What do you do when you find flight tickets to the other side of the world at half their usual price? Well, you put aside your fear of flying so far away and take them while they last.
It was midnight when my phone rang. ‘I found super cheap tickets to Australia at less than 500 euros. Should I book them?’ This was Bogdan calling me from England. ‘Which airline?’ ‘Malaysia Airlines’, came the answer. ‘Oh, no. They had two crashes in the last years, so I don’t want to fly with them’, I replied. ‘Just let me sleep.’ And I hung up.
I must confess that, although I love to fly, I also have an unexplained fear of flying, especially so far away and my fear is intensified during the night. Weird, I know.
But in the morning, as I woke up and saw the world with other eyes, I couldn’t stop thinking at what Bogdan told me. I quickly searched the web to see if these flights were still available and they were. Then I thought: probably, we won’t find so cheap tickets to this corner of the world any time soon and beside if we don’t go so far away now that we are young, when will we? And it doesn’t mean that if it had those crashes, Malaysia Airlines is not a reliable airline. So, being more rational, I called Bogdan and told him to book the flights.
It was the end of February and we had 8 months to prepare for the trip of our dreams.
Visa for Australia
First, we had to get a Visa for Australia. While in theory this seemed extremely easy and quickly, it wasn’t like that. As a EU citizen, we had to get an eVisitor Visa, which is free of charge and can be obtained online. After filling up a form where you have to give a lot of personal information, you should receive a response in between 1 and 30 business days. They say that 90% of applications are processed in 1 business day. Well, it looked like we were in the remaining 10%.
After about a week from the day of the application, we received an email from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and were asked to send some supporting documents. In about 3 days, we uploaded all the information required and then we waited… and waited… and waited. Luckily, the trip was half a year away, so we didn’t really panic.
TWO months later, I received an email stating that my Visa was granted. Yuppy! I was jumping with joy. Although Bogdan didn’t get an answer yet, we were pretty sure that, as I received the email in a Friday, at about the end of their working day, he will get his visa next week. But as the coming week passed and then another week and another one got by and the email didn’t come, we started panicking.
But finally, after THREE months from the application date and a few calls to their Visa centers in Europe, Bogdan also received his visa. I have no idea why it took so long, as you don’t get any explanation, but the good thing was that we could finally start booking everything else for the trip.
Australia here we come!
Fast forward 5 months later, the day we dreamt about almost the whole year, had arrived. We barely could sleep the previous night and we were extremely excited about the adventure that lay ahead. After a 2-day journey, with 2 layovers and more than 36 hours of flying, we finally landed in Australia. But before we could begin exploring this far away territory, we had to pass one final hop: the Australian Border Control.
When we arrived in Australia, before leaving the airport, we had to go through passport and biosecurity control.
At passport control, we were randomly selected for a more detailed check, where we had to show all hotel and car reservations, return flight tickets and a statement from our bank accounts. As we have read online that you may be asked to show supporting documents, we had all necessary papers with us, so all these formalities took less than 10 minutes.
At biosecurity control, you must declare certain food, plant material and animal products, which will then be checked, to see if they are allowed into Australia. For example, we had to declare our hiking boots and had to take them out of our checked luggage, because the officer wanted to make sure there is no dirt on them.
This extra biosecurity measures are taken in Australia and New Zeeland because these countries have many species of plants and animals that are endemic (only live there) and they want to protect them from exotic pests and diseases.
First impressions about Australia
If you had asked me before our trip to describe Australia in 3 words, I would have said: sunny, hot and arid. Now, after visiting it, I would say windy, rainy and cloudy. Half of the time we spent in Australia was raining or it was cloudy. It’s true that we were in the middle of the Australian spring when the weather is unpredictable, but we would have never imagined that in Australia the bad weather could last for days.
Being in the southwestern part of the continent, from where, if you go straight south you reach the Antarctic, we have felt how strong and sharp the Arctic winds are, but also how changeable the weather may be. On Great Ocean Road, now was raining cats and dogs, after 15 minutes it was sunny and half an hour later hail fell. And considering that many trees were tilted by the strong winds, it was clear that it wasn’t bad luck to catch such a terrible weather, but that strong winds are common in this area.
But leaving aside the weather, if I were to compare Australia with another country, I would say it resembles the USA. Like in America, everything is big and airy.
The roads are very wide and the travel distances are extremely long. When you first look at a map, you have the impression that in 2-3 hours you can get from Adelaide to the Great Ocean Road, but at a closer look you realize that the distance is more than 650 km and it will take you at least 7 to drive it.
Talking about driving, Australians drive on the left side of the road, as the Brits (Australia is a former British colony). Given that Bogdan travels quite often to the UK, driving on the “wrong” side of the road, was not a big deal, but the big problem was signaling. If the cars in the UK, Malta, or other countries that drive on the left side have the turn signal lever on the left side of the steering wheel (even if the steering wheel is on the right), in Australia it was on the right side of the steering wheel. There’s no point in telling you how many times we’ve both started the wipers instead of signaling, or the other way around. :))
Also, human settlements are quite scattered, and homes are built more horizontally than vertically (except in large cities). Even though much of the continent is semi-arid or even desert and the population is concentrated on the coast of Australia, especially in the Southwest, with over 7 million square kilometers of land, space is not a problem for the 24 of millions inhabitants. As distances between localities are so big, it happens quite often to go tens of kilometers without meeting another car. For example, when we drove from Adelaide to Great Ocean Road, it was a 150-kilometer-long stretch in which we haven’t overtaken, nor have we been overtaken by a car. Besides, if you drive in the west of Australia (for example, between Perth and Adelaide) it is recommended to take a can of gasoline with you because the gas stations are hundreds of miles away from each other.
In Australia, we discovered a fascinating and rather different world, which 300 years ago wasn’t yet discovered. The wild landscapes of the Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island, the friendly kangaroos from the wildlife parks, the sunset show of the world’s smallest penguins and the breathtaking Sydney made me fall in love irremediable with Australia. And in the following articles I will try to show you why you should visit at least once in your lifetime this part of the world.