Published: May 10th 2007May 10th 2007
Painting the Coogee Rock Pool
This little pool is Maurice's favourite swimming spot in the whole world !
A Koala in the bush
The 3 Sisters & the Blue Mountains
MELBOURNE (Victoria) - Fri 13/04 to Sun 15/04
A little worse for wear after the previous night's revelry, we got a ferry back to Auckland, dropped back our corolla & made it to the airport in time for our flight. We had a grand flight & were well impressed with Qantas, we had heard some bad reports but everything went perfect which was great as we had 4 more flights with Qantas in the coming weeks.
We had pre-booked a hostel in Melbourne at a very steep AUD$85 a night, a big increase on what we had been paying in New Zealand. We got a bus into Melbourne & then another to our hostel. In New Zealand, we had consciously avoided the bigger hostels which are generally full of teenagers on post Leaving Cert/A Level Gap Year trips & most are there to party. Now while we know how to party, we still need a night off every now & then. Unfortunately, our chosen hostel was exactly that & the $85 room wasn't up to much & in general
the hostel wasn't very nice, luckily we were so busy in Melbourne we were rarely in the hostel anyway.
We had a quiet night our first night (still recovering from the wedding) but we were up & about early next day to see what Melbourne had to offer. Siobhan had stipulated that her 1st priority in Melbourne was to see the Neighbours set (that was a kick-back from a trip to Manchester in 2006 only to find out that Coronation Street no longer did tours of their set) so our first mission was in Neighbours direction or so we thought....we made our way out to St. Kilda area to find the set only to realise that we were actually searching out a booking office that runs the Neighbours tours, in the end we found the office & they informed us that there were no weekend tours but Monday night was the night to meet with the Neighbours cast in one of the bars downtown, alas we'd be in Sydney or Canberra by then. So with that, we decided to make the best of being in St. Kilda - Melbourne's posh beach surburb - we walked the pier & beach
& then headed back into town (via tram) calling at Melbourne's fantastic Botanical gardens followed by a fine walk along the Yarra river back into the city centre. The walk along the Yarra river was impressive - aside from it being a nice relaxed walk, we watched rowing crews going up & down (doing a few sneaky 20s every now & then, only the rowing crowd will understand that) & met hordes of Melbourne folk out & about for the afternoon - walking, running & roller blading. All along the riverbank there are benches & BBQ areas every 100 metres or so, every one was packed with a crowd of 20 or 30 sipping beers & cooking up an afternoon BBQ. The facilities are really amazing & perfect for coaxing people to get out & about (Kildare CC. take note, Kilcullen has a fine river bank just waiting !!!). We noticed that in New Zealand, camping facilities were top class & were a perfect incentive for people to get outdoors for a few nights - Australia's facilities tended towards BBQ & picnic areas on the sea front or riverbanks - we reckon both are great.
After a leisurely afternoon
on the riverbank, we made it back into town, popped into the hostel for a late lunch then availed of the "free" tourist tram around the city. At the end we stopped at the Crown Casino. When I was working up in Sydney in '96 (in the Sydney Casino at the time as a waiter) there was huge talk about the "Crown Casino" which had just opened & I was very interested in seeing it in real-life, I suppose to compare to Sydney casino. In we went, it was massive - I guess there are 20 to 30 restaurants, a cinema, many bars & of course hundreds of gaming tables & slot machines. While I would have loved to spend a few hours on the Black-Jack we chose instead to blow the huge sum of AUD$5 on the slots - mainly in the 1 & 2 Cent machines - we did alright managing to extend our $5 for 90 minutes.
After our gambling, we walked the riverbank, watching buskers do their thing - some fine buskers might I add & then wandered back to the hostel. As we'd been in Melbourne two nights now & hadn't seen the inside
of a pub we decided to check out the hostel bar. We had a few drinks & just as we were about to leave were approached by the bouncers asking whether we'd be interested in seeing a comedy show - so & so (I forget his name) was playing at 11.30 PM & we could have tickets for 1/4 the price with a free drink included for the princely sum of AUD$5. The Melbourne Comedy Festival was running in Melbourne while we there & seemingly they were finding it very hard to fill any venues. We said why not & in we went.............we were the only ones in there at 11.30 PM & feared that our host would just spend his hour abusing us. Luckily he started late & a few others (about 5 more) arrived & we enjoyed over an hour with the Sydney based comedian.
