TIA - This Is Australia.
Normally Africans use it but i think in this instance we may be forgiven for using it in this statement. Our story begins in Melbourne. Some people think it should've been the capital of Oz (also known as Autralia), but then others think Sydney should've been too, yet Canberra stole the title and no-one can think of why. There's nothing interesting in Canberra.
July 14th we were hit by the coldeness of New South Wales of Melbourne city. Em had arranged for a family member to pick us up from the airpot and take us to his place in the city. Very nice place and very cold too (in comparison to the Shanghai humidity and heat). When you land and get to the baggage collection section we got more clothes out of our bags and layered up before venturing out. We met Andrew, Em's connection in Melbourne. Very nice guy and very frinedly, the Oz personality had been ingrained in his bones well. Very welcoming. We got into the city and the first thing that hit me was the similarity of US and Oz. The housdes are low, the roads are sign-posted the same, the cars look the same, the roads are spaciously similar, the people are weird (bot not fat), orientation is similar, the streets are in grid formation and there's a train system that makes it seem like new york city. The trams make the city feel artistic and welcoming. I'd have to say that this is the first city in a long while that i've felt like doing nothing in and just lazying about with a coffee and cake. Coffee and Cake are a man's best friend. Instead we felt jet-lagged from the flight from Shanghai, so we walked around the neighbourhood (northwood) and chacked the cinema for possible distractions. Em and I watched Toy Story 3 (which was better than expected) and Charlotte watched the new Twilight (with an all women audience and one for then was pregnant with a glass of wine in hadn - true Ozie style).
You can see the CBD (central Business District) from here and sunset's the better when it comes. It's cool here, and dry and so a day of catching up with reality and people who speak English rather than un-understanding languages. People all say Good-Day! How are you? You can throw then off-guard by answering 'Well thank you. And you?' How are you to Ozies is like the hello for the rest of the world, so a question throws them off and they're stuck with what to say. Needless to say we got some looks from our responses.
July 15th is a lazy man's day (or women too!) Midday wake-up and the coldness of the morning makes brushing teeth faster than an electric tooth-brush. Australian's don't heat their houses in winter, they just layer up. This make for an interesting morning and quick showers. It also makes for more layers to the hilt. I can remember going to skiing trips with Chris and Kieran and having three layers, here i was having 4 or 5 and it wasn't even freezing. We checked out the shops. We got to aroung the McKenzie district (Italian) and shopped till we nealry dropped. We didn't need to shop but it was English clothes and we got carried away. In the end we got back via tram and slept another good night of sleep. Sleep sleep sleep.
July 16th. More shopping and shopping. This time around the Firtzroy area (North of Central) to factory outlets on smith st. Bought trainers and socks and trying to catch up with the healthy living idea that Bronwyn and I set up before going on the travels. Visited galleries, Alcaston Gallery, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Sutton Gallery, and a gentle stroll along Brunswick street. This is the artistic aspect of Melbourne, and it can be seen in every shop that you go into. Firstly, there are many coffee places, hippy shops, scented candles and all that crap. Plenty of people who think Harry Crishna is a deiety/God too.
July 17th. Early wake-up this time at 0700 to do a 20mins run around the neighbourhood. Eventually C&E got up and, with Andrew, went to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to see Colingwood kill St. Kilda at AFL (Australian Football, a mixture of rubgy, hockey, basketball and wrestling) all fro $21 a ticket. That was fun. Plenty of people seemed to take it serously butta the same time young and old were able to mingle without consequences. Not like the rough games of football in England. Then we went ot meet a old school frined opf Charlotte's whpo lives in Melbourne at Young & Jackson's Pub (opposite Central Station, everyone in Melbourne knows this pub's location). Then moved on to the Crown Casino & Entertainment Complex which has an astonishing fire display every hour on the hour at night. It's situated across the Yarra river (Yarra means Seagull) and in the starry night of Melbourne it's a show of it's own. The casino in this place is for everyone (over 18) and old or young, smart or not, shaven or bearded, all turn up here and take their hard earned money to the dealer for the possibility of walking away with more. Unfortunatelly most walk away with less (much less) than they previously went in with. Yet it still offers a good time and luxury that the average Ozzie will not get in their normal lifetime.
