Byron Bay: 11/4 - 13/4
Sydney: 13/4 - 20/4
Melbourne: 21/4 - 23/4
Well, yet again it's been ages since I last blogged. I don't know why it is that I blog so much less than when I was in Senegal. I mean obviously things are a bit more hectic here and involves a lot more travelling inbetween but really, I have no excuse. I think maybe because life here is blatantly not as interesting as it was in Senegal and so I'm distinctly less inclined to bore you all with my lack of scandalous tales. But anyway...!
So firstly, I am missing Senegal a bit. Travelling around a lot is great in that it allows you to see everything, but it does get very exhausting. I really didn't realise how much I would miss living in a home and having some degree of routine whilst I was in Dakar. But it's not making me not enjoy myself though by any means. Just a side note that I am missing it.
So when I last blogged I was in Noosa. Noosa is, as mentioned before, a very exclusive township on the coast of southern Queensland. Beccy, Leah and I spent 3 nights there, and as beautiful a town as it is, there isn't loads to do there if you're on a budget. Still it was nice to be in the same place for 3 nights in a row, something that hasn't happened on this trip since my stay in Cairns! One big thing we did do though, was visit Steve Irwin's zoo 'Australia Zoo'. I wasn't too bothered about seeing it but Beccy and Leah were set on the excursion and after encouragement from the lady at reception 'I've been 5 times in the last year' at the hostel, I decided to suck it up and pay the $40.
Now I'm not overly familiar with Steve Irwin's work. I saw the clip of the baby-dangling incident like everyone else, but to be perfectly honest, until he died a few years ago, I had no idea who he was. Thank goodness though, the courtesy bus that takes you to the zoo (they go all over the Gold Coast), plays his videos constantly... Don't get me wrong though, the zoo was great - they've really got a positive attitude to wildlife and the animals are very well-kept. However, I find Steve Irwin a bit fake. He's just a bit overly enthusiastic about everything that I couldn't help but think it was a bit put on. Obviously there's no doubt that he loved nature/all animals etc, but it feels like it's being marketed for you and that can't help but put me off quite a lot. There's only so many times you can hear "What a beauuuuuty!" and feel the sentiment is genuine. Though I'm sure lots of people will tell me I'm wrong.
Anyway the zoo itself had what was to be expected: crocs, aligators, snakes, birds, koalas etc. But there was also a show on during the day in the 'Crocoseum' (oh. yes.) and because it was the school holidays, Bindi Irwin (his daughter) was performing. Now it's important that you understand that Bindi is marketed in Australia in a similar way that Mary-Kate and Ashleigh Olsen are marketed globally. She has her own show (Bindi the Jungle Girl) and now her own dancing boyband troop, the Crocmen, who help her sing and dance to various songs about protecting the environment and our animals - touching stuff I asure you. Anyway, bitchy comments aside it was a really good day out and I'm glad I went!
The rest of our time in Noosa was fairly chilled and with some much appreciated sunshine on our last full day, our time whiled away quite nicely. Then the time came and we got back on the Oz Experience bus on the Friday. It was a fairly chilled journey down the coast, but with loads of stops as we were passing through Brisbane and Surfers Paradise first before getting to Byron Bay in the evening. Beccy and Leah were getting off at Surfers for a few days and I was going on solo to Byron.
Surfers Paradise is basically a slice of Californian life, with theme parks, sunshine, beaches and lots of bars. I'd heard mixed reviews about it (love it/hate it style opinions) and so had decided that with my tight timescale I'd give it a miss. Which I'm glad I did. Byron Bay was beautiful: very small, stunning beach, and great little shops and cafes. I had a really nice chilled 2 days there and mainly chilled, read, went to the beach. I did do a walk to the lighthouse there though that proved to be eventful...
The walk wasn't too long: about 6km round trip to my hostel, and was supposed to be beautiful. As well as admiring the stunning coastline, you also pass through rainforest and bush - it's a nice walk. Anyways, I stopped when I got to the foot of the main hill climbing up to the lighthouse to take a phonecall from Maria who I was meeting up with in Sydney the following week. Anyway, after getting off the phone I then noticed that I was joined by a young woman and her mother who was asking me how to dial 000 (the emergency number here) from a mobile. Being utterly unobservant and failing to notice the younger woman's ankle bandaged up, I apologised and said I was English and I thought you just dialled it. THEN I noticed the woman's foot and made suitable splutterings of apologies and concern. It turned out she had been bitten by a snake whilst going up the path I was just about to go up. Eeek.
