Australia 21st Dec - 27th Jan

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Oceania » Australia
January 3rd 2011
Published: January 26th 2011
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After an annoyingly timed night flight, which wasn’t aided by the time 3 hour difference, we arrived bleary eyed at Sydney airport at the crack of dawn having only managed a few hours sleep on the plane. We were met by JC (Dan’s friend who moved out here 2 years ago) who had kindly offered to pick us up and drive us back to his in Kenthurst.
Our drive took us across the imposing Sydney harbour bridge to his lovely house an hour north of Sydney which he shares with his girlfriend Mika and temporary house mates Joe, Chris and Emma who are all backpackers. We took an quick trip to the supermarket and picked up a few homely treats which we had missed whilst in Asia (crunchy nut cornflakes mmmmm) but were pretty shocked at how expensive everything was – not only are we now back in the pricy developed world, but also the exchange rate has plummeted meaning were not getting much dollar for our poor pounds! We spent the day and evening catching up and socialising with new friends over a few cold beers and some bottles of sparkling wine. Dinner came in the form of a $70 cheese board and fresh bread, it was AMAZING! It’s funny the things you miss when you have been out of western civilization for so long!!

The next day the 7 of us head up to Mika’s parent’s farm in Hawksbury, which involved a pit stop to enjoy the view at Hawkins lookout and a car ferry across Hawksbury River. As we neared the farm we saw a Kangaroo with a Joey in its pouch, good start!

The farm was very remote and gave us a real taste of what real Australia is like; huge spiders, water monitors, cicador and superhuman mosquitos! Our accommodation for the night was a little hut which sat beside the river. We were soon lazing on the river floating on inflated tractor tyre inners, much more laid back than our previous experience of tubing in Laos... The rest of the day was spent playing frisbee, drinking cold beers from the ‘eskee’(cool box), soaking up the sun and enjoying the countryside. We later cooked a great meal of lamb on the ‘Hunter’ (BBQ) with Mika’s parents Mark and Robyn up at their house, which was up the hill set into the mountain overlooking their land. We rounded off the day by setting alight a massive bonfire which gave out some serious heat, followed off by cooling down for a midnight dip in the river. The spiders here are huge and we experienced loads here on the farm (please see photos!)

The next day we all felt a bit worse for wear after 2 good days of drinking and catching up, but nothing a bacon and egg roll couldn’t sort! We tidied up our mess from the night before, said our thanks to Mark and Robyn, and headed back to Kenthurst to do a last bit of Christmas shopping (or in our case just buy a SIM card). That night Joe cooked us all a chilli on JC’s fire pit which we ate as we watched one of the pirate films we had purchased cheaply in Bali. We were both feeling rather content at being in the comforts of a home rather than hostel of guesthouse (hot showers again, what a luxury!)

We arranged to head back into Sydney to meet Clare (Laura’s school friend) and leave JC to celebrate Christmas with Mika’s family as it was now Christmas eve, although we both felt thoroughly un-festive! We met Clare at Central station and it was great to see her. On our walk to hers in Surrey Hills, we stopped off to pick up some wine and cider (which was another luxury we had missed) to aid the ‘catching up’. We met her American housemate Andrew and his friend Ethan who was over for the holidays and sat in the garden enjoying the comfort of being out of hostels and having homely creature comforts around, like TV and sofas!! Clare’s parents very kindly asked if we would like to spend Christmas with them and we graciously accepted! Our Christmas cheer finally grew and we had a last minute dash out to the late night shopping centres to A) buy a shirt for Dan to smarten up his traveller look which dominates his rucksack, B) buy a present to say thanks for the invitation. Surprisingly (it was 7pm on Christmas eve) the city was busy as ever with many people dashing in and out of shops. We got what we needed after a quick tour of China Town and Darling Harbour, then headed in the direction of home via a few unnecessary detours due to navigational difficulties...

Christmas Day arrived which felt pretty strange as we decided to not buy each other presents. Laura got to skype her family up in the snowy Lake District and it was great to see and speak to them. We didn’t manage to make contact with Dan’s family in Gambia on Christmas Day but we had a good chat with them on Boxing Day. With Andrew and Ethan we took a very swift stroll to the train station where we missed the train by a matter of seconds! So instead we grabbed a coffee and hung around for the next one an hour later, it seemed odd that coffee shops were open on Christmas Day!
It was a 3 hour journey down to Kiama where Clare’s parents live. It was a beautifully sunny day and it seemed strange to see so many people sitting out in parks and on the beach enjoying it, certainly not the Arctic conditions which the most of you lot were enduring back in the UK! Soon as we arrived we were handed a glass of sparkling wine and our glasses were continually topped up whilst we sat in the garden overlooking the sea eating cheese, crackers and tiger prawns whilst talking with Clare’s parents, David and Sandra and her sister Sarah. We feasted on a traditional English Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, followed by pavlova and Christmas pudding, accompanied by wine, desert wine and port. After the washing up was done we took a dip in the sea, which as it turns out was much colder than it looks!! We would like to express our thanks to the Balderstone’s for having us, we were expecting Christmas Day to be just us two sat on a beach and a bit of a let down and it really wasn’t!