July 18th. Wueen Victoria Market for some food shopping. Great fruit and veg but with less for you buck. It seems cheaper (since we're on a budget) to go to the big supermarkets (Woolworths or Coles) and get something just as good for less. A day of slow looking and mingling with the city to just observe. Much to be observed. Here (in Oz) there are two big supermarkets for food. Coles and Woolworth. Woolworth's not gone bust in this side of the world and i'm grateful for it. They're cheaper than Coles and have more variety. Thay can be found in most cities and where Coles is, you usually find a Woolworth somewhere nearby. On the other hand where Woolworth is you may not find a Coles in the came place or city. Originally (as I've been told by Mel (more about here later)) Wooly was cheaper than Coles, but Coles have regained the market somewhta by reducing their prices, you can still get most of your shopping in Woolies for cheaper. Plus we (British) feel a little more connection with Woolworth than Coles, having grown up with it and their pick&mix selection at the front of the shop. So that's where we mostly go to. We feel a slight connection with British society, although there's nothing British about the place. The prices are in Dollars, the people are Ozzie and there's no pick&mix at the front of the shop. Aside from that Charlotte finally got a replacment for her stolen camera in Saigon, a 12MP Nikon. It was a highlight to try and get a good price for it, us being on a bidget too.
Soon we hit Phillip Island, world renoun for it's Penguin Parade. This island may sound near Melbourne but 140km south, on the way to Bass, and you eventually get there. One way in and one way out. The first attraction of the trip was Churchill Island to see a historic farm where they demonstrated how they did things back in the last centries. Things such as milking cows, making horse shoes (which I still have in my flat and it gives me good luck), the farm dog and what they can do, how sheep used to be sheared. Then off to the Koala santuary where we witnessed about six Koalas in the eucalyptus trees, sleeping, which is their favourite thing to do all day. Thay looked like furr balls thrown up the eucalyptus trees in a Koala throwing competition. Along the paths made for humans saw emoos, an exciting bird called the Eastern Rosella (30-33cm). Common in the eucalyp woodlands, feeding noisily in the trees or quietly on the ground. A chocolate factory that had Charlotte all excited, but money being the issue we couldn't afford a whole lot. AS i remember they did seem to have very nice chocolatte there. The main attraction was the Nobbies Centre at Point Grant on the western point of P.I. Sadly the centre was closed at 16.30 (a bit crap really) so moved on to Summerland Bay to watch the Penguin Parade. We upgraded our regular tickets to front row seats, to be the firs people to see the little fellas rock out of the sea and make their baby noises as they make their way into their burroughs in the beach and hills. Funnily they wait till sunset/dusk till they get out, to make sure no predators eat them when thy're walking, they're slow so they'd be easy prey for anyone. Then once out of the sea and onton the sant, it's like an army of black and white waiters coming at you with beaks and flapping fins. Fascinating as anything in the world. People from all over China were there, although i'd never heard of it and our trusted guide book (Lonely Planet) didn't say much on the spectacle, but they're called Little Penguins and rightly so they're the smallest penguins in the world. The drive back was a sleepy one, like children that had had a fun day our energy was wanning, sleep took over us. Once back at Andrew's house bed was compulsory.
