This interview is part of a series on Travel in Australia through the eyes of travellers. Backpacking Australia is popular for people on a working holiday Australia visa.
Today we talk with Brooke Schoenman…
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your traveling experience?
I’m an American girl from the Midwest that has been exploring the world since September of 2007.
My travel experience involves a semester of study abroad in Italy (2004), a month-long archaeological dig in Spain (2007), a couple months in Central America (2008), 5 months focusing on Russian in Kyrgyzstan (2008), 5 months of teaching English in Ukraine (2008 – 2009), and nearly 2 years in Australia.
Of course, there have been bits and pieces of travel in between to countries like England, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, New Zealand and Kazakhstan.
How long have you been in Oz and what places have you seen so far?
I can’t believe it’s been almost 2 years in Australia. To be honest, my time in Australia has been less about seeing as much as possible, as quickly as I can, and more about establishing residency.
My boyfriend is Australian, so we’ve been building a life together in order to apply for the partner visa.
That said, I have seen my fair share of the east coast, all the way from Cooktown to Melbourne. Some points include Fraser Island, the Great Barrier Reef, the Gold Coast and even Broken Hill. My goal this year is to make it over to WA for a while.
What’s your style of travel in Oz? Independent travel, group tours etc?
Ultimately, my style of travel is always independent, but in Australia, there is a lot to be said for some group tours thrown into the mix. When I was on Fraser Island, I was thankful that we didn’t try to rent a 4WD and drive it through the sandy terrain on our own.
In that case, a tour was much appreciated. Also, getting to the Great Barrier Reef probably wouldn’t have been possible without a tour.
I’m definitely not a tour person, but Australia travel warrants investing in at least one or two.
What type of accommodation do you mostly stay in? Is there a Hostel/Hotel/Campsite you love?
I’m a hostel or campsite type of traveler since it’s generally the cheaper way to go. I loved Bungalow Bay YHA on Magnetic Island because Patrick and I got a private bungalow to stay in with air conditioning (just 2 of 20 reasons to stay).
As for campsites, the Big4 company amazes me with their caravan parks, some of which reach the 5 star level! I’m sure Heather Rudd is going to write about this one, too, but the Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort was by far the most amazing campsite in Australia. I mean, they have their own water park and mini golf course.
Favorite city and why?
How about island? My boyfriend and I absolutely loved Magnetic Island. It was so secluded, peaceful, tropical and relaxing. We felt miles away from reality.
Favorite other region?
I absolutely love the rainforest areas around Port Douglas and up to Cape Tribulation. The winding roads may be difficult to navigate, but the scenery is unbelievable.
I also quite enjoy the drive along the Captain Cook Highway between Cairns and Port Douglas. Words can’t express the beauty of a seaside drive like that as the sun rises.
Most over-rated place you’ve visited?
Mission Beach. It really is beautiful, but for some reason I think I was expecting more. I was only there for a day, and I have no idea what I would have done if I stayed longer.
How do you like the food? Favorite local meal?
There are things I love and hate about Aussie food. Being American, I loathe Australian hamburgers and lack of quality Mexican food. I love the amount of Asian restaurants available in the cities, and you can take me out for a pub dinner (schnitzel) any day of the week.
Meat pies have entered my world of cheap eats, and Australia’s selection of tropical fruits will not disappoint.
It’s no secret Australia is an expensive place to travel. What tips could you give on ways to keep expenses low?
Grow to love the outdoors. If you can camp, you’ll save money on accommodation. Besides that, I’d recommend choosing tap water over any other types of beverages.
Soda, in particular, is grossly overpriced in Australia, and alcohol prices might make you scream.
What inspired you to visit Australia? Have you always wanted to go there?
My fascination with Australia started young and was probably enhanced as a tween when I fell in love with Silverchair. I always thought it sounded like an exotic place to travel, and you never meet an Aussie traveling that doesn’t love their home country.
When I was planning my great big RTW trip, Australia was going to be the last stop so that I could hang out for a while on the working holiday visa.
However, I came to Australia sooner rather than later since I met a lovely Aussie boy in Eastern Europe. Love happens, and you end up in Australia.
At what moment of your visit did it hit you that…”shit, I’m really in Australia?”
This may have been when I saw kangaroos on the beach down on Sydney’s south coast. They were giant and so close; I couldn’t help but pinch myself.
Finish this sentence: The people in Australia are_____
Australia has plenty of deadly inhabitants (snakes/spiders/Sharks/Crocs). Have you had any animal encounters that freaked you out?
Thankfully, I’ve been quite lucky when it comes to the creepy crawlies down under. We have had the occasional giant Huntsman spider in our apartment. Although harmless, they sure are ugly!
A friend of mine, though, doesn’t live very far from me in Sydney and he recently had a funnel web spider in his basement. Now that is creepy!
We are big sports fans down under. Have you had a chance to experience any of the local action live, or possibly watch a game in a pub with other Aussies?
Yes, I’ve watched a live Australian rules football game when I first arrived, but didn’t understand any of it. My favorite sporting event in Oz was watching the World Cup with a bunch of Aussie friends at 4:30 in the morning. Strange feeling to walk out after that into the morning sunshine and start your day!
Australia is a big place. If someone only had 2-3 weeks to visit, what advice would you give them as far as regions to see and ways to get around?
The answer would depend on the person visiting, their budget and what they enjoy. If you only have two weeks, I would definitely say no to any sort of campervan trip and instead go with budget flights to a few areas of the country.
For three weeks, you can do a very quick drive up the east coast to Cairns, but you will have to pick and choose which sort of adventures you want to take part in along the way.
If you can, it would be a great option to choose an area in each of Australia’s regions, such as time in a big city, time in the outback, and time in the tropical north. For those that haven’t been before, and may not come again, getting a taste of it all is my recommended way to go.
What do you feel are the experiences people MUST have whilst down under?
Learning to surf, eating Vegemite and holding a koala.
How do you research you travels in Oz? What resources do you use to figure out places to see, accommodation, flights etc?
Well, I have a lot of Aussie friends that clue me in, but I mainly seek out other travelers. As for resources, I search on WhyGo Australia (shameless plug) first and go elsewhere if that hasn’t yet been covered.