Australia

Five underrated aspects of travelling in Australia

 

 

Yeah, Australia’s got the beaches, the reef, the Outback and the wine regions. But there’s plenty that people don’t tend to expect, as David Whitley explains.

The light

Australia has the reputation of being sunny, but it’s not just the warmth that counts – it’s the brightness. The vividness of the light in Australia is hard to explain to someone from Northern Europe who has never been. Skies are bright, ferocious blues, not tepidly toned down like they are on even the most glorious British summer’s day. And somehow, that feels more energy-giving. There’s a sense of alertness and perkiness this brightness lends to people. 

The history

Australia’s history is both very long (looking at sites such as Kakadu and Mungo National Park, it’s tens of thousands of years of continuous civilisation) and very short (from the European perspective). But it tends to be pretty riveting whenever you start digging into the stories. Even in the four centuries since the Europeans turned up, the tales of exploration, forging a new nation and adjusting to totally alien conditions tend to lend themselves to high adventure, farce and entertaining rogues. Three starters should be the stories of the Batavia, Burke and Wills and John Macarthur.

The bush

It tends to be the coasts and the outback that make Australia stand out, but there is something in between that may not be quite as immediately attention-grabbing, though utterly captivating once you start exploring it. Green Australia, the inland chunks that are full of eucalypt forests, scarcely-visited National Parks, rocky outcrops and mountains, has its own distinct character. Most country areas are full of checked shirts, leather boots and horse riders, but there’s often a crossover (especially in the south-west, inland from the Great Ocean Road and around the New South Wales – Queensland border) with a distinctly hippyish back-to-nature scene. 

The wildness

Kinda related to the bush, but something bigger than that, Australia does a remarkably good line in keeping things wild. In the UK, even National Parks will have farmers’ fields and grazing sheep. But in Oz, you’re never too far away from forest with only the most rudimentary of tracks through it, or vast swathes of land that have no road through. This applies even on the coast, where there can be the most remarkable beaches with no infrastructure next to them. They’re just left for the ocean to pound and dunes to grow at the back of.

The multiculturalism

It’s tempting to think of Australia as a very white Anglo place – and in parts (particularly country areas) it is. But spend time in the cities, and you’ll find that vision doesn’t hold true at all. Successive waves of immigrants – whether from Italy, Greece and the Balkans, or Turkey and the Middle East, or South East Asia, China and India – have all added to the internationalist feel of Australia’s cities. This is most obviously reflected in the food scene – the variety available is superb – but also in attitudes too. Urban Australia (largely) sees itself as of the world, not separate from it.

 

 

by David Whitley

  

  

 

You can get the Australia included as a stopover on a Navigator round the world

 

Perth on your RTW



It’s cheaper to get to than the rest of Australia: OK not by much, but flights to Perth tend to be £50 to £100 cheaper than flights to other Australian cities. Also you can now fly direct.

The beaches: Think Sydney’s the only Aussie city with good beaches? Well think again. Perth is pressed up against the Indian Ocean, and a line of gorgeous sandy beaches stretches up the west of the city. Scarborough and Cottesloe are the most popular, but there’s not exactly a shortage.

Fremantle: It’s very hard not to like Fremantle, which is technically a separate city surrounded by Perth, but to all intents and purposes it’s a coastal suburb. It’s one with tremendous charm, dotted with colonial-era buildings, seemingly endless strips of cafés and far more than its fair share of microbrewers. 
If you can do just one thing while there, make it a tour of the Old Fremantle Prison, which offers up gory tales of prison life and a heart-stopping moment at the gallows where murderers were once hanged.

Rottnest Island: A short ferry ride offshore from Fremantle, Rotto is justifiable Perth’s favourite day out. An island of little beaches, old World War II forts and blissful cycling/ walking tracks, it’s a marvellous place to spend a sunny day. It’s also the best place in the world to see quokkas, the extraordinarily cute little marsupials who hop around the island trying to snaffle picnics.

King’s Park: The gargantuan green space that sprawls to the west of Perth city centre is one the finest urban parks in the world. King’s Park offers tremendous views out over the city and the Swan River, while the salmon-tinged gum trees lining the main road into it have an unimpeachable majesty. Whether you want to stroll in forest, sunbathe on the grass or visit the Botanic Gardens, there are few finer spots in Australia.

Cuddle a wombat: The Caversham Wildlife Park in Perth’s north-eastern suburbs is home to Big Bubs, a portly wombat who’s happy to sit there with her handler while tourists come up and make a fuss over her. Try doing it without declaring you want a wombat to take home as a pet. It’s impossible.

Wine and boats: Perth is built around the Swan River, and you’d have to be a warped individual not to enjoy a boat ride up and down it. The best cruises head upriver to the Swan Valley, which is handily lined with wineries. So you sit on a boat, go to a few vineyards for sampling, then come back on the boat with a ruddy-cheeked smile on your face. As days out go, that’s not too bad…

You can get Perth included as a stopover on your RTW here

 

An Australian menu: Decoded

 

After eating well in Australia, David Whitley has nobly decided to help you do so as well…

In terms of gap between perception and reality, few countries are more misjudged for their food than Australia. In fact, there’s a strong argument to say that Australia has the best food scene in the world – particularly when it comes down to sheer variety of what’s available. But to the uninitiated, Australian menus can throw up a few curiosities. Here are a few things to look out for…

Burger/ sandwich

These basically act as burgers or sandwiches do pretty much anywhere, apart from one key ingredient, which is often slipped on matter-of-factly despite not being mentioned in the menu description. This ingredient is the beetroot slice and it’s guaranteed to ruin the taste of whatever you’re eating with such totality that the addition of it is technically illegal under the Geneva Convention.