21st July. On tram from Merri to Flinders St. where I got in the Medicare register, should I need medical healthcare whilst in Australia, you get 6 months free if you're from the Commonwealth. Once that was over with, off to Hoasier Lane near Federation Sq. Apparently this is where you can see works from the famous Banksy. His mouse, his Toy-Story figurine, etc. A whole street full of graffiti, even the staircases inside the buildings were graffitied, the bins, second floor walls, windows, whatever the artists could find. In fact they seemed very good pieces of work. As if Melbourne's graffiti artists all got together and just painted the street in one sitting. Because the street was in the guide books, lots of tourists with cameras were there, including myself. Our Matron at St. George's did mention that her favourite city was Melbourne. I didn't think it would grow on me, but it seriously has. The historic houses, European style trams, eclectic mix of people who just seem friendly. No attitude like Brixton or even London. It seems like Australia is so far away from the rest of the World but the whole World can be found in Australia too. I thought of someone I'd met and he's recently married to his girlfriend that he met whilst in Australia. They were on holiday here but back in London they both lived in the same neighbourhood. How strange to come this far to find your wife who lives in the same neighbourhood as you back in London. Makes you wonder the mentality of the traveller. To explore different cultures, even of they resemble ours in every way, then discover that although you're travelling around Melbourne, you might as well be travelling around your room. We don't seem to travel to explore other cultures and places but our culture and ourselves. Went to Sydney the same day. Flew as it was cheaper and more cheerful.
22nd July. A perfect day! The only thing better would've been a bj. Got up and did a run from Kent St. to where it ends on Windmills St., then three flights of stairs down to Walsh Bay Quays. Ran along them West to East finishing at Dawes point, overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge. People crossing the bridge, boats floating underneath and the sun rise! It was worth the early wake up call any time. Unforgettable. Picturesque, if only I'd had my camera with me. Came back to Base Sydney Hostel and did a man's morning three S's (s***, shower and shave), then checked out The Rock to see if I could get some breakfast (eggs Benedict's and lovely too)and check out a bit of Sydney. On the junction of Hickson and George St. there's the Ken Done Gallery (a waste of paint this guy; think Picasso but worse colours, style, form and expensive with no real messages or purpose. He'd painted them because he was famous and he could get away with it. Some idiots must be interested in buying his overpriced baby vomit because I didn't). Next to it, going South, is the Aboriginal Art Galleries (good glass/wood/textile works and more interesting than next door). I got my hands on an iPod. Yes, I have an iPod! I even have an iTunes account, f*** all use it does to your social life but it's been bugging me to get something to listen to while we have long journey ahead of us as China taught me there's so much you want to talk to people before you find yourself not wanting to talk but just lie back in the seat and watch the countryside glide by at a lolling speed. So now I'm an iPoder. I've been iPoded! I feel so generic. Part of a mass of people that bleat and groan in unison. The iPod generation, that's what the modern city dweller has become. Almost makes me want to throw this one way. I'd say donate it to charity but I don't think the orphans of Saigon would even want an iPod. They'd look at it with as much disgust as I do. I'll get over it though.
Soon the three of us were heading for Hyde Park to see the water fountain outside St. Mary's Cathedral on College St. Went north to see the Barracks Museum but I was out of cash and Em didn't want to see it so Chaz didn't want to see it on her own. So none of us went. Next to the Mint (a coin manufacturing house), or what used to be the Mint up to mid 20th Century, then it relocated to Canberra. C + E had a wee in their toilets. I don't know if that makes them lucky. Next to it was the hospital, had some food there. Nicer than St. George's Hospital Café, but then again anything's nicer than Tooting!! Even Tooting Bec! Chaz and I went to Museum of Australia and Em went to the park, met back at Parliament House at 1600, at that exact time the place shut and we moved on to State Library of NSW. Inside was the World Press 2010 exhibition, for free. Great, I'd never seen the exhibition in London, I felt a true tourist to come all this way to see an exhibition by mostly British curators. The main chunk of work was in focus to Afghanistan and war in general, as it's customary of World Press. One of the photographers had a series of photos of a Somali man being stoned to death. Normal Somalis stoning someone else for adultery and being happy about doing it. Decided then that Somalia is not going to be a place I'll be visiting any time soon.
