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!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Brisbane, Sunshine Coast

We arrived in Brisbane in the afternoon and walked to our hostel Brisbane City Backpackers. When we got to our room there was a guy from Carlisle there! I didn't actually believe him at first but when he told me where he lived I was convinced: what's more is the fact his mate – also from Carlisle was coming the next day. The whole time I've been away I've not met nor expected to meet anyone from Carlisle so I was quite surprised.

After dropping our bags we took a walk into the city centre, it felt so strange being in a city after spending so long by the beach. At first looks, Brisbane wasn't the most attractive city, but we didn't explore very far. That evening we went to the Christmas Parade and Pantomime in town. They actually had a camel, donkey and some sheep walking through the centre of town! Pierre, Inge and I were all amused by the fact that part of the parade was a group of people in beach wear – it still seems absurd to me that its so hot around Christmas! The Pantomime was hillarious. Neither of the two people I was with had ever seen one before, or even heard of them so I was determined for them to stay and watch! I don't think they had any idea what to expect and I think they were a little in shock at how awful it was, but sure the kids loved it...

On Saturday it was scorching, we took a walk to South Bank which is actually a really nice part of the city. On the way we passed a group of students having a “Zombie Day” which was pretty surreal, it felt like we'd walked onto the set of 28 Days Later. We passed The Brisbane Wheel – essentially the same as the London Eye - and then a Nepalese Temple. The Temple was actually really cool, lots of intricate detail carved in the wooden exterior. South Bank is by the river – the opposite side to our hostel – and also where the artificial beach is. Tonnes of people were on the “beach” and in the pool. It is the Australian summer/Christmas holidays at the minute so it was pretty packed with families and young kids. We decided to go a little further and found a nice grassy bank where we stayed for a while reading and enjoying the sun. In the afternoon we walked to Chinatown – it wasn't too interesting in comparison to the other ones I have now visited so we didn't stay long before walking back to the hostel.
That night we had a few drinks with the guys from our dorm and some others we'd met in the hostel bar before heading to “Down Under” a bar further in town. Whilst there we ran into Tia and Eoghan who we had met on the Clipper and who we were going to be spending Christmas with in Byron Bay. It was really cool to see them again and made us really excited for Christmas again! The next couple of days we just chilled out, the temperatures were just so hot that doing stuff in the city was not the most appealing! Brisbane City Backpackers has a pool on the roof which makes it easy to stay at the hostel through the day.

I left Brissy on Tues and headed to Byron Bay without Inge for the first time in almost a month! She was staying a few extra nights in Brisbane and meeting me in Byron on the 23rd , it was kind of odd to be on my own again but also quite good to remind me what it feels like going to new places totally alone.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Noosa, Sunshine Coast

Lounge area - Halse Lodge

In Noosa we stayed in Halse Lodge YHA as it was recommended to us by several people. The Greyhound dropped us off at Noosa Junction and there was a free pick up to take us to Halse Lodge which is at Noosa Head. When we first arrived the reception staff didn't seem very friendly or happy to be there and we were already regretting not just sticking to Nomads. We found our 4 bed dorm clean and comfortable but we didn't seem to see very many other people staying at the Hostel which disappointed us and already we were contemplating changing hostels for the second night. At the same time, we were both aware we were really tired and could be wrong about YHA.

Alexandria Beach
We had headed to Noosa with the plan of doing a canoeing trip in the Everglades, however when we arrived we found out it was fully booked until the weekend and neither of us were intending on staying that long. After the original plan failed we made more effort to find out what there was to do in and Noosa. The hostel run a welcome meeting every evening to give information about the area and the evening staff were so much nicer. By this time the bar was filling up too so we began to warm to the place a bit more. The next day we went for a walk in Noosa's vast national park. We took the coastal path way to Hell's gate and then to Alexandria Bay where, to our surprise, we discovered it was actually a nudist beach! We only stayed on the beach for about 20 mintues – laying on the beach with old men with everything on show wasn't really the most relaxing environment to say the least! We took a different route back to the park entrance this time through the woods. In total around circuit was about 8km which felt a bit more due to the intense heat but it was a nice work out before lunch.

Hells Gate
After seeing a poster in Peter Pan's we both decided to get a cheap hair cut by a girl staying in Nomads. I regretted it instantly as I always do with hair cuts but to be fair it was needed. Later we met a few others who hadn't been impressed by her either but it was cheap so we couldn't complain. That evening we had a few drinks in the bar where we met some guys who were from Noosa – one of whom had actually lived in Barrow in Furness for a couple of years as his mam was from Windermere which was extremely random. After Halse Lodge bar closed we headed to the Koala Bar at Nomads to continue the evening. I got talking to a couple of guys from down south and by chance we realised we were waiting for the same person in Noosa – Digby, who I'd met in Cairns but was actually their friend from home. The backpacking community, especially on the East Coast is incredibly small! You forever find yourself running into people you've already met, or people who know people you've met.

