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Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

I’ve spent 2 nights (couchsurfing) in Brisbane. Several people have told me not to bother stopping here, but just like Adelaide I had to at least give it a couple days. Although in the end it probably does end up as my least favourite Australian city (except Hobart but that doesn’t really count as a city in my opinion), the problem I have with Brisbane isn’t that it’s a bad place, it just doesn’t stand out in any real way from other cities. It looks very North American with lots of tall buildings etc, there’s some nice areas and it wouldn’t be a bad place to live, it just doesn’t offer much for the traveler. Especially the traveler not spending any money, I think I have spent about $20 in my 2 days, most that on stuff for the next few days.

the cbd and 'city cat' boat

in the botanical gardens

In my wanderings around the city, I went to the Southbank of the river, home of a giant sightseeing wheel which every city seems to want now (I really don’t see the point in places like this, London can justify it with the view, Brisbane or Melbourne give me a break). But the most interesting (read: hilarious) thing there was the man made beach. Complete with palm trees and, lifeguards. Signs up everywhere saying danger, despite the fact that the majority of it is basically a wading pool with sand. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before really.

at the fake beach on southbank

I leave here in the morning, heading North to Noosa and the sunshine coast. I have 17 days left in Australia and most of them are already planned, this will be the fastest paced part of my Australian trip so far!

Byron Bay

Monday, April 27th, 2009

It took me until my 3rd day in Byron Bay to actually go see anything other than walking down to the beach in darkness my first night here. First I went didjeridoo shopping (so much fun trying out all of them in the shop) as requested for a couple people in America. I love spending other peoples money on cool stuff, especially after spending so much of mine the day before! After that I went to the beaches, at least a couple of them.

view of Cape Byron from Main beach

Pretty much standard Australian beaches, not the best I’ve seen by any stretch but there was plenty going on there. I went for a brief swim, despite the fact that by looking at it I could tell it wasn’t going to be nearly as nice as the Indian Ocean was. I wasn’t wrong, and I headed up to Cape Byron by the lighthouse for the sunset instead.

View from Cape Byron

sunset byron bay

sunset byron bay

sunset byron bay

I like Byron, it’s a shame I spent most of my time here avoiding spending money on any daily stuff and booking all my tours. The town is full of cool cafes, restaurants, artistic souvenir shops, street performers, surfers, scuba divers and people in camper vans. It’s got a great atmosphere, an awesome place to chill out. Unfortunately I’ve only been doing that in the evenings, I wish I was stopping here for my last couple nights to relax after this whirlwind tour ahead of me… I have to settle for Cairns, not exactly ideal for that.

Speaking of the ever longer evenings, the time I gave for sunset yesterday may have been off a bit. Today the sun set around 5. That’s right, 5pm. Also, since the nights are long now it’s cold during them, last night it got down to 10 degrees (50 for you Americans) I had to actually use my jumper, something I hadn’t anticipated anywhere along here. The days are still warm and sunny and the locals here delight in telling people that this is winter here. The worst thing about the early sunset is so much less time to do/see stuff. Glad I’m heading North to Brisbane tomorrow, I’m sure the sun wont be up much later there but every time I head North it will improve slightly. I’ll have my first experience with the Australian Greyhound buses tomorrow morning, I’m very impressed with their service over the phone and how easy it was to setup travel dates on the website, lets hope the buses themselves live up to those standards.

Byron Bay and the rest of my Oz trip plan

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

I left Adelaide with it pissing down rain, 2 hours later I landed at gold coast airport in Queensland to sunshine and that happily awaited warmth. Hopped on my shuttle to Byron Bay and the yha hostel there, with a large pool surrounded by palm trees and a very laid back vibe, great facilities too, this is one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed at in Australia. One strange thing, I’ve heard more Kings of Leon songs playing in the time I’ve been in Byron Bay (blaring out of clubs, hostels and cafes, I even heard some on the beach!!!) than I care to for the rest of my life, seriously people, when is that fad going to end?? I also discovered that despite the fact that the weather here is like summer, all daylight is totally gone at 6 something here since it’s actually almost winter here, geez I need to get farther North!!

