Goodbye Australia… goodbye travels(!?!), Hello Home!!!

It was a strange feeling, being in Melbourne for the last time and knowing it was our final stop, that we would not be moving on to another new and exciting place in the next few days. Travelling has been our life for half a year now, and we have loved (almost) every single minute of it. My dreams came true every day for 6 months: I got to see some of the most beautiful places in the world and meet some of the most interesting people. Every day was a huge learning curve and a huge joy – it is a difficult thing to know you’re giving it up soon, if only for now. To stop any meloncholy seeping in, and to make the most of our last complete day, we kept busy. We went to Melbourne Museum, meandered through the shops lining the hipster haven of Brunswick St, and returned to Victoria Market for one last sample of its amazing food…

Then to celebrate our last night of freedom, of no broken bones or lost phones or passports, of hundreds of amazing memories, we splashed out on a fancy meal at Mon Ami, a tiny French restaurant down the road from the hostel. We tried to summarise our trip, choosing favourite destinations, top trips, best days and the worst, but found it impossible. Such experiences defy categorisation, and to a large extent, explanation, though we have tried hard in this blog. Our trip can be defined in a way as:

6 months, 185 days, 8 countries, 100+ hostels, 7 methods of transport, 4000+ photos and so on…

… but this doesn’t really encompass what it was really like and what it means to us. So we will have to do with sharing our photos and any memories that come to mind when trying to talk about it, and hoping that one day we can experience it all over again.

One last thing – thank you. Thank you to friends and family that have read our blog and urged us on to do great things whilst away. Thanks to parents who let us leave the nest and supported our adventures. Thanks to hostel, homestay, campsite and campervan owners who went above and beyond to help us out of sticky situations and into unbelievable good times. Thanks to friends found along the way and strangers who will be remembered for their small part in our journey, to tour guides and locals and travellers with their own bit of advice to swap in exchange for ours. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen what we have, and will always appreciate the hundreds who helped make this adventure happen.

Signing off until our next adventure, maybe see you there…

Advertisements

Uluru and the Red Centre

It was hard to believe we were coming to our final few days of travelling, and we weren’t quite teady to let go just yet, so we decided to go on one last great adventure. Uluru, or Ayers Rock as it was formerly known, is one of the defining symbols of Australia and particularly the Outback, and we couldn’t leave Australia without a visit. An early flight from Melbourne got us to Alice Springs mid afternoon, and a shuttle bus dropped us off at Alice’s Secret Travellers’ Inn. It was very sweet, with clean dorms and lots of cozy chill areas. We repacked two day sacks for our impending Uluru trip and stored our big bags for the last time. An early night saw us up for a 6am pick up time by Mark, one of Mulgas’ tour guides. It was a 6 hour drive to Ayers, so we slept for a few hours in the van until the sun came up and gave us our first real glimpse of the Outback.

The first day was a lot of waiting around, as the tour’s group were picked up with us at Alice or at Ayers airport/ Ayers resort, but our first stop before camp was a camel farm, where we were able to ride a former race camel and find out a bit about camels’ place in Australia and how tough an animal they are. As first to arrive in Ayers early afternoon, we checked out our camp and spent an hour or so learning about the Aboriginal fight to reclaim their sacred land during the 1980s at the Cultural Centre. Aboriginee culture is very complex and difficult for us to understand, but their deep connection to the land and understanding of the world is enviable and admirable, that much I could fathom. Once all the group had arrived and settled, we set off for Uluru. We spent 2-3 hours following part of the Base walk, with our guide explaining some Aboriginee creation stories and where they had orignated from. Markings and features on Uluru represented sections from Aboriginal history, and paintings in caves showed how these stories were passed down generations. 

The rock itself is breath-taking, 348m high and 9.4km circumference. Most of the rock lies underneath ground level, but is above is a stunning red colour, from ionisation of the sandstone. 

