summer in the Southern Hemisphere. In any case, do you have any guidance for first-time travellers to your region?

P.S. She would like to see Australia and I would like to see New Zealand. So you can be biased in your answer to me. I understand Aussies just aren't as debonair, as polished, or as intelligent...smiley - winkeye

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Post 2

Lonnytunes - Winter Is Here

FG, you may like to check out an interactive community web site I am putting together. Currently, it contains various entertaining yarns about life in New Zealand. There's a link to it on my home space.

See ya there

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Post 3

Lonnytunes - Winter Is Here

And this thread talks about various aspects of New Zealand

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Post 4

Lonnytunes - Winter Is Here

Incidently, November, December or January are excellent months to visit Aus (NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland) and NZ.

The hottest months in the Aussie states mentioned above are February and March. NZ doesn't have the same extremes in temperature as Australia.

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Post 5


That last part is good to know because I know I can save up enough money and paid days off by November. Any sooner and the plans would get rather dicey. One website I visited claimed if you're coming that time of year Queensland would be pretty hot. This is something I would like to avoid. I don't do well in the heat--especially tropical heat.

I would like to see the south and western coasts of Australia (for whatever reason I love the name, "Nullarbor Plain"), take a short jaunt to Tasmania, and then spend a lot of time among the fjords of NZ's South Island. I've heard a lot of good things about Queenstown (and a lot of strange things too--like it's the magnetic center of the universe according to New Age folks).

My travelling partner has this thing for the outback, so I predict a visit to Uluru. Along with a million other tourists.

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Post 6

Lonnytunes - Winter Is Here

An extract from my "Secret Diaries"

A trip around the top end in the 'dry'

Just an hour or so out of Darwin and we come upon what is quite possibly The Great Australian Tourist Experience: leaping lizards. The Adelaide River, like most of the wet bits around the top end of the Northern Territory, is inhabited by big estuarine crocodiles - "salties", as they're known - which can grow to be extremely large and are basically just dinosaurs too perfectly adapted to become extinct.

On the Adelaide River Queen, a comfortable two-storey barge that ambles its way up and down this wide, muddy, mangrove-edged waterway, they dispense with the educational niceties and cut straight to a ripping yarn about "the perilous waters of the Northern Territory". Meanwhile, an assistant dangles great hunks of meat and bone over the water from a long pole. Soon enough, a chevron bow wave appears, moving quite rapidly towards the boat. Once positioned under the dangling carrion, the croc slows, raises its head slightly and opens a set of very impressive jaws. The bait is jerked upwards a couple of times to encourage the centrepiece of this little drama, and finally the beast launches itself out of the water, propelled by its powerful tail until even its hind legs are exposed, and takes the prize with a crack like a branch breaking.

We watch this, by the way, from behind perspex screens, but close enough to make out the markings on the scaly skin and to see the yellows of the reptile's eyes. The ritual is repeated many times and never dulls. One gets the impression that these lucky beasts have long grown accustomed to the River Queen's daily feedings and are willing to sacrifice a little of their majestical dignity for a good lunch of cow shin. But I've also been told that, no matter how long a croc spends in captivity, so primitive is its brain that it never registers or remembers the keeper's routine, and will react as instinctively and predictably to any stimulus the millionth time as it did the first. These wild ones, then, must feel lucky anew every couple of hours of every day. Ignorance is bliss.

From the Northern Territory News: A former crocodile hunter's new book, Crocodile Men, released in Darwin this week, has immortalised the tales of 20 hunters in the Territory and Queensland. Bryan Peach, who hunted and killed 10,000 crocodiles between 1959 and 1970 began writing the book in 1995 in an effort to record an unknown era of brave men'. Mr Peach details hair-raising stories of fellow hunter John Dymock - who moved to Darwin from Queensland after the government legislated to make crocodiles a protected species in 1972 ... Mr Dymock, now a sacred sites consultant, recalled stories of crocs he had shot coming alive' in his boat. His scarred hands are proof of a few close calls. But killing crocs made big money. Mr Peach said the skin of a good-sized croc would fetch $10 - one third of a weekly wage back then."

