GREAT OCEAN ROAD & MELBOURNE. FAREWELL AUSTRALIA

GREAT OCEAN ROAD & MELBOURNE. FAREWELL AUSTRALIA

If you go to Victoria, you must do the Great Ocean Road is what they say. So that’s what we did, whilst we still had the van. We had driven for two days straight from Sydney to Victoria with nothing other than boring highway to look at, sleeping behind a grotty petrol station, so we were excited about the prospect of something a bit more touristy.

We set apart three full days until we had to return the campervan in Melbourne to complete the drive there and back. Beginning in the surfer town of Torquay, and meandering through several other ‘British’ places (Anglesea, Wye River and even Streatham), until it reaches the twee-sounding Port Fairy 285km west, the Great Ocean Road is renowned as one of the world’s most scenic drives.

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We’d even been told that this is where we would finally see some wildlife, which had managed to evade us for the entirety of our 2000 miles of our journey so far; we’d not even seen one measly kangaroo, apart from a couple sadly squished at the side of the road.

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Torquay is a surf town, but it wasn’t anywhere near as pretty as its Devon namesake. It had all the big surf shops, and is in fact the home of iconic Aussie brand Rip Curl. However, we were just there for the night and didn’t really need any extra rash vests or distressed denim shorts. We pitched up at the terrifyingly named Danger Point, a car park on a headland. We knew we weren’t meant to park there, but with around 5 other campers there, we convinced ourselves that there was safety in numbers. Rising at around 6, we drove right up to the highest point of the car park and witnessed a beautiful sunrise across the Southern Ocean. It was then a warden moved us on, but at least we’d caught the sunrise and had a decent night’s sleep.

Our first stop along the Great Ocean Road was the GOR Chocolaterie. We were going to avoid it, as most attractions in Aus are expensive, and the country isn’t exactly renowned for its chocolate products in the UK. However, we thought we’d do a recce by means of a swift tour of the car park. The chocolaterie was in fact simply a small chocolate factory with a large shop and cafe attached. It wasn’t quite Wonka standard, but the three gargantuan piles of sample chocolate buttons complete with weighty silver spoons for you to help yourself with waiting for us at the entrance made us realise it had certainly been worth stopping. In the shop, browsing the metre-long chocolate bars and giant Easter animals kept us entertained for a while, whilst watching the Oompa-Loompah equivalents slaving away over their cocoa creations behind a glass screen. The cafe’s liquid chocolate which came with the desserts was so good that in the spirit of a dumpster diving hippy, Dan actually relieved an uncleared table of one pot which hadn’t been touched by its purchaser – an absolute crime in our eyes (them leaving it, not his nabbing it).

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Could you eat this in one sitting? Think I could…

On we went, all the time in awe of the dramatic red-cliffed coastline visible on our left. We stopped frequently – Bells Beach and Point Addis, Split Point Lighthouse (the one from Round The Twist!), and Lorne were all places we visited the first day.  We spent the night at a free campsite, and saw our first koalas there, who were fairly non-plussed at our open-mouthed adoration, and simply continued to hug their respective branches almost sloth-like.

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The Great Ocean Road also brought us sightings of kangaroos and an echidna, which we couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen yet, yet all these animals were so familiar from telly and books that we felt we had seen hundreds in our time. In Apollo Bay we sampled Vegemite ice-cream (a bit like salted caramel, but with a nasty after-taste), but boringly plumped for vanilla and chocolate flavours.

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The final destination of ours before we turned back towards Melbourne was the Twelve Apostles – sea stacks to you and me. Despite the name remaining, there are actually only eight stacks left. We were lucky to get there before dark on a Saturday evening, and expected it to be devoid of tourists. Yet this was the most touristy place we experienced in Australia. Hundreds and hundreds of mainly Chinese tourists packed the walkways to the apostles, selfie sticks clashing in the air. At the final platform, with the best view of the stacks, the situation was laughable. Nobody could move for the people around them, and everyone’s selfie had at least three other strangers in it. We abandoned all hope of a good photo, and ended up just taking a couple of pictures of the tourists themselves.

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Trying to capture the apostles. Like everyone else.

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Back we went to Melbourne then the next day, and said a fond farewell to the campervan we had had a love-hate relationship with over the previous five weeks.

