If my Aussie trip were a book, it would be My Family and Other Animals. Gerald Durrell has nothing on me. In the last three weeks I've experienced swarms of bats, giant golden orb spiders (apparently the females massively outgrow the males), sharks, crocs, cane toads and let's not forget the mozzies. Not to mention my darling, but toothing, new baby cousin. If you could see me now, flying to Singapore en route to Denpasar, you'd probably think I were auditioning for the next series of Tribe, with my two-month long roots, unwashed clothes, and toothy grin (half my tooth actually fell out in NZ; thank God for emergency dentists). All that aside, and because of it, it's been a truly fantastic three weeks - starting in Sydney with my family for a week and a half, then up to Cairns, Cape Tribulation and Port Douglas.
Sydney was as bright and shiny as I remember it - the blue water at Circular Quay, bright sun reflecting off the Opera House onto the runners defying the heat and jogging in the sun past the Aboriginals performing for the tourists. I loved the ferry crossings out to Taronga Zoo (where we spent an hilarious day pushing Jess around the most ridiculously steep hill in a wheelchair and occassionally accidentally tipping her into the giraffe enclosure) and Manly as much as I did ten years ago. All the memories were still intact and unchanged (so much so I refused point blank to swim in the bluebottle-infested waters:that is one lesson LEARNT) but this trip had so much more - what my cousins and I have come to call the Caddy Network. Staying with Emma in Darlinghurst meant that i got to feel what it would really be like to live in Sydney - and with it's mix of prostitutes and gays alongside leafy traditional streets and boutique coffee shops, it's a lot like the London I love. With sun, obviously. One thing London DOESN'T have, though, is Emma, Henrietta, Rodney, Rose, Hamish, Auntie Barbie, Uncle James and Garth and it feels so wrong that after spending only a few wonderful evenings and breakfasts catching up and reminiscing, I might not see them again for a while.
Few as they were, I couldn't have asked for better nights. one of the most memorable was going to see Tom Stoppard's Travesties performed wonderfully at the Opera House. The complex exploration of critical theory of language (something that was taught in a whole term at university and summed up mangnificently in one dialogue in the play) as well as politicsis beautifully crafted by Stoppard acted marvellously by the Sydney Theatre Company, should you get to see it.
Spurred on to nature by the sight of a swarm (literally) of bats one night as we were walking home (later discovered in the tress in the botanical garden at Circular Quay in their thousands), Jess, her friend Caroline and I took a train to see the Blue Mountains. Again these were as beautiful as i remember, if a little drier - the park rangers were conducting a series of scheduled burnings to sections of the forest to help it renew but one had got out of control and a rescue mission to stop it was underway. We trekked around some of the forest floor walks (after navigating the ridiculously steep staircase!) and spoke to the locals who were out watching the fire and tutting pretty loudly. Having made friends with a young American (everyone travelling is so young!) who gives white water rafting tours of the Grand Canyon for a living ("And what do you do?" "Uh, financial PR!?"), we all went out for a few well deserved drinks.
After a few more nights back in Sydney involving some funky coloured cocktails, plenty of bbqs and laughing chez Ems ("More tea?!"), I set off alone for Cairns while Jess went home to NZ for a wedding. It's a good thing I had extra time there too - it took me three days to acclimatise to the overwhelming heat - 35 degrees at 5pm (and 9am for that matter) is no joke. I hired a bike and managed 4 hours to the Centenary Lakes and Forest Boardwalk before giving up and taking myself to the Lagoon for a serious bikini-clad sun session. But acclimatise I did, and by the time Jess was back and we were on our way to the Rainforest and Cape Trib, i was a bit more under control.
The week I spent at Cape Trib and Port Douglas was one of the best, and most relaxing I can remember. Aside from the sun shining every day, most of which we spent walking along the beach, swimming in the rainforest watering holes with the locals (keeping a keen eye out for crocs!) or playing pool with the other travellers at PK's Jungle Village (recommeded by my hairdresser in London), I was aware for the first time of having a totally blank slate. Jess and I were planning our Asia trip and it was bliss to lie in the sun with no agenda and work out a route. With the boat we were going to take out to dive on the Great Barrier Reef broken, we also had extra time to chat with the other 'villagers' - especially the gardener, who knew all the creatures and trees backwards and was seriously fascinating. We learnt how to cure colds with green ant nests, (green ants, btw, taste like gooseberries with a slight sting) and make antiseptic soap with a tree branch - and which leaves to avoid like the plague (if you see any heart shaped furry numbers, stay well away - they're the gimpy-gimpy)!
We finally got to dive when we made it to Port Douglas, with its 4-mile beach and rows of luxury apartments and hotels (which we stayed well away from!). Going out for a full day trip we managed two dives and a snorkel at three sites and saw sharks, grouper larger than i've ever seen, tons of parrot fish and clownfish, giant clams and the most beautiful coloured corals. The snorkel was pretty cool too, hovering over the formations amongst the shoals of tiny fish near the surface in sexy stinger suits (the water was 25 degrees) which made your head turn into massives cones when the water got trapped inside.
i wish i could better describe Oz without having to keep resorting to the usual adjesctives that all the 17 year olds we keep meeting use - "so how was India?" "oh wow, man, it was aMAYzing", "And Cambodia""AWESOME!!" - but actually, the last 3 weeks kinda were.