East Coast, Sydney for Christmas and New Year followed by Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road.
Cairns: We arrived in Cairns, sporting the classic SE Asia traveller look (or bandanna w@*kers as we referred to by soon to become friends!). Our hostel Gilligan’s was the place to be. It was huge, with the biggest nightclub of the city on the ground floor. What initially shocked me about Australia was the fact that you couldn’t buy a regular pint of beer. Instead beer was served in the format of a ‘schooner’ – which was basically about 3 quarters of a pint. Bizarre and I’m not sure why!
A fantastic few days followed of which we met some amazing people that little did we know would be accompanying us for the majority of he next month travelling, while the rest of our accommodation was arranged as well.
The first amazing experience of Oz was to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef. I had never dived before but absolutely loved it. Here I was on December 1st scuba diving the reef. Incredible!
Magnetic Island: 4 days in Cairns and then we were off to Magnetic Island. This involved taking a ridiculously early Greyhound bus to Townsville and then a small passenger ferry to the island. It is similar in size to the Isle of Wight providing only 2 hostels for fellow travellers. We stayed at the Koala resort which had a small zoo attached which we could get up and close to some local residents.
Our second day on the island was action packed. We began by spending the morning in the animal centre learning about the local Australian inhabitants and getting to pose for many selfies. After lunch we rented a 4×4 and had a free reign to explore the island. Setting off in convoy with snorkels packed we set about finding the wild rock wallabies that live on the island.
A picnic for lunch was followed by some top snorkeling and view finding. The day was nearly marked when one of our 4x4s got stuck in the sand, but fortunately the men were on hand to save the day – and then pose for the traditional sunset silhouette!
Airlee Beach: Our understanding was that Airlee was pretty much a stop over before the boat trips to the Whitsundays and it was. But it was also a couple of fantastic nights out alongside my favourite hostel of the whole trip! I cannot speak highly enough of Nomads Airlee!
Whitsunday Islands: We had heard a lot about what boat trip to get ourselves booked on as certain boats were more of a party scene than others. As it happened we had to make do with the second best according to the travel agents. The Pride of Airlee it was!
Our boat sailed into the heart of the Whitsundays but the difference in our tour was that rather than sleeping on the boat we would be coming ashore to our private island. We’d timed the trip perfectly as for the whole 3 days there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was beautiful and the tan was seriously topped up. The days were spent sailing around the islands, taking in the scenery, enjoying snorkeling various reefs and welcoming the deserted beaches. The nights were spent back on the island getting to know the travellers on our boat, eating and drinking way too much!
Rainbow Beach: The Whitsundays was amazing and the excitement had little chance to die down as our next tour was beginning in a few days. Rainbow beach was again a stopover place where many people spent the night before heading off on the various tours of Fraser Island. However for us it was a chance to rejoin many of our friend we had already met along our route. A fantastic night was spent with all the different groups we’d met, who similarly had also met many of the same people. There wasn’t too much to do in the day times as more often than not this was the time you would set off or return from the Fraser tours. However as we had a little time to spare and we’d been given a freebie by the travel agents we went kayaking in the search for sea turtles. Fair to say we maybe wouldn’t have paid for the experience, but it was still fun if maybe for the wrong reasons (boys will always be boys). However we did in fact get our trainers and sports kit on, for the only time as we hired a tennis court, albeit getting whopped by our female friends…
Fraser Island: Arguably some of the best days of the whole trip were spent on Fraser Island. We were booked on a tour called Dingos so the night before while still at Rainbow beach we were introduced to our groups for the tour. Teams of 7 were formed. Oh and what a team we had! The next morning we assembled our supplies, a Toyota Land Cruiser, several boxes of food, a drinks cooler full to the brim of alcohol and some other important items might of been squeezed in if there was room! We set off early morning and spent most of the day driving. Again we were blessed with the weather, as it was pretty torrential as we drove. I took over the wheel later on and albeit good fun navigating across the sand dunes, it was a challenge. When we arrived at the campsite, we all helped prepare the dinner. Our team was the best by far. We ate together, played cards together (Uno will forever be remembered), drank together and there might have even been instances of other stuff together…
The second day on the island was spent exploring, after a near miss involving a police 4×4 and a breathalyzer. Unbelievably the beaches on Fraser are technically classed as highways and so ALL road laws still apply. After a few skipped heartbeats no harm was done! Some of the places we visited were amazing. It was hard to believe that back home in England it was winter! Another great night with our team followed, with more Uno and more drinking!
