Monday, August 25, 2014

Australia: Applying for an Australian visa in the Philippines

Applying for an Australian visa in the Philippines will require some lead time, at least four weeks. Here are tips to help you apply for a Visitor visa (subclass 600), that will allow you to visit or remain in Australia for tourism or other recreational activities (holiday, sightseeing, social or recreational reasons or to visit relatives or friends).

1. Call the Australia Visa Service Desk at telephone no. +63 (2) 790 4900 and request for the latest Checklist for Tourist Visa. Note that the checklist and application form change quite often. And it's important for you to get the latest versions.

2. The good thing about applying for an Australian visa is that you do not need to submit your passport. Photocopy the information page and any stamps from previous travel. Do not include original documents as well. Should original documents be required, you may be requested to provide them at a later date.

3. Remember that visa processing takes at least one month for most cases. Mine was processed in two weeks. Here is more information on the Visitors visa.

4. Make sure you submit copies of all the documents stated in the checklist. The decision on your visa application may be decided based on the information and documentation included with your application at time of submission. Submitting incomplete documents may cause delay or denial of visa. The checklist (as of this writing) asks for the following requirements:
     A. Application Form 1419 or the Application for a Visitor visa – Tourist stream completed in English which you can download here. You can type your answers in the .pdf form.
     B. Visa application charge of AUD130 in Philippine pesos via a manager's cheque payable to: Australian Embassy. The exact fee will depend on prevailing exchange rates and you will need to confirm this when you call. Even if I called, I was unfortunate that the fee increased by Php100 while my application was in transit. So it delayed my application by a week. As a result, I was required to submit an additional manager's check for Php100 for the papers to move.
     C. Copy of your passport – This includes the photo page of your passport and any pages with amendments, endorsements, visas and entry / exit stamps
     D. One (1) passport sized photo attached to the front of the application form
     E. Evidence of your financial status and capacity to support yourself during your intended stay in Australia, such as: (a) copies of your bank deposit books showing your history of savings or salary; (b) copies of bank statements or payslips over a period of time; (c) credit card statements and limits; (d) letter of support from Australian contact with the above evidence of financial capability; or (e) evidence of current employment or documents supporting business ownership.
     F. Evidence of intended purpose of travel (this can include airline, hotel and tour bookings, etc.)
     G. Invitation letter from Australian contact (if applicable). If supported by Australian contact, evidence of relationship to Australian contact i.e. birth certificate, marriage certificate etc. and a copy of the photo page of their passport.
     H. For applicants below the age of 18, copy of the child’s birth certificate, showing names of the child and both parents.
     I. For children traveling without one or both parents or legal guardians, provide: (1) copy of each non-traveling parent’s ID; and (2) signed written authorization (or form 1229) by non-traveling parent(s) stating their agreement to permit their child to travel, the approximate date and duration of travel, whether a single visit or multiple trips are permitted and their contact information.

5. Once you've completed the checklist, you can call the Australia Visa Service Desk at telephone no. +63 (2) 790 4900 to set an appointment or have your documents picked up by courier for a fee. I chose to have my documents picked up by courier and was required to include a manager's check for Php1220 payable to VFS Services Philippines Private, Inc.

6. From the time of submission or pick-up, you just have to wait for the Visa Grant Notice to arrive. The reason they no longer ask for your passport is because they do not place visa labels on them. Instead, the Visa Grant Notice is printed on bond paper informing you that you've been granted a visa. If you need a visa label on your passport, you can get one for an additional fee of AUD150.

7. When you arrive at Australian Immigration, you simply need to present your passport (but make sure you bring the Visa Grant Notice just in case). Here's a tip, upon exiting Australia, they no longer stamp your passport. But you can request for an exit stamp as a souvenir, which is what I did.

VFS Services Philippines Private, Inc.
Mezzanine Floor Ecoplaza Building
2305 Chino Roces Ave. Ext. Makati City 1231
Phone No. +63 (2) 790 4900

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park in Tarrana, Tasmania

We all grew up watching Bugs Bunny and Taz. Those grunts, growls and rasps provided hilarious cartoon scenes for young kids like us. The thought of seeing a real Tasmanian devil had always interested me. And the opportunity finally came when I decided to fly to Tasmania. I would not leave Tasmania without seeing a real Tasmanian devil!

I was driving to the Port Arthur Historic Site from Hobart. And on the way was the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park in Tarrana.

Entrance fee to the park is $33. I made it just in time for the 10 a.m. feeding of the Tasmanian devils. They have other scheduled feedings. And it's best to check these time before heading over so you get to see them in action.

In one pen, they threw in wallaby meat which two Tasmanian devils feasted on. They made serious grunts and hisses as they devoured their meal. No wonder Taz made those sounds! They have a really nasty bite. And the spinning while the two Tasmanian devils were biting on the meat must have influenced the creators of Taz.

After they were done feeding, we moved to the kangaroo and wallaby pen for the 10:30 a.m. hand feeding. I was surprised that the kangaroos at the park were really friendly. They must be used to visitors since they allow you to come close and pet them. The wallabies were a different story. They were quite shy.

We fed them pellets and grass. The kangaroos immediately went over to use and ate the pellets from our hands. It took a little bit more time before the wallabies finally approached us. But they did!

The feeding times for the Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, wallabies and quolls happen several times a day. So if you miss the morning feeding times, you can catch the ones in the afternoon.

Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park
5990 Arthur Hwy, Taranna TAS 7180
Phone No. +61 1 800 641 641

Monday, August 18, 2014

Driving from Hobart to Lake St Claire in Tasmania

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was one of the places in my bucket-list for my visit to Tasmania, Australia. It's a vast property composed of several national parks. I had inquired with the Tasmanian Travel & Information Centre if there were day trips available from Hobart. Unfortunately, there were none.

