Sunday, December 28, 2014

Almost 3 months in Australia on $23.50/person/day. (WE KNOW, RIGHT??)

Thanks to five awesome WWOOF experiences (where meals and lodging are included), transportation was our biggest cost in Australia.  This kind of voluntourism travel is definitely not for everyone but if you're willing to give back to the earth in exchange for food/lodging you can totally make it work for you.  We happen to enjoy it, and we were thrilled to cross (more) organic vineyards, a little beekeeping, and some exposure to permaculture off our "WWOOF wish list" during our time down under.  Our housesitting gig was a bit of a lucky fluke but that certainly helped us keep costs down too.

Here's the lowdown...

Initial budget: Canada's cost/person/day (aka $25/person/day)
Actual cost: 89 days at $4181 ($47/day, $23.50/person/day)

Aussie for "we're cheap!"
  • Lodging: $167 - a whopping 2 hotel nights on Tasmania... otherwise we spent 58 nights WWOOFing, 14 nights housesitting, 4 nights couchsurfing, 6 nights on the train, 1 night on the ferry, and 3 nights in a "sponsored" hotel in Adelaide
  • Transportation: $2610 - includes our flights from Kathmandu to Perth, our train pass, our ferry ride to/plane ride from Tasmania, car rentals in Tasmania and Melbourne, and various public transit costs around Australia (which are more expensive than you might think)
  • Groceries: $593 - train snacks and housesitting meals
  • Meals: $243 - we avoided dining out at all costs but we did enjoy some street food and a few celebratory dinners over those three months
  • Tours: $88 - almost all museums (the most pricey was the MONA in Hobart @ $25/person)
  • Alcohol: $203 - beer prices are ridiculous but Australian wine is both cheap and good
  • Gear: $23 - most importantly, a used-but-in-excellent-condition thermos and two travel coffee mugs purchased for $10 at a Perth op shop (AKA "opportunity shop" AKA "thrift shop"), which seriously saved us on those long train rides and continue to make us happy; otherwise random replacement clothing from other op shops
  • Miscellaneous: $136 - mostly gifts for our various hosts
  • Border: $71 (umm.... it's probably free if you do it prior to arriving at the Nepal airport the day of your Australia flight...?)

Other fun Australia facts...
  • Cities visited: 5 (Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne) but we also saw a lot of surrounding countryside (Chittering Valley, Swan Valley, Mt Barker, Humpty Doo, Lorinna, Premaydena) as well as gorgeous coastlines in eastern Tasmania and the Great Ocean Road
  • Awesome botanic gardens visited: 5 (Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne)
  • Meat pies consumed: exactly three
  • Kangaroos, wallabies, rabbits and echindas seen: a gazillion
  • Dingos seen: ZERO (maybe the babies ate your dingo, Australia?)
  • National parks visited: Cradle Mountain and Freycinet for sure, the rest of the list is quite confusing so we aren't sure, exactly
  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited: 0.5 (skirting around Port Arthur counts, right?)

Verrrrrry mixed emotions about getting back to US soil...  But on the plus side, we won't need our spreadsheet currency conversion tool anymore.  Aloha!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Every-day-is-Friday five: *really* meeting Melbourne.

Our first time through Melbourne in early November, we stayed with a lovely couchsurfer family about 30k outside of the city. The family's home was near Mordialloc (famous for wooden boat building) and within walking distance to the beach and a short bike ride from Braeside Park. We stuck around the local community while we were there, soaking up this side of Melbourne that few tourists get to experience.

picnic lunch at Beaumaris Bay

helmets? functional gears? inflated tires?
definitely not in SE Asia anymore

evening echinda

During our two-night intro our couchsurfer hosts gave us lots of suggestions for our two-week December stay in Melbourne. All along we were thinking, "ehhhh, okay, Melbourne's just another western city. We'll see what we end up doing."


After 12 more days we would learn that Melbourne is not just another western city. It's a bit of a Portland-Berkeley mash up complete with awesome produce markets, side streets of handmade crafty shops, a great downtown cultural mecca, quirky street aht, lots of young people, and really great restaurants and cafes. Other cities in Australia have pockets of these elements, but we couldn't really escape them in Melbourne. It was familiar and comfortable... and it made us homesick for Portland.

We had plenty of time to attack the city in between loafing around a lot. Here are our top five recommendations, in no particular order...

1. Visit the museums! The National Gallery is free, nicely laid out, and well-stocked with great Aboriginal, classic, and modern art.

possum coat sculpture

a small piece of a large brilliant piece of work

The Melbourne Museum costs $12 but it's worth it - we primarily went for the First Peoples exhibit but ended up really enjoying the variety of exhibits throughout the museum.

"burial rights" in the First Peoples exhibit

unexpected funhouse fun

the incredibly comprehensive Darwin room

Usually after about three hours we're done with museums but we could've easily spent a full day in either of these.

