Australia Just Trippin' Part 1 - 02.12.10 - 31.12.10
Perth and WA
We arrived in Perth to dry weather and headed for a hostel in the Northbridge area of the city. The hostel wasn't the nicest we'd stayed in and it was a real step back to reality after our 5 star trip in Fiji but we were only in a 4 bed dorm and the couple we shared with were very helpful telling is where to head in the city. In fact, what we really needed to do was to formulate a plan for our trip around Australia. I had bought an Australia guide which I'd been reading on the flight to Perth and found some information on a new rail pass which gave unlimited usage on all the rail networks around the country and it was sounding promising. We nipped into a travel agent and bought the pass which gave us 3 months travel and booked ourselves onto the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Adelaide across the Nullarbor Plain on a 3 day journey. We now had time to explore the delights of Perth and the region but all Adam really wanted to do was buy his first souvenir and that he did in the form of a didgeridoo. We had it shipped home along with a book on how to play, I must remember to buy some earplugs when we get back!!
We went down to the river to see the Swan Bells and took a cruise down the Swan River and out on the Indian Ocean where we headed to Rottnest Island. This is German for rats nest, named when an early Dutch explorer sailed passed the island because he said it was infested with rats. What he thought were rats were actually quokkas - marsupial creatures that look like a cross between a rat and a tiny kangaroo. We hired bikes on the island and explored the pristine beaches. We stopped for a drink and it was here that we were greeted by our first quokkas. They were so cute but I made the mistake of feeding one and then I looked like the pied piper. I had to get on my bike to stop them trying to climb up onto my lap! We took the cruise back to a town called Fremantle just outside Perth and stayed there overnight. We visited the Fremantle jail. I'm not sure why but I seem to have developed a real interest in prisons. I think this is to do with how much history there is in these places and how real it all feels when you're there. We also went to a maritime museum where they had a huge shipwreck inside the museum which was cool to see. It was the wreck of the Bratavia if that means anything to anyone? They also have markets in Fremantle where we wanted to buy all the food but ended up with 5 pictures, a samosa and a cake. Fremantle was a pretty town with quite a bit of character but it was time to head back to Perth. The next morning we visited the Perth mint where we saw them pouring liquid gold to make a gold bar worth $200,000 dollars and tried to lift a gold bar worth $600,000 weighing over 2 stone! And it turns out if you ever tell me I'm worth my weight in gold, you're saying I'm worth $1,600,000, pretty cool huh?! The tour of the mint was really good and I feel bad taking the mick out of Ian all these years when he wanted a metal detector and here's why - the gold rush in Kalgoorlie (we would get to go there) was started by a man who was down on his luck as he had to give up work due to a broken back and the doctor told him the way to improve its strength was to go walking. Being a dooer this sounded terrible to him so he went walking with a new fangled metal detector and only came across a 22 stone piece of gold!
We had decided to rent a car for a couple of days and head down the coast towards Albany. Before leaving Perth we drove to a local park where there were ickle kangaroos sleeping in the shade. It was where I saw my first kanga and I wanted to see them jump so I headed towards one of them so he would get up but he clearly wasn't interested in me and just lay there. I could have almost stroked him, it was so sweet. In the car we headed south and made it to a town which had lots of purpose built canals and we sat and enjoyed a coffee and a hot chocolate by the rivers edge. Back in the car it was down towards Margaret River where the scenery was beautiful. There were lots of vineyards and you know me, I just had to stop at one and purchase some vino. We had done a lot of driving so it was time to put our heads down for the night. We grabbed a Pizza and headed for a campsite on the coast. We didn't bank on the fact that the office would be shut though so as I'm trying to figure out how to get the barrier up to enter the campsite on Perth's 4th day of rain all year and sheltering under a bit of tarp we meet our next odd stranger. I'm dripping wet and say "Mate, can you tell me how I can get the barrier up?" and he replies "Well, first can I say, a very good afternoon to you" my reply "What?!" It was in this campsite Adam and I had our first encounter with the Australian laughing bird. With the tent providing a fantastic non-existent barrier between us and the sounds of the wild we slept very little that night so were up nice and early and headed to the longest pier in Australia, very exciting!
