Oof! We’re in Australia…

2 Dec

Sign in the Australian outback, indicating that roads to and from Mount Hopeless are closed.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Like a lot of Londoners, I’ve always taken a sort of lugubrious, self-hating pride in coming from one of the world’s most expensive cities (third in 2008, seventeenth this year).

Prices, in fact, along with national sporting failures, weather — the UK is currently in the annual winter paralysis induced by the kind of snow the average Canadian wouldn’t put on socks for — and the state of the Tube (still crowded!) are things we can dwell on with an enthusiasm so incomprehensible to outsiders that we are globally decried as a nation of whingers.

This does, however, have advantages. Notably, the rest of the world (excluding Japan, Scandinavia, parts of Switzerland and the odd Stan) seems pretty damn cheap once you’re out there.

In fact, it does until you reach Australia. A country still, bizarrely, listed as a budget travel destination. Travel destination? Sure.

Budget travel? Oof!

Because that audible, gut-punch, WTF “oof!” has been a soundtrack to our Australian experience. Most naturally experienced when bouncing off the seatbelt in a Toyota HiLux, assailed by swarms of giant locusts on a chewed-up 4WD track somewhere betwixt Mount Buggery, Mount Hopeless, Mount Disappointment, the Great Plains of Fuckall and the Archipelago of the Recherche (only one of these names, gentle reader, is made up: leave me a comment with your favourite Australian place name and you can win the change from $5 after buying a can of Coca-Cola at a gas station), it also comes out at times like these:

  • Buying a bottle of mineral water at Darwin airport. $6 for 750ml. And, yes, the Australian dollar is worth more than the greenback.
  • Buying a packet of cigarettes at Darwin airport to recover from the shock. 25 Marlboro Lights for $19.95. (Nicotine chewing gum, I should emphasise, is relatively cheap here.)
  • Enquiring about the cost of standing in a glass tank surrounded by crocodiles, rather in the manner of the swimming pool shark slide at the Golden Nugget, Las Vegas, in Darwin. ($150 each, 2 people minimum, event duration 15 minutes.)
  • Buying coffee and a snack at a mall in suburban Brisbane.
  • Purchasing two and a half tickets for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in Adelaide. $58. And, yes, you did read that right. So in addition to the fifty buck note you already palmed, you will need to rummage in your wallet for a further ten…
  • The first time I heard someone use the term “Abo”, the first time I heard someone use the term “blackfella” and the first time I saw a bus fail to stop for indigenous people (Darwin, take a bow!).
  • When the security chap told me I needed to stay within arm’s reach of my almost-ten-year-old son (sitting reading a book in an airport cafe) or “he could be in danger” (yep, Darwin really rocked my world).
  • And, more positively, the first time we saw a wallaby (or, conceivably, a kangaroo, wallaroo, euro, whatevs). Which was, technically, sort of a “boing” followed by an “oof”.

Sign with picture of bouncing marsupial and label, Caution Wallaby Crossing Australia

Now, the Australian dollar is very strong right now. And our pound is kind of wussy. So I knew, especially after almost three months in Indonesia, where you can buy a meal for under a dollar, a fizzy drink for 30 cents, two litres of water for 20 cents, rent a motorbike for $5 and dive two amazing sites from a boat in good equipment for $40, that this country was going to be a shock to the system but…

Three avocados for $4? They grow that stuff here, no? And two hundred bucks for a single dive, guide and equipment hire EXTRA?! Going down in the same spot that all the other operators go to?! From some kind of platform? You can get two days’ unlimited liveaboard diving with chef for that in Indo…

Lord knows. It beats me. It honestly does.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most common queries I get via the contact form on this site is, “How do you do Australia on a budget?”

And, I think, the brutal answer is, if you want to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), dive the Great Barrier Reef and explore Kakadu, you, err, can’t.

Sorry ’bout that. Go home and come back when you’ve got some moolah.

Seriously. Even coach tours (the ne plus ultra of travel hell) run to hundreds of dollars a day.

The cheapest way to get around Australia (barring an endless supply of friends and relatives to lend you utes, camping gear, spare bedrooms and the like, while plying you with food and wine and lending a sympathetic ear to your whining about the prices of the things they buy you) is the budget campervan approach.

