Brisbane, Bryon Bay, Spot X, Sydney, Ayers Roack
Sydney, New South Wales
Brisbane, Byron Bay, Spot X, Sydney, Ayers Rock
Nat and I arrived in Brisbane mid afternoon and checked into our hostel in the centre of Brisbane. I picked up free WiFi standing outside of a random restaurant and contacted my cousin Lucy to arrange to meet at the Botanical Gardens. Nat and I explored the city a bit on the way there and bought a cookie and caramel McFlurry- this has since become a regular occurrence. Meeting Lucy was a little harder than expected because she got a bit confused with my instructions to meet in the gardens by the river. It turns out that the gardens are pretty big and the river goes all around it! The three of us met Andy (Lucy's boyfriend who I had met a few times previously at various family get-togethers) after he had finished work and went for dinner at a Mexican restaurant on the Southbank. It was really nice to catch up and we finished the evening at Max Brenners with the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted. At this point Nat and I were also on a chocolate ban to try and battle our addiction-we were obviously failing!
On Tuesday Nat and I met Lucy at a bus station and we went to the Lone Pine Koala sanctuary where we fed kangaroos (no I'm still not bored of this), saw lots of other native Australian animals and held a koala. They are a lot heavier than they look but smell nice because of the eucalyptus. I've got a good photo but the koala wasn't being very cooperative and refused to pose facing the camera!
We got the bus back into the city and walked to the apartment where Lucy will be staying for 7 weeks. It's in a great location and is so smart- Nat and I were very envious because the hostels we have been staying at haven't exactly been 5*.
In the evening we walked to find the Grill'd burger restaurant that I have been raving about since Melbourne (Tessa's favourite). It was a bit of a walk but luckily they all enjoyed it and I'm pretty sure that Andy and Lucy will turn into regulars! Nat and I were really impressed with Brisbane and enjoyed the husstle and busstle after a beachy couple of weeks.
The following day we checked out and met Lucy at another bus station. This time we were headed further afield to Bryon Bay. Nat and I were already scheduled to go to Byron and had invited Lucy along. It worked out really well because we were only planning to stay a couple of days so Lucy would be back in time for the weekend when Andy wasn't on placement. When we got to Byron we checked in and went to explore. Our hostel was only a short walk to town and on the beach front. It was also only a 4 bed share dorm and so with only one other girl, Nat and I were looking forward to uninterrupted sleep. We found an ice cream shop and eventually picked 2 flavours each and agreed we would return to try more the following day.
That evening we went to another hostel to cash in our 'free meal when you buy a drink' voucher. It was a very good chicken risotto with coconut rice and lemongrass so tasted a bit curry-ish (I've noticed that I spend a lot of time talking about food on this blog). We stayed for a few more drinks and joined a couple to form a team in the trivia. After 4 rounds WE WON which meant we got a $50 tab between the 5 of us and were all very excited but decided to spend it the next evening.
On Thursday we slept in and then walked to town to get an early lunch. After a bit of a debacle involving an unthawed quiche, we each bought sausage rolls to eat on the beach and started our walk up to the light house. We were told that it would take about 3 hours in total. The first half of the walk up the beach was just pretty scenery but when we got higher we looked out and saw schools of dolphins jumping in the sea. It was just steps from here up to the 'most easternly point in Australia' and my fitness was tested, but it was worth it when we saw the view and the humpback whales in the distance! After watching them go past for half an hour we walked onto the lighthouse which was pretty but didn't really compare to whales! On the walk back to town Nat and I were suffering from overused calf muscles so treated oursleves to another ice cream. The overall consensus was that snickerone was the best flavour.
That evening we cooked pasta and then used our bar tab to get a couple of drinks each- $10 each doesn't go too far even in happy hour!
Lucy got her coach back to Brisbane the next morning and we got ours soon after. All 3 of us really liked Byron and how relaxed and smiley everyone was there; it reminded Lucy and I of an Australian Salcombe.
After just a couple of hours in the coach Nat and I arrived at Spot X surf camp. We were given a tour of the camp and then made pasta (if you hadn't already guessed, pasta is the cheapest meal to cook here on a backpacker budget) on a hot plate because its an all-inclusive camp and so doesn't have a kitchen for general use, only a BBQ area- the skills you learn when travelling! We watched the women's semi-final French open tennis games in the afternoon (well, I did and Nat sat reading her book infront of the TV) and then went for dinner. Dinner was very impressive; It was a canteen and although there were only 20 people in camp that night, there was enough battered fish, chicken, potatoes and salad to feed 50. I bought 24 hour WiFi and skyped Mum and Jamie and Jess and then watched the Djokovic vs Nadal game. This time last year I watched some of the French Open in revision breaks before my finals- a lot has changed in a year!
