Month: January 2014

Way Back When: Great Ocean Road

Tuesday 21st January
Having failed to make it to Southern Cross to say goodbye to Victoria and Jess properly before they got their bus I returned to the hotel to pick up my own bags before making my way to the Nomads Hostel I had stayed at after my trip around Tasmania.

I saw my room mate Hugo and we briefly sat on the roof terrace if it can really be described as that. It was a bit sad to be back in a hostel, after being in a hotel apartment with such good company though at the same time it was good to know I was about to meet some new people and really a hostel is just meant to be practical and somewhere to sleep.

At 19:00 we had a pre departure meeting and we briefly introduced ourselves and then headed to the hostel bar to have a few drinks and some takeaway pizza. I wanted to watch the tennis between Novak Djakovic and Stanislav “Stan” Wawrinka. Eventually having spoken to everyone I moved to the sofa area for the final area where Phyllis who was also watching the match joined me. We both wanted “Stan” to win and the match was unbelievably close with both players breaking each others service games in consecutive attempts. Eventually “Stan” was successful however it was now around midnight and our departure time was 6.30.

Just as we were about to leave a fight kicked off in the bar which resembled a wrestling match. A number of punches were thrown and to be honest it was almost impossible to tell what had caused it or who was actually fighting who. With no bouncers the hostel staff were not prepared to get involved. The fight then moved outside to the reception area though I don’t know what the final outcome was because we were able to leave at this stage.

Wednesday 22nd January
We were told that due to the recent bush fires we wouldn’t be going to the Grampians and whilst this was disappointing first and foremost my thoughts are with those who have been directly affected and lost their livelihoods. I’d seen a newspaper article from the locals the day before saying as this is the peak season they need the tour companies to return as soon as possible or else the impact of the fires will be even greater.

Our guide Brett had been unable to buy breakfast supplies prior to departure so we brought them en-route to Bell’s Beach where the plan was to have breakfast. The beach itself was very pretty but as it was still early in the morning it was a lot colder and more windy than the conditions appeared from the comfort of the mini bus. Bell’s Beach is regarded as one of the world’s best surf beaches and is meant to be the beach portrayed during the film ‘Point Break’.

After leaving Bell’s Beach we had to introduce ourselves including an answer to the question “Are you a folder or a scruncher?”. For the record I am a folder. It wasn’t long after this that there was a sigh to marking the start of the Great Ocean Road. The road had been built following the first world war by returning soldiers and had helped with employment during the Great Depression. It was also possible from the Eastern View beach to see the lighthouse that was used in ‘Round the Twist’.

The road twisted round the coast rising up and down and it quickly became evident just what an achievement completing it was. I had been told that the Great Ocean Road would probably be my best opportunity to see native Koala’s in the wild and we stopped off at the Kennett River where a number have their habitats in the eucalypts trees. We were lucky enough to see two that were not to far high in the tree tops and whilst I have seen them closer in conservation it is always special to see animals in their natural environment.

We stopped at Apollo Bay to get some lunch before we continued along the Great Ocean Road to go on a temperate rain forest walk around the Great Otway National Park. The walk itself was quite short but the trees were huge and the moss which grows on them has apparently been around since life started coming out of the ocean.

Our final stop of the day before arriving in Port Campbell was to arguably the most famous rock formation along the route, the Twelve Apostles. There are actually only around 6 of these stacks but they are certainly very impressive. There was an option to do a helicopter ride but the coastal walk gave various different perspectives and views and as the weather was absolutely perfect there didn’t seem a need to pay $200 for a 15 minute flight.

We arrived in Port Campbell in the early afternoon and we all went down to the beach and a few of us had a swim in the sea. The waves were a lot bigger than they looked from the beach and despite it being a hot day the sea was surprisingly cold. Once we were out of the water it didn’t take long to dry and so Hugo, Ben, Sam and I then headed to the liquor store to get some beers.

In the evening we headed out to get some food before going to a local pub that was showing Andy Murray vs Roger Federer. Murray was already two sets down and in trouble as Federer appeared to be at the same level he was against Tsonga. When Federer was serving to win the match Murray dug in to not only break back but to take the resulting tie break but Federer always appeared the more comfortable of the two. It looked like the 4th set was going a tie break before Murray found himself 0-40 on his own serve. He tried to salvage it but the damage was done and Federer broke. He didn’t make the same mistake as in the 3rd set and successfully served out the match. I congratulated Ria saying I hoped both “Stan” and Federer won both their respective semi finals to make it an all Swiss final.

Thursday 23rd January
Our first stop of the morning was to London Bridge a rock arch formation that partly fell down in 1990. I had read about this rock formation in my Bill Bryson book and the story surrounding its collapse is worth repeating. It had previously been possible to walk out to the headland and a couple had crossed to the far side shortly before the 1st arch, after years of being smashed and eroded by the sea crashed down. The couple were unharmed and were rescued by helicopter but during subsequent newspaper articles it later emerged they had both allegedly been having an affair which became very much public knowledge. The break looked completely clean and despite it being a nice day the waves still looked quite aggressive. Eventually the pressure on the remaining arch will be to much and that will also crash in to the sea.

Our next stop was the Bay of Martyrs, previously named Massacre
Bay where a number of Aboriginals were herded off the cliffs and killed by the European settlers. The site has been renamed to reflect that the Aboriginals were the first settlers of the land and from a modern perspective the killings were totally unjust and those killed should be regarded as martyrs.

We briefly stopped at a bay (Logans beach?) which is a good lookout for Southern Right Whales that migrate up the coast but this was the wrong time of year. Blue whales can also be sighted at this time of year on the horizon and whilst the weather was perfectly clear we didn’t see any signs of them despite looking for spray on the horizon.

Our lunch stop was at the Tower Hill National Park an area of extinct volcanoes. It is also home to emus and almost as soon as we parked the bus we saw these large birds patrolling the area trying to intimidate innocent day trippers. Hugo, Sam, Ben and I decided to have our lunch on top of the hill and whilst the final section felt like we were walking up vertically the view of the national park below was worth it.

We arrived in Mount Grambier where I was spending another night in a fairly recently closed gaol. Before checking in we stopped at the Blue Lake. As the name suggests the water was blue, but it was a particularly perfect blue, a deep dark blue that was the shade a child might use if they were drawing a picture of a lake. It basically looked like someone had poured blue paint in to the lake. The lake is only this colour a few months a year, so we were lucky to see it like that and not the normal grey colour. Scientists are still unsure exactly what causes the change but the water is pure and provides the town with its supply.

Throughout the journey we had to play 5 songs each. My slightly cheesy selection was: ‘Which song sums you up/how you feel’ “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi because, well it’s my life and I’m doing what I want. ‘A song that reminds you of your childhood’ “3 Lions on a shirt” by the Lightning Seeds because it combines my love of britpop style music and football (soccer). ‘A guilty pleasure’, I could have chosen one of many but instead I went for what I decided was the most cheesy “Stay Another Day” by East 17 which I cut off before the end. Next was my party song/a song i enjoy dancing to and eventually I opted for “Mr Brightside” by the Killers. Finally my funeral song which was “Imagine” by John Lennon. Whilst i acknowledged it was a bit cliché it seemed to sum up how I’d want people to feel and remember me. All in all I think the playlist went down well, especially 3 Lions which no doubt brought back happy memories for some of the Germans from my generation on the coach as they ultimately won Euro 96.

We arrived at the gaol and unlike when I stayed at the one in Christchurch where only one wing had survived this appeared to be totally whole however it was a different style and was was only single level. Hugo, Sam, Ben and I were staying in the old kitchen rather than a cell but when we were taken on a guided tour of the grounds we saw the interiors of an the old cell and it actually looked very luxurious.

After the tour a number of us made use of the free WiFi and drank some free beers that had been left behind by a previous group whilst we waited for our guide Brett to tell us the BBQ he had prepared was ready. I don’t think I shall ever get tired of having BBQs over here, the weather just makes them the the right way to spend an evening and this one didn’t disappoint.

After the BBQ I helped J, Katie?? and Fran?? to wash up before heading in to town to find an ATM. This ended up being a much more difficult task than i expected because i had been led to believe there was a machine by the service station. There may well be but in the dark it didn’t present itself to me so I ended up walking to the main shopping area. By the time I got back to the hostel the bar was just being closed so all in all the mission had failed. Most of the group were playing ‘Ring of Fire’ or ‘Kings’ depending on which country you’re from. I’d only been gone about 40 minutes but this game always causes drunkenness to escalate quickly and it was hilarious to watch them finish.

Friday 24th January
As we had not been able to go to the Grampians it meant we didn’t have a long journey ahead so we were allowed bit of a lie in and a day of relative “R and R”. Brett had still found us a couple of things that we would be able to do in the area including a walk around a lake and a lake that is popular with locals to jump in to from cliffs and ledges of different heights.

Despite the promise of a lie in the other G Adventures group that were also staying at the hostel hadn’t read the script and managed to burn their toast setting off the fire alarm in the process. Initially before knowing all this Sam Hugo Ben and I had thought it was a mobile alarm belonging to another guy that was meant to have been in our room but I soon realised it wasn’t so i went to investigate whilst the others tried to sleep through it. I saw some of the girls who told me what had happened and once I had returned back to bed I must have slowly got used to the dreadful noise and gone back to sleep.

The walk was only about 5km and whilst it was quite strenuous and steep in places, especially on the approach to the Centenary Tower it was never going to take the two hours that the sign had advised. There used to be a series of lakes which like the Blue Lake had formed in old volcanic craters though Brown Lake had dried up and the only lake still visible was Crater lake.

Hugo runs half Marathons so when we were probably about a 1/4 of the way around Brett set him the challenge of running round and catching us before we reached the mini bus. At various stages when there were gaps in the scenery we looked to see where Hugo was. As we approached the 3/4 mark Brett said he had seen him coming down the slope just past the point the challenge had been set so it was going to be a tight finish. We kept the same pace to make it fair and just as we could see the car park sign we heard a scream of excitement from the girls at the back as they had been caught. Whilst Brett started sprinting as Hugo came round the corner he knew it was all over.

We briefly went to the town to get some supplies before we returned to the hostel for some lunch. After our quick pit stop we headed back out to a different lake where I would have the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do but been a bit nervous of doing, jumping off a cliff in to the water below. Whilst there was a sign saying no jumping we had been assured by locals it was fairly safe because again the lake was in an old crater so the water was very deep so there were no hidden rocks just beneath the surface. A group of locals were already there and performing a number of different jumps but I was quite happy just doing a standard jump. Even though the drop wasn’t far at all, and despite doing sky dives, canyon swings and a bungee this activity gave me a surprisingly big adrenaline rush despite the fall probably lasting less than a second.

A few of the others went to the highest point to jump but this meant leaping a bit further out due to the angle of the cliff and not only did I not want to take any chances I was happy enough to jump from the lower level. The water of the lake, despite having an algae that could potentially cause a skin irritation was the best place to be because there were millions of flies on the shore. Whilst I had developed a good technique of killing them by clapping just in front of my face when they were on my nose the survivors were relentless. At one point my foot resembled that of a corpse there were so many that had set up camp. Flies in Australia are particularly annoying and persistent and once they have vomited to mark their spot there is no chance of peace.

We returned back to the hostel where Sam Ben and I chilled out watching the cricket between England and Australia whilst playing some pool. Despite once considering myself half decent having played with and mostly lost to some very good players at uni who were part of the local league team that was before I broke my arm back in 2009. Since then I’ve not had much game time with the exception of the fairly recent double games in New Zealand and the shockingly long game in Noosa. How I was undefeated so far on my travels remained a mystery.

My main objective was not to be 7 balled and I was quite pleased with my break because it separated everything giving plenty of options though I did sink the white in the process. Luckily I got a quick pot which settled the nerves I always have and something seemed to click. My old eye seemed to be back; in the previous games I knew what I wanted to do but had totally failed in the execution though I was still fairly surprised when i sunk the black to win.

After joining other members of the group in the WiFi area the owner soon came over to let off steam. Due to a misunderstanding the room with a big sign saying laundry wasn’t actually to be used by the public and various members of the group had used it because as I’ve said before laundry is the main thing that gets done on the chill out days. Normally chill out days don’t exist on the tours and groups would not normally spend so long at the old gaol so this has probably not been an issue in the past. It had been a slow paced day and after eating dinner and playing some cards which coincided with Nadal making Federer look average and wrapping up a quick victory in the tennis pretty much everyone went to bed.

Saturday 25th January
Despite a good and fairly long nights sleep (relative to the previous nights) I struggled to wake up after my alarm. Eventually I went to have a shower and seeing no sign of life outside the breakfast area went back to the room to finish packing. I lulled myself in to the belief we had more time than we did and it was only after I went to the WiFi area and saw Brett carrying a blue box that I realised breakfast had actually already ended.

Ahead lay a long travel day from Mount Gambier to Adelaide. Our first was to a service station where I got an ice blaster coffee that I’ve discovered I like and a breakfast pie. The second and third stops were in small towns. The 3rd, Tailem Bend seemed heavily train themed with an old loco in the park for children to play on, a small railway museum in the station (i wouldn’t drive out of the way to visit it) and every sign with the towns name had a picture of a train beside it. It also appeared that one of the weekly trains was a cause for celebration as there was a flyer for ‘train spotters’ advertising the time it would pass through.

We were meant to have stopped at the Coorong National Park which is apparently particularly stunning due to its lagoons and dune systems. When we left Mount Gambier we were told we were going there and it was only when we got to the final stop we were told this was being skipped so we could get to Adelaide sooner and visit the beach to relax. I don’t know how the others felt, but personally I felt this was a bit disappointing because as a result of reasons beyond our control we’d already missed out on walking in the Grampians and spent the whole of the previous afternoon relaxing. Whilst it was nice to go in the sea especially as it was a lovely weather the day felt slightly wasted due to the long distance travelled and it had needed something more interesting to break up the long drive.

The evening plan was for those of us leaving to meet up with the others for a final group dinner and to meet the new people that would be taking our places. I made my way to Rundle Mall, the street where i believed the others were staying but couldn’t see their hotel. Luckily there was free WiFi in the centre and after putting a message on Facebook Line and Katharina responded I was able to find it.

It was great to meet up one final time and although it had only been 4 whole days it was surprising how quickly the ice had broken though Brett our tour guide had certainly helped with this. I’ve been on a number of tours but it felt particularly hard saying goodbye. Maybe that was partly because I knew they would all be carrying on together where as I would have to start the whole introduction process again in a few days time. Safe travels to you all and I’m sure you’ll have an awesome time in Alice Springs and Darwin. Perhaps our paths will cross again in Australia but if not let me know if you have any plans to come over to London.

