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Published: October 5th 2009
More times than we care to remember in the past few months, one or both of us have uttered the words, “I can’t wait for Australia”. Be it while having our bones jarred on Ethiopian buses, banging our heads against the brick walls of embassies, trying to stomach Uzbek cuisine, or attempting to communicate in China. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve had the time of our lives and we knew exactly what we were letting ourselves in for. However, there have been numerous occasions when we have craved something just that little bit normal. Hence, in our darkest moments, Australia has been our light at the end of the tunnel.
As well as our first taste of being in the ethnic majority for quite some time, Australia was to provide us with our first familiar faces since leaving home. The first of these was our friend Russell, who moved to Sydney a few years ago. Russell kindly provided us with much appreciated free accommodation and acted as our guide for our stay in the city. After several years of studious research, Russell certainly excelled himself in showing us the best that Sydney has to offer, in terms of eating and
The first thing that struck us about Sydney was how truly similar it is to home, far more so even than North America. Sadly, it being winter, the similarities extended to the weather. Other than eating, drinking and sightseeing, the one thing we needed to do while in Sydney was purchase a new tent. Having regretted previously buying a cheap and cheerful one, we looked for something of higher quality and Sydney’s plethora of outdoor equipment shops were more than happy to help. It was as this point that it hit home how horrendously expensive Australia is.
For our second familiar face this trip, we met up with Alex’s brother, Pip. After eighteen months of not having seen him, we had an emotional family reunion on the steps of the Opera House. Pip had just arrived in Australia from Canada and was planning to travel for a month before spending a year working in Australia. Our plan was to join up with him and travel together for the duration of our stay in the country. However, this was as far as our plan went and we spent a few days deciding exactly what to do. After
flirting with a couple of vastly over ambitious ideas, we managed to curb our enthusiasm a little and settled on traversing the classic East Coast route, north from Sydney to Cairns.
Even if this is the most popular of routes, we figured that Australia is a vast enough country to escape the crowds, should we want to. In any case, our number one priority was to head north to warmer climes. Our rough route decided, the next consideration was our means of transport. We were unanimous on wanting to have our own vehicle and we strongly considered the potentially economical option of buying a banger
and selling it at the end of our trip. However, with time being, relatively speaking, limited, we opted to hire. As accommodation is not the cheapest in Australia, the more camping we could do the better, therefore we settled on a campervan.
The cheapest company we could find offering campervan rentals was Wicked Campers
. The only catch being that their vans aren’t necessarily decorated as we would have chosen. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Therefore, we spent a month driving around with the three of
us squashed into the front of a ten year old Kia van, with giant rabbits daubed on the sides. However, having seen other Wicked
vans, we got off lightly, with some designs being considerably less than suitable for family campsites.
Before leaving Sydney, Pip met up with a friend of his, who lived in the city. She, unlike Russell, had seen more of Australia than Sydney’s bars and restaurants and was therefore able to mark a few hidden gems onto our map. Armed with this information, we managed strike a good balance between visiting the obvious tourist destinations of the East Coast and getting off the beaten track.
Despite our misgivings, our trusty van never let us down, in spite of cutting out three times in the first five minutes we had it. In total we covered almost 4000km as we travelled, first through New South Wales on the Pacific Highway and then through Queensland on the Bruce Highway.
Our first stop, just to the north of Sydney, was the beautiful Palm Beach. Unbeknown to us before we arrived, the small village is better known as Summer Bay
and is the setting of Home and Away
we realised in time to pay homage to the Surf Club
We then stopped at the deserted (and cold) beaches of Seal Rocks and Black Rocks and the small hippy town of Bellingham on route to Byron Bay. Byron Bay, is perhaps a little more commercialised than the surfers’ haven it once was. However, it is still a great town and made a fantastic place to spend a few days on the beautiful beach. We were even lucky enough to glimpse whales and dolphins from the cliff tops.
From Byron Bay we crossed into Queensland, our first taste of which was its capital, Brisbane. Far from our favourite Australian city, by day it made a pleasant shopping town, by night it had all the sophistication of an Essex town on a Friday night.
Despite enjoying escaping the crowds, we are all agreed that highlights of our journey were three organised tours we took, which are sure to feature on any East Coast itinerary. The first of these was to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. We took a three day self-drive tour of the island. The trip involved the three of us and nine
others being allocated to two Land Cruisers
. We were then given rudimentary instruction in off-road driving, a rough itinerary, pointed in the direction of the ferry and left to our own devises. We had a fantastic time on the island, driving along the beaches and swimming in water clean enough to drink.
Our second such tour was to the Whitsunday Islands, a long drive north from Fraser Island. We broke up the journey at small place called Cape Hillsborough, which is vastly more picturesque than its South Yorkshire namesake. Here, quite unexpectedly, and well off the main tourist trail, we found probably our favourite beach in Australia, with beautiful sand backed by palm trees. The added bonus being that we had it more or less to ourselves, save for the local kangaroo population.
Our Whitsunday tour, was aboard the The New Horizon
, which for three days we shared with around thirty others, a number of whom we had met on Fraser Island. As well as sailing around these beautiful islands, the highlights of the trip were a visit to Whitehaven Beach and the opportunity to snorkel and dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Whitehaven Beach apparently has the
purest sand in the world and is certainly a blinding white. It is also allegedly the second most beautiful beach in the world. We can neither confirm nor deny this, not having visited St John’s in the Caribbean. From our experience it is certainly up there, although we are sure our beloved Zanzibar could give it a run for its money. The snorkelling and scuba diving were excellent, with an impressive array of colourful fish and coral.
Our next stop was Mission Beach, another largely empty archetypal Australian beach, only this time warm enough to enjoy. Before returning our van in Cairns, we (intentionally) overshot a little and went further north to Cape Tribulation. Here at this beautiful location the lush rainforest falls down the mountainside to the ocean. Our final tour was again to the Great Barrier Reef, this time as a day trip from Cairns. This section of the reef was far superior to that which we visited in the Whitsundays and as well as snorkelling, we certainly made the most of the day by making three dives. We attempted to record the day by hiring a waterproof camera and making our first foray into the extremely
challenging world of underwater photography.
It wasn’t until we felt the lumps swelling in out throats as we said goodbye to Pip, that we fully appreciated what an amazing month we’d had. It was fortunate that we had a prior engagement with another Warren sibling, several thousand miles away, otherwise we’d have been tempted to stay longer, a lot longer.
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