Eumundi Market
On Wednesday we got up relatively early and caught a bus to Eumundi, where we had been had a great market on a Wednesday and Saturday. The market was good, yes, similar to the continental markets we get at home with food from many different countries and lots of handmade goods. It was pretty extensive too – if you had a house in the area the market would be perfect for odd bits and bobs for around the home, and if you didn't mind spending money on food it would be great too. But neither I nor Inge have the capability to carry things for around the house or money to waste on food so it wasn't that long before we caught the bus back to Noosa. That afternoon we just chilled out and went to the beach for a while. Since leaving Cairns we've been on the go non stop: lots of activities, lots of alcohol and very little sleep, so we were both more than happy to spend our time in Noosa relaxing and catching up on some well needed rest.

That evening we met up with Digby and his friends for a few drinks in Nomads but didn't stay long before walking back to our hostel. Neither of us had intended on staying so long in Noosa but there is a really nice, chilled out atmosphere around and its really picturesque. On our last day we attempted and failed miserably to devise a plan for New Year, chilled out on the beach for a bit and had a look down Hastings street, the quite up market shopping street in Noosa Head. The weather wasn't too great that day so I was delighted to find a coffee shop selling Chai Lattes in the food court on Hastings street. I haven't lost my addiction to them at all and the fact that I only manage to get one very occasionally makes me appreciate them a whole lot more. We had an easy night before our Greyhound to Brisbane the next morning.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Agnes Water, Rainbow Beach & Fraser Island

Stormy 1770
After a gruelling 10 hour bus journey and very little sleep we arrived in Agnes Water. By way of a change we decided to do some couch surfing here, but this meant we had nowhere to go until 6pm when Nick (the guy who offered us his couch) would be home from work. Agnes Water and The Town of 1770 are most commonly visited for surfing or scooteroo. It is actually the northern most beach along the east coast where you can surf so we decided we'd hire a couple of boards and see what it was like. Firstly, however, we stopped off at tourist information mainly for somewhere to leave our backpacks for the day. The staff there were incredibly friendly offering us a place to leave our stuff free of charge and lots of information. We set off to walk to 1770 not realising it was 6km away and then got caught in a torrential downpour. Thankfully, this guy offered us a lift and took us right up to the viewpoint. I think he thought we were mad wanting to be out in that weather but we knew we were only staying one day so wanted to see as much as possible. As expected we couldn't see that much from the lookout due to the weather but we were still able to gauge that it was a pretty cool looking place. As we started to head down into the town the rain got heavier so we stopped for a hot chocolate. Here we ran into Luke – a local surf instructor who we'd met earlier that morning and he gave us a ride back to Agnes water and let us hire 2 of his boards for just $10 each for the afternoon. Him and his mate even came out in the water with us, and as he knew Nick he let us chill out at his until Nick could pick us up. By the time we got to Nick's we were both exhausted and really struggled to keep awake! We met his house mates and chatted for a while before cooking food. I went in the room to get something and then just passed out by mistake! Next thing I knew it was 5:30 and we needed to get up for our early morning bus! Nightmare

Paul gave us a lift to the bus thankfully as it was raining again... I slept a little on the bus and eventually we arrived at Dingos resort in Rainbow beach at about 12 midday. We checked in and went for a look around. After about 20 minutes the rain picked up again and before we knew it we were soaked. By this time I think its safe to say both Inge and I were sick of the weather and just wanted some sun again! That evening we both crashed out pretty early. I had another early start the next day as I got a free "Dolphin Ferry Cruise" when I'd booked my trip. They picked us up from the hostel at 6:30am and were taken to the boat. After a short trip on the boat we got to the dolphins. I had low expectations I have to admit but really was nothing like how the talked it up. When our boat pulled up there was already about 20 people stood around the water edge where there were 2 dolphins in the bay. We stood around and took a few photos for a while but it wasn't too exciting especially as they'd told us we could swim with them which wasn't true! After a while Alice and I went and got a drink, my first Chai Latte in Oz which was the highlight of the morning!

Rainbow Beach
By the afternoon it was a beautiful, hot sunny day so Inge and I headed to the beach. We walked towards the sand dunes and it soon became clear why it was called “Rainbow beach”. The sand was all different colours, different shades of orange, red, yellow and even black, I have to admit it did look pretty cool. One thing that did look out of place was the speed limit sign on the side of the beach but it wasn't long before several land-rovers were flying past and so it made a bit more sense. We had our briefing for the Fraser Island trip that evening. Altogether there was almost 50 people leaving with Dingo's for the Fraser Island 4WD Tag-along trip the next morning – we were split into cars and out of the 7 other people in my group there was only 1 who I hadn't met already somewhere along the coast. We were given a safety talk and had some paperwork to do and then we had the rest of the evening to get ready.

