Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Backpacker Diaries: Volume 1

So no I haven't been eaten by a shark, or bitten by a poisonous spider, or fallen off a cliff, or died some other rather tragic death. The internet at hostels is just really terrible, and non-existent in some places… hence the falling off the face of the earth act I've pulled the past couple of weeks! And the few times I do have a decent (decent being a relative term) I've figured that calling mum and dad to let them know I haven't died in one of the aforementioned ways was in order. 

While the internet I've got now is in no means good, it's strong enough that I think I may be able to upload this! Photos however are completely out of the question. It would take about a day of leaving my laptop on to load a photo here… so for now writing it is. When I'm in Sydney next week I'll be able to finally upload photos to Facebook and here so I can actually show you all what I've been doing, woohoo! So take this is a very brief summary, highlights of each place if you will.

Hot. Hot hot hot. Did I mention humid? And hot. But absolutely wonderful. So laid back and chilled out, no one rushes anywhere and life isn't taken seriously at all. Completely acceptable to spend a day by the lagoon doing absolutely nothing, which I most definitely did. The rainforest is also stunning, did a day tour through there which involved playing in waterfalls and exploring the Tablelands, great fun! Had a fabulously inappropriate, politically incorrect and hilarious tour guide names Gilly from Barefoot Tours who made it the best tour I've ever done - I really can't recommend that tour enough. Also went out to the Great Barrier Reef for a day of snorkelling and boating which was a great experience. The reef is stunning! And while I didn't find Nemo (which I'm still heartbroken about), I did manage to find a reef shark that swam by me about 2 meters away… yes I'm pretty sure my heart stopped beating for a minute. There's also a wonderful art gallery in the town with an impressive little collection of local works, sandwiched in between the hundred of requisite tourist shops of course.

Townsville/Magnetic Island
More fondly known as "Brownsville", Townsville is simply the gateway to Magnetic Island via the ferry that I, like many travellers, simply pass through. Magnetic Island however is a great little place, well actually big island, but only half of it covered by roads and walking paths. Did tons of walking (everything is far away) but it was all beautiful. Hugged a koala. Yes hugged a koala. One of the high points of my life I have to say. Rented scooters and scooted around the island for an afternoon which was great fun as well. Definitely a new way of looking at the island! Explored the many beaches and coves, and had sunset beers from the deck at Base X hostel overlooking the ocean. Base X being another place I highly recommend, absolutely beautiful location and really cool cabin-style individual dorms right on the beach. 

Airlie Beach
Also known as the gateway to the Whitsunday islands. However unlike Townsville, Airlie is actually worth the stay. Great little beach side town with tons of cafes and bars that make for a good vibe and nightlife. Beautiful lagoon by the ocean to spend a lazy day at, and tons of little artists shops and such to keep you and your wallet busy. Definitely an easy place to spend a couple of day puttering about which is exactly what I did! Going out and sailing the Whitsunday's was the highlight by far though - absolutely amazing. Visited the famous Whitehaven beach, slept on the deck under the stars, snorkelled some incredible reefs, and had tons of fun with our little family living on the boat for 2 days. All that awesome stuff made up for the pouring rain the first day (yep, it's rainy season up here, and we had terrible luck with it) and the seriously cramped bunk area in the boat itself by a long shot!

Fraser Island
International heritage sight, one of the largest sand islands in the world and the longest beach highway in the world. Need I say more? 3 awesome days of exploring the island was fun to say the least! Explored the many lakes and trails in the inner part of the island, zoomed down the beach in our bus, hiked out to the most beautiful lake on a massive sand dune, swam in the naturally made champagne pools, and the highlight definitely being taking a scenic flight over the island. Best part of all of it was doing it with a group of awesome people, which made it laughs the entire way and good fun in the evening after the days adventures were done. It's amazing how much people influence and improve a tour! I still can't believe how many wonderful people I've met from around the world on this trip, definitely one of the best parts by far.

Another beach town, little bit more posh than the others but with a great Natinal Park and beach. Watched the sun set over said beach, saw a wild koala in the Park (debatably a clump of leaves, but we're sticking with koala) explored a local market during a rainy day, and probably to coolest/most strange was watching the lighting of the town for Christmas! Complete with carollers, tons of lights, a Santa in shorts and Mrs. Claus in a bikini on the beach. Definitely no white Christmas to be found here, but it's a really cool experience!