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Don’t Stop Believin’ Australian Open Part 2

Sunday 19th January
I had initially considered doing one of the free walking tours around the city because we had tickets for the evening session so the day was free to what we liked. However I also wanted to take my disposable camera to get it developed and the shop wasn’t open until Monday so I decided to postpone the plan. Victoria, Jess and Lucia planned to go shopping but I wasn’t so keen and neither was Justin. The heat wave was becoming a memory and with a cold breeze a day at the beach was out.

Justin and I had brought a big crate of beer and we still had a lot remaining. I also still had some cans of Bundy and Coke so despite it only being mid morning we decided to enjoy a cheeky drink whilst watching the tennis in the hotel and waited for some laundry to finish.

After watching Ivanovic defeat Serena Williams I noticed that there was a one day cricket match between Australia and England taking place and it was live on TV. That was my afternoon sorted. At one point the maid came round to clean the apartment and I felt a bit awkward lounging around on the couch while she spent nearly an hour making the place look like we’d never been there.

Eventually the others got back from their day of activities and in support of Australia’s last hope Casey Dellacqua against Eugenie Bouchard, Victoria and I had our faces painted by Lucia again. She did another fantastic job and decided to have hers done as well with Victoria doing a fine job under pressure and attempts by Justin to put her off.

We arrived at the Rod Laver Arena (the Australian Opens Centre Court) and got to our seats just as the players were coming out. A few rows in front were a group in fancy dress and they made a decent attempt at starting an atmosphere before other pockets within the crowd started to join in.

During the first set both players gave it everything, and just as one looked like they had the upper hand the other came storming back. At one stage Dellacqua had broken serve and only had to hold her own service game but she couldn’t and it went to a tie break. The crowd did their best to lift Dellacqua including my own fine attempt. “Casey Casey Casey”, (the other four shouting) “Oi Oi Oi”, “Casey”, “Oi”, “Casey, Casey, Casey”, “Oi, Oi, Oi”. The first half of the chant certainly sounded very effective and no doubt caused some looks due to it being said in a British accent.

The attempts by the crowd throughout the first set may have given Dellacqua that extra bit of energy and she managed to win the first set tie break. Unfortunately despite the match being a lot closer than the final score suggested she lost both of the final sets. A few millimetres the other way and Dellacqua may well have broken the Bouchard serve in the second set before her own was broken but it wasn’t to be.

I thought the defeat may have dampened the spirits of the local crowd but that wasn’t the case. The second match was Stanislas Wawrinka vs Tommy Robredo. A group of Swiss fans were standing at the back and suddenly removed their tops to spell out “Stna”. The group in costume noticed and started to chant “Swap around, swap around, swap around” and eventually the Swiss group realised they’d messed up their moment and had to shuffle seats to spell “Stan”. It was however enough for the majority to get behind “Stan” and to keep the atmosphere alive.

Vic and I believed this would be a good men’s game that might have the potential to ‘go the distance’ but “Stan” was hungry for victory and won the first set fairly quickly and comfortably. People had got behind both players, though mainly “Stan” with some fairly hilarious comments and chants being audible. I was surprised no one had shouted “Stan, Stan, he’s our man, if he can’t win it no one can” so took it upon myself to do the honours. This one actually caught on and was heard being shouted by another group later on in the evening.

There wasn’t any chanting or shouting during points, and there was nothing rude or disrespectful it was just fun and nothing like the hoity toity polite atmosphere of Wimbledon. Not that Wimbledon isn’t fun, the atmosphere is special in it’s own way and as Victoria said you could probably almost convince yourself you’d gone back in time there. The attempts by the umpire to quieten the crowd by saying “Thank You, Please” in their ever overly polite tones was slightly funny because as Justin remarked they probably just wanted to shout “shut Up!” The Swiss fans were however eventually told to put their shirts back on so clearly there were some boundaries.

I wanted the match to go to at least 4 sets, or for a few sets to go at least to a tie break so I switched allegiance to Tommy. He certainly tried to make the next 2 sets more competitive and both went to a tie break but he couldn’t win either set. Vic and Jess had made their way to the other side as there were a few empty seats in an attempt to get a signature. Vic was successful and got her ticket scribbled on/signed by Stan.

We made our way home by tram and ended up playing the Charades game again for a couple of hours until Justin and then Lucia who had an early flight the next morning called it a night.

Monday 20th January
I felt quite tired when i woke up even though I’d woken up a bit later than initially planned. I was also grateful Lucia had been so quiet when she’d left. I eventually left the hotel, making my way to the photography shop to get my film developed. The staff were very friendly and confirmed they could have it processed that day at no extra cost and would transfer the pictures to a usb stick if I provided one.

I then made my way towards the State Library to join a ‘free’ (you can pay a tip if you like) walking tour offered by the same company that hosted the tour of Sydney I did with my mum. First though I needed breakfast and seeing a subway deal of coffee and a sub for under $5 I was sold. I did however feel a bit guilty at not going to a cafe, especially as I believe Melbourne is the food capital of Australia.

The tour was great and luckily there were a few other solo travellers that were open to conversation. We started off seeing the area around the Old Melbourne Gaol before making our way to many of the areas I hadn’t thought to explore. This included a number of the shopping centres some of which were very ornate and reminded me of Leadenhall Market in London. We also went down a number of narrow streets where graffiti was legalised and one had recently been covered in black paint so that the process could begin again. It is fair to say I wouldn’t have seen any of this had I not been on the tour but if by chance I had I probably have appreciated it as much as I did.

We also went past more familiar land marks including the Great Exhibition Hall, the Parliament building and Federation Square before we eventually crossed the Yarra River where there was a nice view of the Melbourne skyline. The guide also pointed towards the Shrine of Remembrance and the Botanical Gardens. I still had 2 and a half hours until my photos were ready and whilst my initial plan had been to return back to the hotel and rest before our night session i thought I’d check them out.

It is fair to say I thought the Shrine of Remembrance was closer than it was from my starting position. I probably went a long way initially heading to Victoria Park as I thought it was there. There appeared to be a number of memorials however it gradually dawned on me these were not what I was looking for. It probably took 30 minutes to find it though I actually arrived at 2pm just in time for a 3 minute silence. This was a hourly demonstration using a spotlight to show how on 11th November each year a gap in the stone work allows the sun to pass along the memorial stone before lighting up the word “love” at 11am.

I then headed towards the botanical gardens just because I was in the area rather than having any real interest in seeing something in particular. I wondered around for a bit and it was very pleasant but it was probably something that was lost on me in terms of what I was seeing. There were signs saying turtles were nesting in the gardens and to watch out for them but I didn’t see any. After doing a loop of the lake I headed back towards the CBD.

I had planned to pick up a USB stick from the hotel but the photography shop was on my way back and whilst I was early I thought I would see if the photos were ready. I knew Justin had his laptop and that it would probably be possible to copy the photos from the CD to the USB stick myself. Luckily they were which meant I got back to the hotel earlier than planned.

After a quick change of shirts (the Watford shirt was now on in preparation for another sporting event photo) we went to get some dinner. After a quick drink on the rooftop terrace at the same venue we headed downstairs. Just as we were about to order we were told about the special deal. Meatballs with either Mash, Pizza or Pasta and a free drink. I was sold and so was Justin though he went for Mash and I went for Pizza (though received pasta – not that I cared).
During the meal Victoria announced the plan was to cycle to the tennis along the river which i wasn’t so keen on because I’ve not got on a bike since I was 12 when I had a bike ride I’d rather forget in Devon. However the more I thought about the more I thought I should give it a go. In the end Jess and I caught the tram but I told myself as I’ve skydived, I would cycle at the next opportunity which is likely to be Rottnest Island.

I think we were all slightly nervous about being late but we didn’t need to worry. Whilst Nadal had won 2 sets he had not done so comfortably and the match had overrun meaning the start to our session was delayed. He won the match just as we all met up again, and it might be of interest to some that the bike was the quicker form of transport. The delay to our session created a slight logistical issue for the organisers because there was no way of stopping people entering the concourse and a large crowd was forming.  I need to add that all seating was reserved so there appeared no reason to be in such a rush especially as an announcement kept saying there would be a delay whilst the arena was cleaned and no time scale was put on that.

We therefore decided to finally check out the Heineken beer area which we’d not done on Friday because of the heat, been unable to do on Saturday because the queue was over 2 hours and not done on Sunday as we were running tight on time. Andy Murray was on the big screen and seemed all set to win a tie break to win the match when during the process of Vic taking a few pictures of me in front of the screen he suffered a mini collapse and lost the tie break and therefore the set. He also appeared to suffer a mini meltdown about a decision that had not gone his way and broke his racquet in the process.

We returned back to the arena and weren’t waiting much longer before we were let in. The first match was a men’s single game between Jo Wilfred Tsonga and ‘The Great’ Roger Federer. The stadium announcer listed all the honours for both players and when he did those for Federer I did began to wonder if we’d be waiting all night to finish. I wanted a long match and hoped Tsonga would be adequately prepared to challenge.

Federer was rolling back the years for most of the match and the result of the match was never in any doubt. Some of his shots were stunning and it was annoying just how good he was because it meant we didn’t get the close long drawn out match we had hoped for. Tsonga 0-40 down and on the verge of losing serve for the second time in the 3rd set let his frustration out on the ball and smashed it out of the stadium. It stirred something because he came back to win that game but he couldn’t break back and lost within a couple of hours.

The next match was Agnieszka Radwanska vs Garbine Muguruza. We .?had already seen Radwanska and as it was after the Federer match it felt a bit of an anti climax especially as we had hoped to see a variety of different players over the 4 days. A large section of the crowd clearly felt the same and about half must have left. This did however at least allow us to move to other seats around the court throughout the breaks in play in the final set to get different perspectives.

The first four games were close and lasted about 10 minutes each but eventually Radwanska broke and from then on the result was a certainty. At the end of the match we all hung our tickets over the side to get them signed/scribbled on by Radwanska. Initially i was missed but was successful when she came back the second time and I wished her good luck in the next match.

After leaving we Vic, Justin and I made our way to the bike station though there weren’t any available so we had to walk I instead. We were also feeling a bit hungry but Lord of the Fries that we had planned to go to was already closed. Eventually we managed to get something and headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

Tuesday 21st January
I had to repack my rucksuck as over the past 4 days I hadn’t exactly unpacked but had allowed everything to spill out. It didn’t take to long and at 10.00 we checked out and our bags were put in storage. Justin had to catch a flight but Jess Vic and I went to find breakfast. Unfortunately the place Victoria knew from being at the Melbourne cup horse race a few months earlier had closed due to a serious fire so we found some where else in the Victoria Arcade.

After that we headed to Federation Square to watch the tennis and Victoria and I took part in a pedometer competition which involved a series of mini cardio tennis related challenges. It was only a bit of fun with some other members of the public and whilst I put in quite a bit of effort I was still surprised when it was announced I had won by about 40 steps. I think this was mainly because on at least one occasion I’d had to jump off the stage to run after the ball.

We left Federation Square and I finally planned to cycle again. The bikes looked simple enough and Vic had said it was only 15 minutes along the river. I was quite excited about getting on for the first time in over 15 years and I thought it would be good practice for my trip to Rottnest Island where with no public transport the bike is the only option if you want to see anything. Quite quickly it emerged it wasn’t a good idea as Victoria was in a rush to get back to the hotel in order to get the flight and we therefore had to say goodbye there and I abandoned my mission.
It had been a fantastic four days on the whole but the end of the tennis meant the final stage of my journey was about to start which made me feel quite reflective. From the moment Victoria had confirmed the dated we had tickets for the tennis I had organised tours from Melbourne to Adelaide and on to Perth. When i looked at my itinerary at Heathrow back In October they felt so far away but now they were here.

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You’re the Voice: Australian Open Part One

Thursday 16th January
I checked out of the hostel and made my way to Sydney Airport to meet Victoria and her friend Jess before we all took a flight to Melbourne. The opportunity to attend sporting events during my time travelling in Australia had appealed greatly and having seen the Ashes three years ago this time I wanted to see the tennis. Victoria had been able to get us tickets for not just one day but for four and these were for a mix of day and evening sessions. I was buzzing.

After an uneventful flight we arrived in Melbourne which was in the middle of a heat wave with the temperature hitting over 40 degrees Celsius. The heat didn’t feel as bad as I expected when we got outside the airport and after catching the shuttle bus we made the short walk to our hotel apartment. After a quick change we went on the hunt for the electronic Myki card that is needed for all public transport around the city. After the 3rd or 4th Seven-Eleven we finally found one that either had them In stock or where the machine wasn’t broken.

Cards purchased we caught the tram to St Kilda where we would spend the afternoon on the beach. The tram journey felt quite long and it was a bit uncomfortable due to the heat though we did at least have seats. We were planning on meeting Vic’s other friend Justin and he had suggested a number of bars. She read them out to me and Jess but we were equally unsure what would be best but a guy nearby over hearing our conversation told us to head to “Republic”.

Eventually we arrived in St Kilda and decided to get some food though perhaps because of the heat I didn’t feel as hungry as I thought I was though the portions were big. Justin was experiencing transport issues caused by the extreme heat so we headed for the beach.

Vic and I went for a swim and Jess a paddle. I still had my underwater camera from Moreton Island which had 6 potential photos left so we tried to get a couple of under water pictures together. Unfortunately because it was only a disposable we wouldn’t have any idea until the photos are finally developed. Despite there being a bit of cloud cover blocking the sun it was still very hot and I felt as though I was totally dry after 10 minutes.

We met up with Justin and headed for a bar called the Vineyard to get some cocktails. I got a very spicy Bloody Mary which normally I would have loved but on a warm day probably wasn’t the most sensible choice. Justin headed off to meet some friends and Vic Jess and I headed back to the hotel before going back out to Federation Square so that we could watch some of the tennis on the big screen.

It wasn’t as busy as I expected and despite it now being dark it was still very warm. We saw the end of two matches before the main game of the evening from an Australian perspective as Nick Kyrgios the last remaining male hope for the locals was playing Benoit Paire. It was getting late by the time the match began so we had to decided to stay for the first set then depending what was happening to watch the rest back at the hotel.

After a tight, enthrallingly first set where the young Australian who had won the Boys tournament only last year played superbly and with great determination to more than match his French seeded opponent. Kyrgios finally took the first set in a tie break so we quickly headed back so we would see how the second set unfolded. He won that in a tie break as well and there was real belief amongst us that he could make it. Unfortunately he seemed to pick up an injury due to cramp and eventually lost the 3rd set before fatigue set in. The experience of Paire in such situations also became more evident and he showed no mercy winning the 4th and 5th set comfortably to win the match.

Friday 17th January
We woke up and having brought a few supplies for breakfast the day before enjoyed some croissants with ham cheese and tomatoes. It was scheduled to be around 43 degrees Celsius so on Vic’s advice I had put my water in the freezer and it was suitably frozen. First we headed to the supermarkets to get some lunch but the early heat was playing havoc with my appetite so I was happy with us just getting snacks.

