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Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Today I’m flying to South Africa and it feels like I’m starting my trip all over again from the beginning. I’ve been in Australia for so long that even though I’ve been traveling around and seeing stuff recently the country itself has grown very familiar to me, to the point where just being here in itself is not exciting anymore. I can’t wait to be in South Africa, a new country, culture and continent for me. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is the flight there, 14 hours long, 4 hours longer than any previous flight I’ve taken in my life, and it’s through the middle of the day. I have armed myself with some Bill Bryson reading material, a fully charged iPod and I’m hoping Qantas has some good in flight movies. The fact that I could watch 4 full length films and still only be just over halfway done with the flight is not something I want to dwell on.

I’ve been in Oz for 5 months and here’s my quick review.
My favourite city here is Melbourne, except on the 46 degree days, I could live there.
Snorkeling on the Ningaloo and GB reefs was amazing, a whole new world to me and probably my #1 memory from my stay.
Queensland is awesome, the beaches, the rainforest, the reef…
Tasmania is also beautiful, in different ways, just colder.
I tried to pick a favourite beach but I couldn’t, there were contenders from all the states I’ve been in here..

and one last thing I have just discovered…


signing off from Australia

Cairns, one last reef trip

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Thursday was my last day in Cairns and the original plan was to be spending it getting stuff sorted for South Africa but because of my reef trip fiasco I had another day trip to do. The weather was gorgeous, the first time on any of my reef visits, making for some great views at the michaelmas cay where the boat went.

michaelmas cay

This was by far the largest and nicest boat I’ve seen the reef on, with a fancy buffet lunch and wine included and the boat was only half full with 50 people on it. There were a couple other boats at the same reef section but for the most part I wasn’t crowded by other snorkelers, some people go all the way out there and settle for glass bottom boat viewing, I spent as much time snorkeling either side of lunch as possible.

michaelmas cay

Despite everything I’d heard about the disappointing state of the reef near Cairns, at least the part I saw was nice. Hardly any obvious fin damage and what there was was in the very shallow bit near the beach. Loads of cool corals and fish, I saw an octopus, first time for that, and while I was taking a closer look at it and turtle swam no more than a meter away from me! This was incredible to me since the water was so busy in this section, I figured all the larger stuff would be scared off but this turtle let me swim with him for at least 10 minutes, as he went down into various coral formations looking for food and then surfacing for air before disappearing into the distance, those guys can move fast when they want to. It was the largest sea turtle I’ve seen yet and I’ve been really lucky to see as many of them as I have.

I arrived back in Cairns at sunset, exhausted, sore all over after spending so much time on the go this week after a great boat ride back and fantastic day out. This week has been beyond great, including the white water rafting, rainforest and two reef snorkels in 4 days, a fantastic way to finish up my time in Australia. I fixed dinner at the hostel, and ended up spending the better part of the evening hanging out with some other guest there, after so long of not wanting to be around the main backpacker crowd it was really refreshing to meet some other like minded people. Eventually I retreated to the formalities of packing for my flight the next day and booking a room in South Africa for my arrival date. I still only have a basic plan for South Africa and at this point I see it changing the whole time I’m there, I just need to pick a safari to do, there are just too many great sounding ones possible!

Just under 4 months until my rtw ticket is up, I’ve been on the road for over 9 months now and this is the end of this leg of the trip, I’m highly anticipating the next one, bring on South Africa!

Cape Tribulation

Friday, May 15th, 2009

My last few days in Australia have been hectic, fast paced and awesome.  I’ll start at the beginning…

Monday morning, still on a high from the previous days rafting trip I left Cairns for Cape Tribulation, which is home to apparently the oldest surviving rainforest on the planet, the Daintree, and with the great barrier reef not far off shore.  The tourist term is “where the rainforest meets the reef”.  Stunningly beautiful would be a good description.  Crocs, sharks, jellyfish, massive spiders, snakes, this area has it all!  My tour on the way North stopped at a few worthwhile locations but the rainforest around Cape Tribulation beats the rest hands down.  The fact that it rained all day, very heavily for most of it couldn’t even conceal that. My hostel at the cape was made up of little cabins surrounded by rainforest, very close to the beach with nothing else anywhere near.rainforestrainforestcape tribulation beach


I was supposed to go on a snorkeling trip to the reef on Tuesday, but when I called the day before to confirm they informed me that the boat I was booked on was out of the water for repairs this week.  There was one other local fast boat doing half day trips to the reef but the agency I booked with didn’t deal with them so they offered to put me on a boat out of Cairns when I was back there.  Despite the fact that it was a nicer boat, with more stuff included I only reluctantly accepted knowing that trying to get my money back would not be nearly worth the hassle.  I didn’t really want to see the reef around Cairns with all the stories of overcrowded trips and damaged coral, more on that later.


