Swindletown: the great caravan park con

Recently I stayed in a caravan park, but not in an actual caravan, instead in a “luxury cabin”. Back in the day, caravan parks were a cheap thrill. Like Target, RSL’s, Thai restaurants and pub meals.

But back to my cara-rant, this luxury cabin slept four and had two rooms. I know this is a first world problem, but the cabin was not luxury, unless you like a lumpy double bed, bunkbeds and plastic bathrooms the size of a broom cupboard.

Lumpy beds and bunkbeds are ok in a first world problem kind of way, if you are going to be charged accordingly (ie bugger all). But this particular “luxury” cabin cost $110 and then $20 for each extra adult. So the total cost divided by four adults was $150.

I would like to know why we are charged more for four people to stay in a space which is designed for four people?

I would also like to know why I was stupid enough (don’t answer this) to book this in the first place when I could have stayed in a motel down the road for not much more.

I’m thinking the real bargains in life are not to be found in caravan parks.

And that maybe a motel is cheaper. So is staying at home.



Economising on air travel chokes me up

Air travel is not what it used to be. These days it is pretty much just like a Greyhound bus, only not as classy. The food is from a place where the sun don’t shine, the seats feel like they are made from steel and rock and even the space waitresses, sorry flight attendants, aren’t supermodels any more. At least the entertainment is good. My very own movie! But wait, you have to pay for it separately.

It does my head in: queues, security checks and glazed attendants with highfalutin titles, like Customer Satisfaction Consultant. Which is especially ironic, given you have to DIY everything, including weigh your own bag and put on your tag and wish yourself a pleasant flight.

The whole experience has become commoditised, a kind of dog eats dog, the dollar is king, mentality. It is amazing there aren’t more deaths in custody, sorry, mid-flight, the way people are squeezed in like sardines in the back of a truck.

If you want to avoid most of the above, then you have to pay a motza just to be treated humanely (ie not sit in economy).

I don’t know who to blame. Is it the airlines who saw an opportunity for a quick buck via cost cutting down to the last sheet of toilet paper? Is it shareholders wanting a profit (to fund their overseas travel aspirations)? Is it the government for failing to regulate on some pretty basic human rights? Or is it us? Have we, just by scratching around for the cheapest route possible, made all the airlines sink to the lowest common denominator?

They say we get the government we deserve, and I reckon that’s true (a whole other blog for another time). I think we have the the air travel we deserve too, but I also think the airlines have been all too quick to oblige.

The Paris End

The phrase “Paris end” is bandied about almost as much as the phrase “plated up”.

How many times have you heard: Paris end of Collins Street, Paris end of Paddington, Paris end of Narrabri – ok I just made that one up. But here’s the thing: the Paris end of anywhere south of, say Paris, pretty much just means an extra tree and a coffee machine. Or maybe a second-hand bookshop and an outdoor bench.

And higher prices. 

The Paris end is kind of like a wedding/carbon tax/GST/fuel, flood or fire levy rolled all into one.  Coffee $9.50, friand $15.30? Well bien sur, you’re at the Paris end. Someone has to pay for this Parisien je ne sais quoi.

In fact je ne sais quoi is probably what any actual Parisiens who visit any of our Paris ends probably think. Quickly followed by WTF. Grande WTF actuellement. And even more quickly Mega Merde Maximale – call this Paris?

Ok, so let’s give a not-so-Gallic shrug, take a deep breath in and get back to just moderately extortionate coffee prices and call the Paris end what it actually is. Which is a bit of road with an extra tree the property developers forgot about and a dodgy seconds store. Sounds like the Aussie end to me, and I’m OK with that.

Travel articles you’ll never see

John Howard Walking Tour of Kirribilli (with souvenir green tracksuit pant)

Lowdown on Snowtown

From Abattoir to Table Gourmet Experience

Western Lights – M5 Nightly Delights

Lithgow’s Top Scenic Spots 

Darwin’s Sculpture by the Gutter

Foodie F3 (optional side trip to Iguana Joe’s)

Altona Art Walk

Walking Tour of Sydney Harbour

Wines & Mines – Wine Tasting Mt Isa style

Oasis of the Seas – oh pleeeze!

Recently I watched a program on the world’s biggest cruise ship – Oasis of the Seas. This cruise ship is the biggest in the world and is kind of like a telly tubby version of a gated suburb.

With 5,000 passengers and thousands of crew, the documentary focussed on all the things that passengers might need for 7 days afloat. So I’m talking 26 restaurants, beer and 10,000 rolls of toilet paper.

There’s something bizarre about this ship –  and I use that word loosely. It’s more like a drifting condominium having an Amway convention.

In a way it’s nice that human beings have put their considerable brainpower into recreating Central Park on board a ship. In another way, we could be exploring outer space now with that amount of money instead of cruising back and forth from Fort Lauderdale.

The documentary showed all the things we needed to know about life on the world’s biggest cruise liner. So we saw the Captain’s tattoo (a blue butterfly), a man who said he was head chef running fast down corridors, lots of fat people, staff with concerned looks when passengers didn’t return from their shore excursion (leave ’em there I say – which is why I probably don’t have a future in hospitality), someone with lots of hair called Julie (not me) and more fat people.

The doco was kind of like a reverse Survivor – I badly wanted to change channel but I just couldn’t take my eyes off it. Maybe it’s not the best use of moolah the world has ever seen, but what the hell, it sure beats going to war or building more gated suburbs.