TORQUAY (start of Great Ocean Road, Victoria) - Sun 15/04 to Mon 16/04
Up early on Sunday morning after our jam packed day on Saturday, I collected a hire car from Hertz. The Hertz lad apologised about the state of the car - it looked fine to me but he explained that
as there was water rationing going on he was unable to wash the car. I wasn't complaining, they gave us a brand new toyota yaris. We were happy with the yaris but soon realised that it wouldn't fit our 2 bags in the hatchback boot - how lucky it was that we got the corolla upgrade in New Zealand otherwise, we have had one of our bags sitting on the back seat for our entire time in New Zealand only begging someone to break a window to take it. Anyway, off we went heading south towards the Great Ocean Road (GOR), our first stop was Torquay where we took a mobile home for the night at AUD$60. We dumped the bags, clearing the back seat & were off. Next stop was Bells Beach, Australia's most famous surf beach, there was good waves & plenty of folks out there & we spent about 2 hours walking the beach & watching the action......I thought about hiring a board but was thinking that the waves might be a bit much for me & decided I'd leave it until we got somewhere with tamer waves - QLD or WA maybe!
From there we
He looked so sad and forlorn we nearly took him home with us :o(
headed south along the the GOR, we took it very easy, stopping every now & then for a walk, photo, coffee or icecream - we enjoyed the scenery, it was good, maybe great but we were asking each other what all the fuss was about - maybe with us after coming from Argentina & then New Zealand our standards were very high in terms of scenery but my reckoning was that the coast in West Clare would match the GOR any day. We reckon, the GOR is an example of very successful Australian marketing, sorry to our Aussie friends.
By 4 PM, we realised that we were going to be under pressure to reach the 12 Apostles & London Arch before dark - the highlights of the GOR. So we had to hightail it - we didn't know about the two speeding tickets in New Zealand at this point & I went hell for leather (now & again a tad over the speed limit) - as we drove a mist descended & we could barely see a thing, all the time it was getting darker & we were full sure we had missed the Apostles. About 6.30 PM we
arrived at the visitor centre, luckily the mist had lifted & we could see again. We rushed from the car, every second of remaining light was precious, we made our way though the visitors centre, through the tunnel under the road (the GOR) & out onto the viewing platforms which are very well done. We made it out to the best viewing spot 10 to 15 minutes before the light disappeared & in the end managed a few twilight photos as a reminder. The 12 Apostles we believe are now 7, we met an Australian couple in Venezuela last October who live nearby & they reported that the 8th Apostle had just fallen, in fact nobody is sure that 12 ever existed. When they renamed them from the then name "Sow & Piglets" in the 50s, there were only 9 left. In fairness they are a fine sight & we spent an hour after sunset hanging around listening to the crashing waves, no doubt further eroding one of Australia's finest sights, to make them sometime in the future "the 6 Apostles" - no report yet of Australian speeding tickets so fingers crossed.
Our journey back in the dark was
uneventful save a herd of cows on the road which nearly made mince meet of us & the yaris - unfortunately we had no phone & it was so remote there wasn't a house or police station nearby so we couldn't raise the alarm to warn future road users. Next morning we were relieved not to hear of any deaths on the GOR the previous night.
CANBERRA (Australia's Capital City, Australian Capital Territory) - Mon 16/04 to Tue 17/04
So after our brief stay in Victoria, we flew to Sydney on Monday morning. We picked up another yaris & drove straight to Canberra (about 300 KM south). I had arranged to meet up with an old friend Tim whom I had worked with in Baxter Healthcare in Sydney almost ten years ago now. We made it to Canberra & spent a few hours wandering the city. We then headed out to the suburbs to find Tim. That night Tim & his wife Cathy took us out to a Turkish restaurant, & we had a banquet trying lots of tastes, new to both Siobhan & I. We were well looked after & a big thank you to Tim & Cathy.
SYDNEY AREA (New South Wales) - Tue 17/04 to Sun 22/04
Next morning, we were up & about early again & drove back to Sydney. We had arranged to hire a campervan for six nights at the very fine low season price of AUD$48 a day (approx. €29 a day) which is great considering it was both our transport & accomodation & allowed us to cook for ourselves every night. Luck was with us again as the kind campervan lady informed us that they had no hiace campervans available & they were upgrading us to a 7 Mtr long VW - a van with toilet, shower & fridge - nice one ! It took a bit of getting used to though - it felt like I was driving a bus but I managed to get her out through the gates & onto the M4 freeway going west. Our first overnight stop was the Blue Mountains. As I had lived in Sydney before I had put together an action packed 6 days to ensure Siobhan got to see all the best spots (& I got to return to a few of my favourite haunts).