The Arnhem Highway (best town name, Humpty Doo) takes us away from the Adelaide River and towards Kakadu National Park, the vast (20,000sq km) and ancient landscape to the east of Darwin. Our way is blocked on several occasions by large military convoys - tanks and troop carriers - on an exercise (not uncommon around these parts). The huge rumbling war machines are impossible to see around safely, and we must wait for a soldier to wave us past from his turret. Overtaking a tank is a novel experience - they're quicker than you might expect and bloody wide. All along the roadside sit fields of giant termite mounds, like weird cemeteries amid the bush. Some of them are twice the height of a man.

From the Northern Territory News: "Only in the Territory could termites be blamed for closing a bush school for two days. That's what happened on 'Tuesday when students at Dundee Beach School arrived for class only to find the power blacked out. With no power, the air-conditioning and septic toilet were declared inoperable - all because termites had eaten through two-year-old wiring..."

This is the time of year when controlled burnoffs are used to mimic nature's own rejuvenative and fire-retardant actions. The blackened trunks of eucalypts and scorched, still-smouldering grasses merely add to the other-worldly roadscape rushing past the car window. At the Bowali Visitors Centre, deep inside the park, ranger Greg Miles tells us that not all tourists are forgiving of this vital part of the Kakadu ecosystem's maintenance. "We've had Italians turn back at the gate," he says, "yelling at us that the place was in a disgraceful condition."

We point the car towards Ubirr, one of several important and astonishing Aboriginal art sites in the region and a major reason that Kakadu qualifies as a United Nations World Heritage area. Because the land around here was fertile with fish, bird and marsupial life, it became a major settlement. The ancients lived under cool rock overhangs, fished in the East Alligator River and decorated the smooth rock surfaces with depictions of their natural and spiritual worlds. They even painted crocodile warning signs, rather less prosaic than the ones you find by the highway near any creek or billabong. The oldest paintings here may go back more than 20,000 years.

From atop the rocks you can see as far as the heat haze will let you across the wetlands to the west and to the massive Arnhem Land escarpment that marks the boundary of the Kakadu floodplains, which 140 million years ago were under a shallow sea.

We head south-west on the Kakadu Highway, turning off to Cooinda, where the road simply runs out into red dirt, the colour of the Outback, and our overnight destination, Gagadju Lodge. The pool is full of Italians. At night we buy barramundi steaks (I pass on the kangaroo, but try it the next night - not bad) to barbecue ourselves and heed the bar rules; "no shoes, no drink".

In the morning we drive to Jabiru, where the airstrip services the Ranger mine, one of the largest producers of uranium oxide in the world, It seems so incongruous that such a thing can exist in the middle of this enormous and largely pristine wilderness, but part of the lease is owned by the local Aboriginal people and royalties from the mining are ploughed back into the communities. Tokenism? Visitors should not be quick to judge, the Northern Territory News recently carried a story about the 25th anniversary of the first land rights victory in Australia, won by the Gurinji people of the Northern Territory. Led by Vincent Lingiari, they had walked off the huge Wave Hill cattle station, owned by the British Vestey's group, in 1966 as a protest against applying living and working conditions, and to reclaim their land. In 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured a scoop of Wave Hill sand into Lingiari's hand, symbolically returning a portion of the pastoral lease to the traditional owners. From the paper: "In annual celebrations last weekend to mark the Gurinji's achievements, Mr Linglari's son Victor Vincent and elder Billy Bunter reminded their young people of the privations of the past - highlighting the absence of running water on the station and the humpies they had relied on for shelter." In the year 2001, it is also reported, the communities are still poor, unwell and half do not have adequate access to clean water.

