A Travellerspoint blog

The Backpacker's World


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“I wonder how you can exist without a piano. It almost seems to me a necessary of life.”
-Fanny Thornton (from the novel North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell)

Fact: It only takes two words to make a backpacker’s eyes light up with delight: “free laundry.”

Fact: It only takes two more words to make that backpacker your friend for life: “free food.”

Living out of a backpack really does make one realize how little is needed in life. With the obvious exception of my book collection, I’ve actually missed very few of my things since I’ve been on the road. It’s a little unsettling to realize that all I need to survive day to day can be stored in one decent-sized backpack. I was especially shocked to realize that I hadn’t had Starbucks for over a month and was no worse for the wear. And with only two pairs of shoes (trainers & flip flops) and limited clothing options, it’s freeing to not have to deliberate over what to wear each day. It quite simplifies the process of getting ready in the morning.

The backpacker’s struggle is this: Everything necessary for daily living must be able to be carried all at once. Too many bags, and you won’t get anywhere. Too heavy a bag, and you’ll drop from exhaustion. Therefore, you give yourself a certain amount of space and weight, and you stick to it. It’s like physics – if you buy something, something else of equal or greater size and weight must be thrown out. It certainly makes you think twice about unplanned purchases. Personally, I wish most things in life worked like this – I think I’ll make an experiment of it next time I make a purchase at home. One thing bought, one thing tossed. It would certainly cut down on clutter, don’t you think? ;)

Some hazards of the backpacker life:

My brand new trainers now look like I’ve worn them every day for five years. Australia’s red center with all the clingy red dust is mainly to blame.

I’ve lost either my shampoo or my conditioner I think a total of four times by forgetting it in the shower long enough for another backpacker to claim it. Oops.

I’ve avoided bed bugs, thank goodness, but just barely. My roommate of one night was not so fortunate. I felt itchy the entire day just out of sympathy for her.

Constant company is fun but can be exhausting at times. I imagine long term backpackers must daydream about just one night in a room to themselves.

Towels never have a chance to dry properly. Damp towels = smelly towels. Smelly towels + dirty tennis shoes = musty smelling clothes. I have learned quickly that backpacking is not a way to impress people with your high sense of fashion. The true (female) backpacker wears zero makeup, hair tied haphazardly into a ponytail-ish bun, wrinkled clothes...and a huge grin on her face because she’s more thrilled about the free food at her hostel than the shopping center down the street. (She couldn’t fit new stuff into her backpack, anyway.)

And on to the primary joys of the backpacker life:

Flexibility! Halfway through my travels from Darwin to Sydney, I decided I wanted to stay a week in Melbourne with some of my new friends. So I did. Simple as that. I love it!

I’ve met people from all over the world! I’ve had long conversations with people from Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, China, Japan, Canada, and the USA. (And those are just the ones I can clearly remember at the moment.) I’ve been invited to visit people in at least half of these countries.

I’ve witnessed firsthand a Swiss and Belgian debate the best source of chocolate…and the same Belgian debate the best source of beer with a German.

I helped a Japanese girl work on her English, and in return she made me an origami crane out of beautiful Japanese paper.

While in Cairns, I made a new friend every night, even convincing a few of them to join me for dinner & the movies.

While snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, I made friends with a Chinese Frenchman who invited me to visit him in Paris. I think I’ll pass on that one, but it was fun to be asked to meet someone in Paris, all the same. I’ll always be able to say that now. ;)

I’ve met friends in one part of the country, only to meet them again in another! Case in point, I met Maike first in my Jillaroo class in Tamworth, again two months later in Cairns, and again several weeks later in Melbourne!

All in all, I'd say that I rather enjoyed my try at backpacking Australia!

This blog entry is dedicated to my lovely sister-in-law, Nathalie, for lending me her beautiful, sturdy backpack for my trip. Thank you, Nat!!!

Posted by Aussie Mel 18:23 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Melbourne to Sydney


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“He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough;
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.”

