Wednesday 16th February
My last post left me flying to Australia with high hopes but not really knowing what to expect. What I have seen so far makes me love this country! For a start, being in a similar culture is a relief after failing to blend in to surroundings somewhat in Thailand due to the obvious physical limitations! Also the people have been friendly and the scenery stunning (not just on Bondi Beach!).
On arrival in Sydney I had just missed a rain shower (yes! – still no rain since early January) and guess what? My hostel was both well situated and a decent place to stay! At last. So after struggling to really meet people in Thailand, it was the other extreme and motormouth time as I repeated the same things to countless numbers of people whilst forgetting everything they said, before burning myself out and crashing out in my bunk!
I really like Sydney but it is so expensive I felt like I was hemorrhaging money. I visited all the major tourist attractions: Bondi Beach (smaller than I expected) Sydney Tower (high), aquarium (not really a fan), the harbour (had a ‘tour’ from a water taxi) where the Opera House (looks better on TV) and Harbour Bridge are to be found (no, really), and the zoo. Again I’m not generally a fan of zoos, especially as most of the interesting animals tend to hide when I’m there. My solution would be to rota the animals a couple of hours on duty and a couple for their own time. Remove all the unnecessary ‘natural habitat’ shenanigans when they are ‘on’. It’s not natural, it’s a zoo, the animals know this and it’s their job to be available to visitors. They’ve been shirking their responsibilities for too long. So basically, my new zoo would see all the animals effectively on parade for a short time, during which tourists can stare at, photograph, ride (if big enough), stroke etc. any animal they choose. Of course, for the lazy koalas, this would really be a break from the 20 hour sleeping routine they favour, and they would have to do something about their smell as well, as only the rhinos were worse. When the beasts are off duty give them all the undergrowth, trees etc. they want – fair enough.
On the second night I ended up in an ever-expanding group of people who had met in the hostel bar. After several drinks someone suggested a trip to the Chinese Laundry. I thought it sounded good, so joined everyone in the walk downtown. When we arrived at the labyrinth-like underground dance club I disappointedly checked my dirty clothes in at the door and decided to get a round in at the bar. Another late night then…
After a couple of days I decided to book a day trip to the Blue Mountains. Worth seeing of course, but I went for the economy package. Still saw more wildlife than in the Thailand forest. The kangaroos were quite happy for me to walk very close and take a photo. They were so laid back, I half expected one of them to actually offer to take a picture of me with one of his mates, once they finished scratching.
I decided to leave Sydney after less than a week for a number of reasons: the expense, the fact that I’d met someone who had a space in his car to travel north and the likelihood that I would visit again at some point. I also met a couple of girls who tagged along as we commenced our road trip out of the city.
I shared the driving with Paul, an Irish bloke in his thirties, as the girls (Sophie & Danielle) slept in the back to rest their brain cell. Bit harsh maybe? They were nice enough but a bit dull. My favourite quote about the scenery from Sophie was: “It looks just like England”. Er, sure it does Soph. Actually, the truth was that we drove through picturesque forests, plains, beaches and past mountains as we tried hard not to break the incredibly slow speed limits.
Our first overnight stop was in Port MacQuarie. Small town, nice beach, that’s it! The only thing to note is that Sophie was virtually eaten alive by something in the night, leaving her with many bumps on her arm. I told her not to worry – the eggs would hatch in a couple of weeks and the bumps would go.
The next day, we made less detours and made good time to Byron Bay, named after Lord Byron, the famous poet who learned to surf here. Probably. This is a real surf dude and hippie hangout. I saw an old man with dreadlocks on the beach who looked like Bob Marley’s granddad. The girls are staying here which is just as well seeing as Paul told Sophie she was boring! We’re here for a few nights before heading off again, probably going separate ways in a few days as our schedules don’t match.
So, a bit shorter with less amusement, but I’m back in the sun now (Sydney wasn’t too hot).