Lake Mackenzie
Alarms were set for 6:30 in order to get up, have breakfast, pack, check out of the hostel and assemble by the land-rovers by 7:45. We then had to go through all the camping and cooking equipment that was supplied to check we had anything, then after a quick run through how to drive in 4WD we set off. First to Inskip point where we got on the car ferry across to Fraser. We were really lucky with bright blue skies and scorching hot weather which had not been predicted so first we headed to Lake MacKenzie. All the cars met up here and so it was good to get to know people from the other groups. The lake was really nice; clear fresh water made a nice change from the sea and it was so refreshing in the heat. The beach was almost white and there was lots of greenery around making it even more picturesque. From the lake we drove along the beach to the place where we were to set up camp and it was my turn to drive. It was so much fun! I'd been a little apprehensive at first but as soon as I’d driven 100m I loved it! It felt a little odd driving on sand but it was easy to get used to. We pitched our tents, cooked food and chilled out on the beach for the rest of the night.

Champagne Pools
The next morning, the heavens opened! Naturally this did damped a few spirits but we were still determined to have fun. First off we went to Eli Creek where we pretty much all reverted to being children running around in the rain and swimming in the creek. Had it been sunny it would probably not have been as much fun, and maybe a little more chilled. After a while we got back in the car to drive to the next spot. We'd all warmed up and just about dried off when we reached Champagne Pools. For a few minutes it was so difficult to muster the enthusiasm to get back out into the driving rain but we were pleased we did as they looked incredible. You walk a short distance from the car park down to sea level where there are huge rock pools deep enough to jump in to. When the waves break behind the rocks a surge of white bubbly water enters the pools, hence the name! In the afternoon the rain had eased off a little bit - as in it was no longer a torrential downpour – and we went to Indian Head. This is one of the best lookouts on the island to see sharks and dolphins. I didn't see either of those, however I did spot a turtle and a young seal from a distance which was cool. We made one more real stop that day, at the wreck. This was more of a photo stop than anything but the weather had cleared so we stayed a little longer. On the way back to camp, Shane (our “guide” for the trip) pulled in at a spot next to some quicksand. It felt so strange getting in as you felt almost powerless as it was so difficult to move, a good laugh to watch everyone though!

Lake Wabby
That night was a bit of a mad one – lots of goon was drank and far too many shots and the next morning the majority of the camp were suffering. Exactly what you want when you've a 40 minute walk to Lake Wabby ahead of you. Inge and I were desperate to jump in the water as it was one of the hottest days I've encountered and you can't swim in the sea surrounding Fraser because of the sharks so we walked as quick as we could. The lake was so refreshing, much deeper much sooner than Lake Mackenzie but a little smaller. The walking path we had taken brought us down to one end of the lake through the trees, but when the others arrived, several of them had chosen the route via the sand dunes. After swimming for a while a few of us went to check it out. It was amazing - never before had I seen such a vast amount of sand and nothing else. After a few hours at the lake we walked back and then after lunch it was time to leave Fraser.

Back at Rainbow we cleaned out our cars and gave back our camping stuff. We were so lucky to have such a good group of people and none of us really seemed to want to leave Fraser. That night was actually Shane's birthday so we met up in the bar at Dingo's for a few drinks minus the goon! It was a really cool night and nice way to say bye to everyone before we caught the bus to Noosa the next morning.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Magnetic Island, Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays

We left Cairns early in the morning on the Greyhound down to Townsville. After very little sleep that night the journey flew by as I slept the whole way. The drop off point in Townsville is actually at the ferry port so we didn't have a long walk or that much of a wait either before our crossing to Magnetic Island. The ferry takes about 20 minutes then we caught a bus down to Base Backpackers, our hostel for the following two nights.

After following the directions to our dorm, Inge and I were delighted by our luck! We had a balcony that was right on the sea front, over looking the water and the cliffs to the side. It was unbelievably warm so we just stayed by the pool for a few hours before dinner. When we booked we received a free dinner and breakfast – the food was incredible! Best hostel food I've had hands down. I got the veggie lasagne and could have happily ate it several times over. That night they had “Boozy Bingo” in the bar. We'd met a couple of people by this point so 5 of us sat round drinking and playing bingo which was a bit of a laugh – none of us won of course.

The next morning again was really warm. We stayed on the beach (no swimming though as its stinger season and we didn't fancy paying for a stinger suit) for a while before buying some stuff for dinner. In the afternoon Inge and I caught the bus to the Forts Walk near Horseshoe bay – north on the island. The others had gone in the morning but we didn't fancy the walk in the heat. This was supposed to be the most common place to see koalas in the wild but we left we low expectations following the crocodile cruise! After only 10 minutes a woman who was walking in front of us had spotted a koala up in the tree! We couldn't believe it: they look so much less friendly than they are portrayed but are seriously fluffy! For the whole of the rest of the walk we only saw one other koala, slightly smaller than the first, but that was very high up in the tree sleeping so it was quite difficult to see it properly. The views from around the walk were really nice and the landscape was completely different to all the other places I've been, much drier so less green and altogether more baron. On the way back we saw the first koala again but this time climbed up the rocks to get some closer photos – it was really cool to see them in the wild.

