Melbourne

After leaving Byron Bay last week I flew to Melbourne to stay with my sister for a few days (she is here on a working-holiday visa at the moment). (A side note on Aussie no-frills airlines: They’re pretty similar to the European ones, except JetStar had very good planes with fairly comfy wide-leather seats while the Virgin Blue seats were very cramped: I’m really glad the Virgin Blue flight was only 90 mins! Virgin Blue do allocate seats though, whereas JetStar use the RyanAir/Easyjet free-for-all method.)

Melbourne was a lovely blend of old and new in a very compact space that was really good to walk around, or just sit and people-watch in a little cafe. It lacks the stunning natural beauty of Sydney’s harbour and beaches but its CBD has more character.

A real highlight of my trip to Melbourne was the chance to see a game of Aussie Rules Football (although unfortunately I picked the one weekend when there was only one game instead of the usual programme, so it was at the ultra-modern Telstra Dome instead of the historic MCG). It was a really interesting game to watch: it’s like an aerial combat as the main aim is to catch a kicked ball within striking range of the scoring posts and thus the main skill is to pick a ball out of the air before an opponent reaches it, except when the ball goes to ground there is then a messy form of scrum until someone gets a decent kick away and the aerial battle resumes. Anyway, it was fun to watch and Essendon beat St. Kilda 119 points to 104.

Another highlight was my trip down the famous “Great Ocean Road” which has beautiful wave-battered coastal scenery that definitely lived up to its reputation. I also saw some koalas in the wild (which is pretty rare) and the interesting rock formations known as the “Twelve Apostles” which are very beautiful. On Saturday, Sophie and I watched the Little Penguins on Philip Island — 30cm tall penguins that even I thought were quite cute!

Fraser Island

I actually visited Fraser Island on the 17th June, but have only now had time to post about it. (In fact this is attempt 2 as IE just ate my first post — stupid program.)

Fraser Island, at around 125km long, is the world’s largest sand island. This sounds like a fairly dull fact until you realise that this is an island that is composed entirely of sand — no soil at all — and has just three rocks, yet supports a large and diverse ecosystem consisting of three different types of rainforest, a number of sizeable freshwater lakes, and a lot of wildlife. Furthermore, the sand is also moving east to west, at a rate of about 2m per year, burying older forests which then decompose to provide nutrients for newer rainforests to form on top. Pretty interesting stuff, and it’s also quite pretty too, especially from the air.

The “usual” backpacker way to see Fraser Island is a three-day 4-wheel drive (self-drive) safari. Unfortunately I didn’t have three days left in my itinerary so I had to make do with a one day guided bus tour which provided all the interesting information in the previous paragraph, but by all accounts is no where near as much fun! I have to say I also wasn’t overwhelmed by the scenery I saw from the bus: it’s pretty but perhaps because the tour was so short everything was a bit rushed and there wasn’t much time to appreciate things. However, I also did a 30 minute flight over the island which was much more spectacular so I’d like to visit again sometime and explore a bit further: if nothing else, four-wheel driving on a beach looks like a lot of fun!

Brisbane and Byron Bay

Having spent all of Saturday at Australia Zoo (see previous post), Sunday morning was my only chance to properly explore Brisbane. Unfortunately it rained most of the morning so I don’t think I saw the city at it’s best! It has a very contemporary/modern feel to it — most of the areas I visited seemed to have had serious renovation work done on them in the last 20 years. On the whole, this makes it a very pleasant city, if somewhat lacking in the charm and character of Sydney but if it had been a nice day I think the South Bank area would have been a lovely place to spend the morning, just hanging out by the river, browsing the Sunday markets and drinking coffee in the various cafes.

Yesterday afternoon I took the bus to Byron Bay, a “must-stop” on the backpacker trail. After the tacky-commercialisation of the towns further up the coast, Byron is quite refreshing—there are a lot of backpackers here, but there’s enough of the surf- and hippie-culture left to make it a pleasant place to relax and spend the last 2 days of this leg of my travels. Unfortunately while the weather is much improved today, it’s still very overcast (i.e. too cold for swimming!) and there was not a lot of surf so I wasn’t able to get my surf lesson! 🙁 It was a perfect temperature for walking though, so I walked up the most-Eastern point of mainland Australia, which has very nice views of this area, and saw dolphins swimming in the surf!

Crocodile Hunting

Sleeping for just 5 hours last night, and on a bus at that, means I think I shall leave writing about Fraser Island for when I’m feeling less tired and incomprehensible—but I did want to say something about today’s fun trip to Australia Zoo, home of the crazy “Crocodile Hunter”.

I’m not a fan of his TV-style, but the zoo was excellent, and I now feel I have seen a proper amount of Aussie fauna! I got to stroke cute koalas and kangeroos, a less-cute python and I saw tasmanian devils, kookaburras, wombats, more snakes and of course, crocs! There was also a couple of really excellent shows, particularly the free-flight birds which saw these beautiful birds flying from one side of the arena to the other, practically skimming the heads of the audience.

