Sunday, 4 March 2012

Snow in the mountains!

So I've been here in Queenstown just over a month now and as usual its gone so quick! I've now started my second job since being here at the video shop – sort of the equivalent to Blockbuster back home. Just part time at the minute but at least it pays for my rent and my food each week! Things in the house have changed quite a bit since I moved in too … 5 of the people I was living with when I first arrived have left and been replaced currently making it 8 girls and 2 guys sharing one bathroom and kitchen; its starting to feel more and more like a hostel but never mind, I'm not in the position money wise to move!

Still hoping to get another job so that I can start saving up some money again, especially for the winter! I woke up the other morning to find there was snow on the tops of some of the mountains and started to get a little excited! The early bird lift passes have been released but the news that there is no longer a season transport pass has made this season look to cost a hell of a lot of money. Some serious thinking needs to be done before I decide on what pass to get I reckon.

A couple of weekends ago the Red Bull Roast It BMX competition was held in Queenstown. It was unreal! I've never seen anything like it, 5 hours of pretty solid riding it was amazing. It was a completely free event with riders from all over competing and it was all judged by the riders themselves. I was totally memorised watching them pull out trick after trick – serious respect for BMXers after that!

 When Alec, Steve & Andy came to town
I seem to constantly be meeting people who I've met on my travels. After the guys left I met up with Stacey for a little bit. Then Steve and Dresser came back to QT for a week to chill out and sell their car. It was pretty weird saying but to Steve again, knowing this time was it! Tringham has arrived here now and we caught up briefly over a drink; Vanessa who I met in Oz gets here around about now too. My days at the minute just seem to consist of catching up with various people. The weather hasn't been too great recently; well it varies considerably. The weekend and beginning of the week was amazing and I went in the lake for the first time – f**king freezing I can tell you! But last week and the last few days it has rained a hell of a lot making climbing not possible which kinda sucks. Need to get my hands on a bike just to get out and about and improve my fitness which is pretty bad at the minute. I've been for several walks; to Frankton, up Queenstown hill and the Gondola track but its just not the same!

After the 5 months of on the go travelling it feels good to be settled in a place for a while, but living and working in a country is a completely different ball game to backpacking and being on the move the whole time. A new challenge!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Arriving in Queenstown, NZ

From Darwin I flew to Melbourne where I spent Australia day before flying to New Zealand. I fly into Christchurch, arriving at 5am in the morning. As funds were already getting low, I'd decided not to hang around and booked a cheap bus down to Queenstown. Whilst I'd seen pictures and heard so many things about the scenery in New Zealand, nothing could have really prepared me for the spectacular views all the way down the South Island: there was just something so unreal about everything I saw! I felt like I was looking at a computer edited image – the lakes and rivers were such a bright blue and the water so clear, and the grass was a vivid green, so very different to Australia.

It took about 8 hours to reach Queenstown. I'd booked into a hostel for a couple of nights until I got settled. That evening I went for my first (and so far only) Fergburger. This place is pretty infamous – everyone I'd ever met who had been in Queenstown had told me to get one, and it lived up to its name. Naturally I didn't get a meaty one, instead I got a falafel burger but it was pretty amazing. They're hugely popular and I've never once walked past when there hasn't been a queue.

The next day I started looking for a place to live, after 5 months in hostel I was ready for a change, and living in hostels isn't actually that cheap. I found a room for rent close to town and pretty cheap so had a look round and moved in two days later. After the weekend, I started the job hunt! It wasn't long before I started working in the call centre which was hell however I really was low on money so I'd have accepted anything. I think I lasted 6 days before I had to get out of there, which, surprisingly is longer than most! Currently, I'm back on the job hunt but at least I made a bit of money to pay for rent and food for a few weeks, and I made some really good mates too.

I've been living in the house about 2 weeks now, and I've finally met all the others who live here. There's 10 of us altogether but most people work and with different hours, it only ever feels like you're sharing with a few people. Its pretty multicultural too: Kiwi, English, German, Japanese, Korean and a guy from Chile.

After a couple of days I met up with Sandy who I knew from back home but he's been out here a couple of years now and so I regularly get out climbing with him and his friends which is great. Even went out biking with him but had a pretty bad asthma attack so that didn't go too well! There's heaps of walks to do around here too, I've walked to Frankton along the lake which is a really nice walk and up to the top of the Gondola too. Queenstown is very similar to the Lakes, just more spectacular and has a younger population. Its funny, it doesn't really feel like its part of the real world!