We kept heading towards the south coast and found ourselves at the bicentennial tree. The tree is the world's highest tree climb at 60 metres and neither of us made it more than 20 metres up. There were spikes sticking out of the side of the tree for you to climb up but nothing else for safety, not for me. We did make it down to the Valley of the Giants, a tree top walk that had us walking through a giant tingle forest. These trees often hollow out and are really cool to look out, I think perhaps Pooh might have liked to come here on a holiday. We travelled along to see the Gap and the London Bridge, 2 amazing rock formations on the south coast showing where Australia was once joined to the Antarctic. Our last push took us to the large port town of Albany and then on the long road back to Perth. In true backpacker style though, we managed to find a layby to sleep in our car before arriving into the city the next morning to return the car.
It was time for the trip on the Indian Pacific though there had been some concern as whether the train was even going to be running due to flooding in NSW, little did we know then that this was only the start of it! The journey was to last 3 days, our sleeper seats were comfortable enough and we settled in to our eat, sleep and play chess marathon. The view along the way was changing from city, to county and eventually turned to nothing, just a desert with scrub plants here and there. The most interesting thing we saw on the way was a wild camel but even he had the hump with the barren landscape! It was a great experience to be able to get an idea on how vast the country was and you could certainly see how someone would quickly die if they ended up lost in the outback with no water or shade for 100s of miles. We had only 2 stops, one at Kalgoorlie which is near to where our man discovered the gold and is now home to the super pit and 2km by 3km hole where they quarry for gold and still produce 2000 ounces a day. The other stop was very different. Cook used to be a thriving town serviced by the railways and had its own pub, school, local swimming pool and hospital but now the population is 3 but all the buildings remain though most are condemned. It was just like visiting a movie set or simply a ghost town. It was a really cool experience though and I was glad to have been able to see something so different. Our next stop was Adelaide.
We arrived to a free breakfast at the hostel which was entirely welcome. After our stint of sleeping in cars, tents and trains we treated ourselves to our own double room, it is amazing how the small things now can make us happy. We found the Adelaide markets and bought some yummy fresh bread and cheese as well as some lovely art done by a couple of local artists we met. It was then time for a wander around the city to get a feel for the place and I dragged Adam to the Immigration Museum which was really interesting to learn about how, again, we barge into a country and take it for ourselves in our own inimitable style. We were very happy to sit in bed and munch on our goodies that night. The next day we went on a tour around the city where we learnt some more history (Adam yawns) followed by a guided tour of the Haigh's Chocolate factory. I can't quite believe I am saying this but Haigh's is better than Thorntons. The stuff was amazing. We headed into the Adelaide hills stopping at a town called Hahndorf. In the early days of the European settlement a group of the Germans that came over set themselves up in one small area and it was all German speaking and German in style but during the first world war, because they spoke no English at all, the Ozzys got paranoid and sent the guys back to Germany forcing them to leave behind their wives and families. They let them back in after the end of the war but they were all forced to speak in English so as to not cause the same issue ever again. As we drove back to the town our wonderful driver took a diversion and we saw a koala in the wild. It was so moving to see my first koala and as we were talking and taking photos he woke up and looked down at us, it was such a special moment. It was then off to the Barossa valley for some more wine tasting. The Barossa valley is home to some of the best wines in the world but also to world famous Jacob's Creek and Wolf Blass wines. A few too many wines and ports in time to meet up with Adam's friend, Tai. Tai and Adam worked together when Adam was working at the Falcon, and Adelaide is Tai's home town. It was really nice to meet up with Tai and her boyfriend, Chris, and head out, in the rain again, for some more alcohol. Our last day in Adelaide was spent on the beach and chilling in our lovely bed.