You’ll need mechanical skills to buy one from a travellers’ noticeboard, keep it maintained, fix it when it breaks and sell it when you leave for what you paid for it (ideally more).

But you can still be looking at $30 a night for a powered campsite. And you’ll need to buy provisions that will last for hundreds upon hundreds of miles, plus systems for storing them. (Because city prices are kind of heinous, but in the Outback, good lord, they hurt…)

Big open road in the Outback.

Couchsurfing provides a great entree to the cities but there really aren’t that many people in the Red Centre, and those few who remain are understandably more interested in selling accommodation than giving it away.

If you’re young, child-free and can get a working holiday visa, hostel and bar jobs are easy enough to get, particularly in the interior. You can cut costs by shopping at farmers markets (unlike in Europe, these are cheaper than supermarkets), drinking cleanskin (no label) wine if you drink at all, using Virgin Blue‘s 12-1 happy hour, JetStar or Tiger for those long, internal flights, and, err, not doing the expensive things.

Like, erm, seeing the things most folk go to Australia to see, but many Australians never see either.

So why are we here? Well, we’re here, essentially, to see family and friends, particularly for Christmas and for Z’s birthday. We’ve just come back from a great treat trip to the Flinders Ranges, which I’ll post about soon: Z’s at Adelaide Zoo with his grandparents right now; we’ve been ice skating in the tropics; and I’m developing an appreciation of the turbo-retro suburbia Australia does so well.

So, well, we’re seeing a bit of Oz. But the big three? Not on our budget. No sirree.

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28 Responses to “Oof! We’re in Australia…”

  1. Tracy Burns December 3, 2010 at 12:46 am #

    And now you understand why we’re travelling in search of a cheaper country to live in!!! Living there is almost as expensive as travelling there – I think you are right that the only way to do it is to get a campervan and drive around, self catering and staying in free camping sites (there are lots of those at least). Of course the catch is campervans are ridiculously expensive! Living in Australia is just as bad, particularly in the cities. The touristy things are terribly expensive, even if you do it by yourself rather than as part of a tour.

    The funny thing is Tourism Australia is a little mystified why tourism in Australia has dropped drastically over the past few years. Obviously they haven’t asked the tourists!

    Hope you find plenty of budget things to do in Australia. At least the beaches are free! As for the cost of doing dives – I can probably hook you up with cheaper dives in Byron Bay (NSW) or Exmouth (WA). Family live in both those places, know the dive shop owners and have gear you could borrow.

    • MummyT December 3, 2010 at 1:32 am #

      I totally understand! Honestly, I thought London was expensive… That’s a great offer on Byron Bay, which I may take you up on, though, in a way, I’m treating Australia more as a breathing space and opprtunity to catch up on work and see family than a travel experience. Are we still meeting up in Queensland area? We’re essentially down that way until the British High Commission have finished with our passports, then back to Ubud!

      • Tracy Burns December 3, 2010 at 4:50 am #

        Australia has skyrocketed in the last ten years. As house prices keep soaring everything else follows! Still shocks me how expensive tours/backpackers etc are.

        A Brisbane meetup is most definitely still on. We’re staying out in the outer south-western burbs but will have our car so can meet you where ever you are. Shout if you end up near Byron Bay. My family lives 30min from there in a little town called Ballina. Can point you in the direction of my mum’s coffee shop serving the best coffee in town too.

  2. wandering educators December 3, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    those are some CRAZY prices. i guess you won’t be staying too long?!

    • MummyT December 4, 2010 at 1:29 am #

      Wayull… We’re certainly here till the New Year. Z’s father is in Brisbane, as is his Australian grandfather; he has cousins in Melbourne; I have an aunt and a cousin in Adelaide; Z’s best friend and his mother, a dear friend of mine, are coming out for Christmas too; my parents are in Australia till the end of January; tho, sadly, Z’s Australian granny is in the UK, or it would be pretty much a full house… So, I think, we’ll be here till mid-Jan. Carrying water bottles and making sandwiches, which is the kind of habit we got out of in Asia, to put it very mildly.

