Australia vs. Canada: The Best and the Worst

BLOG Australia vs. Canada: The Best and the Worst

BC rainforest — photo by Henry Georgi

It’s looking increasingly likely that I’m going to end up, in my retirement, spending May-October of each year in British Columbia, Canada (for immigration and health care reasons), and November-April of each year in Australia, New Zealand or Hawai’i. I’ve written before about the things that are most important to me in a place to live:

  1. Warmth 
  2. Beautiful forest wilderness nearby (without too many insects and dangerous species)
  3. Beautiful, uncrowded beaches nearby
  4. Interesting, intelligent, informed people in the community
  5. A tolerant, gentle, diverse, peaceful creative and progressive local culture
  6. Sustainability: local/organic food/resource availability, access, renewability, conservation, transportation
  7. Affordability
  8. Connectivity: Internet/telephony, rail system etc.

There are two paradoxes here. The first is that the most beautiful natural environments in these (and most) countries seem not to be the places where the most interesting, intelligent and progressive people hang out. I don’t know why this is — perhaps rich bored people hog all the good beaches and resort areas and push the alternative cultures out. Or perhaps informed, creative, university-educated people just prefer the crowded, unsustainable urban culture. But for whatever reason the places that score high on criteria 2 and 3 tend to score lower on criteria 4, 5 and 7, and vice versa.

The second paradox is that while a lot of areas are really trying to be sustainable, none is even close to succeeding. So while I might find a place that meets all the criteria except criterion 6, eventually that criterion is going to trump all the others.

So what I’m doing now is exploring six areas — SW BC, NW US, SW and SE Australia, N NZ, and Hawai’i — looking for places that meet as many of these 8 criteria as possible. I lived for 5 years in SW BC, and have briefly visited all of the other 5 areas. So far there are no perfect choices (that I know of — I’m still looking) within any of these areas, and quite a few that meet 5 or perhaps 6 of the 8 criteria. 

In the process, I’ve come up with some interesting lists of the best and worst of (Westcoast) Canada and (Southcoast) Australia. They are surprisingly similar lists! Keep in mind I’m a non-swimmer — I know the surfing is great in S Oz.

Best Things About (Westcoast) Canada:

  1. Forests
  2. Culture
  3. Connectivity
  4. Lots of still-uncrowded areas
  5. Reasonably affordable
  6. Beaches (westcoast Vancouver Island only)
  7. Arts
  8. Tolerance, peacefulness

Worst Things About (Westcoast) Canada:

  1. Unsustainability: logging, mining, gravel/construction, oil tankers, trucking, industrial agriculture, water/air pollution, waste
  2. Unrestrained growth and sprawl: Real estate and construction industry owns local/provincial politicians
  3. Treatment of aboriginal people
  4. Restrictions on dogs
  5. Transportation: Little public transport, poor roads, traffic jams, too many trucks instead of trains, archaic ferry system, disorganized Vancouver airport
  6. Westcoast rednecks
  7. Mainstream media: a right-wing monopoly

Best Things About (Southcoast) Australia:

  1. Beaches
  2. Forests (and the birds!)
  3. Warmth
  4. Culture (alas, not as good near the best beaches and forests) 
  5. Lots of still-uncrowded areas
  6. Local/organic foods (healthy and great variety) (special kudos to Dunsborough’s Samudra, a lovely vegetarian restaurant and yoga/meditation centre)
  7. Tolerance, peacefulness, egalitarianism
  8. No tipping!
  9. Good public transit (alas, in big cities only)
  10. Cute accents

Worst Things About (Southcoast) Australia:

  1. Unsustainability: logging, mining, gravel/construction, tankers, trucking (5-trailer “road trains!”), industrial agriculture, water/air pollution, waste
  2. Unrestrained growth and sprawl: Real estate and construction industry owns local/provincial politicians
  3. Treatment of aboriginal people
  4. Restrictions on dogs
  5. Sydney airport (the hub to everywhere in Oz)
  6. Westcoast rednecks
  7. Mainstream media: a right-wing monopoly
  8. Internet accessibility and cost
  9. So far away from the rest of the world

If you live in the BC Gulf Islands, Qualicum/Parkville or Sunshine Coast, or in New Zealand, Australia or Hawai’i and can recommend any specific areas that meet most of my 8 criteria, I’d love to hear from you, and I will check them out as my explorations continue. And if you have quibbles with or additions to my best/worst lists, I’d love your comments on them too.

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13 Responses to Australia vs. Canada: The Best and the Worst

  1. prad says:

    i’ve requested input from others here: drop by from time-to-time and take a look.

  2. Ruben says:

    Have seen this map from the New Scientist? It suggest SW BC might not be the best place. Also, many of the Gulf Islands and much of Vancouver Island already have drought problems.

  3. EJ says:

    Beaches (westcoast Vancouver Island only)- but really cold water, lots of rain. Beaches only for hard core surfers and dog walkers.Expensive real estate, too in SW BC.

