Australia Summary and Advice

Australia Summary and Advice

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Australia is a huge country, about the size of the contiguous USA, and there is a huge diversity in its landscapes. I explored only 3 of it’s 8 states/territories, namely Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Tasmania. I’ll describe each of these in detail, but before that I’ll give advice for Australia generally.

Traveling/Living in Australia

By far, the most expensive part of this trip was the flights. Getting to australia was just under $1000 in September 2022, which is the best that I could find on momondo.com. For Americans, flights will generally connect thru either LAX, SFO, or SEA, and then land in Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane. The flights within Australia are mostly operated by Qantas or Virgin, and I didn’t notice that either was better/worse than the other. Every time I got on a plane, I had both a carryon bag (my backpack) and a small checked bag. For the checked bag, I picked up a cheap duffel bag at thrift stores (called op-shops in Australia), and put in the items that are not allowed on the plane. Specifically, my swiss army knife, hiking poles, tent stakes, and poop trowel. When I got to my destination, I would donate the duffel bag, since I can’t carry it while hiking.

To get into Australia as a US citizen, a passport and (as of December 2022) an approved travel visa are required. The passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months after you enter Australia, and the visa is obtained through the “Australian ETA” smartphone app. After downloading the app, I entered my information, including Covid-19 vaccination information, and received an approval 48 hours later. Citizens of NZ and UK usually have more lenient requirements for entry, and probably some other countries too.

To live in a foreign country, I made sure I could spend money without hassle. Before I left, I did a currency exchange at my local bank (which took 4-5 days) and brought A$250 (Australian Dollars, AUD). In my 3 months in the country, I only spent about $100 of it, since 99% of places accepted credit cards. Mostly my cash was used at laundromats, unstaffed pay campgrounds, and to offer drivers gas money when I was hitchhiking. I opened a credit card that had no foreign transaction fees, as many US credit cards have these fees by default, and they add up quickly. I used Nerdwallet to find a no-fee credit card, in my case it was a CapitalOne Quicksilver card.

Another aspect of living abroad is having a working cell phone. In Australia, the 3 main phone carriers are Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. I chose Telstra, since it had the best rural signal coverage, and I chose a $30/month plan which gave me 40GB of data, and voice and texting. A local explained the 3 carriers to me this way: “Telstra works in the mountains, Optus works in the towns and cities, and Vodafone works….in theory”. Ha! It was also very convenient to have a local phone number, since I could text with hikers I met, and get text alerts for buses, hotels, flights, ferries, and rental cars. I picked up a SIM card for my Android phone at the airport, since that was the most convenient place to buy one. Before I left home, I made sure my phone would work in Australia, which uses the 4G LTE channels: 1, 3, 5, 7, 28, 40. Most modern smartphones should work on at least some of these channels, but you can verify that here.

Bringing a phone and other electronics (battery bank, headlamp, Garmin InReach) requires a way to charge them. Fortunately, the world has standardized on the USB-C connector, and so I was able to bring only 2 cables (USB-A to -C, and USB-C-to-C) for everything. I had my wall brick from a previous trip to New Zealand, which uses the same 240-volt electrical system as Australia. It’s a dual USB plug that is designed for Australia’s electrical system. 

USB-AustraliaWhen I had a rental car, I was able to simply plug the USB cable into the dashboard, since most modern cars have a USB port.

Finally, I downloaded some smartphone apps that would improve my communication with the locals as well as any foreign visitors that I met. Australians of course speak english (or some form of it, haha), but I met several German, Dutch, and French hikers where my Google Translate app was handy. I also had a currency app that would calculate the exchange rate, though eventually I just estimated it as 2/3rds of the AUD price (In December 2022, $1 AUD = $0.66 USD). And finally I had a metric conversion app, since the US is stubbornly/stupidly the only country remaining that still uses the imperial measurement system. After a couple weeks I didn’t need conversions anymore, as I learned that 20C was shorts weather, 10C was fleece jacket weather, it took 13 minutes to walk a kilometer, and 500g (1 lb) was the perfect amount of cheese.

For food in Australia, the grocery stores seemed pretty similar to ones in the US. There are three nationwide chains, Woolworths, Coles, and the smaller IGAs. Resupply for hiking was basically the same, though it was oddly difficult to find tuna packets; most IGAs had them but only some Woolworths did.  In Australian restaurants, there were some slight differences. The tax is included in the price on the menu, and there is no tipping. So while the menu prices might initially appear expensive, they’re actually cheaper because those two items are included in the price. Also, restaurants have a weird stinginess with ketchup, and I always had to specially ask for it, and they would only reluctantly give out 2 or 3 packets. Some places even charged 50 cents per packet! Eventually I just bought a bottle of ketchup at the grocery store ($2) and kept it in the car, when I had a car.