  3. njdurbin December 3, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    My family usually skips those big ticket sights and activities when travelling too because our budget dictates it’s either go and not do the big stuff or stay home. Last trip was to Kauai and it was great without it. We found pleasure in the beach, hiking, and cooking with local foods from the produce markets. Fewer tourists when you don’t do the expensive stuff too. Have a lovely holiday with family. I’m sure a break is appreciated by you. 🙂

    • MummyT December 4, 2010 at 1:33 am #

      I would agree with you about finding pleasure in the details, and the small things: I guess I didn’t realise quite what a big ticket Uluru, say, was… I think the big challenge for me is going to be not having a car for much of the time, because, although there is public transport, it’s a *very* car-dominated society — in England, you can hike quite easily using public transport to your jumpoff point. That’s not so much the case here… The killer bit is going to be when Z’s best friend comes out for Christmas, on a holiday budget, and it will be waterparks a-go-go.

  4. forrestblogging December 3, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    Sorry you had to suffer Darwin (and I say that as someone who lived there for two years …) It is great to finally see a post pointing out how expensive Australia really is. We are steeling ourselves for a trip back to see the family next year – unless the GBP does something miraculous in the next six months, I think it is going to be a shock to the system. And yes, while many bloggers just don’t mention it (often because they are being comped) Australia can be the land of the rip-off, and the not-so-pleasant attitude at times …

    So I guess you didn’t make it to PNG after all? Where to after Australia?

    • MummyT December 4, 2010 at 1:54 am #

      I am spending Christmas Day with, amongst others, a relative of my son’s who lives in and loves Darwin, and believes it’s one of the most multicultural cities in Australia (which may, conceivably, be true, but multicultural doesn’t mean egalitarian). So I’ll be pacing myself on the cleanskins, bigtime…

      Interesting point about comping bloggers. I’m not sure how many PR organisations do comp bloggers as opposed to journos. I’ve read some stuff by people who clearly haven’t been, and have just written from Google (without even *talking* to an Australian), and I know some people (Gary Arndt, eg) have private incomes. But I think it’s considered rude to whine about prices?!

      I find it quite a schizophrenic place. Almost everyone is very friendly, and really nice people. Yet there’s a huge officiousness, a real Deutschland Hier Ordnung thing, an obsession with rules and regulations that sits really oddly with the national self-image… Things like no one jaywalking, the rigid, rigid driving style, rules on which *outdoor* places you can smoke in, dress codes, books on Bogans (chavs)… And the whole race thing, which is in some ways reminiscent of South Africa, with Asians in lieu of coloureds, and Aboriginals as blacks…

      Anywise… We *are* going to make it to the island, if not PNG itself. We are heading back to Indonesia in Jan, getting a place in Ubud for a month to get a proper grip on the language (we’re not, actually, bad at Bahasa, but our social conversation is pretty damn limited) and allow Z to experience more of the artistic life and culture there (he’s done some silversmithing, but it’s such a great place to do arts, crafts, music…), and then heading east to Papua.

      As a country, it’s really gripped both of us. He feels we’ve only scratched the surface.

      PNG? We will take a view on that. Z is keen to go. I’m aware of both the risks and the costs, and I don’t think he’ll want to do the big multi-week treks that are pretty key to the experience as far as I’m concerned.

  5. Andrea December 6, 2010 at 12:06 am #

    The high cost of living is one of the reasons we’re leaving Australia. It’s a shame. But you’ve done well here to alert travellers to the budget realities of travelling in Oz.

    • MummyT December 6, 2010 at 12:16 am #

      Thanks! It barely sinks in until you’re there, but it is truly, truly shocking. On the plus side for you, I guess, the rest of the world is going to feel cheap as chips… What I can’t work out is why so few Australian cities figure on the most expensive cities lo live lists…

  6. Marie December 6, 2010 at 12:35 am #

    New Zealand suffers from the same problem. Auckland consistently makes the lists of the most expensive cities to live in in terms of local earnings. I think it’s worse for those who live here and earn our measley currency, but visitors always complain about the price of food, etc. I hope you find a way to even out your costs and enjoy your visit to Oz.

    • MummyT December 6, 2010 at 1:07 am #

      I think we will. Largely thanks to family and friends: we’re here more for family than tourism, though after a taste of the Outback I’m gutted not to be seeing the Red Centre. I would also have liked to dive the Great Barrier Reef. Not so much because it’s great diving — to do the good dives, apparently, you need a liveaboard cruise — but as it’s one of the Wonders of the World.