2. Visit the Great Ocean Road! Hard to believe we debated doing this road trip. We didn't think it could top our ExplOregon camping extravaganza a few years ago, there would be the additional cost of a car rental, we only had one day and one valid driver's license between the two of us and it was a pretty long drive... Excuses, excuses! So glad we just did it.

one of many amazing photos
(the rest start here)

We picnicked at Apollo Bay and then stopped at Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge before heading back to the city. It was pretty rushed but definitely worth it.

3. Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens! Regular readers know that we visited the gardens in Perth, Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart so we couldn't leave Melbourne without checking theirs out too.

pretty flowers make you say wow

Happy to say that Melbourne's made it five for five awesome gardens. Nicely done, Australia.

4. Visit Federation Square! There's always something free going on - exercise and dance classes, kids' craft events, musical shows, food carts and foodie events, and of course people watching! Never a dull moment.

free Thursday tunes

5. Visit the Queen Victoria market! This was a completely different experience than Adelaide's Central Market. The food stalls were super-cheap and we walked out with at least 5 kilos of produce.

where a crate of mangoes costs $5

(The gourmet food stalls and local artisan shops were not so cheap but still fun to peruse.)

But those are just five touristy things. We also wandered along the Yarra River, we stayed up late at the Comic's Lounge where we enjoyed a free comedy show chock full of Australian jokes we actually understood, we caught a $6 Monday matinee of Boyhood at Cinema Nova (our first real movie theater movie in 20 months, chock full of American jokes that the Australian audience actually understood), we avoided the Christmas crazies downtown as much as possible... and so much more.

88 degrees -
do they know it's Christmastime at all?

We loafed around a lot too. We made time for some general maintenance, like cleaning up our hard drive, updating blogs and photos, and a haircut for Jen.

free new 'do -
a team effort that probably won't be repeated anytime soon

And we played a lot of 1981 Australian Trivial Pursuit. We knew so many more answers to the geography and history questions thanks to our travels! (The NEVER-ENDING orange category cricket answers? Not so much.)

showdown at the Daisy Marigold corral

Food notes: Melbourne IS the foodie scene in Australia from what we've gathered. With meals running ~A$20 a person and us being on a budget, we really wouldn't know. We did get out a few times, like to the Viet Rose (much more Chinese than Vietnamese - disappointing, we really wanted Vietnamese) and to Chinatown.

ordering lunch in Melbourne's Chinatown -
a bit more complicated than we expected

Food at the Queen Vic market was pricey but Patrick had his eye on a bratwurst shack. His sandwich cost the same as my little tub of gourmet olives... think he got the better deal there.


No Australia visit is complete without a meat pie or two. Or seventeen. We passed a Pie Face on our second-to-last-day walk home and gave in, thinking this could be our last chance for a meat pie. (Three minutes later we passed another Pie Face franchise. Natch.)

Pie Face is the new Tim Hortons

We did finally try Seven Seeds coffee. It was no Nescafe, but we liked it.

kidding about the Nescafe - Seven Seeds is the new Stumptown

We sampled a local beer but didn't venture out to any brewpubs. With pints still hovering around $8 we were happy waiting until we got back to the US. (Errr... the mainland US. Hawaii is no better!)

tasty AND goaty

Mostly, though, we cooked at our hosts' home. Their extensive kitchen enabled homemade peanut butter, lots of soup and fresh corn bread, and overall cheap eats. We even made Mexican one night!

Mexican corn soup and corny cornbread

corn muffin egg salsa concoction

burritos at last!

("Mexican night" was supposed to turn into a regular thing but then we realized this wasn't our house and also, that we had no attachment to the words "regular thing" anymore.)

Lodging notes: In addition to couchsurfing our first time through, our second time we were really fortunate to score an amazing housesitting gig within walking distance of downtown. And when I say "amazing" I mean Piedmont, or Pearl District, or Nob Hill, or Capital Hill, or whatever current posh up-and-coming area in your neighborhood that you can relate to. Our kind hosts even put us up two nights before and one night after their trip, and their kitties provided endless hours of entertainment.

yin (Daisy) and yang (Marigold)

reach for the lens, Daisy!

"don't even think about sitting on my blanket, Marigold...
eyes in the back of my head"

Melbourne was a really awesome end to our really awesome Australia trip and our overall really awesome overseas experience. THANK YOU, Australia. We loved you a lot. We hope to visit again someday. We wish you a happy 2015!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Every-day-is-Friday five: thank you, Tasmania!

So very glad we took our time visiting Tasmania. It's really a magical place that few Australians, and even fewer tourists, get to see. Here are five reasons you should visit this amazing little island, in no particular order...

1. The nature! We spent a lot of time WWOOFing on the island but our hosts definitely ensured that we had plenty of free time to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings, even when it meant going out of their way or being flexible according to the weather.  Our appreciation knows no bounds.

Although we didn't do the full Overland Track, we did summit Cradle Mountain. Although the Three Capes Track is still up-and-coming, we did complete the Cape Raoul portion. Although we couldn't squeeze in all 60 of Tasmania's Great Short Walks, we did manage a few of them (as well as others that should be on that list!). And so on, and so on...