We walked down to Flinders Street and caught the free tram that was operating to the tournament. When we got on it wasn’t overly busy however by the time we got to near the arena complex it was packed and if there was any air conditioning it was struggling badly and not overly pleasant.

We arrived at the Hisense Arena just in time for the first match of the day which was a ladies match between Kerber and Risks. Walking up the steps and in to the arena it was a relief we were in the shade however it still felt very hot. The heat made it difficult to concentrate on the match details and In truth I don’t remember to much of it, though Kerber seemed to win fairly comfortably in 2 sets. I just found the whole experience of actually being there very exciting.

Jess Vic and I seemed to lose Justin on our exit so we got a few pictures in the surrounding outside area. This included a room which had been set up to look like the post match press conference room and where it was possible to sit with a replica trophy. Jess and I then made our way to the Margaret Court arena where more by chance we bumped in to Justin. There was a queue to get in but there were a lot of empty seats. The problem was they were in the blazing sun.

We had gone to the court to see a men’s doubles match where two Australians Chris Guccione and Thanasi Kokkinakis were competing. I know I have never endured such heat, it was extreme and the arena shape probably only helped to amplify the heat by keeping it in the cauldron. The ice in my water bottle had well and truly melted and if anything was now becoming warm.

As for the match itself the Australian duo battled well and it looked like it was all set for a first set tie break before Kokkinakis dropped his service game. Jess, Justin and I made a escape seeking the air conditioned bar area of the Hisense arena. We were watching a match on the TV and then I decided to have a lie down. Eventually Vic rejoined us and we had our snacks before heading back to our seats to seeing Berdych vs Dzumhur. Reentering the arena it was like opening the door to an oven and feeling that heat hit your face but rather than closing the door you proceeded to enter the oven. Even our seats which had been in the heat were now scorching hot.

Dzumhur was from Bosnia and had progressed through qualifying. He also seemed to have a small but very lively fan base who were standing up and chanting so the atmosphere felt more like a football match. He battled well in the first set and at one stage I thought he was going to break the Berdych serve but he didn’t and instead was broken himself to lose the first set. It was very hard to concentrate are on the score and during the second set I thought it was 3-3 when it was actually 4-2 to Berdych who won that set and the 3rd set 6-4.

After leaving the arena we realised we hadn’t taken the exit for the trams so instead enjoyed a pleasant walk along the Yarra river to Flinders Street station where we caught the train to Southern Cross station close to our hotel. We were all feeling rather affected by the heat but the initial plan was still to head out again. However eventually a decision was made to stay in where we played a scrabble type game called bananagrams before going to bed.

Saturday 18th January
Whilst we waited for Victoria’s other friend Lucia to arrive we confirmed the schedule to see who would be on court including Andy Murray who was going to be in action against Lopez from Spain. Victoria and I therefore decided to use some face paint for the occasion as whilst she had a soft spot for Murray she also liked Lopez and so decided to support him during the match. The efforts by Lucia to paint two Spanish flags on Vic’s cheeks and to cover my entire face with the union flag were stunning.

I was surprised at how little attention people paid to me as we walked down the street and it wasn’t until we were on a crowded tram that I received a few comments. Apparently I looked ‘scary’ though as Vic said that was good as it would help to intimidate the opponent. The weather was a lot cooler than the day before and as I’ve not acclimatised I actually felt cold even though it was still just over 20 degrees Celsius.

We took our seats in the Hisense arena where I watched the end of the first set between Jankovic and Nara before heading off hoping to see two British men (Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins) in action in a men’s double match. They had won the first set and lost the second so I hoped to see the 3rd however there was a big queue to get in. There appeared to be a few seats but people were only allowed to enter when ends were changed and eventually the Steward made a decision not to let anyone else in until the end of the match. This ended up being much quicker than I expected as the Brits suddenly collapsed and lost the final set 6-2.

I started to head back to the Hisense arena when I saw Vic and the others heading towards me. We had hoped to see Sloane Stephens on Margaret Court but there was a queue to get in and apparently all the seats had been allocated. We then headed back to Court two where I’d just come from as two Australian women were in action in a doubles match. It was at this point I realised it was this match that had caused the crowd which prevented me seeing the game I wanted to.

Instead we went to court 3 to see a men’s single match between Robert and Klizan. Whilst both were unseeded Robert appeared to be in control winning the first set 6-0. We arrived and stayed for the second set which was a lot more competitive though eventually Robert comfortably won the tie break. I later realised he was the opponent of the Andy Murray match which we now made our way towards.

We arrived back at the Hisense arena where a ladies single match was still in action and I was surprised to see Radwanska was a set down to Pavlyuchenkova. Perhaps our arrival signalled a change in fortunes, at 2-0 down she won 6 games to win 6-2 before winning the 3rd set by the same score. At one point Pavlyuchenkova called for the trainer but she battled on however perhaps this was the reason for the sudden decline and apparent one sided nature of the match.

Finally it was time for the Murray/Lopez match. Vic and I headed to the front to get some pictures together as did Jess and Lucia. The atmosphere was quite good and there were a group of guys in kilts though mine and Victoria’s faces seemed to grab the most attention as one lady wanted a picture of us together.

Murray was first to serve and after a long game was eventually broken though he then immediately broke the Loprez serve. It seemed like we would be in for a close and long match. The rest of the set went with serve and it was Murray who finally won the tie break and one point during the set Victoria got a video of me shouting “Come on Andy!!!”

Murray seemed to play better in the second set though Lopez still hit more winners he just also made nearly double the number of unforced errors. Murray broke Lopez to win the second set 6-4 and the 3rd set was even less competitive in terms of score as he won it 6-2. However in both these sets there had also been some long rally’s with good shots from both players where a matter of inches or even millimetres on at least one occasion could have changed the outcome.

We left the arena and after getting some jumping pictures outside the Rod Laver arena headed along the Yarra River to do the same route back as the previous day. After a quick shower and drink Justin and I headed off to watch a Twenty20 cricket match between the Melbourne Renegades and the Sydney Sixes. Sydney had a number of current and previous Australian test players I recognised including Brett Lee and Steve Smith though the English bowler Chris Tremlett wasn’t in the match day squad. I have to admit I don’t think i knew any of the Melbourne players with the exception of Muttiah Muralitharan but as they were the home team I felt I should support them.

The match was a lot tighter than I expected having looked at the table and whilst the run rate of the Sixes was higher the Renegades had lost less wickets and a couple of boundaries would change the whole match. It wasn’t a totally dramatic end as in the final over Brett Lee was bowling and he kept the run rate down so that with 2 balls left the Renegades needed 10. The penultimate ball went for 2 so the game was as good as over, though the batter hit 6 on the last ball to make the final score look a lot closer than it really ever was.

I had wore my Watford shirt so that I could continue my plan to get pictures of it at different sporting locations and got some pictures at half time. There was also a motorcycle stunt event at half time whivh was very entertaining and despite the ground probably only being 1/4 full the 14,000 strong crowd seemed quite enthusiastic. The atmosphere can’t really compare to a football match as there was no chanting but it was still lively as the DJs played rock songs to a ‘air guitar’ big screen competition when ever there was a break in play.

Justin had met some of his friends at the entrance and as we were all hungry headed to China town to get food. It was however 11.30 by the we got there and most places including the dumpling house we planned to go to was closed. Eventually we found somewhere and got a selection of different foods. It was gone midnight by the time we left and I decided to call it a night. Vic, Jess and Lucia were playing various charade games on an iPhone app so I joined in. There were a number of different options including “Act it Out” which was particularly hilarious.

By the time I went to bed it was nearly 2am and the Watford vs Bournemouth match was just starting. I fell asleep with my phone next to my face and when Justin got back half an hour later I quickly checked the score. I woke up again about 5am and saw the match had ended 1.1 which I was initially disappointed with but then I saw we’d had a sending off and Almunia had saved a penalty so I went to sleep content.

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The Life of Riley: Bundaberg

Monday 13th January
As had happened the morning before the two girls were up first as they were leaving for Frasier Island. The 4th bunk still appeared to be free but appeared to have been made during the night and a copy of women’s weekly lay on it. Not one of us had heard anyone enter though Pam had joked about the building being haunted.

I packed and made my way downstairs to meet Konstantin for breakfast though he said he was running a bit late. He already had some water melon and I’d forgotten it was Monday so the cooked breakfast wasn’t available. The girl serving was the one who did our introduction meeting on the Saturday and we briefly chatted whilst I waited for the other two.

Since Tasmania Konstantin had done a fair bit of exploring along the East Coast and was now on the final leg back to Brisbane. We both checked out and then I had to go as I needed to catch a local bus to a place called Cooroy where I would then be catching a train to Bundaberg. Bundaberg had been a destination I’d been intrigued to visit, firstly it was home to the rum which had been the source of many happy evenings 3 years before, Caroline my housemate is from there and I’d heard it was a great place to see turtles.

The bus to Cooroy arrived on time though I then had to wait over 1 hour and 30 minutes until the train. The station was unmanned and completely empty except for one other passenger who I got talking to. They were from Gympie, an old mining town that I remembered passing through 3 years ago. It was somewhere I may have been interested to visit if I’d had more time or was passing through again but I hadn’t been able to fit it in to this section of the trip which was already fairly intense in terms of activities. We discussed various things though it was mainly the weather in the US, the terrible flood damage to Bundaberg in January 2013 and the recent storms in the UK.

Her train arrived first which meant for 30 minutes I sat alone until other passengers for my train arrived though I didn’t talk to any of them. Instead I read my Bill Bryson book to seehow his travel experiences around the country compared to my own. The train arrived nearly 20 minutes late, and whilst my ticket led me to believe a guard would help check in my luggage that wasn’t the case so I had to guess where to leave it.

The journey itself was fairly uneventful, the guy behind who had recently retired sounded good company as he chatted to the person next to him but I was sat next to someone watching a movie on their laptop and whose handbag had originally been sat on my seat. We uttered not one word in the 2 hours and 30 minutes. During that time a GPS satellite image showed our route and how was we were travelling and I was surprised we didn’t really go above 90mph. I looked out of the window, mainly we seemed to pass through forest before as we approached Bundaberg the trees cleared and were replaced by bushes. Possibly some of the sugar plantations. I have no idea.

Arriving at Bundaberg station home to 60,000 people I naively assumed that a bus to the hostel would be easy but no one seemed to be around to ask and I had no map. Unfortunately even my trusty lonely planet guide didn’t say how to get from the station so I had to get a taxi. The driver dropped me off at the wrong hostel and it was only with a bit of luck I found mine behind the coach station.

I had booked the hostel because my Lonely Planet guide said they ran tours to see the turtles at Mon Repos (so long as you already had an entrance ticket to the national park). Unfortunately it seems they are no longer able to offer this service due the local government and whilst they could still take me there for free I’d have to find my own way home. They suggested I try tourist information to get on their bus so no sooner had I dumped my bags I was off out again.

Predictably tourist information were unable to assist as the sole coach with room for 30 people was full despite I believe 360 national park entrance tickets had been sold for the night. The reason the local government had I was told ‘clamped down’ on tours was to ensure there was less traffic (even though the 360 entrance tickets remained the same). All I can say is a bus for less than 10% of people attending would mean a lot of cars. Worse because the hostel mini bus had driven off I would have to walk back to the hostel.

I’d asked at tourist information how far it was to the hostel expecting to be told an estimated number of kilometres however instead I’d received the response “depends how fast you walk”. I left tourist information and had been told to head down a particular street what I wasn’t told was that the street ran in both directions. Left? Or Right? Somewhat exasperated at my introduction to Bundaberg I stood at the traffic lights and asked the lady next to me if she could direct me. Not only could she do that but she was walking to the same street as me so we chatted as we walked along together. It probably took about 20 minutes.

I entered the hostel and explained that the national park bus was full so they drove me down saying you’ll probably be able to get a lift back or share a taxi. I knew I’d figure something out, I just wanted to make sure I got to Mon Repos. I arrived very early but others had had the same idea and it wasn’t long before I go it chatting to a couple of locals called Dom and Ed and we got chatting to some other locals. Apparently plans have been approved to build a new facility which is fine but they’ll need the infrastructure and promotion to go with it. After about an hour I happened to mention my transport issues and the first pair I met offered me a lift back.

The ranger then caused a slight issue with this plan. Tourist information had said get there early as that’s how they sort the groups – therefore as the 5 of us were standing together we assumed we’d be together. The ranger had other ideas. The groups were to be determined by when the tickets were purchased. I’d got mine Christmas day, the two that had offered me a lift had only brought theirs last week. Somewhat miraculously the other two we’d been chatting to had two spares and got theirs on the 20th so as luck would have it we were all able to be in the same group. Good karma.

The first group had “an event” straight away and the rest of us started to watch a presentation. Just as it said “not everyone is guaranteed to see something” my group was called. Phew. It hadn’t occurred to me that the group system worked in the way it did and I was glad I’d booked it early. When we returned a couple of hours later a lot of people were still waiting in the visitor centre to get taken down to the beach. Some possibly had to wait until 2am before being told it was to late.

We saw a number of turtles on the beach but were told none of them were ours. Ours seemed to be right at the far end of the beach near some rocks and by the time we were allowed up she had already dug her hole. It felt very intrusive staring in to the behind of a turtle but as it’s tube (I have no idea what the technical term is) began to wobble it was quite amazing to see eggs pop out. If you can use your imagination it was a bit like a cartoon machine that was spitting out oversized products

The rangers quickly got to work measuring the nest and checking the health of the turtle. She’d been tagged and before this year had last been seen on the beach in 2010 though this was her 5th nest of eggs this season. Apparently she’d have laid 280 eggs there was less than a 1% chance any of them would reach adult hood. The turtle then began using her flippers, again possibly not the correct term, to cover the eggs doing so until the sand was hard and there was no trace of them. Whilst I couldn’t smell them apparently a fox would be able to and a number of eggs are lost that way.

Soon the little turtle, actually it wasn’t little, it was big, much bigger than i had anticipated, it was a lump about 3 ft long and a 1ft tall, began to scuttle back off to the sea. Now I thought turtles were slow but this one was clearly in a hurry and the ranger said she was surprised at how quickly this particular turtle had gone through the process. Before I had hoped to see the hatchlings but actually in hindsight I’m glad I saw this aspect of the reproduction process, it was magical seeing nature at work.

We were back at the visitors centre much earlier than I had expected and brought Dom and Ed the certificate for our turtle as an advance thank you for giving me a lift back. I arrived back at the hostel expecting the room to myself as I’d been moved from my original room because it appeared the other occupant had taken over both beds (using one as storage) and I was therefore surprised when I saw someone else in there. At least the light was still on and I didn’t have to make my bed in the dark.