Agnes Water (1770): This was quite a remote place for us, and we actually spent less than 24 hours in town. However we did do something ridiculously cool. We joined a biker gang know as Scooteroo! It involved a group of 30+ putting on leather jackets with full flame apparel, fake tattoos and creating alter egos for ourselves. We spent the afternoon riding 50cc choppers around the deserted highways of Agnes Water. Surreal!
Surfers Paradise: Upon leaving Agnes Water rather early the following day it rained! and it rained! and it rained! We had to make a mad dash for the bus stop and tried our best to avoid getting everything soaked. Arriving in the Gold Coast was quite different to the areas of Australia I had seen previously. We described it to being almost similar to a Mediterranean resort, possibly even Magaluff was mentioned? Surely not!? Only two nights were to be spent here, although as we checked into our room we heard familiar voices. 3 Scottish friends from our room back in Cairns were next door. We knew we were in for a good couple of nights regardless.
The first night for me consisted of the biggest panic over not owning trousers that anyone has ever experienced. Apparently I wouldn’t be allowed in anywhere with shorts. What could I do! I tried on girls jeans, leggings you name it until finally a worker offered me his jeans – exactly the same colour as my shirt. Looked like I was going out in a jumpsuit. Turned out there was absolutely no panic needed as everyone else was out in shorts and flip-flops. Great one!
A great night was had however as we again teamed up with other friends we’d previously met on the east coast! The next morning we stumbled out of bed fairly early as headed to the Wet N Wild water park (the one in the Inbetweeners 2). No matter how old you get, a good water slide is still as fun as it ever was!
Byron Bay: What a cool, quirky and unique place! Interestingly this is how I pictured Surfers Paradise to be. Shock that again loads of our friends were already here in Byron. We arrived in the evening so we set about getting some dinner. Australian bars rustle up a mean steak wherever in the East Coast you are! A quality night of dancing on the tables, (to various edition of the Now CD’s from the late 2000’s) at the renowned Cheeky Monkeys club. Can’t beat it!
As a traveller they say you get used to the early starts but I’m not sure I believe that! The second day in Byron began (early) with a bus waiting for us at the hostel. The Grasshopper bus to be precise, taking us to the crazy, hippy-fied town of Nimbin. We had been told about this little town and how it has a reputation for marijuana being highly prominent. Well we weren’t let down! The classic local resident, generally wasn’t wearing a top, or shoes for that matter, had the type of facial hair where it’s impossible to tell where beard starts and hair stops and had definitely been having meal replacements in the form of a green leaf! We didn’t spend too long in the town, but we did have an interesting experience within an ‘Art Gallery’ where would you believe it a lovely elderly looking lady had baked us some delicious cookies to take with us. What a lovely lady!
Another night in Byron came and more dancing on tables was required. A top place, only let down by the hostel we stayed in. We booked a room in the Arts Factory, again made famous by the Inbetweeners 2 film, but to be honest it was a dive. It was way too cramped with little light and we found ourselves wanting to spend as little time there as possible.
Arrawarra Beach: I seem to recall this journey from Byron being possibly our shortest in the whole of Australia. Spot X was where we stayed, and we were learning to surf! Similar to in Thailand, we’d partied non stop for the previous couple of weeks so it was nice to relax, get some rest and also be cooked for! The food was fantastic! We stayed for 2 nights with a surf lesson booked for both mornings. Having done a little bit of water sports at home growing up I was confident I’d pick up a little but I think we all surprised each other by how well we did. It was great fun, catching our own waves once we’d grasped the technique adding the classic ‘shukka’ pose screaming “Yewwwwwwww!” as we rode into the shore.
The hostel was really cool, with a chill out movie room playing films all day so after a tough wave riding session we chilled in here then feasting and getting plenty of sleep in before the big one!
Sydney: In contrast to our short journey previously, the bus to Sydney was our longest! Arriving at near on midnight we decided it was best to get some sleep before all hell broke loose. It was Christmas eve when we woke! The city was buzzing and the was a festive atmosphere, although it was different to English Christmas! On our journey we had arranged within our travelers community to do a secret Santa between us so we set aside a few hours looking around the shops for suitable gifts for whoever we had picked out. Everyone was in Sydney! We met 2 friends from University for beers at the harbour before heading back to our hostel to eat and get ready. Our hostel again somehow ended up with one of the best backpackers clubs in the city so everyone came over to us. Christmas was brought in in style, even if the countdown might have been slightly delayed! I’d never been anywhere but home for Christmas so it was weird waking up in Australia. The plan for the day was to meet our gang and head to Bondi, where else! It was heaving and the sun was out! What a day for it. We drank, shared out presents and had a really good day. The intention was to cook sausages on the bbq but due to the busyness, we opted for a McDonalds!
