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Arriving in Sydney

(Reprint from News: February 18, 2002)

February 8, 2002


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. 


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.


One of the reasons Sydney reminded me of California were 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, 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.


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)

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...




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