First few days in Brisbane and Australia Zoo!
We landed in Brisbane at 1am 28th March 2012 and had no hassle at all passing the notoriously strict Australian customs phew! Maybe the time of night had a slight effect on it but we sailed through quite quickly unlike Dubai. We got our bags straight away and headed out to the arrivals hall where we headed to the CoachTrans desk as informed in our STA Work and Travel Package deal printout. There we were given our bus tickets for our transfer to the Woodduck Backpackers Hostel. Our driver was not to arrive until 2am so we had a little time to browse at the many leaflets on offer (and took quite a few!). Sadly I have to report the demise of the shoulder strap on my backpack :( somehow from Dubai to Brisbane it appeared to have been chewed apart by some machinery and was rendered unusable.
Our bus driver took us from the airport to our hostel, where we encountered a slight problem, the door to the hostel was locked. There was a number to call so we called it but it didn't work for first few times we called, not exactly what you want after travelling over 16 hours and at 3am. We went to the hostel next door to see if they could help but they weren't very helpful, probably because we weren't staying in their hostel. We eventually managed to get through to the hostel number and someone came and opened the door. Checking in was brief to say the least, we were literally given a set of sheets, a key and told room 3. We opened the door to find it dark, at least 2 people sleeping from what we could see. So we crept in with our sizable bags and looked in the dark for an empty place to settle in whilst making as little noise as possible! We found an empty bunk so we aimed for that and managed to put our bags down without too much noise although I did manage to clank my water bottle twice! Not wanting to make more noise by opening our bags, we stripped down to our underwear and jumped straight into bed. We didn't sleep for a while so we had some pillow talk as we were both so excited!
We were up, bright eyed and reasonably bushy tailed at 7:30am! Not quite sure why but it was probably due to the fact we both needed the loo! Reception opened at 8am and we met the manager, Chris, who gave us our breakfast pack and we arranged to meet for our briefing at 10:30am. We met one of our roommates, Sarah from Stuttgart, during breakfast and chilled until our meeting. We went to the cafe next door where Chris gave us our info packs and explained about all the nitty gritty stuff like bank accounts, tax forms, medicards and also some very useful job sites and agencies contacts.
After the meeting, Jen, me and Sarah headed into the city to get our bank cards and medicards sorted and also to do some food shopping on our way back. The Woodduck hostel is very close to both the city and Brisbane river an ideal location and very scenic. At the bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Jen and me had a wee bit of hassle as our cards were somehow sent to Sydney instead of Brisbane damn bloody STA!! But since we were thinking of staying in Brisbane for a week, we were able to get them sent to the Brisbane branch for next week. Next was getting our medicard which entitles us to free emergency healthcare whilst we are in Australia. Now, Chris warned us that if we wanted to joke with any Australians we just need to mention Medicare workers and we discovered why. They are the most boring, annoying and arsey people you will find. I got to the counter and the first thing the woman said to me was "What's the story?" Which seemed a bit bizarre for her first words instead of maybe hello or even g'day! I explained that I was here on a work and travel visa and was looking to get the medicard and handed her my documents. She had a quick browse through and then asked for a NHS card. Chris pre-warned us about this and no matter how much people tell them that we don't carry NHS cards around (I'm not even sure I have one!) they still ask for them. After explaining this at length to this woman, she then asked for a proof of address to prove I was currently living in the UK. This was never mentioned, all it says on the website for Medicare was that you needed to be a citizen which I thought a passport would have sufficed.
Evidently not. I then offered my UK drivers license which was apparently not acceptable either. Stuck for ideas I had to leave and try find something else. Jen happened to be going through the same process a few counters away so I headed to her and she was having the same problem. Luckily she had a copy of our vaccination history from the doctors which had our doctors details and UK address and after some humming and arring they decided that these documents would be acceptable.
Finally we headed downstairs to meet back up with Sarah, she doesn't qualify for a medicard as Germany do not have a reciprocal agreement with Australia. We headed back towards our hostel popping into the Coles supermarket that was conveniently opposite our hostel and stocked up on some food. Ended up spending just over $40 which included the basics such as cereal, bread, milk etc.
Our first impression of Brisbane is that it is quite a posh city, there were quite a few high rise office buildings, very posh designer shops and the beach is quite far away like hours! Not what we expected at all!
The Woodduck is an alright hostel, clean and quiet but a bit shabby so we decided to have a wander around the other hostels to see where we would like to spend our week. We had like 5-6 hostels in a row on our street! Checked out Chills, City, Cloud 9 (very hippy) Woodduck and also YHA. Each had their own good features but the one that stood out for us was YHA even though it was a bit pricier. City had free wifi (we have to pay $4-5 per hour, $8 a day and $40 for a week at most places) and a pool but it was a bit shabby like the Woodduck. Chills was highly recommended by Lonely Planet but it didn't have a pool or free wifi and was same prices. YHA just looked great, its like a hotel, very funky with 5 floors, massive areas for chilling, cooking and it had a pool! YHA also had great deal where you stay for 7 nights and only pay for 6! It worked out to be $50 dollars more for both of but that also included our membership to the YHA (Youth Hostel Association) which would give us discounts to other YHA hostels and to other activities. It was a no brainer really so we booked straight away for Friday 30th March to Friday 6th April. With our STA work and Travel deal we got 2 nights at the Wooduck hostel and free trip to Australia Zoo, so since we couldnt move into YHA on Thursday night we stayed at Woodduck one extra night, which worked out nice really as on the Thursday we were going on our zoo trip and would be out all day.