Frisbee is quite a big thing over here: a few of us from the call centre went for our first “round” of frisbee golf in the gardens the other day. Its a good past time but not quite as fun as ultimate frisbee! Josh and I bought an ultimate frisbee at the weekend and have spent every day since throwing it around the park, hopefully we'll get enough for a proper game soon..!

One of the great things about travelling is being able to meet up with people you've met before. I was out in town one night and ran into a guy who I'd met in Malaysia and had no clue he was coming to NZ, turns out he's living in Queenstown at the minute! A couple of days later Andy, Steve and Alec arrived in QT making it 4 different countries I've met up with them now, and Stacey (who I met in Oz) gets here on Thursday.

There seems to always be something to do around here, even if its just going to sit by the lake for a while. I really like it here, things are just so easy. Hopefully it won't be too long before I find a job and can start doing a few more things – desperate to get on the downhill tracks but I can't quite justify spending the money on a lift pass just yet. Life here is only just beginning...  

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Alice Springs to Darwin

After the night out not many of us felt up to doing much on our day in Alice Springs, and the overwhelming heat didn't give much encouragement either! I was staying at Haven's resort along with those who were continuing up to Darwin; we spent most of the day by the pool to cope with the heat. A few of us walked up Anzac Hill to watch the sunset before going for a few drinks at Annie's again.

The next morning was an early start on a 3 day trip to Darwin. We sat outside the hostel waiting to be picked up, everyone quite tired and lacking in enthusiasm. A while later Heff turned up – we all assumed he was there to pick up his group to take to the rock but he said he was taking us to Darwin. No one believed him at first and thought it was some kind of joke but he started reading our names off the list and everyone was in shock! Everyone became a lot more lively as we got on the bus – the 6 new people mustn't have known what was going on! That day was mostly driving, we passed over the Tropic of Capricorn and entered the tropics as we headed up to Tennent Creek where we spent the evening. We travelled about 600km through the day and stopped at a few random pubs in the outback along the way as well as taking a look at the Devil's Marbles.

Katherine Gorge
It was another long drive the following day where again we stopped at a few unusual pubs along the way. Before we reached Katherine for the night, we went for a swim in the thermal springs in Mataranka. The next morning we went to Katherine Gorge. We walked to Southern Rockhole which has to be one of the coolest places I've been so far. It felt like a bit of a wild goose chase at first as the path just seemed to keep going and turning at random intervals. Eventually we found the rockpool at the bottom of a waterfall, completely secluded from other places – it was incredible! The water was so fresh and clean and there were several places to jump in (similar to Black Moss Pot). Safe to say that place was one of my main highlights form the trip. From there we finished the trip up to Darwin. As we approached the clouds set in and it looked like the predicted monsoon was about to hit!

Although we passed through patches of heavy rain and thunder and lightening, it wasn't too bad when we reached Darwin itself. That evening we went out for tea at the appropriately named bar: Monsoon. Despite the fact we had an early start the next day a few of us stayed out till the early hours. At midnight, very randomly, a few drag queens took to the stage – very fitting after the day at King's Canyon, but very unexpected!

The next morning, we jumped into a new 4WD vehicle with a slightly new group, and a new guide. We spent the day in Lichfield National park. First we swam at Florence Falls followed by Buely Rockhole. Similarly to the previous day we found places to jump in from but unfortunately it rained for quite a bit of the day. By the time we reached camp the monsoon had well and truly set in! I'd never actually seen rain like it before, within minutes there was a river outside the kitchen area and a sheer wall of water seemed to be falling. Thunder and lightening continued through the night.

Garden of Eden
By the morning it had dried considerably. From there we entered Kakadu National Park. We walked to a second place called the Garden of Eden – far more impressive than that at King's Canyon! It was well and truly hidden, reached only by swimming across one of the rivers, and the more you climbed up, the more impressive it got. It wasn't that long before the rain set in again and by this time we were on our way back to the truck. When we reached the camp at around 4pm we had half an hour before a boat cruise along Yellow Waters. This area was very similar to Daintree in Northern Queensland and following the lack of any sightings whilst up there, I was sceptical that we may actually see a crocodile. Shortly after we started down the river in our aluminium boat, the thunder and lightening kicked off! It was far too close to us for it to be safe to continue so reluctantly, the guy turned the boat around. Just before we reached the jetty we actually spotted a croc in the water! It was about 2 and a half metres longs swimming close to the surface not far from the boat! I was amazed...