Our 1st stop was Katoomba
in the Blue Mountains about 100 K west of Sydney. Our 1st night in the campervan was dead exciting, we shopped for groceries for the week & filled the presses & fridge & then went in search of a halting site for the night. In the interest of keeping things nice & cheap, our plan was to only stay in a caravan park on one of the nights - so we could top up the water tank & recharge the battery. The other nights we'd look for a quiet spot somewhere on the edge of town & park up the bus. So we took a drive around Katoomba trying to find a quiet spot. After much deliberation (as we were campervan novices !) we settled on a spot outside a school but would have to be gone by 8.30 AM the next morning when "School Zone Parking" came into effect. We were to learn that parking on one side of the street means that the camper is always tilted to one side & we both ended up in a heap on one side of the camper that night, we'd choose better from then on. Once, we had settled on a
spot for the night, we unpacked & put away our stuff in our new home - I know it was only for 6 days but !................having a few presses to put things away after so many nights of opening our bags, sleeping, repacking the bags & moving on - we were looking forward to a few days of semi-stability. Earlier I had picked up a crate (known locally as a slab) of Carlton Cold (one of those favourite haunts I was keen to revisit) & moved a few vegetables out of the fridge to make room for them, nothing like having a few cold ones on board. I cooked up our very first campervan meal that night & if I may say we ate a fine dinner & afterwards had a few beers enjoying our 1st night in the van.
Next morning we were up bright & early & had breakfast eaten & everything washed before the school kids starting gawking in at us. Our plan for the day was to spend the whole day in the Blue Mountains & then in the late afternoon to head towards Cessnock & the Hunter Valley as we were planning on doing
a bit of wine tasting the following day. So we set off & visited all the main attraction of the Blue Mountains - Echo Point & 3 Sisters, Leura, Govetts Leap, Evans Lookout & Blackheath & then drove the Bells Line of Road. We got everything in & it was nearly 5 by the time we emerged from the mountains arriving in Richmond.
Cessnock was North East of Richmond, well kind of, we never did pick up a map & were relying on a little thing in the Lonely Planey book. By my reckoning, if we headed North East we'd arrive in Cessnock by about 7 & off we went......5 & 1/2 hours later we crawled into Cessnock, the route we had chosen wasn't very direct but was complicated by the fact the road we started on ended in a town called Wisemans Ferry & the only way out of the town was by ferry across the Hawkesbury River - a free ferry I might add & the lad running it proudly announced to us that it runs 24 Hrs every day including Christmas Day, important note for those who might travel this way. I asked our new friend
for advice on how to proceed from there. He wasn't very clear or confident on what our best choice was but in the end pointed us in one direction saying the road was a little bit better that way.
Over our 1st hurdle, next we came upon a fallen tree, blocking the road entirely. We spotted hazard lights as we approached. When we saw the size of the tree in front of us we were thinking 'there's not a chance we are going to get through here tonight, lucky we have our bed with us' - it was a massive tree & lucky for us & the other few cars nobody had been under it when it fell. About 10 of us set to work, dragging & breaking branches trying to make a path around it to squeeze a car through. When they saw our van they were saying "Mate, we'll never get that through", I was full sure we were parked up there for the night. Our route around the tree was complicated by the fact that a river or canal, not sure, ran right next to the road. We were making slow progress until a new arrival
produced a hand saw & we got to work - about 20 of us at it at this stage - after an hour we got a car through & with a bit more work & a few folks holding back the biggest branches we made a passage big enough for us to get through - nearly an hour & a half after we had arrived. We made it to Cessnock by 10.30 PM, ready for the bed, we parked up in some estate & after a tough day were asleep in no time.
