Our last week of work and with Jen and Lochie came around very quickly.
Becca has been feeling a lot better and had even had a chance to meet up with Marjorie - her mum's friend from back home. She had a really nice day out with her and Brian and they spoilt her rotten! Which was very much appreciated and it was great to see them!
As hard as the job had been and as ready as we were to move on it was still really hard to say goodbye. Our last Saturday at work left Hannah and Laura feeling very emotional. They decided to knock doors together - taking it in turns to 'be on training today'. Definitely an amazing feeling knocking the last door and walking away from it knowing that they were never going to have to do it again (touch wood). Everybody came out for our last night and unsurprisingly Hannah and Laura were in tears by the time they had to say a final goodbye to team dodge, who have become their family over the last 4 weeks. As if this wasn't bad enough, the next day we had to say bye to Jen and Lochie and the three girls. Something made even harder by the fact that little Laura (aged 3) decided she was coming 'on the bus' and packed all her clothes into a Dora the explorer backpack and put her shoes and hat on ready to leave in the morning. Fitting everything back into our bags was definitely a bit of a challenge - especially for Becca who has been doing a spot of retail therapy! This took up most of our Sunday afternoon. We had one last BBQ with the family - something we are definitely going to miss! We gave the girls some presents to remember us by - one of which we had to apologise for straight away was a recorder for Laura who decided it was a whistle and immediately started blowing incessantly as loud as she could. This is something we're sure big Laura's parents can sympathise with - she very proudly performed 'Joe, Joe, stubbed his toe' for us on the recorder.
We had an amazing time with Jen and Lochie and they were so lovely to us - we hope we return the favour when the girls are older and can come and visit their new cousins over in England - although we reckon Laura is going to grow up to be a bit of a challenge!
Very early start next morning, to catch the greyhound bus up to Rainbow beach and on to Fraser Island. Whole days spent on a bus are never very much fun but we were all excited to get moving again. It was very strange to drive out of Brisbane for the last time after spending 6 weeks there - it really did feel like home in the end. When we arrived at rainbow beach we all had to go through a safety briefing (which pretty much consisted of being told that we were going to be attacked by dingoes). Got put into our groups of 11. There were six cars going from our hostel. Had a bit of a mixture of people in our team - all older than us - but generally got on quite well with them.
The next day we packed the van up with loads of food and alcohol and we were ready to go. 11 of us squashed in a jeep was an interesting experience - although not overly comfortable, especially when we got to the sand dunes on Fraser, which weren't the smoothest. We did have to lock the door as we had fear of falling out the back as the jeep was so old.
Fraser Island itself was beautiful. The biggest sand island in the world with a rainforest in the middle of it. The whole island is a national park covered in freshwater lakes. Such an amazing experience driving along the beach with no-one else in sight! On the first day we headed straight to (well not exactly straight as we took the wrong track and ended up going round in circles over a track that looked like it hadn't been used in about ten years!) lake McKenzie. As you'll see from the photos, was stunning. Such bright blue water it didn't look real which meant that in most of the photos we look super-imposed! Played Frisbee for a bit and did a spot of sun-bathing. The day went quite quickly just chilling out by the water. Then had to try and find a campsite before the tide came in and washed us away. Quite a challenge it turned out, but luckily we bumped into another group who were in the same position and we ended up camping together. Got on way better with this group than ours - even met our first 18-year-olds since we first came away!
First meal was steak and unsurprisingly Laura ended up cooking it on the gas stove, like a true scout! She was in her element. Hannah was on beer-handing-out duty as she was good for nothing else. Played drinking games and sat chatting on the beach, looking at the most amazing stars we have ever seen. We could even see the Milky Way stretching out above us. After an uncomfortable night in the tent and being woken up by the unbearable heat and the occasional dingo sniffing around the tents, we packed up and headed to Lake Wabby, which is perched in the middle of massive sand dunes - it was literally like we were in the middle of the desert. All you could see was sand for miles and miles, which also meant interesting sun-bathing positions, meaning that you slid down the sand bank. We then went to see the Mahino shipwreck on the North of the island. This was pretty impressive and definitely well worth the terrifying drive over the rocks to get there. Unfortunately we couldn't get past the rocks on the way back because the tide had come in so far, so we had to find a new campsite which wasn't hard. There was also a group from another company there which meant another night of partying. So much so that nobody noticed once we were sat down talking that a dingo had crept up behind us and was making an escape with not only the bag of rubbish, but a full crate of beer. Both of which were sat within 2 metres of us. This meant trailing around the campsite retrieving our lost beer but don't worry we made sure that we got it all back! Cheeky dingo. Us three made sure that we always went to the toilet in three's after this episode (although by toilet we mean any bush we could find). Another good night getting to know people, although it was a bit of a shambles for three of the guys in our group as their tent blew down, resulting in them sleeping in the jeep.