My first full day in Byron I spent pretty much exclusively (after catching up on the sleep I haven’t gotten the last few days) either reading the guidebook, on the internet or in a travel agency. When I finally had my stuff booked, the sun was almost setting and I was exhausted, mainly mentally and monetarily. I spent more time in a travel agency today that I ever have in my life before, and more money on tours…

Since I usually avoid travel agencies and guided tours like the plague, I should explain. The reason for tours is most of the stuff I want to do has to be a tour, boat trips, 4wd tours etc and secondly by booking all of my day/multi day tours for the rest of my time on the East coast through the agency I was able to get a discount, about 15%, on all of it. I also didn’t have to call all the tour companies individually etc. Now I have every major activity booked, and all my bus trips scheduled on my bus pass I just have to be there for the pickups and enjoy. Here’s the rundown:

* 2 days on Fraser Island (guided tour so I don’t end up like that self drive group the other week)

* 2 separate day boat trips to the great barrier reef with snorkeling, the first one on the Southernmost reef islands and the other one about 1500km North near Cape Tribulation. The amazing thing is, that’s not even close to the North end of the reef, it goes on much farther North (note that I am going farther than the paved roads go to the North when I’m at Cape Trib.) to the far Northern tip of Australia 2300km in total length. If that’s not amazing I don’t know what is.

* 1 day white water rafting on the Tully river (loved it so much in NZ I couldn’t resist the chance)

* 3 day Cape Tribulation/Daintree (far North QLD rainforest area) tour, with one of those days being my second barrier reef trip.

All that in less than 3 weeks, involving more than 2600km of bus travel, before I fly from Cairns to Sydney and then on to Johannesburg, South Africa. It’s a fast pace for sure, but I’m pretty happy with it and got in just about everything I wanted to. I wont be doing a Whitsundays sailing trip, possibly being the only backpacker for a long distance not doing so. Mainly because I don’t have enough time to do it all, and the idea of being stuck (read: crammed) on a boat with 40 other people (probably drunk for most of it) for 3 days doesn’t appeal to me, even if the scenery there is amazing. Essentially I chose Fraser Island (and booked one of the smaller tours there with 1/3 the number of people on them) over the Whitsundays. I don’t think I’ll be lacking in great scenery with my schedule. I’m also stopping in Brisbane, Noosa Heads and Airlie Beach briefly along the way in addition to the major stops I already listed, ultimately ending up in Cairns.


Sunday, April 26th, 2009

My flight from Perth to Adelaide was less than ideal, 2am departure and 6am arrival, plus I lost 1 1/2 hours in the time chance making for a 2 1/2 hour long flight in the middle of the night = no sleep for me. There was the consolation of not having to pay for a hostel that night though… After I got into Adelaide just before sunrise, tired, hungry and freezing, you’re probably thinking that I went somewhere and slept since that would seem to make sense. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, mainly beacause I only had three nights in Adelaide before my flight to Queensland, so no time to waste sleeping away one of my days there. It was a gorgeous day once the sun came up and warmed everything, and that always helps in the battle to stay awake so after I found a cafe, had a full breakfast and some tea I was ready to explore.

Adelaide Uni

I went to the South Australia museum, the botanical gardens (4th I’ve been to here, Sydney is still the best) and all over the city centre before heading off to my couchsurfing hosts place outside the city. This was couchsurfing time number 3 for me and another cool person and I had a great time!

Day 2 I got up bright and early, saw the sunrise for the 2nd consecutive day (first time I’ve done that, ever) and headed into the city for my day tour of the nearby Barossa valley, one of the largest wine producing regions in Australia. The weather had changed overnight and it lashed down rain for most of the day, fortunately I was in the bus or in wineries tasting wine the whole day, a very enjoyable wet weather activity. I discovered many things about kinds of wine I’ve never had before, and completely surprised myself with the ones I ended up liking a lot.