Ethan cooked us all omelettes for Boxing Day breakfast but we had to eat ours on the train back to Sydney as we were
rushing back to see the Sydney to Hobart boat race. We met up with Chris and Emma and headed to Watson's Bay where we saw the boats heading around the headland and down the coast towards Hobart. After the majority of the boats had passed us, we sat and had a picnic together before going to Bondi Beach for the rest of the afternoon.

We wanted to get out and see some sites the next day, although the weather wasn’t great so instead we headed to the January sales where Dan managed to pick up a pair of bargain jeans (well as much of a bargain as could be hoped for in Auz) everything seemed so expensive. Unfortunately the pound has dropped from $3 to £1 a few years ago to $1.5 to £1 so our money isn’t going very far. We paid £2 for a can of coke! Ridiculous! Anyway...moan over. We also purchased our secret Santa presents which we’d arranged to exchange on New Year’s Eve. Later that day we met up with Alex (another friend from home) who we hadn’t seen for 18 months. We took him and his friend Maria back to Clare’s where we had a BBQ cooked by Andrew and Ethan and had our first sample of Kangaroo steak! The rest of the evening was spent playing American Cup (basically ring of fire – a drinking game) and consuming the dreaded ‘goon’ (cheap wine in a box). It ended very drunkenly, and we’re sure Alex would rather forget the antics from that night, if he could remember them that is!

We awoke to calls from our long lost friends Mat and Amber honestly, they won’t stop following us around!!) who came and joined us at Clare’s for the afternoon where we spent the day doing nothing much other than chatting, eating and making arrangements for new years eve which was fast approaching. It felt really nice to not have the ‘travellers guilt’ of feeling like you should be spending every waking moment our exploring and doing things!! Sydney felt more like a holiday than backpacking!

We had agreed to meet Alex and Maria in Manly to go kayaking the next morning, so caught the iconic ferry over there, enjoying views of the Harbour Bridge and surprisingly small Opera House! It was another lovely hot day, so was nice to be out on the water. We had to rush our expedition a little due to the time restrictions as the extortionate rates didn’t allow us to keep the 3 man floating banana’s for over an hour. Fortunately we did manage to paddle our way round to 3 beaches, even if Laura and Clare did spend more time talking than paddling (Dan’s missing not playing hockey, golf, squash, waterpolo etc so we thought Dan would enjoy the extra exercise!! We then had our first meal out since arriving in Auz, the English classic... fish and chips! We spent the afternoon on Manly beach, surrounded by thousands of others who were also taking advantage of the holidays and sunshine.

That evening we headed back to Kenthurst to JC and Mika’s, who had some good news for us, they had got engaged!!!! We knew about the possibility of this as when we had been shopping before Christmas JC had been to pick up the ring ... thank goodness that was out of the bag as Laura wouldn’t had been able to keep it a secret much longer! We were both really happy for them and celebrated that night with more wine and some amazing white port.

Its was now the 30th December and we needed to buy a tent to facilitate our New Years eve plans to camp at Cremorne Point which overlooks the Harbour Bridge – a great place to watch the fireworks from. We purchased a $25 2 man tent, and bought as many other supplies as we could fit in the car with and headed to our destination. When we arrived and unloaded the car we were all surprised by how good the location actually was! We set up camp and we’re joined once more by Mat, Amber, Chris and Emma. That night the 9 of us sat around drinking and chatting, amongst a few other tents which sprung up over night in preparation for the next day. Despite the council website stating that tents and alcohol were banned, no one stopped us. We awoke early the next day due to the heat from the sun, but what a view to wake up to! The day was spent chilling our on the rocks near our camp, taking it in turns to have a dip in the salt water pool - a 2 minute walk away, and watching the many more people arriving to secure a good spot for the evenings events. We were later joined by Clare and Poppy (another Frintonite). As it became more crowded there was suddenly a very visible police presence who began enforcing the no alcohol rule. We saw a few people get caught and have their booze confiscated and a fine issued. After this, we discretely drunk in our tents and luckily escaped the whole night with just a warning and a photo with a few of the friendlier policeman! Eventually the fireworks began with a kid’s show at 9pm and then the main event at midnight. What a show it was! It really put the fireworks we’d seen in Singapore to shame! It was a brilliant way to welcome in the New Year. Once the show ended, the crowds and police dispersed very quickly, leaving just us, our tents and a lot of rubbish! Dan and some of the guys took a dip in the harbour confident the sharks were now asleep!

