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Australia roadtrip: what you won't read in a guidebook

Some things you probably won't know about Australia

· Entrepreneurship,australia,Travel

This article was originally published on my blog at Wantrepreneur on 9 January 2017.

I just got back from a roadtrip in Australia. Here are some things I didn't expect to learn about this country during my first visit there.

Think of this article as the opposite of what you would normally read when you visit a place; I've not written this to encourage you to visit anywhere in particular, these are just some things that I noticed, or which took me by surprise, as I travelled down from Cairns to Sydney over the course of the past three weeks. Consider this my personal guide to three weeks in Australia.


I'm a bit of a nature freak at the best of times. I love wildlife, and (as my moderately patient boyfriend will attest) will spend hours just staring at fields or the ocean, in the hope that I'll eventually see that elusive deer/kangaroo/dolphin (which I know is out there that's why I can't take my eyes off them - I might miss them). Regardless of all that, there is so much wildlife in Australia, and it was such a big feature of our trip.

I'm going to skip all the obvious stuff that we all know, like the fact that marsupials are mammals that have a pouch, and that there are egg-laying mammals like the platypus in Australia, and jump straight into the stuff you won't know. You know, the heavy hitting stuff.


This ADORABLE little girl is a pademelon, a relative of kangaroos and wallabies. She ate from our hands. <3

  • Kangaroos and their roo-type relatives are unbelievably cute. You can hand feed them in zoos. They are the hidden treasure of Australia. There's a theory (not sure how scientific or widely accepted it is) that kangaroos are descended from the same family as deer. 
  • Kangaroos don't box you without good reason and didn't seem at all aggressive, although we didn't see any big males. The ones we saw were extremely gentle, and would rest their hands on my hands as I was feeding them. When they managed to get hold of a discarded (kangaroo-friendly ice cream cone, they held it in their little hands as if they were holding a Starbucks.
  • I'm pretty convinced there are more dead kangaroos than live ones. There's a lot of roadkill.
  • Koalas, despite being seriously cute, are just a bit boring (probably due to the fact that they sleep 20 hours a day and only wake to feed, mate and poop). 
  • Koalas have a brain the size of a pea surrounded by liquid (which protects their brain when they - inevitably at some point in their lives, being a slow-moving, low-energy tree-dwelling species - fall out of a tree).
  • Koalas basically have no predators.
  • Koalas smell really bad.
  • A platypus really isn't as big as you'd expect. They're about the length of two iPhones, laid end to end. No bigger than that!
  • There's a thing called a drop bear that the Aussies have invented to scare tourists. A drop bear looks like a koala but is aggressive and will eat you.

Things with wings

Those flying things aren't what you think. And each one has a wingspan of 1.3metres... :-s