Then it was getting late so we tried to get some free food at the Gaff (a place where Sydney's babies are made but no-one can remember how they came to being made as the act is heavily drowned with alcohol and alcohol) but it didn't yet. To kill some time we searched for shoes for C+E. Every sports shop said Bondi Junction. Chaz said lets walk, and we did, but soon she regretted her decision and by that time it was too late, Em and I were going to make her walk all the 3 miles. Took the bus back though. At Bondi there's a massive shopping centre like Westfield is for London, but bigger. Shopping done we entered Arthur's pizza, where instead of one pizza I got two and they were good, especially since Chaz donated some of her slices, not being "keen" on hers much. Pizza done and dusted, got the 380 back to Hyde Park and Chaz wanted to get back to the hostel as next door was ladies night. Male strippers. Although Chaz made it out to be supporting Em for being single and being afraid of going to such places alone, she really just wanted to see some guys get naked. They both returned later disappointed as it wasn't much on the male stripping as one man stripping, and he didn't even look good apparently. Sad time where women in bikinis were being introduced in ladies night to spice things up.
23rd July. Today started early. Got up and woke Chaz for a run. C+E both got ready for a run. Once teeth were brushed and trainers fixed to feet and trousers struggled on from the lack of exercise recently, we got to the streets, where decent, hard-working people were setting about the task of going to work or being at work. We walked to Hyde Park and then jogged up to State Library of NSW, cut into Ryal Botanic Gardens, upper, middle and lower gardens, to the harbour overlooking Opera House and Sydney Bridge then back to Hyde Park by retracing our steps. Today the hostel was setting up a free bus to Bondi beach. They'd show you a bit of town, get you to Bondi beach, walk around to Bronte beach and then give you free food and goon. And if you don't know what goon is then shame on you. Look it up or something. Got to Bondi beach, took photos, tried to spot whales but wasn't able to see any, settled for goon, sausages wrapped in white bread with onions and sauce. True backpacker style. By the time we were dropped back to the hostel were thoroughly sloshed.
Some of the people from the Bondi Beach thought it might be an idea to check out the Opera House. After all you cannot come to Sydney and not see the Opera house. Funnily enough we got tickets for the opening night of Marriage of Figaro by Mozart ($42AUSD) and I'd say we got better vies than some of the seated people on the side of the amphitheatre. Absolutely splendid performance, although I wasn't expecting the translated text above the actors. Humour, excitement, engaging, treacherous, a great show. We were the most under-dressed people there by far, but who cares for such cheap tickets to the world famous Opera house. Afterwards we had to walk back to the hostel in the rain, but it didn't dampen my mood in the slightest as the show was spectacular. Especially since before the show we'd had dinner of chocolates and more chocolates at Gylian's chocolateurs with champagne. It was at this very interesting and moon lit Sydney Harbour Bridge that Em came out with her interesting fact. The stone of the Harbour Bridge were made in the same village she was born in Sussex. They imported those stones all the way from England at a time where travelling to Australia took months and was life-threatening. I'd say that counts as interesting fact of the day. After the Opera, Em and everyone else seemed very bubbly, perhaps we all needed chocolate with champagne and Operas once in a while to make us happy.
26th July. Made our way from Sydney to Wauchope (pronounced wauroup). There's so much of what we do that we ourselves don't understand. Even if we tried to it would take a lifetime's existence to fully comprehend a minute of our doings. I feel that a hinge is loose, a clog in the wheel is rusty in the internal organism of my mind. I wish to make an argument, a set of ideas that are well strung together, but something holds me back. The ability to formulate the desired words is missing. A mental block of some kind, a stop, a something. I can't place my finger on its exact sport, or its origin but I know it's there, like people know God is there but no-one can see it.