Due to the cruise being cut short, we did the same thing again first thing in the morning – this time we saw very little aside from a few different species of bird along the waters edge. From there, we went to Nawurlandja lookout but the view was obstructed by cloud and rain. Our last scheduled stop was at Anbangbang where we saw ancient Aboriginal art work. There were some really impressive drawings here, and the stories behind them were really interesting. After this, it was back to Darwin for the last time. We stopped off and saw a fresh water and salt water croc in captivity and seeing the salt water crocodile up close was pretty freaky – they're huge and scary looking!

When we arrived in Darwin the rain was relentless. Vanessa let me stay in her hotel that night as I had to leave early for my flight. We each got a double bed and it was amazing! We all went out to Monsoon for a second time, but had a much earlier night than the last time. Everyone was pretty exhausted; 21 days on the go for a few of us and it had taken it out of us. We got the dance the Nutbush one last time in Monsoon before we all went our separate ways. It was pretty weird to say bye to everyone, we'd become a bit of a family over the past few weeks!  

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Adelaide to Alice Springs

I only had one full day to explore Adelaide and as it was my first day in a long time I didn't have to get up at about 5.30am I had a pretty lazy day. Jem and I had a wander around the town centre but there wasn't an huge amount lot to see. That evening a few of us caught the tram to Glenelg and watched the sunset and chilled out there for the evening. It's much nicer the further out of the centre you go but after just one day its hard to get a good idea of the place.

We drove most of the following morning to a small town called Quorn where we spent two nights. In the afternoon we took a walk through Warrens Gorge in the Flinders Ranges: yet again I was amazed by the dramatic change in landscape. It was much drier in this area and it was only a few days since quite a bad bush fire had finally been extinguished. We paid a visit to the local pubs after tea with it being such a small town they don't usually get many customers by the looks of it! The landlady in one pub in particular was so happy that we were there and convinced us to visit again the next night where we even got a bit of free wine tasting done!

On our second day in Quorn we went to Wilpena pond and walked to the summit of Mt Ohlssen Bagge It was a really fun walk but the most difficult that I have done here to date. You could see for miles from the top and we had such a clear day for it we were pretty lucky. The decent was much easier and a few of us made it back to bus in no time. After eating lunch we headed to Yourambulla Caves and saw some aboriginal rock paintings; these were pretty cool and Heff started to give us some info on the Aboriginals. I was really interested to learn about their history and as I learned more and more as the week went on it became clear how much western influences have severaly damaged their lives. Its quite sad to hear the way they were treated in the early years following Australia's discovery by the west with farmers being allowed to shoot them as they were considered pests – whilst the treatment has improved they still seem to be second class citizens in comparison to the White man.

This area is actually where the film Wolf Creek was filmed – of course I've not seen the film but on the way back some of the guys decided to try to recreate the DVD cover which provided much amusement. That evening we went back to the pub and it was then I was first taught the Nutbush dance! This became an ongoing theme for the rest of the week.

The next day we left Quorn and headed up to Coober Peady. We stopped off at Port Augusta for the guys to buy “costumes” following the decision to reinact Priscilla Queen of the Desert at King's Canyon. A couple of hours before Coober Peady we made a stop at an ancient salt lake which was incredible. I'd never seen anything like it before and with the bright blue sky that day it looked really cool. We all spent a while taking different photos playing with perspective. In Coober Peady we stayed underground due to high temperatures which in itself was an experience.

Coober Peady is renowned for its opal mines: in the morning we took a tour of one of the opal mine museums and were shown how they are cut and polished. Whilst mining is no longer permitted in the town itself, there are a few sites further away which are still used. Later we had a go at noodling for opals at one of the old sites and whilst they were nothing spectacular, or worth any money, I did manage to find a few nice pieces of opal. As we headed to Marla where we were staying for the night we stopped off at the Breakaways with some more amazing views of the desert.

That night was my first night in a swag! The best way to describe them is they are like sleeping bags, made out of tarpaulin with a mattress inside and are actually surprisingly comfy. It was great to be able to sleep outside under the stars but I obviously slept a little too well as I was woken up by Heff shaking my swag to find everyone had packed up around me – God knows how I slept through the noise but these days I sleep through anything!

