Hits and Misses – Australia and New Zealand

I’m currently sitting waiting for my flight to Bangkok in the Kuala Lumpur airport. Surprisingly similar to Pearson in appearance, and everything is closed. Which is probably a good thing for my bank account.

At any rate, after a rough last day in Australia (pouring rain, spending even more money due to buying a ticket for a train that wasn’t running – which is a story that one day I may share, but let’s say it ended with me sitting on the floor in the middle of a crowded train station sobbing) and a sleepless red eye flight, I thought what better thing to do than look back on some highlights and lowlights of my South Pacific adventures!

And so, I give to you…

THE HITS

Best Hostel – For overall funkiness and vibe, the Albatross in Kaikoura, NZ. For cleanliness and best cat, Central Backpackers in Dunedin, NZ. For best food available at a hostel, the Arts Factory in Byron Bay, Australia. I will miss the banana pancakes.

Best Eats – Dunedin. Every meal I had was equally as delicious, and it’s the only place I’ve found oatmeal. And I love me a good oatmeal.

Best Freebies – CBD trolley in Melbourne and the walking tour maps at the visitor’s centre.

Best Experience for the Money – Tongariro Crossing, NZ. Who’d have thunk that paying to torture yourself up and down a mountain pass would actually be worthwhile? And any of the Sydney Harbour Ferries.

Most Pleasant Surprise – The value of the Canadian dollar in New Zealand. Canada for the win!

MVIP (Most Valuable Item in Pack) – Apart from my multi-country power adapter, I have to reluctantly admit that my Birks have been a good purchase. Oh, and my raincoat. Good purchase too.

Favourite City – While I’ve raved about Dunedin, I’ll have to go with Sydney on this one – beautiful beaches, harbour and endless things to do.

THE MISSES

Worst Hostel – 790 on George in Sydney for being a good knock-off of the hotel in the Shining (and for having a slash down the middle of my mattress and a pillow torn to bits), Arts Factory for cleanliness (although not due to any fault by staff, who did a wicked job trying to keep the place clean), City Lodge in Auckland for general unfriendliness and overpriced.

Worst Eats – Sydney in terms of costs, towns along Great Ocean Road in terms of variety.

Worst Experience for the Money – I didn’t go in, but the Australia Zoo. $58 just for the entrance price?! $80 for photos holding animals!? Crikey.

Worst Surprise – The value of the New Zealand dollar in Australia. Australia for the win, holy cow. Those New Zealand twenties I have left over will be making the trip onwards (to give you an idea of how bad the exchange was, I would’ve got about $18 Australian for $40 NZ). Oh, and the aforementioned cost of everything in Australia.

LVIP (Least Valuable Item in Pack) – Books. I refuse to part with them but I need to slow down with my reading a wee bit, this is getting heavy!

Something I Wish I’d Done Differently – Activated my cell phone internationally. Skype has been useful in calling home, but totally unhelpful for any of my banking woes, which happen so frequently I’m afraid to attempt to log in to my accounts!

Off to See the Wizard

I finally made it to Melbourne. After a crazy night on the aforementioned leopard rug, clinging to my stuff and not sleeping, I was one of the first people in line for my flight in the morning. Zombie keener. I couldn’t sleep on the flight either, so I caught up on season two of Nurse Jackie and ate (hopefully) my last pastry-type-item. New Zealand is chock full of beautiful scenery and wonderful people, but man do they love their pastries. Pies. Baked goods. Etc.

Of course, I got detained at customs. Chock that up to being too honest with those declaration forms, and Wheetabix and potentially dirty hiking boots added two hours to my arrival time. But finally, I got another stamp in my passport, and officially arrived in Australia. Whoop whoop!

I have wanted to visit Australia for over a decade, and was really excited to see Melbourne. It didn’t disappoint. I stayed in a hostel in St. Kilda, and just a hop, skip and a jump from my place was a district that should be called “cake row” – multiple bakeries. Windows full of macaroons, cakes, tarts, squares – so much for giving up pastry. I bought a delicious rhubarb tart as an appetizer for lunch, which was a HUMUNGOUS burger with chips. And a lemon squash. As I ate lunch, I kept repeating Fawlty Towers over and over. Full points if anyone gets that reference.

In a boneheaded move that I’ll chalk up to supreme overtiredness/exhaustion – I went shopping. I don’t have a ton of room in my pack, but I am so tired of wearing the same three shirts and one pair of shorts and I desperately needed a hat. Melbourne is a very fashionable city – I felt like a massive nerd in my Birks and backpack.

After finally getting over my envy of how great everyone looked, I decided to make myself look even better by sweating out a walk to the city centre (5 or 6 km). Seriously, Melbourne is the city that Toronto should be:

  • Public transportation is a priority – the Yarras Trams have dedicated lanes and the city was built around transit. It’s efficient, and a fare gives you two hours to jump on and off. Plus after six, it turns into an unlimited pass. There’s also a free tourist shuttle and tourist tram that circles the city centre. Now I don’t know how the transit system is subsidized, but they do have tolls for the highways into and out of the city which seemed to help manage traffic and encourage transit use (it does work!).
  • Graffiti is considered art, not a crime – laneways are open for artists to come and leave their mark, and it’s alsopart of an outreach program for youth. I picked up a map outlining several walking tours to explore the laneways and came across several amazing pieces, as well as tiny coffee shops, restaurants and pop-up shops.
  • Proper urban planning – older buildings aren’t crowded out by new ones on the skyline. On every corner, there’s an interesting example of art, architecture or both. Parks are everywhere.
  • Bike share program – Oh Bixi. I wish you’d taken off in T.O.
  • Emphasis on arts and culture – galleries have free exhibitions, artists display all over the city, and art is accessible to all. No right-wing pinkos here.

So I was pretty jealous of Melbourne, and not just because of the cake shops. I’ll have to go back.