-Excerpt from the poem "The Man from Snowy River" by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson

Anyone who knows me well probably knows that I love the movie The Man from Snowy River. Until now, I didn’t even know that my beloved movie was based on a poem written by Banjo Paterson. (He is also the author of the song "Waltzing Matilda," which is so well known that it is commonly viewed as the unofficial national anthem of Australia.)

Snowy River Country. To quote Jim from The Man From Snowy River movie, “I think you'd sooner hold back the tide than tame the mountains." Snowy River country is beautiful! When my bus stopped for a “loo and ciggie break,” I snuck down to the river itself to see it up close and personal. Thankfully one person followed, so I was able to get some photographic proof that I have touched the Snowy River!

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I was unable to keep my love for the movie to myself, and the driver pointed out to me some areas along the way to Mt. Kosciuszko that were used in the filming of the movie. I’m getting antsy with anticipation to see Jim, Jessica, Clancy, Spur and the brumbies again when I get home.

Mount Kosciuszko. (pronounced “kah-zee-OS-ko”) I have officially hiked to the highest peak of the highest mountain in Australia! Next stop, Everest! Although…come to think of it, it was pretty cold on Mt. Kosciuszko, and it wasn’t even winter. I might need more than a sweater and a scarf for Everest. Hmm…maybe I’ll just hold onto this great victory.

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Lakes Entrance & Ninety Mile Beach. Watching the sunset and then having a bonfire on Ninety Mile Beach was definitely one of the highlights of this trip for me! The only thing missing was S’mores. These Aussies need to learn that great American custom!

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Canberra. When it came time for Australia to choose a capitol, Sydney and Melbourne predictably tussled over the right. Sydney thought it ought to be the capitol, as the oldest and largest city in the country. Melbourne, however, had already been used as a sort of official playground for a while, so its residents argued they had more of a right. In the end, the country built Canberra from scratch, right in the middle of the two cities. Oh, and interesting fact – an American architect won the right to design the city, so you can see a definite American influence when driving through. Also, most of the designs and procedures inside the Parliament House have been borrowed directly from both England and America.

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And that brings me back to Sydney with only a week to explore my beloved city before returning home! I have to admit that, while I haven’t been homesick while I’ve been here, I am looking forward to seeing my beautiful niece and my handsome nephews!

Posted by Aussie Mel 05:40 Archived in Australia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Adelaide to Melbourne


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Allow me to educate you in Melanie’s Rulebook of Travel. First lesson: There are two main types of travelers. The “seen it, done it, check it off” type of traveler goes to France to get a photo taken with the Eiffel Tower and returns home in time for the weekend football game. The “soak up the atmosphere” traveler goes to France to people-watch in a café, imagining what life is like for those who live there...and may not be going home before personally experiencing that life.

I have enjoyed the first way of traveling for much of my life, but I prefer the second. Hence my lengthy trip to Australia. But while driving along the Great Ocean Road this past week, I have never felt so forced from one extreme to the other...and I admit I was a tiny bit disappointed. Now don’t get me wrong – I very much enjoyed this leg of my trip. The views were spectacular and I’ve made some friends for life. It’s just...it would have been a million times better if I’d been able to close my eyes to feel the breeze on my face at the Bay of Islands or bury my feet in the sand at the Bay of Martyrs, then get up close to the edge of London Bridge. I would have loved to daydream in the caves of Loch Ard Gorge, sitting on the rocks and imagining the lives of the two survivors of the famous shipwreck that the gorge was named after. It nearly killed my poor little “soak up the atmosphere” heart to be told to get out of the bus at each place, take some photos, and get right back on the bus.

Still, at the Bay of Martyrs I did manage to sneak in a barefoot sprint to the water’s edge. The water was freezing, but the day was beautiful. And as everyone knows...

Mel’s Travel Rule # 1: On beautiful days at scenic beaches, urges to run barefoot into the water cannot be ignored.

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The rock formation known as London Bridge (below) used to look like its namesake, but the first arch of rocks collapsed into the water not too long ago. No one was hurt, thankfully, but a honeymooning couple was stranded out there for hours waiting for a helicopter to pick them up. I figure it would make a nice honeymoon to be stranded on a little private island for a while...although I suppose the news crews probably made it not so private.