As we were booking our room at YHA we noticed it was happy hour at the Drifters bar within the YHA.....only $10 for jugs of beer :) two guys joined our table Jay who was a fellow UK guy and his mate James an Aussie. We got on like a house of fire :) Later another of Jay's friend joined us, Anita, another Aussie. We made plans to go out later for drinks so Jen and I headed back to the hostel for some food and met our other roommate, Liam also from the UK, Manchester. We then invited Liam and Sarah to join us for drinks. We all headed back over to Drifters for their jugs of beer, at $12 a jug after happy hour, it doesn't get much cheaper haha. During our drinks we met Jay's Belgium friend Matt and also picked up Shaun, a Kiwi/NZ and another UK guy Dan. With our entourage getting bigger and also Drifters closing we headed out to Tin Billies, a backpackers bar in the city for some more drinks. Got back at 1am and we went straight to bed as we were heading to Australia Zoo the next day and this was still only our first day!!!
Sarah, Jen and me got up at 8am, dressed, had breakie and sorted out our pack lunches before being picked up outside the hostel for the hour and half drive to the zoo. Our driver, who used to work at the zoo, was lovely but also was annoyingly chattying, telling us stories of Steve Irwin and his family, informing us about the zoo (a bit too much as we wanted to wait and see things for ourselves). He was then going to play us a movie about Steve Irwin on the way there but managed to spoil several parts by revealing the funny parts. On the way we passed the picturesque Glass Mountains and drove up the now Steve Irwin Way to finally arrive at the zoo! After being repeatedly told to be where we were dropped off at 4:10pm we made our way into the zoo! Proudly wearing our 'Crocs Rule!' badges (well I was, Jen and Sarah not too much). We wandered our way around the first few enclosures, which were filled with Australian native animals, mainly lizards. We barely walked 5 metres when we met one of the keepers holding a beautiful lizard to touch! It is apparent that this is a big thing in Australia Zoo and will allow guests to interact with animals they might not experience normally or might have missed. We then met our first 'Brush Turkey'! Looks like the turkeys we eat only smaller, our friend was just wandering around the park (one of many as we later found out).
After walking through the alligator cove we found ourselves in the Kangaroo Enclosure! A open space where visitors walk through with kangaroos roaming free. We quickly noticed how friendly these kangaroos were as other visitors hand feed them with food bought from the zoo shop. A friendly oz couple handed what was left of their kangaroo food so the 3 of us could enjoy feeding, petting and taking close up photographs of these stunning marsupials. They were very sociable as long as you approach them first and would even hold your hand while it was eating from it. Eventually we moved on from the kangaroos and we entered a koala enclosure!!!!!!!!! As you may notice from the exclamation marks we were very excited about this (especially me). We passed a few eucalyptus trees and with a koala in each, we had fun trying to spot them. In the middle section we could even stroke one! Right on the white patches on their cute little bums! Us three thought we had died and gone to heaven! It was extremely hard to move on from the koalas as they were just so so cute but we had to move on otherwise we would never get round to seeing all the other animals!
We made it in time to the Crocoseum for the midday show. Just a quick fact, the Crocoseum was specially designed by Steve Irwin himself to show off wild crocodiles and to help educate people and eliminate some myths people have about them. Although told that he would never be able to get a wild crocodile to come in and be able to show it off, Steve succeeded and we were thoroughly entertained by a wonderful show with snappy crocs, flying bird antics and some slithery snakes! After the show and scoffing our pack lunches we headed over to see the Elephants, Red Pandas and Tigers and also to visit 'Africa', the new section opened a few months ago for the animals of......yes you got it right Africa! These were all amazing enclosures, such huge spaces for such huge animals :)
By about 3 we were all a bit bushed so we headed to the massive food-court and enjoyed a hotdog and some ice tea. We had just plonked our tired behinds down when we turned and saw we were sat next to a koala in a tree! We were extremely excited about this but then we saw something even more exciting, in the shop below there was another koala where you could take pictures with! Without further ado we ran straight down and took quite a few pictures with the cutest koala, Annie. Although Annie was sometimes more interested in eating the eucalyptus leaves than smiling for the camera! After buying a few koala related things (me again!) it was almost time to go home so we headed for the exit. On the way home we made a scheduled stop at a fruit place where we were recommended about the lovely sliced and diced pineapple in the fridge. Apparently pineapples need 18 months to grow! The pineapples were sweet, tangy and made a very nice refreshment after a long hot day walking around.
Around half 5 we were back home, I napped as Jen was busy online chatting and uploading Dubai blog and photies before having food. Afterwards we went to bed and tried to watch a film but before long our eyelids started falling and we were snoring (hopefully not too loud) soon after.