Barossa valley vinyard

My 3rd and final day on my whistle stop tour of Adelaide was very English, weather wise. I headed to the Northern suburbs and walking around the very green parks with old buildings around some of them it didn’t look or feel unlike England in all regards. At night I met one of my travel buddies from Tasmania who’s now working in Adelaide for a few beers and some pool at a great laid back pub with some awesome live music. A nice way to finish off in Adelaide.

cathedral and Donald bradman statue

As for all the comments I’d gotten from people so far in Australia telling me not to go to Adelaide I disagree completely. While not as much happening as Melbourne, Sydney or probably even Perth (it’s simply not as big!) it still seems to have plenty to offer as far as pubs, cafes and restaurants, a laid back feel, and it’s surrounded by fantastic wine growing regions, apparently a great beach too. I didn’t experience that due to the poor weather while I was there. It’s also small enough to get around very easily and quickly, unlike say, Sydney or Perth.

Rottnest Island, last day out West and looking ahead…

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Since I had another full day in Perth (essentially 2 more since my flight doesn’t go until after midnight tonight) I took a ferry over to Rottnest Island. You can just about see the lighthouse on the island from the mainland, the ferry takes about 45 minutes from Perth. I had a discount from an ad so I got bike and snorkel gear rental on the island for free, not bad.

As soon as I got off the ferry I jumped on my bike and rode away from the mass of families near the quay (it’s still school holidays here this week) as fast as possible, stopped at the first beach I saw that looked amazing, and nearly empty. It was still morning, around 10:30 and there were clouds still hanging around with a bit of a breeze so it wasn’t that warm yet, but it looked too nice not to get in (I’m not bothered about water temperatures anymore, I just get in) and try snorkeling here. I didn’t have that high of expectations for what I was going to see here, given the fact that I’d just come from snorkeling on the Ningaloo reef, but I was pleasantly surprised. Quite a few kinds of tropical fish and a decent amount of coral was in this bay, nothing like the quantity on the reef but still worth a good snorkel around.

parkers point

parkers point

After that I spent the day biking for a while, finding a good beach, checking out the water, chilling on the beach and then repeating the whole process. I got to 4 great beaches, though none of the snorkeling was much good after the first one. The weather warmed up significantly in the afternoon so I spent more time on the beaches later on. Nice little island…

Parakeet bay

Parakeet bay

the basin

After the ferry and ensuing bus shuttle back (during the latter, through Perth’s outer suburbia, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t in America) I headed off into the city for a couple pints of my favourite beer on tap, so rare to find it and so worth it when I do… Now I’m waiting until it’s time to go to the airport for my redeye flight to Adelaide tonight, I’ve got a few nights there before it’s on to the East coast and the last leg of my Australian travels, I’m into my last month here now. I’m looking forward to Adelaide, most of the backpacking crowd here don’t really like it and claim it’s boring (maybe that means they don’t sell goon there? ah wouldn’t that be nice…) so I’m thinking I will like it at least somewhat since I interpret ‘boring’ as, not many nightclubs. I should be couchsurfing and meeting up with a previous travel mate from Tassie there, looking forward to that too, the area surrounding Adelaide is the flagship wine region for Australia too, should be a fun few days before I hit the East coast.

I kind of have a plan for the East coast now (finally), I’m starting in Byron bay and going all the way up through Queensland to Cape Tribulation before my flight out of Cairns. I’ll, hopefully, be hitting the great barrier reef in a couple spots, touring fraser island, chilling on the sunshine coast and finally exploring the rainforest around Cape Tribulation before I fly on to South Africa and beyond. I’ve got a night out in Sydney between flights before I leave Oz, nice way to go out…

Still got 3 continents and (at least) 10 countries (South Africa, England, Holland, Belgium, France, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Columbia) to go through before I arrive back in the US and about 5 months to do it in. I’m looking forward the most to, an African safari, the 4 day inca trail to Machu Picchu which I now have booked, Patagonia in Argentina (hopefully) and being back in the UK and Europe for a few weeks in June (I even have a couple weeks off from travel visiting friends and family in there!), and those are just the things on the top of my anticipation list, there’s not really any part of the remain trip that I’m wishing I hadn’t scheduled (which was a fear of mine before), nothing worse than getting halfway round the world to find that due to the travel so far I was no longer interested in a planned destination, thankfully that hasn’t happened to me.

