Adelaide to Melbourne

We arrived in Adelaide quite late on the Sunday evening, and as we left first thing the following day there wasn’t much (any) opportunity to have a look at Adelaide, which was a bit of a shame as I’ve heard it’s quite a nice city. I’ve also missed out on Perth. Nevermind, I’ll just have to come back next time the Ashes are on and take in the Adelaide and Perth tests…

We left Adelaide early to drive to the Grampians national park. We took a short walk to the MacKenzie Falls:    

The Grampians were very scenic, and welcome change following several days of vast nothingness in the outback

We stayed at an eco YHA in Halls Gap, probably one of the nicer places we stayed on the trip.

Another early start the next day – Australia Day (26th January). Australia Day is on the day that Captain Cook arrived in Australia. It seems that it is becoming a bit contentious with it being on that day as it is not very sensitive to the indigenous population. They view Cook as an invader rather than explorer. As it happened, we went to a cultural centre that morning to learn more about the indigenous people. It was a lot more informative than the one we had previously gone to a Uluru.

After that we drove to the coast and the Great Ocean Road. Bit of a hiccup on the drive – as it was Australia Day, very few shops and petrol stations were open. We had to resort to using the emergency fuel at one point…

The Great Ocean Road was one of the things that I was really looking forward to seeing in Australia. The sky was a bit ominous but it stayed fine thankfully. We saw the London Arch (formerly London Bridge until part of it collapsed) in the afternoon before heading to Port Campbell for the evening.

The next day (the final day of the tour) we carried on travelling east along the Great Ocean Road and saw Loch Ard Gorge and the 12 Apostles (apparently there weren’t ever 12 and there are even fewer now as the sea erodes the rock away). I really loved this part of the trip, great scenery and interesting rock formations appealing to my geographic/geological side.

We arrived in Melbourne mid afternoon, and I headed off to the Australian Open. I had decided on a whim in Cairns that as I would be in Melbourne whilst the tennis was on, I might as well go and see some. I bought a ground pass for after 5pm for $30 (about £15) online and the ticket was sent via text message.

It was about a 35 minute walk to tennis from the hostel I was staying at. I managed to luck out on Andy Murray playing his quarter final match so when I got there, I got a glass of vino and headed for the big screens (budget didn’t stretch to tickets in the Rod Laver Arena itself). As I arrived, they were in the process of closing the roof on the arena as a massive rainstorm was heading our way. I got my brolly up and waited it out sat in the open for as long as I could, but eventually I had to retreat indoors. I watched the conclusion of the Murray game on TV from the concourse inside the Rod Laver Arena. Shortly afterwards the weather cleared up and I watched the conclusion of a women’s doubles match before heading back to the hostel. 

My flight to Fiji was the following day but not until 11.50pm so I had a whole day to explore Melbourne. I went to the Old Melbourne Gaol where Ned Kelly was imprisoned, the aquarium (where I finally saw Nemo) and the Melbourne Museum. 

Also sat next to Lleyton Hewitt in Starbucks who was giving some tennis advice (‘you should work on your forehand’) to a bloke who I didn’t recognise but I assume must have been at the Australian Open. First celeb spot of the trip!

I had a great time in Oz. The bits I was looking forward to (Uluru and the Great Ocean Road) were as good as is hoped, and things which I hadn’t given much though to (Fraser Island and the Whitsundays) were excellent. I travelled with a great group of people who really added to the whole experience. Still a few things I’d like to see in Oz but they’ll have to wait until next time!

Uluru and the Outback

We flew from Cairns to Alice Springs – the flight was about a third full. We arrived early afternoon but unfortunately we were then stranded in the airport for 90 minutes as our transfer to the hotel did not arrive.

Not a huge fan of Alice Springs, or maybe I just didn’t have enough time to explore properly. It was certainly a different type of heat to the humidity of Cairns, very hot and dry.

The next morning we left early to drive to Ellery Creek watering hole for an early morning dip:

Then we drove onto Uluru. It was an eventful journey which included driving through a massive sandstorm/thunderstorm and passing something which looked like it was going to develop into a tornado:

At this point we weren’t sure if there was going to be a sunset to witness at Uluru, but thankfully by the time we got there the weather had improved:

The following morning was another early start to see the sunrise over Uluru before a 3 hour walk in increasingly hot temperatures at Kata Tjuta. The heat made it physically demanding but the views were worth it.

 In the afternoon I splurged on a helicopter flight over Uluru and Kata Tjuta. More spectacular scenery, and you start to get an idea of how remarkable both Uluru and Kata Tjuta are because there is literally nothing else for as far as the eye can see.

We visited the cultural centre in the afternoon before doing the ‘mala’ walk around part of Uluru itself in the late afternoon.

In the evening and overnight, there was an almighty thunderstorm. We were meant to be sleeping in ‘swags’ – basically a large sleeping bag with a built-in mattress, which you sleep in outdoors. As it started raining in the early evening and did not stop, we commandeered some semi-permanent tents on an adjacent camping ground. When the occupants of those tents rocked up at 1.30am whilst it was still raining, it’s fair to say they weren’t impressed!

The next day we had an early start and a long driving day to the opal mining town of Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy gets so hot in summer (can be late 40s C) that many of the inhabitants live underground. We actually stayed in a motel that had been burrowed out of rock, and it was surprisingly (and refreshingly) cool in the rooms.

We had a tour of an opal mine the following day, and brief drive around the town before heading to the next overnight stop at William Creek.

William Creek is the smallest town in Australia (population 8), and is truly in the middle of nowhere. It was extremely hot in William Creek (over 40 when we arrived), fortunately there was a swimming pool to cool off in.

In the evening I had a very good meal of goat rogan josh and far too much wine.

