All accommodation in Melbourne was expensive so we did a similar trick as we did in Auckland and booked ourselves a whole studio apartment for about the same cost as a hotel. It was very plush! One of the first things we did in the city was to go shopping for some new threads as we were fed up of looking scruffy (also there were a couple of things we wanted to do in Australia that may have required us to be a bit more dressy).
On our first evening in Melbourne, we met up with fellow travellers Kat and Toby, who we’d met in New Zealand, and went to Lygon Street which is reknowned for its Italian food. All of this was great after packing a lot in in the last few days of New Zealand!
The next morning we watched the UK election results roll in – the first time we’ve actually been awake to see them all. I won’t go in to much detail about this, but after we were in a pretty downbeat mood. Dragging ourselves away from the TV, we went to explore all that central Melbourne had to offer (apart from the shops, we did that the day before!). We visited Flinders Street station, the cool graffiti on Hosier Lane, stopped for coffee on the famous-for-coffee Degraves Street and ended the night watching jazz at Paris Cat Jazz Club (albeit sharing a table with some old Aussie conservatives on the worst day to be in close proximity to old Aussie conservatives).
Also in our time in Melbourne we went out to St Kilda (a suburb) which was well worth it as we saw blue penguins (the little ones we’d seen from afar in the auditorium-like setting in New Zealand) relaxing and nesting in the rocks near the shoreline. From a recommendation of a shop assistant the previous day, we headed on to Fitzroy in the afternoon and went to trendy bar ‘Naked for Satan’ for a couple of rooftop drinks and tapas.
Being quicker but the same price to fly, we flew to Sydney and checked into a hostel in Kings Cross that was recommended by Kat and Toby, who were also staying there at the time. We ended up having dinner with them at a pizza place just around the corner from our hotel (Pizza Boccone) – we ended up going back here twice afterwards as we absolutely loved it!
Hat was unbelievably excited about Sydney, especially the Sydney Opera House, so we headed straight there on our first full day in the city, via the botanical gardens. The amount of exotic birds here (including cuckatoos and iris) was incredible, seeing as we were right in the heart of a huge cosmopolitan city! The sight of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from here was incredible – often when you visit places you’ve always wanted to you hype them up a little so you’re a bit underwhelmed when arriving, but Sydney certainly didn’t disappoint at all 🙂 We went on a free walking tour to see more sights in the city and in the afternoon we went to Manley by boat and got a boat back at sunset which was incredible (facing the best sights of Sydney!).
The next day we rented a car and drove to the Blue Mountains with Kat and Toby who we really enjoyed spending time with. After an early start leaving at 6.30am, we stopped on the way for a slap-up breakfast in Glenbrook. Afterwards, we drove a bit further and walked up to Wentworth falls which was pretty amazing and then on to Echo Point to see the ‘Three sisters’.
In the evening, I finally got to give Hats her birthday present (only 8 months in waiting…) – an evening at the Sydney Opera House! We saw a ballet called The Dream, which Hats loved! I thought some of the prancing at the start was unnecessary and somewhat funny, but hey I’m probably just ‘uncultured’. The main bit, which was an interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was actually pretty good and funny in the right way at times.
We spent the last day in Sydney at Bondi Beach. We were going to do the walk to Coogee Beach but it started to rain really heavily so that got aborted and we took it easy until our journey to Byron Bay on our first Greyhound bus.
Byron Bay was interesting as it was a completely stereotypical surfer town. When I was younger I used to love the idea of visiting somewhere like here, but to be honest we found it really touristy and a bit pretentious, so I won’t write too much more about it 🙂
Next stop was Brisbane, which is essentially just another big city, but with less to see as a tourist (we only used it as a base to visit other things). We visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where we really enjoyed seeing (and feeding!) the kangaroos, hanging out with emus and got the obligatory holding-a-koala photo.
We also got the bus to Australia Zoo – which I’d wanted to go to since I was little and watched Steve Irwin on TV. Not normally a fan of zoos, Hats recognised that this was a pretty good operation! There was even an island where animals could pretty much roam free (and hump, as the the giant tortoises enjoyed, much to the amusement of the surrounding lemurs). We also really enjoyed seeing the tigers, especially seeing as we’d loved the BBC documentary ‘Tigers in the House’ which was based on cubs raised at Australia Zoo.
Continuing our way up the coast, we headed to Noosa Heads. I was getting a bit disenfranchised with the East Coast at this point as it was pretty touristy and lacked culture, so I was getting a bit annoyed, but Hats assured me it wasn’t all that bad and that Noosa was pretty if I get past my grumpy stubbornness. We walked around the national park where it’s common to see wild Koalas but sadly didn’t see any, despite trying two days in a row at Tea Tree Bay where they are more commonly spotted.