That’s enough for this entry and my battery is almost dead, so I’m signing off from Western Australia, the next time I post on here I’ll be in a (silly) 1/2 hour timezone in Adelaide (just like Newfoundland). One note about my time here in WA, the remoteness out here, driving long distances and lots of time with nothing to go do have called on my song writing, I’ve written quite a few songs out here adding to the ever growing list of songs coming out of this trip, they keep getting easier to write too… I can’t wait to start putting music to them and recording when the trip is finished, I have heard my guitars calling to me from halfway around the world over the last few weeks…


Sunday, April 19th, 2009

I left Coral bay for Exmouth, at the other end of the reef, was going to go out and do some more snorkeling but the clouds came in and it actually rained, didn’t look like a great afternoon for snorkeling so I just chilled out in town, yes Exmouth is actually a town. A small one but nevertheless, restaurants, shops, hotels and actual houses with residents in them!

Next morning the weather had cleared somewhat so I headed over to the reef, rented some snorkel gear and went to the two most popular snorkeling spots in this area. The reef is so close to land here it’s amazing. at one of these sites it’s maybe 30 meters off shore!! What I saw was similar to the snorkeling in Coral bay, not quite as intense as the kayak snorkel trip since that was farther out to sea over the middle of the reef but still breathtaking, no coral formations look the same so it’s all worth exploring. While snorkeling at turquoise bay (appropriately named) I saw a black tipped reef shark, surprisingly because there was lots of snorkelers, normally the sharks would be scared off but I turned my head and there he was, swam by and disappeared. It’s an interesting feeling to turn around in the water and see a shark…

After I was done snorkeling for the day I headed back into town, was couchsurfing again, another great experience there, very good night spent at my hosts weekly poker night. I think the most enjoyable aspect of couchsurfing, for me at the moment anyway, is the opportunity to just spend a night just hanging out with people at their place, a mental break from the hostel atmosphere and being on the road in general, you just feel like a house guest with this, it’s refreshing, a load of fun and a great concept.

The next morning I left Exmouth and headed South back towards Perth, ending up at the same strange hostel in Geraldton for the night simply because I was sick of driving (about 750km driven) and the other hostel in town was full. There’s not much choice for towns to stop at in this area.

Now I’m back in Perth, returned my rental car and I have a couple days here before I fly to Adelaide, enjoying city life again…

Ningaloo reef, 1200km later, it was worth the drive

Friday, April 17th, 2009

I apologize in advance for any excessive use of adjectives in this post.
After another night at my dump of a campground I got up early (though not before sunrise this time) and got out of there. Heading farther North, through the town of Carnavron, a place to resupply myself with food and fuel. I was originally going to spend a night there to split up the drive to Coral bay, but once I got there and saw the place it seemed very ordinary and it was only midday so I drove the rest of the 300km to Coral bay.

I showed up in Coral bay (which is not actually a town, just a collection of resorts and tourism related industries) around 4pm with no reservation for the night, during the Easter school holiday, which the guidebook tells you explicitly not to do. I got one of the last campsites at one of the caravan parks, lucky me, and this place actually had a usable and semi modern camping kitchen. Microwave soup is fast and easy. The day before I tried a different way for heating soup to good success. You put the can of soup in the back window of the car which is sitting in the sun, it was quite a warm day and after sitting there for a large portion of it the soup was piping hot. I was very happy with the result, but the microwave is much faster.

After that, and a long awaited hot shower, the sunset on the beach was magnificent…


The next morning I got up early, called ahead a hostel bed for my coming days in Exmouth (no more sleeping in the car!) and headed down to the beach to see the reef. I was going to take a kayak/snorkeling trip but there weren’t enough people interested for them to do the morning trip, possibly because it was cloudy, so I rented snorkel gear, got some tips and went to see what I could see close to shore. It’s amazing really, once you leave the shallow area by the beach you only have to swim 5 meters to see some coral and fish. I saw quite a few kinds of fish, many kinds of coral scattered around and several manta rays. Exhilarated by this I took the afternoon kayak trip out onto the reef.