The next few days in Sydney featured an unexpected arrival! 3 became 4 with our friend Dave joining us for a week! We spent the week seeing the sights of Sydney, taking many a walk to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, enjoying some fantastic nights out in various clubs and casinos across the city, seeing friends we had met throughout Australia and even Thailand and we even managed to attend a Big Bash Twenty20 cricket match at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
The next event in our hectic life was NYE! We’d heard various places were best to see the fireworks over the bridge and Opera house but we elected for the Mrs Macquarie’s view point, which would enable us to see both landmarks in full view just so long as there wasn’t going to be too many selfie sticks. The day itself had a festival atmosphere as thousands of tourists queued up from the early morning to pitch their spot and enjoy the day with friends and family. We had a huge group of us, many friends of friends joined making it such a good day. As soon as the light started to go excitement began to arise. There was a smaller, warm-up set of fireworks around 9pm to get everyone in the mood. A few hours later and the crowds started to rush down to their preferred viewing positions. I managed to find a good spot behind a few small people! I’m not normally taken back by fireworks, but these were amazing. And the fact it was New Years Eve and I was in Sydney just capped it all off.
The euphoria of fireworks passed and we headed back to the hostel as we were back at it again on New Years day, having purchased tickets to Field Day music festival in the city. It was almost like deja vu, waking up early and drinking once again. Another fantastic day spent with great company. It kicked off around midday as we entered the festival, already a fair bit of wine down with Salt N’ Pepa blasting out ‘Push It’! We kept at it all day before Bastille, the headline act closed it off in style!
The remaining days in Sydney were spent as they had previously been! A few days on the beach, many trips to Dominoes pizza (where we realised we could get a medium pizza for the equivalent of less than £3. They were practically giving them away!), our hostel club, meeting with friends and many more walks to the Opera House! After New Years our travelling community began to deplete as people and groups went their separate ways. Fair to say a good few emotional goodbyes were said! We went from knowing almost everyone to it being the three of us once again. We’d become accustomed to the family we had become part of. It actually seemed strange!
Canberra: Along with Airlee, Canberra had one of the best hostels we stayed in! We knew Canberra would be a quiet place to relax but I was shocked as to how quiet it actually was despite being the capital city! Our hostel however had a spa! Who said we were backpackers anyway! It also had a massive room, with some rather interesting room mates – not the usual travellers we had been used to interacting with that’s for sure! Canberra was also the first time we experienced the ‘Free Food Shelf’ in hostels. Had we only known about this miracle invention at the start of our Oz experience we could have saved a lot of money! Any food left by travellers or any food without a label was placed here for other to help themselves to! Too good to be true I know! There was ham, cheese, bread, sauces, eggs, fruit you name it!
While in the capital we did see a bit of the city, taking a walking tour to the War Museum, which turned out to be very interesting before doing a full loop and ending up in the Houses of Parliament. Again something we wouldn’t have expected to do, but it was pretty interesting and well worth doing for absolutely no cost.
Melbourne: Lots of people we’d met previously had said how they’d actually preferred Melbourne, voted the World’s most livable city in 2014, when compared with Sydney. I was unsure how this could be possible initially. Melbourne was different that’s for sure, and adding to the fact we had such a social community we had to adapt back to ‘normal’ life! We’d scheduled 2 weeks in Melbourne so we needed a plan to go by. After taking a trip to the travel agents we’d booked two tours, a day trip to Philip Island and a 2 night tour of the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians, we’d also purchased tickets for another Big Bash cricket match, the Asian Cup football and also the Australian Tennis Open! Adding to this Tommy was also leaving me and Sam for 4 nights as he was jetting off to Perth to surprise his Uncle!
An unsuccessful night had initially put us off the city but after a fantastic Big Bash match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), the largest cricket ground in the World with a capacity of over 100,000, it wasn’t so bad! We watched the Melbourne derby of which it went to the final ball with the home team (Melbourne Stars) beating the away team (Melbourne Renegades) by one run! Class!
