We arrived in Australia at what is called the "mid-coast" and made our landfall at Coffs Harbor, a small fishing and recreational harbor on the central coast of Australia. Coffs Harbor is about 200 miles north of Sydney, which is our ultimate destination for the next couple of months.
Maybe you already knew this, but let me say it anyway: Australia is a big place. As Bill Bryson puts it in his book "A Sunburned Country", it's not only big, it's also the biggest place on earth that almost nobody from anywhere else knows much of anything about. He contends it's just too far away from the rest of the world to be on anyone's radar. We certainly admit to not knowing much about Australia - and still barely do. It seems there is a lot to "discover" here.
Relative to its size, think about it this way (and since we're "down-under", stand on your head and prepare to think about it upside down). The very top of Australia (roughly the Great Barrier Reef) is about the same latitude as Guatemala and the very bottom of Australia (Tasmania) is about the same latitude as the Oregon/California border. That's a whole lotta coastline - and that's just the east coast.
Where we have made landfall is about the southern hemisphere equivalent of Ensenada, Mexico. Where we plan to leave the boat for the holidays in Sydney, about 200 miles south of here, is roughly San Diego. Yes, Ensenada is south of San Diego and Sydney is south of Coffs Harbor, but remember: we're now in upside-down-world. Climate-wise, going south here is like going north back home.
Coffs Harbor has a reputation among fellow cruisers for being an efficient and friendly harbor to accomplish the customs check-in process. True to its reputation, everything went quite smoothly for us as well - except for the cost.
Bear with me on that last detail.
Upon departure from New Caledonia and for several days before arriving, we were fairly certain our arrival in Australia would be early on Friday, which would be perfect for checking in and avoiding any extra charges for a weekend arrival.
Can see where this is going?
And it was all going as planned... until we ran into a serious one to two knot on-the-nose current on Wednesday and Thursday, slowing our forward progress tremendously. The difference between sailing at 8 or 9 knots and sailing at 5 or 6 knots is a big deal in terms of how much ocean a boat can cover in 24 hours. The capper was running into an electrical storm around 'O Dark Thirty - about two hours before sunrise - on Friday morning, which we talked about in our previous post.
All the dodging we did to avoid getting struck by lightning cost us several hours of forward progress (we actually turned around and sailed the other way at one point) in addition to the general slowdown from the head-on current we had to wrestle with. Instead of arriving on Friday AM, we arrived late Friday afternoon, just as Customs was closing for the weekend. Yuck.
The result? True to what we were told by others, this was a great place to check-in. Regardless of the whole weekend thing, Customs officials were ready for us bright and early on Saturday AM and the check-in went quick and smooth. But because it was Saturday, the cost of processing us went from $330 to $668. Yikes!
Don't misunderstand: none of the costs, additional or otherwise went to pay the two guys that inspected us and completed all the paperwork. That was all free, weekend or not. The costs were all about the disposal of our "biosecurity items".
Essentially this involved removing our remaining fresh fruits, vegetables and frozen meat from our refrigerators and freezer and dumping it all into heavy-duty orange plastic bags and sealing them up tight with orange tape. We only wish we would have had the presence of mind to take a photo or two of this. The plastic bags alone - even empty - were impressive.
This is all done to protect Australian agriculture from invasive pests and apparently everything that is removed is incinerated within 24 hours. Except on weekends. On weekends they freeze it all in a building at the end of the dock and then transport it to the incinerator on Monday, hence the additional cost - or so we were told.
We knew the food disposal routine was coming and tried to insure that we would arrive without too much food left over from the crossing, a task at which we were fairly successful. (Uurp.) We get what biosecurity is all about and it makes sense to us. We also hate to throw food away.
According to the inspectors, if we had arrived in a wood boat instead of our fiberglass boat, things could have really gotten out of control. They seemed rather delighted to have a recent vintage boat like ours to inspect. One officer pointed out two older wooden ketches docked across the pier from us, holding them out as an example of what they dread.
If we were one of those boats he might have been onboard for hours, maybe the entire day - or two. They would have torn the boat open in the inspection process and if wood-borne pests were found, the entire boat would have been quarantined until it could be fumigated and certified pest-free, all at the owner's expense. Apparently that can cost into the thousands of dollars. Think about it: the cost of our two half-full bags of biosecurity stuff was well on the way to a grand. Imagine a whole boat bagged up - which is what they actually do.
One other note about coming to Australia via boat: They require lots of advance notice concerning your intended arrival date and your intended arrival port. The fines for not providing the required notice are in the thousands and immediate jailing upon arrival is a possibility. They require at minimum 96 hours of advance notice of your intention to arrive AND they require that you have applied for and possess an approved visa for everyone on board before sending that notice. To their credit, they provide an online visa application tool that generated e-visas for us and were sent to us via email within an hour.
Except for the visa prior-approval requirement, sailing to New Zealand is not much different from sailing to Australia in regards to advance notice requirements. But still... Compare this to entering Canada via boat, where you land at a dock, walk up to the customs courtesy telephone and call. "Hi. We're here. Yes sir, we'll leave our potatoes in the box." And that's about all there is to it. Not so in Australia.
Upon arrival, we were carrying no Australian currency, assuming we would be able to go to an ATM at some point and get cash for any customs fees. We began to fear that the amount of cash they were going to require might first involve some online transfers or a visit to a money exchange, all of which would be a bit time consuming. No need. The customs officials had a wireless credit card terminal with them for collecting the fees right there on the spot and took Visa or MasterCard.
"Welcome to Australia. Need a receipt for that?