Today we took the XTP from Sydney to Wauchope, then a grannified coach from Wauchope to Port Macquarie. This coach seemed to have the whole granny population of Port Macquarie in it, and they were very evil looking, the full moon being out and the white hair and their queue jumping and their extra niceness, we were afraid of the destination of the coach. Happy to get out of it. Checked into Ozie Pozie (36 Waugh Rd) Backpacker and settled into our bunk beds. A couple sharing with us were doing something very quiet and intimate in their side of the room, I'm guessing it must be frustrating to be a couple in this kind of situation. Do you hump in the comfort of the bunk bed or do you do it somewhere else, toilet? Spare cupboard? Middle of the field in the night? Had to spend an extra day here (originally planned to stay one night but since it was so late and the coach back to the train line was early and not enough time to explore the town, we paid for extra night here.
Next day some of us had a great lay-in, and being experts at them I'd say they did their sport proud. Got out riding on hired bicycles ($5 a day from the hostel) and cycled from Waugh Rd to Town Beach where the path was lined with rock painted by tourists that had come through here. Mostly European people. Went to Noddy's beach (suntan here I come!), a quiet little beach it seemed but the whole dog population of Port Macquarie wanted to say hello to the only non-dog person on the beach. Why not someone else? Lick some other poor ba***rd!! Afterwards we went to the Koala Hospital and saw many sick Koalas. They were being fed and some of them had been just admitted and others had been there for years because the natural habitat was too harsh for them. Chlamydia is a big problem with Koalas. Apparently they get it in their eyes a lot and need isolation and intravenous antibiotics. Some of them don't make it because they may have other problems such as injuries from human contact. A nicer way of saying they get ran over by cars and no-one picks them up and carries them to a Hospital. These Koalas were cute. Some with bandages, others with burns and scars and others just small, cute, very adorable. Like little humans but big nails and lots more fur. Next we thought we'd be in time for a winery that was in town. We've been looking forward to getting some alcohol in our system that wasn't beer. Plus everyone can get a cheap wine from the supermarket and we just wanted to taste the wines from where they get made, in Australia. No such luck, we were late and on the wrong day. To top off the sadness, it started raining that fine rain, soaks your through and through. By the time our day's excursions were at an end, we were san tanned, sad, tired, disappointed and wet. Port Macquarie - tick!
28th July. Got packed, sent 0.84kg of sea-mail to my flat in London (to be expected in 2-3 months), hopefully it'll get there before me. Had some stuff from China, presents for people at work (mostly make-up), a book of William Blake, 5xB&W films, all for <$20. Got a bus into Wauchope, then train to Casino, then another coach to Byron Bay. We're still in the East Coast, travelling north, still in New South Wales (this part of Australia). Once there we called the guesthouse and the guy (Joshua) picked us up). He was a hippie, not that there's anything wrong with that! Except when you asked him a question (How did you end up in Byron Bay?!) he seemed rather bored at having to answer the question or just too stoned to formulate and answer for anyone, let alone himself. Greenland Guesthouse. It's a good thing Josh gave us the lift as we'd have taken hours carrying our many bags weighing >20kg each and walking for miles out of town in dark roads and no signs anywhere. The place was definitely in a green land. Surrounded by nature of the jungle type and the place was very basic, beds, toilet wall, cupboard and a TV standing on a clothes drier-ish thing. The kitchen nearly gave C an MI and E a stroke. I thought the place was fantastic. One woman was walking around in her night gown and underwear, another set of people seemed to be plotting the invasion of Cuba huddled all together, rubbing their beards, perforating the air with smoke, looking over their shoulders for spies to their secret plans. Our room mates were a Dutch couple who seemed to be happier discoursing with their laptops then themselves. I though the whole point of backpacking was to leave modern technology behind and embrace the old and romantic ideas in life. Exploration, understanding, passion and blah blah blah. The other room mate was a big guy who didn't come in till the middle of the night and started snoring like a thunderstorm. Couldn't go to sleep till he turned over and stopped. Occasionally he'd give a whimper of a sound like a little baby. Played card games and kept on loosing. Note to self, that must change now that I have the small horseshoe from Phillip Island.