Monday 21st February
So, after my visit to Byron Bay where it was again a case of late nights, but this time sleeping in a little, after being known as “the man who doesn’t sleep” in my dorm in Sydney. I guess I was trying to cram in a lot in my time there! Byron Bay is a small town, with little to do during week nights except the Cheeky Monkey ‘fun’ pub. Most places that serve food tend to clear away the tables for the evening, but not this place. Why not reinforce the tables with metal flooring so people can dance up there? So naturally I was taken a little by surprise as someone booted a drink at me as I stood near the table and he decided to be the first to show his ‘moves’ whilst failing to notice the drinks that we were trying to move. Enough said about this place – it’s the same every night so by the second night myself and Paul (the Irish bloke I was sharing a car with) were a bit bored with it!
For some reason the sand squeaks when you walk on it in Byron Bay. The first time I went to the beach I couldn’t work out where the noise was coming from and why it stopped when I stopped walking. “I know I’ve not been to the gym for a while but why am I squeaking?!” I said to Paul. After spending a relaxing time in BB we went to Cape Byron, the most eastern point of Oz, where we saw a shoal of about 30 dolphins just off shore relaxing in the warm water. I tried throwing rocks to make them jump out of the water or do tricks but they weren’t interested…
I didn’t really do that, of course. There were no rocks around. After leaving BB we took a detour to the unbelievable village of Nimbin, population 320, of which 300 seem to be drug dealers. This bizarre place has a ‘museum‘ that displays various artefacts (newspaper clippings and half a VW camper van amongst others) detailing the ‘struggle’ of the stoners in their fight to take more drugs than Ozzy Osborne without being labelled ‘criminals’. A 40 minute walk along the main street saw many of the residents asking if we needed any hash. Not if the locals were anything to go by. Hardly a good advert for drugs. They looked like they were about to die at any moment. We watched one old hippy cross the road, shaking like he was trying to ride out an earthquake, and saw a dog wearing a tie! For some reason the police leave this place alone, despite the obvious druggies and shop names such as Bringabong (lawsuit from Billabong surely imminent) with brightly coloured psychedelic signs. A unique place!
After another scenic drive, we arrived at the built up resort of Surfers Paradise. In our hostel we met a couple from Germany who told us the gel that a German bloke had left behind in BB that I had used in my hair and that Paul had used as shower gel, was in fact meant for hand washing clothes. Doh! Thought it didn’t really do the job…
The other person in the room was a middle-aged Kiwi who we thought was the cleaner as he arrived with a mop and bucket. It turns out he is a ‘business owner’ as he put it. He basically cleans signs and has plans for world domination once he has cleaned all the signs in Oz. When asked why people wouldn’t just clean their own signs, he said he wouldn’t let them steal his idea. The man’s a genius – who has ever thought of cleaning things to portray a positive image of their business?! Great idea – go to the signage professional. Weirdo.
After one night Paul had to continue his trip north without me as he was on a tight schedule. We had a good laugh on our road trip so it was a shame we had to part. He’s a good bloke but hard to understand most of the time with his thick Irish accent, but I’m sure what he said was probably very interesting! Before he went we had enough time to have our photos taken with a famous Meter Maid (attractive girls who top up soon-to-expire meters). Check out www.metermaids.com to see what I mean. The rest of my time in Surfers was spent lazing on the beach, sampling the nightlife and listening to details of the signage franchise opportunities, available to the right people. God help me…
I’m now in Brisbane, a city named after an Aboriginal phrase meaning ‘don’t come’. Probably. There isn’t much to attract tourists here, even if it is nice enough. Apparently it’s Oz’s ‘most livable city’, whatever that means. There is the XXXX brewery that I visited only to find a school party had booked up the tour (start the kids young!). Probably spared me from much boredom (the tour includes the packaging museum and a look at the ‘southern hemisphere’s biggest single packaging line’ – whoopee do!). Even the river cruise failed to get the juices flowing. Apparently it takes in all the landmarks, yet doesn’t say what they are!
Here on in the adventure tours start, with a trip to Fraser Island coming up first. Should be action packed so I’m looking forward to it.