I decided to go on the local boat the next morning so I could still see the reef in Cape Trib, and it’s nice up there.  Saw a couple turtles, and swam with one of them for a while, the visibility in the water was great and the reef there is home to a massive group of clams.  Massive in the sense that these clams are larger than me, I didn’t know such things existed.


In the afternoon once I returned from the reef the weather had cleared off somewhat so I walked around Cape Trib beach.

cape trib beach


My last day I did a hike along beaches and through the rainforest to a water hole in one of the rivers, such an awesome place.  Surrounded by rainforest, the water wasn’t even cold and it was too far upstream for the crocs to be.  Beautiful swimming spot, this area is amazing!

myall beachswimming hole



Later that day on my tour back to Cairns we stopped for a Daintree river cruise to try and see some crocs, just finding one female, only about 1 1/2 meters long.  No sign of the 6 meter dominant male that lives on the river, I can’t really imagine a crocodile that big…

saltwater croc

Tully river rafting

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

My 2nd overnight bus in as many days went better than the first one, though this is mainly because I was so tired from not sleeping on the first one that I would have slept anywhere. I arrived in Cairns at 6:30 in the morning and was greeted by rain, dry season my ass. I basically spent the rest of the day either reading my recently purchased book on South Africa, figuring out various travel details for the rest of the trip and just getting things done that need to be done before I leave Australia.

Next morning I was up at 5:30 (before a few other people at my hostel here had gone to bed…) for my pickup to go rafting on the Tully river, I’m actually used to early mornings now. This river is grades 3 and 4, compared to my only previous experience with rafting in New Zealand where it was grade 4-5. However, this was a far better rafting day, and I loved the NZ one.

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We were rafting for about 5 hours in total, with a lunch break in the middle, it rained on and off but rafting through the rainforest is actually one thing where the rain didn’t affect the enjoyment. We started on the easier grade 3 section of the river, the on to the grade 4 section. It was all great, especially the grade 4 stuff in the afternoon. The biggest improvement over the previous time I rafted was the sheer amount of rapids we went through. Last time there were a handful of big rapids (maybe 5 or so if I recall correctly), on the Tully there were probably 10 or so of the grade 4 rapids and an equal amount of the grade 3 stuff in the morning, the river was running high due to the recent rainfall making it even better. Also the environment you’re rafting in is awesome, ancient rainforest with various butterflies and birds flying by the rafts and passing quite a few nice cliffs and waterfalls along the rivers edge, it being a wet misty day added to the atmosphere.

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Here’s a nice photo sequence..

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The Chilean guide who was in my raft was fantastic, and the group on my raft was able to follow instructions well, thus avoiding getting stuck places and making the experience all the more fun. (one raft had terrible time following basic instructions like ‘move left’ or ‘forward paddle’, quite amusingly to the rest of us) Several other things that didn’t happen in New Zealand, we went for swims at various places in the river (it not being cold), including jumping in of 5m high rocks and floating in the water through some minor white water, went through a couple rapids in more interesting than the usual ways (such as doing a 360 spin going through) and, at the end of one of the last rapids our raft flipped upside down dumping us out (this was premeditated by our guide). Being in the water was almost as much fun as being in the raft, for short periods anyway ;)

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I now have 5 days left in Australia, the next 3 of them will by around Cape Tribulation in the rain forest, after that I have a day in Cairns to sort out anything I haven’t done yet before flying to Sydney for my last night here and my flight the morning after to Jo-burg.

Great Barrier reef and weather

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I arrived in the tiny settlements of Agnes Waters and 1770 during a downpour of rain, thankfully my hostel was across the road from the bus stop, I still got soaked however. My only reason for stopping here was to take my first day trip out to the great barrier reef, unfortunately there were high winds out at sea so the boats weren’t running any trips the day I was supposed to go, or the next day. I decided to wait the 2 extra days instead of canceling. The only problem with that is these towns are tiny, just one small supermarket, a couple restaurants, another shop and some tourist offices in addition to the hostels and resorts here. Nothing to go do except chill on the beach or at the hostel. Fortunately the hostel was a good one, and they put on good movies in the lounge at night, something to keep me from going insane. They also had a French chef backpacker staying there cooking $5 meals every night!

