Only Claire could get food poisoning from her last meal on her last day is Asia. Our plans in Australia came to a halt quite early on with a few trips to the 24 hour clinic to figure out what was wrong with Claire. After dosing up on 6 antibiotics in one go, and a further weeks supply, she was feeling fine and back to normal. We had to drop out Byron Bay from our schedule, but luckily we only had to drop out this one place. So, to the highlights of our (very) rushed time in Oz. Be sure to check out the video at the end!
We arrived on our flight into Townsville, which is a few hundred kilometres south of Cairns. Only here for a few hours while we wait for the Greyhound up (it was £100 cheaper than flying into Cairns, and we arrived at the same time). So how do we fill it? Reef HQ – an aquarium with the worlds largest coral reef aquarium, and the accompanying Turtle Hospital.
It was so nice to be back in western civilisation, with friendly people, no one trying to sell you stuff in the streets. Theres minimal traffic, and people smile and say hello when they walk past you. Asia has been fun, but its so nice to be back somewhere more comfortable.
While in Cairns we stayed in a few different hostels due to us extending our time here. Worth mentioning are Travellers Oasis and Tropic Days. These two hostels were fantastic and probably the best we’ve ever stayed in. They’re actually run by the same person, so they’ve very similar. Besides the usual of being clean, comfortable, etc. the staff were amazing, and so accommodating. They helped us book all our activities in Oz free of charge, and gave us great advice. Also, free unlimited wifi in the hostel is a big plus (as we didn’t have it at any other point in Oz – usually only given between 100mb – 500mb a day). They were really helpful when we had to rearrange our activities due to Claire being ill, and sorted out the rearrangements free of charge. I can see why they were voted one of the best hostels in Oceana. They also did a BBQ night once a week, which gave us chance to try kangaroo, crocodile, and emu. The crocodile tasted like cheap chicken, kangaroo was quite stringy but tough and emu was nothing special. Put it this way, I wouldn’t choose any of them over a good steak.
So first up we went to the Great Barrier Reef with Compass Cruises. Claire was snorkelling, and I was diving. It was great to actually go and see the barrier reef, but it is clear that its not in great shape. While we saw plenty of fish and sharks (while snorkelling), there was also a LOT of dead coral when diving. The dive I did was a little disappointing; its an experience diving the barrier reef, but there wasn’t a lot of variety of fish amongst the dead coral. Apparently there were a number of reasons for this;
- Compass Cruises (while cheap) only goes to the inner reef, which is not in great shape compared to the outer reef
- We were in the year after an El Nino, so there was lots of bleaching due to the high temperatures
- Cairns had a typhoon in 2011, which instead of going over the city as they expected, it changed direction and went over the reef, tearing it up
Still, to say we’ve been there and seen it was a great experience, and we’re both glad we did it.
Airlie Beach (Whitsundays)
Next up was the Whitsunday Islands, down in Airlie Beach. We took the overnight Greyhound to Airlie Beach from Cairns, which was surprisingly comfortable and we both got a good nights sleep. We were booked with Big Fury to do the Whitsundays. It was one of the few single-day trips we could find (as we were short on time). The ride there was fun in such a fast boat, but as we were sat near the back we got most of the spray splashing us, so we were quite wet and cold by the time we reached Whitehaven Beach.
Whitehaven beach was a really nice beach, with really fine silica sand that squeaked every time you took a step. But we both felt that it wasn’t that impressive. We had 3 hours here, and it was (at the end of the day) just another beach. No activities here, and really cold water – not just compared to Southeast Asia, but compared to the area. Once we left here we went to see the swirling sands, which most people will recognise as the Whitsundays. Gorgeous viewpoint with stunning views – this was more impressive.
Finally, I ended the day with a snorkelling session (too cold for Claire!) It was pretty poor really – the visibility was only about 2 meters, and there was almost no fish to be seen. Disappointing, but it was still fun to go for a swim.
Hervey Bay (Fraser Island/K’gari)
After another overnight journey, we went for a swim in the lagoon at Hervey Bay. Most cities in Australia appear to have these – mainly because of stinger season when there are loads of jellyfish in the ocean around the east coast. It was nice to cool off, but getting out of the water was uncomfortable. There was a wind blowing, and we could tell the temperature was a lot lower than we were used to (it was around 20 degrees, and we are used to 30+!).