      So I think it’s going to be a bit more living like a local. I’ve spent a lovely day today in the members bit of the Adelaide Oval, courtesy of my saintly aunt…

  7. Snap December 6, 2010 at 5:24 am #

    …and hence…why we don’t holiday in our own country 😉 I’m glad that I saw a lot of it when I was younger and paid off the house years ago. Increasing numbers of Aussies are looking at retiring elsewhere, but the government is going to, or already has put a whammy on collecting an old age pension if you leave the country for too long…won’t even go into how I feel about that one.

    Renting our house out and moving overseas maybe a way to improve our standard of living in retirement and actually have money to enjoy ourselves 😦

    • MummyT December 6, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

      I’m glad you saw a lot of it too. From a landscape perspective, it’s amazing. And a fantastic place for a roadtrip. Would probably take Australia over the US for a long roadtrip any day. Were it not, of course, for the prices…

      My parents were here six years ago, when the exchange rate was kinder to Brits and prices were lower, but I think it would have been amazing to see Uluru etc. when it was, well, affordable…

      Z’s Australian granny’s living quite well in England on her Australian pension, I think, but there were some horror stories in the Bali expat press about folk who cannot claim their pension (despite Bali being less far from much of Australia than many parts of Australia are from each other). I imagine an Australian pension enables one to live the life of Riley in Chiang Mai…

  8. AnnaBlossom December 7, 2010 at 4:20 am #

    Hi there, i just discovered your blog (about 10 mins ago) and i love it. i was chuffed to find the first post say that you were in Adelaide! That’s where i live. Probably one of the cheapest capital city… much moreso than melb or sydney! amazed the movie cost that much though! i’ve never paid that much.

    As far as cheap things in SA go (i run a kids holiday program on a non-existant budget, so am well versed in the ‘we can’t afford anything!’ rant), if you’re looking for things to do try port adelaide, the maritime museum can be fun and is pretty cheap. Monarto zoo (huge open zoo, with lions, rhinos, etc) is actually not bad cost-wise these days, provided you walk your way around it and not use their paid tours. It’s not much of an attraction, but the St. Kilda adventure park is a blast, and it’s free entry. Only about 5mins from there to the mangroves if you’re keen to explore the wild boardwalks there. Other good spots… maybe victor harbor, if you can find a car, which is always fun. not sure if it’s whale season, but the horse drawn tram over to granite island (you can walk it if you dont want to pay for the tram) usually leads to some fairy penguin sightings. we don’t really have any huge landmarks, must-sees… museums are often free, lots of parks, st peter’s cathedral, glenelg is good to explore, just walk along the boardwalk. you can catch the tram to the beach for not much, and it’s free along the main drag. windy point lookout offers the best view of the city!

    as for the rest of oz, companies like jetstar or tiger are by far the cheapest, you can often get 50 buck flights interstate. can you get them to uluru? or alice springs? im sure i’ve heard of cheap(ish) uluru adventures, i’ll let you know if i remember them!!

    hope you enjoy your time here! i’ll come back to check out your adventures. I’m planning a rtw trip in a year or so (when i graduate), so am enjoying all the tips!

    • MummyT December 7, 2010 at 4:56 am #

      Well, the movie was 3D. And for two adults, one child, it was $58. The cinema was the one on McConnell Street, which is the nearest one to where we’re staying…

      These are great suggestions. I love the parks and the cathedral, and, of course, we went to the cricket (we’re staying with my auntie, who’s a member!). I’m finding Tiger the cheapest on the routes we’re flying, and they do have some reasonable flights to Alice Springs in mid-January, though I think it’s still a bloody fortune to get to Uluru from there.

      Glad you’re enjoying the tips! I’m planning to reorganise the site so it’s easier to find useful things by reason, so if you check back in a week or so, there should be more useful RTW stuff for you to see…

  9. Sarah December 7, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Went to Australia last year with my 3 boys, Singapore airlines just started flying (I think) was able to get a ticket from Melbourne to Alice Springs for $38. Will probably be higher now but worth a try. Don’t forget to see King’s Canyon it was a beautiful hike. Staying around Ulura or King’s Canyon was $50.00 just to park the camper van.