Mel’s Travel Rule #2: When crossing perilous rock formations, bring makeup – you never know when you might be on TV.

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We spent sunset at the Twelve Apostles. It used to be called The Piglets until someone decided that The Twelve Apostles sounded more dignified as a tourist attraction. They were probably right. No one seems to know if there used to be twelve of these rock formations, although it is assumed so. Today there are eight. (Nine or more if you ask some people, eight-and-a-half if you ask my tour guide.)

Mel’s Travel Rule #3: As long as you’ve got more friends than you can number, it doesn’t so much matter how many rocks you can count.

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Hollow Mountain and the Grampians. I hiked...and hiked...and hiked. And I reached the tops of both Hollow Mountain and the Grampians! Yeah! (Notice in the photo below that I’m not quite to the edge of the cliff. That’s because I’m not crazy.)

Mel’s Travel Rule #4: Don’t die if you can help it.

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Princetown, population 9, exists basically as a tourist spot for people stopping by to see the Twelve Apostles. (I should add that rumor at the local pub has it that the population is now up to 15, counting children. Watch out, world – it’s a population boom!) I stayed in a little hostel in Princetown with a massive DVD collection, bed bugs, and snoring roommates.

Mel’s Travel Rule #5: Bed bugs don’t exist if you don’t think about them.
Mel’s Travel Rule #6: Snoring strangers are less forgiving than dads if you throw a pillow at them. Only use that method as a last resort.

Next we stopped at the Otway Fly tree top walk. My top five most useful purchases of all time: my car, my computer, my bed, my glasses, and now...my $3 rain poncho. Yes, that’s right, folks – after three weeks of hot weather, I went into the rainforest...and guess what? It rained! And me in my shorts. Ah, well. Clara joined me and bought a rain poncho as well, which was fun, as at least I didn’t look like a lonely ghost. However, we did worry a few people behind us into thinking they were following two members of the KKK. Definitely not something one wants to be mistaken for. Better a ghost any day.

Mel’s Travel Rule #7: Don’t accidentally dress up as anything more offensive than a tourist while in a foreign country. In some countries, don’t even dress as a tourist.

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I hope you enjoyed your lessons! Stay tuned for the next leg of my trip from Melbourne to Sydney, including Ninety Mile Beach and Snowy River Country!

Posted by Aussie Mel 05:28 Archived in Australia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Alice Springs to Adelaide


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I have now seen Australian kangaroos, emus, camels, wallabies, koalas, and horses in the wild – no more zoos for me! It was so bizarre the first time I spotted wild kangaroos hopping along beside the highway. And after driving through the Outback a while, they start to become a commonplace part of the scenery. One of the first Europeans to come here described them as “standing upright like a man, with the head of a deer, and hopping about like a frog." Needless to say, the folks back home thought he was a little crazy.

Oh, and here's another interesting fact about kangaroos for you: Have you ever wondered what the word "kangaroo" means? No? Oh. Well, come to think of it, I haven't either. But I'll tell you a little story anyway. See, when some of the first European settlers asked the Aboriginals what those strange hopping animals were, the response was, "kangaroo." So that's what the settlers started calling them. Little did they know that the Aboriginal word "kangaroo" means "I don't know." Haha!

The portion of my trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide was a little long, so in order to not bore you with the little details about how great my group was or how much fun we had at each little stop, I'll cover the highlights:

Kings Canyon. The tour company has a rule that if the temperature climbs above 35 degrees Celsius at Kings Canyon, the planned 3-hour hike through the canyon is canceled. (I guess they have some silly thing about not wanting the tourists to die on them.) So naturally, it was 43 degrees (109.4 F) on the day my group showed up. We were still given the option to climb to the first lookout point, which most of us did, then we went on a less strenuous hour-long walk through the base of the canyon. Good news was that the extra time meant we were able to make it to Uluru in time for sunset!

