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Published: December 29th 2012
Snake in a bag!!
Look what one of Fiona's diving pals brought aboard!!!
Hi one and all.
Sorry it has been a while since the last blog but we have done so much and travelled a long way. We hope you enjoy this episode. Remember to check out all of the photos. Unfortunately some haven't uploaded that well but don't worry they'll only be of beautiful scenery that will just make you jealous, lol. Whilst you may be cold and wet in old Blighty, fear not, as we too are suffering here on Bondi Beach in Sydney.
However our journey began in Cairns, the jumping off point for the Great Barrier Reef and we were ready to see the ocean again after doing some more woofing in Kuranda in the hills nearby. Our host Karen (pronounced the Scottish way though she had a northern accent) was friendly but also a bit strange, which can often be way with some of the woof hosts. Married several times and in need of company yet she didn't really trust people as well as holding opinions that she felt sure you should too. We did various manual work around the garden from felling banana trees to clearing pathways through snake infested shrub (alas for Fiona we only saw
one snake). We also rather shakily clambered up onto her roof to do some work on a ladder, secured only by a single rivet!
It gave us a chance to relax, do the other blogs & it gave Fiona countless hours to research the various SCUBA diving courses available.
Fiona - Hello there. One of the key things i wanted to do in Oz was learn to dive in the Great Barrier Reef. A bit passe maybe but more than surfing, skydiving or any other extreme sport, i was prepared to part with serious cash to embark on a new (expensive) hobby! So i did my five days open water course in Cairns, which included three days on a boat diving at various depths and times of day. All went well, saw loads of fish and coral and even added on a deep diving element to the course enabling me to dive to 30m to do a shipwreck dive near Townsville. I enjoyed the experience though not used to being at sea for so long was glad to get back on solid ground!
So as F had abandoned me to go galavanting off to the ocean, I had several
days to kill in Cairns on my own. I'd chosen a hotel/hostel that was a converted Queenslander house. These are big properties, with large verandas up high that allow for a good airflow throughout to escape the heat. Whilst F couldn't complain about the cleanliness of this place it was rather noisy as many of the rooms had paperthin walls or gaps in them.
I chose to do an all in one package, snorkel, scuba dive & helipcopter flight over the Reef. Though not great fun being on my own the snorkelling was great & I got a free upgrade on the helicopter flight to fly all the way back to Cairns (see photos on Facebook). My attempt at scuba diving didn't go that well as it was all a bit rushed and breathing underwater doesn't really feel right to me. If I was to attempt it again I would need to do what F did and spend days just breathing in a swimming pool.
Leaving Cairns we hired a car that would hopefully take us all the way to Sydney. As we like to say to people we're 'executive backpackers' and a car gives us the freedom to go
where we want, when we want and not have to hang around at two in the morning on a bus with the great unwashed.
We headed north towards Cape Tribulation and almost instantly got a chip on the windscreen which hopefully the dirt & grime will mask by the time we get to Sydney. Cape Trib, as the locals call it, is famous for where the rainforest meets the ocean. It is on all of the tourist videos and brochures, with the pristine white sand being lapped by crystal clear blue ocean. It certainly is a great place and the rainforest gives great cover from the midday sun. The rainforest is also home to the elusive cassowary. These are mighty flightless birds, with deadly claws, yet are incredibly shy. The roads are lined with signs warning to go slow and recent cassowary crossings. As part of F's belated birthday celebrations I'd booked us into a place right on the beach. It made some great food and provided beautiful views, particularly at night as the moon glistened over the ocean. We partied hard here with some cheap ginger beer & a few games of connect four, lol!
After a hiatus for
The Moon shining over Cape Trib
Not a bad place for a nice romantic moonlit stroll
a few days recovering from manflu, aussie style, we headed to Mission Beach, which has a large concentration of the elusive cassowary. At the visitor centre we heard tales of how cassowaries could be seen wandering around the streets, even strolling through the visitor centre. So we were certain that we would see this giant bird. However, despite driving around and around, from one suburb to another (and passed several cassowary signs) there were no sightings.