We were soon on our way to Fraser Island for our day trip there. We thought we were getting in 4×4 jeeps, but turned out we were in a 4×4 off-road bus. Doesn’t sound fun? Well you’re wrong, and so were we when we thought this. The power the bus had was ridiculous, and the way it went over bumps and climbed steep sandy roads was stunning. It was actually a lot of fun.
First stop, Lake McKenzie. This is a freshwater lake in the middle of the island, with nice white silica sand (like in the Whitsundays) and really clear water. Really nice to spend some time here, relaxing on the shoreline. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time here, as our bus had to move along for our lunch slot.
We then arrived at Central Camp for a walk around the forest here. A lovely walk through the trees, where there was a silent river running. Apparently, you need rocks for a river to make sound, but because it was only sand, it was silent.
After lunch we went for a drive along the beach, which was once again great fun in the 4×4 bus. Frazer Island actually also marks 100 days of travel for us, so we decided to treat ourselves to a flight around the island. This is one of two locations in the world that does a beach takeoff/landing, and it was awesome! Its great to fly around the island, seeing all the inland lakes and views along the coast. Its also very different being in a light aircraft compared to a passenger jet. Only took about 5 minutes from jumping into the plane to being at 2000 meters. Great fun!
Finally, we went to see the shipwreck of the S.S. Maheno. This is an old Japanese ship that got caught on the sand and was never able to be recovered. Nearby, there was Eli Creek, the outlet from a small stream running onto the beach. It was a nice walk up the stream itself, we also took the time for a quick day 100 photo opportunity in the sand!
Fraser island was great to spend the day there, but it did feel a bit rushed. We both think we should have taken at least 2 days there to properly enjoy it at a more leisurely pace!
Brisbane (Australia Zoo)
Brisbane is a city with mixed reviews. We heard lots of people saying Brisbane is boring, and should even me missed altogether! But when we were here, we felt a really good vibe in the air. The only way we can describe it is that it felt a little like being back in London again, which we both miss. It sounds strange to say you miss back home when travelling and seeing so many great places, but we were fortunate to have had such a good life in London. Brisbane reminded us of this, and felt like somewhere we could spend a few years.
But not this time, we’re too busy! We were soon on our way to Australia Zoo, made famous by Steve Irwin. We spent all day here and it was great fun – definitely the best zoo we’ve been to. We got to spend some time with koalas, kangaroos, tigers, and saw the main show in the Crocoseum. Some of the crocodiles were huge! Nice to see they come at the show with the same kind of passion as Steve Irwin, and they had a nice tribute to him at the end. The tigers were great to watch as well. There were two brothers, one blind, who were in the water trying to get hold of some barrels to play with. It was interesting to watch the blind tiger try to help his brother, and watch him as he navigated the enclosure.
Sydney was a long 18 hour Greyhound journey away. Taking out Byron Bay meant we had to travel for longer in one go, but it was comfortable enough travelling overnight. I’ll never forget the route the bus took over Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the first panoramic views of the city – gorgeous!
On one our free days, we took a long ship sail around the harbour. This was a gift from Claire’s work colleagues Jacqui and Natasha. We were the youngest on the boat by a long way. Turns out that when they cancelled our afternoon session and put us onto this lunch session, they also added the unlimited drinks package – which included champagne!! When we got on we were going to buy a mast climb, but an old couple (that had been given it by their daughter as a gift) said we could have their tickets. They didn’t fancy climbing up so gave it to us. Nice. So our quick sail around the harbour had now become a dare devil booze cruise!
Sydney was also a chance to meet some old friends. Vicky, who we had travelled Asia with was here, and we spent an evening in Nandos (its not the same as the UK Nandos!) and the pub. We also caught up with Jess on our final day, a friend from our uni days. She’d been travelling Australia for the last couple of years, and it was great to talk about all her plans. Of course over drinks!
And thats it for Australia! A whirlwind tour, but we got to see and experience some great things. We’re now well into our trip in New Zealand, which we’ll be updating you on soon in a week or two…or as soon as we get some wifi!