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Uluru, aka Ayers Rock. Look at any travel guide or tourist brochure about Australia. You know that big iconic rock in many of the pictures? Yeah, that's Uluru. It's beautiful, though the area is unfortunately very touristy. I completed the base walk around the rock (9.4 km/5.8 mi), beginning before sunrise. Yes - I am Tourist, hear me Roar!

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FYI, Uluru is the Aboriginal name; Ayers Rock is the white man's name. Aussies are trying to revert back to using the Aboriginal names for significant places, hence Uluru.

For our two nights near Uluru, we slept in swags under the stars! And I didn’t see or feel a single insect try to take over my swag! Have you ever fallen asleep under a star-filled sky with the breeze on your face? Amazing. I highly recommend it. Just...you know...watch out for the spiders...

Coober Pedy. I have never before been to a place like Coober Pedy. My first impression was that it looked like a hick town, and my last impression honsetly matched my first, but there’s more to this little town than that. See, what makes this town special is that it is known as the opal capital of the world because of how many opals are mined there. But the really fascinating bit about Coober Pedy is the fact that most of its residents live underground! See, the temperatures get so hot (as in hotter than an Arizona summer), that people converted underground mine shafts into rooms and houses, then dug up more housing out of the sides of hills. The temperature underground stays nice and cool for them year round, isn’t that nice? And yes, folks, I slept underground too! And I tried to find an opal myself, but in the end my debit card had to find an itty bitty one all by itself. Good debit card.

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Flinders Ranges. I always figured it must be funny to Europeans to come to America and hear all about our past, it being such recent history compared to their extensive past. Our historic buildings are newer than many of their homes, after all. Then I came to Australia, where we visited “historic ruins” that were built after the American Civil War! Ah, those cute little ol' Aussies. But I have to say that the Flinders Ranges held some of the most magnificent views I've encountered thus far in this trip through Australia.

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Dutchmans Stern. I went hiking quite a bit these few days, but my favorite was Dutchmans Stern. It took a while to get to the top, but once I did, it was amazing. Beautiful views, beautiful temperature, beautiful breezes. Get the drift? :)

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And that's it for now! I'm enjoying my travels so much that I'm a bit behind on my blog, eek! Stay tuned to hear about the rest of my trip from Adelaide to Melbourne, and then back on to Sydney!

Posted by Aussie Mel 15:00 Archived in Australia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Didgeridoo...the Good, the Bad, and the Melanie


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Listen up, people! If you ever wanted to laugh at me, take advantage of this opportunity, because I give you full permission to do so, just this once!

If you didn't already know, the didgeridoo is an instrument played by the Aboriginal people of Australia. And now...by ME! I tried to play a didgeridoo yesterday for the very first time in my life! Alright, so admittedly this is a very weak attempt, but it's my first. And it's hard.

Not too inspiring, eh? :) One has to have very good lung power to really play. Also, good didgeridoo players have perfected the art of breathing in through their nose and at the same time breathing out through their mouth, in order to keep the sound of the didgeridoo constant and steady. Try to do it - it's nigh unto impossible!

But now, look at what the professionals can do with the aid of some creativity and a drummer:

Posted by Aussie Mel 15:05 Archived in Australia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Darwin to Alice Springs


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Do me a favor and get out an Australian map. Now find the Northern Territory. Do you see Darwin and Alice Springs on the map? Good. In case you’re still uncertain of the distance, there are about 1500 kilometers between Darwin and Alice Springs (over 900 miles). Imagine a tour bus with 21 people traveling that distance, plus more with detours, in three days. Ok, got that in your head? Not too bad yet, right? Now...imagine me on that bus with only one book.

Aaaa!!!

Without a doubt, the point of these three days has been to get us from Point A to Point B and keep us from going stir crazy with a few stops along the way. Still…those stops were pretty entertaining.

First day, some of us went canoeing at Katherine Gorge. (In the canoe with me is Christina, my new friend from Austria.) The gorge was beautiful, though we didn’t have time to canoe the entire length of it. Apparently, it’s quite long, with thirteen gorges including rapids and falls.