  4. Speaking up a little for SW BC…There are beaches on the east side of Vancouver Island too, between Nanaimo and Campbell River and alos on Quadra, Cortes, and Savary Islands. Lots of glacial sand piled up in those places, and the water is warmer. In fact, Quadra Island may fit your criteria nicely. AS per the “rednecks” problem, I think you will find that everywhere, but in certain places in BC you can shelter yourself from the gritty realities of life in a resource-based family and community. Of course, there is something in the creative tension of living together that I like. As per Aboriginal rights, BC is probably the most interesting jurisdiction in Canada right now. The province is tabling an interesting piece of recognition legislaion (should the Liberals get re-elected) and things are always interesting here and significantly different than in the rest of Canada. Also, I don’t know what your beef is with teh Vancouver airport, but it’s my fvaourite in the world, and not just because it’s my home aerodrome. It’s clean, smooth, shortly going to be even more renovated than it was before and it has the best food anywhere. I rarely experience delays there, excpet if there is a winter storm, but even then, it’s surprising how many planes make their schedules. It beats Toronto, and has the prettiest approaches of almost any major airport in North America.Good luck with the choice!

  5. The Nelson/Golden Bay region of New Zealand (roughly, the north-western corner of the South Island), would score fairly high on most of your criteria. It’s often said it has the highest proportion of PhDs and ex-professionals to be found anywhere in the country, so you’re likely to find some pretty intelligent people there

  6. TYW says:

    Hello from Australia. Actually, i live in Melbourne – and smack in the CBD. But i would recommend melbourne. Let’s run through the list. 1. warmthMelbourne is relatively warm in the summer months. I would say a typical spring-summer day would have a low of 14-16deg (Celsius) and high of 28-30.2. forests & beachesThere are popular beaches to the south of melbourne (St kilda and Brighton specifically), but as you venture further south east to places like Frankston, the beaches get quite quiet. Also, forests are available east of melbourne. (about 30km from the city)3. Intelligent PeopleUnfortunately, this will have to be in the city. And perhaps more likely in the Universities.4. CultureI think you will find aussie culture really laidback. There are several ethnic centres, such as a Jewish District in Balaclava, a Vietnamese one in Footscray, and an Italian one, etc. Too much to describe, diversitiy is definitely available. 5. Sustainability + transport + affordabilityLots of local markets with both organic and non organic foodstuff. (I personally get 90% of my food from a market that is 5min walk away)prices here are definitely nowhere close to the US, and don’t expect dining out to be cheap. (at least $10 and at least $40 for the good stuff) Then again, there really is so much great food here, from indian to vietnamese to ethopian. Railway system brings you even up to Frankston, but i would say that efficiency may sometimes be compromised. (Dont expect it to be very good)Internet/telephones are always available as you would expect.-This is of course not without its downsides. Melbourne city is notorious for its drunken brawls, and the alcohol culture in the city is strong. Sometimes this extends into the suburbs. Just dont get to near pubs. Fortunately, most of the beachside areas are devoid of such places. Then again, you’re not going to find interesting, intelligent and informed people. The beauty of this is of course that such opposites are not far away. For example, the beaches i describe are about a 45-60 min train ride away from the city. Food is going to be great, and i think that is not so much an issue. Cost of such food may be, but i am not really experienced enough to say this. Perhaps other issues with sustainability are the general bad rep of australia to be powered on coal, amidst other factors. Still, i have found that taking a 1 hour drive to the yarra valley, or a 3 hour one to phillip island makes you feel life is beautiful again. Finally, dogs are allowed at 90% of parks. Just watch out for those which do not, usually the ones in the more densely populated areas. Hope this flaky description helps. Its kinda hard to explain the great things of this country in a simple post. But then again, im biased and think this is the best city in the world. =)

  7. EJ says:

    @TYW “Intelligent People..Unfortunately, this will have to be in the city.” Australia must be weird place. Lots of intelligent people in rural areas too everywhere I’ve looked, in fact they were smart enough to leave the city.

  8. Viv McWaters says:

    #10 on your list of best things about Australia made me laugh out loud. And your list of the worst things are pretty spot on – I’d also add, hard to find access to improv except in the big cities. A special requirement of mine that others probably don’t care so much about. But there are increasing numbers of intelligent people in rural areas thanks to the capacity to work from home (albeit we’re hanging out for the new internet infrastructure).Cheers, Viv

  9. Ståle says:

    Before I got to your last paragraph, I was already thinking of suggesting Sunshine Coast. It’s got a fairly active Transition Town/Permaculture/Localization community, and the climate is good all year round. It’s also a lot less dry than SE Australia has become over the last decade. Brisbane airport is about an hour away, connects with plenty of major airports in SE Asia and is quite pleasant (as airports go). Queensland does have a few critters that sting or bite quite badly though, both on land and in the water.Here’s one place to start if you’re looking to make some connections:

  10. Ton Zijlstra says:

    Hi Dave, wouldn’t flying back and forth every 6 months between Canada and NZ/AU as you seem to suggest in the opening of your posting be to put it mildly at odds with your requirement of sustainability?

  11. Rimu says:

    Flying half way around the world twice a year for lifestyle reasons… Hmmm

  12. EJ says:

    Sorry, at this point I can only see one word for you and your lifestyle choices: hypocrite.Wanting the best of everything, living here, flying there. All to suit you and your whims – while discussing global climate change, community and sustainability.I won’t be reading here any more.

  13. Parker says:

    Austrailia:) Sailing sailign sailing. BEing from canada…ive always wanted to go there…but when fresh water runs out id wanna be were 80 % of it is. canada!

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