Friday, February 1, 2013

On Being a Tourist in Australia

Recently, I had a friend visit Melbourne from overseas, and the question was posed "What should I do in or around Melbourne?"

My initial response was along the lines of, "Well, there's always some festival around town. Or you could go and see a film at the Rooftop or Moonlight cinemas, or go have coffee in St Kilda or Fitzroy. Or go op-shopping, or go to the cricket or the tennis, or go find some obscure alleyway bar in the city."

Then I realised - these are the kinds of things that I associate with being in Melbourne - because it's my home town. They're not necessarily things that a tourist visiting Melbourne would necessarily want to do - probably because these are the kinds of things that tourists would do in *their* home town.

Instead, folks go on bus tours to the Great Ocean Road, or head up to Ballarat and wander about Sovereign Hill, or down to Phillip Island to see the Penguins. Or, closer to home, they'll go to the Melbourne Aquarium or the Melbourne Observation Deck - two things that I can't say I've really gotten around to doing, despite the fact that I live here.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, S & I bought tickets to go see Sharon Jones perform at the Summer of Soul festival in Mossvale Park, near Leongatha. As it was on a Sunday, we decided to make a weekend of it, and head off to Wilson's Promontory on Saturday. Here's what ensued:

All in all, a very pleasant weekend. At Wilson's Prom, we crossed paths with a wide range of local beach-goers and bushwalkers, as well as plenty of overseas visitors. The scenery was beautiful, and it only cost us the expense of driving a car there and back.

However, last weekend, we were in Adelaide, and decided to head down to Kangaroo Island (or as the locals call it, "K.I.") for the first time. We were astonished at the cost of catching a 45 minute ferry across to the island (about $90 return), but figured that it'd be worthwhile once we got there. However, once we got there, we discovered that it was pretty much impossible to get around the island unless we'd booked a guided tour with the bus touring company. We also had the option of getting an expensive hire car, which only included 100km before we'd have to pay extra. The island is over 150km long.

Fortunately, we were able to get some mildly expensive standby tickets for the tour, and saw everything there was to see on the island. It was nice, especially seeing some of the wildlife, and I'm glad that we went, but at the same time it was definitely a tourist trap - quite literally - as we were stranded in a situation where we had to spend lots of money to make it worth the expense we'd already paid to get there!

But it also opened my eyes a little more on what many others might experience when they come visiting Australia. My backpacker travel instincts have generally been along the lines of "show up, check in, and then have a look around and see what's worth doing". It's always worked out for me in the past, travelling around Asia.