Such a great city. I still love Melbourne the most of course, but Brisbane does come quite close. Beautiful lagoon (they really like those over here), botanical gardens and tons of galleries and museums for me to explore. All built around a winding river - taking the boat tour down it is definitely worth it. The city was alive with Christmas too which was nice, decorations everywhere and a massive tree in front of the city hall. Lots of places to explore in and around the city, I feel like I hardly made a dent in the 3 days I was there! Oh well, another excuse to come back right? Just incase I didn't have enough already…

Byron Bay (AKA current location)
Beach town. Hippie town. Surf town. Party Town. Chilled-out-to-the-max town. All of the above. Been here for a day now and I already don't want to leave! This place has just got the best vibe, and everyone is so happy. I can easily see why most backpackers end up stuck here for a few months, some never even leaving! Surf lessons tomorrow, beach day today and a bike hire booked for the weekend to do some exploring down the coast. Watched the sun rise over the beach this morning with a local coffee in hand, life is definitely good. Very good.

All in all it's been an incredible adventure so far! I can't believe this is actually my life sometimes, it seems too good to be true. So doing my best to just live in the moment and make the most of every second, because I know time will just keep flying by. Can't wait to see what else is in store before I hit Sydney, this trip just keeps surprising me with possibilities :) 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thanksgiving takes Australia

Being away from friends and family for so long really makes you realize how big of a part they play in your everyday life. Thank goodness for things life Skype, Facebook and Snapchat for keeping in touch with everyone back at home because I honestly don't know what I'd do without it! That being said I've been lucky enough to make some incredible friends here, friends that I know I'll have for life. I joke that they're my little Aussie family, but it's not really a joke because they actually are.

Come Thanksgiving time, I was thinking about how weird it would be to not celebrate it at all! Considering how big of a thing it is back at home, it was hard to picture no one even knowing what it is. So Jesse and I (he having livd in America for 12 years when he was younger) decided we needed to show these Aussies how Thanksgiving should be done. Despite the fact that my family never has time to do a traditional turkey, ironic I know.

We on the other hand went all out. 2 pumpkin pies were made the day before in advance, no one had ever had pumpkin pie so I had to make sure they were perfect! Then the day of it was cooking time for the turkey and stuffing, mashes potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, green beans, corn on the cob, and homemade gravy. We were determined to do it all!

Cooking away in the over, om nom nom 

And somehow, we actually managed to pull it all off! Apparently Jesse and I make a great kitchen team because we had everything hot on the table at 6:30 and we were told it was all perfectly cooked. Must have been good because the table went quiet the minute everyone started eating, always a good sign. 

For me though Thanksgiving wasn't about the food, or eating it all, though that is definitely fun. It's about getting people you love together for a dinner, sharing some laughs and having a great night. And we definitely did that! We all laughed till our stomachs hurt, and talking way past the food was done and kitchen cleaned, until the last bottle of wine was empty. Then we played games, which was just the best fun to top off an awesome night. I can honestly say out of everything I've done here that was one of the best nights I've had! I'm so thankful to have met all of these wonderful people and be able to call them friends, and that was just the best way to say thank you to all of them for welcoming me into all their lives. And that was a lot mushier than I meant it to be! Goes to show how much people really can have an affect on your life in the best of ways. 

One of my favourite pictures - we're pretty adorable aren't we :D

TasMANIA Day 5

Ah the last morning of a trip, always bittersweet. Was definitely excited for a proper hot shower at home but was not at all ready to leave Tasmania! For as much as all the Aussies make fun of it, Tassie really is an absolutely incredible place. At least it wasn't too long of a drive back to Hobart that morning, so we allowed ourselves a little bit of a sleep in since we were all pretty exhausted from the late nights and early mornings. Bad combination that I always end up falling into when travelling! Oh well.

We decided to make a trip to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) that's just outside Hobart because we had time before our flight and it's meant to be an incredible place. It's definitely unique to say the least, considering the main level is at ground level, and then proceeds to go 3 levels underground! It's quite the experience as you start from the bottom and work your way up, and definitely feels like a maze at time. The art in there was a bit strange for the most part, some of the contemporary stuff just really wasn't my cup of tea. But that's not to say there wasn't some truly amazing pieces! One room in particular played with the idea of the tickers in a stock exchange room and projected the noises and numbers around on all the walls - literally kept me completely drawn in and interested for a solid 15 minutes trying to figure it out and see everything. Definitely a very cool experience and worth the trip!

