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February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

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New Horizons (and New Lingo)

G'day, mates!  This is my first update from the Land of Oz, where I'll be until early April when I'll return to the U.S. to take a 4-month trip around North America.  As always, though, my plans are flexible -- if I like Australia, I'll stay longer and if I don't, I'll leave sooner.  So far, and despite the showery weather, Australia seems like a pretty nice place.  I enjoyed visiting New Zealand but there's a lot more room here in the land Down Under.  As I'm discovering, Oz is a great place if you like driving on open highways... just watch out for the kangaroos, or "roos" as they call them here.  Hey, maybe I should start calling my website, "Leu's Roos News," and feel free to peruse.

 

Along with the open roads, the other thing that I'm trying to get used to here is the Aussie accent, which is a lot different than the Kiwi accent that I'd spent the last two months figuring out.  As I've noted earlier, Kiwis turn the short "e" into a long "e," like the following:

  • West in New Zealand is pronounced weest, and

  • Best is pronounced beast.  Also,

  • Yes is pronounced yiss (and sometimes yisssss).

Here in Australia, though, the short "e" is pronounced "ay," and "ay" is pronounced "oy," so that:

  • West is pronounced waste

  • Best is pronounced baste

  • Eggs is pronounced oigs, and in a real tongue-bender,

  • Railway is pronounced rye-al-way.

You probably know this, but G'day is the official greeting here.  That's short for "good day," of course, and it's pronounced "gudday," although it sounds kind of stupid when an American says it, so I just say "Hello."  There's a lot of lingo in Australia -- or "Australier" as they call it here -- that I haven't figured out yet: things like fair dinkum, pokies, she'll be right, and eskys.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.

 

To practice your Aussie accent, here's Lazy Harry, an Australian folk singer, singing G'day, G'day.

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Here's my latest update:

 

On to Australia

After spending two months in New Zealand -- the first one wet and the second one dry -- I headed off to the Auckland Airport and boarded my plane bound for Australia, landing three hours later at the Sydney Airport.  I'd wanted to visit Australia ever since I learned "Waltzing Matilda" in the First Grade and I was finally here.  

 

My euphoria was brief, though, because practicalities soon set in -- like money.  Following the advice of that master "Europe Through The Back Door" traveling guru, Rick Steves, I decided before leaving the U.S. that I wasn't going to worry about bringing traveler's checks (or "traveler's cheeks," as they call them in New Zealand), nor was I going to bother with exchanging money in banks.  Instead, in each airport, I'd simply head to the nearest ATM with my bank card and withdraw as much cash as I needed. 

 

Right So long to the fascinating country of  New Zealand.     2-2111_NZ_From_Plane.jpg (28221 bytes)   Right: On the 3-hour Air New Zealand flight to Sydney.    2-2118_In_Plane.jpg (32923 bytes)

 

While walking through the Sydney airport, I spotted an ATM, whipped out my bank card, popped it into the machine and... nothing.  I removed the card, wiped it off, reinserted it and... still nothing.  Apparently the card had gotten demagnetized or scratched or something, but no matter what I tried, I couldn't get it to work.  No worries, though, because, again following Rick Steves' advice, I'd brought along a backup bank card.  This one worked (phew!) and I walked over to the car rental area.

 

Which brings me to the second issue:  namely, the car situation.  Before leaving Auckland, I hadn't decided what to do about a car in Australia:  should I rent a car, which would be easier, or buy one and then sell it after my two-month trip around Australia, which would probably be cheaper?   I figured the best thing to do would be to rent a car for a week, check out the car situation in Sydney, then decide to either continue renting or to buy a car.  As I always say, "When in doubt, procrastinate."  So before leaving for Sydney, I reserved a car online from my motel in Auckland. 

 

Eucalyptus Trees

      When I got to Sydney, it reminded me a lot of California.  One reason was the eucalyptus trees, which grow in extreme abundance here. 

