Australia - Part 2

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February 20th 2011
Published: February 21st 2011
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6th January – 13th February 2011

We arrived into Cairns airport late at night and headed straight to Port Douglas where we checked into the Parrotfish Lodge Hostel – not one of the better ones we’ve stayed in. Fortunately, Helen and David were staying at the Peninsula Boutique Hotel which had a lovely big pool area and overlooked the beach so much of our time was spent there. Port Douglas is both very hot and very relaxing so the main thing to do is to bask in the tropical pacific ocean and cool off in the pool so many of our days were spent doing just that!! There were however, two action packed days, the first of which was a day of snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef.

We ventured out on a boat, with a small group of 24 people and went to visit three different sections of the outer reef throughout the course of the day. At the first site we were left to snorkel alone and familiarise ourselves with the equipment and at the second site were taken for a tour by one of the Marine Biologists who pointed out a whole load of amazing fish and coral. After a really tasty lunch we stopped at Turtle Bay for our final snorkel. While in the water we came across some reef sharks before finding a very chilled out turtle that really didn’t seem to mind us swimming around him. It was the most amazing experience, especially for Steve when he duck-dived and swam alongside the turtle for a while. Fortunately, the marine biologist was on hand to capture the moment on camera.

After all the exertion of the snorkelling, we spent the following day relaxing day on the beach and making use of the public bbq area on the beach front. We decided on a late lunch, which in hindsight was probably not a great idea, as the tropical climate brought an hour of mid-afternoon rain most days! So, as soon as the meat started sizzling on the bbq the rain started and did not stop until 5 minutes after we finished eating – however, in true British style we did not give up on the outdoors so ate our food under the canopy covering the barbie.

The second of our action packed days was spent in the tropical rainforest at the Daintree River. We had an expert naturalist (not naturist!!) called Tony, who took us four-wheel driving into the rainforest and a couple of walks where he pointed out various flora and fauna. It was then on to a river cruise on croc infested waters, where we were fortunate enough to see a small, medium and large croc as well as various other creatures. After a delicious lunch of bbq meat, fish, salads and damper (a local speciality bread/cake) we went swimming in a creek to cool off and then it was back in the van to Cape Tribulation. This was a really beautiful spot with a fabulous beach. While on the beach Tony gave us some Hibiscus flower to try which we all took and enjoyed. His next offering however, was not quite so desirable – licking an ant’s backside!! Feeling ever so brave, Steve pushed Ellie to the front and volunteered her for the task!! After Ellie had done it everyone else got braver and tasted it to find it was like licking a sherbet lemon and actually quite tasty. Our last stop of the day was a tropical fruit farm which produced ice cream and was a lovely way to conclude the expedition.

We had a bit of a shocker on our last full day in Port Douglas – we booked ourselves on a flight from Cairns to Brisbane, about one hour before finding out about the seriousness of the floods which were expected to peak the following day. Watching the footage on the news made us realise how bad it was as the city itself was totally submerged. It was a real disappointment as we were very excited about visiting and were going to meet up with Steve’s Aussie mate’s brother, as the family are from there. He is a planner too so some interesting planning chat would be forfeited – shame! Our airline were very helpful though and agreed to refund our flight, all we needed was a plan B.

After saying goodbye to Helen and David and having a lovely meal on our last night with them, we headed to Cairns the next day to formulate a plan – this would end up being an earlier-than-scheduled trip back to Sydney where we could take advantage of free accommodation at Bexs and Rich’s flat. We spent a few days in Cairns soaking up some tropical sun before returning to Syders, where we stayed for 4 days.

As soon as we had dumped our bags in the flat we were off to see Ryan and James for a few cheeky ones on the rooftop backpackers hostel, where the evening progressed with some excellent games of rooftop stack! This was the evening where two became a clothing sense – Steve realised that his boxers exactly matched the t-shirt that James was wearing, culminating in a wonderful photo-shoot – the best one is attached!

Our final night in Sydney was spent with the lads as we headed to $3 fajita night at the Flying Fajita Sisters Mexican restaurant. As some of you may know, Steve loves his condiments and was overwhelmed with excitement on hearing that, not only did they have a condiments menu, but it contained a chilli sauce with a rating of about 119,000 i.e 119 times hotter than Tabasco! Needless to say this was sampled and yes.... it did blow our heads off!!

