who are the watsons?
We are a 30-something married couple who decided to leave behind our home, careers and comfortable Silicon Valley lifestyle to try a new course. Join us as we travel the world to learn about other cultures, lifestyles and ways to generate income beyond the traditional 9-5.

Australia: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

It now seems a kind of omen that we wanted to stay in New Zealand when the time came to leave. We were enjoying it a lot but, due to the country’s limit of three months on a tourist visa and its requirement to provide proof of onward travel upon arrival, we’d already booked airfare to Australia. Plus we wanted to see relatives in Sydney and we’d arranged for my mom to visit us there over Christmas and New Year. So we moved on…

Our time in Oz was challenging, no doubt about it. But we did have several positive experiences there that we’d like to share with you.

The Good: Our Favorite Australian Experiences

  • Having front row seats to the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race: My cousin arranged for us to be out on Sydney Harbor on Boxing Day for the build-up and start of the 2010 Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race. It was so incredible to cruise with half of Sydney’s population, enjoying the beautiful weather and excitement.

  • Hanging out with family: It was wonderful to spend time with cousins we hadn’t seen in more than a decade and have a Thai-style Christmas dinner, courtesy of my cousin-in-law and her family.
  • Enjoying city views and fireworks from the rooftop of my cousin’s home in Elizabeth Bay for New Year. Breathtaking!

  • Seeing Soap at Sydney Opera House: As we walked around Sydney, we kept seeing posters advertising Soap, a cabaret-style show set in a bathroom. It sounded fun, so we decided to go on mom’s last night in town. The energy and spectacle of the show were amazing, a perfect cap to Mom’s Australian adventure.

  • Touring Phillip Island and driving on the left: Our favorite day in Melbourne involved renting a car and driving down to Phillip Island to view koalas, little penguins and a wallaby in their natural habitat. The highlight for me was watching hundreds of penguins come ashore at twilight via the Ultimate Tour. Although we weren’t allowed to take photos, the experience was well worth the drive and expense.
  • Learning about contemporary aboriginal art at The Artery
  • Visiting Featherdale Wildlife Park and petting koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, baby farm animals and more. I loved holding a baby chick in my hand!

The Bad

As I mentioned, we definitely felt challenged during our time in Australia. Below is a summary of our daily inconveniences. There are two other significant issues that arose while we were there; we’ll share those in detail once they’re resolved.

  • The expense of everything, further compounded by a poor exchange rate. More on that in next week’s “Travel Costs” post.
  • I was sick for half of our time in Melbourne, and eventually diagnosed with antibiotic-resistant tonsillitis.
  • My Melbourne art classes just didn’t work out as well as those in NZ. They were more expensive and significantly less valuable.
  • Two weeks before Christmas, we lost the holiday sublet we’d booked in September and had to find another last minute. That one also fell through — on Christmas Day — but that’s a story for another time.
  • The Sydney public transportation system’s travel planning website is a mess. You’re better off getting a map and figuring it out yourself, seriously.
  • An incompetent laundry service failed to deliver our clothes the night before our flight to Thailand. We only travel with a week’s worth, so now we’re down to three days each.
  • And for a little comic relief: Australia has some interesting agricultural restrictions. Brian had his nuts confiscated entering from NZ, and I had my apples confiscated flying from Sydney to Melbourne. True, if a bit off color.
  • “Tasty cheese,” which just isn’t.

The Ugly

I wish I had photos to help you appreciate the horror more fully but, alas, I do not. You’ll have to use your imagination:

  • The ridiculous ensembles worn by women in Melbourne. As one example, a woman in her 50s strutted by me one day in shiny leggings underneath a short pink tutu paired with a power-suit jacket. She wasn’t Betsey Johnson, so what was she thinking?!
  • The bleached blonde hair that abounds in Sydney. I know it’s a beach community, but even Los Angeles doesn’t have as many poorly peroxided heads. What is the deal?

I want to leave you on an up note, so I’ll tell you this: Although we had some difficulty finding suitable accommodation in Sydney for Christmas and New Year, we ended up staying at fabulous places. Hotel Altamont provided the best service of any hotel I’ve stayed at, ever. Manager Alan was always friendly and welcoming and saw to our every need, and the hotel itself was clean, comfortable and conveniently located. We also spent a few days in the Blue Mountains at Marsden Lodge, a charming art deco flat in Leura with a lovely hostess named Leny.

And now, a bit of fun for those who hung in there all the way to the end of this post: The first person who leaves a comment that correctly names all of the featured Featherdale animals (above) will win a prize. Go!

Oh, and a big thank you to my cousins, cousin-in-law and her family for welcoming us and supporting us during our visit and interesting travails! It was wonderful to reconnect with you.


  • Skmrorer

    This probably isn’t fair but here goes a try – Dingo, Echidna, Tazmanian Devil, Wallabie, Small Pinguins, and a Albino Kangaroo. How’d I do?

  • http://watsons-unleashed.com Kate

    You’re too funny! You gave everyone else some hints, but contest’s still open. Anyone else?

  • http://watsons-unleashed.com Kate

    Hi Warren,
    Thanks for visiting! I highly recommend NZ. If you’re also planning on Australia, we preferred Sydney over Melbourne but the whole country seems to be pretty expensive. I would be interested to see how you find it. We completely blew our budget.

    Your guesses are pretty accurate. The answers are:
    - Kangaroo (Eastern Gray, to be specific)
    - Dingoes
    - Echidna
    - Albino wallaby (tricky, I know)
    - Wombat
    - Little Penguin
    Since I’ve told everyone the answers, I guess it’s time to close the contest. :-)


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