Meat pie

Australian pies, when compared to their grotesque British chip shop counterparts, are usually of pretty good quality. They’re a national source of pride, but the occasional duffer slips in. The secret to picking a good one is to look at how specific the description is. If specifies the meat, it’ll probably be lovely. If it just says “meat”, stay well away – you probably don’t want to know what’s in there.

Barramundi

It’s a big, meaty fish from the north of the country and it is almost uniformly excellent. Tick VG, just do it OK.

Sourdough

Australia operates a couple of years behind the rest of the world when it comes to trends, but once it spots one, it embraces it with such desperately pathetic enthusiasm that nothing else gets a look-in. Currently, therefore, absolutely everything comes “on sourdough”. Any café displaying an item not “on sourdough” is immediately shut down by the ultra-needy food fashion police.

 

 

“Smashed”

These same menus seem to be written by the Incredible Hulk. Everything in your breakfast, it seems, has to be “smashed”. That’s smashed eggs, smashed avocado, smashed potatoes, even “smashed browns”. Ask what it means, and you’ll be met with a sheepish shrug that basically means: “Something we’ve just broken up a bit.” Expect this to escalate in the coming years to “bludgeoned”, “hammered to fuck” and “annihilated”.

Golden Gaytime

Any Australian who claims not to love these biscuit-covered ice creams is probably an impostor. The name might elicit a double take, but no day with a Golden Gaytime consumed has been a bad day.

Sharing plates

Perhaps the most annoying over-embraced obsession is the complete takeover of “sharing plates”. To all intents and purposes, this means tapas but slightly bigger. The issue is that how much bigger is never really stated.

It can sometimes mean that a dish is half the size of a normal main course (but two-thirds the price) or it’s two-thirds the size of a main course (and exactly the same price as a main). So if you don’t actually want to share, you either end up getting the right amount of food (and paying one third more for it) or 50% more food than you really want at double the price.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept (apart from you end up paying more), but the utter domination of menus is incredibly tiresome. Sometimes you’ll have to go past five or six restaurants to find one that will give you what you want – one thing, done well, at a fair price.

 

by David Whitley

  

  

 

You can get the Australia included as a stopover on a Navigator round the world

 

Image credit 1 2

Australia's Clubs

 

 

If you want a beer in regional Australia, you may have no choice but to (temporarily) join our club writes David Whitley

Once you step out of the centre of Australia’s big cities, with their cosmopolitan elites and food that’s occasionally not fried, you enter the dark, often bleak world of the club. It may be a Leagues Club. It may be an RSL Club. It may be a Bowls Club. It may be a Greek or Serbian Club. But it really doesn’t matter – they’re all pretty much the same. 

These clubs theoretically exist for the benefit of their members – although in reality they are often self-sustaining juggernauts. Those linked to sports teams, in particular, can be utterly gargantuan. Yet, irrespective of size, they all have a remarkably similar feel. They’ll have a number of different bars, yet all will be open plan and depressingly utilitarian. There will be a food outlet that serves burgers, pizzas and chicken schnitzels – they’ll give you a buzzer and you go and collect it when it’s ready. In some instances there will be a secondary, marginally more upmarket food outlet upstairs, where bangers and mash or half-hearted lamb shanks are brought to your table. The room for this restaurant will look pretty much the same as the one for the bar, albeit with someone having gone round with the Mr Sheen.

The real driving force behind these clubs, however, is the partially sealed off room with neverending banks of pokie machines. For those who’ve not come across the pokies, they’re skill-free slot machines that involve  the old, the lonely, the desperate, the poor and the downright stupid just sitting there, feeding them with money. Imagine the atmosphere of a bookie’s shop, combined with the moral fibre of someone who stands in car parks offering to ‘protect’ your car for a fee. Forget the food or the drink, it’s these pokies that – more often than not – fund the club. People just joylessly pour all they’ve got into them. 

In suburbia and regional Australia, these clubs dominate the drinking landscape. This is partly due to stinginess in handing out liquor licences – small operations don’t stand a chance when the big boys can essentially block them out. It’s also partially down to tax. The clubs are theoretically for members only (although anyone can sign in as a temporary member and drink there), and they get a whole raft of tax exemptions as a result of it.

Thus, they’re almost always the cheapest place to drink in town – although don’t expect any craft beers, cocktails or interesting wines. Size and economies of scale mean they only buy in from the big producers. 

There’s nothing wrong with this per se. The clubs serve a purpose for those who want cheap drink in zero atmosphere. The problem comes when their presence is so overwhelming that there’s nowhere else to have a drink for miles around. Any small bar that wants to try something different simply isn’t going to be able to compete – even if it gets a licence in the first place.

Thus, across Australia, there’s a dominance of these cheerless barns. There are over 6,500 of them in the country, and you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference between them. They act as a surprisingly major political lobby group too, and hype up their community/ charity status as a way of any action being taken against them. Any sane Australian would love to see the pokies ripped out. But it’ll not happen as the clubs need them to survive. 

Yet, surely, if the drinking scene is dominated by places that make their money from gambling rather than drinking, something is wrong?

Handily, you can get Australia included as a stopover on a Navigator RTW

by David Whitley

 

Swimming pools - and why Australia has a much better version

 

 

In Newcastle, NSW, David Whitley goes all gooey for Australia’s magnificent ocean baths

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