After a long walk and lots of photos (taken only in places indicated as acceptable, as Aboriginees deem some sections too sacred to be photographed), it was time to enjoy the famous sunset over Uluru from a distance. With champagne and a time-lapsing gopro in hand, it was incredible to watch the changing light reflect off this huge, reddening mass. Going from bright orangey- red to a purplish-grey in a matter of minutes, it is not hard to understand why Aboriginals took this place as one of the utmost consecration thousands of years ago. With the horizon dimming, we returned to camp to prepare dinner and settle in for the night. It was kangaroo steak and sausages on the menu tonight, and trying hard not to think of baby Roo, it was not unenjoyable. Then it was time to shower, set out our swags around the campfire and chat from the warmth of our sleeping bags. Soon everyone fell quiet, mesmorised by the stunning starry sky above us. The night was so clear and free from light pollution that you could see the Milky Way, a dense river of stars snaking across the sky. It literally took my breath away, and I stared trance-like for a good hour before finally falling asleep. It was very cold the first night and I started shivering in the early hours, but luckily we were up by 5 to catch an Uluru sunrise, so I didn’t have long to resent sleeping outside. A short drive took us to the viewing platform, and with the whole group wrapped within their sleeping bags, we waited for the first light of the day.

It was amazing just to sit there in such beautiful surroundings and pure air, I loved watching the bush slowly change colour and the huge rock on the horizon take shape and definition. 

All too soon we had to move on, but I will never forget the peace I felt sitting there at the heart of this beautiful area, doing nothing but appreciating everything.

Our second day was a walk through Kata Tjuta, also known as The Olgas or Valley of the Winds. Another stunning rock formation not far from Uluru, it had the same striking red hue, and although not as high it was arguably all the more impressive for being able to walk through it. Normally living up to its windy name, we had an exceptionally still day, and the silence in the valley was eerie. Birdsong filled the green basin and bounced off the red walls, making everyone reluctant to talk and break the spell.

After 3 hours we had completed the walk and headed back to camp for lunch, this time camel burgers (which were really tasty and not at all what I expected). Then it was another long drive to our second campbase, with everyone offering their playlists and taking it in turns to be roadtrip DJ. Our second camp was much quieter than the first and we arrived just in time to see another sunset over the hills. Dinner tonight was an amazing campfire bolognaise, cooked in a hotpot over the campfire and served with garlic bread and every sauce or garnish you could wish for. Probably one of the best meals of my life, I had thirds and would have had more if it was physically possible. Then it was time for an Aussie tradition, a dessert bread they call damper. It’s bread, which we filled with nutella and marshmallows and cooking in the hotpot under the coals. It was interesting to say the least, and I preferred the smores handed out after to cook over the fire. There’s nothing quite like roasting dessert over a campfire whilst you’re in bed looking up at the stars. It does something to your soul and everyone should experience that feeling at least once in their life.

The next morning we were up before 5 again, this time heading to King’s Canyon. The hike starts at Heartattack Hill, which is apparently accurately named – there is a defibrillator kit at the top…

But we got up, and the views were breathtaking. As amazing as Uluru was to see, this place is the one I will hold most fondly in my mind. Red sandstone everywhere, dropping away into deep canyons which are carpeted by lush greenery, stunning rock formations and overlooking miles of bush. It’s hard to describe it much more in words, so I hope our photos do it justice.

Four hours up there went by incredibly quickly, and before I knew it we had to return to camp to await our ride home. A little later than planned, it arrived in the form of an off-road, 4×4 bus, and we hopped on for the 5 hour drive back to Alice Springs, saying a fond farewell to our guide Mark, nice campmates and the unbelievable scenery of the red centre. The bus took us off road after an hour, hurtling through the bush on a dust track shortcut to Alice. It was a fun ride, not quite as exhilirating as Fraser Island but a great chance to see the outback properly one last time. 

Finally dropped back off at Alice’s Secret and having reclaimed our bags and beds, we cooked a quick dinner and feel asleep by 8, sleeping a good 13 hours until the next morning. An afternoon flight got us back into Melbourne late evening and we made our way to the last hostel of many in our epic journey.