Tuesday 14th January
I didn’t need to pack next morning because I hadn’t been around long enough to unpack so after checking out I was taken too the distillery for my Bundaberg Rum tour which was I felt the perfect way to end this part of my journey. The lady on the desk was waiting for me because I’d tried to book online to get a discount but couldn’t. I emailed and discovered as my address was in the UK and (silly) Australian alcohol licencing laws prohibited alcohol being delivered outside the country. You may note I was trying to purchase a ticket, not alcohol. Kindly the staff had also emailed me to confirm they’d honour the discount but more importantly would book me on the tour. I felt like a mini celebrity, I was certainly the only non Australian on the sold out tour.

The tour itself was really informative and the two guides were great fun. We were given a history of how Bundaberg Rum came about, basically the local sugar cane was crushed and produced molasses and they realised they could turn it in to rum. We were led around the various buildings and then the moment of magic, free samples. I’d been told by the the girl who served me in Brisbane to try the liquor so made thgat my first choice. I don’t really like Bailey’s but I liked this especially when it had a layer of fresh cream put on top. It’s a travesty that only those in Australia can enjoy it at the current time and even they can only by it at the distillery.

What to try next, I’d had the original (which I have to admit I don’t like) and the Red label (the version I fell in love with but which isn’t sold in the UK). There was a version with ginger beer and a spiced version though in the end I went for the most expensive which was a aged version of the original. I had it neat on the rocks but I think the quality was lost on me slightly and I had to ask for a dash of coke. Though Bundy and coke is a winning combination.

I made my way back to the hostel. It was before mid day and I was in a very content mood. The reception was closed so I went to find some food and failing to find anywhere open in the vicinity had to settle for McDonald’s but judging by the crowd all the locals had had the same idea. I returned back to the hostel and was then given a lift to the airport.

I had arrived two hours early but I hadn’t appreciated as there was only one flight with Qantas the check in desk wouldn’t be open. I therefore waited before eventually someone came down to open up and then waited again until someone opened security. It was a very cute operation and the plane was tiny as well.

During the flight I was offered snacks and a free drink. As I was in Queensland I opted for a XXXX beer. I hadn’t done a domestic link before and wasn’t that trusting of the situation so in a slightly paranoid state confirmed with staff that my luggage would continue to Sydney without me having to check in again. The flight was delayed but once we’d taken off we got a free meal and another free drink, this time I chose a white wine just so I could complete the set. Best still I hadn’t paid for any of them (well technically I had by buying the tour ticket and the flights…but still).

I arrived back in Sydney after 21.00 and the airport looked a bit empty. Initially I went to the wrong luggage collection and as I saw the same items going round and nothing else began to think mine had gone back to Bundaberg. I asked someone and they told me where to go. My flight had been pretty empty and by the time I got there my bag was the only thing going round and round. There were no more dramas and as I knew my way to the hostel I was in bed by 22.30. the only other almost event was walking along a underground passageway when 2 police officers were in front of me, as guy was murdering Summer Nights. I really wanted to say to them in my merry/possibly drunk state “I wish to report a murder” and then point but wisely decided against it.

Wednesday 15th January
The next day was a typical free day. I had to stock up on toiletries as the huge supply I’d brought from the UK was finally running out. This meant as my bag was steadily becoming light, dipping below 19kgs including my sleeping nag at one stage it is now over 20kgs again. Each time I do laundry another chore I had to do, it seems impossible to fit it all back in.

I spent much of the day in the lounge chatting to people that were also catching up on life including a girl called Jen who has moved over here to be a mid wife. I also saw one of the guys I’d shared with the last time I was in the hostel, only a week ago but I was still surprised he remembered me. I felt a bit bad to be inside on such a lovely day but with no electrical sockets outside no one really had a choice.

I also finalised my accommodation for Adelaide and Perth as both those destinations are quickly creeping up. The end of January seemed so far away at one stage but now I’m over half way I know time will fly because that’s how it always seems to work on the tours. In fact it’s weird to think won’t be back in Sydney until 1st March by which time if all goes to plan I’ll have made my way all the way along the South Coast, part way up the West and right through the centre. But first off it’s back to Melbourne and the Australian Open.

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Somewhere Only We Know: Noosa

Saturday 11th January
I initially assumed that I was going to have another early start in order to get my Greyhound bus from Brisbane to Noosa however I checked the day before and it was actually scheduled for 13.45. In hindsight I could have used the time to re-explore Brisbane or to do the XXXX Brewery tour however I was feeling a bit lethargic. I checked out and waited for Lewis and Alex to arrive for breakfast as arranged. Alex arrived but there was no sign of Lewis and I spent the rest of the morning catching up on my blog and dozing off.

Unfortunately whilst I had intended to further catch up on the blog on the Greyhound bus I dozed off and woke up at one point to a view of a lovely coast before tiredness hit again. We stopped at a few places to pick up and drop off including Maroochydore before continuing to Australia Zoo where we picked up those that had been on the day trip from Noosa. The weather compared to the day before couldn’t have been more contrasting.

Most Australian coach drivers, in fact most Australians I’ve encountered so far are polite, a good laugh and overly helpful but our driver was grumpy, reminding me of a bus driver I had on the Megabus once. I guess he has to put up with backpackers on a daily basis that don’t listen but at times it felt like I was on a school trip. We arrived at Noosa Junction and he turfed everyone off and started unloading bags. My ticket was to the next stop so initially I was confused why we weren’t being dropped off at the hostels. It was however rather simple – the hostels would come to pick us up but why this wasn’t explained during the journey I don’t know.

I wasn’t the only one confused, in fact everyone was. Eventually I and 4 girls found the mini bus for the YHA and we were taken to Halse Lodge which is heritage listed and apparently the oldest wooden structure in Queensland. We checked in and were told there was a introductory meeting at 18.00 where we could introduce ourselves and get some information about things to do in Noosa. We would also get a complimentary glass of wine. It seemed a nice idea.

I quickly prepared myself and went back downstairs. The girl leading the introduction meeting was also from the UK and in fact it seemed most people were. Afterwards I started talking to a local from Brisbane about various topics including the behaviour of children in Peterborough and East London (they were a teacher who had worked in the UK). They had approached me because during the meeting I’d said I was looking to travel to Mt Tinbeerwha the following morning. They wanted to tell me the local Laguna lookout and coastal walk would be a more effective way to spend my time.

After getting a chicken parmigiana from the adjoining restaurant I started chatting to a guy from Canada and we had a game of pool and table football both of which I won. Though in a way there was no winner with the pool because there was no chalk and it was a painfully slow game to finish. I then went up to my room and realised that mine was one of the rooms without electric sockets because the building was heritage listed. There were also two girls in the room – Amy and Kirsty from Germany and when I initially opened the door I thought I had somehow unlocked the wrong room. They’d just arrived and I went back downstairs armed with a charger in an an attempt to use one of the public sockets in the lounge to charge my tablet and mobile. It was at this point I got chatting to another Canadian called Dave?

I spent an hour or so charging things so they had a bit of life in them before heading back upstairs. The girls had an early start to Australia zoo the next morning and had already turned off the light when I got back. I could have got everything sorted in the dark as I’d already unpacked but as they were still awake and reading on their iPads we turned it back on. The room was stuffy even with the window open and all 3 of us found it hard to get to sleep because there was a lot of noise coming from the beer garden down below.

Sunday 12th January
The girls alarm went off at about 5.15 or some horrendous time like that. Worse whilst it immediately woke me up both of them continued sleeping. I wasn’t sure what to do. Lie there and wait or jump around the room and shout. I had no energy to do the latter so opted to lie there. Mercifully one of them heard it and leapt out of bed to turn it off. They left and I sleepily wished them a good day before drifting back off to sleep.

When my alarm eventually went off I struggled to get going though I knew I had a lot of walking I wanted to get done before meeting Pam from my trip around America later that afternoon. I headed downstairs and was surprised they didn’t have a map of the walks around the National Park. I went to tourist information and had the same result as apparently the maps can only be issued from the entrance at the national park. I didn’t understand this because it meant without a guide or the internet you couldn’t plan in advance what to do, or even know what to expect of the scenery. Still I’m only a tourist and surely therefore the target audience but what do I know. (I never quite got used to the general backward approach in this part of Queensland towards tourism opportunities but more of that in Bundaberg).

I started by walking to Laguna lookout which had been recommended to me by the driver on the way back from Moreton Island and the local from Brisbane. I have to say I was very slightly underwhelmed as it had taken over 30 minutes to get there and there wasn’t anything to tell me what I was looking at. It was a beautiful day and the beaches below looked very inviting and I could see the distant mountains but none of it really meant anything to me. Perhaps it would have appealed more if there had been someone to share the view with or if I’d just come in the car like most and not gone to the effort of such a steep climb. I’d also just received a text from my dad saying Watford had lost. Ah.

Returning back to Hastings Street I set off towards the National Park and finally got to see my different walk options. Pam was due to be in Noosa around 14.30 and as it was still only about 10.00 I had plenty of time to explore. I opted for the coastal walk because it looked the longest and had appeared to have a bit of variety. The opportunity to possibly see Koalas in the trees and dolphins and turtles in the bay.

It started off pleasantly and the sun shone down but when I got to Tea Tree Bay the best chance of seeing a koala I realised my luck wasn’t in. The forest suddenly seemed very big, the trees tall and I’ve struggled to see koalas at a zoo when there is a sign telling me which tree they were in. With few fellow walkers around and certainly none peering up in to the canopy I reluctantly headed on.

By the time I got to Hell’s Gate the wind was blowing wildly. Peering down in to the shallow bay I saw for a few seconds a turtle being bashed around by the waves before it decided to dive under. I waited with the camera pointed for it to reappear it didn’t and then I noticed the sky had turned a ominous dark grey colour. I even felt a bit of rain. I could see blue sky in patches and had a choice. I could head for Sunshine Beach in hope the name was symbolic of its weather or head back through the forest. In the end I opted for the coast.

I started to cross Alexandria beach on the eastern side of the national park. I noticed there were quite a few tents and it was fairly busy at the southern end considering its remote location but thought little of it. I was happily taking some photographs from a distance of Lion Rocks out to see when I got that feeling that I was being watched from the distance by some of those near the tents. I carried on walking towards them along the wet sand as that was less strenous and they were soon to my right.

It was only then i realised why i looked out of place. I was the only person with clothes on. I was on a nudist beach. Now, this no doubt has you cracking your sides with laughter and or be creating a glamorous image in your mind. I can assure you it was not the latter, or not in my mind. These were not young sporty types but…well I’ve probably said enough. All I’ll say is they were brave to be swimming in that rough sea near sharp rocks. I continued head down and reached an information board near Devils Kitchen. Here I found a national park map where someone had graffitied “Please remove all items of clothing”.

The walk was now nearly over and I must have allowed my legs to relax and as I was walking up some steps I suddenly just fell over forward. Luckily I didn’t get any major injuries and I had antiseptic gel and water to wash out the wounds and a plaster to keep them covered. By now I was at sunshine beach and somewhat miraculously the sun had come back out. I travelled across the pleasant beach until i reached the Surf Rescue where the bus back to town departed from. I felt I deserved an ice cream so went to a place called Massimos which Victoria had offered as a suggestion and ordered a cup of raspberry sorbet and blueberry frozen yogurt

I arrived back at the hostel and waited for Pam and her friend Lisa. In the time i had been out walking the town seemed to have filled with cars and when they turned up a spot in the hostel car park had just gone. We drove to the national park and after doing 2 loops of the car park a place eventually turned up. We decided to do a mini walk around the rain forest before doing the section of the coastal walk as far as Tea Tree Bay.

We left the car in the national park and as we were walking in to town I heard someone call out my name. This was a bit bizarre because so far as I was aware I knew no one in Noosa other than those I was with but it turned out Konstantin from my Tasmania tour was there with his girlfriend. We had a very quick chat before we went our separate ways and eventually Pam, Lisa and I got an ice cream at a place called Nitrogenie. This was a bit more of a novelty ice cream than Massimos but it was still very nice, I opted for lemon meringue pie which even had a little top to it.

We sat and ate our ice creams on the wall whilst a nearby busker played a guitar and then headed back to my hostel to get some food. We sat outside and there was a little lizard nearby that kept trying to eat some potatoes wedges. Sadly time always passes when you’re having fun and it was soon time for them to head back and because of Queensland’s time difference it was starting to get dark anyway. I walked with them both back to the car and they dropped me back off at the hostel.

Back at the hostel I got chatting to a guy called Dave who I’d briefly met the night before when we were both trying to charge our devices. He’d been at Australia Zoo and we exchanged experiences. I then text Konstantin to find out where he was staying, having a hunch it would be the same place. It was, so after having another quick catch up in the lounge we arranged to have breakfast the next day.

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Summer of 69 – Australia Zoo

Friday 10th December
3 years ago one, if not my biggest travel regret was failing to go to Australia Zoo. I was all set to go on my free day at Surfers Paradise but those that I was going with pulled out, the tour guide didn’t seem enthusiastic to book it (mainly because he didn’t rate it). Since then I’ve matured and I’m not prepared to miss out on something just because no one else wants to do it.

Going to Australia Zoo for me had become a pilgrimage. When I was growing up I used to love Steve Irwin’s TV show. I still remember when I was volunteering up in North Wales and sitting in Boston Lodge on a coffee break when news came through that he had been killed by a stingray during the production of what was his latest series. I think he successfully got a generation of kids across the world interested in wildlife, especially crocs and snakes.

I made my way to the Brisbane Transit Centre and the “Croc Express” wasn’t exactly hard to miss. It wasn’t long before we were out of Brisbane that it began to rain with a great ferocity. It was obvious that despite being on the ‘Sunshine Coast’ it was not going to be a dry day. Almost predictably this was perhaps the first day I’d taken my rain coat out of my day bag.

The bus driver gave us some tips of what to see and when. I have to admit I’d done very little research about what to see so I found this quite useful. Having held koala’s and fed kangaroo’s else where those activities were not high priority. Instead it was mainly about seeing the live shows especially at “The Crocoseum” and the tiger feeding show, the newly born tiger cubs whilst also visiting the wildlife animal hospital and the ‘Croc Hunter Museum’. Any enclosures I’d pass en-route to these would be a bonus.

The driver also gave us a history of the zoo. I hadn’t appreciated for example that the zoo was started by Steve Irwin’s father and that the name of his daughter “Bindi” means little girl in the local aboriginal language. The Crocoseum was Steve Irwin’s own idea and despite the concept of having different crocodile enclosures with a central, shared waterway leading to the arena being ridiculed he was eventually proved right and it was finally completed in 2003.

Arriving at the zoo I attempted to see whether I could survive the seemingly endless tropical downpour without a poncho. After about a minute of walking I realised the answer was a no so headed back to the gift shop. At least I now had a souvenir and carrying a poncho in my day pack in future would be lighter than my thick raincoat. I headed towards the Crocoseum as that was the location of the museum and the food courts. I figured if I got a late breakfast/early lunch I wouldn’t be caught in the queues and I’d be free to see the afternoon shows.