We woke at 8 for breakfast, checked out and then went for our surf lesson. The instructor gave us a bit of theory about rips, waves, distress signals etc and then we got into wetsuits and carried our boards down to the beach. When you see people on tv running down the beach with surf boards they look as if its no effort at all but Nat and I struggled to lift the board and then felt like we could take off when the wind caught it!
Once on the beach the instructor got us to draw surf board shapes in the sand and we practiced the paddle and jump up motion a few times and then got into the sea. It was a very fun couple of hours! Nat and I both got wiped out a lot but also managed to stand a few times each and when we got too tired we used them as boogie boards. An amazing birthday morning!
We showered, had lunch and then waited for the 1.20pm bus down to Sydney. Both Nat and I had had initial reservations about Spot X because no one had heard about it but it was included in our bus pass so we gave it a go and we are so pleased that we did! We now want to turn pro!
We arrived in Sydney late at night and checked into Maze hostel. We were in an 8-bed dorm that didn't smell great but it was pretty cheap and very close to the city center. We went straight to bed that evening and I slept through the party-goers coming back into the room- surfing must have taken it out of me.
I woke early for a couple of Skype sessions since it was still my birthday at home, and then Nat and I walked to Circular Quay where we planned to get the ferry and meet Rory over in Manly (Rory went to school with us and is a good friend of Nat's boyfriend. He is over in Sydney for a couple of months with his work placement). We had told Rory that we would catch the 11 ferry but we left late so let him know we would be on the 11.30 instead. The hostel was further than we thought so we had a bit of a run through Sydney and got to the quay just in time but didn't anticipate the queue for tickets on a sunny Sunday. We eventually got to Manly at 12.30pm and Rory took us through the town to the main beach. We had fish and chips on the benches and walked around to Shelley Beach. Sydney just seems to get better and better! As it started to get chillier we walked up a big hill to the apartment where Rory is staying (Nat and I suffered for days after this with pulled legs muscles) to have a look and then all 3 of us caught the ferry back to the city. It was a perfect time of day and as we turned around the head, we had stunning views of the opera house and bridge as the sun set.
We met Claire, a friend from Borneo who I caught up with when I was last in Sydney, and all went to have dinner at Pancakes on the Rocks. Nat and I called this my birthday dinner because the service station dinner the night before wasn't exactly tasty! After filling ourselves with delicious chocolate and strawberry pancakes, we walked back to the harbour to see some of the Vivid exhibitions. Vivid is an annual light festival in Sydney which was on this year from 24th May to 10th June- so packed crowds when we went on the 9th! There are light projections on to the opera house, the MCA and Customs house. Both Claire and Rory had been to see it a couple of times so they showed us around. It was very impressive and we were lucky to have been in Sydney when it was going on.
Nat and I walked back to the hostel and crashed in our room. We had got a cheap deal online for a twin room for 2 nights at the same hostel but they run out of double rooms so put us in a 4-bed dorm for the 2 of us-perfect! Rory also kindly offered to let us stay at his apartment when we return to Sydney on Friday so very lucky.
The following day Nat and I walked down to the Rocks to check in for our Harbour Bridge climb! We had a briefing for our group of 8 and got given an attractive body suit and equipment before walking out onto the railings under the bridge. Our guide was very enthusiastic and told us all about the history and architecture of the bridge as we walked up. The views of the harbour were stunning as we walked along the top! We took pictures and a video, that I will try to link into this blog, at the summit and we were given a while to take in our surroundings before heading back down. Overall the whole experience took 3.5 hours and both Nat and I thought it was well worth the money and consider it a highlight of Australia. We were very lucky because as we collected our things and walked outside, the rain started which wouldn't have been pleasant on the the bridge. We had a quick look inside the MCA at the current exhibitions and then sat on a bench by the quay eating peanut butter wraps- very budget.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of a mission to find fake ugg boots for Nat and a jumper for me. Nat was successful but I was not- clothes are very expensive in Australia! We got back to the hotel and were all ready to cook our pasta when we were told that the hostel were cooking a free barbecue that evening so we took advantage of that instead. Vivid also had a few light exhibitions at Darling Harbour so after dinner Nat and I went down to watch it and then walked around the outside of the harbour. Once back at the hostel we packed our bags and set our alarms for 4am the next morning.
