Our trip to Australia started off with the airport Shuttle Driver saying he had good news and bad news for us, “The good news is you are now in the best country on Earth. The bad news is, you’re not staying long enough.”
Over the next few weeks, we met person after person that lived up to our preconceived notion that Australians are some of the friendliest people in the world.
At the supermarket, cashiers chit chatted with each customer.
At the wine shop we got the typical Aussie greeting, “How ya going?” It turned out it was more than just a greeting, he really wanted to know how our day was and what we had planned for the evening. Before we left I even took him up on an offer to have leftover birthday cake he had behind the counter!
Then there was the family we housesat for who left their dog, home and car in our care no questions asked, after meeting us only hours before.
We traveled to just a small corner of the continent, visiting the major cities and surrounding areas of Sydney, Newcastle, and Melbourne. This country was as big as the guidebooks had warned and the driver was right, we hadn’t stayed long enough.
Below are some things we learned on our visit to Australia.
1. Fast food giants go by different names
The logo looks just like Burger King but the name says Hungry Jack’s and inside they are serving Whoppers.
It turns out that the Burger King name was already in use in Australia when Burger King expanded so the franchise owner, Jack Cowin, chose the name Hungry Jack’s.
McDonald’s also goes by another name in Australia. It’s been affectionately referred to as Macca’s for so long that McDonald’s has changed the signage of a few restaurants and advertises with the nickname on TV.
2. Wifi is expensive
Australia is the first country we have visited in seven months where WIFI isn’t complimentary with hotel stays. The average fee is around $25 AUD/night, which is outrageous and had us sticking to our phone data plans to stay connected.
3. Ute’s are everywhere
Do you know what a Ute is? I didn’t until I got here and saw them everywhere. I’m not sure why this car meets pickup truck has not caught on in the rest of the world but it’s pretty practical and a good size for driving around every day. Instead of showing you one Ute, you get two Ute’s so we can reminisce about the court scene from My Cousin Vinny.
4. Lemonade is really lemon lime soda
If you are looking real lemonade reach for a Lemon Crush. Cans labeled lemonade are really lemon-lime soda, similar to Sprite and 7 Up.
5. Winter is a great time to visit
We were so close to nixing Australia from our round the world trip itinerary when we saw it would be winter in the Southern Hemisphere at the time we could visit.
We didn’t let it stop us, and as it turns out, we couldn’t be happier to be visiting in June. Weather is in the 60’s perfect for touring the city, and we even saw sunbathers on Bondi beach! Hotel prices are low, and crowds are thin, perfect for budget travelers like us.
6. Everything is named Macquarie
The joke is that if you don’t know what something is named just add Macquarie to it and you’ll be half right. Indeed, there is a Macquarie Street, Lighthouse, Harbor, River, Lake, Hospital, University, Bank…the list goes on and on.
The fifth Governor of New South Wales, Major General Lachlan Macquarie, focused on building the infrastructure that would transform Australia from a penal colony to the great nation it is today.
There is even a giant stone chair that is bestowed with the Macquarie name. The Major General’s wife, Elizabeth, used to sit on this rock and watch the ships entering the harbor.
7. Ugg boots have been around for decades
Ugg boots are as quintessentially Australian as koalas and kangaroos. The boots date as far back as the 1920’s when they were worn by shearers in rural Australia. In the 1970’s they were popular amongst surfers. Trademarking of the UGG name has been a subject of dispute in several countries since ugg is also a generic term for a boot lined with sheepskin and fleece on the inside.
8. Vivid Festival is incredible
The Vivid Festival is a showcase of lights, music, and ideas that takes place over three weeks in late May through early June. The festival grows more elaborate with each passing year and lights up landmarks in Sydney such as the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, and Central Business District.
The festival is free and gives a festive atmosphere to the entire city as people come far and wide to see the lights on foot and by boat.
9. Ned Kelly is Australia’s Most Infamous Outlaw
On a walking tour of Melbourne, we stopped at the jail where the most infamous Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly, was sentenced to death in 1880. The suit of armor Ned famously wore when he met his demise in a police shootout is now displayed in the State Library of Victoria. Though an outlaw, he had won the hearts of the people, thousands reportedly signed a petition for clemency to no avail.
10. Koalas are just as cuddly as they look
You may already know that koalas aren’t bears, they are marsupials. They eat enough eucalyptus leaves to fill a shoebox but they are picky and only eat two or three of the 600 varieties of eucalyptus growing in Australia. The animals sleep up to 20 hours a day but we managed to catch a few stirring between zzz’s.
Petting a koala was one of the best things we did in Australia. If you are looking for a great animal experience, head to Maru Koala & Animal Park right outside of Philip Island. Not only can you pet koalas, but also hand feed kangaroos and wallaby’s and even see a Tasmanian Devil!
11. The Queen’s Official Birthday is NOT on the Queen’s birthday
Although Queen Elizabeth’s birthday is April 21st, the official holiday celebrations in Australia are held the second Monday in June. This aligns with the time when the holiday was first held to honor the birthday of King George V. The United Kingdom marks the holiday that same Saturday with Trooping the Colour ceremony.
In Western Australia, there is a holiday the first Monday of June so the Governor proclaims the day the state will observe the holiday.
Plan ahead if you are going to be in Australia during this time, many accommodations and flights are fully booked with people traveling for the three-day weekend.
12. A lesson in Australian Politics
It seems like the whole world is clued into the American political scene but many Americans, myself included, are ignorant to the politics of other countries. Here’s a quick primer of Australian politics.
- Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is part of the Liberal Party and has been in office since September 2015.
- The other main political party is called the Labor Party but there are over 50 registered political parties.
- Voting is compulsory and election date can be called by the Prime Minster any time during the three-year term.
- Parliament consists of the Monarch (Queen Elizabeth II), the Senate (76 members), and the House of Representatives (150 members).
We loved our visit to Australia and enjoyed discovering the similarities and differences with our home.
Have you been to Australia? What did you learn or find interesting?
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