The next day we took off in a small tour bus to Phillip Island. I can only describe this trip as random, but looking back quite worth it. A random mixture of people on the bus, random weather, random stops including the bus driver’s Mum’s house for lunch, a chocolate factory and finishing up watching hundreds of little penguins walking up a beach!
A couple of days in the city passed and then it was time to leave for a few days while we packed a small bag and went on our tour of the Great Ocean Road and The Grampians. We took a small minibus and had a good group of travellers alongside a great guide called Cam. There seemed to be two recurring patterns unfolding for us in that every time we went on a tour or did something amazing it was firstly a Monday and secondly the weather was always amazing! The first day of our tour was spent driving along the Great Ocean Road stopping at various viewpoints and places of interest, to get out and take lots of photos.
After more driving, (we covered some serious miles that day!) our final stop was at a famous rock collection called the Twelve Apostles. Ironically there isn’t actually twelve! The sun was out in full force and we spent a good bit of time on the beach and then taking the clifftop trails to get good views in all directions. Some very fortunate tourists were able to take a helicopter tour of the Apostles which I’m sure would have been amazing but ever so slightly out of our price range!
We checked into our hostel in the evening after stopping for some dinner. This hostel had a massive dorm room for 16 of which our whole tour group shared. We took some booze to the beach, played games and had a great laugh!
It was an early start the following morning and I speak for the majority in that there were a few sore heads! The Grampians national park was next up for our tour. It is a huge area within Victoria, covering almost 2,000 square kilometres! There was plenty of driving again but it was definitely worth it. Some of the views and short walks we went on were breathtaking and they seemed to improve as the day progressed. We learnt a lot from our guide Cam, who was a fountain of knowledge. He had given his life to travel and been to around 150 countries! He had some amazing stories and we really enjoyed his company over the few days we spent together. I wonder where in the world he is now!?
Our second and final night of the tour was spent in a different hostel with an authentic Australian bbq for dinner. I tried kangaroo for the first time and despite feeling a little guilty, I found it to be very tasty! We had a nice relaxing evening, playing games and enjoying the company of our new friends. As I mentioned previously we were lucky with the weather, and we woke up in the morning to some severe rain! Luckily we’d seen all the landmarks and the plan for the day was to get back to Melbourne as soon as possible.
Meanwhile back in the city 3 travellers were now set to become two for 4 nights as Tommy was leaving us to visit family in Perth. It felt strange! But me and Sam made the most of it. We’d made friends with a couple of American girls so we weren’t entirely alone. During the days we spent time at St. Kilda beach, visited the Melbourne museum (which was free for students) and even ended up at a Gay and Lesbian music festival! Unsurprisingly we spent the evenings drinking, having several crazy nights in St. Kilda where in one instance we befriended the right type of people who paid for our whole night – even if we have no recollection of getting back to the hostel.
Tommy returned and we felt complete again. We had a few busy days of sport to fit it alongside the obvious nights out but it was starting to set in that our Australia experience actually nearly over. Coincidentally the Asian Cup was being held in Australia while we were there so being football followers we had to at least get to one game. Japan vs Jordan at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium was the entertainment! It finished 2-0 to Japan with a full capacity stadium and a great atmosphere. I can officially say I’ve been to a major international football tournament!
The final day in Australia was spent at the Australian Open Tennis tournament. I’m not an excessive follower of tennis but I loved it. We bought ground passes for $40 which I thought was very reasonable and it enabled us to watch games all day on any of the courts apart from the 2 main courts. We tried to upgrade our ticket on the day because Andy Murray was playing but unfortunately they were sold out already. Nevertheless it was a great day and we watched some good tennis. We saw Marco Baghdattis win his singles, Leighton Hewitt succeed in his doubles match before taking in the atmosphere and seeing Rafa Nadal in practice. However the highlight of the day came later on when we stumbled on to court 5 or 6 where an unseeded Israeli player, Dudi Sela, was up against the 20 something seed. Little did we know but there is a large Jewish community in Melbourne so as the game progressed, more and more young Dudi supporters turned out! It was like a football match with the fans singing songs and cheering loudly after every play. By the fourth set Dudi was 2-1 in the lead and we were on our feet! He brilliantly won the match and the fans were loving it!
Australia was all but over! What an amazing 2 months. Friends and memories for a lifetime. What a place!