Getting up was a struggle but after lugging our bags down the many stairs we got the airport shuttle in time to catch our 6.40am flight to Alice springs. We arrived in Alice at 10am, got the shuttle to our hostel and had the first pick of beds in our 6-bed female dorm. It was a really nice hostel with a pool and although the temperature was a pleasant 24 degrees, it wasn't quite warm enough to swim in a freezing pool! We walked into the town of Alice and had a look around. It wasn't very big and there was nothing to do so we soon made our way back. It was, however the first time that I had seen groups and families of aboriginal people- there still seems to be a big racial divide and beforehand I had only seen a couple on separate occasions.
We cooked pasta for dinner, met a couple of Canadian girls who were going to be on our tour, and then went to bed.
The Rock Tour picked us up at 6.15 on Wednesday morning and then drove for a couple of hours until we refuelled and had a coffee stop at Erdunda. Most of the group had slept up until this point so we then did delayed introductions and drove for another couple of hours through the outback until we pulled up on the side of the road for a toilet stop and lunch.
We arrived at Kings Canyon about 1pm and started our 3 hour trek with a steep incline. It was a lovely temperature and all the group agreed that it would be horrible to do it in the height of summer when it's 40 degree heat! Our tour guide Mark told us about many of the plants that were used to hunt and eat in the olden days and showed us all the fossilised remains. We all took lots of pictures throughout and although they all look similar, each corner we turned had more amazing rocks or drops that we had to get a picture in front of!
At 5ish we collected firewood from off the side of the road and headed to camp. We had a toilet stop just beforehand which Mark told us was the last chance for a toilet facility until the morning- it's like being back in the jungle! The camp was literally in the middle of nowhere with no unnatural light and the temperature had dropped dramatically. After lighting the fire Nat and I volunteered to help cook the chilli con carne for the group (this seemed a much better option to me than 'fire marshal'). I chopped the veg, Nat cooked the beef on the wok, and Mark did the rice. The veg and rice were cooked on the fire which I had never seen be done before and was very cool! After dinner and a lesson on how to unfold our swags, everyone chose a space around the fire and wriggled into our sleeping bags within the swags. I took the recommended 'less is more' approach and hoped that I wouldn't have to get out of my swag in my t-shirt and shorts until morning. It was surprisingly warm and I had a good few hours sleep before Mark woke us all at 5am. It was freezing so we all had a quick cereal breakfast and packed up in a hurry. We drove for about an hour to the campsite that we would be staying at that evening, unloaded the remainder of the firewood and got to use the toilet block- everyone got pretty excited! Next stop was Katu Juta which we trekked around for a couple of hours taking in the scenery. Mark told us about more plants and a few aboriginal stories but apparently he is limited to what he can tell us out of respect for their culture. Although it was amazing, it was quite similar to Kings Canyon which most of the group preferred.
We had wraps for lunch within the Uluru national park which on paper sounds really nice but there were hundreds of flies which didn't persist despite us all constantly swatting at them! It got very annoying but luckily only a few followed us onto the bus.
We went to a lookout where we were able to see both Kata Juta and Uluru in the distance but by this point the group were getting pretty impatient to see Uluru close up. It took another half hour to get to the cultural centre that was very close to the rock. We spent an hour reading about the history of Uluru and the children's stories that the aboriginals are told when they are young. All of the stories were moral lessons and related to different parts of Uluru. The cultural centre also had a shop selling aboriginal art which I could have bought to bring back, had it not been $4000 for a little piece!!!
After that we finally drove up to the rock which is staggeringly big! There are still people who do climb it but it was impressed upon us that climbing it is now understood to be very offensive to the aboriginals and also quite dangerous so none of us did it. We walked 3km of the base walk and Mark told us which of the stories that we had read related to different parts . It is fascinating to hear about their different beliefs and culture but unfortunately, there are still a lot of things that we can't know out of respect for them- we did joke that perhaps Mark just couldn't remember and was using it as an excuse.
We then raced around to the sunset point and set ourselves up on the best table before other groups got there. Mark cooked our dinner while we waited for the sunset and took pictures that looked like we were jumping over the rock- very mature but it managed to entertain us all for a long time. As the sun set the rock went from an orangey colour to bright red which was very impressive and beautiful. It began to get pretty cold then so we packed up after dinner and drove to the campsite. The site that we stayed that night was a lot more civilised with proper toilets, lights and a metal dish thing where we started a smaller, but more efficient, fire. We cooked s'mores and sat chatting by the fire for ages before setting up our swags and stargazing. We saw lots of shooting stars. It was such an amazing night and definitely a once in a lifetime experience!