We had another long drive that morning and eventually reached Kata Tjuta National Park, home to The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) and Ayers Rock (Uluru). We went for a short walk to The Valley of the Winds at The Olgas to give us a good idea as to how the landform was made. It was interesting to learn that, similarly to Ayers Rock, although The Olgas appear red in colour the rock is actually a white / cream colour but because of the red sand in the desert being blown across the land, they have a fine coating giving the red colour. I was also surprised at how much vegetation there was around in what seems to be such an arid environment. There had been some rain in the previous weeks allowing more to grow than usual however apparently there is still quite a bit for the majority of the year. On the way to the camp we stopped off to try to watch the sunset at Ayers Rock whilst enjoying a glass of Bubbles but sadly it was too cloudy and started to rain – no sunset for us!

Unable to swag due to the weather we slept in tents before our early start of 4am (!!) to watch the sunrise by Ayers Rock. This time it was worth it though; as the sun rose Ayers Rock was lit up and appeared to glow in the distance, it really did look incredible. After sun rise we headed to the base of Ayers Rock to do the base walk. It is possible and allowed to climb on the rock itself however the Aborigines request that you don't due to its sacred properties. Sadly thousands of tourist still climb it but it was actually closed on the day I was there due to the weather. The base walk was a nice easy walk and it was fascinating to see all the different parts. There are areas in which photography is forbidden to anyone so to see the whole thing you really have to go there yourself. There are several black water marks on the sandstone rock where waterfalls form when its raining. Vanessa and I walked round quite quickly in order to avoid the intense heat as it was already heating up. We walked to Katju Gorge (the watering hole) which was so serene and unexpected when observing the surrounding environment. Once everyone had retuned to the bus we decided we'd do the Nutbush before leaving – I think we can safely say we were the first people to ever dance the Nutbush at Ayers Rock before!

The afternoon was another long drive, this time to Watarraka National Park where we were camping for the night. I sat and watched the sunset which was almost as good as the mornings sunrise. The sky was so clear for the whole night so we took the opportunity to get our swags out again and watch the stars.

At 6am we left for Kings Canyon with a slightly different group – 5 of the guys (one of whom was our guide) had dressed up in drag in an attempt to re create Prescilla Queen of the Desert. They looked brilliant and if watching them walk up the canyon in dresses, wigs and feather bowers wasn't enough entertainment, seeing the reactions of on-lookers and passers by was enough to keep us amused for the whole walk. Paddy borrowed my leggins as his dress was a tad too short, but after seeing him in them I decided he could keep them... The initial climb up approximately 300 steps was hard going in the heat (and it was only 7am) but the rest of the walk around the rim of the canyon was easy going, towards the end where there was no shade it was quite intense though! We walked through the amphitheatre, the Lost City and the ancient Garden of Eden. The scenery was pretty spectacular and you had amazing panoramic views for the duration of the walk. Before we started to walk down, Heff said there was one last thing we had to do. He pulled out his speakers and started playing the Nutbush, so we danced the nutbush on the top of Kings Canyon aswell!

A refreshing swim at Kings Canyon Resort was well welcomed by everyone before lunch. All that was left was a 5 and a half hour drive to finally reach Alice Springs! That was painful but eventually we got there. So far I've done 3 seperate parts of my trip from Sydney to Darwin and this last week has been the best yet. We had such a great group, and a really good guide too. We all went out that night for a few drinks which started quite tame in a local bar, then developed into a mass tickle fight on the street (Kirsten fed me monster and vodka to wake me up which resulted in a LOT of hyperactivity) and ended in a casino! All in all a pretty good night, its going to be pretty hard to top this last week!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Canberra to Adelaide

From Sydney I decided to join a trip that would take me to some different places in Australia that not every backpacker would get to see; a 21 day Sydney to Darwin safari. I left Sydney early on the 4th and we drove straight to Canberra, the capital. To be honest, I wasn't overly enthralled by the place, but I can't really judge as I was barely even there. Firstly we had a look around the war memorial, then had a driving tour around the city before going to the new Houses of Parliament. None of these things were of particular interest to me let's be honest, but I least I can say I visited the capital. It was, however, interesting to learn a bit more about the Aboriginals who live in the area. After a few short hours in the city, we headed up to Thredbo alpine village where we spent one night in a ski lodge. It felt so strange to be in a ski resort in the height of summer when there was no snow to be seen, but none the less it was quite a nice change from your standard hostels.