The next morning, the ferry back to Rainbow beach was at 1.30pm so we didn't have much time as we had to catch it from the other side of the island and as usual we were really slow with getting ourselves sorted out. After a long, very frustrating debate, we persuaded people that we did have just enough time to visit another lake. This time it was lake Boomanjin (the largest perched lake in the world - whatever that means!). Only had enough time for lunch and a quick swim in the lake but it was well worth seeing as it was so out of the way that it was completely deserted and stained red with tea-tree oil - a beautiful sight.
Made it back just in time for the ferry. The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning, unpacking and collapsing in our room. It's unbelievably how much sand can be encrusted on your person after three days without a shower (even the eyeballs) - so we had much appreciated showers.
It was an early start the next morning for our next 10-hour bus journey all the way back down the coast to Byron Bay in New South Wales. Arrived to find it was pissing it down with rain but this didn't stop us going for an exploratory walk with Sophie (another 18-year-old English girl we met on the bus). Soon regretted this decision as the rain intensified and our walk became more like a run from shelter to shelter. Got up in the morning to sunshine though, so all was good, and we spent a very contented day on the beach watching the surfers and exploring the town. All three of us have agreed that it has been our favourite place in Oz so far (not that we have got much to compare it too - neither Townsville or Innisfail have a chance!). Byron is a very chilled out place, full of little coffee shops and galleries. Hannah and Becca used some of the money that the Leonard's crew gave them by buying bowls full of coffee. Excellent.
That night we felt the need to sample some of Byron's famous nightlife. Cheeky Monkey's was a bar that had been recommended to us by countless people along the way. So with Sophie and an English couple from our dorm, we decided to check it out. It didn't disappoint! Lots of cheesy music and dancing on tables. We definitely picked the right night to go as it was ladies night and we got, not only a free glass of pink champagne, but to witness a male strip competition. Unfortunately none of them were in the least attractive and they felt the need to wear farmyard animal thongs. Lord knows why - it wasn't a pretty sight! Regardless of this it was a great night.
Next day was spent in a pretty similar way during which we sunbathed some more and walked up to the cape Byron lighthouse (interestingly the most Easterly point in Australia!). Said goodbye to Sophie that night and went for a five-dollar meal at a nearby backpackers. We still haven't got used to having to cook for ourselves after being spoilt whilst staying with Jen and Lochie and are already sick of plain pasta.
Woke up on our last day in Byron to torrential rain, which annoyingly persisted all day long, so we didn't really do much. Watched 2 films then pottered around town in our sexy anoraks for the rest of the day until it was time for our overnight bus to our next stop - Newcastle!!
On the way we got to see the world's biggest prawn statue - something we got very excited about -even at midnight! Arrived in Newcastle, quite fittingly, to grey skies and drizzle. This didn't stop us northern lasses sampling the great sights of Newcastle. These included the likes of Fort Scratchley and Nobby's Head. Bizarrely, the city is really similar to Newcastle back home. The rain set in for the day so didn't do much but the hostel was one of the nicest we've stayed in so we didn't really mind. Something that wasn't the same as the Newcastle that we know and love was the nightlife. Tuesday night was a big night out… this consisted of bingo and free sausage sandwiches. Turns out the travelers who decide to go to Newcastle are all quite a lot older than the Byron Bay crowd but this didn't stop us having a fun night- Laura even won the bingo. Unfortunately it was a shark dive which she couldn't do cause we had a bus booked for the next day but she was very happy anyway since the last time she won bingo she got a block of lard with her gran so a shark dive was a bit cooler than that!
Caught the bus at 10 the next day to get to Sydney by lunchtime. Was very surreal driving across the harbor bridge with views of the opera house right next to us. Couldn't believe we were finally here at our last stop in Australia. Checked into our hostel and walked down to the harbor where we sat contentedly looking at the views. Finally went to see Slumdog Millionaire which was recommended to us when we were first in Cairns and we all agreed it was the best film we've seen in ages. Made us both really miss India and make us think why the hell did we want to go there in the first place.