Back on the train, this one was known as the Overlander. We arrived in Melbourne to sunshine finally and then popped on another train to Frankston, a town within Melbourne to visit Adam's fried Karl and his family. Adam and Karl worked together on the QM2 when Adam was 20 and they hadn't seen each other since. When we arrived on the doorstep I wasn't really sure what to expect but the 2 of them got on like a house on fire. Karl, his wife Fiona, and son Thomas Jack sat down with us to a lovely spread which Karl had prepared for us. We had our own room and a double bed, things were looking up! While in Melbourne, Karl and his family treated us like royalty. We had gorgeous dinners out in the balmy evenings prepared on the BBQ and were taken to see the sights. We spent a day down at their local beach sunning ourselves and building sandcastles with Thomas, took a trip to Ramsay Street which had me jumping around like a little kid, and then wandered around the area known as little Saigon where the chefs bought live crab. On that evening we took the crab to Karl's friends house where the guys had the crabs walking around the kitchen before managing to get them in the pot. We spent the night enjoying drinks and cheese and more food. I definitely left Karl's heavier than when I arrived. Karl also took us for a trip down the Mornington Peninsula as the sun was setting which was stunning and also took us up to the top of Mount Dandenong to enjoy the views across the city - it was so lovely.
Adam and I spent a day in Melbourne city where we took in the delights of Federation Square, the National Gallery of Victoria and the Ian Potter Centre where they had a display of indigenous art which we thoroughly enjoyed. We took a tram ride around the city and got off at Melbourne Gaol where we got locked up in a holding cell, had our mug shots taken and were treated to an experience of what it would be like to be arrested, a bit of a mad way to spend the afternoon. The gaol is also the place where the notorious bushranger Ned Kelly was hung in 1880 and the scaffold where he was hung still stands as well as his gun and the suit of armour worn by one of his gang. For our evening entertainment we went to the Crown Casino complex. The Christmas tree was part of its own light show and the noise from the fruit machines was calling me. It turned out that beginners luck was on my side, I watched in bemusement as the machine kept telling me how much I'd won when I had no idea what I was doing, $50 was mine! We had a really great time in Melbourne and promised Karl, Fiona and Thomas - we'll be back!
The capital city of Australia sits in its own state known as A.C.T because Sydney and Melbourne could not agree which the capital should be. It is a city that is almost always missed off travellers To Do lists as it is inland and full of Museums and Government buildings. It might have also been missed of our list if it wasn't for the delights of couch surfing. Couch surfing is a worldwide network of people who offer up their sofas and spare beds to weary travellers who need a place to stay for free. We'd heard about it but weren't sure and were really choosy about who we stayed with. We were lucky as well being so close to Christmas that lovely Laura and John agreed to have us. We arrived in the rain and John collected us from the station and took us to their new apartment in the heart of the town. We went out for a Chinese to get to know each other, we had our own room and bathroom and they could not have been kinder. We were able to come and go as we pleased, we used their bikes to explore the city, Laura cooked tea one night and Adam the next and they shared dessert recipes and secrets together. In Canberra we visited the National War Memorial which was a massive museum with lots of war artefacts. It was really interesting but it became a bit heavy on the soul after a while. We went to visit Parliament house, the square white building which the reporters always stand in front of when Australia is on the TV (not very often I hear you say) and also the national Gallery of Australia, basically all the free stuff! We really enjoyed Canberra and were glad we went but were similarly glad to be leaving. It was off to our Christmas destination next, Jervis Bay.
Huskisson, Jervis Bay
Before arriving in Australia I didn't book anything except for our accommodation for Christmas and New Year but at that point we had envisaged buying a car and touring round the country on 4 wheels. However, now our mode of transportation consisted of many more wheels, this 4 hour journey turned into a 2 day mission. We spent a night in a town called Albion Park. We weren't sure what to expect from the town but it was lovely as it was nestled in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. The only thing was that our train stopped at the top of the mountains and it was the bus that took us on the long winding road down, it took me back to our time going up the Remarks in Queenstown. The next morning we caught another train and bus combo to Huskisson. Are they selling these combos in McDonalds yet? They should! I wasn't sure that with all this fuss that it would be worth it but it really was, the place was beautiful. We were camping for Christmas, a first for me but I was happy to embrace the experience. On Christmas Eve we noticed a man sat in his car drinking beer alone, after the weirdos we'd been picking up over our travels I was a bit dubious but sent Adam over anyway to invite him to come and sit on our blanket, oh yes, we're that posh! The guy was called Gav and he was from Essex and had been travelling for 6 months, he was also planning on doing the east coast like us. We spent the evening with him in the local pub wishing everyone a Merry Christmas though it had never felt less like Christmas in my life. It felt more like 24th August and just another day to me! I was hoping Santa would find us in our little yellow tent!
