’Round the world in 72 days: Australia

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 60 of the October 2010 issue.

by Philip Wagenaar (Part 3 of a series)

This month, I continue the discussion of our travels in Australia, the second country that my wife, Flory, and I visited on our 72-day, ’round-the-world trip, August-November ’09. The arrangements for the five-week tour that we took in Australia included lodging, breakfasts, dinners, SUV, driver and extensive sightseeing,

From Broken Hill, our last stop, it was on to Lake Mungo, part of the Willandra Lakes Region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lake Mungo dried up about 14,000 years ago and today is a great, crescent-shaped dune called the Walls of China. These dunes change color from a daytime khaki to the deep wine red of the sunset.

We stayed overnight at the luxurious Mungo Lodge (Arumpo Road, Buronga, NSW 2739, Australia; phone [03] 50 297 297, fax [03] 50 297 29, www.mungolodge.com.au). Our unit consisted of a beautifully appointed bedroom and sitting room plus a large, modern bathroom featuring high-class fixtures and a large, step-in shower. Its French owners provided a yummy dinner.

N.B. I am mentioning the details of only the lodgings which I recommend.

The next day took us south along the Murray River (the longest in Australia) Valley via Swan Hill, where we had a magnificent smoked salmon sandwich for lunch, to the heritage city of Bendigo in central Victoria.

(Most lunches in Australia cost us AUD10-12, or about US$9-$11, for two people, while dinners were much more expensive at AUD25-30 per person.)

Bendigo’s attractions are best seen by taking the famous Vintage Talking Tram Tour (www.bendigotramways.com), at AUD15 for a two-day pass (though we rode it for only a few hours). While passing historical cathedrals, it tells wonderful stories of days gone by. The tram’s conductor, with his scraggly white beard and old-fashioned uniform, complete with cap, looked like he was resurrected from the 1880s.

Bushlands with spectacular views encircle the town, giving Bendigo its reputation as “the city within a forest.”

Melbourne visit

From Bendigo it was a scenic drive to Melbourne, where we had two free days. We were fortunate that we didn’t stay in Sydney or Brisbane, both of which were hit on Sept. 23 by the most severe dust storm in 70 years.

The dust had originated in central Australia the previous day and was lifted three kilometers into the sky by a low-pressure system and gale-force winds. Dragging up soil from three states, the column grew to more than 1,500 kilometers long and 400 kilometers wide. Sydney woke up that morning to a deep-red daybreak. By the afternoon, however, the cloud had dissipated.

To discover Melbourne, we used the free, hop-on/hop-off City Circle Tram. Other tours are the hop-on/hop-off Yarra River Shuttle Service and, starting at 8:45 a.m. from the Gray Line headquarters, the Gray Line bus tour.

Noticing a flier in our hotel, we elected to take the boat trip from the Southgate area of Melbourne to Williamstown. Dating from 1924, the boat was rickety; fortunately, despite a torrential downpour, it did not take on any water.

Upon our arrival, I asked the driver where we could eat in Williamstown. He answered that we were not in Williamstown but back in Southgate, the starting point of our trip! There had been some communication error and we all were simply given a nonstop round trip.

Across from the boat landing was a large food court full of establishments offering appetizing and inexpensive meals. Flory and I shared a chicken avocado sandwich, which came with a Greek salad and two coffees and cost us AUD12.90 (about US$12) for two — cheap for Australia.

After lunch, the sun came out and we had a delightful walk on the Yarra River promenade. Highly recommended!

Toward Canberra

The next day, continuing our five-week tour of Australia arranged by Australian Wilderness Tours (Mt. Seaview, NSW), we left Melbourne at 11 a.m. with the company owner, Ralph, at the wheel of our SUV. We found him to be a rough driver; whenever he shifted gears, I was propelled from my seat toward the roof.

Our trip took us through the Yarra Valley vineyards (there are so many wineries in Australia!) toward Healesville. We traversed Lake Eildon National Park, where Lake Eildon was almost dry due to a long-standing drought.

However, on the day we were there it poured and got dreadfully cold. People told us they could not remember that it had ever been that chilly before.

Even that night’s motel room was frigid, necessitating our wearing long johns and jackets inside the room. Despite our huddling close to the heat, we were still freezing. We kept the heaters in the unit on full blast all night and slept under heavy comforters, I with my socks on. When we woke up, it was only slightly warmer than it had been the night before.

In our SUV, we continued toward Canberra through several national parks (the names of which Ralph would not tell us). We zigzagged up to 6,000 feet, where snowstorms and slippery roads created hazardous driving conditions. At numerous spots, red poles marked the left edge of the road; wandering beyond them would have resulted in a tumble into the ravine several thousand feet below.

It was hard to imagine that this same area had been devastated by brushfires in 2005-2006 when it was extremely dry.

In the middle of the morning we stopped at a picnic area to get our morning tea. Almost every town has a picnic area with neat and decent toilet facilities, including conveniences for the disabled. One such area even had a complimentary electric barbecue, on which somebody was grilling a meat patty. All you had to do was push a button and the flat metal surface would heat up. The heat would turn off by itself.

Bright sunshine greeted us the next day as we departed toward the Bogong High Plains, which is part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range. The area is patronized by both winter and summer enthusiasts.


The following morning we left for Canberra, Australia’s capital, where we delighted in a guided tour of the superb-looking, 10-year-old Parliament building — highly recommended. On the way, we passed attractive homes occupied by senior embassy personnel.

The next day, a scenic freeway, similar in splendor to I-5 in southern Oregon, took us to the town of Goulburn. We encountered a lake that had disappeared overnight five years ago and which, since then, has spasmodically filled up with a little water.

Leaving the freeway at Marulan, we drove in glorious sunshine through Wingello, Bundanoon and Exeter along a narrow highway flanked by retirement homes, small farms and blossoming cherry trees.

We followed the road, meandering up and down, until we came to Fitzroy Falls, a picturesque small waterfall surrounded by densely wooded hills. Lunch was at the visitor center, where Flory had a smoked salmon sandwich and I had a chicken pie which was so large, I couldn’t finish it. This meal cost about AUD20 (US$18) for two.

We then traveled via Kangaroo Valley and Berry to the coast. One of our stops was the Bulli Lookout, which provided a stunning view over the coastline.

From there, it was more or less a straight line to Sydney, where extremely heavy traffic greeted us. We stayed in the town center at the Menzies Hotel, surrounded by towering skyscrapers.

The following day, under azure skies, we stopped for a look at Sydney’s renowned Opera House, admiring its stunning exterior architecture and its superb location at the water, after which we traveled north in the direction of Mt. Seaview, our next overnight stop.

It was distressing that during our visit the American dollar kept falling against the Australian dollar, which made everything much more expensive for us. Fortunately, most of our trip had been prepaid.

We found Australian food very tasty. However, portions were humongous and the prices were so high that I don’t understand how ordinary Australians can afford to go out for dinner.

Next month, I will conclude the Australian segment of our ’round-the-world trip, relating our travels toward Cairns.