29th July. We thought we'd walk around Byron Head. There was the Captain Cook lookout and a lighthouse built in 1901 along the walk. It took a good couple of hours but it was worth it. From the lighthouse you could see humpback whales and bottle nosed dolphins migrating north for the southern hemisphere winter. And the cliffs we spotted a rock wallaby, the only difference between this guy and a kangaroo is their size. Pause for thought.
Then took a stroll into town and had some lunch at a hippy Indian café. It had pictures of Harry Krishna and songs dedicated to him (harry harry Krishna harry harry Krishna, Krishna Krishna harry Krishna Krishna harry). Wow! That must've take the stoned singer years to put down on paper, or even make into a song really! Well later we hit some shops and the beach. The sun was setting to our left, the Southern Pacific in front, the lighthouse to our right made the whole scene very magical. It must've been magical to the hippies too because they came out and started doing street performances, we not fully realising that we'd hit hippy capital of Australia we made our way home.
31st July. Someone once said we read to make sure we're not alone. Maybe we read to kill time. I was reading Herman Hesse's The Glassbead Game and had no idea why I was reading it. It wasn't at all interesting, exciting, intellectual, informative or stimulating in anyway. So much excitement I got out of that crappy book that I threw it away in Tweed Heads, the town on the eastern coast border between New South Wales and Queensland. By the end of the day we were in Surfer's Paradise. What a name for a town, and what sky-scrappers too. Very posh and clean and pricey too. Sadly we had to say goodbye to Greenland guesthouse and Joshua, who was probably too stoned to form an expression. Glad to say I won't be worried about him getting into any trouble, he'll be too stoned to do anything dangerous to anyone.
Surfer's was much better. Got checked into the hostel and met our neighbours, two old Irish women who were in Australia to drink and get some young stuff into bed with them. Or they gave that impression anyway. Some girl came around the places and told us about a big night out in Surfer's Paradise. For $30 you get entrance to 4 clubs and free first drink. And why not! Got changed and off on the bus around to club no.1. Some underground club with flash lighting, poor general lights and load music. Got on the drinking. Club no.2 was overground, more lighting, real band for music and some tall maoi wants to be my friend, because Emily and Charlotte are my friends. Weirdo, soon found other people to bother. Club no.3 (twenty1) was the best of the night. Back to low lights and free first drink. Then pole dancers. Not ugly ones either but smoking gorgeous ones bending and spreading legs as far as a Karate master could. And only wearing their slinky underwear. Needless to say photos were taken and that memory will never leave me, especially when such things are only happening feet away from me. Everyone was looking, women included.
1st August. A glorious day for surfing lessons. Which is exactly what we paid to do at noon. Along the walk to the beach we spot the 'meter maids'. If the practically naked pole dancers were not enough, this was getting there. Same strategy here, sexy women wearing underwear strutting their thing down the road, except they will top up your parking meter for you while you sit at the comfort of you coffee shop seat and watch sexy women bend over and put your coins in the meter. You don't even have to have a meter to top up to get close to these women. A couple started talking to them and the man handed his camera to his wife and got in the middle of the two, practically, naked women for a photograph. And I thought, that must be true love when you know that your husband is happier to let you take photographs of him in between two gorgeous women. That must be love right?
The rest of the day was spent trying to learn how to stand up on a surf board. Surprisingly harder than you'd think. So much so that I was beaten up 5mins before the end of the lesson. Energy levels depleted. Later on that night we went to Brisbane via coach. By the time we hit Central Base hostel of Brisbane, the force had left us. No more Jedi warriors in search for the perfect wave but overly tired backpackers in Brisbane. Cold and miserable that night. The hostel was nice, old elevators where you have to shut the doors yourself and the spiral stairs around the elevator make for great viewings of suckers who decided to walk rather than take the lift. Stayed in Brisbane for three days and four nights. There's not much happening in the centre of it, a market in the city area, shops galore, the parliament house where you can observe parliament happening, the botanic gardens overlooking the river that runs through Brisbane and empties onto the sea. By the end we'd seen most of these things and we felt ready to move on to Hervey Bay.