Amazing is how I’ll describe it. I’d never snorkeled before today and I spent about 3-4 hours doing so today with an hour of that being out on the main reef. Here’s the best thing, you kayak for 10 minutes and you’re in the middle of the reef. 10 minutes, that’s how close to shore it is here (it’s even closer to shore farther up North). We kayaked to 2 different snorkeling spots, one to see reef sharks of which we saw 3 kinds, the grey ones being the largest and looking like what you generally imagine a shark to look like. We just saw one of those and he payed no attention to us, an awesome sight for sure.

grey reef shark

The second snorkel spot was farther out of the reef and even better than the first, substantially so actually. The number of different kinds of fish in the water is amazing, the big schools of them swimming past you is unbelievable. Saw a few good sized sea turtles too, snorkeling a foot away from a sea turtle is an amazing feeling. The corals here are mostly brown and green, not the brightly coloured stuff popularized by the great barrier reef (which I will hopefully experience in a few weeks), but the coral formations here are awesome and the variety/colouring of fish is incredible. I got back from the kayaking thoroughly exhausted and equally impressed and satisfied, one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

school of fish

me and a turtle

One note, the pictures on here were not taken by me, I’m keeping this non waterproof camera away from saltwater, our guide was shooting throughout and I bought the photo package. Some of the shots aren’t actually of my session, the ‘best of’ shots they have was included with todays and some of the photos from today didn’t turn out well for whatever reason, however everything I have uploaded I saw. Simply stunning, my best experience in Australia so far…. (loads more pics on flickr..)

blue clam

ningaloo reef snorkel

Monkey Mia (no monkeys)

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

I spent Easter Sunday at Monkey Mia (no monkeys here though), got up before sunrise to make it there in time for the dolphin feeding which was pretty cool.



After that I took an aborigine cultural bush walk, part of which was eating various wild berries/leaves. A pretty cool experience, welll worth doing.
The rest of the day I spent either in the amazingly coloured water or close by to it. The water is so nice it’s like a magnet, especially when you are being swarmed by flies, which happens immediately whenever you stray from the waters edge into the bush. This is an area where the desert comes practically right up to the sea, so there’s some cool colour changes from red sand, to white sand, to greenish crystal water.

desert meets the sea


This peninsula is a world heritage site, one of the reasons for that is the amount of species of endangered animals here. Today I saw an echidna, dolphins, a manta ray and various birds, including the pelicans…


Shark Bay

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Shark Bay

After another night sleeping in the car, I got up early for the daily pelican feeding on Kalbarri beach. One problem, the pelicans didn’t show up. No I’m not kidding. After that laughable event, I headed North towards Shark Bay which is full of green-blue water, several strange geological phenomena’s and one place where you can get up close to the wild dolphins. The 350km drive up there was even more boring than the driving the day before, flatter and less vegetation for the most part.

A couple of the interesting sites in the shark bay area, the stromatolites (some very simple organism millions of years old thought to be one of the original forms of life, apparently) in Hamelin pool which is a very shallow part of the bay due to a large salt bar. I don’t know much about geology but these things looked pretty cool in the shallow, crystal clear water.


The next stop en-route was shell beach. Literally, a beach made up of tiny shells. There’s actually many of them in this region, but this one is actually called “shell beach” and hey, it’s not half impressive.

shell beach

shell beach

Then the day took a downwards twist, I got to my campground or, “resort” as they have named it. Before I continue I should add that this is absolutely in the middle of nowhere so at least it’s somewhere to camp with facilities (kind of). Unfortunately this place seems to have hit it’s prime a few decades ago, it’s rundown and not impressive in any regard. I wont use the ‘kitchen” and there’s no hot showers at the moment either… I’m blaming Easter, that’s why everywhere else is booked full. I didn’t even know when Easter was this year until a couple weeks ago, I have paid that little attention to calendars, they just aren’t relevant to hardly anything I do. Damn holidays getting in the way of my holiday!