New Years day was another early start, and there were already people out clearing up the mess (left by others not us!) We caught the ferry back to Circular Quay and started the year in a healthy manner with a McDonalds (or Macca’s as the Auzzie’s call it!) Back at Clare’s again, we tried and failed to Skype friends back in the UK due to them being too drunk to remember what their Skype password was, well done Kate! That evening Ethan cooked us all an amazing meal of enchiladas, his homemade guacamole was delicious!

On the 2nd, we were back to playing tourists and set off to explore Sydney. We started at The Rocks area which had a pretty good market, although our budgets meant we just used it as a place to scout out free samples of food! We walked through Circular Quay and had a picnic lunch in the Botanical Gardens before walking round to Macquires Point. We then did a lap of the Opera House taking all the necessary photos before walking up Pitt Street and doing some window shopping.

Feeling like we’d seen most of the bits of Sydney we wanted to, we went back out to JCs – his landlord was away meaning he had free use of his pool! We wanted to make the most of this, but the weather wasn’t great unfortunately. Laura helped Mika write the addresses on her engagement party invitations, whilst Dan played with the landlord’s dogs! We had a really good day out with Mika, JC and Alison (JC’s mum who was now over on holiday). We drove for 3 hours, stopping to look at a load of kangaroos’ being chased by some cows! We took a guided tour around Jenolan Caves which were really impressive. It was sunny when we went in but 90 minutes later when we came out it was raining. We rushed back to the car and begun driving to the Blue Mountains. Then the hail came! We’ve never seen anything like it! It was coming down so fast that we had to stop the car and park under a tree as we were scared the hail would be damaging the paint work!! We stopped for soup to warm us up in Katoomba (turns out we’re not the only country who have cold wet weather in summer!) and then briefly admired the 3 sisters in the Blue Mountains although it was pretty foggy which was a shame.

The next day we caught the train back to Sydney as it was time to go to watch The Ashes! We met Alex at central station where he issued us each with a sombrero and stick on moustache! We took our seats in the SCG and got to see England finish their batting before it was Australia’s turn. We were sat pretty near the ‘Barmy Army ‘so the atmosphere was great! Play finished at about 6.30pm and luckily for us, they made entrance to the SCG for the 5th and final day free as there were only 3 wickets to go. We went out for some drinks and dinner in the evening in New Town with Alex and his housemates. New Town is a cool part of Sydney; it reminded us a lot of parts of East London. The next day we got to see about 2 hours of cricket which was all that was needed for England to win the test and The Ashes. The atmosphere was even better on the 5th day and it was great to see the celebrations – good time to be a Pom in Australia!!

The weekend was spent up in the Hunter Valley with JC, Mika, Mat and Amber. The 6 of us checked into a YHA (we’d planned to camp using the NYE tents, but the weather forecast was rain and we weren’t confident our $25 tent would survive!) We spent the Saturday doing a tour of 4 wineries and a cheese factory, it was great! We got to sample anywhere between 6-10 different wines at each place we stopped! We learnt all about the wine making process and how to taste wine properly, and we even got to eat some grapes straight from the vine! It was a great day and we bought a few bottles to enjoy that evening with our bbq kangaroo sausages! On Sunday morning we had to say our final goodbyes to Mat and Amber – we wont see them again now until we’re all back in London. We spent the day visiting more wineries and it was even better doing it on our own and not as part of the tour as the staff had more time to explain each wine to us and let us try older vintages, we also stopped to have a picnic for lunch, this was somewhat tainted as we all were wee'd on by the Cecarders which lived in the trees! We rounded of the day with a trip to a Brewery; unfortunately we were too late for the tour, so Dan and JC got a tasting paddle instead to try some of the produce! It was a brilliant weekend, but we all felt like we didn't want to drink wine for a while after!!

It was then back to Clare’s where we cooked a lasagne dinner to say thanks to her and her housemates for putting us up so much! We ended up chatting until 2am which was a silly move as we had to get up at 5.30am to catch a flight up to Ballina, near Byron Bay on the east coast.

Before we arrived in Australia, we planned on travelling the whole of the east coast. Once we realised how expensive it is, we decided to alter our plans to ensure we have enough funds to see us through the rest of the trip. This turned out to be an excellent decision as I’m sure you’ve all heard about the terrible floods that hit Brisbane, meaning we wouldn't have been able to bus it up there anyway at the time we would have wanted to. So instead we decided to book some cheap flights and do a 10 day trip starting in Byron Bay.