Sailing around Paradise

If paradise exists on earth, then the Whitsunday islands are possibly it. A group of 13 of us assembled on Monday lunchtime ready to board the 20-odd metre “Pride of Airlie”, and off we sailed (well, unfortunately motored as there was very little wind) to our first port of call, South Molle Island resort. The resort was excellent with tennis, golf and bush walking all available, although after a “hard” afternoon of lazing around on board ship drinking complementary champagne, we decided on the pool and hot tub with cocktails option…

The next morning was a very early 7am start, especially given the amount of beer consumed by the passengers the night before, but after a cloudy start the sun came through just as we were arriving at Whitehaven beach — a picture perfect 6 km of pristine white sand and sparkling turquoise waters — stunning. After lunch back on board the Pride whilst taking in more island views, we did some snorkling off Dumbelle Island. This was amazing: the water was crystal clear, and there were so many fish: a couple of times a shoal would get spooked by another snorkler and would come charging at me like rain drops in a thunderstorm. Snorkling again this morning at Blue Pearl Bay was equally good — so much better than the trip I did from Cairns!

Cruising back to Airlie Beach this afternoon the water was incredibly calm, and the white-bright sun shining on it gave it an unreal sort of appearance that was incredibly beautiful.

Unfortunately it’s back to normality now and a 12 hour overnight bus trip to Hervey Bay to look forward to…

Airlie Beach

A quick post as I’m a bit short on time, and nasty Internet cafe keyboard, but I’ve reached Airlie Beach! Magnetic Island was very pretty: beautiful bays and beaches, and Townsville was a nice place — it just felt a bit more “real” than Cairns! The weather has also picked up: no more rain, but it’s very hot!

Alas Airlie Beach is another tacky resort-dominated place, but fortunately I’m setting off on a 3 day/2 night sailing cruise around the reportedly beautiful Whitsunday Islands this afternoon so I don’t have to spend much time here!

Despite my initial negative impressions of Airlie, I subsequently discovered that the area by the beach further away from where I was staying was actually fairly pleasant.

“Bruce Willis Ruins Action Films”

No, the title of this post is not a sweeping generalisation about Bruce Willis’s acting skills, but actually one of the mnemonics used in scuba diving to remind you of the checklist you should run through before entering the water. Unfortunately, I only got as far as the silly mnemonic and entering the pool, before it became painfully apparent that getting a cold four days before you dive ruins your plans! I thought the cold was better but it seems there was enough of it left around that I couldn’t equalise the pressure in my ears and I had to give up. 🙁

So, reworking my plans, today I went up to Port Douglas and took a cruise out to the reef to snorkle instead — not quite as much fun, but certainly very interesting! Worryingly, my initial thought was: “This looks just like a giant aquarium!!” No sharks, but lots of pretty little fish (including “Nemo”!) , some baracudda and lots of plant life! We went out to three different locations on the reef, all of them subtly different, although I think I got a lot more out of the second and third as the boat crew told us more about what we might see and how to find stuff — there are some lectures/shows in Cairns about life on the reef which I now wish I had found time to take.

Tomorrow I’m leaving Cairns and heading down the coast, first stop Townsville and Magnetic Island. I can’t decide if I like Cairns or not: once you get over the fact that every other shop in the “centre” is selling tours, travel info and Internet access, it seems slightly less wierd, and the place is really geared up for backpackers with pubs offering free meals to hostellers, and cheap beer, but there are also extremely loud and noisy birds that seem to start singing at dusk which I think would drive me crazy after a while! Fortunately there is so much to do around Cairns you don’t have to spend much time here if you decide it’s not your scene!

Sydney to Cairns

Since I last posted I’ve been doing some cool stuff.

Saturday morning was spent recovering from exploring Sydney night-life on Friday night — teapots of cocktails was definitely a new experience. 🙂 After sampling some more of Sydney’s fine cafe’s for brunch, we headed over to Bronte beach and walked along the cliffs to the famous Bondi beach. Both beaches were lovely, and it was fun watching all the surfers!

On Sunday, Ed, Simone and myself drove up to the Blue Mountains and discovered “flower pot scones” make an excellent elevenses that kinda rule out the need for lunch… As it turned out, these huge scones meant we had plenty of energy to tackle a bush walk that culminated in a 900-step ascent back to the car; and the views were well worth it. 🙂

Sadly yesterday I had to leave Sydney, Simone and Ed behind and flew to Cairns (a mere 3 hours by plane, north). The city itself is very touristy, no where near as nice as Sydney, but there is a lot to do here: today I explored the rainforest on the Atherton Tablelands, and tomorrow I (as per my instructions from various people ;)) start a 5-day dive course. The best bit of this is that the final three days are living on a boat, so I shall get lots of diving in.

Sydney

After a gruelling 28 hours of travel, I arrived in beautiful Sydney. The harbour is stunning: I think I have now admired it from all the possible angles, including the top of the impressive and iconic Harbour Bridge; and the city as a whole just seems so well designed, with many impressive buildings (from tall skyscrapers to older sandstone neo-gothic “statements”) but still plenty of green spaces (including palm trees!!) and of course, lots of beaches for relaxing. 🙂

I am being very well looked-after by Ed and Simone — I shall be most sad to leave their fine hospitality and “hit the road” on Monday.