     Growing up in San Jose, I always associated eucalypts with California.  As I discovered, they're actually native to Australia and were brought from Australia to California back in the 1800s when the transcontinental railroad was being built across treeless Nevada and Utah.  That's because the rail barons needed trees that grew fast and big to make into railroad ties.  The barons didn't realize, however, that eucalyptus is extremely hard and they were nearly impossible to cut, so as it turned out, they were never used for ties. 

     The shaggy eucalypts flourished, however, and today you see them just about everywhere in California, from Eureka to San Diego.

 

I headed over to the Avis counter in the Sydney airport and talked to a friendly, young woman who, after the necessary paperwork was finished, handed me the keys to my week-long rental car. 

 

After leaving the the Sydney Airport, I got on the freeway -- or "The Motorway" as they call it here -- smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon rush-hour.  I usually plan things out pretty carefully when I travel, but as I was inching along the congested freeway and not knowing where the heck I was going, I realized that I didn't know Sydney at all and didn't have a clue where I was going to stay that night.  I just headed west and away from the congestion of Sydney, a city which reminded me a little of Los Angeles, which isn't especially one of my favorite places.  After about an hour on the Motorway, I landed in a motel room in Liverpool, about 20 miles from Sydney and far from the madding crowd.

 

After checking into my motel room that evening, I scanned the newspapers then took out my laptop and searched the web looking for cars to buy in the Sydney area.  I quickly discovered that cars were pretty expensive in Australia, so I clicked on the Travelocity website and rented a car from Hertz for 2 months, which I could pick up in a week.  I got a pretty good rate from Hertz, about US$17 a day for a brand-new automatic Corolla with A/C.  I figured that since I'd be spending a few weeks driving across the Australian Outback during summer, when temperatures can easily surpass 100 degrees, it would be smarter to rent a new car rather than buy a used car and put my life in the hands of a beater.  Yeah, I'm a wimp -- but I'm a living wimp.

 

I had a week to kill before I could pick up my Hertz rental and the boxes of camping gear that I'd mailed from Auckland a few days earlier, so I decided to explore New South Wales a bit.  After spending a full day in Sydney getting ready, I took off on a sunny and warm Saturday morning and headed south on the Hume Highway, a four-lane freeway linking Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne.  I generally don't like freeways but after getting frustrated in New Zealand while driving on the endless twisting, turning roads for the previous 2 months, I really enjoyed getting on the Hume and blasting past the eucalyptus groves at 110 k.p.h.  After an hour, I had my fill of "Life in the Fast Lane" and sanity returned, so I got off the freeway and took the backroads to Canberra, which were a lot more interesting.

 

Right Formula One Motels, like this one near Sydney, are common throughout Australia and Europe.  Tiny rooms for a tiny price.    2-2119_Formula_1_Motel.jpg (35742 bytes)   Right:  A parade in the small town of Moss Vale celebrating the local firefighters who fought the massive Christmas bush fires near Sydney.  There were celebrations like this all over New South Wales.  Good on ya', mate.    2-2123_Firefighter_Tribute.jpg (51642 bytes)

 

Oz_and_USA.gif (9434 bytes)    

Above left As this map shows, Australia is about as big as the United States.  New Zealand, on the other hand, is only about as large as Oregon.  I had 2 months to see New Zealand, and now I have 2 months to see the much larger country of Australia.  Jeez, I guess I'll just have to drive faster...

 

 

 

It's CAN-bra, Not Can-BERRA

A few hours later and after driving past what seemed like a million eucalypts (quite obviously Australia's national tree), I reached Canberra, Australia's capital and its largest planned city with a population of about 300,000.  Canberra is kind of a strange place, mainly because everything is so nicely laid out with concentric streets that radiate from the Parliament building. 

 

Before 1901, Australia consisted of seven separate British colonies but in that year, and with the English Crown's blessing, the several colonies became the country of Australia.  Melbourne and Sydney jostled to become the new country's capital, but instead a site was selected equidistant between the two and... voila... the city of Canberra was born.  The first thing I learned after stopping at the Visitor Center was that it's pronounced CAN-bra, not Can-BERRA, as I've always called it.  I had known that Brisbane was "Briz-bin" and that Cairns was "Cans," but this CAN-bra thing took a little getting used to.

