Alex Roulette is in the midst of a whirlwind trip: he’s been on the road for over a year and has made stops in New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia. Currently in Borneo, he is uncertain as to when or where his journey will end, but is keeping his eyes and mind open as he makes his way around the globe.
In this photo essay, Alex shares tips for a majestic Australian Road Trip and answers the age-old question of which city reigns: Sydney or Melbourne.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you from? How did you find yourself in Australia?
I’m originally from Columbus, Ohio but now live in New York City. After finishing graduate school last year, a friend and I decided to pack up our things and embark on a “big trip”. We’ve been on the road for nearly a year and we’re still unsure when or where we’ll finally end this adventure.
I really love road trips – particularly the freedom and spontaneity that they allow – and Australia seemed like the perfect place for an epic road trip. Looking at the map and seeing the country, vast and ready for exploration, was incredibly enticing. My desire to travel to Australia began with a childhood obsession with the ’90s Disney movie “Rescuers Down Under,” though. Although the film is animated, it planted vivid images of the country, and especially of the outback, in my imagination. I was eager to check those landscapes out for myself.
There are lots of different ways to travel through Australia: Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tours; camper van rentals; Greyhound buses. What method did you use and what do you recommend?
The best way to experience Australia is by self-driving; it gives you a lot of freedom and you get to see so much more of the country. Camper vans are popular but the disadvantage is that they have terrible gas millage and the distances between places are great.
We rented a car for 5 weeks, beginning our trip in Cairns. We slowly made our way south along the east coast towards Sydney and the Blue Mountains, making stops at the Whitsunday Islands, Fraser Island, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. From Sydney we headed to Melbourne, then spent some time along the Great Ocean Road and in Grampians National Park before continuing west to Adelaide. When then turned north, cutting through the outback and the red center and heading all the way to Darwin at the top of the Northern Territory.
Some people are die-hard Melbourne fans while others claim that Sydney reigns. Do you have a preference between the two cities? If so, why?
That’s a tricky question; I think I’m leaning towards Melbourne. It seemed grittier than Sydney, having tons of creative graffiti and art all around the city. It felt like every time I went for a walk, I’d discover something new: small sculptures hidden in alleyways; colorful murals. I spent a lot of time in the Fitzroy neighborhood, which reminded me of trendy areas in Brooklyn, New York, with galleries, cafés and creative shops everywhere. There is a youthful and artistic vibe there that made me feel right at home. It made me fall in love with the city very fast.
Sydney is undeniably beautiful, although it is a bit pricier than Melbourne and has a faster pace of life. Walking around the Rocks neighborhood and seeing Australia’s iconic opera house and Harbor Bridge was one of the many highlights of my trip, though. The city is in an amazing location: it’s surrounded by stunning coastlines, including the infamous Bondi Beach, and the Blue Mountains are just a short drive away.
If you had to recommend just 2 places to visit in Australia, what would they be?
Uluru (Ayers Rock) is a definite must-do. I was a little bit skeptical of it at first, worried that it wouldn’t meet my expectations. Everyone talks about how majestic it is; what if I didn’t agree? When I finally saw it in person, though, I immediately understood the hype. We drove for hundreds of miles through absolutely flat, barren land and my first glimpse of the iconic silhouette of Uluru looming in the distance left me completely mesmerized. It was so much larger than I ever imagined and seemed to be transformed from different angles and at different times of the day. From a distance, it appeared bright purple but became red as I approached it. Uluru itself actually exceeded my expectations, and I fell in love with the entire red center area, including nearby Kings Canyon National Park.
My second recommendation would be to drive along the Great Ocean Road, which begins in the city Torquay just southwest of Melbourne. 243 kilometers long, the road offers stunning views of some the most spectacular and unique coastlines I’ve ever seen. It is also home to the iconic “Twelve Apostles,” a collection of limestone stacks that have been shaped by erosion over time. Other arches and coves have been carved by torrential surf as well, and it was fun to park our car on the side of the road and explore the different formations.
Other recommendations of mine include the Whitsunday Islands/Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park, and the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne.
Were there any local foods, drinks or customs that you found unique or interesting?
Many restaurants served kangaroo, emu and crocodile meat. The latter was pretty interesting; it had the texture of chicken but with a slightly fishy flavor.
In reflecting on customs, I can’t help but think of Coober Pedy, a small town in South Australia. The area can get extremely hot, particularly in the summertime, and so residents, most of whom work in or around the opal mines, have built their homes underground in order to escape the heat. It’s so interesting to drive around and see pipes sticking out of the ground, marking the subterranean dwellings. We stayed in an underground hotel when we were there, as well, which was quite unique. The temperature was cool but the lack of any natural light was a bit depressing and it made it difficult to know when to wake up.
What tips can you share for those who want to travel to or through Australia?
Unless you have a lot of time and patience for lonely roads, it may be worth your while to fly between destinations. I love road trips, but most of the main sights are extremely spread out and driving can become exhausting; ten to twelve hours between destinations is typical. The costs of living and of food are much higher in Australia than they are in the United States, so many young travelers have a “work-holiday visa,” allowing them to work and save a bit of money as they travel around. Camping and buying food at supermarkets cuts the cost significantly.
Where are you off to next?
From Australia, we traveled to Indonesia and then to Malaysian Borneo. Now, we preparing for another road trip – this time in South Africa.