I like the simplicity of the sign right when you walk in

Beautiful view from the terrace outside

After the gallery it was unfortunately time to head to the airport to catch out flight. After the most ridiculous adventure to find a petrol station to fill up the car, involving a 20 minute detour off the freeway, we found out that Hertz actually has pumps right in front of the return area. Another oopsies moment. But we had plenty of time before the flight so it was no worries! Flight ended up leaving a bit late too so we had even more time than expected.

But with Tiger it's true you're never guaranteed to be on time, so after being put in a 20 minute holding pattern above the airport to give other airlines priority we were all happy to land. Then we find out we have to let another flight use the gate to board, so we sat in the airplane on the tarmac for 45 minutes. Needless to say everyone was pretty grouchy by the time we got off. And apparently this is common with Tiger! So taking that into account, along with the miniature seats with no leg room, and the fact that Jetstar is only about $5 more on most flights, I definitely think I'm going to take a pass on flying with Tiger from now on. 

All in all though it was a fantastic trip! It was good fun being able to chose to do whatever we wanted with the freedom of a car, and I had great company of friends for the trip. No one killed each other and we all came home with smiles so that's always the best sign :) I still can't believe how much we managed to get done in a fairly short trip, but we covered all of the major things and I'm so happy that we decided to head to Tasmania! It's so off the beaten path (part of it's charm) that you don't get all the tourists, instead you're left with the stunning nature and spectacular views that even my camera doesn't do justice to. 

Safe to say we all had an awesome trip! One last goofy shot on the plane because that's how we do it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

TasMANIA Day 4

And here I thought we'd been getting up early the other mornings, it was a 5am alarm this morning! The idea was to watch the sunrise over the beach, so definitely worth it. Unfortunately it was still completely overcast and a little rainy so we couldn't actually see the sun, it was more watching the sky slowly getting lighter which was still really beautiful. There's nothing quite as powerful as standing out on the rocks in the ocean with nothing in sight but endless expanses of water and coastline beaches. definitely one of my favourite places. While it managed to pour rain while we were packing up the tents (of course) it did get sunny for a little bit so we could take some photos!

Little tents all tucked away behind the trees

Stunning view from our own private little beach

This is what goes on all the way down the coast - absolutely spectacular

After dropping out camping gear off it was time to head to Bicheno, home of our last hostel. Turns out Bicheno is an incredible little town thrown right on the hillside of the ocean! Stunning views from everywhere you look, including the porch of our hostel that had a view right over the beach the was the towns coast. After a quick stop for lunch and to drop stuff off at the hostel it was off the Fraycinet National Park to see the infamous Wineglass Bay.

Easily the best restaurant view I've ever seen

Wineglass Bay can be split into two different parts: the lookout and the actual beach. Being the adventurers that we are, we decided to do both! Might as well do everything possible when you're somewhere because you'll never know when you'll be back. Getting to the lookout was pretty easy, 40 minutes up and fairly steep but there was steps cut into the ground and it didn't last that long.

One of few shots that actually has me in it! Wearing my AOII letters with pride. But the Bay is clearly the star of the show here.

The hike down to the beach was a whole other story. Ridiculously steep and rocky for the first half, it was an adventure to get down, let alone get back up it afterwards. It was a little over an hour down, and about 2 back (indicator of how though it actually was) but 150% worth it! The beach itself is absolutely stunning, and goes on for ages. It's easy to see why it's rated one of the best beaches in the world. A couple of the guys actually had the guts to go swimming, power to them because the water was freezing cold. And I have a pretty high tolerance for cold water from swimming in Lake Superior. It was nice to just have some time to really enjoy and appreciate where we were and the magnitude of that, everyone went off on their own for a bit and had a little moment. Mine of course was out on the rocks at the point of the beach, have I mentioned I love rocks?

Picture perfect beach, literally. 

By the time we got back to the car park it was almost dark, and we were the last ones there! But a day's good till the last drop of daylight so we always made the most of that. We managed to find a little place in town called the Hungry Pig (or something along those lines) which was awesome pizza's and cheap ice cream, best combination after a long day. Then it was back to the hostel to finish off the beer, quite a challenge considering how much we had left. Needless to say our cards games that night got particularly funny and everyone was in a very good mood. Fun was to spend the last night for sure!