So as usual up early, with great plans for tasting wine & exploring the Hunter Valley - alas it was one hell of a miserable day in the Hunter Valley, a dense fog covered Cessnock & it's surroundings, it was so bad that it was even dangerous to drive. We decided to change plans & made for the freeway going south towards Sydney. We had another rendezvous planned for that night - we were going to my cousin's house in Warriewood (on Sydney's Northern Beaches) for dinner. So we got down to the Northern Beaches early & spent the day exploring - Siobhan had to go
to 'Summer Bay' (or Palm Beach as it is actually called). We spent an hour or two out there including a visit to the Surf Club which didn't really look like the one in Home & Away or at least we didn't think so from our distant memory. Our battery in the camper had died sometime during the day & so we were forced into a campsite that night - we booked ourselves into one in Mona Vale not far from my cousin's house & got our battery sorted & topped up the water tank. That night, we walked over to my cousin Eugene's house & enjoyed a fine dinner with Eugene, his wife Martha, another cousin of mine Maggie and their kids. We had a good few drinks & great chats & made it back to the campervan well after 1 AM. A great night was had - thanks Eugene, Martha & Maggie.
Next morning was a fine bright one & we set off south stopping in Manly beach & then driving south across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We were meeting Rob & Anthia, an Aussie couple who used to live in Drogheda, that afternoon & had three
or four hours to kill for sightseeing in Sydney beforehand. First stop - Bondi beach, beforehand, I had warned Siobhan not to be expecting too much - I was proved wrong this time as with the day that was in it, Bondi looked spectacular. We hung around there for an hour or so then made a detour to Bondi Junction on our way south, Siobhan had heard so much about the Cock & Bull pub she just had to see it - it's a gathering point for the many Irish that make it to Sydney, not usually at 11 O'Clock in the morning though. From there it was to Maroubra beach, another beach that has been improved dramatically since I was last there - my Sydney expert status was fading fast. I knew I couldn't get it wrong with Coogee beach & Siobhan was suitably impressed, we parked up the bus & I went exploring while Siobhan cooked up lunch. I visited all the old spots as I had lived just up the road in '96/'97 & can say Coogee is as great as ever & hasn't changed a bit.
After lunch we were back down to Maroubra to
meet Rob & Anthia & their beautiful daughter Erynn. They kindly offered us a parking spot at the back of their building - a nice flat spot & then took us out on Sydney Harbour in their friend's boat. We toured the harbour for the afternoon sipping a few beers & eating snacks, just as it was getting dark we pulled up in vibrant Darling Harbour. Rob & Anthia treated us to a fine dinner - we were dead proud pulling up in a flashy speedboat (sorry I don't have a better technical description) & stepping into a restaurant on the waters edge. A big "Thank You" to Rob, Anthia & Erynn for a great day out.
Next morning we went back to Coogee again & I took a swim in one of my all-time favourite swimming spots - Coogee Surf Club Rock Pool. Under a little time pressure, I called into No. 96 where I lived back in '96/'97. It seemed very quiet & deserted in contrast to how I remember it when there were 30 or so Irish living there, I even popped my head out the back garden hoping to see Sean & Joe (only some
of you will know S & J), alas, it was all quiet out there. With time precious as we were going for dinner again, we had yet another rendezvous, this time with good friends of mine - Michelle & Lou from Graignamanagh, Kilkenny. Before we headed out to Croyden for dinner, we had a whistle stop tour of Sydney city centre taking in Hyde Park, The Domain, Circular Quay, The Opera House, Darling Harbour again & the central business district. Unfortunately our search for Michelle and Lou's house wasn't an easy success and we had to give in and call them and then wait in the village while Lou came down to rescue us - nearly an hour & a half after we should have been there . We were treated to a fine dinner & caught up with Michelle, Lou & their 2 lads Alex & Christian. Again, we were offered a fine halting site right in front of their house & slept soundly only to be greeted with a delicious cooked breakfast next morning - if that wasn't enough they escorted us to the campervan place to return our bus & then took us to the airport. Another
big "Thank You' to all the Beraducci family.
Sydney was fanstastic, everyone looked after us so well which made for a fantastic week for us. Sydney is a truly spectacular city & Siobhan was in awe, having seen & done so much in our few days in the area, has given her a taste for the city and she wants to come back already. After our crazily busy six days we were looking forward to a little break up the East Coast.