We checked into a hostel which cost $35 each per night (about £23)! We could stay in a Travel Inn for that price at home!! Byron has beautiful beaches which we made full use of. The hostel had free surf board hire so Dan got to try the Auzzie waves which proved to be a lot stronger than the ones he’d sampled in Bali! The hostel then banned board hire as the current and waves were just too strong. We saw two sad looking guys walking along the beach with their surf boards snapped in two! We walked along the coast to the light house and the most easterly point on the Australian main land. We also took a day trip to Nimbin, a tiny hippy town up in the mountains with a very chilled out vibe and a strange museum. Our bus ride back was brilliant as we had picked up a local crazy Rastafarian called Jonny who played guitar and sang the whole way back, he was pretty funny! We really enjoyed Byron, but felt a bit old if we’re honest! We’d done so much drinking over the past 3 weeks that we needed a bit of a detox (plus we couldn’t afford alcohol) where as the large majority of the hostel inhabitants seemed to be gap year uni students who spent every night drunk. One of our roommates was a Canadian who had been in Byron for 6 weeks, doing nothing but spending his savings on drinking – what a waste!

We spent one night in a small place called Lennox Head which had another beautiful beach and our hostel had a pool! We were the only people in our 4 bed room which had its own little kitchen and bathroom – much more pleasant than in Byron and cheaper!

Next, we flew 2 hours down to Melbourne where we spent 4 nights in an 800 bed hostel! It was pretty noisy and we
wouldn't recommend it! Melbourne however was brilliant, it’s a lovely city. We did a huge amount of walking to get around all the sights we wanted to see. These included Federation Square (where we watched some of the Open on a screen), Brunswick Street, the graffiti on Union Street, the Botanical Gardens, the Shrine of Remembrance, the beach in St Kilda and the shops on Chapel Street. We also made full use of the free 90 minute bus tour of the city and the free circle trams. We ate at the Queen Victoria Market which was great – a lot like the market down Brick Lane on Sundays.

The best day we had in Melbourne was spent at the Open watching the tennis. We arrive there at 11am and left at 10.30pm! We really got our money’s worth!! We got to see singles men’s and women’s, and men’s and women’s doubles. The highlight was watching Andy Murray win in 3 straight sets. He’s a bit of a diva, and managed to get through 4 rackets, 3 t-shirts and 2 sets of sweat bands during the game and at one point had to be rescued from a cockroach by a ball girl as he refused to touch it! We left Melbourne on a pretty budget Tiger flight back to Sydney where we once more made our way once more to JC’s.

It was the evening of Mika and JC’s engagement party which was really good. They’d put up a gazebo covered with lanterns and had a lamb and pork spit roast on the go – it was nice to be eating good food again and not supermarkets own brand super noodles and pasta! We are really pleased we were able to be there for the engagement party; as much as we’d love to come back for the wedding next Christmas, we’re just not sure we’ll be able to afford it.

Our last day with Mika and JC was spent visiting the northern beaches of Sydney. On our drive up there through the national park, we got to see a film crew shooting some scenes for the well known soap ‘Home and Away’! We also got to see the beach where JC had proposed to Mika – aww! The weather wasn’t great unfortunately but that didn’t stop Dan and JC playing in the waves on Palm Beach (aka Summer Bay) for ages! Then we had a go at fishing and caught absolutely nothing! We decided to have a bbq on the beach but stupidly we didn’t light this until about 8pm, meaning we we’re cooking in the dark and eating some pretty sandy sausages and then had to have a manic pack up and dash back to the car as the rain started again!

We caught the train one last time back into Sydney for 2 final nights at Clare’s house. Unfortunately she was actually away on holiday in Perth but we’ve got to know her housemates pretty well so it was all good. We spent one final evening with Alex and Maria in his local pubs in New Town. The 26th was ‘Australia Day’ which is a public holiday. We went over to Coggee Beach and did the coastal walk to Bondi Beach. There were people out everywhere BBQing and picnicking and covering themselves in Australia flag fake tattoos! We sat in deck checks on the sea front in Bondi watching the tennis being played on a giant screen until it got too cold because of the wind. Then we randomly bumped into Alex on our bus home, which was helpful as we weren’t exactly sure where to get off!

So that’s it! After 37 brilliant days its time to leave Australia and catch our plane to Fiji. We’ve loved every minute we’ve spent here, seeing our friends, eating good food, having hot showers and enjoying home comforts..... its felt like having a holiday away from travelling! We’d like to say a HUGE thank you to Clare, JC, Mika and Alex for providing us with places to stay, our Auz trip would have been a lot shorter without you’re help! Its a shame we didn’t get to do everything (slightly disappointed to be leaving having not done Fraser Island, The Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef) but we just couldn’t afford it on this trip. We can’t believe we are now half way through our time away; it's flying by now!! Next stop - Fiji.

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