We left Maggie after two nights and caught the greyhound down the Airlie Beach. Our bus was delayed so we only just made check-in at Nomads. After the rave reviews for Nomads Airlie beach we'd heard, I was a little disappointed. There was nothing wrong with the hostel per say, just not as clean or well organised as Serpent. People clearly didn't always clean up after themselves in the kitchen and no one seemed to bother to check it, the dorms have en suite bathrooms but this meant long waits as the shower only had a curtain so people couldn't use the toilet at the same time. We had an eventful night in the dorm thanks to 3 extremely drunk kiwis so we had an early start the next day on very little sleep. There is a peterpans in Airlie so we went there to confirm dates of greyhounds and our tour of Fraser island. Later in the morning we had a welcome visit from Digby and Stacey – friends from Cairns. They'd spent the last 2 day hitch hiking down. There isn't an awful lot to do in Airlie but its the most popular place to depart for the Whitsundays so we just wandered around the shops and caught up with Digby and Stacey. We went out for a second “goodbye until Sydney” party but to be honest we weren't massively impressed with the night life. The majority of people we've met seem to enjoy Airlie for a night out but we must have hit it badly.

On Saturday we got on board the Atlantic Clipper to start our trip sailing round the Whitsundays. The weather wasn't too bad when we set off- it had been overcast in the morning but the sky had cleared and the sun was shining by the time we set off. On our boat there was 53 passengers and 6 crew. The crew were all pretty lively and friendly which definitely helped as the weather for the rest of the trip was rubbish but they were pretty good at keeping the spirits up. We left in the afternoon and sailed for a couple of hours to reach where we would moor up for the night. Throughout the journey we had our safety briefing and were shown to our cabins. Inge and I were in a cabin together, the bunk had less than 50cm between them and I drew the short straw and got the bottom so I managed to hit my head a good few times. That night we had to get into groups and had random games on the boat – my team won so we got a chocolate bar each. Chocolate here is so expensive its crazy – I miss the cheap 20p supermarket chocolate back home!

The next morning we were woken at 6:30am for breakfast and the boat was already sailing. There was a few people who were worse for wear lets say and sea sickness on top of that didn't make it too enjoyable for a lot of people. We sailed to the main island: Whitsunday which is where the 4th most photographed spot in Australia is, Whitehaven beach. We moored up and were taken over to Tounge beach by smaller boats and there we began the trail to the lookout. It was only a short walk up to the lookout and the view was spectacular. Sadly the weather was pretty rubbish with dark grey skies overhead but still it was clear to see why Whitehaven beach is such a desirable place to go. Perfect white beaches, surrounded by bright blue water made it extremely picturesque. We continued on the trail all the way down to the beach. I couldn't get over how bright the sand was and how fine it was too. We put our stinger suits which were far too big and went in the water. The waves made me want to get surfing as soon as possible! On one side of the beach the water wasn't quite as inviting but when we looked closely we saw a few sting ray and a baby lemon shark just by the edge. We had a couple of hours the chill out on the beach but the rain started early on so people started heading back to the boat early.

By the afternoon we had sailed north to our first snorkelling/diving location. I chose not to dive as after my 3 amazing dives in Cairns I could not justify sending any more money on diving! Still managed to see tonnes of different fish just by snorkelling around though so it was still cool. The Clipper also has a dive board and slide so after a bit of snorkelling we passed the time jumping in until the divers returned. That night more games came out. Firstly the guys dressed up as girls (including the crew which was hilarious) then we had a series of games after that. Everyone got involved and made it good fun – through the day a lot of people seemed to be pretty subdued probably because of the weather. We'd all heard stories of the Clipper being a bit mental so most people that I spoke to were surprised at how tame it was. I think it depends a lot on the group on the boat but to be honest the balance worked out pretty well.

The following morning we were able to go snorkelling/diving again if we wanted. It was almost sunny for the first time since we left Airlie beach so I decided to stay on the top deck and chill out after not having much sleep the night before. I'd talked to the crew quite a lot the previous evening and it was cool to get to know them a bit more. After a few hours we started our journey back to Airlie. We arrived back at around 12pm and with no room as such Inge and I were a bit unsure of what to do until 23:45 when our overnight bus was departing. There was an after party (with free pizza) at Phoenix bar in town but until them we wandered around aimlessly. Darren (one of the crew) was kind enough to let us leave our bags in his van which he conveniently parked next to the bus stop. We each got half a domino's pizza free after spending $5 at the bar which was amazing and by the time we'd finished eating the party started. It was a really good night and so difficult to drag ourselves away to catch the bus but just after 11 we said our goodbyes to everyone we'd met on the boat and headed to catch the Greyhound to the town of 1770.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Cairns, Port Douglas & Cape Tribulations

View from Captin Cook Highway

I flew from Singapore to Darwin, and then to Cairns. When I arrived in Cairns, along with the immigration sheet, I had to fill in a declaration form where you declare any foreign goods or foods etc. As I'd done some trekking, my shoes were pretty muddy and that was actually one of the options! So after collecting my bag, I had to go to this other section of the airport where a guy took my shoes and washed them before allowing me to leave. Consequently I had soaking wet shoes for the following week as I forgot to dry them out....