The next day Mark pulled on our feet to wake us at 5. It was absolutely freezing both inside and outside of our swags so no one had slept that well. My eyes were streaming as I packed up my swag and we were all pleased to have the heater on on the drive back to Uluru for the sunrise but not too happy to get off of the bus. We had cereal and toast for breakfast while waiting for the sunrise and we all huddled together to keep warm. The sunrise wasn't too impressive because from the spot that we were in, the sun didn't come up over the rock. It was also the fourth sunrise in a row that we had all been awake for so everyone was very very tired! After packing away we continued on the Uluru base walk from where we left off the day before, and walked and chatted for 7km. We finished in record time (after an hour of walking around the same rock it all looks the same) and had to wake Mark back at the bus who had taken the opportunity for a quick nap. We had some oranges and put a few sentimental songs on the bus sound system and then Nat and I were dropped at Ayers Rock airport. We were the only ones finishing our trip there, the others were driving back to Alice Springs and catching a flight the next day. It was more expensive to fly from Ayers Rock but Nat and I were a bit short on time so it made sense for us but it was very sad to say goodbye to everyone. We had had a really nice group and it was definitely the best group and tour for both Nat and I.
Nat and I had a few hours in the airport before our flight to change and rearrange our bags and both had a bit of a nap. We also got upgraded to emergency exit seats with extra legroom. This sounded great and we happily accepted 'to help the air crew in the unlikely event that anything were to happen' but once on the plane we were told we couldn't have bags on our seat, recline our seats or have anything at all with us for take-off and landing-not so great.
We arrived back in Sydney at 6pm and caught a taxi to Kate's to collect my coat that she had kindly looked after since I had stayed with her the month before. We waited for her to finish work and Nat and I saw her briefly which was nice. Unfortunately she was busy that evening so couldn't spend any more time with us. We then got a bus to Circular Quay where we had arranged to meet Rory and go back to his apartment but once we got there he convinced us to go for a drink with him and his work friends around the corner. After not showering for 3 days, stinking of bonfire, and massive rucksacks, Nat and I felt pretty out of place with all the of the businessmen in suits but Rory's colleagues were all very nice and we had a fun couple of hours. On the ferry back to Manly later all 3 of us were almost dead- Nat and I from tiredness and Rory because he had been drinking since 5! Rory very kindly gave Nat and I his double bed while he slept on the floor so we finally had a good nights sleep.
We woke early the next morning to put a wash on and then got the ferry back to the city for the free walking tour. The tour took us out to Hyde Park and the old hospital which was good because we hadn't yet been there. We followed the group, zigzagging through the city to the harbour. The guide was very enthusiastic but it would have been more beneficial had we done it when we first got to Sydney because we heard a lot of the same history while on the Bridge climb and I had heard a lot of it on the Melbourne tour also. We left the tour a bit early and went through the market stalls at the Rocks and then met Cheri (an old friend of Nats who is currently working in Sydney) for lunch at Pancakes on the Rocks- with 6 full days in Sydney I managed to go to this restaurant 3 times!
We then walked to and around the opera house to see it close up. It is an iconic landmark but I have to admit that it looks more impressive from afar; it looks more brown the closer you get.
We met Rory just after 4pm to walk to his work friend's house who lives close to the Emirates Stadium. The evening before, Rory had announced that he had bought Nat and I last minute tickets to the Lions vs. HSBC Warratars warm up rugby game. It was extremely generous of him- he couldn't actually remember the next morning whether he had told us about it! We had a beer at his colleagues house and then walked to the stadium around the corner. The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing and for last minute cheap tickets, we had really good seats close the the pitch. It was a fun game to watch and we all got fully into it so were pleased to thrash the Warratars. It was another great experience to add to my long list and a great way to spend our last evening in Sydney.
All 3 of us had a lie in the next morning and woke up refreshed. We took our time packing and then got the ferry into the city. By this point we were running short of time so we made a quick pit stop in the botanic gardens and then got on the train to the airport. We got there in good time but then found out the plane was delayed so had a bit of a wait.
We had had an amazing time in Australia and were sad to leave but both excited for New Zealand- my last leg!!!
Lots of love xxx