Since then we've been packing as much as possible into our days since we've only got 4 in Sydney and there's loads we wanted to do. Unfortunately, however, the next morning Laura decided to finally go to the dentist for the toothache she's had for the past month and this turned out to be a lot more serious than she thought and she ended up needing a filling (complete with massive needle) and was told she might need root canal surgery. She was slightly panicked upon hearing that this would cost her $1800 so instead she settled for the $400 filling and is hoping for the best. Especially since she discovered that her insurance only covers her for 100 pounds, this is the last time she lets her dad decide her insurance company!
Later that day we took the ferry to Manly which had been recommended to us. The beach was gorgeous and the town very classy- however we are starting to get to the stage where every beach is beginning to look the same to us and even watching the surfers is starting to get a bit old. Spent the day lazing around then had a quiet night in the hostel since we've discovered we can't really afford anything in Sydney!
On Friday we ventured a bit further afield to the Blue Mountains which are 2 hours west of Sydney. Absolutely stunning, the best way to describe the views is a greener version of the grand canyon (but slightly less grand). Bought a hop on hop off bus ticket and our driver garv told us where to go. Did a couple of walks but decided not to descend too far down into the canyon (900 steps) since we are all hopelessly unfit and Becca was wearing flip flops. Did make it onto the first of the 3 sisters which is a massive rock formation. That night we met up with Laura's cousin Chris and his wife Mandy and their friends who had travelled in New Zealand and were giving us loads of tips. Had a drink with them in Darling Harbour which was really nice and a lot classier than what we're used to. Was great for Laura to catch up with them and we all had a good laugh. After that we decided since it was our only proper night out in Sydney we had to check out the infamous Kings Cross. It's the sort of place that when you say the name everyone pulls a face, kind of like the big market in Newcastle but about 10 times worse. We were greeted by the sight of someone vomiting out the side of a taxi and a bloke slumped against the wall crying into his McDonalds ice-cream. It was an interesting experience but we were quite sober so just sat observing from the side lines, made us want to never get to that stage of drunkenness ever again, doubt that will last too long though!
One of the things we'd been most looking forward to was Bondi beach. We had images of lying in our bikinis getting a tan (or a few more freckles for becca) and watching the lifeguards/surfers. Saturday was the only day we could fit it in so we set off with high hopes. Our day didn't start out great when we were greeted on the bus by 4 very drunk Estonians who serenaded us with the likes of Robbie Williams and Frank Sinatra and frequently announced to the bus that 'It's OK to be gay these days'. We were very glad to be off the bus until we discovered that it was about 5 degrees and very grey and windy, more like a trip to the British coast than what you would expect from Bondi! Our anoraks were put on over our bikins and hot pants and we ate our cheese sandwiches huddled by the shelter. Didn't last long before we decided to get a hot chocolate (quite tricky to find it turns out Bondi specializes more in the ice-cream trade than hot drinks). Did see some life guards though no shark related dramas unfortunately as featured on Bondi rescue. Glad we saw it but we have to admit it was a bit of a disappointment but what more can we expect from the Australia which has thrown at us cyclones, dengue fever and root canal problems? The day improved when we went to visit some of becca's family for dinner, her great uncle Hugh, his wife Bick and her daughters Claire and Steph. They were all lovely and as usual fed us up well. Hugh's apartment has the most amazing views out over the harbor and we spent a long time just stood staring at it. They also took us down to a look out point in the Botanical Gardens and we were even shown where Russel Crowe's apartment is (and also where he gets his petrol!). Was a good night and Becca enjoyed catching up with her family who she hadn't seen since she was 8.
Since it was our final day in Australia (very strange feeling), we decided this would be the perfect opportunity to use the voucher Laura's brothers got her for her 18th- a ride on a jetboat (ocean extreme- the same as used by the SAS!) round the harbor and out to Bondi. At first we were a bit unsure when the driver gave us a talk about being airborne and telling us the best way to sit to avoid shattering our spines. Was so much fun once we got out though that we couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces and don't worry our spines are fine. We saw lots of interesting sites along the way including a nudist beach, Sydney's top suicide spot and finally Bondi beach which looked a lot more impressive today in the sunshine. To top it off on the way back we were followed by a pod of dolphins which were swimming within a couple of metres of the boat. Definitely a good way to spend our last day so thankyou very much to Andrew Alastair and Rach! Have done a lot of washing, packing and shopping today since our limited wardrobes don't extend to New Zealand's climate. We're going to walk down to the harbor for a drink tonight. It's weird to be leaving Australia and we can't believe how fast it's gone but we're all very excited for New Zealand and to pick up our camper van which will be our home for the next month. Not sure how long this excitement will last when we see the size of it however. We will let you know how it goes! Keep in touch everyone! Love the girls xxxxxx