One of the highlights of our trip to Australia was Tasmania. Tassie is quite different from mainland Australia; it's very fertile lush, mountainous, and cool. It's also wild and largely unsettled. The whole west half of the island is covered in rugged mountains rainforests, reminded me of the Olympic Peninsula.

Hobart is the main town in Tasmania, but honestly it doesn't offer much to the tourist. But the nearby Port Arthur is fascinating; its the ruins of the last and most notorious prison of the Victorian era.

We also took the five hour drive across the island to Strahan, a small tourist town (and former prison) on the west coast. The drive across was amazing, wild and empty roads with enormous forests. Absolutely beautiful. Strahan is the terminus of the West Coast Wilderness Railway to Queenstown, a mining town fascinating for its hideousness. The destination's not the point though; the trip itself is on a fantastically restored rack steam railway with beautiful engines that puffs up the rugged mountains through beautiful rainforests. Strahan is definitely worth a special trip, for either the first class package on the train or a boat trip up the rivers into the rainforests. You're at the end of nowhere and it's beautiful.

  2006-08-20 00:24 Z
They call Australia "the lucky country". Never have I travelled somewhere where the people are so generous, easygoing, and happy. "No worries, mate" is the cliché expression all over Australia but it carries real meaning.

Some quick first impressions. Australia is more like the US than any place I've travelled, including Canada. Only more American than the US; less crowded, bigger city sprawls, more informality. It's a very prosperous place, beautiful and comfortable. And it's not all flat and hot; I never saw desert, just lots of rainforests.

Melbourne was my favourite city, comfortable and cosmopolitan with a European street cafe culture. Sydney is beautiful but so much like San Francisco we felt like we hadn't left home! Tasmania is amazingly wild and wonderful and the countryside in Victoria is charming with lots of great 19th century history apparent.

There's nothing like international travel to make you ashamed of US politics. The folks I met were all very friendly and polite about it, but Bush is deeply disliked there. The Sydney paper doesn't pull any punches with its headlines, either; "Revelations add to picture of US torture". What a horrible legacy.

  2006-03-21 20:21 Z
Ken and I have a trip planned to Australia. Many thanks to everyone who wrote in with suggestions! Australia is a very popular place. If you think you want to visit, read In a Sunburned Country. It's great light travel reading, with lots of insight, and will definitely make you eager to visit.

We're the type of travellers who have to have every night's hotel planned before we leave. Unfortunate for spontaneity but good for avoiding stress. Here's the plan:

Mar 1–6 Sydney
Get over jet lag, enjoy Sydney, take it easy. And go to Sydney Mardi Gras.
Mar 6–10 Tasmania
Hobart, Strahan, and Devonport. The big plan is to ride the West Coast Wilderness Railway, but there's lots to see. Unfortunately the world famous Freycinet Lodge was full.
Mar 10–17 Melbourne, Victoria
People say Melbourne's even better than Sydney, particularly for food. We could only squeeze in three days in the city, because then we're headed inland to the gold town Ballarat, the river town Mildura, and Bendigo, another gold town.
Mar 17–21 New South Wales
Back towards Sydney to see the beautiful areas near the city; the Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains.
Australia is a huge place. Even touching only one this one corner we've got about 28 hours of driving planned and three different domestic flights. Have to leave Adelaide, Canberra, Perth, Alice Springs, Cairns, and the whole middle of the country as well as The Reef for another time.
  2006-02-17 02:54 Z
The best thing about taking a break is having the freedom to do things I want at whim. Like go to Australia. So I just got plane tickets to go from March 1 to March 21. Any suggestions for what to do? Please email me.

We're arriving in time for Sydney Mardi Gras, so that's the first main activity. I'm excited to go to Kangaroo Island and maybe Uluru / Ayer's Rock. We love wine country. I love deserts; Ken not so much. I'd like to learn more about Aboriginal culture and language. We're OK driving on the left. We're not big beach people.

So what should we do? Planning a trip is hard work. My mother used to be a luxury travel agent, I regret the death of that business. I'll summarize the suggestions that work out well. Advance payment: the Great Australian Novel.

  2006-01-24 02:02 Z