Cataract Gorge, Launceston
(pronounced "lawn-chest-on"... or just "lonny")

(#32 on the 60 Great Short Walks list)

Lake Cethana near Lorinna
(which is near Sheffield and Cradle Mountain)

(#49 on the 60 Great Short Walks list)

view of Wineglass Bay from Mt Amos,

Wineglass Bay and Hazards Beach circuit
(#56 on the 60 Great Short Walks list)

Roaring Beach sunset walk near Port Arthur

Ship Stern Bluff near Port Arthur
(regarded by surfers as one of the wildest
and most dangerous locations in the world)

Cape Raoul hike near Port Arthur
(#6 on the 60 Great Short Walks list)

Clark Cliffs walk near Port Arthur

Photos can't do anything justice so just visit and see for yourself. But if all this nature hasn't sold you on visiting Tasmania, there are other things to do, including...

2. Sheffield's murals. No, seriously, "the only reason to visit Sheffield" (according to Lonely Planet) is a really good reason. Each year there is a competition of murals themed around the town and/or Tasmania and/or Australia as a whole. Entries are publicly displayed in a small square and artists, residents and tourists vote on their favorite mural.

Stonehenge dinosuar turtle!

Jen's favorite

an older mural whose subect was our WWOOF hosts' neighbor

The finalists are displayed until the next annual competition. Voting costs $1 and proceeds support the local artists. (After your mural walk, be sure to stop by Blacksmith Gallery Cafe for a coffee! They're super nice, the coffee is excellent, and the wifi is free.)

3. The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. This has been the most surprisingly consistent thing about Australia - the beautiful free botanic gardens. Hobart's gardens, Australia's second oldest, feature a really cool subantarctic house, Pine Tree Row (our words) with another Wollemi Pine and a little taste of home, and a really nice New Zealand collection.

first sighting of a Douglas Fir!

As an added bonus, a really nice park volunteer chatted with us as we entered and exited the park, and the rain held off until we left. In hindsight we could've spent our morning here and skipped the MONA. Which brings us to...

4. The Museum of Old and New (MONA). Where to begin... A really rich guy opened this gallery and named his parking spot "God" (his wife's is "God's Mistress").  The gallery is three floors of edgy modern art intermixed with ancient artifacts. We found some of the edgy art interesting but most of it was not really to our taste.

fed daily, poop occurs at 2pm...
not to our taste 

The ancient artifacts collection was pretty extensive, but after so many visits to ancient ruins in Turkey and Morocco, and so many museums in SE Asia, there was only so much that really grabbed our attention.  In summary: glad we went, can't say we would pay $25 each to go again.

5. Port Arthur Historic Site. Um... yeah, about that. Instead of paying $35 each to tour "the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts," our WWOOF host took us across the river to Point Puer where the boys' prison was built. From there we had great (free!) views of the Island of the Dead and we did see some nice remnants of the stone structures that used to house prisoners.

Island of the Dead

Point Puer trail

We're quite sure that Port Arthur is the #1 tourist destination in Tasmania for a reason, and maybe someday we'll experience that reason for ourselves. But for now we're quite happy with our free day skirting around the historic site.

So of the "Top 5 Must See Destinations in Tasmania", we hit three and purposely skipped two. (Salamanca Market in Hobart was the other one we skipped, because at this point omg another market zzzzzzzzzz no thank you, but had we not heard of it we wouldn't have gotten that question right in Trivial Pursuit!) Taking the Spirit of Tasmania ferry from Melbourne to Devonport, touring the grounds of Dorje Ling Buddhist retreat center and the Tasman Ecovillage, and meeting so many wonderful people from the local communities surely make up for Port Arthur and the market, though.

we're on a boat!

tiny house inspiration at Dorge Ling

Food notes: Tasmania supposedly has amazing food and wine. Since we spent most of our time WWOOFing and our free time trying not to spend money, we didn't really get to experience this. Patrick did have to break down and try fish 'n chips in Nubeena one afternoon...

our only exciting Tasmania food shot

... but that was about it.

Lodging notes: between WWOOF gigs we also took a 3-day road trip down the eastern coast - absolutely incredible scenery, and plenty of coastal town quirky charm and cheap 1970s motels along the way...

We took more photos in Tasmania than anywhere else in Australia; go here if you're interested. The weather, the natural beauty, the flannel shirts and beards, and the liberal views of the local communities reminded us a lot of Oregon.  Of course, it's not all bright-and-shiny. The unemployment rate is very high; on our day trip in Launceston we were approached about five times by people asking for money (the first time this has happened to us in Australia). We also got some insight into why having a community of exactly-like-minded people isn't always a good thing - really good food for thought as we think about where we want to land back in the Pacific Northwest.

Anyway, we definitely hope to return to the island someday to see our new friends, check out the west coast, and finally spot an elusive Tasmanian devil. Now it's time to wrap up our stay down under with a cushy housesit gig in Melbourne... Man, it sucks to be us!