A Travellerspoint blog

Australia

4 weeks heading up the Aus East Coast

4th January - 1st Feb

all seasons in one day

Hello, hello.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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

Posted by tom_e_free 17:42 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Crimbo and New Years in Sydney

15th December - 3rd January

all seasons in one day

My short one-hour flight from Melbourne was welcomed into Sydney airport again with some pretty un-Australian weather; grey skies and a slight drizzle. This was not typical for the 'summer' season and contradicted what I had been warned for: scorching temperatures and a stark contrast to the Decembers I was used to back in the UK.

Upon arriving in Sydney, I was greeted by my host for my three week stay here; Lizzie, the wife of my cousin Ben who had moved and married over here a few years back. The back room in their Potts Point flat (an area close by to the infamous Kings Cross, known for its red light district and lively backpacker scene) soon became my den as I unpacked my bag and settled in; something I had become unfamilar with over the past two and a half months.

With Ben and Lizzie having full-on work and social lives, I found myself thrown in to Sydney life; spending a great amount of time with them during their days off and after work, trying out new restaurants, bars and exhibitions in town as well as picking up on a few local traditions including a surf lesson with Ben at Maroubra Beach, just south of Bondi. I anticipated myself to be about as good as a one-legged dog on a surf board, but after a few splashes and falls, I picked up a few of the basics and got the bug. With Sydney being surrounded by amazing beaches and bays all around the bustle, it was never difficult to escape it and grab some beach time (however the weather was usually the dampening factor).

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Sydney is certainly also a great city for food, as I ate some of the best sushi (Zushi) (flashpacking again, yaaaah) as well as tried a new style (to Sydney, anyway) of Vietnamese street cafe's where deliciously fresh food was eaten on the street sitting on little boxes (Misschu's).

Another Australian sporting outing came when I went to watch a new breed of cricket; The 'Big Bash' league which consisted of a twenty-twenty match (twenty overs or 120 balls bowled by each side), who consisted of newly developed teams from across the country comprising of various national stars of the game. Being twenty-twenty, the game only lasted three hours (too long for many, I'm sure) and was a great experience characterised by a lively crowd as well as blood and big hits on the field.

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Like Melbourne, I also spent some time in some of Sydney's galleries during the more British days when untypical cloud and rain appeared. In particular, was the Brett Whitely Gallery, a warehouse and loft in the Surry Hills area of town which had been transformed into a gallery displaying his work, as well as a preserved loft where this Australian artist lived and worked. Not only was most of his work astonishing, but the preserved loft presented interviews and insight into this artists life; characterised by mental illness and drug abuse.
A further highlight came from a visit to The Australian Museum who were hosting the 'Wildlife Photographer of the year' exhibition, which displayed some of the most beautiful photographs I had ever seen, and is definitely worth a check-out online.

I was also fortunate enough to have a few friends in Sydney the time as me, including Ben; a fellow member of the Notts Big Band and Matt, who i'd met in America.
Ben had become a partial Sydneysider after living and studying here for six months, and after an afternoon of drinking and eating ice-cream bromantically in the harbour, we decided to hit the harbour waters in a small sailing boat the following day; Christmas Eve. This was certainly a highlight to my time in Sydney; being in the water with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the back ground, as well as brushing up on my rusty sailing techniques. Besides, I also still have the blisters to prove it.

Being in Sydney for Christmas and New Year also provided several highlights to the trip. Having family in Sydney meant that Christmas was spent at Lizzie's parents house just out of town, where the usual festivities of drinking and eating plenty ensued (As Ben is a chef, a hearty treat was cooked up), as well as some more unusual ones including a Christmas Day swim and an awesome Boxing Day outing along the south coast on Lizzie's dad's Harley Davidson.

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New Years Eve was also a real delight, as we headed to a house party at the top of a flat in one of the highest points in Sydney to watch the fireworks. We were treated to two sets of fireworks at 9 and the main show at midnight, it certainly did not dissapoint and was unlike any other firework display I had ever seen. Ten minutes of multi-coloured treats spread across five sites around the harbour provided an exhilarating entry to 2012, and one which has to be experienced. With the New Year hangovers however, came a welcome heatwave, which resulted in New Years Day at the sea as well as a relaxing BBQ at the beach (something Aussies do pretty well, and again something I couldn't see in the UK!).

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Overall, my three weeks in Sydney went in a flash (insert fire-work joke here?), which was made by the family and friends here, who allowed me to jump into Sydney life and get a full flavor of this energetic and fast-paced city. I could definitely feel the different city dynamic to Melbourne, and preferred it for this, as a city which offered vast and beautiful parks and Botanical Gardens as well as stunning sandy beaches and bays where the bustle could be escaped from.

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The city sand provided a little taster for what was to follow; a month heading up the eastern coast to Cairns in the north. Following last years lashings of rain and cyclones, I just hoped the heatwave I left in Sydney would continue... THE END

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  • SYDNEY TOP FIVE *

1. Eating - Great markets, fresh street food and of course Kangeroo pizza
2. Sydney sports - cricket if you have the stamina, otherwise get out on the water by surf board or boat (lots of nice ferry trips to Manly, Watson's Bay and Mosman Bay, which were highlights)
3. Going out - 'World Bar' in 'The Cross' for lethal teapots, or The Golden Sheaf in Edgecliff for vast rooftop bars and fistycuffs
4. The Opera House - Just stand by it or go for a tour which I'd recommend if you want to learn facts about how many tiles are on it.
5. The Rocks - Home to Kangeroo Pizza and some of the best views if the Harbour and Opera House

Posted by tom_e_free 03:17 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

On down under ... Melbourne & Victoria

25th November - 13th December

all seasons in one day

My last few hours in the USA involved battling the infamous LA public transport system to LA airport; made worse by the fact that it was the last day before Thanksgiving, and half the bus was weighed down with turkeys and other travelers escaping the madness. I was most excited however by the prospect of flying on the new(ish) Airbus A380; the double-decker mammoth of the skies. It was awesome, but even though the flight involved perhaps one of the smoothest take-offs and landings I've ever experienced, the leg room was one of the worst.

