Wednesday, 24 April 2013

New land for old

Lauren, Amotai and I recently returned from Amotai's first trip overseas, and our big holiday for the year. It was a trip all about new stuff - we treaded new ground, heading to Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Adelaide, which we've not been to before (except for airport stopovers and a short trip to Sydney for work by Lauren a couple of years ago). And of course it was a new experience doing a big trip with a toddler. More on that in another entry.

We had a few doubts before the trip. Would Amotai cope with planes? Would he cope with being shunted around to lots of new and strange places? Would we get that buzz from travel, going to the culturally most similar country to home? Yes, sort of and hell yes.

I love going to new places. I get a mild kick out of walking down suburban roads I've never been on. I really like a new bush walk. New part of the world? Woop woop woop!

Sunset Rock, Mt Victoria, The Blue Mountains

Now, it's true that Australia is very similar to New Zealand in many ways. They're our colonial siblings, the louder, brasher, wealthier, more famous big brother. We have an irritating inferiority complex about Aus, hilariously spoofed by Flight of the Conchords. If I ruled New Zealand's media I'd ban them from doing any more stupid "Yay those cocky Aussies lost!" or "Random Ocker said something mean about Te Kuiti!" stories.

However, it's still really interesting seeing the differences. Burger King is Hungry Jack's. Countdown is still Woolworths. They have their own (slightly weird tasting) bananas. And lot more Mediterranean people and a lot fewer Polynesians.

More grimly, there's the relative status of the indigenous peoples. We saw few Aboriginals - a woman behind a shop counter, a dad with his children in a supermarket, a guy playing a didgeridoo on a wharf near the Sydney Opera House, some drunks. Aside from the merchandise in tourist shops and a rather hard to find art gallery, we saw nothing of Aboriginal culture. Adelaide has plenty of statues of English rulers and monuments to the British men who founded the city, but we didn't see anything to remember the people who lived there for tens of thousands of years. To be fair, apparently the Adelaide Museum has an excellent Aboriginal section (we didn't get there).

Amotai at Glenelg Beach, Adelaide. Giant monument to the first British settlers, nothing we could see to those whose land they settled.

Compare the marginalisation of Aboriginals to the prominence of Maori in New Zealand. Things are very far from perfect, but it says a lot that when Parliament passed the bill allowing gay marriage last week, those watching and most of the politicians stood up to sing a Maori love song.

Anyway, I should move on to writing nice things, because we did have a good time across the Tasman. 

Sydney's one of those cities that I felt I had to visit sometime because it's such a significant part of my world. Home to a horde of league teams, a fair few friends and, once, a brother. It's also the location for Home and Away, the soap that we often catch the final minute of as it's been on before Three News for years. It always seems to finish with beautiful tanned people exchanging anguished looks. Crap as it no doubt is, it was still a bit exciting to find out a friend lives near where it's filmed.

"Hold me in your arms, don't let me go, I want to stay forever. Closer each day, Home and Away."
My impression of Sydney was that it's like a bigger version of Auckland. Beautiful bays, multicultural - particularly in the inner city, also full of East Asians - vast urban sprawl. But Sydney has a grandeur that Auckland lacks. Mightier skyscrapers, a proper Chinatown, more imposing Victorian buildings, and a world-famous site in the Opera House. It feels like one of the great cities.

While we enjoyed the bustle of central Sydney, Adelaide's more of a city that we could imagine living in. More than a million people live there, so it has the buzz and the cultural attractions of a proper big centre, but also a pleasant, relaxed vibe. It's got a similar feel to Wellington - you can substitute a lovely walk along the waterfront with a lovely walk along the Torrens River.

Again like Wellington, Adelaide's also close to forested hills and a wine region. I gather that Adelaide's got the reputation of being a bit dull, a kind of Australian Palmerston North, which seems very unjust. Add it to your 'to visit' list, particularly if you're planning on doing trips with children.

The Barossa Valley

The only thing that would put us off is the heat. It hit 31 one day we were there - in mid-autumn! We're told that's unusual, but still, I'm not sure we could cope with days of 40 degree plus temperatures in summer.

The land
The two ANZAC countries have their cultural quirks, but the real differences are the land and the things that live in it. New Zealand, much of which is still rising out of the sea, is one of the newer parts of the world. Australia's one of the oldest, and you can feel it. Things are drier, flatter, more weathered. The Blue Mountains are really a spectacularly eroded plateau. 

And then of course there's the famously unique wildlife. Magpies everywhere. Parakeets and cockatoos in the gum trees. Ibises walking around, common as ducks.

It started right from our first morning, staying at our friends' place on a beautiful harbour near a national park. What comes to fly down for breakfast? From a termite nest in a tree?!

A kookaburra

We're not in Levin any more, Toto. We're somewhere different, somewhere exotic. And that's so cool. It's fundamentally why we love travel. And why we've got a craving to visit the Outback and the Great Barrier Reef. Australia, we'll see you soon.

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