By the time I arrived in Cairns I was feeling pretty much 100% better and the sun was blazing, happy days ! I got the free shuttle from the airport and headed to my hostel, Nomads Serpent which is about a 25 minute walk from the centre of Cairns. It was pretty cheap $15 per night including free breakfast (if you could make it out of bed in time!) They also had an offer where if you bought a drink – could literally be anything – for $3 + you could get a free evening meal, really basic food but so cheap it was hard to say no.

My first couple of days here I just relaxed and adjusted to western style living! Its mad how popular exercise is here: I walked down the esplanade into town on a few days and you see so many people running or cycling. They even have various exercise stations along the water front. One of the first things I did was buy a block of cheese and a bottle of milk – they tasted so good it was unreal! On Wednesday, Nomads had a pub crawl organised which I went on with a few of the people from my dorm. It was such a good laugh and a really cheap night out. We went to a few different bars in town – Gillagans being one of them. Gilligans is actually a backpackers hostel, but has a bar and club as part of it. I'd been recommended to stay there but its pretty crazy and there would be no chance at sleeping! We also went to Vibe, the Woolshed and Pjs where Stacey managed to win the coyote dancing competition! We all had such a laugh and I met some really cool people that night.

The amount of trips advertised in Cairns is pretty overwhelming and it would be so easy to spend thousands in a matter of minutes. I'd been looking into the various tours but there was so much choice that Inge and I decided to go to Peter Pan's (probably the most widely used travel agency along the east coast) Before we knew it we'd booked to go to Magnetic Island, the Whitsundays and Fraser Island. It cost quite a bit but we did actually get some good deals and we were both stupidly excited!

On Saturday I really pushed the boat out and booked a diving trip on the Great Barrier Reef carrying out 3 dives and hiring a camera. As with most things it was horribly expensive but it's something I had to do and it was so worth it! I went with Silver Swift: we travelled about 1 and a half hours out to Flynn Reef, the boat was really comfy and we got tea/coffee and cakes when we got on for breakfast. My first dive was really cool: I immediately noticed how brighter the coral was and how much better the visibility was than on Koh Tao. I saw a huge variety of fish and coral and enjoyed every second of it. The second dive was even better. We saw a green turtle, some sharks, several trigger fish, nemos, giant clams and more. I couldn't get enough. After the second dive we got lunch – help yourself buffet with rice, curry, a selection of salads, and fruit. It was all pretty awesome food. The third dive was really cool too; we moved to a slightly different location where there was a lot of boulder coral which made it slightly different and interesting. I was happy that I'd got the camera as I got some really cool shots – much better than Koh Tao. We got tea, cake and fruit on the return journey too. The dive masters and all the crew were really friendly and fun and I had an awesome day out, well worth the money!

The next day, 5 of us decided to take a road trip up north. Stacey, Inge, Amelie, Sabrina and I hired a car for 2 days and drove up on the Captin Cook Highway, first stop Port Douglas. We didn't intend on staying here very long, it was a scorching hot day so we parked by the beach and got ice cream. On the way to get food for lunch we noticed the local Sunday market so we had a quick look around. It had a really hippie vibe to it which was quite cool; all sorts of healthy remedies and massage techniques along with tarot card readings and craft stalls. From Port Douglas we drove a little further to the Mossoman Gorge. Here we walked around the jungle trail for a little while amusing ourselves with random photo opportunities but it was so hot and humid it was amazing to finish our walk and jump into the river. It was baltic! Really refreshing but so unbelievably cold! None the less we mucked around in the water for a while before decided we better set off. That night we stayed in PK's jungle village at Cape tribulations.

As we were in the Daintree Rainforest region, on the way back to Cairns the next day we went on a small river cruise to see if we could spot any crocodiles – naturally we didn't but the guy did show us around the mangroves and pointed out their nesting areas and other spots of wildlife which was actually quite interesting. As it was high tide and there was some extra flood water our chances of seeing crocodiles were largely diminished so it was no surprise really that we didn't see any. There are some nice beaches in between Port Douglas and Cairns so we stopped off at a couple before taking the car back. You can't really swim in the sea at the minute due to it being stinger season and the fact that there can be crocodiles and sharks in the waters, but we stopped at Palm Cove which has a swimming enclosure which is deemed safe enough so we went for a dip and did some sun bathing.

It's been quite odd to spend so much time with a group of girls but it was a nice change. When we returned to Cairns, despite the fact we had to get up at 6am for the Greyhound the following morning, we decided to go out as it was going to be our last night with Stacey. Inge Stacey and I went for one last night out using some of the vouchers we had left from the Pub Crawl and had a pretty good night.  

