4th January - 1st Feb
04.01.2012 - 01.02.2012
I know it has been over 2 months since my last blog update, and I'm sorry. It's been a pretty fast paced time and I've had a ruddy good time, so here are some of my highlights from the Australian East coast - Sydney to Cairns.
I woke early on the 4th of January to get my bus out of Sydney; leaving the flat where I had been staying with my fantastic cousins and hosts and hitting the road again after unpacking and having a fantastic few weeks in town. It felt strange going back into backpacker mode; living out of a backpack again, but I couldn't wait to see more of Australia.
I traveled the east coast with Oz Experience, a bus tour company who specialised in giving backpackers (mostly English) a fun packed experience up the coast, stopping at cities and smaller stops which you'll hear about in a minute.
After an 8 hour journey north, we stopped at our first stop; 'Spot X', a surf camp near Coffs Harbour. A small but busy camp with shipping containers for bedrooms, we spent our first evening around a huge campfire playing games and getting to know our new traveling companions, but also in the back of our mind we knew that we had to wake early for a surfing lesson in the nearby Pacific Ocean. Surfing proved to be pretty knackering as we kept getting washed up and our hangovers smashed out of us; but I was able to put the skills I'd learnt in Sydney to use. After 2 hours in the Ocean, we jumped back on the bus and continued north to the muchly anticipated Byron Bay.
Byron Bay was the highlight of the East Coast for me. After spending two days and two pretty lively nights in a hostel with my bus friends, I headed off on my own to another hostel 20 minutes down the beach for 3 nights. With my backpack back on, I followed this huge beach down and stumbled up to the hostel; in the middle of no where with a little cafe next door and the beach only paces away. I loved this place, with its really chilled vibe and hammocks (a sign of the best hostels, I've learnt...) as well as some great company. Purely coincidentally, Matt, a good friend and travelling buddy from America turned up on my penultimate day to the same hostel which was an awesome surprise, and I introduced him to the Australian delicacy of Kangeroo for dinner. Yummy.
My last evening also resulted in another great musical experience - jamming with some bongos and guitars under the full moon on Byron Bay Beach ... a truly amazing send off from this beautiful and totally relaxing place. 3 days and 2 books later, I was ready to hit the road again and continue onto the Gold Coast.
People had warned me that I would either love or hate the Gold Coast; a resort city on the sea characterised by busy beach and high-rise hotels on the ocean front. It was Miami/Blackpool on Australian steroids. I didn't hate nor love the place; it was just a holiday resort city and pretty severe contrast to Byron Bay, which after one night in, I was ready to continue my journey.
My next stop was Brisbane which turned out to be another top point of the trip. Highlights included two beautiful art galleries which were set in stunning grounds on the river as well as some of the nicest green spaces I'd been to on my trip; The Roma Street Gardens in the north of the city, characterised by stunning light displays and plants in toilet seats. Great city.
Noosa - my following two nights were spent in Noosa, a small ocean-side holiday town. Pretty chilled, I just spent my time chilling and bizarrely bumped into a friend from uni, Jamie, who I ran into again several times further up the coast as well as New Zealand.
Fraser Island - 3 day island/beach safari. In groups of 8 we packed our 4x4 jeeps with camping gear, food and iPods, and set out for Fraser Island in the torrential downpour which we had woken to. We drove for several hours along sprawling beach and off-road tracks to find our campsite foe the trip, a soggy but quiet spot just off the beach. Following a spot of camping lunch, we set out for some sightseeing at the islands largest lake.
BUT, along came my first injury of the trip. Rambling along a rural track to the said lake in barefeet, after a mere 5 minutes, I managed to stub my toe on an exposed (and very hefty i might add) tree root, resulting in my toe being dislocated at a right angle and me in a bit of pain. My kind pals escorted me back down the hill and raced me back to camp in one of our 4x4's. I was greeted by surprised faces back at camp from my tour leaders who seemed amazed at how I'd managed to do such damage within 1 hour of landing on the island. Another short 4x4 trip took me to the closest (and only) small town on the island which soon saw the arrival of an ambulance (which created quite a stir in the town ... little did they know it was all for a toe...) and paramedic, who informed me that I would have to give the toe a little tug to put it back in place. Luckily this didn't hurt too much, and after a bit of time putting it off, I pulled the toe back into place and spent the next 2 days stumbling around the campsite and adopting the nickname 'toes'.
