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Joanna and I recently had a great 12 night trip in Australia and, although this was by no means my first visit to Oz, this trip highlighted a few new (and slightly off-beat) reasons why I’m rapidly becoming a big fan of the land down under.
There are plenty of reasons why Australia can be a great place to visit (the weather, the scenery and the food are just three of them) but I’m not going to discuss those here – that’s what travel guides are for – here I’m just going to offer up a brief list of a few less obvious and, in some cases, slightly odd reasons why I really liked the parts of Australia we visited.
Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens are huge (they cover over 70 acres) and they sit on the edge of the city center to the east.
The gardens are free to enter, they’re within an easy walk from most of Sydney’s major hotels and they’re beautifully maintained – if you think Central Park is nice (which it isn’t) you’ll be blown away by these gardens.
There are multiple walking routes around the gardens and a couple of the more major ones take you down to the water’s edge at Sydney Harbour and offer up great views of the city’s skyline, the Opera House and the Harbour bridge.
There are plenty of places to sit down if you need a rest as you take in the scenery and when you’re greeted by signs that encourage you to “walk on the grass, touch the trees, small the flowers and listen to the birds” you get the feeling that you’re somewhere to be actively enjoyed rather than an outdoor museum where nothing should be approached.
I loved this place.
Bird Life In Cities
One of the big things I love about traveling to distant places is that the flora and fauna can often be very different to what we’re used to at home….but you usually need to head out of the cities to see the bigger differences.
That’s not always the case in Australia.
The center of Sydney is home to a thriving (and rather loud) Cockatoo population which doesn’t just keep to the Botanical Garden.
I spotted Cockatoos in at least 6 different areas of the city and, based the lack of attention they got from the locals, I’m pretty sure this isn’t unusual.
I didn’t spot any Cockatoos in Perth but I did spot a significant number of Rainbow Lorikeets in the trees around the water’s edge (I saw quite a few of these birds in Sydney too).
To locals these birds are probably no more unusual than pigeons, magpies and sparrows are to us back home but I never stopped enjoying spotting them on the many walks we took during our trip.
Joanna and I were both hugely impressed with the local transport in Sydney and Perth where buses and trains run to schedule and are pretty efficient at getting you to where you need to go.
In Perth, the train out to Fremantle had to make 15 stops in 30 minutes before it reached its destination and yet it still managed to depart and arrive right on time (that hardly ever happens in most parts of the world).
In Sydney, the train from the airport to the city center couldn’t be easier to use and, if you’re staying in Circular Quay, the walk from the station to your hotel will probably take you no longer than 5 minutes.
There are elevators everywhere (so taking suitcases on the trains isn’t an issue) and the younger generation are expressly expected to give up their seats for the use of adults….and not just for adults who obviously need the seat most.
Transport isn’t expensive either.
A bus from the center of Sydney to Bondi in the Eastern suburbs (a journey of over 6 miles taking 38 minutes) costs just $1.18 if you have an Opal Card (the local travel card) and a ferry ride between Circular Quay and Watson’s Bay (where Sydney Harbour meets the ocean) costs just $4.30.
Most impressively, on Sundays you can use your Opal Card to travel on as many buses, trains and ferries as you like and you won’t be charged more than $1.93 for the whole day!
Walking & Hiking In Peace
I make no apologies for having a very strong dislike for a large number of the world’s cyclists as I find them to be sanctimonious, arrogant, rude and incredibly inconsiderate of others – they make walking in a lot of the world’s major cities considerably more hazardous than it should be and can ruin the most beautiful of hikes.
Apparently Australia agrees.
One of the many things Joanna and I enjoyed about our trip is that we went on some beautiful hikes around the areas we were visiting.
Some of the coastal hikes around Sydney are simply spectacular and the local authorities have done a great job of signposting the routes and, just as importantly, making it very clear who isn’t welcome on the trails.
Before visiting Oz I couldn’t remember the last time I went on a hike (on non mountainous terrain) where I didn’t spend at least half the time avoiding menaces on two wheels.
In Australia, cyclists (rollerbladers and skateboarders) are expected to keep off paths and trails which have clearly been designed for walkers to enjoy – you can take in the glorious surroundings without having to worry if an idiot on a mountain bike is about to come careering around the next corner at speed. It’s heaven!
As someone who loves scuba diving (and so has seen what we’re doing to the oceans) I’ve always had a certain awareness of the environment and the need to protect what we have….and that awareness appears to be growing as I get older.
I’m no eco-warrior (I take far too many plane journeys to be one of those) but I do my best to recycle, to avoid eating unsustainable foods and to minimise my use of single-use plastics. That’s why it was great to see just how widely Australia appears to be embracing the elimination of plastic straws – I don’t think I saw one during the whole time we were there.
While it’s not all that surprising that the bigger global corporations (hotels, restaurant chains etc…) are making moves to eradicate single-use plastics, I was impressed at just how many of the smaller and more local businesses in Australia have already ditched the plastic straw.
There’s still an incredibly long way to go before we’re anywhere near to the complete elimination of non-recyclable plastics from our world but it’s nice to see countries like Australia making a very solid start – even California could learn from this.
This sign really says it all:
The tipping culture in the US has long been out of control and no one seems to want to do anything about it. That’s makes it a relief to visit a country where you don’t have to mentally add 15% – 20% to every price you see on a menu knowing that you’ll be guilted into tipping regardless of how good or bad the service is.
Clearly none the things I’ve just written about are, on their own, big enough to make me love visiting Australia…but together they’re definitely part of the reason I enjoyed the trip we just took.
I’ve seen the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the Swan River and any number of other major Australian landmarks quite a few times so, although I still love seeing them, they’re not the only thing I focus on when I visit now – the everyday things like transport, quality of life and the environment mean just as much and the parts of Australia we visited on this trip do those pretty well.
We really had a fantastic time during the 12 days we spent down under and I genuinely can’t wait to go back and visit again.