After a couple of days beaching it up and strolling around Sydney, we were on the road again in the form of an overnight Greyhound bus to Melbourne (hereinafter referred to as Melbs). After a terrible night’s ‘sleep’ we were greeted at the station by Harry (Ellie’s Dad’s cousin) and he took us back to his place where we were kindly invited to stay for our time in Melbs. As luck would have it, two of Ellie’s other relatives from the UK were in town and our trips overlapped a few hours so we all had a lovely lunch together, wonderfully prepared by Cate, Harry’s wife.

Later that day, we were taken by Harry and Cate to their beach house at Wye River on the Great Ocean Road, where the views were breathtaking! Our first full day was spent riding some waves at the beach and relaxing around the house, before enjoying dinner at the local pub. Day 2 was Harry’s 70th birthday so Cate had organised a trip out to Apollo Bay, then a little hike to see some lovely waterfalls called Triplet Falls and then back to the house for some cake and champers to celebrate the day. The next day entailed more relaxing in the morning before we all headed back to Melbs via Torquay (the birthplace of Rip Curl and Quicksilver) and Geelong.

Our time in Melbs coincided with the Aussie Open so we headed there on the second Monday with a ground pass. We saw a ladies singles match between Peng Shue of China and Poland’s Radwanska who won, but went on to get knocked out by the eventual winner, Kim Clijsters. We then caught the end of a men’s doubles match, of which we hadn’t heard of any of the players, and then it was ‘The Legends’ as Henri Leconte and Pat Rafter took on Wayne Ferreira and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. This was some of the funniest sport we had ever watched, with Leconte heckling the crowd and downing beer in-between points. On match point, Leconte called for a new racket and out came a hugely oversized racket with which he managed to win the game. Aside from the tennis there were also a huge number of entertainment side-shows, so we easily whiled away a whole day.

This year’s Australia Day was very exciting as the whole country took the day off work to celebrate Steve’s birthday! We went out for a cheeky breakfast before loading up on wine and meat and heading to St. Kilda for a bbq with Ellie’s friend from West Berks, HP and her Aussie boyfriend Don plus friends. It was a lovely day but a little chilly, considering that it would hit 40 degrees in the next few days. We were kindly offered a lift home by the friend of a friend, who had not been drinking but managed to go into the car in front on the short journey! No damage though and we got home safely.

We took in a few cultural sites in Melbs, not least a couple of art galleries – we must be maturing as we are now able to spend quite a while in such places before leaving. In the National Gallery of Victoria in Federation Square, we were asked to leave as they wanted to close for the day! We spent the best part of a day at the old Melbourne Gaol, famous for being the place where Ned Kelly was imprisoned, tried and executed. They have a mock trial which we went to and got roped into playing parts. Steve was cast as the judge and Ellie as the prosecuting Barrister. With about 25 people in the crowd there was hope that we might be spotted by a Neighbours executive, but alas it wasn’t to be.

We spent a couple of days dedicated to the wine making speciality of Victoria. First up we headed off to the Mornington Peninsula with Harry and Cate and sampled a few wines, and true to form bought quite a few as well. After visiting four wineries, a cheesery and stopping off for a brew with a view, it was back to Melbs stopping off at a little street called Pin Oak Court, although more commonly known as Ramsey Street. No sign of Scott or Charlene though, but there was a security guard who we are told is posted 24/7 to keep nutters like Ellie a safe distance.

The following day we were picked up by HP and whisked off to the Yarra Valley for yes..... more wine sampling. We spent a lovely day in the hot sunshine sipping and buying plenty. It was only when we got back to Melbs and lined up all the bottles that we realised how much we had bought! And we had a flight to Tasmania in a day or two – good job you can take wine on as hand luggage in Australia.

The flight to Hobart was pretty early but Harry kindly took us to the airport at 5:30am – it summed up how generous and helpful they were throughout our stay, not to mention how much money they saved us and how much wine we were able to buy instead! Now, arriving at Hobart ‘International’ Airport is a double culture shock – it was very small and very cold there! Not to worry, it wasn’t long before were in the comfort of our campervan, home for the next 5 days while on Tassie. We affectionately named it ‘Jimmy’ on three counts:-

Jimmy Anderson – Top Ashes wicket taker
James Boag – Tasmanian brewers of lovely beer
James Halliday – Australian wine writer and go-to-guy the previous few days

We pointed Jimmy towards the Western Wilderness part of the island and off we went. We stopped off at the Lake St Clair National Park to take in the view but we had to keep moving as we wanted to trek to Cradle Mountain the next day. The weather was beautiful all morning until we arrived at the mountain when it clouded over and ensured the top of the mountain was invisible. It was a lovely walk around Dove Lake though and it cleared up a bit to reveal some luscious views. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to a Tasmanian Devil Sanctuary where we could see the little fellas – and they are amazing! It was also a sanctuary for Quolls which are ferret / stoat type creatures which were really cute too!