  • A Cassowary is a huge, flightless bird (hence this section not being called 'flying things', which would make it fit in with the rest of the headings. Thanks for nothing, Cassowaries.) . The cassowary is the symbol of Queensland and runs around in the wild in the rainforested areas of northern Queensland. It's black with a bright blue neck. Male Cassowaries care for the babies for the first 18 months of their lives. Moms are absent. Cassowaries are big and aggressive, and have been known to kill people, so you need to be careful around them if you run into one.
  • There are so many bird noises. It's impossible to identify them all. It's also impossible to sleep. The city is quiet in comparison to the rainforest.
  • There are even Actual Birds in the city. In Actual Trees (I know, what are they thinking?!).
  • Kookaburras sound like angry monkeys, even at 3am. (Kookaburra is the national bird of Australia and looks a bit like a giant, fat kingfisher. Because basically, that's what they are.) Click here to see a picture of a Kookaburra. Click here to hear what one sounds like.
  • There are thousands of little birds flying around all over the place called Lorikeets. They're like mini parrots; bright blue, green, orange and red. They fly in massive flocks together and make THE MOST noise possible. However, you can't be annoyed with them because they're too cute.
  • The birds are ridiculous colours (not just the Lorikeets; we saw masses of Cockatoos, Parrots and McCaws, as well as many others whose names I don't know), and they aren't hard to spot.
  • There are bats the size of eagles! Thousands of them! See the picture at the start of this section for proof. However, they're basically fruit bats, otherwise known as flying foxes. The first day we were in the north of Queensland and realised we'd been walking around in the trees where they nest all day, a bit of a surprise but they're completely harmless and actually really cute when you get close enough to see one, which you don't, generally, unless you're in a zoo.
  • These flying foxes and lorikeets tend to hang out together in massive numbers. As the twilight rolls in, the lorikeets do their extreme noise thing, and as they gradually start to quieten down once the evening darkens, the bats start leaving their roosts. They leave in ones and twos to start with, and the numbers gradually increase to their thousands. I don't know where they go, or when they come back, as it was well past my jet-lagged bedtime, but they seemed to return to the same place every night, and sleep the same place each day.
  • Bonus useless fact: Australia is the only place on earth where I'm (so far) not allergic to mosquito bites. This may not be useful or relevant to anyone else on the planet, but it was cause for small celebration for me. I still got loads of bites (for every 1 my boyfriend got, I got about 10). But these ones didn't balloon up into massive, red dinner plates, and I didn't have to resort to antihistamine. Great news for anyone who might have a similar constitution to me! Anyone any idea why that might be?

Swimming things

  • There are types of jellyfish that can - and do - kill you. You basically can't swim in the waters off Queensland - that's the whole of north-eastern Australia - in summer months. If you go in the water, you have to wear a stinger suit, and/or swim within a stinger net area (which basically don't work that well anyway and box jellies routinely get into the 'safe' areas).
  • The jellyfish that are most likely to kill you, are too small to be seen anyway. They are called Irukandji jellyfish.
  • You can see box jellyfish. They probably won't kill you but no guarantees.
  • If you get stung by an Irukandji jellyfish (the ones that kill you), you will get Irukandji syndrome, which includes hallucinations and pain so intense that morphine won't help.
  • Irukandji are smaller than the tip of your little finger, and are transparent, so you can't see them in the water.
  • The chances of getting stung by a jellyfish are pretty low; I didn't see or hear of anyone getting stung by any kind of jellyfish during the three weeks that we were in Australia.
  • Stinger suits are AWESOME and protect your whole body - some even come with mittens at the end of the arms and a hood. This make swimming in jellyfish infested waters much less scary.
  • In Queensland, the Coral Sea is as hot as a bathtub. (That's why the jellies like it so much.)
  • Turtles are seriously cute.
  • When at anchor at night, if you put lights on, small plankton are attracted. This in turn attracts small fish to eat the plankton, bigger fish to eat the smaller fish, sharks to eat the bigger fish, and dolphins to crash the party.
  • You can see more fish snorkelling in the Whitsundays 20metres from shore than you can at Agincourt Reef (on the outer reef).
  • The biggest crocodiles in the world are in Australia. The 'salties', i.e. saltwater crocodiles, reside mostly in salt water and can grow up to 5 metres in length. They do attack people on beaches and near freshwater rivers, so you have to be extremely careful. There are signs everywhere warning you not to go too close to the water, even on beaches, and the safest thing is to simply avoid areas they're known to inhabit, and definitely not to go near the water.

Eight-legged things

Yeah, I didn't get any good pictures of spiders. Here's a puppy we met in Airlie Beach instead. His name's Dave and he's a Jack Russell/Pomeranian mix.

  • You will see spiders. Big ones. A lot of them. But they probably won't kill you. I'm pretty convinced I saw a red-back in the ceiling at the zoo. Apparently, they're very common in Sydney. Aussies are simply brought up to know not to pick anything up in the garden without first looking where they're putting their hands. Especially plastic garden chairs and flowerpots.
  • If you're afraid of spiders, you'll have a hard time in Australia, because there are a lot of spiders webs, and there's a lot of evidence of spiders being there. However, they do tend to keep themselves to themselves, and the ones I saw ran away when people got near. They aren't out to get you; they're more afraid of you than you are of them.
  • Funnel web spiders inhabit the area around Sydney (in fact they're called the Sydney funnel web spider) and they can kill you. I didn't see one.
  • Funnel web spiders can bite through leather shoes. I didn't witness this first hand.