Melbourne

Kayley was very kind and took the first four hours of driving, leaving very early from Canberra towards our last road trip stop, Melbourne. The roads became more like the lovely, easy ones further north in Queensland, so our trip began well. As it was Kayley’s birthday (and we had been horrible and planned a whole day in the car), we stopped off for a McDonald’s lunch before I took over the wheel. Another hour of easy driving was followed by more difficult roads and traffic as we neared Melbourne. Our final hour was taken up by traffic incident and road closure traffic, but this only delayed us by an hour or so and we were in our final apartment before dark. A thai takeaway continued the birthday celebrations, before an early night for all four exhausted travellers.

The next day we took on Melbourne with a bang, completing the 2.5hr walking tour of some of the city’s best lanes and streets. A train took us into the iconic Flinders St station and it was a short walk from there to Degraves st. Here we found all kinds of restaurants, cafes and dessert shops, as well as knick knacks and clothing stores. We followed the route round to Block Arcade, a 19th century gallery with etched-glass and mosaic features and home to Haigh’s chocolates, and Royal Arcade, Melbourne’s oldest, Parisian-style, arcade.

Then through Bourke St Mall and the art-covered Union Lane, to Little Collins St and Swanston. Looping back around, we reached Duckboard Place, which horseshoes into ACDC lane and exhibits some of Melbourne’s most prominent street art.Our final stop was down Flinders lane and into the famous Hosier lane, street-art mecca and Insta model heaven.  Every inch of wall is covered with eye-catching detail and colour, both political and silly, but altogether an impressive sight to see.Having completed one loop of the walk a little quickly, we stopped off for some much needed lunch back in Degraves st. Then we made our way back along the route taken earlier, this time poking around a few shops and gazing into windows, including that of Hopetoun tea rooms, a famous tea room in the CBD district. We opted instead for the slightly cheaper Lindt cafe on Elizabeth street, which provided delicious chocolatey hot drinks, macarons, baked delights and all fifteen types of the renowned Lindt chocolates. Then back round the arcades and high streets, gradually making our towards and through Chinatown.

Finally we headed up through Fitzroy st to a popular rooftop bar, Naked for Satan. The next few hours were enjoyed with delicious cocktails and quirky shots, with a fantastic nighttime view of the Melbourne skyline. A great way to end a great first day here. 


The next day we took things a little slower, having a late breakfast in the flat before heading out mid afternoon to Chadstone shopping mall, the biggest shopping centre in Australia. It was very big and very fancy, but had enough high street shops to keep us all entertained for a few hours!!! Then we grabbed a fruit smoothie and headed back to the flat for a night in with Netflix and thai leftovers… perfect. Our last full day together began with a clean out of the car, ready for handback the next day, and last minute organising of Blake’s and my last week of travel (scary, I know). Then the train into town to watch Moana on the open air big screen in Flinders Square, before making our way to Degraves st for lunch. We were halfway through a really delicious meal, when smoke started blowing past the restaurant window, followed by a gradually increasing crowd of people. One of the kitchens down the street had a fire and was driving pedestrians out of the narrow lanes surrounding it. After ten minutes or so a police officer came into the restraurant and told us to evacuate. We had to leave our poor food and move away from the area, seeing as we did so a huge plume of black smoke filling most of the street where we had been sitting. The whole area was cordoned off and filled with fire crew, and we were left hungry and unsure what to do. We couldn’t find anywhere else to eat so decided to do a bit of souvenir shopping and wait. Within two hours the fire had been extinguished and the area made safe, with pedestrians allowed back into the lanes. We managed to get back to the restaurant we had abandoned and reordered our food, passing as we did so the restaurant that had been ablaze – it was the one we had eaten in two days before, completely blackened by smoke and out of business for the forseeable future, sadly. After what was now a very late lunch, we made our way to the Victoria Market, held every Wednesday night in winter. It was huge, with hundreds of food, jewellery, book, trinket, gadget and art stalls lined up in rows, selling all kinds of meals and merchandise. We found some books and jewellery to spend our dwindling money supplies on, as well as seafood chowder, arancini and hot buttered lemonade (don’t judge, it was delish). None of us braved the Bushtucker stall, which served crocodile, roo, emu and other national delicacies, instead choosing to enjoy the live band for a while. Having got there at opening time, we left relatively early, but it was absolutely packed by the time we did, and the stalls obviously all did a roaring trade with locals and tourists alike. More beers and picking at leftover food at the flat ended our last night together in Aus, as well as some casual packing and watching Finding Nemo, now seeming all the more magical for having seen first-hand so much of the film’s magical world. 