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That night we wanted to take full advantage of our campsite by building a campfire. Unfortunately, it was so hot, every few minutes everyone would stand up and move the benches further away from the fire. But we played some campfire games and enjoyed it all the same. ;)

The second day we stopped at the Mataranka thermal pools for swimming, followed by lunch at Daly Waters, the oldest pub in the Northern Territory. (It also happens to be in the middle of nowhere and the home of Australia’s most remote traffic light…which doesn’t actually work.) If you ever make it there, check out the walls – they’re covered with money, underwear, shirts, license plates, and pretty much anything you can think of, all left behind by visitors from over the years.

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Daly Waters even has a “thong tree” in the backyard where visitors are encouraged to give their flip flops a good home. Unfortunately, I love my flip flops too much and couldn’t bring myself to part with them, even for so great a cause as Daly Waters’ Thong Tree.

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Apparently while in the middle of nowhere, aka the Australian Outback, movie theatres and bookstores are scarce. I um…think people are expected to…er, entertain themselves! *gasp* Fortunately, I’m pretty easily amused. Julie and I found some boxes with bowling pins and balls and lugged them out to a little-used road to play a few games while waiting for lunch. And I got a strike!

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First stop on day three: Devils Marbles! Apparently some Aussie bloke lost a fair amount of cattle there, which for some random reason he blamed on the huge granite boulders balancing precariously on top of each other…hence their name. Turns out the cattle just ate some poisonous weeds. But at the risk of sounding callous to history, we all cared more about the great photo possibilities.

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Meet some of my tour buddies!

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Oh! And most importantly, I found a bookstore in Alice Springs! I’ve got plenty more driving through the Outback up ahead as I journey from Alice Springs to Adelaide in six days. Joy of joys, I now have TWO books to read!

Life is good. :)

Posted by Aussie Mel 04:14 Archived in Australia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Litchfield and Kakadu

I love camping, though admittedly I haven’t gone but a handful of times in the past ten years. It’s fun, it’s memorable, and it’s even better when there’s indoor plumbing within walking distance. ;)

The first three days of my tour consisted of a camping trip to Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks. It was hot, humid, and there were spiders and flies. And yet, not only did I survive, I saw some of the most amazing waterfalls and went on some of the most memorable hikes of my young life! And by “hike,” I’m not talking about a breezy jaunt on a gravel path; I’m talking about climbs over boulders, through gorges, and past “Danger: Crocodiles” signs. I sweat more in three days than I my poor memory can recall ever sweating before, and I proudly gave up on modern conveniences without having much time to get around to missing them.

I met several more friends on our tour, most notably Rieneke from Holland, Julie from Belgium, Nell from England, and Christina from Austria, all of whom are about my age and traveling alone through Australia. After only a few hours, I felt like I was on a camping trip with old friends!

We slept in two-person tents each night, so my new friend Rieneke and I shared a tent for all three nights. Now, to anyone who knows me and is reading this, it will come as no surprise that I have zero love for spiders. So after finding a great big spider in our tent and realizing that I wasn’t the only one screaming and running outside in terror, I knew that I’d found a kindred spirit in Rieneke. From then on, it became a ritual to perform thorough nightly flashlight checks in our tents. I’m so glad I have Rieneke to be a big ol’ wimp alongside me!!! ;)

Here are some pictures from the trip:

After learning about the iconic Australian termite mounds the first day, we stopped at Buley Rockhole for a swim. So refreshing!

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The next waterfall we saw was Florence Falls, first from a lookout and then for a swim after walking down to the plunge pool.

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Last stop of the first day was a wildlife spotting cruise on Mary River.

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The second day, we swam in Barramundi Gorge (Maguk).

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In the afternoon, we hiked to a lookout at Ubirr, where we saw and learned about Aboriginal cave paintings along the way.

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Day three was mostly a travel day, but we made it to two waterfalls, Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. Jim Jim only flows during the wet season, but since it wasn’t flowing, we were able to go right up to the plunge pool and swim with the freshwater crocodiles! (Don’t panic, mom, I still have my arms. And at least one leg…)

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I did wonder what happened to this tourist…

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Stay tuned for the next leg of my trip, driving through the Outback on Stuart Highway to Alice Springs!