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Melbourne accommodation is pricey, and arriving in a squalid hostel in St Kilda (the backpacker-y hipster bit of the city, right by the ocean), was quite a shock, after having our own space, kitchen and double bed for a while. I’m not sure if it was my naivety or that the hostel really was that scummy, but I was truly shocked by the state room we were expected to sleep in. The Liverpudlian girls already there, who spent every waking hour lying on their beds on Facebook, were unfriendly to the point of being actively rude, and there were people’s belongings (odd socks, dirty bras, broken eye pencils) in every nook and cranny. We fitted ourselves in as small as space as possible and told ourselves ‘it’s only three nights’.

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Haute cuisine hostel-style
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‘The Ritz’ it certainly wasn’t

Melbourne itself is a fantastic city. The first full day we were there we were taken out to the beautiful Yarra Valley by my lovely cousin who lives in Melbourne, to do some wine tasting. The day was really fun, and as my cousin was kind enough to drive we didn’t have to worry about sampling as many wines as we liked! We visited several wineries, all of which have a small charge for the tasting, which you get back if you buy a bottle. The weather turned a little stormy (it was much cooler in Victoria than the east coast), and so we headed back in apocalyptic rain. Back at his house we met his wife and two adorable kids who we had never had a chance to meet before, and had a lovely evening eating pizza and drinking yet more wine.

After a long six weeks on the road, we didn’t have much energy left for the last couple of days we were in Melbourne, (yes, get the tiny violin out) but we mustered up the strength to do a free walking tour of the city the next day; something we have resolved to do wherever we can since the Sydney one. We then spent some time on Acland Street in St Kilda – the main strip full of bars, bakeries and book shops.  We also visited the botanic gardens – as mentioned before seem to be a legal requirement of every settlement in Australia.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Australia was a land of many many firsts for me and for Dan. The first time being so far away from home. The first time I have spent longer than three weeks in a country other than the UK. The first time renting a campervan. The first time barbecuing on free outdoor gas cookers , and the first time seeing people pitching tents on the roof a car (apparently quite normal here).  Leaving Australia behind to head to Auckalnd didn’t feel sad –it felt exactly right, as if we had spent the perfect amount of time there, this time. Of course Australia is so vast and so diverse in flora, fauna and people, that you could never hope to conquer this continent-sized country in six weeks, and we didn’t for a second think we had. But we had made a dent. Will we ever go back to Australia? Honestly, probably not. Even though there is so much to see, it’s a big old journey there from the UK, and the rest of the world is calling. However, that isn’t to say it isn’t a fascinating country, very liveable, very modern, mostly very safe-feeling. You get the feeling the government prioritises investment in the day-to-day comfort of its citizens and visitors in the services and facilities it provides. I know that may sound trite, and is possibly contentious to some Aussies, but as a tourist we felt pretty well looked–after, even if we lived in fear of the law every time we slept on the side of the road. We could definitely see the attraction of moving to Australia – the quality of life and the weather are all massive pulls for Europeans. But not quite strong enough pulls for us.

SYDNEY & THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, AUSTRALIA

SYDNEY & THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, AUSTRALIA

Sydney… how excellently exciting! A big city, and one we’d heard lots about – the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the coffee shops… But all that would have to wait until we had completed our visit to the city’s closest national park – the Blue Mountains.

We had been told it was a must-visit, especially as it was autumn and the colours were to be stunning. I was still getting used to the fact that autumn falls in March in Australia, but apparently it was running a little behind schedule as the trees were all pretty much still a vibrant green.

The Blue Mountains get their name from the blueish haze which settles over the magnificent vistas, caused by dust and eucalyptus oil suspended in the air catching the sun’s rays in a particular way (I don’t know… ask a physicist). However, I would say that the name ‘mountains’, although technically accurate is a little misleading in terms of what you expect from this area, although it is by no means any less majestic than it suggests.

Wherever we went in the national park, we were effectively on top of a flat-topped mountain, meaning you don’t see any craggy alpine peaks rising out of the ground. Rather you are standing on a plateau covered in dense, lush rainforest, staring down into colossal craters of more rainforest. Imagine the Grand Canyon with trees.

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Dan and the Three Sisters

There were plenty of walks to choose from in the Blue Mountains, many of them featuring waterfalls and interesting rock formations. We had stayed the first night in the Bulls Camp Reserve (basically a car park off a motorway), and began our trip in the mountains in the central town of Katoomba. Once we had found parking (tricky, and expensive), we made our way to the information centre, which was situated at a huge viewing platform at the end of a road. There were coach-loads of mainly Chinese tourists, selfie-ing by the Three Sisters rock formation which was visible to the left of the platform. It was the busiest national park we had been to by far.

