My first stop in Australia was Melbourne, I managed to get some great tips from friends back home, recommendations on coffee shops, great places to eat, and live music venues, this city is bursting at the seems with culture and entertainment, it’s obvious why Melbourne ranks so highly as one of the “World’s most liveable cities”. I saw the talented guitar duo “The Pierce Brothers” at the Ding Dong lounge, who I had previously seen in London a few months before and they didn’t disappoint on home soil and I also spent an evening at “The Night Cat”, which is an excellent live jazz venue. My home for my stay in Melbourne was St. Kilda just south of the city centre, it offers a good combination of a party atmosphere with easy access to the beach. I stayed at a notorious party hostel called “Base St. Kilda”, there was a nightclub next to reception so there really was no avoiding the crazy antics. In true Aussie fashion we spent Christmas day on the beach, and for a person used to spending Christmas day indoors, wrapped up warm in front of the fire stuffing my face with Christmas dinner, this was a culture shock, but one I could easily grow accustomed to. I attended the Boxing day test at the MCG to watch Australia take on India, this was a great day out, not so much for the cricket as there was barely any action, but for the party atmosphere created by both sets of fans.
New Year’s in Sydney
As I found with nearly everyone I met in Australia they were all making their way to Sydney for New Year’s, this was also my plan so I joined the hordes of people flocking there for what promised to be one of the most spectacular shows on earth. I had left it to the last minute to find accommodation and paid the price, both literally and figuratively, as this was by far and away the worst and most expensive accommodation I forked out for on my trip. £80 a night, afforded me a room shared between 7 people, with just enough space for one person to get dressed at any time, it was dirty, the rooms didn’t lock and the staff were miserable and completely inept. If you are planning a trip to Sydney for New Year’s, make sure to book well in advance and avoid Surfsiders hostel in Coogee Beach! After making a few friends at the hostel from hell and embracing the situation, I ended up having a great time. On New Year’s Eve I managed to meet a few friends from back home and together with people from the hostel we formed a good group and picked a prime position atop a hill in Sydney Observatory, although alcohol was banned from all public places that year we still managed to sneak some in! The firework display itself was outstanding, not many things in life completely live up to the hype, but the display at Sydney Harbour well and truly exceeded my expectations.
A few days later I made my way to the Blue Mountains, a National park just outside of Sydney, the name coming from the blue haze emitted from the eucalyptus trees. The main tourist area is completely overrun with selfie-stick wielding families and wasn’t all that enjoyable in the heat, but we did manage to see the iconic “Three Sisters” which were very impressive. On our way up to the Mountains we had stopped via a tourist information centre where we were tipped off to spend more of our time exploring the surrounding areas such as Wentworth Falls, so that was our next stop. When we arrived we decided to hike to the bottom of the waterfall, this was about a 5 hour round trip down and then up again via a series of winding stone steps and steel ladders, we made it back to the top again just in time to see the sunset over the mountains, it was beautiful.
After a hectic 5 days in Sydney I made my way by plane up to the northern city of Cairns, the gateway to the Great barrier reef and home to the world’s only expanding rainforest. Cairns and the surrounding area is full of natural beauty and wildlife, exploring the rainforest gives you a chance to experience those famous Australian critters first hand, with snakes and giant spiders a-plenty and kangaroos and wallabies freely hopping from field to field, I was in my element. I found the weather in Cairns tough to deal with, it had been in the mid 20’s in Melbourne and Sydney, but when I arrived up north it was 35 degrees plus and extremely humid. One night at the hostel the air-con decided to switch off and I woke barely able to breathe and covered in sweat, the weather extremes in Australia would take some getting used to, but give me hot and humid over the drab and dreary UK weather any day!
I travelled to my next destination by one of the famous Greyhound buses which make their way up and down the east coast; I always enjoy being on the road and this was a fairly relaxing trip and a much cheaper alternative to flying. I stayed in Airlie beach, one of the main towns where people stay to access the Whitsunday islands. I booked myself on a guided tour which included exploring the islands and snorkelling through the reefs. The weather wasn’t on top form during my stay and during the snorkelling trip it was considerably warmer in the water than it was on the boat, and as the conditions were poor it meant I didn’t really see the islands in all their glory. However, the marine life was extraordinary, swimming through the reefs and chasing after the multi-coloured tropical fish was so much fun, it was sad to see how much of the reef has been destroyed, but it was still an incredible sight.
Fraser Island was probably the highlight of the East Coast for me, although it took 14 hours via an overnight bus to get there this done little to dampen my spirits. Fraser Island is the largest “sand island” in the world, so effectively it’s just a giant beach, but it’s much more incredible than that. The 75 mile stretch of mostly untouched pristine white sand is staggering and part of my tour included a plane ride around the island to see the view from above. Back on land the rusty wreck of the marooned SS Maheno, buried in the sand and left to rot, made for some great pictures. We were also lucky enough to see wild dingoes on the island, another one of Australia’s famous critters ticked off the list.
Last stop Brisbane
My final stop in Australia was Brisbane, I enjoyed the laid back feel of the place, but only spending a single night there I had almost no time at all to explore. I had dinner on my own that evening followed by an early night, which was in stark contrast compared with the rest of the trip, but this gave me time to rest and recover and brace myself for Bali and the beginning of my adventures through South East Asia.
My Highlights of Australia
Fraser Island – Sand dunes, dingoes, a shipwreck and an aeroplane ride. What an incredible island.
Christmas on the beach in Melbourne – My first experience of a Summer Christmas. Partying on St. Kilda beach all day in the hot Australian sunshine was a great alternative from being cooped up indoors stuffing my face full of turkey.
New Year’s Eve in Sydney – An epic fireworks display and a great day all round, meeting up with friends old and new celebrating the arrival of the new year.
Cape Tribulation – This area just north of Cairns is full of wildlife, we managed to spot crocodiles and giant spiders to name a few, but were not quite fortunate enough to spot the elusive Cassowary, the prehistoric looking bird which roams the Daintree Rainforest.
For more pictures, check out my Instagram @intrepidjournals
Connect with me via Twitter @explorerjournal