CAIRNS (Northern Queensland) - Sun 22/04 to Wed 25/04
We flew from Sydney to Cairns (pronounced "Cans") and quite unexpectedly it was "HOT" & very very humid. It had been quite a while since we had to deal with that type of heat and humidity, the last time was probably Venezuela (out very first stop). We spent 3 nights in Cairns & there's very little to report, we stayed in a nice hostel, caught up on email/internet & finalised our plans for travelling down the coast. After our AUD$48 a day deal with the camper in Sydney we were considering going the campervan route again but couldn't get as good a deal as they were tacking
on a one-way fee of AUD$250 as we were flying out of Brisbane 12 days later. In addition, with the heat we were thinking it might just be too much to spend nights in a van without a fan. So we opted for the bus & hostels route & in hindsight regret that now. We purchased a package deal that gave us a bus trip with 3 stops enroute from Cairns to Brisbane (1,700 KMs), plenty for us as we only had 9 days left at this stage. The package included 8 free nights in hostels along the way (some of which we couldn't use), a sailing trip on the Whitsunday Islands, a 4WD overnight trip on Fraser island & a kayaking trip in Noosa area. Again, with only 9 days available to us, we had to choose 2 of the 3 trips & discard the other.
MAGNETIC ISLAND (off Queensland coast) - Wed 25/04 to Thu 26/04
So after our extended stay in Cairns we were on our bus south very early the next morning. Our driver was a real regimental lad & layed down all the rules we had to follow, seatbelts on, no alcohol, no drugs,
no food on board, make sure you hold onto something when the bus is moving, toilet info.....it was like he was talking to a bunch of kids & the truth is that's the way backpackers are treated in Oz, rules about this, rules about that - can't do this can't do that............just needed to get that off my chest.
The bus journey to Townsville was unexciting & when we arrived, we went immediately to the ferry terminal & took a ferry out to the Magnetic Island. We had vouchers for Magnums hostel (from that great deal we struck in Cairns) & stayed only one night on the Island - Magentic Island is a laid back spot, so called after Captain Cook noticed the islands apparent magnetic effect as he passed heading north in 1770. It is a perfect spot for a few days if only we had more time on our hands but we made the best of our stay wandering the island by foot that afternoon & sharing a bottle of wine on the beach that night with what seemed like hundreds of Wallabies in close vicinity (Wallabies are similar to Kangaroos only smaller). We were unable to
take in a swim as there were "Stinger' (Jellyfish) warnings everywhere.
AIRLIE BEACH (Queensland) - Thu 26/04 to Fri 27/04
So after our very brief stay on Magnetic Island we were on the ferry again next morning & back to Townsville to catch a bus further south. We arrived in Airlie beach at around 5.30 PM & headed off to another Magnums hostel which is located right in the middle of town. Using another of our vouchers, we actually had 2 nights of vouchers for that spot & since we were only staying one night they agreed to upgrade us to a double room with only a $1 surcharge which I thought was very fair. They also gave us towels & when we asked for the bed linen they told us - oh the rooms are already made up - now these little things may not seem like much but when you haven't had them in a while they mean something. Imagine our delight when we go to the room & discovered a nice room, a little fridge & a small balcony outside - our image of Magnums was enhanced significantly. We checked in with the sailing company that
night & were scheduled to sail at noon the next day.
SAILING THE WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS (off Queensland coast) - Fri 27/04 to Sun 29/04
So on Friday morning we went off in search of supplies for our voyage - everything is provided but we had to get the few drinks in, we chose to bring wine & after picking up a weight of fruit & a few snacks we headed for the boat. On arrival we were kitted out for a "Stingersuit" - I was assuming it was another ploy to get a few extra $s out of us but realised soon enough it was a very important piece of kit. A little dingy took us out to the boat, tide was too low for the "Hanmer" to come into dock. Immediately, we were assigned our quarters. We were all together in one big cabin - all 22 of us! Our yacht, the "Hanmer" had previously raced the Sydney Hobart race & after 10 years of what sounded like very successful racing was kitted out for the backpacker crowds with 24 or so bunks down below. We set sail immediately & had a three hours sail out to the
islands, I don't have too much detail on what we got up for the three days save to say - we sailed, snorkelled (Siobhan's 1st ever snorkel - finally overcoming her fear of the fishes), walked beaches, drank a few glasses of wine, sailed, swam, swam more for the 3 days. The snorkelling was good but there were so many jellyfish around it wasn't the most comfortable, we had our stinger suits on but still were worried about our face & hands which were largely uncovered. We had heard stories about what the Australian jellyfish can do & they weren't pleasant so we were on our guard.
