Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent, adolescent boy; Canada is like an intelligent, 35-year-old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson. It comes right up to you and laughs very hard in your face in a highly threatening and engaging manner – Douglas Adam
A fortnight after finishing up in Europe, I was off again. This time Australia, and a pre-booked tour up the East Coast.
The last time I had visited Australia was in 1999 when I flew out with my Dad and step-mom for my 6th birthday, to spend time with my Great-Aunt and her family in Melbourne & Traralgon. It made sense then that, 16 years later, this is where I would begin.
Part 1 – Melbourne
I was quite fortunate that the weekend I flew into Melbourne happened to fall on AFL Grand Final weekend, meaning that my first full day – a Friday – was declared as a national holiday by the State of Victoria. This, in turn, meant I was in for a surprise as the whole family was able to come together for a quite wonderful afternoon.
The weekend itself was spent in Traralgon. I was given a tour of the area by my Great-Aunt before watching the Grand Final with one of my Uncles/Second Cousins (exact relations of extended family isn’t half confusing) and their friends. Following this I was passed around the rest of the family back in Melboure, spending time in Middle Brighton, Glen Eira and Camberwell. I was also taken down to Balnarring on the southern point of the Mornington Peninsula Each place I stayed at I was welcomed like I had been known to them all my life, rather than the son of their cousin that they had seen infrequently at most – the kindness and generosity offered to me far exceeded anything I expected.
I even managed to catch-up with my friend – and former housemate – Anna whilst in Melbourne, who I hadn’t seen since we had both left Bath in June & July respectively!
Part 2 – Sydney
After spending time reconnecting with my family in Melbourne, I flew to Sydney. Alongside cities like Hong Kong, New York, Moscow and Cairo, Sydney was one of those I had wanted to go and visit for years. Seeing the Opera House with my own eyes was something I dreamed about. It’s far to say then, that a wave of excitement came over me upon landing at Sydney airport.
The hostel was situated by the CBD, about a 5min walk from the Botanical Gardens, and only a 20min walker from the Opera House and Harbour bridge (although if I go back, I’ll probably stay across on Manly or something).
Although I visited several POI around Sydney, sung Karaoke whilst extremely drunk with some Germans, took a free tour and learnt about the history of the city, and got locked out of my hostel, I do regret not walking down to the harbour at night to see it all lit up. To this day, I still cannot fathom why, because it is such a “must” thing to do. Although, if I look on the bright side, it gives me an extremely valid excuse to go back!
Part 3 – Byron Bay
My original plan for Australia was to spend around 10 days in Sydney, sandwiched between two extended periods in Melbourne. However, that plan changed after speaking to my friend about Oz Experience. Therefore – prior to flying to Aus – I reduced the amount of time spent in Sydney, booked myself on an Oz Experience trip up the East Coast and, after finishing up in that wonderful city, found myself on an overnight coach journey to the beautiful Byron Bay.
A nice factoid about Byron Bay is that, whilst on the Cape Byron walk, you can stand on the most Easterly point of Australia (which is actually kind of cool).
Due to my Oz Experience package, I had a pre-booked surfing lesson here which, whilst enjoyable, was something that I would definitely need to work on. It really is so much harder than it looks – and if you have no sense of balance, you have no chance! The hostel I was staying in was literally right on the beach as well, which was absolutely amazing first thing in the morning. The sound of the sea lends itself to a soothing way to start any day.
I met some fantastic people in Byron as well. Everyone was so open and willing to chat to you. As I was travelling solo, it really settled me down – something I desperately needed. To say I was sad to leave was an understatement. My time in Byron was far too short.
Part 4 – Brisbane
After saying goodbye to Byron Bay, I moved on to Brisbane. Personally, after the serenity and tranquillity of Byron, Brisbane really didn’t do it for me. I went around the city, visited some recommended sites, and took a river tour… but I didn’t feel settled whatsoever. Unfortunately, it was almost a relief when the time came to leave. I would give Brisbane a second chance, but it would definitely have to be with someone who had been there before – and enjoyed it wholeheartedly.
Part 5 – Fraser Island
The next step in this whistle-stop tour of Australia’s East Coast was the magnificent Fraser Island, featuring an amazing tour group courtesy of Cool Dingo Tours. During this tour I not only made some fantastic friends, but was constantly exposed to new things and new ideas. The structure of the tour was fantastic, as it allowed us to complete so many activities in only a few days. Our tour guide, Gary, was fantastic too.
What really made this tour though, was the people I did it with. I am sure that it would have been great without them, but the fact there was quite a large group of us that got on really well was great. On the first morning at Lake McKenzie – when the whole group was brought together for the first time – we went off and just all bonded with a classic game of “keep-up”, and it just carried on from there. What was quite interesting is that I had previously met one of the girls whilst staying in Byron!
Part 6 – Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays Boat Tour
All good things must come to an end however, and eventually we went our separate ways. Although, a couple of us did find out that we were going on the same Whitsundays Boat Tour, so headed up to Airlie Beach together! We headed out to find our boat the next day for a 2 day, 1 night tour – which was effectively a lot of drinking, plenty of relaxing, and a little bit of exploring. I met some absolutely fantastic people on the boat, whilst the landscapes, colours and beaches of the Whitsunday’s will live in my memory until the day I die.
The evening after leaving the boat was spent drinking far too much, leading to me staying up far too late. This, in turn, meant I was either still intoxicated – or slightly hungover – when I had to wake up early the next morning for my Skydive (which was fantastic by the way)
Honestly, if you ever get the opportunity, do it – there are very few equivalent experiences to free-falling through the sky for up to 60 seconds.
Because this all happened so early, I was back at the hostel before midday. I had the rest of the day to get through, so I decided to take advantage of my surroundings and hire out a jet-ski for the afternoon, before settling down for the evening.
Part 7 – Townsville / Magnetic Island
A long journey north took took me to Townsville, where I had a one night stay before heading on a ferry to experience Magnetic Island. Whilst I didn’t do much in Townsville, I did have one of the best curry’s of my life. In fact, it was so good I would happily go back to Townsville just to find that restaurant once again.
Magnetic Island was great though. If I were to go back, it would be during a full moon party, but whilst there I held a koala and saw some wild rock Wallabies. Moreover, I conquered one of my fears – I rode a horse along Horseshoe Bay. Although I wasn’t brave enough to ride bareback in the sea, one step at a time for me!
Part 8 – Cairns
Cairns is one hell of a place. If you ever go there, Gilligan’s really is where you want to stay, it was just fantastic.
I had the best part of a week in Cairns, which was the longest time I’d spent in a single place since first leaving Melbourne. Whilst there, I had the opportunity to explore the Atherton Tablelands, head out over the Great Barrier Reef, and Bungy Jump off of a 50m tower. All of this, as well as some fantastic memories, including watching Australia lose the RWC 2015 final (whilst extremely drunk on a very strange Halloween). My favourite memory though, is the BBQ from my first night. My room-mates invited me to join in on their trip to the electronic BBQ’s down by the lagoon. We bought some steak – which I cooked up for us all – and drank gin whilst watching the sun set. It was so serene and peaceful!
Part 9 – Return to Melbourne
As quickly as it started, it began to come to an end. I flew back down south to spend my final few days with the family in Melbourne, before saying goodbye and flying back to the UK.