Our last day was a checklist and waiting game, getting the car cleaned and filled with petrol, going back to the mall for lunch, dropping the car off at the Spaceship office and saying fond yet relieved farewells to our home of four weeks, then dropping everyone’s bags off at our hostel room back in Melbourne. A final quick souvenir shop and dinner preceded our journey to the airport, where we sadly had to say goodbye to our sisters, but who we would see again on home turf in a week’s time. Blake and I, feeling a little lost, wandered away from the terminal unsure what to do with just the two of us again; we decided to go back and sleep, as the next day was a 5am start for our flight to Alice Springs.

Canberra

We were ready to leave Sydney early the next morning, however as we went to pack the car… it wouldn’t start. For reasons unbeknown to us, the battery had run completely flat in the four days we hadn’t used it. A quick call to roadside assistance and half hour later a guy turned up to help us out. He jump started the car for us, checked it over and sent us on our way within the hour. Having stopped off at the Spaceships Sydney office to get it checked over again, then pick up petrol and lunch, we were now almost three hours behind schedule. However, it was a good four hour drive to the Aussie capital, so we made it just as night closed in. Another great apartment, a lot smaller than our previous fancy penthouse, but in a good location and perfect for two nights stay. 
The next morning we hit the town! Beginning at the National Library, we took a guided tour of their Treasures gallery, which included two Olympic torches, Captain Cook’s writing desk, the first ever national chart of Australia (still accurate to a few feet), and lots of items showing the changing society and relations between settlers and aboriginals. After a quick lunch in the library cafe we walked across the river to the National Museum, and spent a few hours wandering through the various exhibits, from early history to modern day. Sections included the Regatta Without Water, Chris the Sheep, First Impressions and Aboriginal Reclamation and Recognisation. The best part of the museum was undoubtedly the David Attenborough VR (virtual reality) experience – a one hour exploration of the Great Barrier Reef and the very beginnings of life on earth with the man himself, almost. We sat in a room and placed VR goggles over our eyes, which gives you a 360 degree, 3D experience, narrated and presented by Sir David. You can swivel in your chair to see the reef all around you, look up and down to see turtles and sharks circling, and just behind you sits D.A. in a yellow submarine, pointing out what he can see, just as you see it yourself. It was surreal, and very exciting to be sitting so close to a personal hero. Even more surreal was the second experience, which this time was a CGI interpretation of the very beginnings of life on earth. Squiggly blobs, reincarnated fossils and giant scorpions swam precariously close to us as we sat in our swivel chairs, with David providing a calming commentary about the depths we explored. It was an amazing experience, definitely give it a go sometime!

We finished our only day in Canberra with an evening at Questacon, the national science museum in the city centre, which was holding a winter festival and was open late nights for the occasion. We learnt about lightning, earthquakes, gravity, bugs, light, sound and all other types of natural phenomena, and may have got a bit carried away with some of the interactive exhibits (when most of the kids had left for the night). After a quick bite to eat in the winter market we ended the night with a Super Science show about liquid nitrogen, complete with loud bangs and various objects being shrivelled, expanded and shattered. One of the biggest things I learnt was that Australian audiences are much more vocal and cooperative than British – they must love pantomimes. A short but sweet stay in Canberra done, we began a long seven hour drive the next day to our last road trip stop, Melbourne.