We had a great young crowd on board & even with my revised age of 28, I reckon I was still the oldest passenger on board, the few glasses of wine soon put that the back of my head & we had great crack with the whole crowd. The 2 nights passed very quickly - the food was great (we barely touched the food we brought with us) & even sleeping at night proved comfortable with a nice breeze passing though the cabin (Ok, the wine helped aswell). Our only disappointment might
be that we only saw one real white beach & with all the postcards & brochures we'd seen we had the impression that the Whitsundays were covered in beautiful white beaches - having said that - White Haven beach was spectacular - while Siobhan was relaxing I walked a bit in the shallow water & spotted sting rays (majestic but very shy) & a few small sharks that followed me around for awhile.
NOOSA (Queensland) - Mon 30/04 to Wed 02/05
We made it back into Airlie beach at midday & had a relaxed (very relaxed) afternoon at the manmade lagoon (huge swimming pool) on the waters edge. All along the east coast of Australia, nearly every town has a lagoon which is great for swimming when the stinger season is in.
We made our 5.35PM bus after a few beers on the beach looking out at the Airlie Beach sunset. On board the bus everybody manouvers for the best seats, the best seats being 2 to yourself. I had my eye on a free double, creating another free double for Siobhan & unfortunately shared my thoughts with 2 young English guys behind me, well I had barely
finished my sentence and one of my audience had jumped in my seat - no respect for the elderly these days, if I was a few years younger I would have .............
So Siobhan & I slept side by side on the bus (me acting as a pillow) & in fairness managed a fine night's sleep only interrupted by a new arrival at a 4 AM stop who woke my young English 'friend' & advised that he was to share the seat - lovely ! Back to sleep happy - that serves you right !
We arrived very early in Noosa & had a mini-bus waiting to pick us up to bring us to one of our "voucher" hostels. We upgraded to a double room for an additional AUD$20 & took in a snooze. At midday, we went downtown on the free hostel shuttle bus. We had a few jobs to do, No. 1 was to confirm our Kayak trip - however, it seems that our Cairns friends had never made the booking & next availble slot was 3 days later - no good for us - shite another $100 wasted but we did find 2 Irish girls
who were considering the trip & we gave them our vouchers so at least the money wasn't totally wasted. We walked the coast track in Noosa starting in the forest - that sure took Siobhan's mind off the wasted tickets - she was petrified. Anyway, we made it through safely & walked the scenic coastal track back into town, the scenery was as per most of Australia's east coast, spectacular !!! We shopped for dinner & walked back to the hostel which proved to be another very scenic if tiring walk after our exertions already that day. That night Siobhan cooked up a fine dinner for us & we hit the hay early needing to catch up after the overnight bus trip of the night before.
To make up for missing out on kayak trip, we took out a double kayak the next day & headed for the ocean. After a disaster of a launch - I slipped, then Siobhan slipped, then the Kayak went adrift in the water on it's own so I jumped in & then Siobhan slipped again, then I realised that I had the camera in my pocket, I finally caught up with the boat
& managed to get her back to base only to spot Siobhan's shoe floating in the water - with everything rescued from the water both Siobhan & I were a little damaged after our falls but at least nobody saw us - our camera survived aswell. We spent a few hours surfing the waves on Noosa's main beach - kayak surfing is fantastic & we highly recommend it. In fact we reckon we enjoyed our few hours in the waves more than we would have the two day trip through the flat but scenic Noosa Everglades. Very tired we paddled back to the hostel against the flow & successfully got our kayak out of the water without incident. That night we had a few schooners (Australia's normal beer size (385 mls)) & were off again south the next morning.
BRISBANE (Queensland) - Wed 02/05 to Fri 04/05
We got off the bus in Brisbane in the central station. We had another of the crazy drivers with all the rules about this & that & at the end we were happy to say goodbye to him & his bus company - next time around it's a campervan for us. We
took a subway out to our hostel (another voucher job). So on checking that a double would cost us an extra AUD$52 we decided we'd try a dorm room for the experience - our one & only (hopefully). The dorm was OK, big - maybe 20 people but split between 2 rooms, we thought we chose the best (the most strategic spot in the room), a spot in between the two rooms but we realised later that night we were susceptible to the lights & noise of both rooms, lesson learned. That afternoon, we wandered Brisbane, Siobhan's rucksack was in a bad way & we needed to get a decent one for the Asia trip, we are not going anywhere near Asia & in particular Thailand without a rucksack that we can lock. Alas the prices were crazy, a minimum of AUD$300 & 400, it seems that all outdoor equipment is very expensive in Australia so we decided we'd leave it until Perth. That night we visited a very packed Vietnamese restaurant & had some great food.