Christmas day arrived and Santa had been. Adam and I sat and opened presents on our blanket in the shade with bacon sarnies, it was so hot but it was lovely. We had decorated our tent with tinsel and Adam had a special stubby holder for the occasion. We then headed down to the beautiful beach for a spot of sunbathing and swimming on Christmas Day, like you do!
Boxing day we were basking in the sun on the whitest sand beach in the world called Hyams beach. It was bright white and very, very hot. Whilst we had a lot of sun, we also had a lot of rain, and it wasn't much fun being stuck in the tent but me, Adam and Gav managed to make the best of it with beer and card games! Gav offered to take us to Sydney as he was driving there anyway so off we went.
The journey to Sydney was pretty short but we were a day early to arrive at our accommodation - the camp site - so we decided to take a stop off in Wollongong and really wished we hadn't bothered. The accommodation we had arranged claimed to have not received my confirmation e-mail and they had no vacancy so we spent an hour trying to find somewhere else which ended up being twice the price, that just made me grumpy. To top it off the town was dead, there were no bars, restaurants, nothing so we had McDonalds which was actually fine by me!Earlier that day we had taken a couple of diversions to see a mahusive waterfall and a cool blowhole which was cool but really we just wanted to get to Sydney.
We arrived at the campsite using my amazing map reading skills and then had to pitch our 3 tents. We spent the following days doing not much, we couldn't sleep in because the tents got so warm by 7am but it was then off for a dip in the pool or a lie down on the sofas in the TV room, it wasn't all bad. Gav also took us on another road trip, this time it was to see the Blue Mountains. Normally I like to research where I am going but with this I just left it as a surprise and really didn't know what to expect but although the drive was long to get there and the car almost blew up, the views were absolutely worth it.
Finally the big day arrived and everyone was talking about where they were going for New Year and how difficult it was going to be because of the alcohol bans in all the public places. Friends of ours who we met in New Zealand moved over to Sydney and had been there for 6 months so I was counting on them to get it all sorted. Silly me! After numerous texts their decision was to go to a little bar they knew by the Opera House, called the Opera Bar, I think they thought they were the only ones to have thought of it! I had already looked into this when we were in Sydney the month before and discovered it was $300 a ticket so as soon as they worked that out the plan changed. In the end we headed to a place called Milsons Point where you are on the opposite side to the Opera House and get a great view of Opera House and the bridge. There were huge signs regarding the glass and alcohol ban and also huge queues outside the off license. We just decided to ignore it like everyone else and took our alcohol in anyway though we were warned that there was going to be a bag search at 4pm. This meant that I drunk all my alcohol and was steaming drunk by 3.30pm and the hangover had kicked in by the time the first fireworks started at 9pm which was hell. We got an amazing spot and I forced this Aussie guy to share it with us, my argument being that he didn't own it. He let us on but told everyone else that stood anywhere near him to b***** off because he had been there since 7am, it became a bit of a catch phrase. Johnny and Mel arrived and we had a wonderful evening, there were air displays and it was so hot Adam and Gav jumped into the harbour. Apparently this wasn't very clever as they have lots of sharks in there but what you don't know can't kill you! When the fireworks started and I saw the red fan style fireworks that come off the top arch of the bridge I got goose bumps, I never thought I would get to see that for real instead of on the TV and there I was in a money couldn't buy spot watching the most amazing fireworks I had ever seen with the man I love, what a beautiful way to end the year. Farewell 2010 - Hello 2011!