The croc hunter museum had a whole wall of various photographs of the Irwin families animal encounters with a number of stills from included from the various tv shows. There was also a display case with a lot of items that had been sent in my fans and friends following his death including some quite emotional poems and newspaper articles. There was also a small display case containing some dead/preserved spiders and snakes. Finally towards the back of the room a TV played footage from one of the series and I felt like I’d gone back to my childhood.

I ordered some food and even though it wasn’t busy still had to wait about 20 minutes to the amazement of the guy that ordered just after me. Getting food an hour before lunch now seemed a sensible idea if I wanted to see the 12.00 Australia Zoo Wildlife Warrior Show and then make it to the tiger feeding show at the other side of the park at 14.15.

Bindi Irwin was performing a song and dance routine prior to the main show during the summer season. This was probably because on sunny days the Crocoseum fills up early and it’s a nice way to provide some entertainment however as it was raining the park wasn’t as busy as I feared it would be and whilst by 11.30 some had already taken their seats there didn’t seem much urgency. A lady at the counter gave me the tip to sit towards the middle on the side so that I got the best perspective of the crocodiles shape under water whilst also having a good view of the big screen to see the action replays.

The set by Bindi was a bit, if not very cheesy but if she follows in her dads footsteps and successfully gets children to look after the environment then such a show has my support. I knew I wasn’t the target audience, I was there for the next show but in some ways it was an added bonus. I have to admit I didn’t really expect any of the family to be at the zoo and even if they were I thought the entertainment side would be left to those working there.

The main show began with a bird display one of which I felt came unbelievably close to my head though their various flying path must be well rehearsed to ensure there are no full impacts. The most impressive aspect involved a random member of the audience being picked to hold up a $5 note. The bird flew up took the note and gave it to the ranger who then pretended to keep it before giving it back to the bird to return to the audience member. There were also snakes that were carried amongst the audience but the main reason we were here was to see the Croc display.

As previously mentioned i didn’t expect the family to host the show so imagine my surprise and joy when the main crocodile show started and the whole family came out. Again the dialogue was a bit cheesy and over the top but then the dialogue of tv show had been in the same vain and it wasn’t a bad thing.

We were going to be introduced to Mossman a relatively new crocodile to the park. As he is fairly new he still has a lot of habits from his time in the wild and therefore he was in control of how the show would develop. Terri made it clear how it was important to keep an eye on him at all time and to keep a distance because he was slower out of the water and it would be possible to get out of the way.

First however we were told that as Robert was now 10 it was felt he was old enough to feed the crocodiles. He was therefore given some food and the doors to the arena opened and atmospheric music played. The crocodile that slowly entered was a little baby and whilst it was all part of the act it was quite funny to see Robert pretending to look brave. Saying that when it did reach launch itself from the water it still did so with a good deal of ferocity.

Eventually the main act began and Mossman slowly entered the arena and it was evident that swimming under water he made no ripple. If he had been in murky water there would not have been any evidence that he was travelling through the water. One of the game keepers stamped in the water to create vibrations to tempt him over and then Terri tempted him with food to demonstrate how he launched himself from the river to grab his prey. At one point Mossman pretended not to be interested however this was a ploy in the hope either Terri or the game keeper would turn their back so he could get more than a small lump of meat.

Next Bindi fed Mossman from a platform to sshow how crocodiles can also jump up and attack vertically with equal ferocity. Finally Robert did get his chance as well though Mossman again pretended he wasn’t interested. Finally with a piece of meat on the end of a rope the gamekeeper demonstrated by pulling on the rope how a crocodile would act if its prey tried to escape. Mossman pulled the meat and rope in to the water causing the gamekeeper to fall over in the process and then did 2, possibly 3 ‘death rolls’ which if the meat had been a live animal would have probably drowned it, if it had survived being caught between the jaws in the first place. With that Mossman was tempted back to his enclosure and the show ended. As Steve Irwin said “Crocs Rule”.

Next I began to make my way to the tiger enclosure but to get there I had to pass through the aviary, the wombats, an open area of Kangaroos and the snakes/lizards. Eventually I arrived and saw the two cubs with a small crowd around them. Those people had paid $400 each, which is more than the cost of my 3 day tour round Alice Springs not that it’s probably fair to compare the two experiences, it just seems a lot to me.

I arrived at the tiger temple and despite there being no adverts anywhere else in the park this confirmed the show was at 14.15. The arena is quite small and according to our driver the solution to keeping spectator numbers within capacity is to not advertise the time as much as the other daily demonstrations. I was about 20 minutes early and took a seat as I saw people were already doing so.

The demonstration was very impressive, with lots of interesting facts. Apparently if you took every tiger either in captivity or in the wild there would still be less than 5000. No wonder I didn’t see one in India. The gamekeeper managed to get the female tiger to perform a number of the hunting moves including climbing up and then jumping from a tree.

After this I headed to the new Africa safari section and I saw the Cheetah’s being walked (again an expensive hands experience) as well as the Zebra, Rhinos and the Giraffes but with the cloud cover it could easily have been Whipsnade. Perhaps because of the rain the walk didn’t really seem worth it and it may have been because there was no quick route back to the visitor centre and an area near by was under construction. Maybe once both are finished it won’t seem such a mission to get to. Maybe also when it’s hot and sunny it also looks more like the Serengeti.

Luckily as I wanted to go back to the entrance/exit I was allowed on the shuttle as the queue was getting ridiculous as people realised the only way to anything was in the rain back across the long route they’d just made. My intention was to leave the park and check out the wildlife hospital.

I got lost trying to find the entrance as there were I believe two, if not three including one for if you were bringing an injured animal. I must have looked a sad sight in the rain my poncho absolutely drenched and when I saw one of the shuttle trains I really felt a bit paranoid that people were watching me. Quite quickly a friendly voice at the back asked if I was ok and I explained I was looking for the tour entrance. I suddenly realised who it was. On the back of the train were the 3 Irwin’s and I assume they were doing a private tour. I quickly said how much I loved the show that afternoon and then explained I was looking for the visitor entrance. They pointed me in the right direction then asked where I was from and I said I’d come all the way from London. As they pulled away they wished me safe travels and waved/smiled. It was very touching.

The hospital exhibition didn’t have a lot going on as it appeared the vets were packing up but it was still great to see the work that is done to nurse injured animals back to health before they are released back in to the wild. It didn’t take long to see it all and I’d planned my time perfectly to be back at the entrance/exit for the coach back. The driver put on a DVD which would have probably been more appropriate to see before we arrived as along with highlights from the tv show it had tips of things to see inside the park.

I arrived back at the hostel and decided to do the $5 BBQ in the hope I might get to socialise with people in the hostel as I hadn’t seen much of my room mates. Luckily I hit gold. There were 4 other single travellers on my table and initially I think we all thought at least two of us were travelling as a pair because of the way conversations had began straight away. For example the girls Alex and Helga thought me and Karl a guy from Germany/South Africa knew each other because we sat down at the same time and having just met in the kitchen when trying to find cutlery were talking. Likewise I assumed they’d arrived together having been sharing the same room.

After the BBQ we went to the hostel bar where happy hour had been extended before we headed in to town. This was the first time since before Christmas I’d had a spontaneous night out with people I’d just met and whilst we weren’t allowed in to the first place (because I assume it was full) we eventually found an Irish Bar that was playing the Proclaimers. I performed my classic signature dance move and also had a good dance to Billie Jean and as i followed Michael Jackson’s moves on the the big screen all I was missing was the hat.

Me Lewis and Alex got back to the hostel where we agreed to meet for what would possibly be a hang over curing breakfast though it hadn’t been a messy night. Most of it had been chilled out and the topics kept to the standard where have you been/where are you going backpacker topics of conversation.

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Beautiful Day – Moreton Island

Wednesday 8th January
My pickup for Moreton Island was one of my earliest yet. 06.10. I think I’d had a fairly good nights sleep and I’d been sensible so I didn’t really need to sort to much once I was awake. The mini bus arrived and I realised I was the only one with luggage as everyone else was just doing the day trip. It had sounded like a typical tour in the brochure but, and maybe it was because the other 4 travellers were two pairs I realised I’d be on my own for much of the time especially as I was the only one staying the night.

We arrived at the ferry and once we had boarded I tried to engage with one of the pairs who were part of a yacht team that had travelled across the World and as part of it had participated in the Sydney to Hobart race. I felt that I was intruding a bit and looking around for other potential solo travellers became aware most of the other passengers were families. I started to wonder just how much longer the school holidays would last; I am not optimistic that Noosa is going to be any less popular with families.

We arrived at Tangalooma resort on the Island and I lost where the other 4 had gone because I along with a few others (2 families) were met at the jetty and taken on a small tour of the resort. It probably took between 5 to 10 minutes to get from the jetty to the Tangalooma watersports tour company. Two times, including when I went to the accommodation reception I was told breakfast was included only then to be told i was on a different package and it wasn’t but this news didn’t really bother me either way.

I made my way to main tours desk as part of my dead meant I could do 3 options out of 9 available on both days. Essentially this meant finding 3 activities I didn’t mind missing however the main reason I’d come was to see the dolphins which come in to the jetty at dusk. If you had a particular package it was also possible to hand feed them but I believed mine was to view only. I was however keen to do the snorkeling around 15 wrecks of boats that were intentionally sunk to create a breakwater and which in the process has created a man made reef.

The guy at the counter spent a number of minutes looking at all the different times that the options were available and eventually came up with an itinerary for me. Day one would be as follows: jet ski at 10.30, snorkeling at 13.00 and Sedway at 15.00. Day two would start with a catamaran lesson at 10.00, followed by sailing if winds weren’t to high, kayaking at anytime for a maximum of 3 hours and finally a cruise at 2.45 to see the wrecks and feed the reef fish. The boat back was at 16.00 so as usual I was cramming it all in.

At 10.30 I headed down to the beach for the jet ski and it wasn’t long before we were going full speed through the harbour towards the wrecks. As we approached we had to slow down because there were a number of people kayaking and snorkeling in the vicinity. This however gave the guide a chance to spot a turtle which he pointed out to me however by the time we’d started going over for a closer look it had disappeared beneath the surface.

I had a couple of hours where nothing was booked in and saw it was possible to do a walk to an area called ‘the dessert’. It is unclear how this area formed but there is basically a small area where there is no vegetation, only sand. I had hoped to clearer map than the one I had but nothing else was available though apparently the track was obvious once you were on it. In total it was meant to take 2 hours and 30 minutes but I figured for no good reason I must add, that I could do it in under 2 hours.

Setting off along the beach i eventually found the steps leading up to the path and started walking through the bush. This is what I had envisaged Australia to be like. Me completely alone walking through the bush. It was quite liberating to be clear of the crowds though of course they were only only probably 20 minutes walk away from me at the other end of the beach. I heard the occasional unexpected rustling sound in the vegetation and assuming it to be a snake each time quickened my pace rather than checking to make sure.

My pace was pretty frantic as I knew I had to be back by 13.00 though by walking back along the other path I knew I’d at least end up at the correct end of the resort. Eventually I came to a sign at a crossroads saying the desserts were only 700m so I pushed on. When I came to the dessert it was quite a bit smaller than I anticipated and I could see the trees abd other vegetation growing around it. As I started down the sand dune I realised it was bigger than it looked and without any shade the heat was very strong. There was no real reason for me to go down except to say I had so I headed back up the sand dune and started the walk back.

It wasn’t long before I got to the crossroads but this time took the ‘bush path’ back to the resort. I don’t know how this bit of bush was any different to the section to the beach as I still heard rustling though I did have to overcome a few fallen trees that blocked the path. A family came towards me and we exchanged pleasantries, I encouraged them on as they looked a bit concerned and then they told me the child had asthma. I don’t really know what cures that but I asked if they needed my big bottle of water to refill supplies but they said they were ok so I headed on. They didn’t need it but I’d stupidly left my own phones in my locker so I knew if anything had happened to me I wouldn’t have been able to contact anyone for assistance which wasn’t the most sensible planning.

I arrived back in the resort an hour and 30 minutes after I set out, so even had time to get a much needed bite to eat before my snorkeling. It was around this time I decided I liked Moreton Island a lot. Maybe my attitude had changed by the time i got back but the staff also appeared to be becoming more friendly towards me especially once I had told them that I was effectively backpacking around a huge country alone having started more than 2 months ago in Russia.

Our guide around the wrecks was clearly very passionate and knowledgeable about marine life and as the age group was quite mixed with a number of young children participating she had to keep it interesting for them as well. We saw a number of fish and even a cormarant diving under the water to try and grab some fish as well as swimming in between and over the wrecks. We didn’t see any rays or turtles but it was still a great way to spend an hour and I was glad I’d got the underwater camera.

Next I headed to have a go on the sedway. This felt very weird to control but i soon felt I had got used to it as I’d stopped making it flip forwards and backwards. I was doing quite well at following the guides tracks which made it easier as the sand was already flat and it allowed me to keep up with the pace.  However the person directly in front kept just going in a straight line and whilst going in the direction of the guide was not following the route. I kept trying to overtake subtly but the sand was a bit too deep to negotiate.

One girl fell off twice including when we were meant to be stationary but the guide missed it and congratulated us on not falling off. I then became a bit to confident on the return journey. I’m not quite sure what happened, I was going along fine when all of a sudden I must have lost my balance and flipping me backwards and forwards I somehow went over the top to luckily to one side. The machine did an emergency stop so there was no pretending it didn’t happen as the guide had to restart it. It had certainly been exciting and a few minutes later it happened to another guy who agreed it was the most exciting part of the activity.

I returned back to reception as I’d received a message saying my room was ready. Now bearing in mind I thought at worst I was camping and at best I was going to be in a dorm what I saw when I opened the room nearly made me faint. After more than 2 months of slumming it I had my own room and not only that I had en-suit. i even had electric sockets that were all mine and was safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t wake up in the night to find my mobile unplugged as happened in one place.

I showered and flopped on the bed before heading back out with the intention of filling the next couple of hours before going to the jetty for the dolphin feeding. I’d noticed there was a opportunity to see kookaburras being fed and I assumed this would also be a chance to see them in a natural setting. Unfortunately the ranger said that most were nesting and there weren’t any around so instead we were only able to view a nest. Instead I decided to walk along the beach the opposite way I had earlier in the day when I went to the dessert. This direction took me to the wrecks and as I was now out of the resort and had the area to myself I started thinking how cool it would be to be ship wrecked and to be washed up on my own island. I then made my way back to the jetty and took a seat.