On our trip around the island we also visited Tasmazia, a wonderland of about 8 different mazes which we managed to get completely lost in. It got to the point where we literally could not find our way out of the last one, not for love nor money, and there was an overwhelming sense of relief when we saw the exit sign and made a bee-line for the toilets! We stopped off in Tassie’s second biggest town, Launceston but were a little disappointed with what it had to offer. The James Boag’s brewery only took visitors in the morning so we missed out, but we had plenty in the van so no dramas. It was then on the east coast and the Freycinet National Park where we camped up on the beach at a free site with no facilities – you had to share a bathroom with the wallabies and kangaroos! The place was very remote and our ‘pitch’ had a direct path onto the beach which we had to ourselves and it was beautiful. The highlight of Freycinet is doubtlessly Wine Glass Bay, which can be viewed from a lofty perch at the end of a steep ascent up. It was truly worth it though for the stunning view and fortunately the trip back down was much easier.

Onto Hobart, where would spend the afternoon and evening before handing Jimmy back.... reluctantly. Now you wouldn’t expect this in a sea port world famous for fish, but we struggled to find a fishmonger, as we wanted to cook up a nice dinner to bid farewell to this great island. We had all but given up and headed to an out of town supermarket when we stumbled upon one and picked up some King Dory for later that night. We decided to ascend Mount Wellington which overshadows Hobart. We don’t know the exact height but from the bottom to the top by track is 12km – which we managed in about 20 minutes............ we took Jimmy of course as there was a road!! We took in the view at the top, had a cup of tea at the summit in true British style and rolled back down to our campsite. It was an early start the next morning as the next stop on our tour of Oz was Perth in Western Australia.

Our Perth trip got off to a bad start but would get a lot worse. We overslept in Hobart and just made it in time for the flight and dropping Jimmy off in what was a stressful morning. It seems unusual that you could fly for 4 hours, crossing 3 time zones and still be in the same country – we were shattered when we got there and to make matters worse our hostel in Fremantle was pretty poor. The room was like an 8 person sauna with one small window with no air and a useless ceiling fan which served no purpose. After a terrible night sleep, we decided to stay one more night before moving to Perth as we really couldn’t be bothered moving that morning, only to be told that they were full and we needed to move out. An online search revealed that there were no hostels available in Perth or Fremantle. We later found out that many of the backpackers displaced by events in Queensland had flocked to Perth. We phoned about 20 hostels to find they were all full and we even contemplated sleeping on the beach that night! When we ruled this out we were about to give in and spend $140 on a hotel when we miraculously saw some rooms for $60 at the YMCA. So that night we had a good feed, got ourselves clean and hung out with all the boys! Looking at the other guests however made us feel like recovering drug addicts in some sort of halfway house, so booked ourselves a decent looking backpackers (in advance) for our last three nights.

It was only when we arrived at the new hostel that it felt like our Perth expedition had properly begun. We were in a 6 person dorm with a couple of English lads (Steve and Chris) we instantly got along with. We spent the new two days being beach bums at Cottesloe Beach, one of nicest we have ever been to – even up to our necks in water we could still clearly see our feet in the crystal water. The second day we were accompanied by Steve and Chris to the beach for some basking and chucking a torpedo ball around in the sea. That night we headed out for a Greek and a few beers to say cheerio to the lads who would be moving on the following morning. Our last day was spent at the Perth Mint and the Botanical Gardens. At the Mint we were able to see a $260,000 gold bullion bar poured live as well as learning about how the rush started and how the British Government gifted the Mint to the Western Australian Government.

And so we flew back to Sydney for the last time, before we moved on to New Zealand on Valentine’s Day – beat that fellas! The weather wasn’t great so we couldn’t have one last huzzah at the beach but we had a good evening saying bye to Ryan and James and also spent Sunday chilling with Bexs and Rich. We even managed to get to one last Kings game – they had won three in a row so confidence was up, but they got hammered by Perth proving that we were anything but lucky mascots! Bring on New Zealand................

Till next time...........

S&E xx

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26th February 2011

Happy days!
Great blog. Happy memories - especially the reef and that kid. Still say we should have left him out there. Looking at that picture of Steve licking that ants backside - I just knew it reminded me of someone. I just got it ..... Ray Mears!!! Have a blast in the Cook Islands.

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