TasMANIA Day 3

Up and out of the cabin in record time this morning, considering that there's 6 of us to get moving actually being on time for things is an accomplishment! First mission of the day was to find somewhere to breakfast, because turns out our makeshift dinner form the night before really wasn't filling come morning time. We decided to suck it up and wait for a slightly bigger town called Sheffield (much to the Brits delight) that was about 40 minutes away. After touring the quaint little town nestled in between mountains (really was a beautiful place) we settled on getting some pretty awesome food from a little window in the convenience store. The random places always seem to have the best food it seems. 

From there is was off to Launceston for a bit of a day trip to split our very long drive in half. One of the bigger cities in Tasmania meant there was quite a few things to do! We somehow failed at finding the "Batman Bridge" despite being at the exact spot the map said it was. Who knew a massive bridge could manage to hide somewhere? We decided instead to head up the the basin and tour around there for a bit. A ride on the chairlift over it was definitely in order, such a cute little thing with a great view! Did a little nature walk after that and explored around the basin, saw everything from a mama and baby wallaby (smaller version of a kangaroo) to a bunch of live peacocks roaming around.

Definitely a little bit worrying dangling over the water on such a rickety little chair!

Best thing ever - see the little joey tucked inside the mama's pocket?! Eeep so cute :D

After that it was time to hit the road again! Good thing we had such a nice car because we sure spent a lot of time in it. We were making our way to the Bay of Fires on the east coast to spend the night. Turns out the drive there was even more of an adventure than the one the day before! Apparently crazy skinny, winding switchbacks are a common thing in Tasmania. And it started pouring rain so all the roads were slippery. That's a drive that I don't particularly want to do again. Finally made it to St. Helens (town right by the Bay of Fires) quite a few hours later because the rain really slowed us down. We were renting camping gear from a hostel there so we needed to pick that up and set everything up before dark. Campgrounds were surprisingly farther than expected and also full of people, so it was quite an adventure to find one far away from everyone that was still sheltered from the wind (there was a massive storm about to roll through). We ended up lucking out on a site about 10 steps away from out own private beach - definitely one of the nicest places I've ever camped at. Made up for the fact that we had old school canvas tents to sleep in and it was raining for the entire night from the minute we started setting up! Thankfully we had thought of picking up a tarp so we set that up over the campfire to have a makeshift shelter to cook and eat under. Have to say that everything tastes better cooked over a campfire, and despite the rain it was tons of fun!

Irony was that I was the only girl, and the most experienced camper. So the fire for cooking was my job and I think I did quite well!

We did have a little scare though of hearing bushes rustling all of a sudden right next to us, in the pitch black. Turns out it was a Tasmania devil! Apparently it's almost impossible to see them because of a disease that's been killing them off there so we were incredibly lucky. It was however a little too close for comfort, because they can be very aggressive, and we had a bunch of food that it probably very much wanted to eat. Needless to say everyone was a little afraid of venturing into the bush for a pee before bedtime… 

TasMANIA Day 2

Today was a very early morning start so that we could pick up the rental car and hit to road at a good hour. There was a long drive ahead! I had the wonderful adventure of trying to dry myself off after my shower with a washcloth though because genius me forgot to bring a towel… Let's just say that one is a challenge that I don't want to attempt again!

Our rental car was actually a pristine silver SUV, the Australian make that everyone drives that I can never remember the name of. The logo is a lion and that's about all I've got. We were so happy to just get a car at all though after Bipeen had gotten a call the day before saying that the car we were supposed to be getting was actually was returned damaged. Thank you Hertz for sorting that out!

Don't think we ever agreed on a name, pretty sure we just called it her the entire time…

After a quick stop for groceries and breakfast we hit the road North out of Hobart to eventually make out way to Cradle Mountain National Park. It was a stunning drive for the first half, full of rolling green hills dotted with little towns. We made a quick break in the gorgeous little town of Perth nestled between bright green grass-covered hills for coffee and booze (already had food covered, that was the other necessary part). After that we figured we'd suck it up and head straight to the park instead of our cabin first, best to get as much out of the short hours of daylight as possible right! That drive was way more interesting though, teeny tiny little lanes of switchbacks winding through the mountains. It proved for some absolutely stunning views but it was definitely a little scary seeing the cliffs right off the side of the road. 