The area was already filling up and one family had laid out all their bags to save spaces along the front row overlooking the deepest part of the water (nearer the sea end). I took the next seat where their space seemed to end as I figured it would be better than sitting in one of the higher rows and there was still water in front of me. The waiting began. The dolphin feeding began at 19.15 and it was still only about 18.30. It was however dry and not cold so it wasn’t to bad. Besides I was excited. Surely now I’d finally get to see one properly and not just a distant fin.

The first splash happened a lot sooner than I expected and it wasn’t long before some of the other dolphins came in to the shore. Whilst they were wild they were clearly used to entertaining and were very playful diving out of the water and poking their heads above the water. The guide then said those feeding the dolphins and going back on the ferry could feed them first before saying those who were staying and on a feeding package could go.

I wasn’t sure what package I was on but thought I’d wonder down just in case. when I gave my name and it was ticked off I nearly, in fact I probably did yelp with excitement. I kept imagining that just it would get to my turn the dolphins would decide they were full and swim away and it didn’t help that children were crying and saying similar thoughts. Still as I edged closer down the beach the realisation of what I was about to do sunk in.

I picked up my fish and waded in to the water. The ranger that fed the kookaburra recognised me and started telling me about the dolphin I was about to feed. whilst in recent years my multi tasking ability has increased and I can perform basic tasks and listen there was a dolphin less than 2 feet away. Most probably less than even a foot away. I couldn’t concentrate on what she said, but I knew it was one of the babies just seeing one in the wild was a dream I’d been trying to fulfill for 10 years and there I was about to feed it. I put my hand under the water and it came over and took it out, tickling my hand in the process. I tried to take a picture with my other hand having lined it up before putting my hand under the water but this was one memory I didn’t just want to witness down the lens. The ranger actually let me have a second go as I was on my own and that time I did try to get a picture but it came out dark. Still they’d taken an official photo and I’d already decided I’d get that.

I was nearly jumping with joy when I head back to the beach. I was clearly smiling because a number of the guides stopped me and asked how it was, at which point I told them the tales of my failed sightings over the past 10 years. It was all to much excitement and although it was only 21.30 when I got back to my room I crashed out shortly after (having removed the smell of fish from my hand first).

Thursday 9th January
I wasn’t in a great hurry to wake up the following morning as check out wasn’t until 10.00 and as had been pointed out to me (twice) breakfast wasn’t included. I re-packed my bag to ensure everything for the next couple of days was at the top, made sure everything was fully charged and most importantly that my bag was labeled in order for it to be collected from outside my room for the departure.

After checking out I went to the Tangalooma Water Sports to confirm my activities. I was told the wind was still to high to go out to sea on a catamaran but that the introduction session on the beach was still going ahead. I was surprised to learn the only person that wanted to have an introduction to sailing and I felt even if I couldn’t do the activity that day at least I’d have some background knowledge if I did in the future.

Another guy did join us but the teacher seemed a bit fed up at the low numbers attending his session and possibly because whilst there was no noticeable wind on the beach, the wind out to sea had prevented the catamarans going out for the past week as it was above the permitted speed.

Since being in New Zealand I had wanted to have a go at kayaking, it looked like a decent activity, not overlay strenuous if the waves weren’t to big and a good way to cover a greater distance than it would (probably) be possible to swim. I had planned to do an hour just to see how it was and to get some practice should I ever get the chance to do it again. With the cancellation of the catamaran I decided to hire the equipment early and to spend more time rowing around.

I started off just seeing what the current was like as i didn’t want to row for 1 hour 30 in one direction and then realise it was going to take double that to get back. I rowed up and down the area close to the beach then became more adventures slowly heading towards the wrecks. I kept expecting to see a turtle right next to be but didn’t and after about 45 minutes i have to admit I was feeling a bit bored. I was going with the wind but without a sail I don’t think it really helped. The wrecks still seemed at least 10 minutes away and I wasn’t even sure what I’d do when I got there. I therefore decided to start heading back.

The journey back was tougher because I was sailing in to the waves but I put in more effort and it took me much less time. I started to continue over to the jetty but as with the wrecks wasn’t really sure why. It kind of felt like I was rowing for the sake of rowing rather than to see something new and inspiring. It felt like it was a good workout, especially due to the sun and I actually felt I was quite good at it so I would consider doing it again if it meant I saw something not accessible by foot.

I had a quivk swim in the sea and then decided to read my book in rge sun to dry off. This was how I’d imagined my Christmas Day was going to be. Unfortunately there was no where to have a shower so I had to go on the cruise feeling a bit salty.

The cruise ended up being a perfect way to say goodbye to the island. It was a bit overcast and the sea wasn’t that clear so we couldn’t see the rays or turtles beneath the surface. We did however see a splash not to far from the boat and it wasn’t long before the dolphins that were in the area started to come over. Our guide said it was the closest she’d ever seen them from the boat but the main purpose of the trip was to see the wrecks and there was probably a license involved with dolphin watching that meant we had to move on. At the wrecks the fish swam near the surface, especially once we started to throw the fish food in to the sea so we could make out the different colourful types.

2 cormorants were also in the area and kept ducking and diving trying to grab one of the fish. It wasn’t long before one succeeded. We saw it grab the fish, shake it a bit then gobble it down whole. Nature can be brutal. We headed back, running slightly late but there wasn’t anything that caught our eye. I collected my return ticket and boarded the ferry back to Brisbane.

Arriving back at Brisbane I got chatting to the guide that picked us up and learnt that he also ran weekend trips to Noosa. As that was my next stop he gave me some tips of the walks to various lookouts that were accessible from the town and suggested the a walk I could do around the national park.

Having checked in to the hostel i asked where was cheap and good for food and the girl on the desk helpfully suggested an Indian takeaway so that’s where I went. It wasn’t bad, but in my opinion not as good as those in London though it did probably only cost the equivalent of £5. Having eaten I wasn’t ready to go home so I walked in to the local cinema just to see what was on. The Railway Man with Colin Firth was about to start, the blurb appealed and when they said I could get a YHA discount I was sold. The movie itself was very thought provoking and a very interesting subject matter being about the effects the second world war had on a prisoner of war and the guard. I was certainly ready for bed when I got back. It had been a busy 2 days.

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Walkaway – Sydney to Brisbane

Monday 6th January
Firstly apologies for the length of the last few blogs. I think the length really does reflect just how much mum and I fitted in. Not that the upcoming weeks are going to be any less relentless. Therefore a day of downtime was crucial before I left for the Sunshine Coast.

Not that downtime meant resting – as usual the tasks had built up one of which was to collect my sleeping bag from Victoria because I’d read it was needed for Moreton Island. That was arranged for the afternoon so in the morning I brought myself a new UV filter for the camera and did what I always have to do after a week of activities – laundry.

After making my way to the suburbs of Sydney to collect my sleeping bag I returned to the hostel. Due to the number of people in the room it hadn’t been possible to charge any of my electrical items as everyone uses adapters so although they made 8 available in reality only 4 could be used. Finding a socket in the lounge I therefore set up camp there using the time to start catching up on my blog and when I got weary of that to continue forming the final part of my journey in Australia.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to see the whole West Coast from Perth to Darwin via Broome as it is the tropical season up that side of the country. I did however notice I could potentially fit in a 5 day trip to Exmouth and use a spare day to fly to Darwin before commencing my trip round Kakadu before heading right through the centre back to Adelaide via Alice Springs. It was perfect in theory. I had however made a fundamental error. When checking flights I’d made the search Exmouth to Perth (not to Darwin) and despite appearing distance wise to be closer to Darwin the shortest route found was going to take 24 hours via Brisbane and would cost over $700. There were only direct flights to Perth and no direct flights from Perth to Darwin in the afternoon. Luckily I was able to find a cheapish work around though it means I’d have a stop over in Perth and have to cut my trip short by half a day.

Mum being around had rejuvenated me a bit and I realised i’d begun to grow slightly tired of having to introduce myself again and again to people I knew I’d be unlikely to see again. Although each time I went through the standard conversation: where are you from?, how long have you been here? How long have you got left? This of course had sometimes made me feel isolated but now I felt fresh again.

I heard two people discussing the disastrous performance by England in the Cricket and kind of butted in on their conversation. It turned out the ‘After Party’ was the following day though in my opinion the atmosphere was going to be more like a wake. It seemed the organisers were desperate to sell tickets and that tickets would only be $25 on the door. If I’d been around I’d have gone but I was Brisbane bound. It’s been a bit surreal being here whilst the cricket was on, 3 years ago I built the end of my trip around it, but this time I was always somewhere else when it was on. I probably saw less than 6 hours play on TV and most of that was unintentionally at a bar in New Zealand. I even seem to be in the wrong place when the Women’s Ashes matches take place and again when the Men begin the ‘One Day’ matches. This time I seem to have built the trip around the Australian Open but I’d love to see some local sport as well.

Tuesday 7th January
I woke up early even though checkout wasn’t until 11am as I had a few calls to make once of which was to the company I was using to get to Moreton Island the following day. I’d seen in the fine print I was meant to re-confirm 48 hours before and obviously it was under that. I don’t know if it’s only here they do that, but surely if I’ve paid over $200 for something that shows my intentions to participate in the activity are clear enough. Still I started phoning at 9.00, the officer opening time and there was no answer so kept trying. It took a whole 10 minutes before I remembered Queensland was backwards and still had day light saving so was an hour behind.

Finally I got through about 10.30am New South Wales time, just as I was boarding the train to the airport. The battle to spell ‘Catchpole’ to the person on the other end (non English speakers have always found the ‘tchp’ bit difficult to comprehend) became near impossible. I’d had the reference number on me all morning which would have made the task much easier but I’d had to put it away. Thankfully I was eventually found and confirmed.

I arrived in Brisbane 20 minutes after I had left Sydney or that’s what my watch said anyway. I caught the train from the airport and made the fairly short walk to the hostel without any drama. Once I was checked in I contacted Philippa to check where and when we were meeting. I spent the time in between sorting out a potential day/night bag for Moreton Island as I still hadn’t been able to establish if there was a maximum load I could take.

Eventually I commenced what I thought was a 15 minute walk to our meeting place in China Town though It ended up taking slightly longer. It was still fairly early so we decided to get a beer before heading to get some dinner. It was great to catch up again especially as I blame Philippa for putting the idea in my head to do 30 countries by the time I’m 30. We also reminisced about our Egypt tour; some of the memories I have from those few days on the cruise are my most memorable and some of the sayings have crept in to my vocabulary. “Same, same but different” the name of a shop in Dahab but which I use to settle a dispute when the point of an argument is basically the same and “Yalla Yalla” Arabic for hurry/let’s go.

As I was heading up to Bundaberg in a few days and as I was now in Queensland I decided to make my next drink Bundaberg and coke. I made a comment to the waitress that I was ordering it because I was visiting and she said she was originally from there. She told me to try the coffee liquor which they only sell at the distillery and which she claimed was nicer than Bailey’s.

Next Philippa and I went to a Korean BBQ restaurant where we ordered a selection of foods that we had to cook ourselves similar to the ‘Hot Pot’ restaurant experience in Beijing. We probably overloaded the BBQ to start with and couldn’t quite eat as quick as stuff became ready and when I was briefly alone I had to abandon eating to ensure that I wasn’t going to start a fire. It was a very nice restaurant, the food was cooked perfectly and I was certainly full by the time we left.

We then went on a small drive through the city before stopping to go for a small walk where we saw Brisbane “London Eye” which was rather small or If I’m being polite cute. Philippa then took me to a place that did ice cream where you could add sweets to the mix. I really was a kid in a sweet shop but in the end settled for lemon sorbet with nerds and fizz wizz, on!y spotting the popping candy as we were leaving. It could probably have done with something sweet as it was a bit sour but I bet Ben and Jerry’s didn’t get the formula right first time.

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Wind of Change: Mum in Sydney (Part Three)

Friday 3rd January
We had been going full pelt since the first day and after late nights and early starts we needed some time to unwind. Mum had postcards to write and I the penultimate leg of my walkabout to plan because it ended somewhat abruptly in Perth. Thanks to Karen on my New Zealand tour I had a recommendation for Kakadu and Litchfield National Park right up in the Tropical North though I knew I’d be travelling out of season. I’d also been toying with the idea of doing part of the west coast since planning the whole trip and obviously there was Uluru and the ‘Red Centre’. After about 2 hours of looking at tours, greyhound coaches, flights and the ghan (the train right through the centre of the country) a rough plan began to emerge. It would however take many more hours and we had exploring in the here and now to do.

There was a company that offered free (you can pay a tip at the end if you want) 3 hour walking tours of the city and whilst Sydney had been the base to explore from I felt mum hadn’t really seen much of the city itself. As it was a nice day this therefore seemed the perfect way to capture all the main sights and to get a better understanding of the history.

The guides were all very friendly, and the one we had was one of those who had started the concept. Throughout the day they do two 3 hour tours of the city and one 1 hour 30 minutes tour of ‘The Rocks’, the cities original settlement. Considering all of this he still appeared enthusiastic to share his knowledge of the city and to give his own opinions. We started off at St Andrew’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Sydney before passing the Town Hall and through the Queen Victoria Building. Somewhat bizarrely the clock here on the stroke of the hour showed scenes from English history, including one of Charles 1 being beheaded. I made a mental note to see this for myself at a later date to check it wasn’t a joke. There was also a letter from Elizabeth II which can’t be opened until I’m 100 and It’ll be interesting to know what she has said to the people of Sydney that means it needs to be secret for so long.

Leaving the QVB we headed past the Sydney Eye Tower which mum and I were doing that evening to get a birds eye view of the city. We headed on up to and through Hyde Park towards St Mary’s Cathedral which was only finally completed in 2000 having been started in 1868. We then carried on past the Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Hospital, The Mint, NSW Parliament House and the State Library. The final 3 buildings had all originally been part of the hospital which had been commissioned by Governor Macquarie to provide better care for the settler’s. The funding for this had mainly come from a tax on rum as the British Government was not prepared to provide the resources. The hospital when finished was to big for what was required which is why some of its buildings were converted to other uses.

We then headed down a random side street where bird cages were hanging down from strings above and a recording of various bird songs played. This was a piece of modern art. A recently married couple were having some photographs taken and can’t have expected a huge group of sightseers to pick that side street to explore at that moment but we did. We carried on down the somewhat now misleadingly named ‘Bridge Street’ which one would expect to lead directly to the Harbour Bridge or at least a bridge but doesn’t before reaching Customs House and Circular Quay.

We now headed ‘The Rocks’, passing Cadmans Cottage which must be one of the oldest buildings in Australia but unfortunately like in London some of the oldest buildings have been lost. Fortunately despite attempts by the strate government to clear what was left, the general public and various groups protested and the remaining buildings seen today were saved and have been developed for other purposes. I want to do a more atmospheric evening tour of this area at some point and It’ll be interesting to hear a few more details. Also 3 years ago I took myself on a self guided walk using my Lonely Planet guide and to this day I’m not entirely sure if I saw ‘The Cut’ a tunnel dug by convicts despite searching at least 30 minutes for it.