Northern Territory (NT) / Outback Desert

I traveled here first, since I wanted to hike in the desert before it got too hot. In early October, it’s still spring but the temperatures were already 25C/77F. I flew into Alice Springs, and called for a taxi. There is a shuttle to/from the airport, but it only runs three times per day, and I arrived after the last shuttle had departed. The shuttle must be booked in advance and is only $19.  The airport is 15km/15 minutes from Alice Springs, so it’s too far to walk, and there are also some crime issues to deter this approach. I stayed at the YHA, which was a nice hostel, and very close to everything. The entire CBD is only 4 blocks long/wide, so it’s an easily walkable city. To get on the Larapinta Trail, there were 2 options: Hike out of Alice springs, heading west, finish on Mt. Sonder, and hitchhike back to Alice; or hitchhike to Mt Sonder, and hike east to finish in Alice. I chose the latter, to have more control over my own destiny. If I didn’t get a hitchhike heading to Mt Sonder, at least I would be in a town; if I took the first option and didn’t get a hitchhike, I could get very hungry! Ultimately, it took 2 hitches to get to the Redbank Carpark (western terminus of the Larapinta), and the entire process took about 4 hours. The actual driving took about 2 hours / 150km. Once I started the Larapinta hike, it took me 9 days, hiking about 30km per day, with the first and last days being only 15km. I carried all 9 days of food, which was a little brutal the first couple of days; if I were to do it again, I would drop off food at 1 of the 3 official food drop locations (Ellery Creek South, Serpentine Gorge, Ormiston Gorge). For water and camping, there are shelters about every 15km along the trail with water tanks; some even have solar USB chargers. There was one notable 30km gap between Ellery Gorge and Serpentine Chalet Dam, so I carried more water that day. Starting in 2022, there is a $25/day fee to walk the Larapinta trail, up to a maximum of $125. You can make a booking on the NT Parks website, this isn’t well known or publicized, and I only became aware of this halfway thru my hike. In addition to my usual hiking gear, I carried a few items to protect me from the harsh sun and climate of the Outback desert: chrome umbrella, sunshirt with hood, headnet (for flies), sunglasses (for sun and flies). I also brought cash/cards to purchase food at the two tourist spots I would pass thru, Ellery Gorge and Standley Chasm. Those are also the only two spots with showers, though there were plenty of swimming holes to rinse off along the way. After 9 days of hiking, I was back in Alice Springs, and my first shower at the YHA felt so wonderful. While I was in the NT, I also did some tourist trips, which I recommend: a bus tour to Uluru, and a trip to Kings Canyon. Both are full-day trips, and often they can be combined into a 3-day loop. To depart Alice Springs, I used the shuttle to the airport, and then flew to Western Australia (Perth).

Western Australia (WA)

I spent the longest time here, hiking the Bibbulmun Track south from Perth to Albany, away from the approaching heat of summer. It’s a 1000km track which took me 29 days, but I think 40 days is more typical. I also hiked the 130km Cape-to-Cape Track, which took 5 days. The Bibbulmun Track is very well established, and it has published guidebooks and maps, and there is even a Guthook app for it. The Bibb is designed so that hikers walk through the towns, so there is no hitchhiking required, and the towns are spaced about 100km (3-4 days) apart. There are 11 towns on the Bibbulmun, here is the resupply strategy that I used:

  • Kalamunda (Woolworths, 7 days)
  • Dwellingup (IGA, 3 days)
  • Collie (Woolworths, 3 days)
  • Balingup (skipped)
  • Donnelly River Village* (mailed a box, 3 days)
  • Pemberton (IGA, 2 days)
  • Northcliffe (mailed a box, 4 days)
  • Walpole (IGA, 2 days)
  • Peaceful Bay Caravan Park* (mailed a box, 5 days)
  • Denmark (skipped)
  • Albany (IGA) (Finish)
    • *(not really a town, just a caravan park / campground)

The trail is also easy to do in sections, or bail out at almost any point, as TransWA buses serve 9 of the 11 towns. After I finished, I took the bus from Albany to Augusta, which is close to the start of the Cape-to-Cape Track.

For the C2C Track, I hitched the 8km from Augusta to the C2C trailhead, which was the only time I hitched in WA. I decided to hike the trail northbound, to keep the prevailing wind at my back. I didn’t buy a guidebook or map, I just used the Guthook app. Navigation was fairly easy, as the trail seems to have undergone big maintenance project recently, as there are tons of new-looking markers at pretty much every turn and fork in the trail. Plus, as a northbound hiker, keeping the ocean on my left was a good overall principle. It’s a short trail, so there are no food resupplies, though there are a couple of campgrounds that had a cafe, which was a special treat. There are only 4 “official” campsites on the trail, though they’re oddly spaced and I camped at random spots all 4 nights on the trail. Interestingly, I had to pay more attention to water sources, and not skip any opportunities to refill. I usually passed by 2 good water sources per day, and another 2-3 bad sources (salty/brackish) per day. I finished at the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse and paid $10 to take the 30-minute tour, which I thought was worth it. From the lighthouse, it’s 13km to Dunsborough and the TransWA bus stop. I walked the first 3km, and as soon as I turned onto the main road I easily hitched a ride for the last 10km.