Monday, 21 November 2011


The night bus was nothing special to be honest. As with most public transport in Malaysia it was freezing! Seriously if you're ever travelling by bus at night, take something unless you're prepared to freeze. They seem to have the air con on full blast and don't believe its possible to turn it down, and I wasn't the only one who was cold. I was dropped off at Lavender Street Bus Station at about 6am on Saturday morning. Due to the time I was arriving, and the way I'd been feeling, for the first time I'd booked accommodation in advance. I was staying at the Green Kiwi Backpacker Hostel, also on Lavender street. When I found the place I was shown to my dorm and allowed to go to bed.

I was in a 10 bed, relatively spacious dorm, and when I arrived I was the only person there! Less people in your dorm makes it a bit harder to meet people but does mean less disturbances. I slept for a few hours (the beds were really comfy by the way and had duvets which always makes me happy) and then went to check in properly. The hostel is relatively new, but the staff are very friendly and helpful, and the facilities are great. There is a roof top garden where you can sit out and look across the city - its partially covered which is helpful due to the amount of rain I've experienced since I arrived, and has comfy wicker chairs all around. There are 3 computers in the reception which you can use for free and free wi-fi as well. The toilets and showers are really clean and there is an overall chilled out atmosphere. They often have music playing through the day too which is a nice touch.

After sorting out my bill, I went out to explore the city. I managed to walk to Little India which was a lot more developed than the previous Little India's I've visited - I have to admit Penang has to be my favourite for it's Little India. I then navigated myself to Chinatown which was amazing! It stood out well above the likes of Kuala Lumpur and Penang for so many reasons. I think most of all because it was just so big and so obviously Chinatown. The stalls didn't have as much pointless knock offs as previous places, instead there were multiple Chinese trinkets and artwork scattered around the spot. I didn't feel too harassed either. Obviously one of two were trying to get me to look at their stall but not every single one like in KL. I spent a good couple of hours there just because it was so extensive  - there was even an indoor "Chinatown Complex".

When I tried to return to my hostel I got quite lost so ended up jumping on the underground to the station closest to where I was staying, Boon Keng. I'm not a city person in all fairness, and up until now undergrounds have always confused me. Over the last couple of days I've used the underground so many times that I've become a bit of a expert! I even had to help some Asian tourists to use the ticket machine, and direct some others to the correct line. The underground is immaculate - not surprising really considering there is a $500 fine for eating/drinking and $1000 fine for smoking on the premises! I was really impressed with how quick, easy and efficient the system was. Obviously we don't have this sort of transport in Carlisle but I have used the underground in London and a couple of other cities, and I found the transport in Singapore one of the best and relatively inexpensive.

Singapore itself is incredibly clean, as I'm not a smoker, I hadn't been aware of the fact you had to pay taxes on cigarettes brought into the country. A couple in my dorm told me they were asked to pay a total over $160 just to bring their cigarettes into the country, however they were allowed to leave them at the airport and collect them in a few days time when they were flying home to Holland. In addition to this, chewing gum is illegal! I can understand fines for putting it on the street etc but making it totally illegal seems a bit steep. Having said that, the streets are spotless so I guess it pays off.

The Merlion - Half Lion, half fish
I took the underground to Harbour front and walked across to Sentosa - the island part of Singapore. I hadn't given much thought as to what would be there: I knew from my lonely planet that I could take a cable car from which I would get good views of the city, and that there would be a couple of beaches but otherwise I didn't know. It turned out to resemblant to a theme park minus the majority of the rides. Universal studios, The Merlion, iFly Singapore (An indoor air tunnel) and a 4D Cinema are just some of the attractions. I went on a Sunday so as you can image the place was packed with visitors, the majority of whom were Asian. For the second time, I was approached by a group of girls asking to have their photo taken with me - they surrounded me so it was difficult to say no - I'm not sure what the obsession is, I can't quite imagine a group of British girls running up to and Asian in the UK desperate for a photo, can you? I found that whilst it was only $1 to enter Sentosa, everything on the island was incredibly expensive. I opted against the cable car ride in the end as it was quite pricey and it had started to cloud over so I probably wouldn't have seen an awful lot.

After wandering around the different areas, I found my way to one of the beaches. It was packed with sun loungers and had a real holiday resort feel to it. Eventually I'd seen enough so headed back to underground. Since arriving in Singapore, I've been in multiple shopping centres - not through choice but it seems that above most underground stations, there is a huge shopping centre! Similarly to KL, the shopping centres are huge and in pristine condition. They are all decorated for Christmas and have seasonal music playing from loud speakers. It feels really weird that it's coming up to Christmas time: for starters its ridiculously hot, and secondly that fact that I'm in Asia just doesn't make it right!

