Friday, 22 June 2012

Into the Bush

And no, that isn’t a TMI reference to our woefully inept grooming habits these days…

We are currently on yet another road trip in yet another camper van, only this time in what the Australians somewhat dismissively called “the bush,” that is, any even remotely rural area that isn’t the Outback. This particular “bush” refers to the forests, fields and small towns that line Australia’s East Coast.

We started in Brisbane and are slowly but surely making our way up the coast in a camper that pales in comparison to our trusty Chunk from New Zealand. 

Sad little Vincent in our sad little camper
It looks spacious, but that is an illusion, my friend.

We are getting by regardless, largely because in the place of the below-freezing temperatures in New Zealand, we have the positively summery weather of northern Australia. Instead of retreating to Chunk as soon as the sun goes down to burrow under our covers and eat hot soup, we can spend the evenings sitting outside in our wobbly camping chairs, drinking local rum from plastic cups and enjoying the stunning views of all of the mobile-homing retirees (they call them the “gray nomads”) in our camp sites. Very romantic, as you can imagine.

We have only been at it for a few days, but already we have learned a valuable lesson:
Australia is big.

This isn’t snug New Zealand, where every bend in the road hides another unique, usually breathtaking, landscape. Where we could average two hours of driving a day and still manage to see most of the country in three weeks. No, this is a massive country- all of Western and Central Europe fits easily within its borders- and that simple fact has serious implications for the road trip-inclined.

Isn't little Europe adorable?
Basically, we have to accept that given the limited time we have (two-ish weeks), we are able to see only a tiny fraction of the country: no Outback, no Uluru, no West Coast, no Melbourne. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t covering some serious ground. In two weeks, we will have driven well over 1,200 miles, which doesn’t seem enormous until you consider that the entire drive is on a curvy, congested, two-lane highway, which is the only kind available north of Brisbane. For all of the noise made about the veritable menagerie of lethal beasties in Australia- the country famously has more creatures that can kill you than anywhere else on earth- it is the roads here that have us quaking in our Crocs.

Vincent ain't scared.
Luckily, Australia’s beauty and singularity make up for the long driving times. Despite the fact that we have managed to take exactly one picture in the last five days, the views out our camper windows are very often lovely, in a bushy kind of way. What's more, the tropical, northern weather is a delight and we are able to spend our non-driving hours hanging out on one of the East Coast’s long, sandy beaches. Granted, our beach time is usually spent doing weird little exercises to ward off the chub (think awkward leg lifts and arm rotations), but hey, it’s still beach time.

The Bush, aka a bunch of Eucalyptus trees
In addition to the wonderful coastal scenery, our drive has also allowed us the opportunity to view some of Australia’s iconic flora and fauna, namely, more Eucalyptus trees than you can shake a koala at and a few kangaroos. Admittedly, the only kangaroos we saw were dead on the side of the highway, but that small detail didn’t damper our excitement in the least. On the contrary, actually. You can see live kangaroos in zoos all over the world, but only in Australia can you see them dead on the side of the road.

You see, kangaroos to Australians are a little like deer to Missourians: an over-populated, if lovable, road hazard. They are everywhere, especially at night when they are most active, and their habit of jumping out into the road the moment they see oncoming headlights borders on suicidal (or homicidal, if you consider the traffic statistics.) The danger they present is so prevalent that most insurance companies won’t ensure collisions with the bouncy marsupials after nightfall. Since I don’t have a picture of a live kangaroo- or a dead one, for that matter- here’s a picture of me being creeped out by some aggressive possums.

So until we actually see a live kangaroo, we will entertain ourselves with some of the other, lesser-known wonders of Australian life. The following, in no particular order, is a list of some of the more fascinating things we’ve learned about the Land Down Under in the past few weeks.
  •          Australians make a damn good coffee. Seriously, here and in New Zealand we have found the best coffee we’ve both ever had. Sorry France and Italy, but the Aussies have you beat with the combination of excellent quality and an almost American regard for variety and personal preference.  It took us a few tries to figure out how to order: long or short black, flat white, skinny, baby-cino, etc. - but once we got the hang of it, we have managed to find consistently great coffee everywhere we go (barring the instant shit we are drinking in our camper van, which doesn’t even come equipped with what the Australians call a “plunger,” or what the rest of the world calls a French press.)

  •          Australians really do say “mate.” Like, in every sentence. And “g’day”! Also, let the record show that I have seen several men wearing wide-brimmed, leather bush hats and even one guy wearing one with work boots and shorts, like some bad-ass love child of Crocodile Dundee and Steve Erwin. Nice one, mate.

  •          Aside from the mind-bogglingly ancient Aboriginal culture, Australia’s history is really recent. This, coming from an American whose own country is essentially an over-achieving teenager compared to Europe or Asia, should give you an idea of how obvious Oz’s newness is. Consider that the country’s very first settlement (Sydney) was started in 1788 (by a bunch of convicts sent from England, no less), that its constitution dates back only to 1901, and that its largest wave of immigration has been just in the past fifty or so years, and you realize that Australia’s modern history really isn’t that extensive. That’s not to say it isn’t important or interesting, it’s just a shock when we talk to people who mention their “ancestors” from England or Ireland only to find out that they are actually referring to their grandparents.

  •          Australia is surprisingly cosmopolitan- well, surprising to me anyway. It’s a country of immigrants, much like the US, but the newness of that immigration, coupled with the fact that Australia is closer geographically to Asia than anywhere else, makes the country a really interesting mix of backgrounds and cultures. There’s definitely a distinct Australian culture (see: “bush hats” above), but the Aussies are also admirably open to other cultures. Asian take-aways are as prevalent as the ubiquitous, and undeniably English, fish and chips shops, while American films compete with le cinema Français in the movie theaters. It’s an inspiring mix and gives the country more layers of culture than we expected.

  •          Australia isn’t all dry, barren Outback! I don’t know, I guess with the whole “Red Continent” thing, I expected Australia to be an only slightly more habitable version of Mars. But in fact, the north part of the country, including where we are now, is positively tropical! I’m talking exotic fruits, rainforests and sugar cane plantations- which just so happens to also mean locally made rum. High five.

  •          Lastly- and this comes as a surprise to absolutely no one- the Australians are so nice. Really, they are. Outside of New Zealand and the American Midwest, you won’t find a more friendly, open, willing-to-start-a-conversation-with-strangers people than the Aussies. It’s not only wonderfully comforting and helpful, but it’s also from them that we learned all of the above.
So, thanks mates. 


  1. Sounds like a great time! Glad you're enjoying the coffee, rum, scenery, and people!

  2. Just love folks traveling and discovering the world in a camper van. I do it as often as I can with my family. For me it's the only way to go...