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Viewing point at Katoomba

Having arrived at the campsite quite late the night before, we felt like having more of a chilled day, and decided to leave the walks until the next morning and explore the area’s towns. We drove to the lovely little town of Blackheath (named after the place in SE London, but I forget why as it’s nothing like it), a little further along the highway, and checked out the shops, cafes and rhododendron garden there. Sadly, if you’ve ever been to the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park, you’ll know autumn is not the time for rhododendrons, and there were none in bloom. The houses lining the roads to the gardens in Blackheath were absolutely gorgeous, and I presume, very expensive.

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Not a very representational photo of one of the lovely houses in Blackheath
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Me with a cute cat which followed us around for a while
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Waving to a train at Blackheath

Using the Travellers Autobarn app we had, we found there was a campsite quite close by on the Megalong Valley road. Yes, it is a mega-long valley. This site was far nicer than the roadside job of the night before, situated in the woods with a little stream. I still have not, however, quite got used to long-drop toilets yet though.

For dinner Dan made packet instant noodles. I mention this because I am somewhat experienced in the field of instant noodles, and I feel this needs highlighting. Instant noodles in Australia, (and I presume Indonesia, as they were nasi goreng flavour) are far, far superior to ones available in the UK. Yes, they may come with an Australian price tag ( $1 each vs 15p in Lidl), but they also come with four, yes FOUR different seasonings in each package. The powdered MSG we all know and love, plus soy sauce, chilli sauce and a garnish of fried onions. With Dan’s addition of fried mushrooms and peppers, this was a dish to rival Wagamama.

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The beginning of our nasi goreng noodles, but sadly no final product photo – I guess we were too excited about eating it!

The following day, full of energy from the Michelin star noodles, we began our day of walks in Blackheath, starting with the Govetts Leap lookout. It was a lot quieter than Katoomba, and we walked through quite dry eucalyptus forest, emerging onto a beautiful lookout.

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We then drove on to the Evans lookout, also in Blackheath. More beautiful views of tree-covered canyons. There are a lot of lookouts in the Blue Mountains.

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None of the walks are particularly challenging in the park, as they are all on mainly flat paths, and the numerous information signs tend to massively overestimate how long they take (one said 20 minutes, and it only took 5). So, feeling that we had not yet earned our lunch we completed two more walks around the nearby town of Leura with views of cascades, and staggeringly tall cliffs.

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We drove back to Katoomba to eat (an excellent falafel wrap if you’re interested), then finally went on to complete our day’s trekking (if you could call it that) with the beautiful Wentworth falls.

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Lunch in Katoomba. Not sure why I’m wearing Daniel’s socks, or looking so confused by my falafel wrap.
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Wentworth Falls, where you could walk across the top – and I did.
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The falls tumbling over the cliff

Having ticked off the Blue Mountains, we were very excited to hit Sydney. Parking was going to be an odd one, as there are no camping grounds in the city itself, so we ended up on a side road a few train stops outside of the centre. We had to shower in the local leisure centre at $7 a pop (although we did swim too of course).

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Another WiFi stop…

Aussies consider Sydney to be a big city, but coming from London it really doesn’t feel it. Having been recommended the free walking tour, we ironically had to catch a fairly pricey Uber into town to reach it in time, as we had taken so long parking. We’d never done a free walking tour before, and had fairly low expectations, but we found it to be absolutely BRILLIANT. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

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At one of Sydney’s stations

Meeting at the town hall, we spent the next three hours with our incredibly knowledgeable guide Ramsey (yes, like the street) who happened to be a primary teacher too. He took us to all the sites of significance around central Sydney, and explained the history of each place from Aboriginal times, to Captain Cook’s arrival to the present day, and he showed us some original street art installations.

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Apparently this guy, who sits in the Central Business District gives the drunken bankers a bit of a scare at night.
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A government-funded street art installation about the native birds of Australia. As you walk beneath each cage you hear a song from a different bird and can read a little info about it.
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“Henry, will you put down the iPad and listen!”

As well as this he gave us some very good tips on bars and eateries – even pointing out that the food court in the Central Business District slashes its lunchbox prices after 3pm in order to get rid of them – a great tip for hungry, broke backpackers like me and Dan (no, it shouldn’t be Dan and I). Ramsey was a ‘Sydneysider’ himself, and clearly passionate about the city; we were so impressed with the tour we actually decided to do the evening tour of The Rocks area too.