Next day we wandered Brisbane, walked the river bank, Southbank, the museums & the Botantical Gardens which were fabulous if a little
brown & dry - when we were there Brisbane was at Level 5 (the highest) water rationing which meant that watering grass & flowers wasn't a high priority. For lunch we met up with Juanita an old friend I had lived with in Sydney. So there ends our 12 days on the East Coast, we flew to Perth the next morning.
FREEMANTLE (near Perth, Western Australia) - Fri 04/05 to Sun 06/05
We arrived in Perth & took a bus straight out to Freemantle, a small city (even a small town seems to be called a city in Australia) on the coast 30 KMs south west of Perth. We didn't get to see anything in Perth on our way but would return later in our Western Australia (WA) stay. We had pre-booked a hostel by telephone earlier in the day, not our preferred option but as we were arriving late we thought it was best, it didn't pay off & we were forced to stay in a nasty rundown spot for the next 2 nights. The hostel which was once a hotel had had it's day, in fact we could see that it had one been a fine spot
but alas not anymore. It's only plus was that they had a fridge which is what attracted us to it in the 1st place & the fact that it was fairly central. We had a quick look around Freemantle that night, it was nice but not as nice as we had been told, we only got to see that town centre (sorry city centre) & there were lots of street cafes & the like but it all seemed to have been thrown together in a disorganised fashion. We walked the port/pier aswell which I suppose as you'd expect from a pier was weathered & dirty - we had dinner at Joe's Shack on the pier, the local favourite for Fish & Chips which had been recommended by the lad at the desk in the hostel.
Next morning, we went straight out to Rottnest Island, an island about 45 mins ferry ride from Freemantle. The island is beautiful, there are no permanent residents & all property is owned by the Australian government & made available to visiting tourists. The island is so called as the 1st European to sight & visit the island - a Dutch captain Vlamingh sighted the
indigenous marsupial the Quokka & thinking their were huge rats called the island Rottnest meaning rats nest in Dutch. We took a tour (local volunteers give daily free tours) about shipwrecks & were brought to all the spots where ships have floundered over the years & were filled in on why each occurred. Afterwards we found a lovely beach spot for Siobhan & I went off & joined another tour about the Quokkas who its seems are rampant on the island largely due to the lack of natural predators. We had a fine day out there & would recommend it to anyone who has one or more days available.
BUNBURY (Western Australia) - Sun 06/05 to Mon 07/05
Next morning I was up bright & early as I had to make my way into Perth & then out to the airport again to collect our camper, I was hopeful of another upgrade but alas it was not to be - a hiace it was. I missed the 8.15 AM bus by seconds & decided that rather than wait an hour till the next one I'd get the 8.30 AM train. I tried to buy a ticket in the machine
before boarding but without change I couldn't. Onboard, I was thinking ah sure there won't be anybody checking tickets at this unearthly hour on a Sunday morning - alas I was proven wrong & only two stops later, train police boarded. I explained my situation & that I had only been in Perth for two days. After a bit of a telling off & a bit of future advice they let me off & I proceeded into Perth. Finding my bus (the No. 37) out to the airport proved difficult & with its infrequency meant it was after 12 by the time I got out to the airport. The walk to the campervan place & the paperwork & instruction on the campervan meant I only got going again after 1 PM & it was nearly 2 PM by the time I got back to Freemantle. Siobhan was hanging around the dingy hostel reception in the meantime none too happy.
By 2 PM we were driving south & as usual we stopped to stock up the fridge & presses. The few hours to Bunbury were uneventful & not so scenic & we were thinking what is all the fuss about
this area of Australia. We arrived in Bunbury around 6 just as it was getting dark & went in search of our home for the night - we had an abundance of options - our hiace, being without shower & toilet forced us to find a spot near public facilities & we can say there are plenty of facilities in Bunbury area & all remain open 24 Hrs & some even have showers for the surfer dudes to wash off the salt after a day on the waves. So with a home chosen we went back into town & decided we'd take in a film - our chosen (well Siobhan's chosen) was "Because I said so" - now the fact that we hadn't been to the cinema since Xela in Guatemala & back then the film hadn't turned out to be much good, we were well looking forward to it but alas it was total crap, in fact it was worse than crap - why anyone would spend whatever numbers of millions making it I do not know - no more cinema till we get home I think.
MARGARET RIVER (Western Australia) - Mon 07/05 to Wed 09/05
Where oceans meet !