The next day was quite hard work on the bus as everyone was feeling a bit delicate, and it was yet another long drive. These few days really gave me the impression of just how vast Australia is. We drove hundreds of miles each day, and there was flat land with very little to see. One horse towns every couple of hours to fill up with fuel, but otherwise just miles and miles of desert. And not the kind of desert that I had imagined – no soft white sand dunes here, it was actually surprisingly green as there has been more rain than normal

We drove to a sheep station at Beltana. This was a really cute place to stay. Very homely with good food, a pool, and various animals including goats, alpacas and camels.

The outback was a really interesting experience. I love how big and expansive it is. How you can see for miles and miles and miles and have an uninterrupted view. I also love how big the sky is here. Even when it has been grey, it has still been so much bigger than it is at home. You really get a sense of how vast Australia is.

Byron Bay to Cairns

This part of the journey was more of what I’d imagined Australia to be. The rain has stopped, the sunshine has been glorious and the scenery spectacular.

After Byron Bay we headed up the Gold Coast to Brisbane, arriving around lunchtime. As we moved from New South Wales to Queensland we gained an hour as Queensland doesn’t bother with daylight saving time. We had a free afternoon in Brisbane so I went with some of the other group members to cuddle a koala – so cute!

The next day was onto Fraser Island. We left Brisbane and drove to Cooroy where we picked up our giant 4×4 vehicle for the trip to Fraser Island. This thing was beast called Xena:

We took a ferry barge across to Fraser Island from Rainbow Beach.  Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and is absolutely beautiful:

 We went for a swim in Lake McKenzie before a walk through the rainforest in the afternoon.

In the evening we had another glorious view of the night sky. Unfortunately I don’t have a camera good enough to capture it but the night skies here have been really unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The next day we headed to the Noosa Everglades for canoeing and camping. Yet more amazing scenery.

After a not-too-bad-if-I’m-honest night sleeping in a tent it was a long travel day to a cattle station just outside of Rockhampton. We slept in a ‘swag’ under the stars. Turned out to be more comfortable than the tent!

The next day was my highlight of the trip so far. We had quite a long journey to Airlie Beach to board a maxi yacht for a couple of days’ sailing in the Whitsunday Islands. We got on the yacht mid-afternoon and set sail. There is something about being on a yacht drinking alcohol in a bikini that makes me feel much cooler than I actually am. We saw a spectacular sunset and partied til late.

My late night partying caught up with me the following day, not helped by a bit of up-and-down movement of the yacht…

We went to Whitehaven Beach in the morning which is just stunning.

Some of the group went diving and snorkelling in the afternoon but I wasn’t up to it in my ‘delicate’ state. After another amazing sunset it was a much quieter evening!

The following day we headed back to dry land and in the afternoon I took a scenic flight over the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef. The views of the reef in particular were awesome and I’m so glad I did it.

Yesterday was a travel day to Cairns, which is where I am now. The heat and humidity is unreal.

Tomorrow the group splits with 8 of us going the Red Centre and the rest of the group going up to Cape Tribulation.

Sydney to Byron Bay

I arrived in Sydney at about 8am on 3rd January after yet another sleepless aeroplane flight. I did otherwise enjoy being in premium economy on an A380 (apparently due to it being so close to New Year, the only seat I could be sold was in premium – can’t complain about that!). There’s obviously something about Sydney as for the 2nd time in 3 years, I spent my wedding anniversary there.

After getting to the hostel mid morning, I dumped my bags and met up with Andrew. We went to Bondi, had chips from Doyle’s takeaway and then took a trip out to the Olympic Park, which is a good 45 mins out of central Sydney on the metro. At this point though the weather was absolutely terrible. Apocalyptic rain.

After that it was time to check in and meet up with my fellow G Adventures travellers. There are 20 altogether in the group up to Brisbane – an even split of native English speakers and native German speakers.

We left Sydney early on the 4th and after a breakfast stop overlooking the Opera House, we headed inland towards our overnight stop at a former sheep shearing station in Nundle. On the way we stopped at a winery in the Hunter Valley for wine tasting. The sheep shearing station was very remote – a place where you have to make your own entertainment. The remoteness did have its benefits though – the clouds parted at night and I saw the most stars I have ever seen.

The following day we panned for gold at a gold mine. I managed to find 4 tiny pieces of gold:

After the gold panning, we headed towards our next overnight stop at Bingara. Yet again the heavens opened and there was a massive thunderstorm. Some of the group had gone horse riding and came back absolutely soaked to the skin.

The following morning we headed out early to watch a sheep shearing demonstration. I think it’s fair to say I’d make a terrible farmer – farm life is definitely not for me. Some of the group had a go at shearing but I just watched from the sidelines. Afterwards we headed to our lunch stop in the Gibraltar Range State Forest – a beautiful location for lunch.

Then we headed back to the coast to Yamba for our overnight stop in a hotel overlooking the ocean. After a brief dip in the ocean, there was yet another massive thunderstorm – at this point it has rained every day since I arrived in Australia – not what I was hoping for during the Aussie summer!

The next morning we headed towards Byron Bay (only a couple of hours drive) and had a surf lesson. This was fun but a bit challenging without my specs on. I did manage to stand up twice (photographic evidence of this will follow later!). After the surf lesson we cooled off in a tea tree lake which was like having a massive warm bath – lush!

After the surf lesson we headed into Byron Bay and to our hostel for the next 2 nights. Byron Bay is a cute hippy town with a number of spectacular beaches.

A few people have compared it to Brighton – having never been to Brighton I can’t really comment but it’s definitely got an alternative hippy vibe going on.

Tomorrow we head into Queensland and onto Brisbane.