I'd been told by a friend who lived up here for years that the best way to appreciate the scale of the escarpment and of Arnhem Land itself was from the air. He's right. Our light plane takes off to the east and soon we have climbed away from the plains, crossed the massive cliffs that stand 200 to 400m high and stretch for about 350km, and gaze through the heat haze into the endlessness of the Arnhem Land plateau. Below, the terrain is pitted and studded with crevasses, ancient rock formations, shaded river valleys with sandy shoals, dark and impenetrable places, carved from sandstone over 2000 million years. There aren't many places on Earth where you can truly believe that parts have never felt a human footstep.

Back down to earth in Jabiru. From the Northern Territory News: "A kangaroo smashed through a glass front door and terrorised a Northern Territory family during a three-hour rampage through their home. Jabiru resident Dean Khan aimed himself with an empty bourbon bottle to take on what he assumed was a human home invader when he was awoken by the crash of shattered grass shortly after midnight yesterday, police said. A cut and bleeding 1.7m kangaroo then bounded through the house and over an 11-year-old boy - one of five children present ... Senior Constable Alistair Taylor said the house looked like the set of a horror movie. 'There was blood and broken glass everywhere, blood all over the child's bed and up the walls and a puppy was cowering terrified in a corner,' he said. 'If the kangaroo hadn't still been there, I wouldn't have believed it. The place would have been cordoned off as a crime scene and we would be looking for a body ... When we got [the kangaroo] outside we threw a blanket over it and crash-tackled it to the ground, but we had to lot it go - it was too powerful."

That evening we take the Yellow Water Cruise from Gooinda, out into the billabong and wetlands of the South Alligator River system. Dusk settles. With Kakadu home to about a third of Australia's bird species, this is like floating through a wildlife documentary. We see magnificent sea eagles, brolgas and jabirus (large, stork-like birds), as well as crocs and snakes and frogs. The guide cuts the engine and we drift through a silent paperbark forest and back into the waterway, where the wet season highwater mark is painted metres up the trunks of various trees. In the wet, from November through to February, when the tropical skies open after the "build up" and the deluge pours off the Arnhem Land plateau into the rivers and wetlands below, Kakadu must be something to see.

Back on the road, heading out of Kakadu, west towards Pine Creek, "the only original mining town remaining in the Top End from the goldrush days of the 1870s". You can always tell gold-mining towns by the western typeface they use in the brochures. Or the country music on the radio - out here it's Slim Dusty not Slim Shady, mate.

We turn south and head for Katherine on the Stuart Highway, which runs from Darwin all the way to Adelaide, about 3000km south. A sign says "Alice Springs 1470 kms". There is no speed limit on the open road in the Territory.

I have become obsessed with road trains - the monstrous articulated trucks up to four trailers long that haul goods and fuel across this vast, empty part of the continent. You can tell you've come up behind a road train because there's a sign on the back of the last trailer saying "road train". Being so long, they tend to snake or weave slightly on the straights. You have to be very game to overtake, especially since the heat haze on the road makes distances and directions deceptive. Luckily, they go fast, too.

Detour to Edith Falls, 20km off the highway, where a series of falls from the Arnhem Land escarpment runs into Sweetwater Pool, a beautiful enclosed swimming hole fringed with pandanus trees. We strip off and dive in, along with several large groups of Italians.

At Katherine, we head for Nitmiluk National Park and a cruise through the famous and dramatic gorges. More Italians. Back in town we meet Sally from the regional tourist office, who tells us that she now prefers the wet season for sightseeing, when the browns and ochres become green and lush and the heat rises well into the 30s (she's finding today's high 20s a little on the cool side). She says the build-up, with its very high temperatures and awesome humidity, can get fairly intense - everyone is terribly polite to one another, apparently, just in case someone is close to snapping - but the payoff comes with the first rains, when the locals really do dance naked in their backyards.

Continued, from the Northern Territory News: "... As the good folk at Dundee were battling with termites, Katherine residents were cleaning up the remnants of their three-month war with fruit bats. The bats have moved on following a carefully orchestrated harassment campaign, but their legacy remains - in the form of bat excrement."

