Archive for December, 2007

Australia: The Car Country

Monday, December 24th, 2007

Map of Australia with car iconThere’s no doubt about it – Australia is a nation of car drivers. It’s understandable in a way, when you consider the size of the place. (You can’t really expect decent public transport in the middle of the Outback.) However, even in major cities like Sydney with good public transport networks (in my opinion!), cars rule the roost:

  • People tend to look at you strangely if you don’t drive a car
  • Many roads in the suburbs don’t even have pavements (sidewalks if you’re American) – presumably you’re supposed to drive everywhere, or take your chances walking in the road
  • Fuel is cheap (compared to the UK, anyway)
  • Many couples have two cars (one car each)
  • Sydneysiders love their nice big gas-guzzling 4x4s (complete with roo bars to protect them from all those feral urban kangaroos bouncing down the high street)
  • “Camping” for Aussies means taking a tent the size of a small house, 4 fold-up tables, 8 chairs, 2 BBQs, and a portable shower – which of course, means at least one car if not two
  • Trains are so slow when you get out of Sydney that you’d be crazy not to go by car. For example, it takes 1.5 hours to drive to Kiama on the south coast (120km south of Sydney), but 2.5-3 hours to go by train. (more…)

Where to live: Morpeth?

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

We’re planning on leaving Sydney in the next year or so, due to starting a family and needing a 4-bedroom house. But where to move to? The choice is overwhelming. In this series of posts, I explore a plethora of possible places – many of which we’ve visited – in an attempt to reach some sort of conclusion. Next up – Morpeth.

Morpeth is a sleepy little village of just over 1,000 inhabitants. It’s on the edge of the Hunter valley, northwest of Newcastle, and sits on a gentle bend of the Hunter river.

View Larger Map

Unlike many country towns in Australia, Morpeth actually has a bit of history to it, which appeals to us. It used to be a river port, transporting coal and people via steamer to Paterson, Maitland, Newcastle and Sydney. The village is full of historic sandstone buildings, including the riverside Arnott Bakehouse, owned by the original Arnott family (of biscuit fame). In fact the village is so historic that it has National Trust status.

The Hunter River at Morpeth

A big plus with Morpeth is that it’s just 37km from a big city – Newcastle – which means you’re never that far from the action (though if you’re not driving then it’s a 6km walk or cycle ride to the nearest train station in East Maitland). It’s almost exactly 2 hours’ drive from Sydney, too, should we ever need to head into the Big Smoke. It’s well served by schools, with a primary school in town and two good public high schools in East Maitland. (more…)

How to survive a long overseas trip with a baby

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

Flying over Sydney

I’ve just come back from a mammoth 7-week trip to Dubai and the UK with my wife and 9-month-old son, Zack. Quite a trip! I thought I’d offer some hints and tips for those of you expats making the trip over to the mother country to introduce your kid to their grandparents:

  • Book your flights online. You can save a fortune compared with high street travel agents by booking directly with the airline on their website. We flew with Emirates and saved ourselves AUD $800 in total. Note that most airlines charge a 10% fare for under-twos.
  • Book bulkhead seats. (Assuming you’re flying economy.) These are seats that sit directly behind the bulkheads (dividers) on the plane, usually just behind business class. They offer a lot more legroom, and you usually get the option of booking a bassinet (see below). Plus your little one can crawl around a bit on the floor in front of you.
  • Book a bassinet. These attach to the bulkhead in front of the seat. They’re usually fairly small but your baby can lie with their legs over the end if necessary. Even if the baby doesn’t sleep in it, it provides a great place to stash the 3 tons of stuff you end up with (books, magazines, blankets, pillows, food trays, water, toys, …)
  • Be aware of liquid restrictions for air travel. There are exceptions for baby food and so on, but you still need to stick within certain limits. Find out more information on this Australian site.
  • Take your own baby food on the flight. Your baby will prefer familiar food. Although many airlines offer baby food in-flight, your baby may not like what’s available, and the food often has additives such as sugar and salt, too. Bananas are always a good standby when flying.
  • Give your baby something to drink after take-off and before landing. This will help with their ear pain as the pressure changes. Breastfeeding is great and has the added benefit of comforting. Water does the job too. (more…)