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A $5 meal – a first when eating out in Oz!
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Dan trying to prove how much fun he was having in front of the Harbour Bridge
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Apparently the building we are blocking the view of is quite famous.

I felt quite ignorant when I realised what an important historical city Sydney is, in such a modern country (by western standards). I didn’t even know that The Rocks was where Captain Cook settled first (violently ejecting the Aboriginal folk who had established a homeland by the rich natural harbour there in the process). I made a resolution to visit all the museums and libraries Ramsey recommended, but the evening Rocks tour was a great place to start learning a bit more.

With a different guide, the tour took us around the oldest part of the city where the convicts originally were settled and put to work. There were fascinating tales of treachery and mutiny in the days when the only currency was rum, and prisoners were given building jobs as a city had to be created! It finished with a beautiful sunset walk to Observatory Hill, overlooking the Harbour Bridge. We were surprised at the age of some of the buildings in the area – the cottages in The Rocks looked straight out of the factory worker streets in York, which was a bizarre juxtaposition with the Marriot Hotel skyscraper towering over them.

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Not a recreation – actual houses
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Incredible view from Observatory Hill

After the tour, we went for a drink with a New Yorker we had met at one of the pubs we had seen in the Rocks, called The Hero of Waterloo  (Sydney’s oldest pub – although that is contested by several other pubs, and relatively young by British standards – 174 years young.) The legend goes that in the Victorian times, no young Sydneysiders wanted to join the navy, so the landlord at the Hero of Waterloo would encourage boys of 18 or 19 to get totally sloshed, then when they passed out from the drink, tossed them in the cellar, which had a secret passage to the harbour. They would wake up the next day on a boat with no means of return. This is from the pub’s website:

“There is an enduring legend that a secret tunnel running from the cellar of the hotel to the harbour was used for rum smuggling and the involuntary recruitment of sailors. An unknowing young man might find himself drunk at the bar, dropped through a trapdoor into the cellar and dragged through the tunnel, only to awake to the morning shanghaied aboard a clipper.

Reminders of the Hero’s notorious past are everywhere. The downstairs cellars still have shackles on the walls and the entrance to the smuggler’s tunnel can still be seen.”

Dan, our new friend Alex and I grew hungry quite late, and remembered that on the tour a nearby pancake house had been recommended that was open 24/7, so we headed there for a late dinner.

We spent three more full days in Sydney – more than we were intending, but there was so much to do and see in the city – the ANZAC memorial, the botanic gardens (I think it is law that every city in Oz has to have one), the Reserve Bank of Australia, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the NSW gallery, the State Library, the Royal Mint, Luna Park, The Rocks museum, and of course the bridge ($300 to walk over the top, or free to walk at regular level – can you guess which we did?).

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The beautiful botanic gardens
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Luna Park – there’s one in Melbourne too
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Stunning A-level art on display at the NSW gallery. The number next to each pencil drawing is how many are left in the wild. I was impressed a huge gallery like this dedicated a whole exhibition to such young artists.
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We were struck as to how much this suburban railway station looked like Clapham Junction

Having heard that Sydney was full of interesting suburbs at the forefront of food trends, one evening we took the train to a the high street of Newtown where we ate incredible vegan pizza at Gigi’s pizzeria and vegan ice cream at Gelato Blue (coconut milk if you want to know).

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On our final evening, we actually attended an opera at the Sydney Opera House. Our first tour guide had told us the incredible story of the Danish architect who won a global competition and designed the entire thing, but never got paid or even acknowledged for his work, and died a few years ago, having never returned to see his glorious creation in the flesh. You can walk all the way around the building for free, but the interior tour was something like $100 for an hour, so we thought to see Tosca in the main auditorium would kill two birds with one less expensive stone.

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The Opera House is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen, even close up. The uniform white colour you see covering the ‘sails’? It’s actually over a million small tiles. From outside, the Opera House is eye-pleasing from every angle. The inside, although not 100% true to the shunned architect’s original plans still holds its own in sixties design, with daring, glossy wooden structures holding the building together beautifully.

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The opera was great too, especially as it had subtitles, so we could understand what on earth was going on!

We left Sydney the following day, feeling as though we had seen the bulk of it -my head was so stuffed with fascinating facts about the city from the tours we did and the places we visited it almost hurt. However, I would never say never when it comes to visiting again one day, as it was one of the most interesting and lively cities I’ve experienced.