Sydney

And with Byron Bay in our review mirror, we were finally on our way to the one, the only, Sydney!!!!! Not only this, but we had two very special visitors to pick up from the airport – our sisters!!! Kayley and Emily had decided to join us for the last leg of our East coast road trip, and we couldn’t wait to see them. It was a relatively long drive to the city, during which we endured some particularly crazy Aussie driving and one lorry almost crushed us pulling out of its lane, but having found the apartment after getting temporarily lost in the suburbs, we couldn’t believe our luck. The Air BnB was a gorgeous penthouse, with sea view, open plan kitchen and living room and bbq balcony area. Super fancy, and a dream compared to sleeping in the back of the car for four weeks! We spent the afternoon unpacking bags and sorting out the car, before heading out early evening to pick up the girls. It was a horrendous drive through confusing highways and toll roads, but we made it, and so did the girls. Unfortunately, their bags did not, having been left behind at their China connection. With the promise of them being delivered to us the next day, we drove back to the apartment and had a quick and happy catch up before all collapsing in bed. The next day we did absolutely nothing, everyone exhasuted and happy to chill for the day. The day after, we caught the bus to Manly and explored the quaint seaside town and beach. It was beautiful, full of white sand and surfers enjoying the waves. Then late afternoon we made our way to the old Olympic stadium to watch a rugby league game, supporting the local team Rabbitos. They dominated the game, and we left victors to head home for the night. 

Next day, it was time to see central Sydney itself. We caught the bus to the centre, and made our way to the sea life aquarium on the waterfront. It was a three hour experience, lots of fun and a chance to catch up with some of Nemo’s friends and see how important marine conservation is in Australia. 

As evening set in, it was time to finally see the icon of Sydney, the Opera House. We walked to The Rocks, an area which received the first ever convict settlers to Aus, and walked to the harbour. And there it was!!!! Exactly how I imagined it and so much better at the same time. We strolled along the opposite front and watched the sun set over it, before heading back for dinner.

The day after was more sightseeing and walking of the city, beginning at the sky tower. With 360 views of the city, it was a good chance to try and understand its layout, even if the view of the opera house and bridge was rubbish and the city itself quite ugly from so high up (it’s much better at ground level, in my opinion!). Then we wandered along to the Queen Victoria Building, a stunning, high-end shopping arcade with beautiful decor and nice to walk through even if the contents were largely unaffordable. Then circling back round to walk along the harbour again and ending at the opera house as before.

Now, no visit to Oz is complete without seeing the big three of kangas, koalas and crocs, so on our fourth day we went to Taronga zoo, a really good zoo across the water from the CBD. As well as the three above, we saw many other native and non-native creatures, and made Ems’ day when we spotted a month old elephant playing with her mum by their watering hole. As the zoo closed for the day, we got the ferry over to the opera house and watched the light show on its sails, an exhibit capturing the whole of Australia, its history and culture in a whirl of images and colour. 

Our last day in Sydney was spent at Manly sealife sanctuary, a smaller but equally interesting aquarium and conservation site at Manly seaside. 

Sharked, turtled and fished out, we found ourselves back for the fifth time at the opera house, hoping to catch the last tour of the day. Unfortunately there were only two tickets left, so Blake and Kayley went whilst Ems and I grabbed a drink at the bar outside and watched the sun set behind Harbour Bridge. Then it was back to pack the car and get a good night’s sleep for our journey tomorrow. Our last bit of Sydney was a quick visit to Bondi beach on our way to Canberra the next day, after a surprisingly difficult morning (which will be continued in the next blog).

Byron Bay

Hannah had been looking forward to Byron Bay ever since we had arrived in Australia so it’s a good job we only had 2 hours to drive from Brisbane! The campsite we chose was ideal, right on the beach and next to the main street. We chose to relax for the remainder of our first day there; we had been on the go for quite some time.The next day however, Hannah decided to introduce me to one of her favourite sports – surfing! I have never surfed before, and needless to say I was little bit useless and I didn’t quite make it on to my feet. I did manage one foot and a knee which was good enough for me! We had a big dinner and a long drink to finish our day, and a good hour establishing what parts of our bodies ached and which were actually bruises.

