Christmas, 1995: I’m sitting cross legged under the tree, my mouth agape at one of the finest gifts Santa has ever given me: a copy of “World’s Greatest Roller Coaster Thrills in 3D” on VHS. There exists home video footage of me in all my pre-braces bucktoothed glory nervously marveling at the people riding with their arms up in the Desperado train that’s dropping down the vertical edge of the sleeve. The previous year’s yuletide windfall—“America’s Greatest Roller Coaster Thrills in 3D”—had probably spent more time that year in the VCR than out of it. I could hardly wait to go international.
Unfortunately, the elves’ handiwork was not quite up to par and a broken piece rattling around somewhere inside the video meant that my dad spent Christmas afternoon painstakingly transferring the tape to a blank cassette. Eventually, I was finally able to pop the non-defective tape into the VCR (now simply labeled “COASTERS” in light blue marker) and fall head over heels for the likes of Nemesis and Olympia Looping.
(Seriously, my dad is the greatest. Thank you, Dad, for facilitating this hobby wherein I’m now about to present this blog to the world instead of that Pulitzer everyone always assumed I’d write someday. I’m sure you’re proud.)
The Australia portion made it very clear the country was lacking in big thrills—I mean, if Sea World’s former Arrow corkscrew made the cut into a film supposedly showcasing the “world’s greatest,” that’s really not saying a heck of a lot. At the time, though, I didn’t yet know enough about roller coasters to realize this, and it wasn’t long before I started dreaming about the exotic trips I just knew I’d someday take to ride them all.
I did, however, realize that Australia was really, really, really far away from the Philadelphia suburbs. It thus became in my mind one of those places on the once-in-a-lifetime list. I never doubted that I’d make it there, but I was sure it wouldn’t happen until a really, really, really special occasion. Maybe my honeymoon, I thought.
Of course, it never occurred to my nine year old self that finding a decent guy who was as crazy over roller coasters as I was might be somewhat of a challenge. I just assumed it would all work out.
And it did, just not the honeymoon part, although when the Avis guy at OOL asked if we were on our honeymoon, we both recoiled in horror and let nary a nanosecond pass before uttering a vehement “No!” in unison. (Which, ironically enough, is exactly the sort of thing we do in this relationship that tempts me to add “at least not yet” to the previous sentence. Well, that and our mutual understanding that sacrificing some Sydney tourist stops to accommodate ten hours of driving for a Pinfari Zyklon is an acceptable use of time. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
And so, last November when Richard received a promotional email from Emirates advertising low fares to Australia, the Land Down Under migrated from the realm of fuzzy-someday-fantasy to holy-shit-this-is-actually-happening reality. Cue excitement. Cue Men at Work being stuck in my head for three months straight. Cue obsessively researching anything and everything about this country and hey, let’s throw in a two day stop to New Zealand too because THERE’S an Arrow corkscrew that’s actually worthy of a superlative or two (like “remotest” or “most LGBT friendly”).
The bulk of my knowledge about Australia before this trip centered on the fact that it contains more things that can kill you than anywhere else in the world, like spiders that can eat birds; saltwater crocodiles that fight sharks like something out of a low budget Syfy film; the Satanic spawn between dinosaurs and Alfred Hitchcock’s avian chums known as cassowaries; the faster-than-you-can-run Eastern brown snake; the fact that it’s so bloody hot that you might as well be walking on the sun; the fact that you’ll want to rip your brain out now that you have Smash Mouth stuck in your head; swarms of flies whose fondness for mucus membranes and ear canals makes running through fire seem appealing; and Vegemite.
In other words, any place where even Steve Irwin couldn’t make it out alive is a place you do not fuck with.
Damn straight. Ain’t nobody got time for that when it’s magpie mating season.
As such, I was a bit apprehensive, but I figured as long as I resolved to stay the hell out of the water and to never ever sleep so a tarantula couldn’t carry me off in the middle of the night, I might stand a fighting chance. Thankfully, 18 hours worth of Emirates flights toughened me up before I even arrived, testing the limits of my endurance with a middle seat in a ten-abreast 777 and cuisine that made a Weight Watchers TV dinner seem appetizing.
