Thursday, November 14, 2013

All About Planning

So, Australia is a long way away. And it's big--about the size of the continental United States. This is useful to keep in mind when I'm planning. It's as though I'm working on a vacation that sees all the best of the US, from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon to New Orleans to Disneyworld to New York to the tip of Acadia to Chicago to Yellowstone. It's an overwhelming amount of information, and sorting it is a daunting task.

The lucky bit is that because I'm renting a campervan (view its charming tutorials--complete with Aussie automotive slang!--here), the majority of my lodging is taken care of. I'm actually not allowed to import a single scrap of food into the country, so no planning there, either. I can't even use my remaining 30 or so dehydrated meals, which are STILL IN MY FREEZER. Basically, my only planning involves making a long list of must-sees, and hanging a loose schedule on them.

So far, they consist of:
  • Shark Bay: North of Perth, in the center of the coast of Western Australia, Shark Bay is a world heritage preserve that contains dugong (manatee) habitat, sharks, the world's only remaining stromatolites (the oldest and most primitive life forms known), and a pod of dolphins that have taken to chilling with human tourists. 
  • The Great Australian Bight: Running along the south coast, it's like the Cliffs of Dover, if the Cliffs of Dover went for seven hundred miles. This coast abuts the Nullarbor Plain, an astonishingly flat, treeless expanse of the outback, so the contrast between it and the wave-swept Southern Ocean is incredible. The Bight also includes the Twelve Apostles, an oft-photographed series of dramatic sea stacks. 
  • Kangaroo Island: Off the coast near Adelaide, it's a rural wildlife oasis that is remarkably unspoiled by introduced species (such as invasive plants or placental mammals, like rabbits and cats).
  • Melbourne: Reports say it's the Portland or San Francisco of Australia; good cafes, hip culture, vital markets, trendy bars. Keep in mind that, like most Australian cities, its population tops out at about the same as Boston's, which I find to be a comfortable human scale.
  • The Sights of Sydney: The opera house, the bridge (which you can climb on top of--at night!--with a guided tour), the royal botanical gardens, the beach, etc.
  • The Great Barrier Reef: As mentioned in a previous post, the reef (and its depressing prognosis) is a big reason for taking this trip now. There are several islands where you can actually camp within the reef itself, with snorkeling opportunities right outside your tent flap.
    The GBR presents a challenge to planning. I thought about getting a dive certification before I went, but honestly, the idea of SCUBA diving doesn't appeal to me all that much, and the idea of spending nearly $1,000 bucks and many hours getting a certification I may never use again appeals to me even less. Of course, I want to see as much as I can, and the whole "oxygen" thing limits me, but in the end, I decided to go the free-swimming route.
    The other planning challenge is that campsites understandably fill up quickly. I should probably make a reservation as soon as I can. On the other hand, I really have no idea how my schedule will go once I'm in-country, and I hate to give myself a firm deadline for a destination that's so far into the itinerary. Since this is a pretty big must-see, though, I bet I'll bite the bullet and book a site ahead of time. Or maybe book several at different times, and cancel the ones I don't use. 
  • The Katherine Gorge: A stop in one of my few true excursions away from the coast and into the outback. It's supposed to be a spectacular canyon, and IT'S MY NAME, DAMNIT. 
  • Kakadu National Park: Right next to the Kate Gorge, it's a distillation of the swampy, wild north coast.
There are other must-sees that aren't plugged into the schedule yet, mostly because there are several opportunities, and I'll decide which to take once I'm there:
  • Take a Surfing Lesson
  • Visit a Vineyard/Tasting
  • Have a Cold, Shitty Beer in a Roadhouse
  • Eat a Kangaroo
  • Eat an Emu 
  • Snuggle a Koala
  • See Some Parrots/Cockatoos
  • Visit a Croc Farm
  • Have Baby, Feed to Dingo (check accelerated gestation)
  • Set Foot in the Indian and Southern Oceans
Right now, I have an outline that hits all of these in one way or another, all within the 8 weeks between my flight in and flight out. It's a packed schedule, and as with my trip out west, I'm open to the idea of throwing it away if the fancy strikes. The result is that despite all I want to see, I feel like things are seriously up in the air, especially considering I'm leaving in a bit more than three months!