On our way out of Sydney we stopped at Bondi beach. It wasn’t what we expected. In fact it reminded us of a tired British seaside town.

GOLD COAST – BYRON BAY – NIMBIN, AUSTRALIA

GOLD COAST – BYRON BAY – NIMBIN, AUSTRALIA

We were looking forward to crossing over from Queensland to New South Wales, and furthering our journey down to the Gold Coast. Sounds glamorous, doesn’t it? The Gold Coast is where many Aussies choose to holiday, and as the average leave in Oz is only four weeks, we reckoned there must be something good about it.

With holidaymakers come cars though, and crawling through traffic was our first experience of the Gold Coast. Having had the road and practically all the towns in Queensland to ourselves so far, this was a bit of a surprise. The first city on the coast you hit is the famous Surfer’s Paradise, a place which is undeniably impressive with skyscrapers lining the endless blonde beach. The town felt very different to anywhere else we had been. It was a 1980s purpose-built holiday city full of plastic-types eating McDonalds. I mean, in what other era would a city be allowed to be given that moniker? I would go as far as to say I really disliked Surfer’s Paradise, but I am glad we gave it the 20 minutes we did before moving on.

Sufers Paradise

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Getting the washing done at a small town on the Gold Coast

Byron Bay, some 60 miles further down the coast was (predictably) much more our cup of vegan chai latte. Byron is very pretty, quite small and a real surfers paradise, unlike the city of the same name. Full of beautiful folk, Byron Bay clearly has some kind of attractiveness test you must pass before living there.

Beautiful Byron Bay

We parked up by the beach and wandered around the boutiques and surf shops. We had been planning to head south and stay in a free camping spot but we liked the town so much that we decided to stay. Being such a touristy place and we ended up paying $40 for a night at busy campsite without power. It being a balmy evening, we decided to head down to the beach again, and watched a thunderstorm over the sea, with the infamous Byron Bay lighthouse illuminating up the sea in atmospheric revolving beams between the lightning.

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Byron Bay

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After a day in Byron we drove on, aiming to get to a place called Nimbin before bedtime. We drove through beautiful Welsh-looking countryside with spectacular views over rolling wooded hills to the small town. All was totally quiet at 7pm, apart from a couple of guys who offered or asked us for weed. It was so quiet we didn’t feel at all worried about parking in one of the village car parks.

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A sign we saw on the way to Nimbin

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Nimbin felt a bit like a less in-your-face Camden Town, but on a hill in the middle of nowhere. It is a hippy town, but it didn’t feel too touristy (we realised that it probably was more so than we thought, however, when further down the coast we came across travel agents advertising day tours there). We wandered around the town, which was essentially one road lined with galleries (complete with dubious art, and which conveniently doubled as pot outlets), and multiple happy herb shops, with wares such as precious stones with healing properties, hemp string, bags, books on the mysteries of the universe and why WiFi is killing our children, endless tie-dyed sarongs and cotton head wraps, silver jewellery, powders and potions with no active ingredients but promises of effects such as not being able to stop dancing, zodiac posters, charms to warn off bad spirits, glitter in a bottle named fairy dust, dream catchers, alternative medicines, organic produce and much more.

 

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Thinking of buying this for my friend Donald

We walked just outside of the town to visit the candle factory. The factory itself looked like it hadn’t been updated or in fact cleaned since the 1920s, with creepy stalactites of wax every which where. The team was very welcoming, and we were allowed to walk around watching the staff at work. It was pretty incredible watching a girl individually filling tea lights with molten wax – the type that cost £1.80 for a hundred pack in Ikea. She explained that the better quality wick meant they burned more evenly, and didn’t drown themselves in wax, but I couldn’t see that competing with the Swedish giant.

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Everyone who lived in Nimbin there seemed to be part of the hippy cult they had built there, looking typically. It seemed to us as novice tourists that the very philosophy of the culture rests upon inclusivity and an easy-going lifestyle. Yet some of Nimbin’s residents seemed quite cliquey, regarding tourists who dared to sit in their local cafes with a suspicious eye, therefore undermining this whole rationale… Too much wacky baccy perhaps. Generally though, the people were very welcoming.

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Dan cooking dinner in Nimbin

As a local man had asked some Danish boys who were camping in the parking lot next to us to move along we thought it best to switch to the main car park the second night’s stay. We drove over and encountered two dreadlocked Aussie girls who had a campervan there if it was a good spot to stay, but their answer was so otherworldly and bizarre that we were none the wiser, and ended up continuing our journey south.

