Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spent in Australia

(Or: Why Australia's tourism is doomed.)

I'm about to publish photos and text from my recent ten-week trip to Australia. Whenever I do something like that, it quickly triggers a steady flow of e-mails with questions about the trip. Many of the questions will be about how much the trip cost me.

Usually I have to say I don't really know. I never prepare a budget for my trips, I just pay my way from one place and/or activity to another as I go. This time, however, I sort of felt that I spent more than usual, so today I went through my bank transactions from my time in Australia.

Oh boy, did I spend! I'm not complaining, obviously, as the trip brought lots of those moments of happiness that make me travel. But in hindsight, I certainly could have done a lot of exciting things in other parts of the world for the amount of cash I left behind in Australia!


So, to assist those of you considering a trip to Australia, here are some boring, but hopefully useful pieces of information about how much a trip like mine will cost you.

Mind you, I'm pretty much self-activated when I travel. Wherever I am, I will find something to do. Usually that is to just walk around and observe. I didn't do any skydiving, bungee-jumping, cruises, guided tours or participate in any of the infinite and often over-priced activities on offer everywhere in Australia.

You want an example of what I'm talking about? Well, go to Sydney and see the Harbour Bridge, and you're likely to think "Hey! I would really like to enjoy the view from the top of that bridge!" And guess what? You can! Only thing is that you have to book ahead and be ready to spend three and a half hours on it, including a "safety demonstration" and donning of special clothes. And the cost? 189 Australian dollars! (About 120 US dollars). To walk some stairs! Unless you want to do it around sunset, of course. Then it's 249 AUD (160 USD). Or why not do the climb at dawn? Because it costs AUD295 (190 USD), that's why! Oh, and I forgot to mention that you're not even allowed to bring a camera. You ARE, however, allowed to pay a stiff price for a copy of photos that your "Climb Leader" will take during your walk.

The most amazing thing about the bridge climb is not the price they charge for it, or the view from the top of the bridge, but the fact that two million people have done the walk since they started in 1998! Not bad for a bridge that cost just ten million Australian dollars to build (in 1932).

Even if you stay away from the cities, opting for hiking in some of the great scenery Australia offers, you can easily spend a fortune. A guided hike through Tasmania's wilderness for 5-7 days will typically set you back AUD 2000-2500 (USD 1300-1600). Granted, you may be staying at cabins with wine cellars and jacuzzis and you will not have to carry much, but this is still an insane rate for spending a few days surrounded in scenery that was originally provided by Mother Earth at no cost.

Being from Norway, I appreciate the fact that to maintain an elevated standard of living in a country, relatively high prices on everything is a necessity. However, while travelers on low budgets are smart enough to avoid Norway, it seems that just about everyone and her brother on their trips around the world spend half their budget on doing surprisingly little for a few weeks in Downunder. (Yes, New Zealand, I'm talking about you too!) They could have done SO much better, value-for-money-wise, by heading elsewhere.

Anyway, here are my key numbers, in Australian dollars to minimize the effect of changes in exchange rates:

My total expenses, including everything: About AUD 10000.
Average cost per day (70 days), including airfare from Norway: AUD 140.
Average cost per day excluding airfare from Norway: AUD 101.

Airfare
Shoulder/high season tickets, Oslo, Norway - Perth and Sydney - Oslo: AUD 2800. Just getting there contributes about a quarter of all costs. It therefore makes sense to stay for a while.

Accommodation
Including a number of nights in a tent in the wilderness: AUD 1100. In smaller towns I paid AUD20-25 per night, in cities AUD30-35. There are cheaper hostels in the cities, but I prefer places with good safety and relative silence after 11pm, and they cost a little bit extra (often YHA hostels).

Food
I'm not sure how much of my expenses went towards food and drinks, but a fast food meal was about AUD 10 (pizza, burger, kebab, chicken). A modest restaurant meal was about twice that. Cooking properly with groceries at the hostel will be cheaper than AUD 10 only if you share your meal with others. In Western Australian small towns you will find that groceries are MUCH more expensive than in large towns and the east coast. Shop ahead in chain stores if you can (there's usually a Coles, Woolworths or IGA around). To me, chocolate is an essential necessity. It's fairly expensive in Australia, but the chains regularly have good offers on some brand of chocolate, bringing a large bar (200-250 grams) down to AUD 3-4.

Transportation
Getting around is a major expense in rural Australia. The distances are vast and the competition is low. You can often fly relatively cheaply, but then you miss out on the scenery between your stops.

Greyhound is a good bus company, but their schedule is not good for traveling to smaller places. I went with a slightly more expensive option, Easyrider Tours, you can jump off and on the bus again when you like, and they make stops at interesting places on a schedule that means only traveling and arriving to places during daytime. (And we only broke down in the middle of nowhere once!) The ticket for seven days of travel from Perth and north towards Broome was AUD 750, and the ticket for a three day loop south of Perth via Albany was AUD 320.

My flights: Broome - Perth at AUD 165. Perth - Melbourne at AUD 120. Hobart - Melbourne at AUD 150.

I took the ferry from Melbourne to Tasmania, and I got a last minute special offer day ticket at AUD 45. The normal one-way rate was AUD 128, high-season AUD 179.

I used the train from Sydney to the Blue Mountains, a good deal at about AUD20. I also used the train from there to Port Macquarie and back, costing about AUD 70 each way. I also took a night bus from Melbourne to Sydney at AUD 75, with Firefly. Greyhound offer roughly the same service at the same price.

While traveling, I got the idea I wanted to do the Overland Track hike in Tasmania. I had to get a trekking permit at AUD 150 allowing me to spend as long on the walk as I wanted, as long as I started hiking on a specific day. To be allowed onto the track I had to be "properly equipped". Even though it was in the middle of summer, that meant I needed a decent tent and some warm wind- and rainproof clothing. I bought cheap, but good stuff at a chain store, All Goods, at AUD 275.

There you have it. Now, think twice before you head for Australia. It's a beautiful place, but so is most of the rest of the world, many parts of which can be had at significantly lower rates...

Happy trails!
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