Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Australia - Brisbane to the Whitsundays

Over the last week or so we have covered the same distance as we managed over the previous four, covering around a third of the east coast from Bryon Bay to the Whitsundays.

After the pleasant malaise that was Byron bay, we embarked upon a series of tours and coach journeys up the coast, taking in Brisbane, Fraser Island and the Whitsunday islands. As we spent so much time in Bryon, we had to cram this into a relatively short space of time, leading to a hectic few days. I’m pleased to report that having finished the tours we have a bit of down time, letting me write this by the pool before we head off again tomorrow. Difficult business this travelling lark...


- Brisbane is typical city stuff, nice enough with some interesting buildings, art galleries etc but nothing much to write home about. It does have an artificial beach, being inland and Aussies being unable to operate without their daily dose of sand. An artificial beach in Leicester would be quite something; however spending the past four weeks on and off Bondi et al removed much of the novelty value.

Fraser Island

- Along with the Whitsundays, Fraser Island seems to be “the” travellers thing to do on the east coast. Fraser is the world’s largest sand island and is inhabited by more dingos than people. The key selling point about Fraser is your transport, which takes the form of “self drive” 4*4’s. Practically, this translates to you being put in a big land rover with 8 other people, food and camping gear and driving yourself around the island for 3 days. No guide, no driver, just a tank of fuel, a shed load of pasta, 9 backpackers and a map.
The island itself is covered in forest, freshwater lakes and is all very pretty, if not quite as stunning as we’d been led to believe. That said, see the picture of the resident shipwreck above and driving a 4*4 at 80kph down a beach, while dodging landing aircraft is not to be missed. Great fun.


- A quick 13 hour night bus up the coast gets you from Fraser to a place called Airlie beach, from where you visit the Whitsunday islands. The Whitsundays are a group of 74 islands dotted around the southern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef. You get to the islands themselves by jumping on board a sailing ship with 20 other backpackers and sailing around for 3 days.
During this time your days are spent swimming, snorkelling and generally sailing around and your nights are spent on deck with a drink or two - beer if you are lucky, “goon” if not, more on this below.
Highlights of the trip were visiting Whitehaven beach, which is apparently one of the 3 best beaches on the planet and snorkelling on the reef. You can’t really go snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and not have it as a highlight..

That pretty much brings me up to date. We have another week or so in Oz during which we are taking our Open Water diving course, before finishing our Australian travels in Cairns. From Cairns we fly to Tokyo and from Tokyo home.
One month to go..


- A Dingo ate my baby – Dingos are wild dogs and roam freely around Frasier. One night, having got lost in the sand dunes we were circled by a dingo on the beach. This was a bit tense (dingos have been known to take toddlers) but passed without incident. In contrast two welsh chaps we were travelling with had a similar experience and legged it down the beach. No wonder they are only a principality..

- Fraser killed my camera – As I said Fraser is a giant sand island. As such sand gets everywhere, including zoom lenses on cameras. This has resulted in the death of my trusty Canon. After camera number one was stolen in Bolivia this leaves me facing up to buying camera number three. Not ideal.

- Sleeping arrangements – Over the past week I have shared a three man tent with a German couple and a double bed with Dan. Note that these are not confessions, but nonetheless also fall into the “Not Ideal” category.

- Goon – Goon is budget boxed “wine”, but with a twist. It s inexplicably cheap, that is until you read the box, which informs you that it contains fish and eggs. Additionally it steadfastly refuses to refer to itself as “wine”, presumably failing to meet the applicable trading standards definition. Nice.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Byron Bay

As I write this, its 10 days after we arrived in Byron and we’ve only just left. Its a small surf town with the accompanying laid back attitude and just kind of sucked us in. I’ll try to write about what we did in Bryon but if you are busy the words “beach” and “beer” sum it up reasonably well. That said we weren’t completely lazy, with highlights including:

- Surf School. We had a go at taking surf lessons with surprising success, both managing to stand up after an hour or so. I’m not sure you’d really call it “surfing”, as we were standing on boards the size of small beds, but not bad for novices.

- Sorting our lives out. 2 weeks into Australia and we still didn’t know what we were going to do. A long winded trawl round some travel agents later and we had spent the best part of $900 on trips to Fraser Island, the Wittsundays and a scuba diving course. Sorted.

- Nimbin. Nimbin is a tiny little place in the rainforest surrounding Byron and is famous for its “alternative” lifestyle. Without saying too much, the place is populated almost entirely by hippies and the bus which takes you there is called “The Happy Coach”.
Mum and Dad – probably best if you don’t Google Nimbin.

- Old Friends. Our friend Pauline came down to see us in Byron, cue much talk of Fiji and questionable boxes of wine. Always a pleasure to see a friendly face.

- Have I mentioned the beach?

I feel like I’m starting to get into the swing of Australia now. Byron was very chilled and allowed us to sort out the rest of our time in Oz. I’m a lot more relaxed and have things to look forward too rather than aimlessly drifting. It’s good to have structure sometimes - old habits die hard...


- Why pay more? We arrived in Byron late to find our keys left under the front door mat. Therefore if you don’t have any money for accommodation in Byron Bay, simply swing by the YHA around 10pm and pick up a key from under the mat. Easy.

Australia - Sydney to Byron Bay

Three and a half months gone and we have arrived in Australia, our penultimate destination.

Australia is the first country about which neither of us was massively excited. South America was always going to be an adventure, New Zealand was always going to be beautiful and Fiji was always going to be Fiji. Australia was basically on our list because it was next to these places and having made the effort to reach the other side of the world, thought we’d better pop over and cross it off the list.

As such we flew into Syndey around three weeks ago. We didn’t do a great deal for a couple of days, largely due still being on “Fiji Time”.

We got our act together with a visit to the Opera House (less impressive than I thought it would be) and the harbour bridge (more impressive than I thought it would be). From there we followed up with trips to Bondi Beach, which is nice enough but not worthy of the hype, and Manly, a small suburb of Sydney a ferry ride across the harbour. Manly was great, probably the best beach in Syndey and the ferry back at sunset was up there with the best of the 300 sunset photos I’ve taken.

Other highlights included a trip to the contemporary art museum and being taken for a $2 steak by a group of Norwegians we met in Fiji.

After a few days in Sydney we’d had enough of the city, so new Greyhound (coach) ticket in hand we set off for the “Blue Mountains” – by train. The Blue Mountains are literally that, apparently caused by the forest giving off eucalyptus vapour which gives everything a blueish hue. Nice enough place but having spent 2 months up and down the Andes and a month in New Zealand we have seen a few mountains.

We then nipped back to Sydney to catch our coach north. Should have been pretty mundane but we awoke at 6am to find the whole city bright orange, caused by a dust storm blowing from the west. It turned out that this was a very rare event and so a nice little bonus for us. Description can’t really do it justice so take a look at the harbour bridge (above) to give you an idea. I’ll also put my own photos of it on Facebook, albeit they are somewhat less impressive!

From Syndey we headed up the coast to Newcastle. Very uneventful place, the highlights of which were the hostel’s “events organiser” (bloke who takes you to a pub if you fancy it) who had “PSYCHOTIC” tattooed across his back and a trip to a wildlife reserve where we had our first sightings of wombats, koalas and Kangaroos.

Bored of Newcastle we jumped back on the Greyhound for the 12 hour ride to Byron Bay...


- Wombats - Wombats are brilliant. End of.