When I finally got to go out to the reef the ocean was still not calm, just not rough like the previous days, lets just say after the 2 1/2 hours it required to get to the reef no one on the boat was feeling too good except possibly the crew. The site we went to was just off this coral island, not a bad site.

great barrier reef

great barrier reef

The reef, or the bit I snorkeled on anyway, looked pretty similar to the Ningaloo reef out in WA I snorkeled the other week, some more colourful corals and some different fish but overall similar. (They both look like reefs!) I saw a couple sea turtles from the boat surface for air but none while I was in the water, and no sharks this time. I did find nemo, and a bunch of his friends though. Cool stuff. I don’t have underwater pictures since this boat didn’t have a photographer with us. Reefs are awesome, just laying there floating in the water and looking at stuff, never really gets boring, some new school of fish will appear or you spot cool different coral!

great barrier reef

The boat ride back was slightly faster then the way out, but with a higher swell. Meaning more holding on and more getting wet. The weather wasn’t particularly sunny or warm either so by the time we got back to shore, around sunset, everyone was pretty cold and wet. I had just enough time once I got back to the hostel to have a shower and get the hostel dinner before I had to catch my night bus. The bus ride was 9 hours, I arrived at Airlie beach at 6:30 in the morning and had the whole day there before my next night bus that night, onto Cairns, the result of me staying an extra night in Agnes Waters waiting to go to the reef. It rained on and off the whole day, making me glad I didn’t book a Whitsundays sailing trip, it would’ve been miserable. As it was I just had a day to kill trying to stay dry, but firmly on dry land.

Airlie beach
Perfect day for a island sailing adventure eh?

I only have 8 days left in Australia now and the good weather seems to have deserted me. Since I left Noosa it has been unpredictable and fast changing, I’m hoping it sorts itself out for some nice warm sunny days once I’m in Cairns and the rainforest, I’m firmly in the tropics now and todays British weather is not very tropical! I’ve got 3 major stops left here before I go to South Africa, how time flies!

Noosa and Fraser Island

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I saw the sunrise on my way to the bus station leaving Brisbane, I’ve been seeing an awful lot of those lately. The bus was to Noosa, where the Noosa river comes to the ocean, with the everglades along the river. It’s also surrounded by great beaches and great coastline. I just had one day here, hence the early bus, and the weather was perfect for it. Walking through the national park here reminded me of the Abel Tasman park in NZ somewhat, great beaches, secluded coves, not many people around, hiking through natural bush…

National park

Devils Kitchen

The next morning I left Noosa and got on another bus for 5 hours, up to Hervey Bay, springboard for my Fraser Island trip. The trip I booked for Fraser Island was for a guided tour of 2 days, 1 night on the island. I was picked up from my hostel at 7:00 (after seeing another sunrise, I’m almost used to this now) and instead of taking the ferry from Hervey Bay to Fraser Island we drove an hour and a half South to Rainbow Beach to pickup more people and took the ferry to the other end of the island from there. This wasn’t ideal because we weren’t on the island until around 9:30, on a 2 day schedule time is short and I would’ve probably booked a different tour that actually took the ferry in Hervey Bay if I would have realized this.

The reason I booked with the company I did, was because they promised groups of 14 people maximum (instead of the 40 many companies say), and in reality our group only had 7 people in it. The weather was cloudy and wet when we arrived on the island, where that came from I have no idea, but it cleared off somewhat as the day went on. There are no real roads on Fraser Island, just tracks through the sand (the island is the largest sand island on earth). So to get up and down the island you drive on the beaches and to get across you drive these sand tracks through the bush and sub tropical rainforest. We walked through some of this rain forest, more interesting than the temperate stuff I’ve been seeing for a while now but it’s still not real tropical rainforest, I have to wait another week for that…

You can’t swim in the ocean around Fraser because it’s a breeding ground for tiger sharks, for swimming options you have to head inland on the island to the lakes. The lakes are all freshwater, some fed by the water table underneath the island and some fed by rainfall. The one we stopped at, Lake Makenzie, is fed by rainfall, surrounded by superfine white sand and has vivid blue colours in it. Not too cold either, pretty nice…

Lake Mckenzie

The 2nd day on the island we saw the Indian head lookout, some different coloured sand formations and many freshwater streams running into the sea. The weather had cleared off overnight and was a warm sunny day, making everything look much nicer.

view from indian head

The downside of being able to drive up and down the beach is, everyone is driving up and down the beach. This isn’t even peak season here yet either. There’s just something about seeing tyre tracks all over the beach with jeeps coming and going that takes away from the island experience, there’s also a fair few tour groups and due to either tide levels or poor planning (or the tour drivers want to stand around and talk to each other, my bet).

view from indian head

I wont be recommending the company I went with to anyone, mainly because I wasn’t too thrilled with the guide and the departure, although I don’t think, from what I saw of them, the other tour companies would’ve been much better. The best way to see this island would be in your own 4×4 (not crammed in with 10 other people like the backpacker “self drive tours”), but for those of us with no experience driving in such conditions the options aren’t that many. The island’s cool, a lot bigger than I though it was though. An extra day would’ve been ideal to see more of the lakes and sand dunes, and some magical powers to make the bus loads of people vanish into the air.

me at indian head

Next stop, Great Barrier Reef!


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.