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The flight was also funned up by the fact that electro pop kids LMFAO and their entourage were traveling to Australia to play some shows; and as they were in the check-in queue in front of me, I was able to hear frontman Redfoo shout down the phone at his lawyer for a good 30 mins whilst they lost 'hundreds of thousands of dollars' in royalties. The 'party rock' lifestyle was obviously however taking its toll, as their band and entourage passed out cold in their seats in front of me as soon as we took off.

Flying westward from LA to Melbourne also meant that I lost a day, so strangely the 13 hour flight left at 11PM on Wednesday and arrived at 10AM on Friday.
I was greeted upon my arrival by a cloudy, drizzly Melbourne and a family friend who I stayed with for a few days; allowing me to update my online life and avoid the wet and somewhat British weather which continued throughout the weekend.

Following a few luxuries including a day touring the Yarra Valley vineyards (a bit of flashpacking is healthy...), I checked back into hostel life, 'Hotel(?) Discovery; a huge place in the centre of Melbourne, close to the huge and diverse Queen Victoria Market (where I once or twice treated myself to some foodie 'flashpacker' luxuries) and was a place worth visiting just for the amazing array of smells.
The first thing I realized from talking to people was a huge difference in the hostel population; with a vast number of people looking and in work, rather than backpacking. This didn't become a problem however, as other guests pursuing a new working life in Aus were just as keen to explore the city as I was, and I found myself some good friends as well as in the role of 'business psychologist'; eyeing over CV's and job applications.

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Overall, I spent about 10 days in the city, which was one I had been told numerous times was a great one for chilling out and catching loads of cultural highlights. One thing I loved about Melbourne was how multi-cultural it felt (and it truly is, with incredibly vibrant Chinese, Greek and Italian communities and districts [among many others]). I felt it here more than other cities I'd been to (even NY), because of the such intimate feel of the city.

What's more, the occasional spell of bad weather allowed several museum days, which were some of the best i'd ever been to. In particular, was the old Melbourne Gaol; home to 180 odd hangings including the notorious Ned Kelly and where we also participated in an interactive tour in which we were cast into the roles of convicts and an Aussie 'guard' had a fun time grilling us; especially us Pom's.

The other highlight was the Melbourne Museum; a huge place complete with its own indoor rainforest and a highlight for me, an awesome exhibition on the mind which basically fit the past 5 years of my university education into an hour.

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Melbourne was also a great city for music, and a good few hours were spent watching free concerts in Federation Square; a space at the heart of the city, paved with red rock sourced from desert filled Western Australia. Further time was also spent exploring and getting lost in the maze of lanes which ran through the city which were lined with walls of street art. We found a few gems however, namely 'Bennet's Lane Jazz Club'; the 'Worlds best Jazz Club' according to Lonely Planet (although my loyalties lay in NYC...) which was tucked away at the end of one discreet lane. Another gem came in the form of a club called 'Cherry Bar' on 'AC/DC' lane (whose sign regularly got stolen); where we ducked into one Thursday night when they played back-to-back soul and funk into the early hours.

A nice break from city life came from spending a few days down the coast in the sea side town of St. Kilda, which was lively with backpackers and penguins at sunset, as well as 'Brighton Beach' (the best beach in the Melb area); a sandy beach lined with vibrantly coloured beach huts (which I discovered sold for a crazy couple of hundred thousand dollars). St. Kilda was also home to penguins who at sunset each day launch their attack on a beach of tourists following a day of hunting; (the penguins, not tourists). After 45 minutes of waiting, we finally found ourselves surrounded by three tiny and plump penguins who seemed to love the limelight.

Another rest from city life came during a 3 day trip along the 'Great Ocean Road' (stretching for 150 miles along the Australian south coast); which followed some incredibly dramatic, rocky coast including the 'Twelve Apostles' [of which only 8 remain, supposedly), plenty of golden beaches and southern sprawling sea.
We also spent two days driving through and hiking 'The Grampians National Park'; consisting of miles and miles of stunning and unspoilt mountain ranges. Our final day included climbing one particular range, on which our tour guide managed to get us lost on, resulting in a rocky de-tour which I'm sure was not covered on any of our travel insurance policies. Despite a few tears from my fellow group members, we all survived and all problems were remedied by one more flashpacker wine tasting during the 6 hour drive back to Melbourne.

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All in all, Melbourne is a great city for getting lost in its maze of lanes and arcades, soul clubs, beautiful parks, people watching, museums (particularly cramming a psychology degree in an hour) and providing a base for some great trips down the coast.
Lots of people I spoke to seemed to mention the great Melbourne-Sydney divide; suggesting an alliance with one or the other after visiting them. As I continued my journey north-easterly to Sydney, I couldn't wait to return to this city as a backpacker and see whether this was true.

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  • MELB TOP THREE *

1. Queen Victoria Market - Home to every kind of cheese, meat, fruit and Aussie souvenier.
2. Melbourne Museum - Complete with indoor rainforest, a taxidermy army and dream simulator (truly addictive and time consuming)
3. Cherry Bar - Who needs alcohol when you have a soul and funk DJ spinning into the early hours? And it's on AC/DC Lane baby!

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Posted by tom_e_free 15:00 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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