I was going to spend the afternoon at the “resort”, but once I saw it I drove to Denham, the only actual town around shark bay. There I found a pay phone that took coins (omg!) since my phone has had no reception since Kalbarri and made a booking and some enquiries about the coming days. Then I practically ran to the beach (another one made up of shells) and went for a quick dip (it was another hot and humid day)before laying there on the beach for a while, something I have found myself doing more here on the West coast than anywhere before. Usually it’s been because there’s not much else to do, outside of Perth it really is remote. After that I headed off for fish and chips since my refusal to use the kitchen at my campground would have resulted in my eating a cold can of soup for dinner. The cafe I ended up at advertised wireless internet but I was told it couldn’t be used after 5pm. Normally, in most places, such a statement would have had me confused, angry and asking more questions. However this is Western Australia so I just plainly accepted it, frankly I didn’t expect to see any internet in this area at all.

It becomes painfully obvious out here in WA, how nice and easy being other places is. Having phones that work, internet access, supermarkets readily available and not having to constantly be thinking about making sure you have enough fuel to get to the next possible fueling station. So far, most of what I’ve seen out here has been secondary, stop along the way sort of attractions, the main reason I’m driving up North is to go to the Ningaloo reef near Exmouth. That’s not to say the stuff I’ve seen isn’t nice, but it’s not stuff I would normally go far out of my way to see. This is one area that seems overly hyped in lonely planet.

After dinner and the 50km drive back to my campsite I took a cold shower, lovely, drank some wine I picked up in the margaret river region, listened to some music and saw the nearly full moon rise. I’ve been listening to music a lot the last week or so, mainly as something to do while driving or laying on a beach. It’s nice, at times when I’ve been busier sight seeing I’ve missed the simple pleasure of my ipod. Of course that means I want to play a guitar now more than at any time on the trip so far…


Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

I got up early and left Geraldton, after figuring out what other town in that area I could stay in to break up the driving on the way back down to Perth (there’s not a hell of a lot of choice in that section). Heading North to Kalbarri and the national park there. The day was quite hot and very humid, the most humid day I can remember since I was in Hong Kong, which was quite some time ago. I did get a campsite for the night (all the hostels in WA are booked for Easter it seems), and then explored the park. The main feature of the park is the river gorge with it’s red rock canyons. On my way there from the town you drive inland through vegetation like this.


And that’s all you see in every direction. Lonely, desolate area this. In spring it’s full of wildflowers apparently, this time of year just flies. As soon as I stepped out of the car for the first time since driving inland from the town of Kallbarri I was swarmed by flies immediately, after several attempts of applying my heavy duty insect repellent I concluded that it kept a significant percentage of the flies away, but only for a short period of time. I got to the most accessible (meaning I didn’t drive 25km on a bad gravel road to get to) viewpoints of the gorge and while it looks cool enough, standing there sweating in the heat and humidity and being constantly bothered by large amounts of flies is not my idea of fun. My original plan of hiking one of the trails around the gorge was killed off then and there.

murchison river gorge

Instead of hiking, I went to the other part of the national park which is back on the coast. It was cooler here, the coastline has some pretty cool cliff formations and from one of these I saw about 20 dolphins, pretty cool.


costal cliffs

Another part of the coast has some very red rock formations by some very nice white sandy beaches. In amongst the rock pools there I saw more crabs than I’ve ever seen before, both in different kinds and total numbers, this one was eating a prawn…

crab eating a prawn

red bluff point

After seeing the majority of the lookout points I headed to the beach at the mouth of the river for a cooling swim, laid on the beach for a while afterwords and then walked the whole length of town, sat on a sand dune and watched the sunset. Watching the sunset is great entertainment, there’s never two the same. Tonights version wasn’t as good as the pervious nights awesomeness but watching an orange ball of fire sink slowly over the horizon with waves crashing on the beach below isn’t too bad of an experience.


The town here, and indeed the caravan park I’m staying in, is full of mainly Australian families on holiday for the Easter long weekend and the river was full of people kite surfing, fishing, jet skiing, sailing and just about any other kind of watersport or beach related activity you can think of! I managed to get the next couple nights of the holiday weekend booked at another campground farther North, I’m slightly surprised at this fact, I guess most Australians are traveling in groups and have very large tents/caravans so just me sleeping in my car is easy enough to accommodate though all the hostels are booked out all weekend.