Sydney, Surfer’s Paradise, Byron Bay and Brisbane – And Mates – Entertain This American Traveler
I didn’t fall in love with Australia, or with an Australian.
But after spending a month Down Under, I sure did LIKE Australia and spending time with Australians a lot.
In four weeks, I traveled to Sydney, Surfer’s Paradise, Byron Bay, Brisbane and back to Sydney. In many ways, I felt as if I never left America because Australia is so much like the States – Southern California and Florida in particular – and so I never got goosebumps the way I did when I first set foot in, say, Greece.
But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed hanging out with my good mate in Surfer’s Paradise, and meeting a whole team of new ones there, as well.
I was then treated to some of the best hospitality one could expect anywhere by a mate in Brisbane.
That was especially heartwarming because I had met my Brizzy mate just once before, and that was for only an hour. She’s a friend of friends and happened to be passing through Los Angeles the night I was hosting a tiki bar party.
Yet she threw open her house to me and treated me as if we had known each other our entire lives. Knowing I was struggling to realize that I was actually in Australia, she took me to a park where not only koala bears were sleeping in trees (in very uncomfortable-looking positions, by the way) but to where I could pet and feed kangaroos.
For about half the trip, I was alone, although when you are in Australia one is never truly alone. You’ll always meet someone to chat with, and often they will ask you to join them at a table for a beer, or they will join you at a table for a beer. At the very least, you will always be accompanied on your walks by the Australian fly, which don’t so much as circle around you but attack you!
Prior to leaving for my Australian Adventure as I call it, I expected to arrive back in the States automatically calling everyone a “mate,” pronouncing “beer” as “bee-ya,” saying strange things like “bum bags” and calling shopping carts trollies.
But that’s not the case. I’m pretty much the same upon my return as I was when I left. I do, however, now call the Gold Coast “the Goldie” and refer to Brisbane as “Brizzy.”
I did learn to walk on the left side of the sidewalk. I know they drive on the left side of the road in Australia but the fact that they also walk on the left side had never occurred to me. I also grew accustomed to looking in the proper direction when crossing a street. Still, instinct had me checking BOTH ways before I stepped into an intersection.
I learned that I liked Tooheys New better than VB beer and that about the only XXXX you can get is the light version called Gold. I discovered – confirmed, actually – that Bundaberg is a fine rum but is not as good as what you get in the Caribbean. By the way, as I’m writing this I’m having a Dark And Stormy on my flight back to L.A.
I learned that Australia is not as intimidating as it seems. You fly halfway around the world, especially to a place that’s so remote you almost never hear about it in the news, and you expect to be walking around in a lost daze for days. But when I got to Sydney, I felt as if I had just flown 14 hours to arrive in a smaller version of the place I had just left, Los Angeles.
I easily got used to the currency bills – they are far superior to the bland ones we have in America – but constantly struggled with the coins. The tiniest one is worth the most ($2) and the the 20-cent piece and the 50-cent piece are the size of pizzas. I constantly walked around with jingling pockets, never really sure how much money I had on me at any given time.
I got used to the fact that they serve french fries – chips, or “hot chips” as they call them – with seemingly everything. But I failed to understand that when Aussies come to America, they freak out when they see potato chips on a plate with a sandwich.
I never got used to the price of a six-pack of beer. The cost in the bars was not excessive– $5-7 depending on where I was and remember you don’t tip in Australia – but the price of a six-pack had me reeling. It’s $16. For a SIX-PACK! When I first saw this, I thought the store (and they sell booze only in designated stores, not grocery and convenience stores) had mislabeled it.
“You should have gotten a carton,” my mate Rosko kept repeating to me.
I was impressed – very impressed – by how clean things are in Australia. In a month, I saw maybe 10 pieces of garbage on the streets and in the water. I see that much in some places in America going from the “car park” to the store. The streets and waterways are as clean as Disneyland. I kept looking for workers trailing people in busy areas ready to pick up discarded napkins, water bottles and sandwich wrappings. But nobody ever dropped anything.
“We pride ourselves on keeping things clean,” one local told me.
Well cheers to you mates for that, I say!
I was blown away by the beaches. Not the beaches themselves, mind you, but the areas by the beaches. There are cliffs – magnificent cliffs – that look like something along the coast of Ireland or Big Sur in California. Just to the south of Bondi Beach are series of coves that reminded me of a never-ending La Jolla, CA.
I walked for hours on scenic paths along cliffs in Bondi Beach, Manley Beach and Watson’s Bay in Sydney, and to and back from the Lighthouse in Byron. I could not have been happier.
Each one was spectacular and this really caught me off guard. I just though Australia had sand and water, not these magnificent and steep cliffs that plunge into the ocean, sometimes hundreds of feet below the path.
I absolutely adored the ferries in Sydney. I bought a one-week transit pass for $60 that enabled me to ride them at my whim (along with buses and trains) and used this as much as possible. My favorite journey turned out to be between Circular Quay and Darling Harbor in the heart of Sydney; it’s just an enjoyable place to be and a very happy way to spend time in Australia.
Heck, I enjoyed the ferries when I was on land. They are constantly moving through Sydney Harbor, going under the Harbor Bridge and past the Opera House. It’s like a fairy tale. No wonder people here are so friendly; they get to enjoy this view and ride those ferries every single day.
In fact, I wish we had them in Los Angeles. Santa Monica to the South Bay. And Long Beach to Newport Beach, stopping at the piers along the way. Can you imagine how cool it would be to ride your bike from Manhattan Beach to Santa Monica, then jump on a ferry and take it back to, say, the Hermosa Beach Pier? It would be wonderful, I tell you!
But with all those pluses from my Australian Adventure, there had to be some minuses, right? Two of the ones that stand out the most are the fact that Australia actually has RULES – and quite a few of them – when it comes to drinking (click here for an encounter I had in The Rocks, the pub-heavy section of Sydney) and that the country is as not loaded with great-looking girls as I had imaged.
Based on the babes Australia has exported through the years – tennis player Yvonne Goolagong, golfer Jan Stephenson, singers Olivia Newton-John and Kylie Minogue plus the Miss Indy beauties Procon Leisure International has sent to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – I expected the country to be one big land of babe after endless babe.
But not so, I discovered. In fact, I could count on less than two hands even the number of attractive bartenders or waitresses I encountered. And I spent a lot of time in the bars!
Usually, bars are a great measure of the quality of the local talent. If there are a lot of great-looking servers then chances are, there’s a lot of great-looking locals, too. Yet in this area, Australia was as dry as the outback. Click here to read more on this subject.
Of course, all of Procon Leisure’s Miss V8 Supercars girls proved to be beautiful, and the unquestioned highlight of the trip was being with them as part of Procon’s team for the Surfer’s Paradise car race.
In a way, those girls really defined what Australia and Australians are all about, and that is to say lively, fun, carefree and friendly beyond measure.
They continually reached out to me and poked good-natured fun at me because I’m an American. Becky Gilbert, who turned out to be the first-runner-up, winner,one evening announced that the girls had decided to give me an Australian nickname.
So now they all call me Kev-O.
Estelle Yarrow, who won and was always making conversations, said she wanted to see me wear thongs. By that, she meant what Americans call flip flops. “Casual,” she said. “It’s the Australian way.”
Those simple gestures, as much as anything, made me want to throw out my arms and hug the entire country, and gave me a very warm feeling about its people, as well.
So I failed to fall in love with Australia. But you know, these things do sometimes take time. Maybe on my next trip – which I’m already planning for the same time next year – I will, as Newtwon-John once sang, “honestly love you.”