This interview is part of a series on Travel in Australia through the eyes of travellers. Backpacking around Australia is very popular for people on a working holiday Australia visa.
Today we talk with Michael Hodson from Go, See, Write…
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your traveling experience?
I was a lawyer in the States for about a decade, quit in December of 2008, and traveled around the world without ever getting on an airplane.
I have always enjoyed overland travel, but I have become more and more of the thought that it is the best way of seeing the world, if you have time to do any long-term travel. Fortunately, I have a bit more time, so I am continuing to explore the world, foot by foot.
When did you visit Australia? How long were you there and what places did you see?
Australia was near the end of my trip. I spent about 5 weeks there in December of 2009 and January of 2010, so I got to spend my birthday, Christmas and New Years there.
My boat dropped me off in Brisbane. I hired a car and drove to Alice Springs, down to Adelaide, over to Melbourne, up to Sydney, where I dropped the car off. Then went up to Port Douglas and back, hitting some of the east coast highlights with a friend.
What was your style of travel? Independent travel, group tours etc?
Almost entirely independent travel. I did a three day camping trip to Uluru on a group tour. I did a one day group tour on Fraser Island. Off the top of my head, those were the only organized activities I did.
What type of accommodation did you mostly stay in? Was there a Hostel/Hotel/Campsite you loved?
Aside from some camping around Uluru, I almost entirely stayed in hostels. I can’t recall any particular ones that stood out, but the hostel options are quite varied there, though I must say the exchange rate at the time of my trip made some of the prices particularly painful.
Favorite city and why?
Port Douglas. I am a diver, so I wish I could have stayed there a lot longer and dove the Great Barrier Reef some more.
I was surprised how nice Port Douglas was and I could imagine hanging out there for a few weeks and exploring the interesting places in the area, both at sea and on land.
Favorite other region?
I quite enjoyed the interior. The rugged nature of the land and the people were very unique. I thought Alice Springs was another surprisingly interesting place that I never expected.
Most over-rated place you visited?
I need to be very careful here, because my answer is going to be Sydney. But, big BUT, that really had little to do with that great city being less than great, but that I caught horrible weather there on both of my stints there.
Although the summer weather was great for almost the whole time I was there, it rained constantly on the 7-8 days I spent in Sydney, so I didn’t get much of a chance at all to see everything that world class city has to offer.
How did you like the food? Favorite local meal?
Kangaroo wasn’t my favorite food of all time, but I simply had to have a ‘roo’ steak after I ran over one with my rental car.
It’s no secret Australia is an expensive place to travel. What tips could you give on ways to keep expenses low?
One of the few downsides to this great country. I don’t know if I have too many suggestions here that are different from anywhere else: stay in hostels, specifically dorms if you can handle it; try to cook as much food on your own as you can; search out drink specials for beer and alcohol.
One thing I can say is although I truly love driving and was glad to have a chance to drive thousands of kilometers in the Outback, renting a car is not a good use of money.
The rental fees are somewhat pricey, but more importantly, the gas is really expensive coming from an American’s point of view.
What inspired you to visit Australia? Have you always wanted to go there?
I have always wanted to go. The size of the country and the spirit of the people have always intrigued me. For me, there was never a question whether I would visit, but merely when.
And I must say, as a lover for everything that Bill Bryson has written, his book on Australia, In a Sunburned Country, is one of his best.
At what moment of your visit did it hit you that…”shit, I’m really in Australia?”
Seeing Uluru. It is the iconic natural wonder in Australia and seeing it in person made everything come through to me. I was in the vast interior of a great country — one that I look forward to seeing again and again.
I’m still laughing about….
Running into that kangaroo. Less funny, but still laughable was that I got two speeding tickets while I was there.
The first was on my birthday and the second was on Christmas. You would think that almost any policeman with a sense of humor might have let me out of either or both, but no suck luck.
As a postscript, they were absurdly expensive and I didn’t pay either of them, so I am sure there is some warrant out for my arrest when I return.
The people in Australia are….
friendly, beautiful, outspoken and unfailingly kind to strangers.
Australia has plenty of deadly inhabitants (snakes/spiders/Sharks/Crocs/Box jelly fish). Did you have any animal encounters that freaked you out?
Luckily, no. I did get to see my first shark on the Barrier Reef, but it was something I had been looking forward to greatly, not fearing. They are amazing creatures to see in their own habitat.
We are big sports fans down under. Did you get a chance to experience any of the local action live, or possibly watch a game in a pub with other Aussies?
I was there during the Boxing Day Cricket Test matches between Australia and Pakistan, so I got to experience some of that with some nice Aussies that helped explain some of the ins and outs of cricket.
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?
2-3 weeks is a good big of time to do the east coast. You could fly in to Cairns, hit the area up around there, then work your way down to Sydney.
I was a little crazy to try to do as much as I did, but an itinerary that hit that coast a bit more slowly would be one that no one would regret.
If you went back to Oz again, what other experiences would you like to have?
The next trip back I need to do a few things that I didn’t get to on this trip, namely West Australia all the way up to Darwin. And working a trip on the Ghan would be great also — I love train travel.
How did you research your trip? What resources did you use to figure out places to see, accommodation, flights etc?
I am such a bad person to ask about this. I don’t travel with a guidebook. I don’t really spend much time researching online.
Generally, I talk to locals and other travelers and whatever hostel I am at and get tips of things to do and see. I’ll do a bit of basic research to get some hostel reviews. But for the most part, I pretty much just wing it.
Not the best or most organized way to travel, but since I am a long-term traveler, I can more easily handle the chaos that comes from that style than someone on a 2-3 week trip.