It was a land feared by criminals in the early nineteenth century, threatened with 'transportation' from their homeland to the distant colonies for the most minor of crimes. The four-month journey alone, amid appalling conditions, would claim many.
In the mid twentieth century it was seen as a land of great opportunity, as respective governments subsidised young British families wishing to settle in Australia and New Zealand. Although they travelled on cruise ships, conditions were still cramped and the journey took three weeks, traversing, as it did, the Cape of Good Hope. Many of this generation of ‘ten-pound-poms’ embraced a new way of life, however, and they and their descendants still continue to prosper there today.
Nowadays, obtaining Australian residency is closed to most outsiders, although travel and work for the under-30s British citizen is still encouraged and many avail themselves of the opportunity. Several airlines fly to Australia and New Zealand and the journey, including refuelling stops, takes about 24 hours. Not surprisingly, tourism is encouraged.
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Both my stepson and daughter are respectively living in Australia and New Zealand. This article provides a brief pictorial overview of the locations we visited and the wildlife found there in March and April (Autumn) 2016.
Stepson Will and partner Sarah live in Melbourne in Victoria State, southern Australia. Melbourne has been voted the number one place to live in the World for the last five years and it is easy to see why. It sits on picturesque Port Phillip Bay and the Central Business District (CBD) is positioned on the Yarra River. There is little unemployment, low crime and plenty of well-maintained public space. There are distinct seasons but it is generally milder than the UK, with hot summers and above-freezing winters. It all feels very safe.
The district of St Kilda where I stayed houses local residents; backpackers and expats in a vibrant beach-side community with a Bohemian feel.
The CBD has high-rise office blocks, a busy shopping area and nightlife and nearby sporting centres hosting the Australian Tennis Open; visiting British Lions rugby tours and the MCG - Melbourne Cricket Ground; the largest cricket stadium in the world.
An hour south west of Melbourne lies the Great Ocean Road, a 240km highway running for the most part, alongside the Southern Ocean, offering spectacular coastal scenery; sweeping hillsides and indigenous Koalas Bears.. oops.. “it’s not a bear mate, it’s a marsupial.”
In the other direction, the Mornington Peninsular wine region feels more like Bordeaux or Tuscany. I half expected the waiters to speak French or Italian and the Australian accent seemed almost incongruous! Excellent quality wines come from this region.
In broadly the same direction, lies Phillip Island, home to various wildlife and host to the extraordinary 'Penguin Parade.'
With an average height of 33cm, the Little Penguin is the smallest of the 17 penguin species. They live in burrows or rock crevices near the coast and go sea fishing for up to six weeks at a time, returning when their bellies are full enough to sustain a period on dry land. Every evening after sunset, hundreds of them come ashore and make their way to their respective burrows. The line of white bellies emerging from the waves in the half light is quite remarkable.
Disappointingly, tourists unable to control their use of flash photography means that the practice of taking photographs at all is now prohibited for fear that it will frighten the penguins away for good.
Back in Melbourne, however, several penguins live in the rocks of the St. Kilda Breakwater where photography is possible if you are patient. I was there during the moulting season and got lucky enough to capture a shot of one penguin in mid scratch! I also encountered Rakali, native water rats, using the rocks for shelter and to devour a small squid.
Slightly out of order chronologically, but the next Australian city we visited was Perth, in Western Australia (WA). Apparently Perth is the remotest city on earth.. or is it? If a one million population classifies a city, then actually Auckland, New Zealand is the winner, being 2153km from Sydney, whilst Perth is only 2104km from Adelaide. If the criteria is half a million, then Honolulu takes the prize. Anyway, pedantic detail aside, Perth feels pretty remote!
Perth is another clean and safe city on a wide river near the sea. It lacks Melbourne’s vibrancy however. Even in the CBD it is near impossible to find a bar or restaurant open after 10 pm at night. I guess they work hard and need their beauty sleep in WA.
A short ferry ride away, Fremantle feels busier although we only visited during the day. A further short ferry trip from there, into the Indian Ocean, is the small holiday island of Rottnest where one can find the almost unique, indigenous Quokka, a marsupial the size of a small cat. They are completely habituated and although those I photographed were several kilometres from the holiday village, they were comfortable to approach us provided we kept still and remained patient. They were clearly disappointed by the offered blade of grass.
We flew to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington on the southern tip of North Island and after a night there, we travelled to Picton on South Island, sailing up the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound.
We stayed with friends in the stunning Abel Tasman National Park and spent one day on their boat at sea and one flying over the peninsular by helicopter. Both gave the opportunity for views of spectacular scenery. It is little wonder that Peter Jackson filmed the Lord of the Rings trilogy in his homeland.
Later in the week, we drove along the entire length of the west coast of Middle Earth.. towards Queenstown.
Daughter Kerry lives in Queenstown, a ski and adventure resort to the bottom of the South Island. Queenstown is the capital of adventure and extreme sporting pursuits. It is the birthplace of the bungee jump; canyon swing and home to skiing; snow boarding; sky diving; parascending; paragliding; jet boating etc. etc.
It is surrounded by impressive high mountains and sits on Lake Wakatipu. The town has the feel of a vibrant European ski resort in mid-season, even though we visited in the autumn shoulder season.
Nearby are several sites of outstanding beauty such as Glenorchy; Milford Sound and Lake Wanaka.
By way of conclusion, Australia and New Zealand are distant holiday destinations but for the British traveller they offer numerous benefits. Ignoring the obvious barrier of lengthy and expensive flights, once there, travel is comparatively easy. Public transport is good and the roads are wide and very quiet compared with the UK. I strongly recommend, however, that you do not speed. The fines are expensive. I will say no more! They speak English, there are many cultural similarities and on many occasions I found myself thinking I was in the UK.
There are also, however, many subtle, cultural differences and a diversity of wildlife that is unique on our planet. Time it right, though and you could enjoy two summers a year. I strongly recommend it.
All photographs were taken with a Nikon D810 or Lumix GM5.