6th August. In Next Backpackers, nice place, 50m from the beach, great DVD selection, travel centre to book our yet un-booked tour around Frasier Island, nice kitchen and sleep. It seems that the lovely people who organise the whole Fraser Island have made it impossible to go to Fraser Island without a tour or renting a 4x4 in a group. There's charges for the coach to take you to the ferry, charges for the ferry, then charges to take a taxi from the ferry to the hostels, but the taxi doesn't get there one hour before or after high tide, so you're limited to the ferry you can take and then limited to do anything with your day on the island then limited to how much you can see the island by foot as it requires a 4WD top see the island in two day, let alone by foot. Too much hassle so booked Cooldingo tour operators for $317 for 2 nights and 3 days. Once that was over went to the beach and suntanned. I could get used to this lazy lifestyle. Beach outside your door, sun always on, food and beautiful women always around. I could easily get used to this lifestyle.
7th August. 0735 pick up from Next Backpackers to Moon Hill Marina for the barge across to KingfisherBay, FraserIsland. Picked up other backpackers along the way. The next three days and two nights we spent them in Fraser Island of Queensland territory of Australia. On the way across we saw dolphins. Then for the first saw the whitest sand of my life. The whole of FraserIsland is sitting on sand. The fresh water gets filtered through the sand from salty water, the vegetation (i.e. plants) rests on old vegetation that rests on sand that rests on salty water. Some really large vegetation survives on the island. A 600yr old tree lives there, the largest fern leaf on the planet survives there too, and it's in the Guinness book of records for being over 8 feet long. Some really interesting things being pointed all around us. A 700yr old tree that takes five persons to hug. LakeMcKenzie with its brilliantly white sand. 75 mile beach (that's actually 65 miles) where you can put the pedal down and just enjoy the mixture of sea, sand and trees, completely idyllic. EliCreek that pumps fresh water when it's surrounded by an Ocean. Flight over FraserIsland watching Manta ray & Whales. Champagne pools with lots of interesting sea animals and fishes. To top it all off the sunset was available at the end of each day.
I remember Sophie saying about FraserIsland being one of her favourite places to go in Australia. I could see why. If the weather was right and you went with a bunch of people that you knew, the whole thing could be the best time of your life. And what's not to like about this place? It's paradise on earth. No wonder everyone's happy to work here. The biggest issues hitting this side of the world is when the evening ferry doesn't leave as scheduled but 10mins late. That was a fuss over nothing. Or when the ferry people won't let you walk out of the path lines, as if the boat will capsize because of it.
23rd August. Eventually we make it to Townsville. Staying at a place called Foreign Exchange Hostel, 8 Avenue, HermitPark, Townsville, Queensland, Australia. What a place?!! This is not a hostel but a mansion that has been reduced in price for some strange reason. The reception's big, the living room's huuuugggge. It's like a ball room with a ten chaired dinner table with enough space for seating sofas on each corner. Kitchen'sa marble top surfaces and extensive supply of free utensils. As for Townsville, this is not such a great place. To begin with I'd heard of Aboriginals being drunks and getting drunk in the middle of the street talking their jibberish language, but to see it yourself it still surprises you. I heard it from everyone who'd been to Australia. Somehow seeing them japing crap and doing nothing on the side of the streets, sitting on the floor with 15 layers of jackets on a 30 degree day, made the stories seem understated. Disappointment too. These are the world renoun Aboriginals that have been around far longer than any other race of human beings in the world. Their songs of The Dreaming span back in time to over 60,000 yrs. These are the great, lean, mean, machines of hunter gatherers that walked over the burning sand of Australia's deadliest desserts, tracked impossible prey's, could find water in the middle of no-where using their incredible brain power, communicated with paintings to the best of uses. These were those people, hundred of years ago, but as we'll later discover the past is another country and it's time has been and gone. The drunks lining the streets of northern hemisphere of Australia are just empty shells. Looking like they could be carriers of thousands of songs and stories but just drunks in the corners. There's no start and stop of drinking times here. You start when you wake-up and stop when you fall asleep, no alarm clocks or time keeping at all.