Update: Toe still a bit swollen 2 months later, and a nurse i met on my trip informed me that an operation may be needed unless i want a fat toe for the rest of my life. I think it's a nice souvenir, so we'll see.
Other than this, the 3 days of rain didn't dampen the rest of the trip; and it was a great experience camping, cooking and exploring with the mostly not English group. When the sun did occasionally pop out, it was fantastic exploring the island and its beautiful lakes and forests.
My next stop was quite a contrast - a cattle station a few hours north of Fraser Island. Located further in land, the weather hotted up, letting us dry off from the past few days. Our one night residence here resulted in eating lots of beef, clay pigeon shooting and sporting womens clothing for a friends birthday dress-up party. This evening however resulted in a other drama. Following a few too many drinks, a friend (also dressed in womens attire) managed to fall off the bucking bronco onto his neck, which led to him being ruched off to hospital in a neck brace, accompanied by me in the front of the ambulance being a nuisance and trying to convince the driver to put the lights and sirens on. Being the outback, this wasn't necessary, so I lost this battle. It was quite a sight, my pal Will in a neck brace and dress, laid out on a hospital bed. After a night in the hospital (definitely the cleanest bed I'd slept on during my trip), Will luckily got the all clear, even though his trip unfortunately stopped there as he missed the bus north.
Whitsundays Sailing - my next stop involved another little adventure, but this time by 22m yacht around the stunning Whitsunday beaches and islands. This was another beautiful experience as the 16 strong group contained only a handful of us Brits, so it was pretty refreshing living on the boat for 2 days with some other nationalities and we had a blast. Over the trip, we did some fantastic snorkeling and i was able to brush up on my rusty sailing and to the horror of my fellow sailors, took the helm for a couple of hours which luckily didn't result in any catastrophe.
The weather shone on us, and the beaches, especially Whitehaven Beach which contains some of the purest sand in the world was a real highlight. After a spot of beach cricket (which the Aussies smashed us as), we boarded the boat back the port and the crew who had grown so close after living on a boat together went our separate ways.
Magnetic Island - Following one night back on dry land, I woke at the crack of down to a huge Queensland downpour - we'd chosen the right days to sail! I bumped into some friends from further down the coast and we continued north to Magnetic Island, named so because of the apparent disturbance the island caused to Captain Cooks compass when he sailed by it. After a short ferry journey to this small island, we headed to our hostel. Set on the beach, it was basically a bar and some bedroom huts on the beach, but was nice. The following day, we rented a car and set about exploring the island, its beaches and coves. As it was so small, we managed to see plenty of the island, and after 3 days of exploring, swimming and propping up the bar, we were ready to leave.
This was my final day on the bus as it terminated in Cairns. I'd definitely recommend Oz Experience to any traveler who wants an easy experience of traveling the East Coast as you bump into so many people again and again who you travel various sectors with and as they help you with accommodation along the way, you don't have to think too much.
My final stop was Cairns, which as I said was the terminus for many East Coast trips, so I was always bumping into friends and reminiscing over our travels. The highlight of my few days in Cairns was heading out to the Barrier Reef which I'd visited during my last trip to Aus, and got the diving bug. I spent another day diving the beautiful reef and as I was now a certified diver, was able to see so much more than before and it was brilliant being able to dive in just shorts (after learning in the freezing lake water of Surrey).
So, this concluded my two months in Australia. I'd only seen a fraction of this maaaaaaasssssive country, but experienced so much. My 6 weeks in Melbourne and Sydney allowed me to get totally absorbed into these cities which i loved, and the fast paced travel up the East coast had been really fun. I was however ready to leave Aus and continue onward to New Zealand!
East Coast Top Three:
1. Byron Bay - stay at Byron Bay beach resort if you want to get away from town, stay on a beach and spend hours in hammocks
2. Whitsunday Sailing - I preferred this to Fraser Island if you have to choose between them ... living on a boat is a blast
3. Brisbane - Beautiful art galleries and gardens - amazing how it's recovered from the severe flooding of last year too