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A Visitor's Guide to the Real Australia - part 3

As a holiday destination, Australia has it all - beaut weather, as long as you pick the right time and place; sandy beaches lapped by crystal-clear seas; everything from snow-capped mountains (in winter, of course) to tropical rain-forests anytime. Mind you, it's big: I mean really big. Depending where you start from, a day's driving can get you to where you're going, or you might still be fronting another 1500 K’s or more. For instance, Perth to Darwin is over 4000 K's, that's 2500 miles in old money and will probably take at least 48 hours behind the wheel. So anyone planning this particular trip would be best having two drivers who are happy to spend a week on the road, which can be boring. Sure there's stuff to see on the way, but it's likely to be pretty same-same much of the time. Once out of the civilised areas of small towns and farms, the landscape becomes remote; unspoilt, you might say. In actual fact, those sunburnt plains stretching to the horizon may appear like a wilderness and uninhabitable, but if the bitumen's lined with fences, and your treads rumble over the occasional cattle grid, you can bet your last quid it's just a small part of some station. Then there are the lumpy bits. These hilly regions, a lot of them in the eastern states, can have you winding up and down through lush forests - a veritable greenie's treat. If you're that way inclined it will please you no end; but it can be slow going; and any kids along for the ride will step up the whingeing and their obligatory: "Are we there yet?" routine. As for the driver: glancing down the steep drop just inches from their wheels to see a car that didn't make the bend and is now propping up a tree, that can be a mite disconcerting! I'm not trying to put visitors off, just making it clear that the inviting scenes shown in glossy travel brochures do exist, and most will be all that vacationers could wish for; but they have to get there first.

When time matters, it's good to have some idea of where to go and what's on offer. Backpackers taking a year to fruit-pick their way round the country can do it bit by bit. To start with anyway, they’ll pitch their pup tent in a caravan park until they find work on a farm, some of which provide limited camping facilities, sometimes for free. That’s not a bad lurk because the work doesn’t pay a fortune and park fees aren’t cheap; and after a day of hard yakka, hitching a ride back to the campsite can be a pain. All they’ll want is to grab some tucker and fall straight into their swags. There’s a point here that many don’t realise – days can be hot, especially in the height of summer; but after sundown it can drop below zero for a real two-dog night.

Those who can't spare much more than a fortnight, or simply want to veg, will most likely pick a comfortable base that has a selection of touristy spots within easy reach. Deciding on the right pozzie depends on what you want to experience, presumably something different from home. Aussies love the sea and anything they can do in it or on it, so city-dwellers might fancy giving the coast a burl. Apart from swimming there's surfing, surf-skiing, jet-skiing, boogie boarding, sail-boarding, para-sailing, ordinary sail-boat sailing, and that blokey pastime fishing - for this you'd need a mate with tinny, an Eskyful of tinnies, and a believable yarn you can hang on the missus when you get home late and legless! You can do most of these from anywhere - as long as there's a good pond of water and a way to get into it. Don't be too worried about that bit of news of late which reckons sharks are on a feeding frenzy, people being high on the menu. Well, it's sort-of true, no denying; but hey, if a person's dill enough to swan around outside the flags in fish country, they've got to figure on losing a leg or two, don't they? But, that's not you, eh?

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