Around this time many people were heading north to view the solar eclipse, we however decided to take the road south to Townsville. Whilst it may be a 'once in a lifetime' event for some, for us it seemed like an expensive two minutes of darkness. Townsville is the home of our friend and Uluru driver, Brad. We stayed there for a few days and caught up with Brad to see the local sights. It doesn't have the lush greenery of the surrounding area so some people call it Brownsville. We were couchsurfing with a pretty laid back kind of guy who gave us the run of the house. He seemed to have couchsurfers there all the time, even whilst we were staying two
groups of Germans came through as well. We gave one group a lift to the ferry terminal one day, which happened to also be Armistace/Remembrance Day. It was interesting to think that here were two Brits helping a group of Germans when decades ago we would be more likely be trying to kill each other. It makes you think if in the future the descendants of current conflicts will ever have this kind of relationship. When you look at the bloody conflicts that bestrode our continent for centuries, yet now the younger generations couldn't contemplate such a thing. I guess it demonstrates that peace can be obtained anywhere, though it comes at a price which some currently don't want to accept. Anyway Fiona and I stood quietly as the piper played the 'Last Post' along with the usual faces.
Our time was extended in Townsville as we awaited the weather to improve so that F could indulge in her latest expensive hobby of diving. It did though allow us to start & finish two seasons of the 'Game of Thrones' TV show that our host had got us addicted to.
Leaving Townsville we headed south to Yongala, a 100 year
It is not all glamour this travelling marlarkey! Dinner's ready
old shipwreck. One of the top ten scuba dives in the world. As the sun rose in the morning, we watched the partial eclipse, as F prepared for her dive. Fiona- The diving itself was again fantastic with lots of marine life to be seen as well as the ship itself. However, the journey to, from and inbetween the diving was somewhat more eventful as the seas were pretty rough from a passing storm. I can say with certainty that i get seasick, and never have i wretched so much before, even during my student days i was never that ill! I will never forget kneeling down half naked in the tiny toilet bobbing up and down puking and more besides thinking i am going to die, followed by gearing up for a dive and instantaneously feeling better once below surface, only to get dodgy again once on top!
After Fiona's 'adventure' we headed further south through built up Surfers Paradise (it isn't) to Airlie Beach, where we came face to face with the Aussie phenomenon that is Schoolies celebrations. Here kids that have just finished high school head to the coast in their thousands to get wrecked at
Is this England?
Pulling up to the sounds of Elgar blaring out of the speakers you'd be forgiven for thinking this is England. But no this is Queensland.
'Non-alcoholic parties'. In Europe we all flock to Spain or Greece to wreck havoc in a foreign land, but in Oz other countries are so far away that kids get up to the same things on their doorstep. The Press love it, but us motorists cower from the sight of the P-plated spotty teens careering along the roads. We managed to avoid most of the crowds there by heading out on another boat and snorkel trip to the beautiful Whitsunday islands. We saw plenty of turtles and visited the very island where Aussie babe Lara Bingle asked us "Where the bloody hell are you?" that got many a youngster to book their flights to Oz. Alas neitherF nor myself were as appealing in our snorkel gear, nor was Lara there to greet us. We were on an older fashioned tall ship with sails, along with the other oldies and thus once again skillfully avoiding the party boats and their enforced drunkeness.
From Airlie we headed further down the coast to Rockhampton. This is a town that is often overlooked by most travellers but does have a lot to offer. Not least a great free zoo where we finally got a
Underneath the waterfall
There are plenty of waterways in Oz, though some often get dried out!
chance to view the elusive cassowary! We did have to drive through a big storm to get there. It was great to see it come towards us on the horizon, though not so much fun driving on the near flooded roads as the sky darkened (you almost forget how to drive in the wet in Oz!).
Nearby Eungella is a national park set in the mountains where we were virtually guaranteed to spot a platypus in the wild. Despite several previous failed attempts our patience was rewarded by getting some great views. These truly are strange and curious creatures. Like much Australian wildlife they kind of defy explanation and are unique. Rumour has it that when the first samples were brought to Britain many thought it was a prank and that bits of several animals had been stuck together!
Next stop down was Bundaberg, home to the famous aussie rum factory, though not that cheap. We had already tried some great rum in Airlie one night in the Rum bar when I (foolishly) dropped my usual guard (it was a great night - F!). Though we've found a new favourite tipple in El Dorado rum. Anyway in Bundy we surfed
A true Queensland scene
Rainforest & waterfalls
with a cruisey German lass and her equally laid back housemate. She is hoping to stay in Australia for a while and is looking at studying here. This can be expensive and so she is being entrepreneurial in trying to get the funds by selling various adult toys on the internet. She left Germany when she was in her late teens, cycled down through Europe alone before heading to Asia and eventually Australia. She arrived with very little money yet has worked her way around the country for nearly two years. She has no plans to go home and it is great to meet such a spirit which hopefully might rub off on us (though I feel F will need to up her knowledge on the adult toy market as it seems she hasn't had much exposure to it, well why would she? Lol). Couchsurfing is fun but sometimes it feels like you're hanging around in a place a bit longer than you would because you don't want to 'love n leave' your host. Most are pretty cruisey though (aussie term) and don't mind.