 

2-2126_Canberra_From_Mt_Ainslie.jpg (47236 bytes)

Left:  The Australian Parliament (left) and downtown Canberra (right).  Canberra is the largest planned city in Australia.  With all the government buildings and concentric streets, it's also, as I discovered, a little strange.  

I spent all Saturday afternoon exploring Canberra's National War Memorial, a really amazing place.  Being an avid history buff, I've visited a lot of museums but I think the only one that has impressed me more is the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. 

 

The War Memorial doesn't glorify war; instead, it honors Australians who fought and died in global conflicts, starting with the Boer War in the late 1800s and ending with Viet Nam, which surprised me, since I didn't realize Australians had fought in Viet Nam alongside the Americans. 

 

A huge part of the museum is devoted to the Battle of Gallipoli, with numerous maps, dioramas, and memorabilia of this failed Australian invasion of Turkey during World War I.  As I'm discovering, Gallipoli is a big deal in Australia.  You can joke about someone's mother, but don't dare make a joke about Gallipoli.  Probably the most touching part of my visit happened late in the afternoon when, just before closing time at 5 p.m., all the visitors including myself were ushered out the doors where, in the courtyard by the eternal flame, a lone bagpiper played to honor Australians who have died on battlefields around the world.  About 200 visitors quietly listened as the bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," and after he stopped, you could've heard a pin drop.

 

I got a motel room that night in Canberra and watched the first night of the Winter Olympics from Salt Lake City.  I've always been a big fan of the Olympics, especially the smaller and more casual Winter Olympics, and it's been interesting to watch a different country's broadcast of the games.  They have the same camera feeds here as in America, but the commentators are Australian and the focus is definitely on the small Australian team. 

 

During my first week in Australia, I couldn't figure out why they played the 1960s tune, Georgy Girl, so much on the radio.  Then I learned that the group who sang it, The Seekers, are Australian.  Here it is.

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.

 

The American broadcasts of the Olympics are usually pretty intense, focusing on how many medals the U.S. athletes have won -- or why they haven't won more.  Here in Australia, though, the tone is a bit more light-hearted because Australia, of course, doesn't have an abundance of winter activities, especially considering that most of whatever snow that falls in this country is confined to a small area near Mt. Kosciusko which, at 6,700', is Australia's highest point.  Speaking of winter sports, the concept of skiing in July seems strange to me, and skiing among eucalypts instead of pine trees is really weird.  

 

Anyway, the Australian coverage of the Olympics has been fun to watch and, though hopes aren't high for many medals, Australians are quite proud of their small team.  I'm not trying to sound patronizing, but after seeing American competitors mope and whine in previous Olympics, including Portland's own Tonya Harding (that baton-wielding, trailer-park glamour girl and my former neighbor -- well, almost), it's refreshing to see athletes -- and indeed, an entire country -- take pride in 10th- and 20th-place finishes.

 

Before I left Canberra (oops, I mean CAN-bra) the next morning, I visited a couple of sites that I'd heard good things about.  The first was the Australia National Museum, a multi-million dollar building with futuristic architecture which recently opened to the public.  The goal of the much-ballyhooed and modernistic National Museum was supposedly to tell the story of Australia, but I thought it was disjointed and emphasized style over substance, and I was pretty let-down.  Interestingly enough, the museum mentioned very little about Australia's convict past (the original settlers in Australia were convicts deported from England in the 1700s) and about the Aborigines, who weren't treated nearly as well by the English as Maoris have been in New Zealand.  I had hoped to spend a few hours at the museum but left after 45 minutes -- good thing it was free. 

 

I couldn't leave Australia's capital, though, without dropping by the Parliament Building.  While the National Museum was a big disappointment, the Parliament Building was utterly fascinating.  I was just going to pop in for a few minutes but stayed for two hours, during which I joined a guided tour and learned quite a bit about the Australian political system. 