Next stop was Rainbow Beach which we enjoyed more than other places on the East Coast. We walked to the Carlo Sandblow and spent the rest of the afternoon on the main beach which was actually pretty empty – bliss! 🙂
We then had the pleasure of meeting up with our friend Tamsin who’d come to join us for the next half of our Australian adventure! It was so exciting to have her join us on our travels for two weeks! We met in Hervey Bay, and we set off for Fraser Island for 2 days on a 4×4 tag-along tour (in bright pink 4x4s!). Hat and Tamsin opted to drive, which to be honest looked quite fun, but I was happy in the back without the driver politics (we were a big group of about 17 people between 3 cars with about 7 people wanting to drive…).
Driving along the pristine beaches and exploring the island was really quite cool given that this place was effectively paradise! We went to Indian Headway, visited an old ship wreck, and went to Eli Creek where we swam down the creek like crocodiles! If only I’d got a picture, although I’m sure some bystanders did…
We finished our first day on the island with a BBQ that we all helped to prepare and a few drinks at the bar with the others in our group (including our guide Dave). The next day we went to Lake Wabby (about a 1 hour walk) where we had a morning swim in the waters surrounded by sand dunes. Then, we moved on to Central Station (an area of rainforest in the middle of the island) for lunch, and then to Lake McKenzie which was incredible (but also quite busy) before our ferry back to Hervey Bay.
Before moving on, we spent a day on the mainland at Hervey Bay exploring, only to realise there is not really much going on at all. But then we luckily stumbled across several large pelicans hanging around on the pier, watching the locals fishing eagerly. They were as majestic as they were amusing (when they walked/waddled mainly) and it massively made up for the soggy walk back to the hostel in the rain (unprepared, in flip flops/’thongs’).
We then moved on to Airlie Beach – another coastal town that we were only stopping at for the offshore activities (the Whitsunday Islands). But we absolutely made the most of our time here by renting out a car for a day and getting some freedom from the tourist coast! We headed to Eungella National Park which (we didn’t know until the day) was famous for it’s platypuses! We were incredibly lucky to see one or two at a distance, although I wish they weren’t as shy and we had a better view of them. We also saw several turtles and loads of cool birds, before I got bitten by a crafty leech that made it’s way up my trouser leg, past my sock to a lovely fleshy calf. Gross creatures, I literally hate them.
Deciding this was a good time to leave/the girls were a bit on edge by the possibility of more leeches, we headed to the second national park of the day – Cape Hillsborough. We were lucky enough to see a couple of kangaroos on the road as we approached – our first wild ones of the trip! Hurrah for getting off the tourist track! We also got to hang out with some incredibly inquisitive Kookaburras. They made it to quite high up on my favourite animals after seeing them up close in the wild!
We drove back to Airlie beach and that evening we started our 3 day/3 night trip of the Whitsundays on the Solway Lass. Tamsin and I had been so excited about this part of the trip – the Solway Lass is essentially a big pirate ship that survived two world wars as a cargo vessel. It has a rope swing, a rope net at the front to lounge on, and we were to be the envy of everyone on the seas (i.e. all the other tourist yachts). We were not disappointed!
After meeting the crew (the friendliest bunch of people!) and the passengers we’d be spending the next 3 days with, we had a delicious dinner and settled down for the night pretty happy already with our situation. When we woke up the next morning, and after a delicious breakfast (there’s a delicious theme with the food), we headed to Whitehaven beach – the really famous one you see on postcards of Australia. To be honest, I’d never seen a postcard of it before, but as soon as I saw the massive beach with pristine white sands, I quickly realised that this was probably the best beach I would ever visit.
We went swimming in our stinger suits for a bit, and went exploring around the beach and it wasn’t long before we discovered thousands and thousands of blue crabs (it was funny as we only spotted one at first, rushed to get a picture, before realising that about 10 meters in front of us was a massive swarm of them). I normally wouldn’t call a crab beautiful, but these were incredible, with bright blue backs and orange legs, and although they could have easily ganged up on us making for a less-than-ideal scenario, they were really quite afraid of us, scurrying away and burrowing in to holes in the sand whenever we were near. We also managed to see some reef sharks in the shallow water, which darted past us at incredible speed.
Once we’d done our nature hunting on the beach, we walked up to Hill Inlet where we saw a gigantic colourful spider on the way (Hat wasn’t best pleased) and bright green snake airing itself on a rock, and got spectacular views over bay.