The tour finished on top of the Overseas Passenger Terminal which offered a nice view of Circular Quay and the Opera House to one side, the Harbour Bridge and the Rocks to the other. Thanking the guide and giving him a tip we headed back towards the Sydney Eye Tower. It looked like it was going to be perfect weather.

We were a bit early so I collected the tickets and we then went to find some food eventually settling on a place selling savoury pancakes before making our way back to the entrance. Although we were still a bit early we were allowed in to the 3D cinema and took up some seats near the front. Mum therefore suggested we move as it appeared as though we were going to get wet. The movie was really just various bits of nice video footage of Sydney converted in to 3D and as we passed along Bondi beach the sea waves came out towards us and real water was sprayed at us. I appeared to bear the brunt of it.

We were then directed to the lift and it wasn’t long before we were inside. The lift was triangle shaped floor and the shape of it meant only 6 people at the very most could fit in; the crowd below us would be waiting a bit longer yet. We got to the top and exited. The view that met us was unexpected.

The windows were all misty, art first I genuinely thought maybe the windows were dirty, then I thought maybe it was like Scenic World and someone would press a button and the beautiful view of the city below would be displayed in all its glory. Then I accepted it was actually cloud swirling all around us which meant visibility was pretty much zero. We looked at the visual displays and straining my eyes I could just make out the Anzac memorial directly below but any further than that was just mist.

The queue of those to get back down was already big when we arrived and continued to increase as those that had probably only just come up realised there was no view so opted to get back down to do something else. There was however a problem which meant the lack of a view was the least of everyone’s troubles. Although we had got up ok the lifts had I assume almost immediately broken due to the high winds outside which meant no one could get back down.

There wasn’t much point in just standing in a queue so mum went to buy all her souvenirs and I offered my advice which meant between us we’d got something for everyone. Mum also decided to buy our souvenir booklet because it gave a information on Sydney and the surrounding area and the photo shopped picture of us and a oversized Koala was funny. Whilst we’d been in the shop the lifts had reopened and after being at the top for an hour and 30 minutes we were back at the bottom. Looking up the top the tower could only just be made out through the mist. Arriving back at the hotel we saw some bats flying around and mum tried to make a recording of the insects that make such a racket in the trees.

Saturday 4th January
Out of all the tours we had planned, a trip to the Jenolan was last minute, so last minute we’d only booked it two days before despite it probably being the one we were both interested in doing most (maybe Port Stephens just edged it for me).

Luckily mum was on the ball and awake before my planned alarm because whilst I had set one, it was for the following day! We actually ended up leaving the hotel before I had planned and arrived at the pick up nearly 30 minutes early. This was however better than being 30 minutes late…

We had the very from seats however unfortunately I don’t feel I fully utilised the position because as had become the norm I fell asleep. In my defence so had the person behind and they get snoring and waking themselves up. For the first part of the journey to Echo Point I felt this was acceptable because I’d done the journey twice and once already that week alone. I’m sure the commentary would have been similar as well because it was the same company.

It was however on this tour I began to appreciate just how ridiculously big Australia is. Here we were doing a day trip to some caves, considered to be within the Sydney area and they were 3/4 hours away. Would you travel 3 hours in the UK and consider it local? Only if you were in a traffic jam outside your house for all that time probably.

We arrived at Echo Point where I remembered from 3 years ago that there was a walk down to the 3 sisters so that you could stand in front of one of them. We had about an hour but by the time we’d grabbed a tea for mum and a pastry we had 45 minutes. Unfortunately in my haste I took us to the wrong viewing platform as neither of us saw the path I was looking for. The view was however very nice and a bit closer than the one from scenic world a few days before. It was only after we got back to the top we saw the correct sign.

We had 25 minutes and the walk advised a 30 minute round trip but I knew once we were back on the coach mum would agree it was worth it even if we were going to tire ourselves out in the process. We walked incredibly quickly even jogging at one point. I mentioned a few blogs ago each walk seemed unbearable and I felt I wasn’t getting fitter however I think I’m over the hump now. I think I’ve got my old walking pace back though my general fitness is probably still only average at best. It’s a bit of a joke that I’ve had a gym kit with me most of the trip and still not used it…

We made it to the steep steps and whilst we’d made good time, it was going to be pushing it to get right to the bottom (only because of the crowds in our way). We therefore decided to go down about half way. This was still impressive and I’d forgotten just how big the formation is when you get up close (and how steep the steps coming back up are). Taking photographs meant we had to continue our fast pace and we even made it back to the bus with time to spare.

Once we were back on the coach we commenced the long journey to the caves. We were told to watch out for wild life and a wallaby very nearly decided to jump out in front of us. The road down to the caves was very narrow, steep and winding so the guide had to stay alert. Apparently the company that owns the caves has considered spending money to have a chair lift from a car park at the top to the caves at the bottom but the plans have not developed. Therefore the current solution is for no road traffic to return up from the caves between certain times and it is during this window of opportunity which allows coaches to get down without any issues.

After getting some lunch we had an hour to explore before we had a guided tour of the Lucas Cave. It appeared as though many of the footpaths were closed but we were not aware of that when we set out to find the platypus that lives in the blue lake near the caves. It appeared from the map that there should have been a simple circuit but when we got to the reservoir the bridge over it seemed to be closed off. We therefore carried on walking thinking at some point there would be another crossing.

Gradually the crowds decreased as the majority had remained by the main lake. We passed a number of nice waterfalls and mum gave me a geology lesson on why the formation was unique. There were 2 guys that were climbing over of the waterfalls and I love that out here it is possible to risk getting totally wet safe in the knowledge you’ll probably be dry within the hour rather than catching hyper-thermia.

The next path crossing over the river was also closed so we decided to head back along the path we had taken. Still the platypus was in hiding but as it was around mid day with lots of people making noise the odds of one making an appearance were against us. I then attempted to go up one of the other paths to get a look of the lake from above but that was closed as well. Giving up we took our seats in the waiting area for our tour of the Lucas Cave.

At one point the guide turned off what lights there were that had been on and played some dramatic music whilst I light display attempted to portray what it was like for the explorers who first discovered the cave. It was quite amazing to see what appeared to be a candle (due to the way the lights operated in sequence) slowly winding its way down from the original entrance before the whole room was lit up with atmospheric lighting.

Whilst I was walking along a bridge over an underground river I hit my head slightly as I got to the other side then as I instinctively ducked (obviously a bit late for that) I heard the dramatic sound of plastic hitting the ground and disappearing in to the abyss below. My first thought was that I’d hit the lens of the camera but it was safely in the bag, then my next thought was I’d dropped my mobile as someone else had done earlier at a viewing platform but that was also ok. I began to think it was the person behind but as I checked the front of my camera bag realised it was my old UV filter that I’d taken off with the intention of cleaning later that day. I suppose it will turn up one day and possibly create a archeological question as they attempt to figure out what it was once used for.

Everyone was back on the coach on time except for the group that had gone caving even though they should have been back before us. Our coach guide was informed that their guide hadn’t returned either and I think there was a bit of worry that something bad had happened so another guide was sent to find them. Eventually they all returned to the coach however we never did receive an explanation why they were so late.

The drive back up the hill was fairly eventful as a number of cars were coming down the hill as we were going up and this surprised the coach driver. We made it to the top in the end and as as we began the long drive back to Sydney without any breaks we saw another wallaby. As we got in to the outskirts of Sydney the guide pointed out a “dirt track?” to us. He told us he was meant to have been going to watch the event but unfortunately it was clear that the stadium was already filling and he knew that he was going to have to miss it. Once we were back in Sydney we brought some more fresh cheese, olives, sun dried tomatoes and baguettes and enjoyed that with the wine we had brought at the Hunter Valley.

Sunday 5th January
Checkout was at 10am and the plan was to leave the bags in storage at my next hostel so we could explore Manly. It was amazing just how much we had done over the previous days and it was amazing that even on the day of departure (22.15) we had a whole day planned. Once we were ready I again made another unsuccessful call to the taxi company. I walked back to the hotel and asked reception if they could help. Maybe they spoke to someone else because they had no problems and didn’t have to give a street number (see previous blog if you missed the background).

Arriving at the YHA I was told it wasn’t possible to check in but luckily after two girls kindly shared a locker it meant there were some available. My new hostel was located right next door to the train station so it would be easy to get to the airport and I was staying in a carriage converted to sleep 8 people. Considering 2 months ago I was on a similar sized coach sleeping 48 or more this was luxurious.

The free bus to Circular Quay arrived just as we got to the stop so we caught that and it quickly filled up. The bus driver refused to open the back door because people were getting on there as well as the front but I don’t really get the issue in that because it was a free bus. It also meant, because people didn’t move right down that the front was packed. If we were cattle the front was like a battery farm whilst passengers at the back were free range. It was reassuring to know that jobsworths don’t only work on the London buses and I’m saying that as a neutral because I had no strong intentions to use the back door.

Once we arrived at Circular Quay the queue for Manly was huge. Luckily a ferry came in not long after we arrived which meant that the line moved quickly and it wasn’t long before we had been let on to the pier to wait for the next ferry. The ticket machine seemed to be counting down how many spaces were left and it was quite surprising how many people they could fit on.

We managed to get a seat on one of the sides and were promptly joined by 2 backpackers that were staying at the hostel on the island. Mum went to find some food whilst I saved her seat using my bag. it wasn’t long before someone tried to take it. First I was asked if I could put my bag on the floor and when I explained someone had been sitting there only a minute before they said “what all that space?” Now I don’t know about you but I’ve always felt a small day pack is probably about the width of the average human. It isn’t like they stick out at the side is it? Then during the 5 seconds between the bag being taken off and mum sitting down someone tried to nick which nearly resulting in tea being spilt over them. I must add neither of these were locals, as the Australians I’ve encountered so far seem a lot more laid back and respectful of space. The first gentleman was British and i don’t know about the second.

Manly was also busy but I had expected that. A hot Sunday, a beautiful beach setting where else were all those tourists that were still in the city after fireworks going to go? I can’t imagine a single person living in Manly was there though – considering there were boat loads heading towards Circular Quay they’d probably made a mass exodus to somewhere more secluded.

Despite the main beach being busy I wanted to take mum on the small walk I’d done 3 years before. On our way to the walk we saw a ?? Lizard sitting on a wall and carrying on we saw 3 more of them sitting on some rocks including a baby. The walk itself really started from ?? Before we then took a path that looped through a very small bush area around ??.

After the walk mum had one more final swim in the sea before we headed back to Manly Wharf. The return trip wasn’t such a mad scramble for space though it was still surprisingly busy considering the population on the beach seemed to be growing rapidly.

We returned back to the hostel and I was finally able to one of the 8 beds. We also had to store mums bag in the locker for another hour so we ended the session and left the bag in the locker thinking it would give us the choice of “free lockers” available. It didn’t, it randomly allocated one and we then realised the locker with mum’s suitcase had locked itself. As far as the machine was concerned empty and available wouldn’t unlock until it was randomly allocated. We had been trying to be discrete about mum using the locker so when I asked the reception for help I said it was my suitcase. They made no comment when the locker was opened to display a bright pink suitcase and a bright blue day pack.

The journey back to the airport was much less eventful and I helped mum check in. Her suitcase that I’d commented on the first day which had felt fairly light now felt like it had put on weight. Eventually it was time to say goodbye. Mums down under adventure was over. For me I was just under halfway through. Next up is a trip along the East Coast where I should finally see some dolphins up close.

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Auld Lang Syne – Mum in Sydney (Part Two)

Tuesday 31st December
After yet another unplanned late night we were slow at waking up as we didn’t have any plans for the morning and needed our energy for the afternoon and evening. I had to make quick phone calls to the tour company we were doing the Hunter Valley with on 2nd January to confirm our attendance and to Nikon who had still not phoned or emailed me back. When I finally got through to Nikon they confirmed to my surprise the camera was ready to collect. Luckily mum agreed it would be nice to have it for the fireworks and tours we still had left so we got ready and began the journey to Rhodes.

After collecting the camera and having picked up some snacks and supplies for the long evening ahead we made our way to Cremorne Point. This involved a change of trains and a ferry ride. We got to Circular Quay slightly later than planned and there was a big queue to purchase tickets which meant we missed the first ferry and had to wait 30 minutes for the next. Whilst the ferry we were on appeared busy, the ferry going towards Circular Quay seemed equally full. We arrived at Cremorne and Nathaniel led us to the camp he had set up. We had front row seats of the harbour with the top half of the harbour bridge on our right.

it felt very hot and there was very little breeze and we sat in the sun for an hour or so eating some of the snacks Nathaniel had prepared for everyone and the crisps (chips) and Tim tams we’d brought along. We then went on a couple of short walks to explore the surrounding area. This included some information about the settlers as the lookout overlooked the point where the first fleet landed and a indigenous tree? which was decaying due to a disease?

We also used the opportunity to buy an ice cream which somewhat miraculously didn’t melt as soon as it left the freezer. After sitting some more mum and I decided to try and buy some special New Years Eve bus tickets. We walked for about 25 minutes before we finally came across a shop but when we asked about availability were told they had sold out and no where else in the vicinity had them. Sydney is great in a number ways but the ease of getting bus tickets does not seem to be one of them as it wasn’t the first time this had happened. Why can’t they have some ticket machines? We had normal bus tickets and had to hope the driver would be prepared to take pity on foreigners who after midnight would be totally lost in an unfamiliar part of the city.

On the walk back it clouded over, it even began to rain and the hope of seeing the sun set over the harbour was unfortunately gone. Due to the time of day everything quickly cooled down quickly despite the earlier heat and I had to put on a jumper. Still, it was no where near as cold or wet as when Victoria and I had gone down to the Thames to see the London fireworks two years ago.

Whilst mum and I waited in the toilet queue a private firework display began off some nearby boats/yachts and as we couldn’t quite see what was happening initially thought the 9pm fireworks had begun early. We got back to our base and as the area behind us was starting to fill up a number of the late comers tried to push to the edge of the cliff. This included a number of people who tried to stand in front of the tent (the other side of the fence) but thought better of it when they realised the ground was unstable and that there was a reason we weren’t standing there. One guy in particular nearly disappeared down the cliff when it started to give way and he had to quickly scramble along the path. We had warned them all but each seemed reluctant to listen, though no one encroached on the areas where we had our blankets laid out and I have to admit it would have been much less civilised in London.

The 9pm fireworks (known as the children’s firework display) were quite impressive and it was nice to have something to keep the crowd occupied. It also meant that families could go home unlike in London where children have to stay up until the main and only display. I don’t really think any description I can give will do the firework display justice, and this wasn’t even the main event. It was quite spectacular to see various fireworks of different types and colours launched in to the air from various places around the bay, not just the Harbour Bridge though of course that was the focal point.