    • MummyT December 7, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

      Yeah. It’s the $50 camper van plus the camper van hire plus buying all your food etc in Alice that really racks it up if you fly to Uluru. Do you mean Tiger Airways? They’re owned by Singapore Airlines, I think…

  10. fourgotospain December 8, 2010 at 3:31 am #

    We found Australia cripplingly expensive as well! Have you tried Travellers Autobarn for car rental? We got a great deal with them and they do camping gear rental for $50 per rental as well. Campground cabins are decently priced if you have transport 😛 We were on the west coast though (although the diving was much cheaper and twice as pretty there). Hopefully the family time will make it value for money!

    • MummyT December 8, 2010 at 4:06 am #

      I haven’t tried them. Sort of hoping to escape without one (and definitely not going to do much but family time here). Fascinated that you guys moved to Spain. This is something we’re planning. I’ll be interested to see how it works out for you…

      • Sarah December 8, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

        We rented a campervan (there was 4 of us) in Alice Springs then flew to Cairns (it was cheaper to fly then take the bus) and rented again and drove to Sydney. We were able to avoid some parking fees by staying in the pull offs for motorist except in the bigger cities. When we went the Australian dollar was weaker $1 US got you $1.15. Now it’s 1 to 1. Sorry

      • MummyT December 8, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

        And prices have risen too! But thanks for the staying in motorist pull-off tips, that will be really useful for people doing the trip…

  11. scotttraveler December 12, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    And I’m lost… I must have missed where you were heading to Australia; I thought it was China! Well, I’m glad you’re beating a path for me, I should be there in March or April. Am considering doing the camper or van trip with some friends or else huff it using Couchsurfing.

    And all this time I thought the Australians were travelling overseas for the pure sake of adventure. Sounds like they’re in search of affordable travels!

    • MummyT December 17, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

      We are doing the China thing, next year… Right now, I’m in Sydney and Z’s with his dad outside Cairns, then we all reunite in Brisbane for Xmas and New Year around Queensland. If you want to be Australian, get a ute (4WD pickup truck) and pile stuff into it: you’ll have more manoeuvrability on the roads. I would say do Australia as a road trip if you have time. Flights are cheap: check Tiger, Jetstar and Virgin Blue for cheap internal flights. But, given it’s more about the countryside than the cities, I think you’d be missing a trick not to do at least one big adventure.

      Amazing how many Brits I’ve met drawn here by the higher wages and such. I think with the currency as it is now, and wages as high as they are (Z’s dad stepped down a level from where he was in the UK and is earning very significantly more), Australians can travel even more than they did when I was younger, and Earls Court in London was full of Australians sleeping 17 to a room.

  12. Gaz January 1, 2011 at 2:51 am #

    To be fair: Australian wages are higher than UK ones, more than enough to cover the difference.
    While attempting to find data to back up this statement I found this website: <>
    Although it is a year or so out of date, the recent growth (is that the right term, you know what I mean) in the AUD mean that Australians earn compartively more than Poms then suggested by the website (more than 24% more).
    I’m sure this 24%+ on an average wage of around $70k (thanks google) is enough to cover $2 more per soft drink etc.

    • MummyT January 1, 2011 at 3:05 am #

      Missing the link, but I’ll believe you, and anecdotal evidence from Z’s dad would suggest the same — he’s on more in Oz than he was in the UK for a job one step down. Anecdotal evidence from British friends whose Australian friends come to visit and bounce around exclaiming how cheap everything is.

      Now, if you’re my cousin (and if you’re not, you’ve got the same name and a similar approach to arguments), you’re going to love the Love-Hate Relationship with Australia piece… Think the sources for hard data are: Office of National Statistics in the UK (www.statistics.gov.uk) and Bureau of Statistics over here (www.abs.gov.au). Were I a journo, I’d mine them. As a blogger, I can just, kinda, be the whinging Pom…


  1. The rather cynical and not really optimistic guide to travelling Australia | No Beaten Path - December 9, 2010

    […] reading the fabulous Travels with a Nine Year Old blog’s take on prices in Australia, I thought I would chip in with a post of my own. As an Australian now living in the UK, I am often […]

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