Summit of Mt Kosciuzko
It was another early start the next day to catch the first chairlift before walking to the summit of Mt Kosciuzko – Australia's highest peak at 2,228m. The walk from the top of the chair wasn't too challenging approx 13km return but after not having done much exercise realistically speaking since I started travelling I was a little concerned as to how I would find it. I have to admit I was quite pleased with myself in that I didn't tire too quickly and was able to reach the summit without any breaks. It never ceases to amaze me how different the landscape is all around Australia. As I walked up Mt Kosciuzko I felt like I could quite easily be walking in the Lakes with the similarities of the landscape: that was the first time since getting to Oz I could say that. Whilst sat on the chair lift down (we couldn't walk the whole thing due to time restrictions) I was envious of the several mountain bikers who went past below – the trails looked pretty good and I was itching to be on a bike. Every day I get more and more excited about New Zealand! For the rest of the day we travelled down along side the Snowy River passing several more dramatic views into the state of Victoria towards Lakes Entrance where we stayed for the night.

The next morning we headed towards the most southerly point on mainland Australia, Wilson's Promontory National Park. Most of the group walked straight to Squeaky Beach, but Kevin and I walked to the southerly tip at Pillar Point and the views were spectacular. Crystal blue water and bright white beaches surrounded by rolling hills and rock formations. It really was one of the most picturesque areas I've seen. We joined the others on the beach for an hour or so before leaving. Our guide “Squatter” pulled into an air field shortly after leaving the beach and for the first time since arriving I actually saw kangaroos! I was beginning to think they didn't exist but sure enough we spotted several Eastern Greys along with Emus and wallaby holes. By the time everyone had got their fair share of photos it was time to leave and finish our trip to Melbourne. That night we had a few drinks as a lot of people in the group were only going as far as Melbourne.

Saturday morning, and yet another early start! My trip is split up into sections so it was another group from Melbourne to Adelaide (but some carrying on from Sydney). I'd noticed someone that I recognised waiting for the same bus but I couldn't for the life of me place his face. It was only later when the bus had arrived and we were loading our gear did the girl he was with come over to say hello that I realise it was Sian and Paddy from back home! I knew Sian was out here but had no clue as to where she was or what exactly she was doing. It turned out that the two of them were on the rest of my trip through to Darwin; it really is such a small world. That day we drove along the Great Ocean Road – sadly it was pretty cloudy so we didn't get to see it in its full glory as it were. We stopped at Bells Beach – the most famous surfing beach in Oz – and there were tonnes of people out in the surf. Another random thing we saw was the lighthouse from the kids TV programme Round the Twist – I used to love that show! In the afternoon we headed to the cool temperate rainforest in Otway national park – here we did the tree top walk around the forest to get a better look. That night we were supposed to watch the sunset over the 12 Apostles but sadly it was very overcast and raining so we didn't make it.

12 Apostles
Instead the next morning we got up early and beat the crowds and went to see them. The rock formation was really cool, it just looked amazing. The sky was still pretty cloudy but when the sun shone through on the rock the effect was really nice. With all the different landscapes I'm seeing I'm beginning to wish I had a much better camera as even though some of the pictures I take look good they don't do anything justice! From the 12 Apostles, we carried on to London Arch (formally London Bridge until one half collapsed) the Bay of Martyrs and the Bay of Islands – all impressive sights. In the afternoon we went to the Mackenzie falls and crossed into the Grampians National Park with a few more lookouts along the way.

Before the final leg of the journey to Adelaide, we walked up Hollow Mountain in the northern part of the Grampians which I really enjoyed as there was a bit of scrambling involved. This place looked great for climbing and you could see several routes where people have bolted in. Sadly there was no time for climbing and after reaching the summit we quickly descended before the rain started. For the rest of the day we travelled along the highway crossing into South Australia and on to Adelaide. We made a quick stop in Bordertown where there are some rare white kangaroos but other than that we were stuck in the bus!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Sydney for New Year!

Our night bus arrived in Sydney at 7am and the sun was already shining. With no booked accommodation we decided to do some more couch surfing for the first few days in the city. We sat and had a drink at Central Station whilst waiting for Hass who had kindly offered to meet us there and show us to his place. He lives out in Kensington so we had a bit of a walk then a bus journey then another bit of a walk before we could finally stop and rest after the bus! I'd managed to sleep for the majority of the journey thankfully as I was exhausted from Byron, Inge on the other hand had not been so lucky.

At first I was pretty sceptical about the city with at least a dozen people waiting to cross the road every time and swarms of people on every street but after a couple of days there I actually quite liked it. After a couple of hours chilling at the flat and coming round, we took the bus back into town as Hass wanted to show us around. We got off at Hyde Park and walked down to Circular Quay where the Sydney Opera House is located. After a few snaps, if I'm honest, I was ready to go. Yes, architecturally, the Opera House is quite impressive, however it wasn't as interesting as I had thought. We walked back along George Street – the main sort of shopping street in Sydney, bought some food for the following few days, then headed back to the flat. We watched a couple of films but I was ready for bed pretty early on, especially given the fact it was New Years Eve in a couple of days and I really needed to catch up on some sleep!