The second day, we did our first snorkelling session near Luncheon Bay, and we were joined by about a million jellyfish – it was like swimming through plastic bags! We were assured they weren’t dangerous (and I quote “it’s the ones you can’t see which are dangerous!”), but some of them had electric-like bright-coloured pulses running through them which although was cool, was slightly unnerving. I didn’t blame Hat for wanting to get out, but what she missed was swimming with massive manta rays only moments after she got out of the water! I’ve never seen a manta ray before, but these rays are humongous, and had colourful smaller fish hitching a ride in the current of the rays’ cheeks. It was probably the most spectacular wildlife-spotting I’ve ever witnessed!
After a lunch break and people having a go on the rope swing, we had our first ever SCUBA introductory dive at Blue Pearl Bay, which I’ll be honest was pretty rubbish (I can say that now after doing others). Not only did we see more snorkeling, but also our dive instructor was really bad and didn’t help us when we were having problems (Hat with equalisation and me with a dodgy mask filling with water).
On the last day, we went snorkelling again near the Black Island. Again, there were some amazing fish and coral around, but it was Tamsin who saw the sight of the day – a passing turtle, which she ended up following for a while! We were so sad it was our last day. Tamsin was pretty inconsolable as she really took to life on the water.
Hat was a little skeptical about the whole Solway Lass thing, but in the end she was completely won round, hailing it as one of the best things we had done. Chilling out on deck, enjoying chatting and playing cards with the other passengers, and watching the stars at night below the ghostly pirate sails, the Solway Lass was probably one of the best things we will ever do – and we hope to come back to Australia and do it all over again (the American family on board had done the same trip about 10 years previously).
Waving the best boat we’ll ever be on goodbye, we got on an overnight coach that night up to Cairns. We did the same trick as before and rented out a car for a day up here to explore the surroundings. I really wanted to do something (anything!) cultural, so we headed to Malanda Forest in the Atherton Tablelands where we had a tour of forest area by Ngadjonjii aboriginal Drew who showed us different wildlife and trees and explained how aboriginals had used them.
It was refreshing to talk about Australian history but I started to recognise how unsettling this history still is. It’s pretty plain to see just up the East Coast how non-present aboriginal communities are, yet their artwork is often represented everywhere. It left me wanting to find out more about proper Australia, but we really had no time for that on our current trip.
The next day we went on a boat trip of the Great Barrier Reef with Silverswift – which although was a bit expensive, was just the best experience! Our instructor Jack was incredible, putting Hat at ease (she was pretty nervous after our poor first lesson on the Whitsundays) and making sure that we could get on to a second dive (it’s first-come first-served) as he knew we’d enjoy the first one so much. We saw an INCREDIBLE amount of sea life, from clown fish poking out of their homes in anemones, to a massive beady-eyed barracuda with sharp pointy teeth that just kept looking at us from a distance. We also got to swim (and feed and touch!) giant turtles!
Tamsin’s oxygen supply ran out at one point but she dealt with well, waiting for us all to enjoy a turtle encounter before piping up to Jack that her air was in the red. I’ve said this a few times but this was another of the best days of the holiday – it was genuinely other-worldly under the water in the reef, and the concentration of animals and colour is just unlike anything else.
Having done most of the stuff we wanted to do in Cairns, we headed slightly north for one night to Port Douglas, on the way stopping at Bruce Belcher’s Daintree river cruise, where we saw crocodiles on the river bank and some big birds around in the trees. Hats’ highlight was a conversation between Bruce and a tour guy on shore – “Alright Bruce! Alright Randall!”. We also had lunch in the Daintree village which was nothing to write home about.
In Port Douglas, we went to On the Inlet bar to try and see local resident George the giant Groper (a huge fish) but it didn’t show sadly. We did end up seeing a stingray and shark instead though, going mad for the cube of bait used to try and lure George. Then, what could be more fitting then to have fish for dinner? Tamsin and I had what will probably go down as the best fish we’ve ever eaten that evening.
The penultimate day of our trip we drove to Mossman Gorge to explore more of the Daintree rainforest (we hadn’t done any proper trekking in the Australian rainforest until this point). The trek was quite short and unfortunately we had run out of time to do more of the Daintree rainforest or even Cape Tribulation. We decided to spend our last afternoon up north chilling out on the 4 mile beach near Port Douglas and then drove back to Cairns before our flight back to Sydney the next day.
We spent our last night all together as a three in Sydney which happened to coincide with the Vivid Festival – where major landmarks are lit up with arty lasers and pictures.
We headed to our favourite pizza restaurant for our last meal (3rd visit!) and then got up early the next morning, bid Tamsin farewell (giving her loads of stuff to take home for us too…thank you!!) and made our way to Santiago, Chile – about 16 flight hours away – to start our South America leg wholly unprepared!