The World Heritage property includes the Central Plateau Conservation and Protected Areas, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Devils Gullet State Reserve, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Hartz Mountains National Park, Mole Creek Karst National Park, South East Mutton Bird Islet, Southwest National Park and Walls of Jerusalem National Park.

There was a tour that went to Cradle Mountain from Launceston. But it required a two-night stay there due to limited public transport between Hobart and Launceston. The only option then was to rent a car to be able to get to one of the national parks.

I ended up renting a car in Tasmania, which is a challenge for anyone used to driving on the opposite side. The good thing though is that outside Hobart, there are less cars, making the drive much more manageable. As soon the car rental office opened, I picked up the car and I was off.

The drive took me through the fantastic scenery of Central Tasmania. As soon as you leave the Hobart area, it becomes a two lane highway making it difficult to stop to admire the view. The towns I passed by on the way, dots on the map, were really small rural communities, many of them villages. There was Hamilton and Ouse. The highway takes you through the center of town. Other villages like Tarraleah are off the highway.

In Tarraleah, there is a view point for the Tarraleah Hydro-Electric Development. Tasmania is the leader of renewable energy generation in Australia. More than ninety percent of Tasmania's power comes from hydro-electricity. The Tarraleah Hydro-Electric Development was commissioned in 1938, utilizing the waters of Lake St Claire & the Derwent River.

Before reaching Tarraleah, there was a road block at Wayatinah saying the road was closed (only four-wheel and cars with tire chains were allowed). The area still had snow and the road closure was a bummer since I had already driven two-thirds of the way. I tried to find some information in Wayatinah. But the coffee shop and facilities were closed since it was winter. The village seemed deserted!

I chanced upon the Wayatinah Lakeside Caravan Park and drove to it hoping to ask for information. Good thing the owner David was very helpful. He made calls to confirm that the road had already been cleared and that we were waiting for the police to remove the road sign. The caravan park is right beside Wayatinah Lagoon, a fishing lake.

The snow was starting to melt. Had I arrived a day earlier, I may not have been able to proceed. So it's best to ask the Tasmanian Travel & Information Centre to check during the winter months if there are road closures.

Along the way were so many lakes. I stopped by Bronte Lagoon which was just by the roadside. I finally reach Derwent Bridge, the gateway to the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park.

From there, it's another five kilometers to the Lake St Clair Visitors Centre. If you are driving, make sure to purchase your park pass, a scratch card which you need to place on your dashboard. They are sold at the Tasmanian Travel & Information Centre in Hobart. And it's best to purchase them there to be sure. You can also purchase them at the park visitors centre.

Lake St Clair is Australia's deepest freshwater lake. They have scenic cruises with spectacular views of southern mountain peaks.

If there was more time, I would have wanted to see Cradle Mountain. That's one of Tasmania's Big Three, the other two being Port Arthur and Wineglass Bay. You always have to leave something for a return trip!

Tasmanian Travel & Information Centre
20 Davey Street, Hobart, Tasmania 7001
Phone No. +61 (3) 6238 4222
Fax No. +61 (3) 6224 0289

Wayatinah Lakeside Caravan Park
David and Diane McMillan
Phone No. +61 (3) 62893317

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hobart Waterfront & the Mures Fish Centre in Hobart, Tasmania

The waterfront of Hobart, Tasmania is one of the most photographed attractions of the city. Exploring the area is quite straightforward. You will find colorful crayfish boats & cruisers at Victoria Dock, built in 1804. You'll see a row of centuries-old building right beside the dock.

At the center is the famous Mures Fish Centre were you can purchase fresh seafood or enjoy it right there. People always talk about the Tasmanian Pacific Oysters which are best eaten raw.

Right beside Mures is Constitution Dock. You can't miss the floating food shops that serve fresh seafood straight from the sea and into the deep fryer!

One of them, Flippers, is a Hobart institution. Since I was just looking for a sampler, I chose Bag of Treats ($10) which is a small box with one scallop, crabstick, garlic prawn & prawn cutlet, and two calamari rings & fish cocktails. Add tartar sauce ($2).

It's a pity I won't be on Hobart this Saturday. That's the only day the Salamanca Market is open at Hobart's Salamanca Place. It's Australia's best outdoor market. I also missed the fantastic Museum of Old and New Art or MONA which everyone's been raving about.

Hopefully I could catch some more Hobart views before I fly out. I've driven around the city and I love the architecture! Just a block from Constitution Dock is the Hobart Council Centre, built in 1938 as the headquarters of the Hydro-Electric Commission. Designed by A&K Henderson of Melbourne, it is one of Australia's finest examples of commercial Art Deco architecture.

For live photos from my trip, follow @ivanhenares on Instagram.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

ASUS ZenFone 5 for vivid night photos

I just got my ASUS ZenFone 5 the other week. Timing was perfect and it's been really handy during my trip to Australia in winter weather. For one, it has GloveTouch, meaning you can use the phone while wearing gloves!

One of its most important features is the 8 megapixel PixelMaster rear camera which delivers crystal clear daytime photos and vivid night photos. Shots are steady with image stabilization, perfect selfies to document your perfect smile. The Corning Gorilla Glass 3 makes it literally damage and scratch resistant.

The phone is also dual sim, so I can use my Philippine sim in one slot, and the local sim in the other. But the best part of the phone is its Intel Atom Processor Z2560 which makes the phone very responsive. Yes, you can play games without lags. Visit your nearest phone dealer now, you'll be surprised the phone is very affordable too!
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