If  you're a fan of cities, and have plenty of money to spend, Singapore is a great place to be. I've only spent two and a half days here, and there's not an awful lot more I can take. It clean, friendly and easy to get around but its so big and busy. Compared to Kuala Lumpur I much prefer it but at the end of the day, its another big city so I'm looking forward to leaving. Tonight I fly to Cairns, Australia: I'm feeling almost back to normal now and I cannot wait. So for now its Goodbye Asia, but I can almost guarantee I'll be back!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I left the guys in the Cameron Highlands and caught the bus down to Kuala Lumpur. I'd been pleasantly surprised by large comfortable seats and as I sat down I noticed a sign above me saying "plastic bag for vomit". Sure enough in the back pocket of the chair infront was a small carrier bag for anyone unfortunate enough to get sick. I was almost amused by the idea until 20 minutes into the journey the guy who was sat behind me started to throw up! It was awful. I'd noticed how windy the roads were on the way to Tanah Ranta but it hadn't even crossed my mind that someone would get so ill! After putting in my headphones and turning the volume up full blast I still couldn't drown out the sound. What made it even worse was the fact that he was a local and all I could smell for the entire 4 hours was curry... I wasn't impressed and I was still feeling ill myself.

Eventually we arrived at one of the many train stations in KL and so I set off in an attempt to find somewhere to stay. I'd been recommended the Reggae Mansion but had also been told of several other hostel on the same street Jalan Tun H S Lee in Chinatown. I ended up staying in Reggae Guesthouse which I was really impressed with. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful and it was a nice clean hostel. Also, the shower there was the best ive had since leaving England, and i'm even inclinded to say better than mine at home! After dumping my things I went for a bit of a look around Chinatown. The streets were packed with stalls selling all sorts of knock off goods, it reminded me a lot of Khao San Road. Unfortunately it wasn't long before I felt really ill again and went back to the dorm.

The following morning I'd felt a bit better so I went for another walk around. This time I walked through Little India, which was nothing in comparison to the Little India in Penang for some reason. Maybe because it was more spread out, I'm not sure, it just didn't have the same feel to it at all. I continued walking and eventually found myself at the Petronas towers. I'd been told to visit them at night time but even through the day they did look impressive. In most other places I've been there are usually random little stalls selling fruit drinks and or snacks, but I didn't seem to find KL that way. Even in the districts of Chinatown and Little India, the stalls were often indoors and linked to actual shop buildings rather than scattered around the streets. Yes there was still some street food available but somehow I didn't find it had the same feel to it. When I reached the towers I needed a drink so I went into the shopping centre. I could not have felt more out of place if I tried! This place was unreal. Marble floors, immaculately clean windows, and everything was shining. I felt way too scruffy to be there - that didn't stop me having a look around of course. I'm not a big fan of shopping but when I saw Quicksilver, Billabong and Ripcurl I couldn't keep away. I didn't actually buy anything but still had a good luck. After a while I began to get more ill again; I found the pharmacy and asked for advice but instead they directed me to the medical centre and told me I needed to see a doctor. I found the Twin Towers Medical Centre with relative ease, signed in and waited to be seen. A doctor's trip had really been on the cards but at that point in time I felt so terrible that I gave in. I was met by an older female doctor who was very nice and showed alot of concern. After examining me she decided I must have had food poisoning and that it had developed into more of an infection. She prescribed me a whole load of medication and told me to rest and only eat plain foods, avoiding spice, dairy and too many vegetable. The bill came to just less than £20 which wasn't too bad. By this time I didn't feel well at all so I got the train back to Chinatown and went back to the hostel.

Petronas Twin Towers

I managed to get some sleep and did begin to feel a bit better. I met up with Andy who had travelled down to KL that morning and we went in search for something to eat. After the way I'd been feeling I was so grateful to see a familiar face. Instead of finding food we ended up going to the Petronas Towers, for me the second time that day! It was worth it though, they looked amazing lit up in the dark. Other than a quick look and a few snaps of the camera there's really not a lot to do there, so we continued our search for food only to end up back at Reggae Bar where we gave up and ate there instead. Kuala Lumpur is easily the most developed place I've been since I started travelling. Whilst I don't suppose the fact I really didn't have much of an appetite helped, I really struggled to see many places to eat other than fancy restaurants, and the food places in Chinatown looked a lot less clean than any of the food stalls I'd seen in other places. 

The following day I had to check out of my hostel at 12pm but I wasn't leaving for Singapore till midnight. A lot of time to kill when you really don't feel like doing much. I'd intended to visit the Batu Caves as I'd been told they were worth a visit but I really didn't feel up to it. I stayed in reading my book for a little while then went for a short walk to the central market. This was actually quite interesting packed full of arts and craft form the different ethnicities within Malaysia along with traditional food and dress. Later I headed up to the Reggae Mansion. As I got there, the Mayor of KL had arrived: there was a crowd of people and police all around the place and I hadn't a clue what was going on. Eventually everything calmed down and I found Andy. We ended up just chilling out there until I had to leave.

My bus left Kuala Lumpur at midnight and I arrive in Singapore at about 6am this morning. A 6 hour journey probably isn't worth a night bus but I saved on accommodation and as I don't have much time left it was quite handy not to waste a day.

