Mzansi Down Under

2010-09-24 13:16

In February I jetted off to Perth, Australia, and for an entire month I bicycled, boated, flew, took the train, hired a car or hitchhiked all the way across the island continent.

I arrived back in Perth 28 days later, physically and financially a shadow of my former self. Going home, platsak, I realised that this devilishly hot and humid country doesn’t put Mzansi in the shade – not by a long shot.

Australia has its iconic yellow and black kangaroo sign, right? Well, we have our jumping kudu framed by a red and blue triangle, and it’s way cooler.

They have Bell’s Beach, but we’ve got J-Bay. Earth’s largest living organism, the Great Barrier Reef, is in a remote part of the country.

Once you’re there it’s like any other reef, just bigger. But let’s dig a little deeper, shall we.

» Good railways, silly road signs and cops on steroids
Australia’s public transport is top-notch. All of their big cities have the equivalent of a Gautrain except for Darwin, which was flattened in 1974 by a category-4 cyclone.

Although theirs are beautifully integrated and modern cities, Australia is unfortunately an extremely expensive country, so much so that Australians fly to cheaper places abroad when they go on holiday.

For a gigantic country like Oz, the 110km strictly enforced speed limit is excruciating.

And another kind of nanny-state hell exists for those road users stuck for hours on the road – plenty of ridiculous road signs and a hundred extra rules to abide by.

There are warnings for everything from crests and dips in the road, to signs cautioning about soft sand on the beach and unexpected waves.

You can be fined at the airport for bringing foreign dirt into the country (check the soles of your shoes), or, gasp, your favourite cereal.

The thinking goes that a stray oat kernel might sprout in a sand dune and infiltrate the Outback.

» Eight times
You might think a country eight times the size of South Africa (and the world’s 6th largest country) would have eight times more to offer, but unless you’re a sand salesman, you’d be wrong.

Australia’s size means it’s moerse far to get around.

Nullaboor in Western Australia is as flat as a pancake.

The track that crosses the Nullaboor is the world’s longest straight section of railway line in the world. Ja, so it’s pretty boring.

Perth, 3?300km from Sydney, is one of the world’s most isolated cities.

Imagine having to travel from Cape Town to Pretoria just to get halfway to Johannesburg.

But the number one issue facing this mammoth country, believe it or not, is climate change.

» Heat
Crime can seem like the worst problem in the world, but it’s fiddlesticks compared to Australia’s climate conundrum.

It’s ironic that being the world’s number one coal exporter, Australia has the highest per capita level of emissions in the developed world, and they’re reaping a whirlwind of climate problems.

In February they have to endure constant, unbearable heat across the length and breadth of the country.

When I visited Melbourne, average temperatures were the highest in recorded history.

Many other centres set new all-time records too.

It was hot and rainfall was either absent or miserly at approximately 0.2mm for the entire month.

In Perth, we measured the heat ourselves – at 7pm it was still 37ºC.

This heat turns Australia’s forests into tinderboxes; and when they burn, the damage is catastrophic.

On a trip to the famous Pinnacles Desert two hours north of Perth, the mercury shot up to 44ºC in Cervantes.

Imagine standing with your ankles in the sea, and the rest of your body feeling like it is stuck in a gym sauna, with the air so hot it pinches the soft linings of your nose.

The Pinnacles is basically a graveyard of rocks in a sandpit the size of five rugbyfields.

» Wallabies vs Springboks
When the nickname for Australia’s national animal is also the longer version of a term we use to say when someone ain’t too bright, you’ve got to hand the trophy to the Boks.

In contrast to a Wally, a Bok is up for anything. Calling someone a Bok is thus a compliment.

In Africa, kangaroos wouldn’t last against our predators after sunset for more than a few blinks.

And that should put paid to the question surrounding whether the Wallabies are better than the Springboks.

But here’s the clincher: the fact that you can buy boerewors and biltong in Australia, and they’re still called boerewors and biltong, says a lot about what a lot we got.

In every area we give Oz a real run for its money.

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