Australia and Tasmania: A last social visit, and packing up

Alas, my time was almost up in Australia. Work was very stingy with vacation days, so I was lucky just to get two weeks, but I would have rather stayed for another month at least. I only saw a fraction of Tasmania, and barely got outside the city of Melbourne. It was still a fabulous trip though.

Celia and her friends had been very generous hosts. I felt a bit ashamed that I ate so much of their food and occupied so much of their space without having anything to give in return, so I treated them to a pile of fancy chocolate snacks from a local shop, and left some extra money behind as well. Their hospitality made the logistics much easier, and their conversation set a kind of template for me, making all of Australia seem like a friendly place.

All of these things look amazing, but my favorite is the middle shelf. Those are chocolate bags filled with goodies. Yes, the bag itself is chocolate!

Hardware all packed up to fly out!

In case you’re wondering how a mountain bike fits into an airline-size bicycle box, here’s a photo of my packing job!

Celia was doing some traveling of her own, and was unable to drop me off at the airport, but it was no trouble to call a taxi and shove my big bicycle box into the trunk. The flight home was long but uneventful. I had plenty of time to take stock, and so I did:

How does Australia/Tasmania compare, as a bicycle touring destination?

Well, my experience as a world traveler is not much at this point. But from the perspective of an American, I can confidently say that it’s a great place for a long or medium-length trip, if you don’t mind the marathon plane ride. It’s a whole new continent filled with native English speakers, distant enough to be exotic, but familiar enough to be very easy to navigate. The most “foreign” thing to get used to is the inverse flow of the traffic, and even that just takes a day or two.

There are certainly much cheaper places to travel, and I wouldn’t want to fly here for anything less than two weeks because of the up-front cost of the plane tickets. But that is literally the price you pay for familiar Western civilization. You can get fresh water and flushing toilets every day, find any spare equipment you need easily, choose from restaurants serving familiar food, and pursue a variety of tourist-oriented activities wherever you go. And if you show enthusiasm for what you find, the locals will show it right back and be so helpful that it’s almost a bit disorientating.

Basically, if you want to try someplace outside your home country, but want the least amount of hassle when you get there, Australia is your place. (I’d place Canada second because the terrain is rougher in Canada, the weather is more dangerous, and frankly, there is less variety of terrain, animals, and attractions.)

How does the trip compare to others, in terms of expense?

The flight out was a punch in the finances, for sure. Also, once I arrived I found that cost-of-living expenses were higher than back home, though not by much. Celia helped immensely of course. Staying in her spare room saved me hundreds of dollars, and in retrospect, I should have gifted her more money before I left.

But anyway, the ballpark estimate for cycling Australia is easy: Plan on spending about a fifth more than you would back home, in a place with the same population density. So if you’re in Melbourne, expect to spend about 1.2 times what you would in, say, Los Angeles. In Tasmania, raise that to about 1.4 times.

Do you plan to go back?

I would love to fly my upright bike directly into Tasmania and cycle around the island, for about a month. I think that would be just about long enough to thoroughly explore the place, and I could come full circle and fly back out of the same airport.

I explored Melbourne a fair amount and there is definitely more to see there, but if I returned to Australia it would be with my recumbent bike, to attempt a journey through the interior. That’s a whole lot of flat road and long miles, and the recumbent would be a better choice. Relative to other places in the world though, it’s low on the list.

It was a perfect choice to get good experience dealing with air travel and navigating an unfamiliar land, but honestly, I feel like I’m ready for something more … what’s the right word … “technical” now.

Better alone, or with a partner?

Generally a subjective thing, but I do have some input here.

Melbourne, and the coastline around it, and the lands beyond it that aren’t too deep into the interior, are surprisingly easy biking and have plenty of resources, but relatively few options for camping. You’ll find it easy to keep the same pace with a companion, and have plenty of cause to stow the bikes somewhere and check out some cultural attraction, and when you do you’ll usually want a room which will cost more than you’d like — but that cost can be chopped right in half when you’re traveling with a friend.

If the country were cheaper, and the nature more densely packed, and the roads more complicated, and the camping easier, and the population lower, I’d recommend going solo, for the introspection and the flexibility and the bigger sense of adventure. But unless you’re crossing the interior, Australia has more to offer a group.

What’s next?

Well, all my vacation days are gone and I’ve got a lot of financial and social things to attend to. So I probably won’t go on another complicated trip for a while… But damn, if I’d known how interesting Tasmania was I would have booked another week there anyway.

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