Before coming to Townsville we went to the WhitsundayIslands. C+E took a boat more concentrated on classical sailing the Pirate way and I went on a sailing boat where the only amount of sailing was done lasted for less than two hours. So much for sailing a boat. Considering the advertisement, all the boats are fundamentally the same. They all do sailing, where at some point you'll be invited to pull some ropes and tug at something, all of them do diving on the Great Barrier Reef (some charge and others include it on their price), all of them offer food on board fully paid on the price listings. All have a limited sleeping capacity underneath, all go the same places in the Whitsunday's, all of them don't serve alcohol but can store it for you. In all the sailing boats that you may choose, the same principles apply. So close your eyes, point at any of them and go for it. You're not going to regret the choice made. Older people go on the more expensive ones, younger crowds go on the cheaper ones, if that's what you want then choose accordingly. More often than not you'll be just fine. Everyone wants to swap travelling stories, e-mails and possibly body fluids at some stage or the other (if you're single and of the appropriate sex!). I loved my boat. Lots of people my age. Some Europeans, some English, some Australians (the crew) and just lots of alcohol for the starry nights where you hang out on deck chatting and being merry. After three days you swap details and falsely promise to get in contact with people later on. 9/10 no-one is ever going to say boo to anyone else on facebook or e-mail. But so what?! Great times! My greatest disappointment was missing the turtle on one of the dives. Didn't get to see it, didn't get to touch it, didn't get to say hello. Sourly pissed about that. Especially since all the other people got to see it (well four other people).
After Whitsunday's we went to MagneticIsland. The East coast of Australia has some must-do stops, Great Barrier Reef, FraserIsland, Whitsunday's, MagneticIsland and whatever else you like the sound of. There are so many commercialised places on the East Coast you'd be mad not to find a place that you like the most. Somewhere where you can get to do whatever you'd always wanted to do in Australia. Surfing? Surfer's Paradise! Hippy? ByronBay! Diving? Cairns! City? Sydney of course! Whatever you want, you can find it here.
MagneticIsland deserves it's own section too. Here is another party place. Book yourself in Base Hostel, right on the beach and secluded so the party doesn't have to stop all night. Once you're done with the music, just take your sorry arse to bed or take someone else to the beach and the rest is up to you. One night, after enough partying and enough drinking, some soldiers had been getting right off their faces and decided they wanted to take a dip in the Ocean, naked. Not a good sight to say the least. That was the end of that evening! Silly soldiers showing their bits to the general public. Do it in your own showers with other men who want to see that, don't spoil my night with that!
We cycled, walked and drove around MagneticIsland. All fantastic, although some of us were finding the cycling and the driving more challenging than others. MagneticIsland is a different kind of place. People live there and get the ferry into Townsville to go to work, school and shopping, but they're happy to be secluded away from the rest of Australia. Happy to be in a rock with nothing much on it except houses, some forts from a different era and some beaches.
Whilst in Townsville we visited the Head Quarter Aquarium of Townsville. For about $20 you can get an entrance and boat ride across the water tanks of Nurse Sharks and other fishes of the Great Barrier Reef. This is not the best part of the Aquarium. Interestingly it's the café that offers the same great view of the water tanks with the added bonus food and coffee. And by this time I'm beginning to miss my coffee. So much so I've bought a plunger and filter coffee to have for breakfast in the different hostels we find ourselves along Australia. Maybe that's what being old (soon to be 24!!) is about. Drinking more coffee and staring at fishes for hours on end. Saddo!!
Tomorrow we go to Cairns. Then we'll see how it goes. Maybe stay in Cairns, maybe go farther up to CapeTribulation. We'll see.