The next day we had a pretty lazy morning, it seem to take us forever to come round and get our act together to leave the house! We headed to Circular Quay where we met Stacey and some of her friends before catching the ferry to Manly. I'd been told Manly is one of the better beaches around Sydney but I can't say I was overly enthusiastic about the place. After lying in the sun for a while I decided just to go have a quick look around the shops but I wasn't really in the mood for that either! Back on the beach we started making plans for New Years Eve – naturally Inge and I were planning on meeting up with Stacey and hopefully Digby as he was in Sydney too. We decided on a time and place, so all that was to do now was to buy food for a day long picnic!

Back at the flat we prepared our bag for the morning as we had an early start ahead. We left at 8am to meet the guys at 9am at central station. By about 10am 5 of us had made it to Dr Mary Boothe's Look out at Milson's Point. I thought this was pretty early but there was already people there getting their spot for the fireworks. Other friends of mine queued up at the Botanical Gardens from 6am in the morning in order to get a spot their, and some went to the Opera house. Milson's point is on the opposite side of the bridge to these places, but is a lot less crowded and still has an amazing view of the bridge. The place was getting busier and busier as the hours went by and we were trying to hold a spot for a lot more people. Eventually a few others arrived so it became easier. To my surprise, Alec, Steve and Andy – with whom I had travelled in Malaysia – came and joined our group and spent New Year with us. It was really cool to catch up with them after so long! Digby and his friends who I'd met in Noosa arrived a bit later, as did Sam and Billy who we'd met on Fraser Island. More friends of friends turned up and by the end there was over 20 of us together which made it a lot of fun! We spent the day chilling in the sun and catching up with each other as we'd not seen most people in a few weeks.

The first fireworks started at 9pm – apparently the family show for young children who couldn't stay up late. Even these were impressive. Midnight arrived and none of us could believe we'd been there for 14 hours the day had gone so quickly! I had to admit, the New Year firework show was incredible. I think I had expected something absolutely outstanding because there is such a hype around the Sydney Fireworks, and it was by far the best I've ever seen, especially the ending but maybe not quite as good as I had built it up to be. The show lasted for over 10 minutes and the crowd was constantly clapping and cheering – the atmosphere was great! After the show was over, everyone seem to disperse and no one knew where each other were. I ended up loosing my shoes (and later discovered I lost my sunglasses too) so I was left to wander the streets of Sydney with bare feet! As we weren't with Hass we had to find somewhere else to crash at that night – I eventually reached a friends house in Burwood at 5am in the morning after hopping on and off various trains and walking what seemed miles with no shoes on!

On New Years Day, Inge and I wanted to get back to Hass' as soon as we could. We left Burwood just after 10am and it took us a whole 2 hours to reach Kensington (I still had no shoes at this point) Sydney is huge! We literally got in, got some food, got changed and decided to head to the beach. Hass joined us as we went to Bondi. The queue for the bus from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach was unreal – clearly a lot of people decided to go there on NYD. The beach was packed, however we managed to find a nice little spot with a decent amount of room so it didn't feel like were too squashed in. A while later Andy and Steve joined. Hass left a little later so it ended up just being the four of us relaxing on the beach until about 8pm. Its amazing how it stays sunny for so long, there wasn't a cloud in the sky all day! It was the perfect way to spend the first day of 2012.

The next morning we left Hass' quite early as we'd decided to check into a hostel as we wanted to be closer to town and wanted to visit the Blue Mountains that day. Initially we'd agreed to hire a car with the guys but they'd had a heavy night and weren't answering their phones so we just decided to catch a train there. We took the train to Katoomba and got a hop on hop off bus pass around the area. The landscape was amazing, so different to anything I have seen in Australia to date. The blue haze on the mountains gives them their name and the views were stunning. We visited Echo Point, The Three Sisters, Leuna Cascades and Gordon Falls. The bus was quite good as you could get on whenever and had the option to walk along the cliff to different sections and get picked up again. It was a scorching hot day but apparently it was only the 2 previous days that the weather had been nice and not raining so we were pretty lucky! It was an exhausting day but a nice last day for me and Inge.

