Hello! It's crazy to think that just over 2 weeks ago now we were basking in the 30 degree heat of tropical north Queensland. Here in NZ we've had minus degree temperatures and even snow! Thought we would fill you in on our last days in Oz and maybe, you never know, bring back some of the warmth to!
Last time we wrote we had just finished our boat trip to the Whitsundays. Having gone straight from this and the organised tour to Fraser Island, we took a couple of days r and r in Airlie Beach to find our land legs again. This small town is where all trips to the Whitsundays depart, and to be honest, there's not much to the place other than that! What there is though, is the beautiful and inviting sea. However, due to the 2 types of deadly jellyfish, the almost invisible irukandji and the enormous box jellyfish (which has enough of a sting to kill 60 human beings!) swimming is not recommended. Thankfully, the town has a beautiful man made lagoon where we spent most of our next 2 days, in between trying out a Queensland favourite, the Cold Rock Ice creamery, where they work your favourite chocolate bars into the ice cream flavour of your choice (thanks Caroline for the suggestion - Belgian chocolate and caramello koala rocked!).
After this we headed up to Magnetic Island, so called because Captain Cook's compass went haywire when he sailed passed the island in the 1700s. Here we stayed in one of our favourite hostels so far, Bungalow Bay, where our dorm room was hidden in the rainforest in amongst the wildlife, including a troop of mischevious possums who caused a serious racket on the corrugated tinned roofs at night. They also organised a bevvy of evening activities to keep the backpackers happy, including bingo...yes bingo(?!) and coconut ten pin bowling! The hostel is also adjacent to a small wildlife sanctuary where you can get up close and personal to the wildlife. Here we had the chance to hold a massive variety of animals, including cockatoos, lizards, snakes and... KOALAS!! Nearly every zoo we'd visited in Oz offered experiences where you could pay to stand very close to a koala, but never actually hold it! It wasn't until we got to Bungalow Bay that we learnt that Queensland is the only state in which it is legal to hold a koala and that a fee always has to be paid to do so. Well, we payed, and finally got the photo op that every tourist craves when in Aus...and it was awesome!
By a lucky coincidence, we ended up at the hostel on the same days as Miriam and Eamonn, the Irish couple we had met in Brisbane and then again on Fraser Island and we decided to hire a car together for the day to explore the island properly. I use the term 'car' here loosely as our hired vehicle, the Moke, was more like a cross between a golf cart and the Flintmobile from the Flintstones. Complete with air con (fully open sides, no need for doors) a shockingly poor turning circle and near non-existent brakes, Oscar (yes our car was named after Oscar the grouch!) was a sheer driving delight. After visiting both ends of the small island, we finished the day by feeding the wild rock wallabies which hang out across parts of the island.
Before leaving the next day, we treated ourselves to an incredible bush breakfast at the wildlife sanctuary, where most things were made using local produce, a lot of which had come from the bush. Here we learnt that the Oz version of toad in the hole is an egg cooked into a circular hole in the middle of a slice of toast! If you're ever in this neck of the woods, we seriously can't recommend this hostel highly enough.
After returning to the mainland, we embarked on the last leg of our Australian adventure: our final greyhound trip to Cairns. So far, the journeys had been a bit of a mish mash of surprisingly pleasant and excruciatingly uncomfortable, so perhaps the crying baby and the smelly man, sat right in front of us, was a fitting way to end our last coach experience.
Arriving in Cairns at 9pm after a full days drive, we were both looking forward to just getting to our hostel, the Cairns Beach House, and getting to bed, as we had booked a trip to the Great Barrier Reef which left early in the morning. Unfortunately, this hostel turned out to be probably the worst place we have stayed so far, and in large part this was due to the shockingly poor staff, who seemed to be out in the hostel bar every night getting wasted and copping off with each other. Here's an example of their abysimal customer service: Holly woke up the next morning feeling really unwell and just wasn't going to be able to cope with being out on the ocean on a boat. Luckily, we were able to reschedule the trip on the phone, which left us up and checked out of our room by 7am. Explaining the situation to the girl at reception, Tom managed to upgrade us for the night to a private room, and the lovely girl very kindly said the upgrade could be for free. Awesome! She then went on to explain that if we waited around for a couple of hours, the room would be cleaned and ready for us to check in. So, we waited a couple of hours and went back to reception, where a new guy told us the room wasn't quite ready but it would be at 11...so we waited till 11, only then to be told by the same person that none of the rooms had been cleaned yet so nothing was ready. Not wanting to waste another minute hanging around the reception at the hostel, we left our luggage in storage and headed into central cairns to kill a few hours. We arrived back late afternoon to another, different women on the desk. When we asked to check in, the lady told us we were booked back into the same dorm as before. When we explained that her colleague had put us into a private room, she said there was no record of that and all the double rooms had been taken! The only ones available were 'deluxe' rooms, which cost an awful lot more money. Already feeling pretty miffed, we explained that her colleague had upgraded us to a double room for free. At this point, she smirked and said 'there's no way my colleague would have done that.' At this point an argument ensued over the fact she insinuated we were lying. I don't think we have ever been so affronted by someone who is supposed to be in the hospitality business. Thankfully, we did manage to get a private room in the end and an apology after Holly made it clear that her manner was making the situation ten times worse.
Anyway, after our night in the private room (hooray!) we set off the next morning to the Daintree Rainforest in Cape Tribulation, the oldest rainforest in the world and the home to the endangered cassowary. These giant birds shouldn't be approached as they have a razor sharp claw on the back of their foot which could prove fatal.
On the first day, we went for a ferry trip on the Daintree river and were really lucky to see a mother croc with her tiny babies, one of which was perched on the top of her head! After this, we went for some walks in the rainforest and were taken to our accommodation, right in the heart of the rainforest on beautiful Cape Tribulation beach. Again, like Airlie Beach, the sea was strictly off limits due to both the crocs and the jellyfish, but this didn't deter from our enjoyment of the place. The next day, after going for a few walks along the coast, we were taken to Mossman Gorge on our way back to Cairns, a beautiful fresh water river with absolutely freezing water! Cape Trib is a truly spectacular place and thankfully, due to it's world heritage status, has been left largely untouched by human development.
The next day was the trip we had most been looking forward to, a 2 day boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef. Having already had some amazing diving in Ningalow reef on the west coast and in the Whitsundays, we were expecting this to be the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, the reefs we were taken to didn't quite live up to our expectations. Having said that, we did see some incredible sights: Tom snorkelled with a turtle and we saw clown fish (little Nemos!), the poisonous but beautiful lion fish and even a small shark, but overall we felt the quality of the diving and the reefs had been better elsewhere in Australia. Holly's experience was dampered slightly by the equipment on her second scuba dive. After resurfaced shortly after her descent to sort out her mask, which was letting in far too much water, she had just taken off her mask when her BCD (flotation jacket) deflated and she started to sink, a hairy experience until her dive buddy resurfaced to help her out. Thankfully she was fine and went on to dive again later in the day.
Overall, we have loved our time in Australia, both working in Sydney and travelling the continent. There is so much we will miss, the beach culture in Sydney and the beautiful harbour, the outback and its never ending red earth, the wildlife, the amazing coffee and ice cream, though most of all the incredible people we met. We've also discovered that 10 months is just not enough to experience all this amazing country has to offer. Definitely a reason to come back!
We didn't think it could have been possible to find a more beautiful country than Australia but having just started to work our way around New Zealand we might just have found some competition but will fill you in on that next time!