Anyway, I managed to get through to Triple Zero on my network and lent my phone to the frantic mother. It turns out the woman was pregnant and so it was even more serious if the snake turned out to be venemous. The young woman was quite cool though. She was a local and just really embarassed that it had happened. It turns out that in the sunshine the snakes come out to sun themselves on the path and she just wasn't looking and stepped on it - ouch. But yes, that was my excitement for the day. Torn between giving up on my walk due to the realistic possibility that I might die from a poisonous snake bite and ploughing on through, in a burst of enthusiasm, I carried on. I watched the path like a hawk though! And I'm not too proud to admit that that last half hour bush walk section of the route scared the crap out of me. Ignoring the numerous rustles from the bushes and ducking the spider webs, I saw NO ONE for the almost the entirety of this stretch and was convinced that I'd gone the wrong way. Still, I made it and without any bites to report so that was good. The walk was actually quite stunning in places. Byron is on the most Easterly point of Australia and so the views are pretty good. Watching the hangliders from the lighthouse was pretty fun too. But yes, that was my one burst of energy for what was otherwise a very chilled weekend. I didn't go out either night and even spent one evening in the TV room watching a Harry Potter film that was on - bliss.
Anyway, I left Byron on an overnight coach (12 hours) heading to Sydney. I'd only bought an Oz Experience pass from Cairns to Byron Bay so as to avoid the unwanted stopover at Surf Camp on the way to Sydney, and so instead it was to be coaches from here on out. I took a Premier service and it was actually very good (they're a cheaper Greyhound alternative). I had loads of leg room (I know I'm short but I still notice these things) and two seats to myself, so actually managed to get a fair amount of sleep. And they played a couple of movies early on in the trip which was quite nice.
I arrived in Sydney hideously early (06:35) and headed straight for my hostel which was luckily round the corner (my bag has got heavier and heavier and it's all I can do not to cry when I have to put it on my back). Even more luckily, the nice man behind the desk let me check into my room right away even though check-in was officially 1pm. This meant I was able to get a few hours sleep before meeting up with some old family friends who had offered to meet me in town and show me round the city a bit.
The weather was absolutely foul - raining and raining - it truly felt like England. However, even in the rain Sydney is quite a stunning city. Very similar to London as well which made me feel a bit homesick. But not too much. And my friends took me back to theirs for dinner which was lovely. I hadn't seen them since they were visiting in London a few years ago so it was really nice to spend some time with them. They even dropped me back at my hostel which was awesome considering how tired I was and the rain!
The next day I explored Sydney on my own and walked all over, taking in the obvious sights: the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the Botanical Gardens, the Rocks and Darling Harbour. Sydney is fantastic and I definitely want to go back. If not just to experience it in better weather, as well as not being on a budget!
For the next 2 nights I was going to be staying with Maria and Shaz in Bankstown (a suburb of Sydney) and so I got a train to theirs Tuesday evening. Now firstly, Sydney's trains are so nice. They're double decker and even have a special section for women to go on at night that's patrolled by a guard - so clever. If only the tube were as nice! Anyway, I cannot explain how fantastic it was to see Maria. She met me at the station and we wandered back to where she lives. I hadn't realised that she actually lives with the Brothers who run the school that she and Shaz work at, which sounds strange but they are so nice! Not how you would expect monks to be at all! And they were fine with me staying. Maria and Shaz have a mini apartment to theirselves and have landed themselves a pretty sweet deal to be honest. They work at the school next door and the big house they live in is beautiful. But yes, was really glad to be there.
Maria then took me out for a meal that evening to the Bankstown Sports Club, which apparently is a kind of Australian institution. More like a community centre that resembles a casino complex rather than an old people's home and is something that all members of the community contribute to and, by the looks of things when we visited, attend pretty much every night. Anyways, we had a lovely italian meal and a bottle of wine and in genral caught up on things.
The next day the 3 of us then went to Sydney Aquarium, something neither of them had done yet and something I'd really wanted to do, though not on my own! Anyways, it was pretty good. It started off a bit avarage as aquariums go, but then when we got to the sharks, I was sold! A good few hours were spent there and far too many photos taken! Then we browsed around the Harbourside shopping centre at Darling Harbour and then mosey'd home to get ready to go out.
We got the train back into the city and got off at Circular Quay to check out the Opera House and Bridge at night. It was an absolute bugger to get good photos of but still, was an amazing sight. Totally makes you understand why so many people consider Sydney to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world! We then hit a bar called the Three Wise Monkeys which is on George Street (the main road going through the city centre) after we were told that Darling Harbour isn't the place to be on a Wednesday night. Anyway, we had another bottle of wine and soon attracted the attention of one guy in particular. He was as wasted as you can be before they stop serving you and had decided he wanted to have a chat with us. We humoured him for a bit and aske dhim what he did. A tennis coach apparently. Used to be quite good. Even played Wimbledon and Queens several times and was ranked 86th at one point. Yes Michael, sure we said. He got a bit upset, told us there was no need to be sarcastic, and insisted we google him. Anyway, we soon lost him and moved on to another beer called Cheers.
