Five Ways Australia Surprised Me

Before our trip to Australia, I thought I generally knew what to expect: koalas roaming the streets, free beer and lots of  shrimps on the barbie. I was surprised though when confronted with the reality, but here are the things that surprised me the most.

1. Really expensive – In my research, I found several travel blogs that complained about how expensive Australia is, but I mostly ignored these comments. I ignored them because it’s a common complaint of almost every Western nation and is also highly subjective. However, I was quickly corrected almost as soon as we landed in Sydney. Everything, and I mean everything, in Australia is outrageously expensive. I found nothing that was a good deal and certainly no bargains are to be had. Being an island is partly to blame, but not entirely. Let’s take Diet Coke as an example. I couldn’t find a 20oz equivalent anywhere for less than A$3.90, an outrageous sum. Even in the grocery store a pack of 15 cans cost A$14, which is just freakishly expensive. Surely there must be Coke bottlers in Australia, they can’t be importing it all, so why is it so expensive? This is just one example of the outrageous cost of traveling around Australia. The travel mantra of doubling your budget is more than appropriate here, a loan of some sort may even be necessary.

2. Chocolate – I first noticed it on the flight to Sydney when the flight attendants passed out after dinner cups of hot chocolate. I thought it a bit odd, but just chalked it up to Qantas eccentricities. But throughout the trip it get popping up, everywhere we turned were lavish displays of cocoa indulgence, from specialty stores to casual offerings of Cadbury products. Finally, I asked Fiona with Hidden Secrets Tours in Melbourne who immediately admitted to the fact that yes, indeed, Australians have an obsession with chocolate. They don’t just import the finished product though, there are several well known chocolatiers in the country who import their own beans and then customize them to local tastes. I definitely have a sweet tooth and thoroughly enjoyed tasting the best of Australian chocolate throughout the trip.

3. Hospitality – The Australian stereotype is well known to most people: boisterous, outgoing, a bit gauche and most guys are named Bruce. Knowing better than to draw cultural information from old episodes of Monty Python, I was curious what real Australians were actually like when observed in their native habitat. Imagine my surprise when they’re pretty much as advertised, except I didn’t meet anyone named Bruce. The one constant was how friendly and helpful everyone was, from the random guy on the street to tour operators, everyone welcomed us warmly to the country.

4. The Outback – Everyone has an preconceived notion of the Outback, usually heavily influenced by Crocodile Dundee (I more than II). Imagine my surprise after spending five days driving around the dusty Red Centre that it lives up to just about every stereotype. It’s flat, desolate, kangaroos are everywhere and people really do wear those hats. It’s more than that though, there’s a certain beauty in all the nothingness and I gained instant respect for the people who call it home. It’s not an easy land to call home, it takes a unique personality and certain level of resilience to make it work. Copious amounts of beer doesn’t hurt either.

5. Isolation – I realized that Australia was far away, a quick glance at the flight itinerary proved that. I don’t think I ever appreciated  what that distance and isolation really means to Australians though. Nothing is close and over the decades this fact has not only shaped Australian culture and national identity, it has defined it. I have a whole new understanding about the importance of gap years for Aussie youth and why it’s not just a nice experience, but a necessary one. Living that far away from the rest of the world, it’s vital to get out there and learn firsthand about other people and cultures.

Have you been to Australia? What surprised you?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

23 thoughts on “Five Ways Australia Surprised Me”

  1. Yeah, everything is pretty overpriced. Someone said it has to do with import tax… but there’s also a lot of greed from companies (local and international). A movie/ipad/game is usually about 25-30% more than you’d pay elsewhere. Glad you enjoyed the holiday otherwise :)

  2. New Zealand is really expensive too! I had to start wearing my glasses again cause I REFUSE to pay that much for contact solution! So I think I might be prepared for Australia. At least the wages are better there

  3. I was pretty surprised by their insane variation of canned tuna fish. New Zealand too. Lime and chili tuna fish? Tomato basil tuna fish? Crazy!

      1. How did you like the Aussie Burger with Beetroot? When we first moved here my husband got a burger with the lot just to see what “the lot” was: fried egg, bacon, beetroot (slice of canned beet), cheese, tomato, and pineapple all on top of the burger. Couldn’t believe it. I now have Aussie friends that travel to the States and ask for beetroot on their burger. Then return home to complain about the US burgers having little favor. Always makes me laugh.

  4. It’s also easy to forget about the devaluation of the US dollar with respect to the Australian and the New Zealand dollar. Since the beginning of 2009, $1 AUD has risen from $0.65 to $1.05 USD at present, and $1 NZD has risen from $0.60 to about $0.85 USD. That’s rough.

    On separate occasions at the Lindt café at Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD, I liked getting the hot melted chocolate and a chocolate milkshake. Expensive but delicious. :)

  5. Yes I think everyone says that Australia is expensive but it’s because our dollar is so high. Though I will always call Australia home! It’s cheaper to get a coffee in Starbucks in London than home where I’ve once paid $5 for a mocha!

    My hometown of Perth is one of the world’s most isolated cities and I definitely needed to go travelling for the experience and adventures. However I will still call Australia home!

  6. I can relate to these on soooooo many levels! Now where was that photo taken of the tables in the outback? I’m pretty sure I went to that same dinner!

  7. I have been to Oz 5 times in three years. My son emigrated there. It’s the best country in the world . What surprised me was the immigration guys. You see it on tv but don’t realise till you land just how scary they are!! Passionate about keeping their country safe

  8. When I visited in 2001, the AUD was 2 to 1 with the USD, so it was very affordable. Looking at prices now, that trip I took then would more than double in price.

    I was surprised at how much green there was in the outback. I was told that while I was there they were in one of the periods of highest rainfall in the outback in years, so I guess that would explain it, but i expected it to be nothing but red and that just wasn’t the case.

    1. Funny, the past rainy season they saw the most rain in a decade, which explains all the green we saw. They said they were seeing plants that have been dormant for ten years.

  9. Australia is more expensive on the whole, unusually so at present because of our historically high currency exchange rate against the US dollar and euro.

    Regarding restaurants (which you didn’t mention specifically), I do point out to visitors from countries with a tipping tradition that a) we don’t tip in Australia; and b) all the taxes are included in the menu price. So sometimes when you factor in the tip + taxes that would be added to the price of a North American sit-down meal, it’s not as expensive as you think. I was in Canada last year and thought eating out was much the same expense as in AU once you factored in the tip + taxes required in Canada.

  10. What one considers expensive is pretty relative and has everything to do with one’s home country. For a American that might be expensive coke, for a Finn (or a Norwegian, Swiss…) that is actually on the cheap side. I found Australia very affordable and very much enjoyed my six months there in 2007.

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