Tourism and tourists

I honestly don't mean to make light of a serious message, but I couldn't help but laugh at this. This side of the pond, you usually only get the far left image, i.e. 'don't do this'. You don't often get the 'why not'. I really wish I'd taken a picture of the 'don't swim in the crocodile-infested waters' sign.

  • Tourist warning signs in Queensland are written in English, Korean and German.
  • We met more Germans in Queensland than any other nationality.
  • There are lots of hilariously harsh graphic signs in Australia.

OMG Omnomnom

  • (OK, so you might read this bit in a guidebook.) Australia is a seriously foodie place. You can get good - really good - food in most places, no matter how remote. 
  • They do breakfast in a big way. Lots of places do all-day breakfast. Even as a not very foodie person myself, this MATTERED. We had brunch nearly every day.
  • It's common for restaurant owners to print their Ts & Cs on menus (e.g. 'no modifications', 'no split bills'; 'on bank holidays, we charge 10% extra which goes directly to our staff'). It seems a bit inflexible, but generally, customer service is very good (if a little slow compared to London and North America) and that more than makes up for it.
  • Coffee is like a religion. Aussies are proper coffee snobs. And generally, the coffee is good. I mean really good. Apparently, Australia is the only country in the world where Starbucks FAILED. I've also heard that barristas are a bit like rockstars, and people will travel to locations just so they can have their coffee made by their favourite barrista. There are also barrista schools all over the country.

Life in Oz

Yep, residents of Bondi look totally miserable. Shitty lives they lead. Sucks for them.

  • In Australia, you do not need to lock your doors. Some of the airbnb accommodation we stayed in had a key, but it had quite clearly never been used. A couple of places told us just to walk in and find the key on the table, then leave the key on the table when we left.
  • Days start early; people get up with the sunrise (partly because it's the coolest part of the day; possible also because it's the most beautiful time of day).
  • Supermarket shopping on Christmas Eve is just as crazy in Australia (Byron Bay at least) as it is in the UK.
  • Christmas holidays in Australia are basically a perfect storm: imagine Christmas combined with August bank holiday in the UK; the best weather combined with the biggest family celebration of the year. It gets insanely busy at anywhere even remotely touristy.
  • We've never been anywhere where there are so many ridiculously lean people (ripped muscles and skinny; and so many six-packs - both girls and boys) as Byron Bay.
  • Alcohol isn't sold in supermarkets. It's sold in bottle shops and liquor stores. These are usually right next door to supermarkets. In some towns, the local pub doubles as a bottle shop.
  • Wifi is seriously patchy, even in built-up areas.
  • There's no 4G and you can basically forget 3G outside of major towns (and in some of them).
  • If you're on Three, it's free to use data in Australia (AMAZING!).
  • Condition of roads is generally amazing.
  • People generally do adhere to the speed limit. They overtake painfully slowly. Basically, everyone's on cruise control all the time, because nobody's in a hurry because there's no traffic.
  • People often sit in the overtaking lane for no reason, even when they're not even overtaking the one other car on the road and there's someone trying to overtake them.
  • They do a lot than we (the UK) do to protect the environment. As a nation that survives only in coastal areas, subject to bush fires and much more in tune with nature, through necessity, than we are over here in European cities.
  • Australia has so much wildlife, even in the cities, there's virtually no point in going to zoos, because you'll already have seen the native animals outside their cages. By the time we made it to an animal sanctuary on the last day of our trip, we had already seen kangaroos, cassowries. The only thing we didn't see in the wild that we did see in a zoo was koala.
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