The bar was much like a rip off of the TV show that you'd expect it to be, except that this one came complete with a Russian bouncer who insisted that Maria looked 'intoxic'. Anyway, after some shocked and sincere 'we've only had a glass' exchanges, he let us in. And it was pants. Pretty much empty and Maria and I had drunk so much already we couldn't even finish the glasses we ordered. But still, we thought we'd check out one last place that was supposed to be good, called Scruffy Murphy's. We started wandering down and were accosted by a young guy attempting to skid down the pavement in the puddles asking us 'Hey, can you do this?!'. I think Maria may have given it a go, failed, and then he asked to tag along with us to Scruffy's. We wandered down, and actually had a pretty awesome evening. Maria caught the attention of a random Swede called Jonas and the rest of the time we amused ourselves with Ryan from Bondi's (the skidding guy) dancing, which resembled a monkey on ecstasy. Fantastic entertainment I assure you. When the bar closed at 5, Maria did attempt to find somewhere else that was open but after the bouncer laughed at her we decided we'd go home, via a bakery where Ryan from Bondi stole goods from under the counter and we went our separate ways.
Going to bed at 6am, a couple of minutes before the Brothers got up was a bit weird, and sleeping until lunchtime and then getting up did complete throw my body clock for the next few days...but it was totally worth it. Best few nights in Sydney, hands down. And that afternoon Maria and I googled our alleged Wimbledon star, and to our amusement he was in fact telling the truth. Michael Tebbutt did in fact play at Wimbledon and was apparently, quite good. Bugger.
Anyway, I then left Bankstown and headed to another suburb called Blacktown where the family friends I'd seen on Monday lived. They'd also offered to have me for a few nights to help me save on hostels etc. The next day we all went up to the Blue Mountains, and though it was yet again shocking weather, I still had a really good day. We went down into the bush via the steepest railway in the world, had a nice walk, and then came back up via a cableway. On coming home in the evening we then rushed out again for Loretta's (the eldest girl's) martial arts (no idea which one) grading. It was pretty cool to watch and seeing someone do the punching through tiles malarkey to get his black belt was worth hanging around for. Had a unique experience of typical Australian suburbian life anyway!
The next day we hit the shopping mall at my request as I was lacking many warm clothes! I hit the jackpot with a shop here called Cotton On which had a sale. Hoodies and leggings are IN, vest tops are most definitely out. I may have to invest in even warmer clothes come New Zealand!
I then spent my last night in Sydney back in a hostel in town and met up with the people I'd met further up the coast (Lisa, Sarah, Leah, Beccy etc.). We had a night out and it was really good to see them again. To be honest though, most of them are going on to NZ too though so I'll probably catch up with them there.
The next day Lisa and I did a Harbour cruise to see the city from the comfort of a boat! Actually got some really good views. Then we gave the monorail a go and wandered through Paddy's markets and Chinatown. Then I simply killed time until my coach that evening.
The coach this time (to Melbourne) was a Greyhound and nowhere near as nice as the Premier I'd got to Sydney - I got hardly any sleep. Still, it did the job and I arrived yesterday (Monday 21 April) in Melboune at 8am. My hostel (Base, St Kilda) is lovely and I've had a really nice 48 hours here. Definitely a fan of Melbourne! The weather has been sunny but not hot and I'm in love with the place! Yesterday I did the Melbourne Museum which is a surprisingly good way to spend a few hours. And I wandered through Carlton Gardens and the Royal Exhibition Centre (beautiful building) and finally around Federation Square. I had an embarassingly early night on the basis that I'd had pretty much no sleep the last few nights and then today explored the city a bit more with a lovely walk by the river and through the Botanical Gardens which, for the record are infinitely more lovely than Sydney's. Not that I'm choosing sides but I am really.
Anyway, I leave tomorrow for New Zealand and after flying via Auckland, should land in Christchurch about 21:20 - fun fun fun. I'm looking forward to NZ but am genuinely concerned about how cold it's going to be. I think my one day in Christchurch before I get on the Kiwi Experience bus on Friday will be spent investing in a nice warm, waterproof jacket (I'm so cool)! But it is supposed to be a beautiful country so I shan't complain too much.
Lastly, I know this is a shockingly long and yet again belated blog attempt but I really will get better. Hopefully I'll be more on top of things once I'm in NZ. Until next time then... :)