View from one of the lookout points - so beautiful and it went on forever!

Managed to make it to the park mid-afternoon despite almost running out of gas. We assumed we'd eventually hit a town on the way to fill up… not our brightest idea that's for sure. Thankfully the park entrance station had a gas pump! We decided to do a hike around Dove Lake, it promised incredible views and it fit with the amount of time we had. It was a 6.5km hike so it wasn't small by any means, and actually quite challenging and steep in some places! It was absolutely incredible though because you not only got a view of the infamous Cradle Mountain, but you also got a view of the entire lake from all angles as well as some waterfalls that are nestles in between the rocky faces. 

I swear this isn't photoshopped at all, it was just that breathtaking

By the time we actually managed to finish our hike the sun was on its way down and it was time to find the cabin. The directions we had said it was about a 1 hour drive away, which seemed a little strange, but it had to be the right place because it was the address right? Wrong. Leaving the park we saw a sign saying Cradle Mountain cabins and campground, the same name of the place we were apparently staying, so we were confused to say the least. After much debate we decided to see if we could get ahold of someone (the office was closed because it was after 9pm by this point), only to find that there was a key and map with our groups name on it in the late arrivals box. Thank goodness we stopped there and didn't listen to google maps! That would have been a whole lot of driving for no reason what so ever. And turns out the cabin was actually very nice, and spacious too, for what we had expected. 

One thing we hadn't thought of was food. We figured we'd stop at a store for dinner on the way to the cabin, but because we didn't actually need to leave the national park we were about 45 minutes away from the closest town. And everything would be closed by then because it was a Sunday. Oopsies. So we had a wonderful dinner of toast with jam, chips, cookies, and bananas. That was all of our "car snacks" from earlier that day so thank goodness we at least had that! It was surprisingly filling so no one actually went to bed hungry which was great. After much chatting and attempts at playing some card games it was time to hit the hay because tomorrow would be an early morning again (I'm starting to see a pattern with that). 

TasMANIA Day 1

Day 1

And so begins the adventure! Step one: get to the airport. This always proves to be much more challenging that it should be because Tullamarine airport is pretty much out in no mans land. My travel buddies were all coming from their residence on the Clayton campus of Monash so I was meeting them at the train station in the city to figure out how on earth to get to the airport from there. Turns out all we needed to do was catch another train and a bus and we'd be there! Too easy right? Yep, turns out that bus stopped running at 5pm, and it was 6:30 at that point… Good thing we have given ourselves tons of time to get to the airport because we had to get back on another train, ride that to the end and catch a different bus. But we finally made it 2 1/2 hours later!

We also learned that the Tiger Air terminal is at the farthest possible end of the airport, and it the sketchiest terminal I think I've ever seen. More on my thoughts about Tiger later. Flight was only 15 minutes late so we didn't have long to wait until we were off! Arriving in Hobart was quite a change as the airport is about 1/4 of the size of the Melbourne domestic terminal, it's miniature. Apparently the taxi's hadn't thought ahead though and there was a group of us waiting at the airport for cabs for a good half hour. And when it's already 10:30pm you really just want to get out of there and to the hostel. Finally caught a cab and made it to the hostel, check in and attempted to find bunks because it was actually a 20 person room! Not going to lie that many people in one space is a little hot and smelly, but as long as there's a clean bed I can curl up in it's all good.

None of us had eaten since much earlier that day, so food was definitely in order. After realizing we hadn't listened very well at all to the front desk's recommendations of where to find some food, we wandered around for quite a while until we finally stumbled across the harbour front which was full of bars and such. After ages of attempting to decide on a place, none of us are very picky at all, we finally chose as cool little irish pub with live music. Was good fun, not terribly expensive beer and we managed to find a table to ourselves to have a chat.

Realizing we still hadn't actually found any food, we managed to find an all night chip shop which I swear had the best chips and gravy ever. That or everything tastes amazing when you're that hungry. Also I've converted to saying chips now instead of fries because it saves me the funny looks. Plus travelling with Brits and always hanging around Aussies makes that sort of stuff start to wear off on you very quickly.