On my last day in Sydney, Inge left early in the morning and then I changed hostels to a cheaper one for one night before spending the day saying bye to people! I met up with Andy and Steve and the Opera house and spent a couple of hours with them before they went to the airport to go to New Zealand then met Stacey and relaxed in Hyde park. I later ran into Charlotte and Ro who I'd met in Byron so had one last drink with them before getting back to my hostel for an early night ready for an early start and a new adventure the next day.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas in Byron Bay

After being on the go for so long, I was ready to stay in one place for more than a couple of nights, so I decided to stay a week in Byron Bay and even that wasn't long enough. If it hadn't been for the temptation of the fireworks in Sydney I would have quite possibly stayed there until I left for New Zealand!

I arrived in Byron on the 20th and had 3 nights booked at the Arts Factory Lodge (it was fully booked over Christmas after the 23rd) and when I got the the hostel I knew I was going to like it. It was such a hive of activity and so very different to anywhere I'd been before. As I was waiting to check in a guy with a Cockatoo on his shoulder, who I later discovered was Cockatoo Paul, was walking round inviting people on his bush tucker walk, but as it started in about 5 minutes I passed that evening. After putting my bags in my room I went and met up with Craig who I'd met on Fraser Island.

The Arts Factory is huge - lots of dorms like a conventional hostel, but also several Ti-pees, smaller outdoor huts and a campsite. There's a swimming pool, volley ball court, and outdoor picnic area, and people of all ages seem to stay there. As its an "Arts Factory" they encourage different forms of art with free workshops every day from drumming & digeridoo to poi & yoga and much more inbetween. Each night there's usually some form of entertainment going on as well. On my first night there was a talent show and everyone who performed was just amazing. Lots of people stay there for several months at a time and get little bands together, others performed poetry or just played on their own, but needless to say it was very impressive.

I had a look around the town the next day, but the weather was so bad that there wasn't much to do. I checked out the beach and the surf was a bit mental - the sea was rough and the waves were big but that was nothing in comparison to the days that came. Back at the hostel I played volley ball where I met Jack, Eddy,  Craig and Alex who I spent most of my time with after that. We all went on Cockatoo Paul's Bush tucker walk which was actually really interesting - he's so knowledgeable about the plants and wildlife and he actually runs camps to teach people more about it all. He showed us several places you can find water, plants that you could eat and plants that you can use as insect repellent. It was clear he could have talked for hours on end and he was so enthusiastic about it that it was even more interesting.

The next day the weather was a bit nicer so I decided to go to the beach. The waves were a lot calmer that day and so small that it was hardly worth the money of hiring a board, so again I passed on that one. The Main beach in Byron is pretty big and always full of people. I just read my book for a while before going back for more volley ball at the hostel. That evening Cockatoo Paul was playing at the Buddha Bar (just next to the Arts Factory) I went with a couple of others I'd met around the hostel. Not only does he know a lot about bush tucker, he's also an impressive musician. He plays guitar, drums digeridoo and sings almost all at once! After the gig I chatted to him for a while and he's by far the most interesting person I've met since travelling. We went back to the hostel after the gig had finished to see what was going on there. I found Jack Eddy and Craig all jamming so decided to stick with them for a while. That's when I met Charlotte; she's a bit of a legend and we had such a laugh that night and the days to come. It was getting late so the night guard asked us to go somewhere else so make noise so we sat on the edge of the car park which was technically no longer his responsibility and continued for a few more hours.

The previous day, Eddy had told me that if you go the lighthouse in Cape Byron you'd be one of the first people to see the sunrise. I looked at the time and it was 3.30am so I suggested we all went up there to watch it. I was half joking really as its about an hours walk from the hostel, but a couple of people were up for it so we set off. There was 5 at first but by the time we got to the beach where the lighthouse walk really begins, there was just me and Eddy. I'd never been before so I didn't quite know what to expect. We walked up the road for a while then took a turn off into the bush. It was pitch black and neither of us had any form of light so we couldn't see a thing. Luckily Eddy knew where he was going but walking up and down steps in the forest with bare feet and no light was still a bit sketchy! We didn't quite make it to the lighthouse itself before the sun started to rise so we sat on a hang-gliding launch pad to watch it instead. Sadly it was a bit cloudy so it wasn't as impressive as it could have been but was still pretty amazing to be there on your own where you could see for miles without another person in sight and it was so peaceful.