I spent a few days in Perth, the most isolated capital city in the world. It’s a big city of 2 million people, and I found plenty to do there. I stayed at a hostel near the CBD and walked to shops and restaurants, and I spent a day visiting nearby Rottnest Island. There are many ferry operators that go to Rottnest, I used SeaLink. To fully explore Rottnest Island, a bike hire is necessary. When I departed Perth, I rode the *brand new* AirportLine subway from the CBD directly to my airport terminal. 

Tasmania (TAS)

In hindsight, I arrived to Tasmania a couple weeks too early, as the weather hadn’t settled yet. It was still late spring, which tends to be rainy and cool (10C/50F). By mid-december, the weather was more reliable, though Tasmania is known for rain year-round. I spent 30 days in Tasmania, hiking 8 trails and attempting 2 more.

Overland Track: The longest hike I did in Tasmania was the Overland Track, which I took a leisurely 5 days to complete, and requires a $200 advance booking. The Overland Track is a very luxurious backcountry experience, with large (34-person) modern semi-heated huts every 10-15km, and extensive boardwalks for easy walking. The Guthook maps that I had downloaded went unused on this easy-to-navigate trail. The OT itself is only 76km long, but the beauty of the area is really seen from the many side-trips that can be taken. I did trips up Cradle Mountain, Mt. Ossa (highest point in TAS), Hartnett Falls, and Pine Valley/Acropolis. Due to weather, I skipped Barn Bluff, Lake Will, and Mt Pelion East. Many (most?) hikers also skip the last 16km of the Overland Track by taking a paid ferry across the lake. I hiked this section, which was in a beautiful gum forest along the lakeshore, so it had a different feel than the rest of the trail. When I finished the trail, I had lunch at cafe inside the Lake St Clair Lodge, and then stayed at the Drumlin Hostel, a 5-minute walk from the end of the trail. The next day, I booked at spot on the 2:30pm bus to Hobart, which arrived around 5pm. 

South Coast Track: After the Overland Track, I saw a good weather window, and decided to try the South Coast Track. This is an 88km rugged track along the often-rainy south coast of Tasmania. It’s so remote, the only way to get to the start of the track is to either 1) get dropped off by a cessna plane, or 2) hike the Port Davey track for 4-5 days. I chose the plane option, which is offered by Par Avion for $325. I tried to contact them on the phone, but had no luck, so I just showed up in their office the next morning. I was packed and ready to go, and to my happy surprise, they had 1 spot available for that afternoon! For this hike, I downloaded the Guthook app for my map, though I never needed it for navigation, as the track was easy to follow. It was more of a “are we there yet” GPS tool. The track is 88km long, but the first 10km and last 10km are mostly on boardwalks and very easy to hike. The middle 68km is where things get rough, steep, muddy, and just plain interesting. In this middle section, there is also one massive 900m climb up and over the Ironbound Range, which is a high-effort and low-distance day for most people. There are no huts or shelters on the track, though some of the campsites have toilets which could serve as emergency shelter. There are several short beach sections, which are spectacular walking, though swimming isn’t safely possible given the strong ocean currents. I completed the trail in 4 days, though I think most hikers would do it in 5-6 days. The track finishes in Cockle Creek, which is also the end of the southernmost road in Australia. There is a company that provides transport from this remote campground back to Hobart, but they also require a minimum of 4 people. I wasn’t going to pay for 4 seats ($450!) so instead I hitchhiked 65km to Geeveston, where I caught a bus for $7 for the final 60km to Hobart.

The remaining 6 tracks that I hiked in Tasmania were:

  • Three Capes Track
  • Frenchmans Cap
  • Tarn Shelf & Mt. Field
  • Walls of Jerusalem
  • Maria Island
  • Freycinet Circuit

All of these were short, 1-night camping trips. None required bookings or additional payment, though the ferry to Maria Island did cost $62. All of the hikes I did in Tasmania were in a National Park, so I needed a Parks Pass. The best deal is the 2-month “Holiday Pass” for $41 per person (or $82 per vehicle). There were also 3 hikes I attempted, but had to turn around due to conditions:

  • Western Arthur Traverse (79km, 5-8 days) – hypothermia rain
  • Lake Rhona (34km, 2 days) – flooded river crossing
  • Mt. Anne circuit (34km, 2 days) – illness

I’ll have to return for these someday!

 

More Resources:

Guidebooks: John Chapman’s Tasmania Books (South West, Cradle Mountain)

Tide Charts: WillyWeather

Weather: Bureau of Meterology

Weather app: BOM

Car Campsite app: CamperMate

Guthook navigation app: Guthook (Larapinta, Bibbulmun, Cape-to-Cape, Overland, South Coast, Three Capes)

General navigation app: Backcountry Navigator Pro (everything else)

 

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