Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nearing the Finish Line

On Sunday afternoon, we'd headed to the small town of Strahan after leaving Cradle Mountain.

That's pronounced "Strawn" in these parts.

We looked for some whales that had beached themselves, but didn't find anything aside from a really windy, cold beach, and so headed to town to a mediocre backpackers lodge. None of the backpackers/hostels in Tasmania have been particularly noteworthy, though some have been better than others. The Bicheno one was the worst, with only two old, chilly showers and toilets for 16-or-more women. I don't know what the situation was in the men's room. But the Bicheno lodge had been spitting distance from a delicious bakery that opened at stupid-o'clock and was near a caravan park that featured wifi, so even that hadn't been so bad.

The Strahan one was, as an Aussie or Brit might say, "pretty ordinary." A ramshackle old place with a large kitchen and an funny group of visiting motor-bikers, it had the benefit of kindly staff and wifi if you sat on the porch by Reception. 

The better backpackers had been the Montgomery YHA in Hobart (the downside there being the teensy kitchen), the Launceston one (their downside being a teensy toilet block), and the Cradle Mountain one had good kitchen and bath but tiny bunk rooms.

I missed the privacy of my tent and the great caravan parks in Western Australia, but I never could have swung this Tassie trip for what I paid for it: AUS 552.50 for a six day/five night trip. The others, I learned, had paid AUS $775 for the same trip. (The Aussie dollar and US dollar are currently about even.)

The difference in price had been due to booking methods. I'd booked this trip via the Intrepid website where the initial price had already been $125 cheaper than the $775, and had watched for months for a sale, since at full price, the economic advantage over self-drive had been debatable.

The rest of the group had booked directly with the operator, called Under Down Under. If there's any lesson here, it's that nothing is ever true a hundred percent of the time. You'd think that by booking directly with the operator, you'd get a better price. I suspect that one reason the price was cheaper via Intrepid before the sale (it was $650 before applying my 15% off) is that their brochures are printed far ahead of time. The price has climbed to $750 for 2012 and the trip is listed as a day shorter.

In short, I seem to have inadvertently scored a loophole that gave me a great price.

In Strahan, we 17 passengers fanned out into town to search for food and whatever else was on offer. But Sunday night isn't the best time to be anywhere in Australia, and the shops were closed along with many of the restaurants. I ended up with two Brits, an Irish woman living in Sydney, the older Spanish woman, and a French guy at a Strahan pub. We were next to four of our group's Taiwanese passengers, and eyeballed their meals as we placed our orders.

The food wasn't cheap at the Strahan pub, but it sure was tasty.

"Shall we pay our bill?" Our Spaniard was jonesing to get out and see the town.

"Let's not hurry," said the others. "Everything is closed and the backpackers is pretty ordinary."

Plus all those bikers were there.

They were funny though—one of them had gone to bed early, and the others stood outside his door.

"What's that, Skippy? You want to know why John went to bed already? John, Skippy is here and he wants you to come back outside!"

That's Skippy the Bush Kangaroo for those of you who don't know. Skippy is like Lassie or Flipper to us.

And he doesn't like it when you go to bed too early.

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