(Let’s take a second and talk about this. I really don’t understand why an airline that serves caviar to first class passengers can’t be bothered to make even the most rudimentary pass at edibility for economy class. We’re talking potatoes that were as soggy as cardboard soaking in a puddle and scrambled eggs that had the consistency of Weetabix. Never in the history of Cinnabons has there been a more divine Cinnabon than the one I had at 2:00 a.m. during our DXB layover. I still dream about it.)
And so, when Perth’s green coastline finally appeared on the in-flight camera, I was more than ready to take on whatever Australia had to throw at me.
Which turned out to be someone with horrendous gas by the baggage carousel, the sort of gas that makes the dumpsters behind an Indian restaurant in the middle of summer seem fresh as a daisy.
First challenge conquered, we set out.
It took less than 24 hours to fall madly in love with the country.
And while after two weeks I remain mildly terrified of Australia for the reasons listed above, I am stupidly in love with it to the point that not even the rumor of Emirates adding another seat per row to their A380s is enough to deter me from returning.
But you shouldn’t, and you can’t, make Australia all about coasters. Shouldn’t because, while the pickings are better than they were in 1995, there are still less than 25 permanent credits in a country that is the sixth largest in the world. Can’t because if you manage to ride them all in one trip, you are one lucky bastard and I hate you. Only four of the nine parks we visited had all their coasters open because the curse of visiting a country where year round operation is feasible is that annual maintenance schedules (or rumored restraint failures…or derailments…) quite literally throw a monkey wrench into even the best planned itinerary.
And hell, sometimes a coaster will just never open at all.
So rather than plowing through the country in a credit whorish frenzy, we set aside some time for sightseeing, at one point going three consecutive days without a park visit (I know, shocking, right?). Don’t get me wrong. We were still utterly exhausted by the end: we chose Perth as our kickoff city and then proceeded east to Sydney via Uluru, followed by Merimbula, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, and Brisbane before capping everything off with a 40 hour stint in New Zealand (and don’t forget the 33 hour trip home).
But missed credits and arachnids notwithstanding, I fell in love with Australia because it is so goddamn beautiful, from the isolated oasis that is Perth to the red severity of the outback to the Gold Coast’s rolling waves to the glittering silhouette of Sydney. I fell in love with Australians, from their boundless friendliness to their sense of humor to that relentlessly delightful accent.
I fell in love with Tim Tams, the fact that sheep shearing is considered respectable entertainment, and the pedestrian crossing signs, which are a pair of legs—just a pair of legs, stiff straight rectangles that for some strange reason don’t seem to have knees and for some even stranger reason are wearing clogs.
And perhaps the greatest thing of all to love?
In 1967, Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt went for a swim off the Portsea, Victoria coast and never came back. He jumped in, swam out and poof, suddenly he was gone. It’s assumed that he drowned, given the rather boisterous state of the sea that day and the area’s notorious riptides, not to mention the fact that he nearly drowned a few months earlier.
So what did this country do to honor his memory?
They named a municipal swimming pool after him.
You classy son of a bitch, Australia. Marry me.
* * *
A few quick notes:
First, the photos in this trip report are both Richard’s and my own (this is why some photos will look waaay better than others!). Also, I’ve pulled in some photos from his previous trips to better illustrate some things.
Unlike my Russia trip report where I published everything at once, I’ve decided to release these posts as I write them for several reasons. First, I anticipate these posts being much longer given my desire to recount as many interesting details as possible in order to a) give decent coverage to the places we visited since Australia and New Zealand, while not totally off the beaten track, are still some of the lesser visited coaster destinations, and b) create something that will help me process and solidify the experience for my own benefit. Second, I am a slow, slow, slow writer, which ties into reason #3: I am impatient and want something new on this blog because after the last year and a half of doing General Life Things like completing a degree, working, and uprooting my entire existence from one continent to another, it’s kind of embarrassing that this blog has remained stagnant for as long as it has. So please bear with me. If you like what you see, tell me. If you don’t, tell me. If you don’t want to say anything at all, that’s cool too. At any rate, I hope you enjoy this enough to keep checking back periodically.