There's no place like Oz for the holidays

November 21, 2017

The Stop, Book and Go sale is on! As 2017 comes to a close, there’s no better way to celebrate the end of the year than with one last great adventure. What? Nobody ever said the best decisions couldn’t be last-minute ones. Book by December 31 and get up to 30% off select tours departing by January 31. Click here to book.

I never thought I’d make it Down Under before I turned 30. Between the cost of the plane ticket from Canada and the unfavourable currency exchange, affording the 28,000–kilometre return trip seemed impossible. That is, until my dad suggested our family should forego the usual Christmas gift exchange, and put that money towards doing the Oz gauntlet.

These four, uninterrupted weeks of quality time would be the longest stretch I’d spent with my family (two parental units and a younger brother) in more than a decade. Would we all get along? Would we survive the month as a family? Would we all survive the trip, period? There are dozens of hyper deadly animals that call Australia home — including a sea snail with neurotoxic venom so powerful it can kill a grown man in five minutes. 

When we landed in Sydney, fears of death abated. The city was stunning: A mix of contemporary and Victorian architectures against a lush, subtropical backdrop. 

Manly Beach Harbour in Sydney.

Manly Beach Harbour in Sydney.

Despite my early anxieties regarding familial friction (mostly from own hot-headedness), there was only one moment where tempers ran short: On Christmas Day.

On December 24, we embarked on a three-day road trip around Australia’s southernmost horn.On Christmas morning, with no gifts and without so much as a mug of coffee, we left for day two of our Great Ocean Road adventure, driving from Melbourne to Adelaide with heaps of sightseeing between.

We’d been having a grand time driving through the pleasantly pungent eucalyptus forests and along a cliff-kissing highway that looked down onto the Indian Ocean. Day one had been mostly petting kangaroos and exploring beaches — but the music literally stopped on Christmas day.

Nothing like a sandy beach on December 25.

Nothing like a sandy beach on December 25.

The hotel kitchen was closed that morning, so we hopped onto the highway, hoping to grab some roadside grub. After five hours of driving through backcountry Australia, we hadn't even found a gas station that was open. The two clementines we had in the car had been rationed out and everyone was sitting in stark silence — no Christmas music on the radio, no bickering, no nothing — trying not to let their hanger win.

When we finally got to our campsite in Robe, there was no staff to consult — and not even a vending machine to shake for food: just some camper keys in an envelope with our last name on it. 

Although a quick Google search will tell you that Robe is a coastal fishing town with a population of 1,246, on Christmas, it was a ghost town. We couldn’t find a single person to direct us towards a hot meal. After over an hour of wandering, we pounced on the first local we spied. If anything would be open, and it was unlikely anything would be open, it would be that Malaysian place, they told us, gesturing towards mythical restaurant with a name they couldn’t quite remember. 

When we found Don’s Kitchen, we were crestfallen. The hours listed on the locked door said the spot opened at 4:00 p.m., but our watches read 4:45 p.m. “We’ll have a big breakfast tomorrow,” said my mom, trying to be positive as we collectively resigned ourselves to going to bed hungry on Christmas Day.

Then, from the back of the shop, we saw an older lady emerge from a doorway. She shouted “Come back, fifteen minutes!” at us. That’s when it dawned on us: we had driven through a time change! It was, in fact, 3:45 p.m.! 

With a heap of Don’s Kitchen takeout boxes, our quartet trooped over to the beach to chow down on a Christmas dinner of laksa and char kway teow. My dad, chopsticks in hand, was mid sit-down, about to dig in, as I pushed him, nearly knocking his dinner into the sand. 

There was no shouting, just surprise as a skink (a snake-like lizard) quickly scurried away, disappearing into the rocks. Although I was the one who had spent the trip fretting about snakes, it was my dad who nearly killed one. For the first time in hours, the four of laughed before finding some skink-less seats where we could dig into our Malaysian feast. 

To this day, my dad will appraise the Christmas turkey and say, with full dad joke gravitas, “Well, it’s good, but not quite as good as Don’s.”

Getting there

Thinking of booking a trip this holiday season? Get up to 30% off select tours with our Stop, Book and Go sale. But hurry! The sale ends on December 31.

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