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Posted by Aussie Mel 04:58 Archived in Australia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Australian Critters

People in Australia like to reassure visitors about the harmlessness of the wildlife and landscape while at the same time warning of its dangers. It comes out as a strange mix, leaving you unsure whether you should be relaxing during your swim or fearing for your life. Variations I have heard:

“Don’t worry while you’re snorkeling/diving: reef sharks are mostly harmless.”

“Stingrays are like pancakes with tails: they won’t hurt you. Just…don’t get too close.”

“Go ahead and swim with the freshwater crocodiles. They don’t hurt people…at least, most of the time.”

“Spiders? Ah, spiders won’t hurt you! They don’t even bite. Well, except for that one. Oh, and (insert list). But otherwise, harmless.”

“Hold this snake! It might bite, but it doesn’t look venomous, so that’s okay.”

“Kangaroos won’t hurt you. Well, unless they kick you in the head. Then you’re pretty much dead.”

Oh, and did you know that koalas, despite appearances, aren’t exactly cute and cuddly creatures? They can actually get pretty nasty, which is why it’s more difficult than you might think to find a place that will let you hold them.

I will either leave Australia with a healthy respect for animals or with plenty of fodder for nightmares. Though seeing as how I have already gone swimming with reef sharks, stingrays and crocodiles, I think I’ll be okay. I even like holding snakes, though I do prefer reassurances that it won’t bite me, even in a non-lethal way. Spiders are where I draw the line. I’m fairly certain my arachnophobia is incurable, and I’ve no plans to change in that respect.

Never fear though, I'll leave you on a good note with the cutest Aussie critter I've seen yet:

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Posted by Aussie Mel 05:36 Archived in Australia Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Darwin, Australia


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I left Arizona in the middle of July – just in time to escape the bulk of the summer heat. That was pretty smart of me, wasn’t it? Yeah, I thought so. Then I voluntarily traveled through one of the hottest (and most humid) places in Australia…during its hottest time of the year. Not so smart of me, was it? No, I didn’t think so. ;)

That pretty well follows my train of thought when I stepped foot off my plane in Darwin (Northern Territory) in jeans and a sweater. At least I wasn’t the only one going through a minor shock. It’s amusing people-watching at the Darwin airport. There will always be someone to walk outside, come to a sudden halt, run back in, shed as much clothing as possible, take a deep breath, and walk back out to what you can tell they think may be their impending doom. I wonder if people go through that process at Sky Harbor (the Phoenix airport). I’ve never thought to notice.

So why, you may ask, did I come to Darwin? Well, you see… After three months, I have experienced life in the city, working on the beach, and living out of a backpack on the East Coast. But the important thing missing from my trip to Australia thus far is, of course, the OUTBACK! From Darwin, I am joining up with my Adventure Tours group to see the Australian Outback with total strangers. Yeah mate! Since I’m on my own, I decided to go with a group in the hope of meeting some friends from all over the globe to travel with. As luck would have it, I sat next to a Dutch girl, Rieneke, on the shuttle bus from the airport, and as we got to talking, we realized we were going to be on the same tour! To celebrate our newfound instant friendship, we trekked to the Darwin markets together and watched the sunset at the beach.

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Over the next few weeks, follow with me as I travel the Stuart Highway from Darwin to Adelaide, stopping for sights such as Litchfield, Kakadu, Devils Marbles, Kings Canyon, Uluru, Coober Pedy, barren and beautiful landscapes, wild roos and crocs, and pit stops in the middle of nowhere.

Now that I’ve a plan and a friend, watch out, Outback – here I come!

Posted by Aussie Mel 05:34 Archived in Australia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

Great Barrier Reef Photos


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We’ve all heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I don’t know...I love words. But let’s test the theory anyhow and limit the rest of this entry to pictures I took while snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef:

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Posted by Aussie Mel 04:50 Archived in Australia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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