Dinner at the Mekhong Thai Cafe and Takeaway, which Sally recommends as the best Asian in town. We sit outside, on a corner of the main street, and watch a group of Aborigine women shouting at each other. One of them passes by us, crying. Another, following, looks at us and says sorry. An enormous road train pulls up at the lights - four petrol tankers behind a gleaning cab. Our food arrives and it's very good.

On the road to Mataranka the next day I clock one straight that is 10km long. Ominous skid marks veer off the highway at various points. We've come to Mataranka to swim in the renowned thermal pool in Elsey National Park, which turns out to be a beautiful, tepid mineral creek set in the bush near a large camping ground. Australians, from what we witness, take their camping extremely seriously. When you see the big, dirty and well-equipped four-wheel-drives, you start to understand how vital the concept of going bush is for many ordinary folks. It's definitely on a scale - much like the country itself - different to anything you encounter in New Zealand.

Katherine to Darwin in one day's drive. Road trains, termite mounds, smouldering bush and the needle occasionally brushing 160. We spend the evening with family, Kiwis who found their way here a couple of years back and loved it enough to buy a house and settle down. Their palm-fringed backyard is fragrant with frangipani, mangoes and eucalypts. Fruitbats dart just beyond the light. A family of goannas used to live near the garage. The whole house, including interior walls, opens up like a louvre window to get the air circulating during the hottest months. The carpets were taken up because they squelched.

It's a nice town, rebuilt and modern after Cyclone Tracy wiped it out in 1974, and obviously full of freaks, like all places at the end of long roads with nowhere else to go. People pull in here and just stay. In the morning we have coffee at the, Roma Bar on Cavenagh St, recommended to us variously by locals and former locals as "the place where the hoi polloi hangs out" and "communist party HQ as far as the establishment is concerned". The owner's brother ran the royal commission into corruption in Queensland in the early 1980s. Good coffee, too.

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Post 7


The wonderful travel writer Bill Bryson (whom I will marry someday whenever I grow up) in his latest "In a Sunburned Country", detailed all the bizarre and noteworthy ways tourists have died while in Northern Australia and Queensland. Not that, of course, we're immune from such things in Montana--you can be gored by a bison, boiled alive in a hot spring, eaten by a bear, buried alive in an avalanche, be lost forever in the wilderness, fall off a mountain, or run over by a really big SUV. In fact there is an entire book, Death in Yellowstone, devoted to cataloging the ways our visitors have departed this world. However, the exciting and unusual array of options presented to the unwary traveller in that part of the world seems to be unparalled--especially when you consider that the majority of Earth's poisonous and/or deadly creatures reside Down Under. I am looking forward to my vacation with some trepidation.

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Post 8

Lonnytunes - Winter Is Here

The best book I've read that that describes touring Australia by car is called "Sean & David's Long Drive". Written by Sean Condon, it is part of the Lonely Planet Journeys series and is available from on-line bookseller Amazon.

Sean and David get bored working for an advertising agency in Melbourne and set out to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide, to Darwin (via Alice Springs and Ulura), to Townsville, To Brisbane, to Sydney and finally back to Melbourne.

From the back cover of the book. "Sean Condon is young, urban and a connoisseur of hair wax. He can't drive, and he doesn't really travel well. So when Sean and his friend David set out to explore Australia in a duck-egg blue 1966 Ford Falcon, the result is a decidedly offbeat look at life on the road. Over 14,000 death-defying kilometres, our heroes check out the re-runs on TV, get fabulously drunk, listen to Neil Young and wonder why they ever left home. Sean & David's Long Drive mixes sharp insights with deadpan humour and outright lies. Crank it up and read it out loud."

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Post 9


So noted, and added to my growing list of must-read books. Coincidentally enough I am reading the Lonely Planet guide to Australia right now. Sean and David should complement that volume nicely.

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