BUNDABERG TO BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

BUNDABERG TO BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

There are many small towns you drive through when doing a trip as long as ours. To begin with you savour each and every one, noting their name, and characteristics. But after a little while, they all begin to blend into one another; just one more flat, modern town, where a two-storey building is an attraction. We thought Bundaberg would be one of those – just a place to stop for groceries and perhaps pop into the rum distillery for a look around (which Dan did, and left us $30 lighter).

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At the Bundaberg distillery

But Bundaberg, or more accurately the nearby area of Mon Repos, is actually a place we will remember forever as somewhere we got to meet tiny, gawping baby turtles and guide them to the ocean.

We had heard about this place back in Airlie Beach from a tourist going north, and I knew instantly that we had to visit. The turtle experience was only $12 each, far less than any other paid-for attraction we had been to. It turned out this was because the founder had wanted it to be educational, and so decreed that the price should never be prohibitive for normal folks with kids. Apparently in California, a similar experience can cost hundreds of dollars.

Because of the length of the distillery tour, we were a little tardy in heading down to the beachside centre to book tickets, and alas it had closed for the afternoon. We spotted a couple of staff members, who told us to turn up at 7pm and queue in case there was space. Luckily, after cooking and eating our dinner in the car park, and queuing for a few minutes, we were able to get into the third group. I was surprised at how many people turned up on this Thursday evening; at a guess I would think about 200. I suppose it just shows how excited people get about baby animals.

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Dinner in the Mon Repos car park

We all assembled in a sort of half-inside, half-outside amphitheatre, and the very serious ranger told everyone that we were to wait whilst his team were out on the pitch-black beach, looking for nests which were ready to blow. As soon as one was found, Group One would be heading down, then if another was found, Group Two, and finally Group Three. He also explained that this could take some time, and we could be in the centre for a few hours waiting, as ‘nature does not run to a schedule.’ He even warned we might be unlucky, although this was unlikely. Everyone nodded solemnly, but I could see that this a few parents struggled to hide their frustration at this, as they tried to herd their restless children.

In the end, we were glad to be in the third and final group; the smallest by far. It had paid to be late. Before being called we got to watch an interesting documentary of how the Mon Repos centre came to be about, and all about the lives of the loggerhead turtles who nested there. Only one in a thousand baby turtles actually survive to maturity, due to the abundance of predators, as well as (of course) human pollution of the seas. We really are an awful blight on this planet. The turtles make their way all the way across the Pacific Ocean (the rangers track them with electronic trackers cemented onto their shells) to South America, and back again to the same beach to lay their eggs. They really are incredible creatures.

When at last our group was called, we ventured down to the beach in the dark (not even phone lights allowed), and gathered around a semicircular line drawn in the sand. The ranger dug a little into the nest to encourage the turtles to come out. And then, the most magical sight – hundreds of little hatchlings emerging, making their way towards us. They were gathered and put in a little pen which had been made by the ranger, and we each got to hold them and have a photo taken.

Dan meeting the turtles

They then drew two parallel lines forming a sort of turtle highway from nest to ocean so the baby turtles could race down between us to the distant glow of the sea. One guy actually nearly stood on one, and from the gasp that went up from the crowd you would think he had hit a child in his Landrover.

Meeting the turtles

During the course of the evening we were able to help guide the loggerheads, rescue them from crabs and gulls, and give them just a bit of a better chance of getting to the sea (where they will no doubt be gobbled up by a predator). Mon Repos was the best thing we have done so far in Australia, and is something you really can’t miss, for only $12!

Heading south in our trusty campervan, we arrived in one of the towns which is the kick-off point for Fraser Island – the ‘world’s largest sand island’. In Australia, everything is presented to the uninformed tourist as the ‘World’s Biggest, Best, Highest, Longest’ etc. etc. Australia definitely does not have an inferiority complex.

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Hervey Bay Pier – 1km long

Hervey Bay was a sweet seaside town, and we stayed in a campervan park by the seafront (absolutely no chance of roughing it in such a busy spot), which was overpriced and predictably preachy, making us feel like naughty school children before we had even parked up (‘ABSOLUTELY NO NOISE AFTER 10pm’… ‘PLEASE CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELVES’). We met an interesting couple who were camped next to us. Both from Devon, she was up at 7am to do her resistance training before her acai berry breakfast smoothie, whilst he lay in bed munching Doritos for most of the morning.