The next day was much the same, although the waves weren’t quite as big. I did get onto my feet, twice! I fell off straight away both times but I was happy nonetheless. Hannah of course showed off how much of a surfing beach babe she is by being an absolute talent amongst the waves. It was a great day that we finished with yet another big meal and a not-so-healthy froyo dessert.

Next stop, Sydney!

Brisbane (via Australia zoo)

After a final night in Hervey Bay, we set off on yet another road trip, this time our destination being Brisbane. We had a very important stop to make along the way, however. Growing up, Blake and I both watched a particular show that gave us a particularly fascinating if not scary perception of Australia, thanks to one certain crocodile hunter. Australia zoo was, and remains, the home and heart of Steve Irwin and his family, who continue to run the zoo and its connecting conservation projects. It’s been almost ten years since Steve wrestled his last crocodile, but his legacy is alive and well at the zoo and we were beyond excited to be walking around. 

After a slow trip we arrived mid afternoon and were directed straight to the crocodile show that had just started.
These animals are very cool and very scary: the keeper couldn’t keep the nerves out of his voice as he tempted the croc out of the water with a chunk of meat, and explained the myths and facts surrounding these iconic creatures. 
Afterwards, we went to Roo Heaven, as I have been desperate to see kangaroos and koalas since we landed in Oz two weeks ago. I did not expect to get such a close encounter, though! Visitors are free to stroll amongst the roos, getting close enough to stroke and feed them with specialised ‘roo food’. They are much cuter than I expected, and not the feral, aggressive animals I had heard about in the wild. 
Next we made our way to the koalas, and they really took my breath away, they were adorable. They are tricky to spot high up in the trees, but a few had been coaxed onto some lower branches so visitors could see them up close and give them a little stroke or pat. They seemed happy to snooze whilst being petted and photographed, with a naughty one in a time out hug with the keeper. 

We circled round through the echidna and wombat enclosures, which are both extremely cute…
and reluctantly saw two other slippery residents in the main information centre…
where I purchased some roo food to feed the kangas!!!!!

It was an amazing afternoon, with some close encounters that I won’t forget in a hurry, but all too soon we had to be back on the road to get to Brisbane before dark. We just about made it, and found a spot at Newmarket Gardens CP for the night. That evening, we bussed into town to catch the second half of the Lions test match, then met up with an Aussie friend of mine! Lizzie and I met volunteering in Nicaragua two years ago, and after one marriage and a trip round the world, we reunited for a night out in Brisbane!!!!! She and her husband showed us round Southbank and joined us for dinner, before heading to Kangaroo Point to look out over Brisbane’s nocturnal skyline. It was brilliant to catch up and see how the other has grown and succeeded, and I was so happy we got the chance to see each other.

The next morning, another reunion! Formerly Ms Edgar, Carla arrived at the campsite with a best friend and Brisbane local to take us out to lunch and catch up, after almost eight years of parting ways after my third year at school, where she was my form tutor and drama teacher for two years. We were treated to a tasty meal at a cafe along the river, along with lots of local gossip and reminiscing on Brentwood School. Then they kindly dropped us off at New Farm park and we caught the citycat ferry back along the river to Southbank, catching the rays and some great views. 
Hopping off, we walked a short way along the bank until we reached a grassy area, full of sunbathing Brizzies and free live music. 

After an hour’s doze we walked across the river into town and found ourselves doing some spontaneous shopping. Then we were surprised with the Winter festival, complete with ice rink (with kangas instead of penguins for the kids) and hot, delicious food from “wooden” stalls. With curry in a cone for starters… we then grabbed some ciders and a stone-oven pizza to takeaway back to the campsite. What a way to end a short but fantastic time in the lovely city of Brisbane. 

The next day, as had to happen, we took a wrong turn thanks to a traffic diversion and ended up driving through the horribly confusing streets of central Brisbane before escaping to the motorway and finally making our way to the surfers paradise that is Byron Bay. Boy, was this worth the wait.