 

It seems that back in 1901, when Australia became a country, they looked around the world for an existing political system that would work in Australia and settled largely on the American bicameral system.  Australia adopted a Senate and House of Representatives, each very similar to America's system, while retaining some elements of the English system, with a Prime Minister (currently John Howard) who is a sitting member of the House. The Parliament Building is a lot like the U.S. Capitol building with the House and Senate on opposite sides of the building, but it's more modern.  Best of all, it has cushier seats in the visitor's gallery.

 

    2-2130_Parliament_Building.jpg (38702 bytes)    2-2134_Driving_to_Snowy_Mtns.jpg (41681 bytes)

Above left:  The new Parliament building in Canberra.  I spent a couple hours here and found it really interesting.  It's a lot like the U.S. Capitol building... but, of course, without the dome.

Above center:  When Australia's government was formed in 1901, they borrowed a lot of ideas from America, such as a Senate and House of Representatives.  Here's the Australian Senate chamber, which is a lot like the American Senate.  Definitely better seats, though.

Above right:  On the road again.  This is heading up to the Snowy Mountains

 

2-2136_Snowy_Mtns.jpg (44168 bytes)

 

Left:  Even though it was summer, the Snowy Mountains were actually snowy when I drove through.  The Snowy River is down there somewhere.  The highest peak in Australia, Mt. Kosciusko (6,700') is hidden by the clouds.  
 
 

 

Winding West to Wagga Wagga

I left Canberra on Sunday afternoon and headed up into the Snowy Mountains, the source of the Snowy River,  immortalized a hundred years ago in a famous poem called "The Man From Snowy River" written by Banjo Patterson (no foolin') and then again a dozen years ago with a movie that I never saw... but hope to after I get back to the U.S.  Although this was during the middle of summer, it was actually snowing when I crossed over the pass -- a thousand feet higher and I would've needed chains.  I dropped down the west flank of the Snowy Mountains through a thick forest of eucalypts and emerged onto a beautiful valley around dusk where I saw a dozen kangaroos hopping around, the first roo's that I've ever seen.  Well, actually the first kangaroo that I saw was a few hours earlier on the side of the highway, but it was road kill.

 

As I discovered, the area west of the Great Dividing Range, Australia's main mountain range, is absolutely beautiful.  For some reason, I figured that once I got west of the Dividing Range, I'd plunge instantly into the desolate Outback, but not so.  I spent three days driving through towns with names like Wagga Wagga, Tumbarumba, and Cootamundra and thought I was back in Northern California or southern Oregon, as I drove past countless orchards, rolling wheat fields, and scattered groves of trees.  It was pretty darn hot, but I loved it here.  If I ever move to Australia, this is where I'll live -- although I'm not sure that I could tell my friends back in America that I lived in a place called "Wagga Wagga" without cracking a smile.

 

2-2140_Hungry_Jacks.jpg (47820 bytes)    2-2142_Junee_NSW.jpg (56429 bytes)    2-2143_Orchards_in_Young.jpg (46740 bytes)

Above left:  For some reason, Burger Kings in Australia are called "Hungry Jacks."  I haven't figured out why, yet.  This one's in Wagga Wagga.

Above center:  This is west of the Great Dividing Range, near Wagga Wagga.  With all the rolling farmlands, orchards, streams -- and kangaroos --  I was surprised at how beautiful this area was.

Above right:  A cherry orchard near Young, the self-proclaimed "Stonefruit Capital of Australia."

 

 

2-2148_POW_Sign_Breakout_8-5-44.jpg (45177 bytes)    2-2153_Japanese_War_Cemetery.jpg (63837 bytes)    2-2158_Japanese_Gardens.jpg (61760 bytes)

Above left:  Here's the site of a former Japanese Prisoner of War camp at Cowra.  One night in 1944, over a thousand Japanese prisoners stormed the fences here and faced withering machine gun fire.  More than 200 Japanese were killed during the escape, many taking their own lives.  It was the largest attempted POW breakout in modern history, but no one escaped. 