It was another long drive from Bundy to Brissy as we got a taste of our
The tallest falls in Australia
first really big Aussie city (Australians like to shorten even the smallest of words and make it an O or a Y). Brisbane is a city of some 2 million people and what seems like a coffee shop for each one! Fiona was in her element, yet also angsty about which place to choose. Now Australia is an expensive place but every so often a few little gems appear, 30 cent ice-cream from McDonalds, a dollar thickshake from Hungry Jacks and they even have freshly ground coffee from 7/11 for the same price. Finally I thought a chance for F to feed her craving without breaking the bank. Alas as predicted despite early promise she quickly decided that a one dollar coffee was not akin to her pallate. Brisbane has some old buildings, churches, good galleries and a free river boat service that offers great views of the city. For the first few days we stayed with a remarried Brit and American couple that we cooked for. Then we decided to have a few nights in the city ourselves so booked into a cheapish hotel.
Now poor Fiona has been missing her other addiction netball for a while now. Since
It offers some great views but at 305m it is a bugger to down there & back up again!
Darwin she hasn't played any and there hasn't been any on TV. So when the opportunity came to play in Brisbane she lept at the chance and I agreed to be navigator as it was raining and F doesn't do well at finding places in the cities. Yet before we had chance to sit down I was commandeered to play in a mixed team that had just lost a player to injury. Having only played in Australia I don't think I did too badly though I am out of shape. There always seems to be a lot of people who play these indoor sports here in Oz. It is great to see and is already giving F ideas for when she gets home (a coffee, cake & netball venue?). She managed to get a game with a group of Kiwis who quite literally wiped the floor with their Aussie foe. There was even a bit of argy-bargy on court and F is certainly going to have to up her game when we reach NZ.
Leaving Brisbane we decided to head south towards Melbourne. As we were due to drop the car off in Sydney we thought it would be
Admittedly it is a hard life
Though it hasn't all been clean, beautiful beaches like this one in Townsville. This is where our Driver Brad comes from & it was good to catch up with him again.
a good idea to use it to explore the southern coast. It certainly is a fair old hike from Brisbane to Melbourne and we didn't want to just drive through places but it is difficult to see everything. We'd had enough of beaches so we took the inland hilly route. This took us through an area called New England. It is not hard to imagine how the first settlers must have thought this was a home away from home. With the green rolling hills and changeable climate the only difference probably would have been the wildlife (though now there are plenty of European animals). We have seen a few places like this over here and they might just be the kind of places to settle in ourselves.
On the border between New South Wales and Victoria sits the city of Albury. Here we stayed in a studenty flat where not much was clean but the people were great. When we think of the state of some of the places we've slept in it does make you think that perhaps we could rough it in India. We rested up and headed out with the gang for a few beers which was
Indulging at Airlee Beach
If the Schoolies can do it then so can we!
fun, though not cheap. In turn they treated us to vegemite and cheese on toast. To be fair after 1am and a few beers it doesn't taste too bad, kind of the Aussie version of a kebab. Couchsurfing is great for meeting people and also for avoiding the rather annoying Aussie tradition of hotel/motel owners who try to rip you off and not bargain on price even when they have plenty of rooms available!
The art of travelling is to be flexible. When a couchsurfing host in Melbourne couldn't host us for a few days we headed south to the famous Great Ocean Road. Though the weather was a bit chilly and the area was packed with foreigners it does offer some great views. Check out the photos and know there are plenty more we haven't shown you! Heading to Melbourne along the winding coast was a great drive and it was hot! F had hoped that Melbourne would be cooler with those famous 'four seasons in one day'. Still we got to stay with a really nice Kiwi who took plenty of couchsurfers at once. Mainly Germans, he was glad to meet a fellow English speaker to jest
Cruising the Whitsundays
Yep more crystal clear water & sunshine!
with. He also hosted a rather haphazard yank called Rick who proceeded to cover the kitchen with beetroot juice whilst making us all salad for dinner! We got to visit the sights of Melbourne. For F that meant plenty of coffee shops, but also galleries, rooftop bars and a great little Indian named 'Gaylord'. We also paid a visit to to state parliament where we truly did see a rabble of elected politicians, who seemed even worse than the lot back home.
Melbourne was a great little place, full of culture and a transport system designed for travellers (as in easy to bunk!). We didn't get much time there before we were back on the road, this time heading to Sydney & the festive celebrations.
Hope you had a great Christmas folks and have a Happy New Year - guess we will see most of you in 2013!
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