Where the Indian & Southern oceans meet !
morning, we had a lovely drive south from Bunbury, stopping everywhere & anywhere along the way whether it be stunning cliffs, beaches or wildlife reserves. The coast south of Bunbury is truly stunning & well worth the effort. We arrived in Margaret River around 5 & headed straight for Prevelly beach which we had been told about. We had planned to meet up with 2 of the Inca Trail Champions but telephone & internet were down all over town & we were unable to get their contact number as we only had it on our email. So with that we were on our own for the 2 days in Margaret River.
So after a brief stop in Prevelly beach & agreement that it would make a grand spot for the night we headed back into town to stock up on the essentials. We were back before dark & witnessed a much busier spot with what seemed like hundreds of people coming out for a look at the massive surf that day - there were even TV cameras out there. So we watched the surfing, the swell (waves) & a fine sunset before everybody starting moving off leaving a very
quiet & eerie Prevelly beach. Of course we didn't realise during the day that there were no street lights & by 7.30 PM the whole place was pitch dark save the lights in our campervan & 2 others at the far end of the parking lot. With that we cooked up dinner & lights were out by 8.30 PM & we had almost 12 hours of sleep only interrupted by the arrival of the next day's sun. Breakfast was eaten to fine views of some fine waves & keen surfers.
After breakfast we booked ourselves into a campsite for the night wanting to charge the battery before it ran out on us - we were learning about campervans! We then headed south towards Augusta stopping every now & again to see either Kangaroos or some spectacular scenery along the way. We arrived in Augusta at midday, parked up & brewed coffee (now a campervan daily ritual) & then went out to visit Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse which is situated on the cape where the Southern Ocean & The Indian Ocean meet. We did the tour & grabbed a few photos & were heading north again by 2 PM. Our plan
Wine tasting Margaret River
Things got a little blurry after the 3rd glass!
for the afternoon was winetasting - it is said 'you can't come to Margaret River without tasting some wine - it'd be like coming to Ireland & not tasting Guinness' (oh - looking forward to that now that I remind myself). So off we went all very shy at first but by the third place we were swirling our glasses & smelling the wine as if we were experts - it's easy if you just copy what the others are doing. We even tried a mouthful at AUD$2.20 (they charge for the dear wines - that one came in at AUD$200 a bottle) but our pouring buddy let us off - I think he could see we were very raw novices. Before we took too much on board we drove back to Margaret River, went back to Prevelly for sunset & then back into town & took up residence in our campsite berth.
That night we cooked as usual & headed into town afterwards for a drink - we tried a busy local bar in town, we had only the one & strolled back to the halting site.
FREEMANTLE again (near Perth, Western Australia) - Wed 09/05 to
Cooking Kangaroo on the camper stove
Australia's Kangaroos don't need to worry about us
We had a nice leisurely drive back up to Freemantle & pulled up the van at Freemantle's South Beach & cooked up dinner - we had bought some Kangaroo meat & were planning to cook ourselves one last campervan meal before we had to give the van back We cooked up the Kangaroo meat but the smell told us this was going to be a very new taste for us - it was very strong tasting a bit like pork liver but stronger & whilst a taste was OK eating more than a few mouthfuls proved too much for us & alas most of it went in the bin - Kangaroos are safe from us two anyway. After dinner, we collected Noel & Poina (yet another rendezvous) at their hostel & we went to Freemantle Prison which The Dill had told me was a "Must See" when in Freemantle. We took a night tour which was fantastic, even brilliant, aside from the interesting historical content of the tour they have it set up that you are in for a few big suprises along the way - I won't ruin it for anyone who will be here in the
future save to echo the Dill's advice - its a must see ! At AUD$16 a head it was fantasic value, we were saying that if it had been in New Zealand, it would have come in at a minimum of NZ$95 as it seems every tour/outing in NZ is NZ$95 or more.
So after doing the touristy thing, we picked up the hiace again & headed back into town. Noel & Poina grabbed something to eat on the pier & afterwards we all headed back out to the South Beach as all the toilets in Freemantle town were locked up for the night & we needed a toilet if we were going to have a few drinks. Siobhan & I were flying the next day so we were having a bit of a get together to finish off the few beers we had left in the fridge - a bit like a moving out party. There was plenty of other campers on the beach but we stuck to ourselves & emptied the fridge which kept us going till after 1AM.
Next morning we dropped back the hiace & grabbed a taxi to the airport - bye bye
Australia - time to start our Asia adventure.
There are more photos below