I returned to the Australian mainland yesterday morning - got woken up at 3 am. Bleah. After breaky we waited until 5, and drove the car off the boat by about 6 am. So... what do you do in a city you're not familiar with at 6 in the morning on a Sunday? Couldn't check in to our apartment until 2, so spent the day amiably wasting time. I had fun at the airport just walking around - I have seriously daggy planespotter tendencies - until I found out it cost $9 to park there for one hour fifteen minutes. (This would be upstaged by parking in downtown Melbourne for forty minutes today, which cost $7.)
Tasmania was pleasant but I'm starting to wonder if Australia is so far away from the rest of the world that they have to convince themselves that their scenic attractions are so breathtakingly wonderful because they can't really afford the time and expense of going to truly spectacular parts of the world. This of course comes across as an arrogant slam on the country, which I suppose it is in part, but seriously folks, it's hard to get truly excited by gentle rolling hills covered with remnants of native vegetation here and there, even if the local tourist authorities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to convince tourists that it really is the most spectacular countryside, ever. At Cradle Mountain, we had a pleasant walk up to the base of the mountain, but it was hard to enjoy the place because of the mobs of people (presumably Victorians on school holidays) behaving themselves badly (going off trail across delicate cushion plants, for example), and also because it was, well, distinctly unspectacular after, say, the Alps, the Sierra, or the Torres del Paine. In fact, a lot of the mountains near San José are a lot more breathtaking.
However, I did see one of the most beautiful places I've ever been in Tassie: Mt Field. It was a cool, windy day with mostly low clouds, and a hell of a slog getting up past the ski area to even get close to the Alpine areas, but we packed lunch (mmmm, pasta with weird English-imitating-Italian meat sauce) and made a day of it. It was phenomenally beautiful up there, and there were no other hikers that day (yes, I checked the logs), so it was beautifully empty, tranquil, silent. Sure, it was hard work - endless scrambling over dolerite boulder fields, lots of sinking in mud in cushion plant territory), but wow, what a place. That was the first place I've been in Australia that I already want to return to. OK, there was that one Asian place near Russel's, too, but restaurants don't count...
Speaking of restaurants, I wrote this as a reply to another post, but I'm going to repost it here:
How to tell if an Australia restaurant is sucky or not
1. Is it 'ethnic' food? Yes? If it caters to Anglo-Australians, it will be sucky. If they cannot speak English and/or have an English language menu suspiciously one fourth the size of the native language menu, it will likely be good. However, if they have any Anglo customers, the food will be incredibly bland. If it's Chinese, it will in fact be so bland that the only flavor you'll get is that weird umami one (think MSG). Even more bizarrely, you may not even recognize it as Chinese - it may have so much sugar in it as well that it'll have become something completely different. Think sweet and sour, but with no sour. It's bad.
2. Is it 'international' food? Yes? It will be sucky. It will also be expensive. The service will also suck rocks. The waitress will hang out chatting with her friends about the fab Human Nature concert they went to last weekend in Hobart while it takes the cook ninety minutes to prepare your salmony nibbly thing, which will be served about ten degrees too cool.
3. Is it 'Australian' food? Yes? It will be slightly sucky, but at least it will be cheap. If you go to the nearest hotel (= bar), you can eat a lot of OK food for about US $6 a head. It might not be great but at least it's great value. I have no problem spending $6 on a halfway decent steak with a lot of salad, potatoes, and garnish.
4. Is it fast food? Yes? It will be sucky, but at least it will be cheap and fast. It won't be any better than fast food anywhere else, but what did you expect?
After two months here, I can tell you unreservedly that Australia sucks ass when it comes to food. It's a real disappointment. Even the good stuff, which has been rare, has been not quite right in the grand scheme of things.
The story so far:
Best food: an East Asian takeaway near Russel's place
Runners up: Weindorfer's, Gowrie Park, Tasmania; a Korean place with no English name in Chinatown, Sydney, with an elevator and killer $8 lunch special; Bait, Darlinghurst
Best expensive meal: forget it, if it's pricey, it sucks and you'll feel ripped off
Worst meal: too many to count! Doyles, Sydney (expensive and a useful instruction in how to ruin good quality fish by cooking it English style); Stillwater, Launceston (expensive, faux Pac Rim fusion cuisine, bad service, took ages); Hydro Majestic, Bath Spa (expensive, tiny portions of lukewarm food without much flavor); Fortuna Park, Burnie (worst Chinese food ever); Prickly Cactus, Launceston (worst Mexican food ever); the list goes on...
So, end of the food post. What else?
We got a flat tire near Cradle Mountain, and immediately discovered that we have no jack in the car. Ooops. Thanks to the kind folks who run the scenic light aircraft flights near the park entrance, we were able not only to get a jack, but also to get the small device you need to lower the spare tire from underneath the Landcruiser. Yay! The tire cost $8 to repair the next day in Sheffield. It's currently hogging most of the trunk area in the car. We've ordered a jack, which should come in tomorrow, so we'll be better prepared next time. We also have some tire cord as well as a cheezy air compressor that should work out of the cigarette lighter socket. Go us!
4WD equipment continues to accumulate on the car. This week, a snorkel and a cargo barrier will be fitted. The snorkel is there because it looks rilly cool, oh, and because we'll need it when we get to Cape York. (Lots of river crossings!) The cargo barrier is there because it'll keep our shit in the back where it belongs - it's hard to drive gently offroad, and I don't want to worry about whether or not the billy can is going to hurtle forth and bang the back of my head or whatever.
Eventually there's probably going to be a roof rack or tyre carrier; I'm also thinking of looking into better shocks. Lots of spare parts to buy too... radiator hoses... lug nuts... etc. All kind of an expensive bother but it sure beats getting stuck in Wodonga or wherever, waiting for a $3000 tow to civilization.
Dan just walked in! So, I'm going to stop for now. More later!