We got back to the hostel at about 7 and slept in one of the hammocks for about an hour. I had to check out that morning so I went to my room and packed. A little later I ran into Charlotte who hadn't slept either... It turned out her and another guy had ended up getting a taxi to the lighthouse to try and find us but to no avail! We chilled out by the pool for the rest of the morning, trying but failing to sleep! Eventually she went to bed, but as I had no place to sleep until that evening when I was moving into the house share I decided to go to the beach and sleep there for a while. I got about another hour before I started to walk back. On the way back I ran into Tia and Eoghan who I was going to the house with so they took me to the house and showed me round. It was about 3 minutes from the AF which was handy and was a really cool house. I met Inge off the bus that afternoon and took her to the house before moving all my stuff from the hostel. We met some of the others who we were staying with: Gardner, Henry, Ben, Holly, Maj, Kara and Damo. They had all worked together in Cairns.

The next day was Christmas Eve and it didn't feel like it at all! Inge and I had decided to hire a couple of boards but when we got there and checked the surf, no where was hiring because it was too rough and dangerous.To my disappointment, we were told that it was going to carry on getting bigger over the next few days. Instead we walked to the Lighthouse so I got the see it in broad day light this time. The views were fantastic and we also saw a group of dolphins playing by the coast line. By the time we got back to the house, the food shopping for Christmas dinner had been done, so we went and help get the alcohol in.

That evening there was a Christmas Eve Party at the Arts Factory, so Inge and I went and met up with Charlotte and Ro so a pre Christmas meal. We helped set the tables up inside as the rain had ruined the initial set up. The food was really good and Champagne kept appearing on the table each time we finished a bottle. After the meal, they made it open mic again so a few of the guys got up and performed. Inge, Charlotte and Ro headed into town but I stayed a little longer at the hostel with some other friends and then headed to the beach for a bit of a party for the rest of the night.

The guys in the house had done secret santa, and Inge and I had bought each other some chocolate, so Christmas morning was spent opening presents. Lack of sleep was definitely catching up on me so I had a chilled out morning after that. Some of the others started cooking dinner but the rest of us went to the beach to take some photos. The beach was practically gone as the tide was so far in and the sea was so rough! Lifeguards struggled to keep people out of the water but you could see people being washed 100s of metres down the beach by strong under currents without even realising! When we got back most of the food was done it was just the remainder of the meat that needed cooked.

We had dinner together with a few others who joined the group. Once that was finished everyone chilled out around the house watching films or drinking in the garden. It didn't feel like Christmas at all to me and I was struggling to sit around and not do much. Instead I decided to go and see the guys from the Arts Factory and hang out with them for a bit. Inge joined. We met Charlotte and Ro and started having a few drinks then Craig, Jack and Eddy joined us. A couple of hours later some people arrived with decks and set up and then there seemed to be an un-planned dubstep night happening outside. It was heaps of fun. Everyone was talking about going to the beach afterwards so a few of us decided to go check it out. We didn't stay that long in the end but it was pretty packed. The next day we found out some of our mates hadn't left till 11 that morning.

On Boxing day Inge, Gardner, Maj and I went to the beach. The swell was beginning to get smaller but it was still rough conditions. Gardner and I kept going in the sea but the current was unbelievable! I was disappointed that the conditions weren't any good for me to go surfing especially as my time there was running out. Later that day we went and said bye to Charlotte and Ro as they were leaving for Sydney that night.

Tuesday was my last full day in Byron. I went round to see if anyone was about at the hostel and managed to get another game of volley ball in. We decided to get a group together and head to the beach in the afternoon. It takes forever to organise people so around 2 we were finally ready to go. Craig, Jack, Eddy, Alex, Dan and I headed to the beach complete with beer, surf board, guitar, fishing rod and ball! We picked up Inge on the way and went to the Pass - the southern most point of Main beach. That was one of my favourite days in Byron. We all hung out on the beach for hours - Inge and Craig left a bit earlier but the rest of us were leaving as the sun set. The guys caught a couple of fish that they were going to have for tea but as it was Tuesday, Inge and I had already decided to get $5 pizza from dominos. Once I planted this idea everyone was on board so we stopped off and ate pizza before getting back! I took Inge her pizza and stayed at the house for  a while before going to the Arts Factory once last time to say goodbye!

I was pretty sad to say bye to everyone there, I met some of the coolest people on my whole trip just in that hostel. I've already decided I want to go back there for a couple of months at some point but not sure when that may happen! That night was my first night in in a long time! I stayed in the house and watched a couple of films with the guys before falling asleep on the couch. We were leaving on the night bus so on Wednesday I just did some washing and got everything organised for leaving for Sydney!

Byron Bay is by far my favourite place along the East Coast: I can't wait to go back!