I wasn't overly phased by KL. It was a nice city, but very busy with traffic and few systems in place to help you cross the road. I didn't find there was an awful lot to do there either, if I'd been feeling better I'm sure I could have found a few more things to do, but even from conversations with people I met, they didn't seem particularly enthused either. Its obviously an impressive area for shopping, but other than that, I failed to see what was there.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

On arriving in Malaysia, I had been quite surprised as to how dramatically more developed it was in comparison to Thailand. Yes, there are large areas of Thailand that seem well on their way, however the parts of Malaysia I saw showed little signs of lack of development. Skyscrapers and other impressive buildings gave this impression, along with fully operational roads on which people even seemed to stay in lane - a rare occurrence in Thailand! On Penang, whilst some areas were a little shabby, I thought the same applied. However I noticed a lot of differences in the landscape throughout the journey to the Cameron Highlands. Especially in the more rural places

Alec, Andy, Steve and I left Georgetown around 8am in a cramped, poorly air-conditioned minivan. At first I attempted to sleep as I'd not got to bed until around half 3 and was pretty hungover following several rounds of drinking games with some other guys from our hostel, but it soon became apparent that wasn't going to happen. The roads were bumpy and busy and our driver wasn't exactly taking it easy. After about an hours driving, the landscape was no longer grey and crowded with buildings; instead it was completely green with the odd outcrop of rock here and there. It took us about 4 hours to reach Tanah Ranta, the village in the Cameron Highlands where we were staying. From a recommendation we headed to Father's guest-house: the dorm was hilarious! There must have been almost 20 single beds dotted around in a large, completely open room. It was only 15RM a night (£3) which I thought was incredible. It's probably the strangest dorm I've ever stayed in, but nice all the same.

The temperature was a lot cooler than anywhere I'd been since leaving the UK so it wasn't long before I'd changed into my jeans and a hoody. We headed into town for a look around and some food - I got vegetable fried noodles which I think, aside from the samosas, was probably the best food I'd had since arriving in Malaysia. None of us had much enthusiasm to do much for the rest of the day so we chilled out in the dorm. I would definitely recommend staying in Father's, however, other than for breakfast, I would not advise anyone to eat there. Our meal was awful! It had been pouring down with rain so instead of going back into town we took advantage of the "restaurant" on site which we soon regretted.

The Cameron Highlands are known for two things; Tea and rainforest walks. Our first full day we all decided to find some of the trails through the rainforest. It took us a while to find any of them at first but once we started on one we seemed to jump about on 3 or 4 different paths. The ups were relentless - continuous steep incline made more difficult by the fact that the path was essentially natural steps from the roots of the tree. However as with most intense ups, there was a pretty awesome down...Running and jumping down the trail was great fun, naturally I slipped a couple of times but that's only to be expected! Sadly when were were at the top it was clouded over so we didn't get any amazing views but it was good fun. Our route took us about 3 hours and when we finished we realised we'd a sort of horse shoe and it did actually look like we'd walked quite a way.

Tea Plantation
I'd not been feeling 100% for a while but that afternoon it peaked quite badly. I spent a good few hours in bed with various painkillers and hot drinks to help and after a bit of sleep, I did begin to feel a bit better. The Cameron Highlands is a lovely setting during the day, but it soon becomes apparent that there isn't a lot to do in the evening. After getting food, we spent several hours playing card games: a popular way to pass the time yet after playing the same games over and over again it does become a bit tiresome.

Mossy Forest
The next morning I still didn't feel great but Steve and I had decided to do a half day trip booked through the hostel. We started off by visiting one of the Tea Plantations and I have to admit the view was actually really impressive. As we walked around we saw workers picking the tea: we were told that this was the smallest plantation but it was massive! After this, we were driven to the entrance of the Mossy Forest. Our guide was very informative throughout the trip but especially so when it came to plants and wildlife in the jungle or in the forest. He showed us two different leaves: the first to use should you get muscle cramp and the second the stop the bleeding if you get "leeched". When in the Mossy Forest he pointed out Pitchers to us, they were quite impressive too. The Mossy Forest itself was really mystical almost - the way the trees covered in moss intertwined with each other and the cobwebs, it kind of looked like something out of a mythical film. From there we walked to the viewpoint tower, where, in theory, you get the best views of the Highlands but yet again it was completely clouded so I got a photo of the view tower and that's about it! Next, we were taken to the Tea Factory where we could see the process of the tea leaves being turned into what we drink but to be honest by this time we were more interested in stopping off in the cafe for a brew! The final stop of the tour was the Butterfly Farm - not something I was overly enthused about going to but it was nice to see the difference butterflies and all the other insects and animals that can found in Malaysia.

It was around mid afternoon when we returned to the hostel and again I really wasn't feeling well. I didn't do much other than book my bus to Kuala Lumpur until the guys were going for food. I went with them but only ended up getting a plain chappati as it was about all I could stomach! It was my last night with the lads so I was a bit gutted I felt so rough. They proceeded to play drinking games so I sat and laughed at their misfortune. I did eventually begin to feel more human again so I did have a bit of a laugh with them later on.

This morning I left them and headed down to Kuala Lumpur (KL) ... Lets see what the city has to offer!