Take off your shoes, we value your business

I’ve recently come back from the States where security is ramped up to an insane degree. All thanks to the shoe bomber, customers (and I use that word loosely) now have to take off their shoes, belt, scarf and coat and are bossed around by cranky men in too-tight pants.

It’s got me thinking – why are we putting ourselves through this? No-one likes it, it’s probably not going to catch the people it’s designed to catch and it has turned airline travel – once a premium experience – into the aviation equivalent of catching an overnight Greyhound bus from Echuca to Kalgoorlie.

Sure, I know there are business people to meet, family to visit, long weekends away to scrape out some measure of fun from our hum drum slogfest of a life – but I’m seriously thinking the airline biz is just not worth it.  There’s the drive to the airport, the extortionate parking price, which negates the cost of a cheap ticket, the unedifying spectacle of people taking off their shoes at 7am. Next we’ll have to stand up like animals in a pig pen and pay to use the toilet. Oh, wait, that just happened.

I’m thinking the Greyhound bus is a more civilised way to go. You get to keep your shoes on and can take your nail clippers onboard. And roadhouse food beats Jetstar’s glop anyday.

Essential elements of a Christmas holiday

With Christmas holidays approaching, it’s hard to decide where to spend January.

Holidays should be the highlight of the year, eclipsed only by getting the last slice of Friday night pizza or escaping the muppet from Procurement at the office Christmas bash.

But it can be confusing. How do you decide where to go? Where to stay? Follow this and you’re guaranteed a holiday to remember.

Over priced – January holidays should be overpriced. After all you don’t need to eat the rest of the year, when two weeks at Mollymook costs approximately the same as making an offer on Tetsuya’s.

Overheated –wherever you go it should be too hot. As long as even lying on the beach gives you second degree burns then you’re on the right track.

Overrated – it’s mandatory that every Christmas holiday be overrated. If you go somewhere overpriced (see above) then you’re pretty much set. For this you can’t go past Byron Bay.

Over it – I mean honestly, are they really worth it? Best stay home, apply a bit of Banana Boat Tahitian bronzer and pretend you had the best time ever. Why not – everyone else is doing it.

The world’s best

Is it just me or is any time you see “The World’s Best Cup of Tea/Coffee/Meat Pie/Apple Pie/Pizza or even Service as you drive through Australia, you know you’re in for a pretty ordinary meal.

Doesn’t seem to matter where you are, you could be passing through the most amazing farmland, with bountiful produce, rolling hills splashed with grass fed waygu and chickens that dine on organic corn fritters and avocado salsa, but the minute you see that sign: World’s Best Hamburger, well you just know it’s going to be a flavourless, stodgy affair, complete with grizzly bits and damp lettuce.

I don’t know if it’s just a matter of a straight oversell. I mean World’s Best, Australia’s Best is a pretty big call. I’ve noticed that some signs now starting to self edit their bestness, and are calling themselves The South Coast’s Best or Lismore’s Best. This may be reducing margin of error by a factor of about, say 20 million, but somehow it still seems a big call, even if we’re only talking about Lismore.

I have a new driving food stop strategy. If it says best anything I’ll give it a miss. Even if it’s world’s best scones at 3pm when I’m starting to feel like a sugar carb cream hit served grandma, I’ll give it a miss. That’s where junk food truly comes into its own – it makes no claims to be the best food in whatever town you’re driving through. It just  gives you your hit – whatever your poison (sugar, caffeine, salt, carb, chocolate) and although it might make you fat and mess with your blood sugar levels, at least it doesn’t mess with your head.

Favourite North Coast Towns

I’ve just returned from a quickie trip to the far north coast of NSW.  There are two types of people in this world – you are either a north coast or a south coast person. I thought I was firmly entrenched in the south coast camp – but after this trip, I may be turning.

Here are the north coast towns I love:

Maclean – top of the list for me, and at only 18 kilometres inland and with river views I think it qualifies. What do I love? The winding main street, the Queenslander houses, the mix of real working town and tourist town, the river which flows at a steady clip to the sea at Yamba and incongruous mix of Scottish regalia and heat and cicadas. And, I know they are a local menace, but the bat colony adds a vampire element to town, something every town needs. There’s a wonderful dreamy feeling about Maclean, it’s the kind of place you wish you’d grown up in. Actually – a coming of age film set in Maclean with a vampire undercurrent – now that’s a film I’d like to see.

Yamba – what’s not to love about Yamba? Apart from the nagging feeling that it will become a victim of its own popularity, and development will take over, it’s just about perfect. Again, thanks to town planning 30 years ago when public parks, tennis courts and bowling clubs got the best views, it’s a textbook Aussie beach town that mostly exists in textbooks these days. The cinema is a real cutey pie too, and I love that despite its creeping hipness, the fish co-op still serves the best meal.

Grafton – haven’t spent a lot of time here, but I like what I see. Queenslanders, lasiandras and an historical core. And it’s a real working town – Grafton doesn’t need to impress anyone. And that’s part of its appeal.

Murwillumbah – I’ve always liked Murwillumbah. Plonked (nestled as travel writers would say – I mean who uses “nestled” in real life?) between Mt Warning and the ocean, it is a hugely likeable sugar cane service town. This is a poseur free zone – a rarity so close to Byron. Instead it offers swathes of pubs, heat, cicadas, Queenslander houses, sweat and the odd fabulous cafe.