Above center:  This is the Japanese war cemetery in Australia near the POW camp, where those who died during the breakout are buried.  It's the only place in Australia where Japanese who fought in WWII are interred.  The attempted Japanese breakout at Cowra is a tragic story, and the futility of it really saddened me.

Above right:  Since the war, both sides have reached out to each other in this community.  These are the beautiful Japanese Gardens in Cowra.  Thousands of Japanese visit Cowra each year, paying their respects to those who died in the breakout attempt.

 

2-2159_Govetts_Overlook_Blue_Mtns.jpg (50634 bytes)    2-2161_Blue_Mountains.jpg (27092 bytes)    2-2167_Visitors_at_Echo_Point.jpg (47122 bytes)

Above left Bridalveil Falls in the beautiful Blue Mountains near Sydney.

Above center The Blue Mountains are a bit like the Grand Canyon, but they're covered with trees.

Above right:  They're also covered with tourists at places like Echo Point.  There are a lot of places in the Blue Mountains, though, where you can find solitude.

 

2-2165_Echo_Point_Blue_Mtns.jpg (45058 bytes) Left:  The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains.   

   

Hertz So Bad

After spending a night in Tumbarumba, a night in Cowra, and a few days in Bathurst, a pleasant city of 30,000 surrounded by the rolling wheat fields of the Central Tablelands, I drove a few hours east through the Blue Mountains and back to bustling Sydney.  After spending the previous week meandering through the bucolic countryside, Sydney was major culture shock.  Nevertheless, the boxes of camping gear that I had mailed to myself while in Auckland had finally arrived, so I picked them up at the Post Office and headed down to the airport, where I turned in my Avis rental car and got my 2-month rental car from Hertz.  

 

I'm really starting to hate Hertz and I wonder why I keep patronizing them.  A few months earlier in Los Angeles, they ripped me off but I didn't notice it until too late, so this time I was on my toes.  When I got to the desk at the Sydney Airport, the Hertz agent, a woman in her mid-20's, was going to charge me US$25 a day for a car that I'd reserved via Hertz's website at US$17 a day.  That difference of $8 a day carried over two months worked out to about $500, so I was pretty ticked off.  Fortunately, when I made the reservation the previous week I had copied the Hertz confirmation webpage into Microsoft Word, so I dragged out my laptop, opened the file, and showed her.  After a few calls to the manager, the Hertz agents were adamant:  "We can't rent it at $17 a day.  We couldn't make a profit at that rate."  Of course, I was thinking, "Who cares if you make a profit?  A deal is a deal."

 

I was polite but firm and so after another hour, I finally got my car.  Even better was that Hertz didn't have any more compact cars available, so I got a free upgrade to a Toyota Camry, which will be my home for the next two months.  Not a bad deal -- a brand-new 30-mpg Toyota Camry with air-conditioning and a good stereo system for only $17 a day.  Both Hertz and I hope the Camry comes back in one piece.

 

With that taken care of, I left Sydney and headed south along Highway 1, starting my two-month trip around Australia.

 

2-2176_Car_Exchange_at_Airport.jpg (37553 bytes)    2-2182_Booderee_National_Park.jpg (48087 bytes)    2-2184_Jervis_Bay.jpg (45410 bytes)

Above left:  At the Sydney Airport, exchanging my one-week rental car (right) for my 2-month rental car (left).

Above center:  Jervis Bay, south of Sydney.

Above right:  Murray Beach at Booderee National Park.

 

2-2188_Botanical_Garden.jpg (89282 bytes)    2-2190_Batemans_Bay.jpg (43512 bytes)    2-2191_Bega_Valley.jpg (24460 bytes)

Above left:  The Botanical Gardens at Booderee.

Above center:  Bateman's Bay, a pleasant resort town a few hours south of Sydney.

Above right:  The Bega Valley, in southern New South Wales, where I'm writing this update.

 

 

 

Next News

March 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

 

Previous News

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002 -- Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002 -- Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002 -- Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)  

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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