After the fireworks there was an event called the “Parade of ships”. A number of boats had been lit up to symbolise different ships and as we were on the opposite side of the bay it looked fairly impressive. The best comparison I can give (and this will only make sense to those that have seen it) is in Blackpool when all the trams are illuminated to show different themes. There were big pirate looking ships and one that seemed to show the harbour bridge, opera house and the forthcoming firework display.

At 10.30 a further firework display had been scheduled but it was a blink and you’ll miss it job as it lasted about 90 seconds and whilst i don’t mean to sound harsh the fireworks used weren’t overly impressive. In fact all it seemed to do was cause more people behind us to get agitated as the clock counted down to midnight and they began to realise getting there late meant they didn’t have as good a view as others that had set up camp the night before. One lady was particularly vocal asking the people next to us to take their tent down and when it was explained to her children were resting she said “well they should go home, this is the adult fireworks. Not a campsite” or words to that effect. My thoughts are, she should have put in the same effort if she wanted the view; the children were awake by the time the main display began and they had as much right to see in the New Year as the rest of us. As Nathaniel pointed out fireworks are also in the air.

Luckily the approach to midnight began before tensions escalated further. Perhaps it was the area we were in, but it didn’t really feel like that there was a proper countdown and the lack of “Big Ben” or equivalent to signal the New Year felt a bit weird. I suppose the first firework signalled it but it felt a bit quiet. Still the fireworks themselves were worth the wait and lived up to all expectations. I really wasn’t sure where to look and certainly not sure where to point the camera. It really was quite a stunning display. Once it was over I was surprised that people just started heading off, there wasn’t really as much of a “Happy New Year” celebration as there was in London so I played “The Real McKenzie’s” version of “Auld Lang Syne”. This had no effect on the surrounding people though it did make me feel it was finally New Year.

2013 was an eventful year with some real highs and many new adventures beginning with Jordan back in January some great achievements with my work colleagues but also some lows and and the passing of my Grandad who I know would have loved to have heard about what I’ve been up to. Roll on 2014, whatever it may bring.

Once we had packed up the tent (my contribution was minimal as I wasn’t sure how best to help) we helped to carry the belongings to Nathaniel’s car. It seemed the very least we could do and I would like to thank you again for letting my mum and I celebrate the New Year with you and your family and for making it so memorable.

Mum and I then had to catch a bus and because it was so busy just jumped on the first that appeared to be heading in the direction of the city. Using the GPS on my phone it started off heading in the right direction and then veered off away from the bridge. We jumped off and walked around lost for a few minutes asking another bus driver for advice but without much success. Luckily we then saw a taxi and even more luck was on our side when he received notice the bridge had just reopened removing the need to use the tunnel. It felt quite special to travel along the bridge so soon after the display. We got in about 2.30am and knew we’d have very little sleep as the next morning we had a tour to Port Stephens.

Wednesday 1st January
I’m struggling to think of a time I’ve had so little sleep in recent years but as the alarm went off I realised that 3 hours was painfully little. I was operating on auto pilot but i can’t have set it right because despite my hat being effectively glued to my head for 3 weeks I managed to leave it behind. This being a day I would be constantly outside, including out at sea with no shade and to top it off it was the hottest day of the year (boom boom).

Unfortunately this morning I also wasn’t feeling my usual happy, and tolerant self. My first task was to try and book a taxi. I started off polite wishing a Happy New Year but the atmosphere quickly turned sour. The lady wanted a street number, whilst I explained there wasn’t one, it was Wesley College, Western Avenue she kept saying there must be a street number. Obviously I’m not familiar with Sydney, perhaps Wesley College did have a secret street number but frankly I was tired and didn’t care. I wasn’t getting anywhere and I whilst i listened and let her finish my frustration was escalating. I gave her our room number in a very sarcastic tone and when that obviously didn’t register I hung up. Instead we got the bus and any concerns we had that New Years Day would create an issue for us with regards to getting to the pick up were totally unfounded. This wasn’t London. The bus arrived and on time.

Once we had been picked we were taken to the central coach depot where we had to transer. Somewhat amazingly it turned out we were due to have the same guide that we had had a couple of days earlier on the Blue Mountains tour. He seemed pleased to see us and we made a promise to ourselves that we would get back to the coach before the scheduled time to emphasise that we had made a genuine mistake last time.

Our first stop was to a reptile park on the outskirts of Sydney; apparently the park is where they have extracted and or created many of the antidotes for snake and spider venom. We were visiting again the following day with the Hunter Valley tour so we hoped any activities we had missed we would be able to do then. Of course because of the time spent in the Featherdale Wildlife Park there was less urgency and this was lucky because by the time we’d brought some tea and a piece of banana loaf there wasn’t much time left. We did however get to see a ?? spider being milked of its venom; the technique used to create the antidote. We also got to see the platypus swimming in its display tank. I was surprised at just how it looked but the size, roughly that of a large rat did at least confirm that’s more than likely what I saw in Starhan. It’d be nice to see one in the day light though…

After leaving the wildlife park we began the long journey to Port Stephens on the way passing an abandoned theme park that had been created to show how the early European settlers lived. It seems to have been a popular attraction but mismanagement caused it to close. I wish I could say I saw what else we passed and listened to the guide but I was out cold. 3 hours sleep had taken its toll.

I awoke every now and then as you do on a long coach journey but the scenery didn’t look that spectacular (though i accept I’ve been spoilt by New Zealand and Tasmania) and the guide wasn’t talking so that convinced me I wasn’t missing much. When I heard we were approaching Nelson Bay at Port Stephens I finally forced by eyes to stay open.

After mum had made a failed attempt to get some souvenirs we made our way to the boat to have the buffet lunch that was included. Since my Nile Cruise in Egypt I’ve considered myself a buffet expert but my tactics proved useless against a big group that seized 3 plate loads each (one for main, one for salad and one for watermelon). They were never going to eat it all and didn’t. I had on mums advice rushed up to get a second helping of the main course as they entered but it didn’t occur to me to get the watermelon in advance. Unfortunately when mum and I went up to get some it was gone. The staff finally brought out some more but by now there weren’t any plates and as the pile began to diminish again I considered walking off with what remained.

It was around this point I ‘woke up’ and so whilst mum waited to get watermelon I went to find us a good space on the deck as the boat was now filling up with those that from other tours and solo travellers that had not had lunch included. It was a hot day in the summer holidays and it seemed all the locals from the surrounding area were there for a New Years Day outing day with their children as well as coach loads of tourists from Sydney. Eventually however more by chance i found a space for two at the back of the boat which gave a good view of the ocean out to the left and right side.

I had heard good things about Port Stephens being a prime place for Dolphin watching and as my camera had now been returned I had a feeling I might finally be able to, after waiting over 10 years, get a picture of one in the wild. Sure enough it wasn’t long after leaving the bay that we sighted two other boats that were viewing two dolphins just off some rocks. We had to wait for one of the boats to move on and eventually one did. The dolphins didn’t seem in a playful mood like the ones I saw but didn’t photograph in New Zealand that had come right up to the boat. These dolphins remained quite far off and didn’t really come out of the water but it was lovely to see them.

If it had been a smaller group with less agitated children it is possible we’d have gone looking for more but instead after leaving the dolphins behind the crew set a net up on the back of the boat for people to sit in. I have to admit I’d seen a picture of this and it looked good fun so I headed down. I was in competition with the kids but I wasn’t the only young adult that wanted to disappear down the waterslide in to the net below. Once it was finally my turn and I reached the bottom I lay in the net with the edge keeping me up slightly. It wasn’t the most comfortable experience as water kept sloshing over me and the net dug in slightly but it was certainly a different way to be on a cruise. It was just a shame the dolphins which had interacted with the people in the net for the brochure didn’t make an appearance though I suppose also lucky no sharks made an appearance.

After we got back to the harbour we joined a 4WD tour to the Worimi Conservation Lands Sand dunes on Stockton Beach . These are 32km in length and therefore the longest mobile sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere as amazingly they are moving 4m north each year.

At the sand dunes I finally had an opportunity to try some proper sand boarding having failed in my attempt to use a piece of cardboard in Tasmania. I was a face of smiles as I hiked up the steep slope in blazing head. I waved to mum, did some poses and slid down, not putting any effort in to slowing down. I smiled as I headed over. Mum wasn’t smiling, she looked worried. ‘You’ll have to go again, I couldn’t take any pictures, the sun is reflecting off the screen’. So I climbed the hill again. And slid down again. This time mum had a picture of someone coming down but they had long hair and sun glasses. I had neither.

By now I have to admit I was tired from walking the hill twice and i wanted mum to have a go and so she went up. Afterwards she said she only did it to prove to me how hard it was to get a picture though I got a fairly epic one of her face as she came down which I’ve been told is banned from Facebook. I was sent up for a third time and by now I felt like a member of a desert tribe that had been banished, forced to climb a sand dune for eternity. Coming down was always fun though. Unfortunately I walked up and came down so quickly mum hadn’t got in position so I had to walk up a 4th time. Maybe mum just thought I needed the exercise but at last she had some long distance photos. It was all a bit more stressful than it should have been but at least we could make a joke of it.

I don’t remember the journey back, I probably slept most of it. We got some food from a Mexican Restaurant and headed back to the hotel. For the first time in days we were back before reception closed. We had our earliest start yet the next day so we had intended to make sure we had a fairly early night. Though by the time we’d used our share of the internet it didn’t feel that early when my head finally hit the pillow.

Thursday 2nd January
It should be a given that we had another early start again but after going to bed before midnight for the first time in two nights it wasn’t so much of a struggle. Besides the day in front sounded relaxing. A cheese, wine and chocolate tour through the Hunter Valley. Replace the wine with a beer tour and it’s possible you’d have my perfect day. Still, it’s about time I learnt my wines and it was more than 10 years ago that I went to Stellenbosch in South Africa.

The driver coach driver estimated we would Travel 400km to the Hunter Valley and provided us with some information about the different wine and grape types in the region. The main white types are: Semillion, Chardany and Verdello. The Red grape wines are Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet. There are also two types of blended wines, inter regions – e.g mix of ‘grape juice’ between Hunter Valley and Eden Valley and Intra regions – sub regions (e.g mix of sub region juice within a main wine region e.g Hunter Valley)

Finally he gave us the stages to tasting wine ‘correctly’. This involved drinking some water to clean the pallet (but not to much). Hold the glass by the stem. Tip the glass 45 degrees away and look at the wine against a white background to check colour. Swirl the wine and sniff. Apparently most of the taste comes from the nose and there are 5 aromas flavours to smell / taste. Finally and most obviously sip the wine.

With that lesson over we arrived at the Reptile Park. We didn’t have as much time as we had expected so it was a good job we had seen the platypus and the spider demonstration the day before. Tea and a snack were provided for us and once we were given time to explore we only really had time to feed a kangaroo.

Once we were back on the coach the long drive to the Hunter Valley commenced. Unfortunately I slept most of the way and whilst I wrote some notes about the scenery they make no sense probably due to tiredness. What I meant when I wrote “Geographical features of Sydney and Australia including the Snowy Mountains I’d visited a few weeks before” will forever remain a mystery. I do however know that we passed through but did not stop at the town of Cessnock and we saw the Broken Back Mountain Mountain range. The Hunter Valley is also Australia’s oldest wine producing region though it now only produces 2% of the total output, quite a staggeringly low amount considering the number of wineries we seemed to pass.

Finally we arrived at the “Smelly Cheese Shop”. Here we tried some locally produced cheeses which included a pesto fetta, a sun dried tomato and garlic fetta, labna with dukkah and duetto. Mum and I had already decided we’d buy some cheese and wine for that night. Whilst all were very tasty we opted for the Pesto fetta and some brie. We also stocked up on two long baguettes and some chutney.

We then made the short drive to McGuigan wines. Finally the opportunity to try some wines. We started with the whites. A 2013 Semillon Blanc was first up which mum loved but I was a bit in different to. I did however prefer it to the recent “award winning” 2007 Semillon. This made me concerned that my pallet is broken. I tend to prefer sweeter wines and whilst one of the wines in New Zealand was perfect I don’t remember the name or style. The Pinot Grigio was probably my least favourite and the Gewürztraminer was mums least favourite but sadly none of the Hunter Whites had much of an impact on me, though I could have drunk any of them.

On to the reds which I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to as much as the whites. When I was younger I preferred red but my (broken) pallet now prefers whites. First up was a Malbec, then a sauvignon, and then a vintage Shiraz from 2010 where the probable quality was lost on me. But hang on…What’s that one called?! The select Noon Harvest Merlot was superb, it was a red wine but tasted like a sweet white due to the way it had been produced. It had taken 9 samples but I’d found one that genuinely stood out to me. We finished off with a dessert wine called a ‘Late Picked Traminer’ which was quite pleasant.

I thought that was it for the wines but when we had lunch there were another 5 to to try which had been selected to compliment the different dishes. I’m not sure if they did because I was to busy eating and drinking. By now I like most of the group were well on the way to merriment which was nice because everyone became more social despite the wide ranging age group. We had to watch a movie on how the wines are produced, but I was more distracted by the empty glasses in front of me. Surely not more samples?! The movie ended and the coach driver appeared. No more samples.

I assumed the next stop would be the chocolate tasting but no. There was one more stop for wine tasting, Brockenwood. I don’t have a record of what we tried but I know/remember when ever the group was asked a question I guessed correctly and asked if I’d win a prize. I didn’t. A number of the varieties were called the “cricket pitch” which I joked was easier to stomach than the catastrophic performance of the English cricketers. Apparently it was called this because it was produced in an area of the town that was originally going to be a cricket pitch. When Cessnock became the main town in the region the plans were abandoned.

The final stop was to the chocolate tasting at the Hunter Gardens Village Complex but this felt more like an after thought and I don’t even remember what we tried. When I got back to the coach a guy called Frank I’d been talking to (mainly the cricket) was showing a number of locally produced ales. I had no idea that there had been a micro brewery in the vicinity but I suppose there is a risk I may have exploded with excitement had I been able to taste some beers as well. Not that I’m an alcoholic…

Back on the coach the driver predicted we’d all sleep and snore back to Sydney. I’m not sure if I or the others did the latter but looking around the coach when I eventually came round heads were bobbing around uncontrolled. I’m not sure how many equivalent bottles of wine I’d drunk, probably not as much as I’d like to think i did because somewhat embarrassingly I had developed a hang over whilst I’d been sleeping.

Mum and I headed back to the hotel where on the way we brought some plastic cups and plates for our classy cheese and wine dinner. Lunch had been big so we didn’t need much and despite my best efforts to finish all the cheese and wine a sensible decision was made to save the rest for the final night. A very enjoyable long day, and with nothing planned the following morning a chance to have a lie in.

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