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View from the pier

Our trip to Fraser Island was booked through a tour company. As we had already been to the Whitsundays, we didn’t want to spend too much on Fraser, and therefore only booked the day trip. What we didn’t realise was quite how long the journey would be to the actual island. After being collected at 7.20am, we had a half hour drive to the ferry port, then an hour on the sweltering boat itself. If you know Dan, you’ll probably know how travel sick he gets, and so being faced with gigantic 4×4 wheel coaches when we alighted the ferry was the final nail in this tour’s coffin for him. It was at that point he gave up the prospect of enjoying it at all.

Fraser Island 5
4×4 coach – a novelty for us!

This isn’t a review site, so I’ll keep the opinions to a minimum, but suffice to say we didn’t enjoy it as much as the Whitsundays tour. Fraser really is a large slab of sand in the middle of the ocean, covered in sub-tropical rainforest (‘the furthest south in the world!’), with a few exotic birds and dingoes being the only land mammal, which you are warned time and time again not to feed, and we wouldn’t have done so if we’d seen one. Being on the bus on the uneven sand tracks actually felt like being driven in a vehicle with its four wheels sourced from a pram, a tractor, a penny farthing and a micro scooter respectively. The relentless, risible commentary of the extremely patronising and camp tour-guide, who repeated every piece of information and instruction seven times did not help (“Meet here at 2:50pm, that’s ten to three, that’s 14:50, that’s two-five-zero. 2:50pm everyone!”).  Again, school trip-like, we were ferried around to the different sites the island had to offer, but due to the travelling times there and back we had very limited time at each place. The first stop was the incredible Lake McKenzie, with crystal clear waters and white sand. Unfortunately we were only granted about 25 minutes swimming. Of course when we got back 12 seconds late, we were met with glares from the driver and the rest of the coach, as we were now ‘behind schedule’.

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Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island

The other places we went were beautiful too – the 75 mile beach, the shipwreck, the crystal clear creek which you could swim in. However, we wished we had booked our own 4×4 car and camped, as everywhere we went was incredibly crowded for a basically uninhabited island, and we heard from others later on that doing it off your own back meant missing the crowds. It would also mean avoiding beef with passive aggressive Americans who insisted upon stealing your front seat due to their ‘car sickness’. Stroking your boyfriend’s head as he tries very hard not to puke, whilst hearing said Yanks up in front shriek with laughter at their bus-selfies was not a highlight of the day.

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Fraser Island shipwreck#

Fraser Island 2

Fraser Island 1

Having spent a lot of time in small towns or countryside, it was frankly weird to arrive in a city full of sparkling skyscrapers and multi-lane highways. We hadn’t been on a dual carriageway since Cairns, some 1050 miles north. Brisbane’s blue skies and clean, clipped grass promised to deliver some kind of Australian dream.

Brisbane

It was quite a novelty to have a choice of restaurants, so as soon as we arrived we sat down to eat at a Greek taverna.

IMG_2275It was BYO, and as we had a bottle of wine in the camper fridge, we decided to bring it out. This may have been a mistake, as in the Brisbane sun, the wine made us pretty fuzzy, and we spent a good hour snoozing on the grass by the Brisbane River. The riverside itself was very much like a smaller, quieter version of London’s South Bank, due to its mix of greenery, brutalist art galleries and its very own Ferris wheel.

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Hello Brisbane

Our tipsiness also meant we forgot to check the parking restrictions, and consequently worried about it all day, knowing the Australian authorities’ pedantry for vehicular law. We wandered the streets of Brisbane all day (what else is there to do in a city new to you?), and found that it was much like every other city we’ve ever been to. Full of the same types of shops, bars and restaurants. However, a few minutes’ walk further out of the centre the quirky suburbs came to life.  An interesting point of the day was finding a death-metal coffee shop, where the septum pierced staff practically spat in the hand you paid with, tossed the coffee across at you and sat perfecting her Paddington Hard Stare whilst you drank it. I have to say, the espresso was the nicest I’ve ever had, so perhaps it was worth feeling worthless whilst consuming it.

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Brisbane felt like ‘another city’, but a lovely, unimposing one with a laid-back vibe. Being Australia’s third city, it has carved itself out a special place in the hearts of many Aussies and the thousands of young immigrants who have moved to the city and made it the cool place it is today.