Well I finally moved on from Asia and made it to Oz! With only a 6 hour flight it didn't feel like I was now on the other side of the world. I had always wanted to come to Australia, mainly due to the fact that I've yet to meet anyone who has a bad word to say about the place!
I didn't really know what to expect other than friendly Aussies, great weather (especially considering it was nearing their summer when I was to arrive!), vast expanses of nothingness and lot of surfers!
Having spent most of my travel preparation time focused on Asia my time in Oz was to be played my ear. The only preparation I had done was booking a few internal flights which were cheap in advance (however I wouldn't recommend this as it does reduce your flexibility somewhat).
My assumptions were soon justified on arrival at the little airport in Cairns, N.W. Australia. The heat hit me in my fleece and trousers as I stepped off the plane and it was only just 8am! After waiting for my luggage and watching numerous surf boards coming off the various conveyor belts I got a shuttle bus into the city. The chatty driver (with pulled up socks exactly like the guy from Croc Dundee) pointed me in the direction of my hostel and I was off for my 4 month journey around Oz!
Cairns was very different to how I imagined it to be or maybe I didn't really know what a city in Oz (other than Sydney) really looked like. Firstly it was much smaller than I had thought, you can walk around the main parts of it in a few hours (at a London walkers pace anyhow). It's right on the coast and has a beautiful Esplanade which is monopolised by joggers and buggies.
The houses and shops are mainly bungalow style with only a few high rise hotels and office blocks, the roads are wide with numerous cycle and walking lanes, there is a slightly 'Wild West' feeling to the place, hot, dusty, slow pace and with numerous drinking holes around.
Unfortunately the closest beach to the central business district in Cairns is a 20min bus away and apparently not really worth the trip, however they have a little lagoon where the majority of tourists and locals converge to sunbathe or have a paddle on their lunch break.
Numerous travelers begin their trip, around Australia, from here in Cairns before they take the journey along the East coast to Sydney stopping at the Whitsunday's (Islands to sail around) and Frazer Island (4X4 driving on the beach) on the way. Cairns is also a good place to book trips to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Cape Tribulation (which unfortunately I missed out on but is apparently stunning) and Port Douglas.
A small fraction of the Great Barrier Reef
The West coast of Australia has always had a greater appeal to me however, being much less backpacker orientated and having numerous national parks to discover, so I was keen to get across there as soon as I could so had only 10days to get from Cairns to Brisbane before catching my flight to Perth (Western Australia).
Being short on time I decided to only do a daytrip to the GBR for some snorkeling, there are numerous trips to choose from, all going to different areas of reef. I think I had been spoilt a little in Thailand as I wasn't as blown away by the reef as I had expected to be, but this may have been due to there being areas of bleached reef as a result of damage from pollution etc. I think there are some trips which allow you to explore the more pristine parts of the reef so maybe next time I'll get to explore a little more.
(Tips for travelers to Cairns - You can get flyers for free internet there so you shouldn't have to pay anymore than $1 and Caravellas is a great place to stay as you get free dinner vouchers).
From Cairns I got a cheap 1hr flight to Brisbane where I was met by my Cousin Ange, her partner Shaun and my 5mth old 2nd Cousin Anais (who might I add was born on my B'day so is a very special girl and I swear the only baby that likes me!). Ange had moved to Australia about 15 years ago and had recently moved from Townsville to Brisbane.
Angela and Anais
Shaun and Anais at the Multi-cultural festival
It was lovely to be back in a home again especially having spent the previous few nights in Cairns in a 16bed girl's dorm where there was a suspected chocolate thief! In Asia I had stayed in my own room in Guesthouses and hadn't been in hostels for a few years. It's a great way to meet people for sure and the beds are usually very comfortable but there's nothing like a living room sofa!
I had arrived in Brisbane just in time for the multi-cultural festival which was just one of many free festivals that take place in the city's parks; unfortunately I was leaving the day before the groove and grape festival which I was slightly upset about!
Sightseeing around Brisbane gave me the opportunity to catch up with Ange and her family and relax for a few days. Brisbane itself is much larger than Cairns and definitely of city proportions, however you only need a few days to get a good feel for the place.
Only an hour away from Brisbane is the Gold Coast which is made up of endless beautiful beaches, the place to be found surfing (or find a surfer, depending on which way you look at it!). I had been very kindly invited to stay with a friend I met in Thailand at the Elephant Nature Park, Vicki, and her husband Ross. It was wonderful to be seeing the home of friend whom I had met only a few months before whilst in a different country. That's what I have really noticed about Australians, they welcome you into their home with open arms and if they offer you a place to stay - they really mean it, it's so refreshing! It might just be me but I don't think that happens that frequently back in the UK, it's a generalization but I think we're a little too reserved.
Vicki and Ross at Burleigh Heads
Within a few hours of Ange and Anais dropping me off in Palm Beach I was whisked off to a drumming lesson in a local bohemian style shop. There we were, all 22 of us drumming away with our African style drums (Vicki might correct me on that!) trying desperately hard to keep in time with one another. I have to say, it's an art and is much harder than it looks but great fun and I felt like a real local!
Vicki and those Drums (She was a pro!)
Vicki and Ross were very hospitable and showed me what the Gold Coast has to offer.
The Gold Coast
It's no wonder that they moved there; You can choose to spend your time on one of numerous beautiful beaches such as Rainbow bay or tweed heads, walk along trails such as Burleigh heads and admire the views over the sea, take a 10 minute car journey to the countryside where you can be surrounded by hills which remind me of Wales on a sunny day, enjoy the fresh seafood in some of the lovely restaurants whilst sipping on local wine or, if you're me, pay a visit to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary to see the Roos, koalas and Aboriginal dancing!
Lorikeet feeding time
I then had to move on to Perth after returning to Brisbane for Shaun's birthday celebrations. I would definitely recommend exploring the east coast, however I think I had the advantage of being able to see it with the locals and see how the aussies really live! I can imagine that for many the trip would have been different, Surfers Paradise for example being the usual destination when actually by just exploring a little further south better beach can be found!