Sunday, 9 May 2010

Surf Camp and Byron Bay

Early Monday morning I was greeted by the way-to-cheerful, hyped up on caffine Carly and JJ who were to be our guides, drivers and occasional surf instructors for the next five days. Once on the bus they had us introduce ourselves. There was about twenty of us and I was the only English girl. There was another English guy, an Irish guy, a couple of Danish girls, lots of Germans, a Swedish couple and a group of Norweigen girls. We were a mixed bunch! They then proceeded to get us into the mood by playing surfing films of guys who to say 'made it look easy' would be an understatement. By the end of the week, we all assumed we'd be doing that.

We were wrong.

Our first camp was at Crescent Head and we were there from Monday to Wednesday afternoon. The camp was a couple of huts in the middle of the bush. Across a dirst track was some more bush where the 'humpy' was: a small clearing with a camp fire for parties; and just beyond that was the beach. A huge expanse of deserted sand and breaking waves. It was incredible.

We arrived there around 1pm and as soon as we'd signed in and dumped our bags it was into our swimmers and wetsuits and off down to the beach for our first lesson. It soon became apparent that we were not going to be surfing like Kelly Slater any time soon. What all those wonderful movies fail to show is that surfing is hard. And not just in terms of trying to stand up, or stay up, or even just paddling (which trust me is tiring). But even just getting out the back, past all the breaking waves (which is where you want to be if you want to look cool; #1 rule of surf camp) is frickin' hard work. At times almost impossible. The first few lessons weren't that bad for that. We were all happy to stay close to the shore trying to stand up in the white water. Despite spending most of my first lesson underwater I had managed to stand a couple of times and not drown completely. I was comforted by the fact that I didn't get sea sick... unlike one unnamed person!

Tuesday and Wednesday morning was spent on the beach at Crescent Head. To prepare us for our morning sessions one of the instructors - who also happened to be a yoga teacher and who never bothered to learn names (I was, for the whole duration of the trip, "Pommie") - decided we all needed some loosening up. So we had 'lovely' yoga lessons, on the beach, in wetsuits. I have no idea how he managed it. While he was incredibly flexible and didn't seem to have any problems managing some of the very difficult yoga poses, I kept being chocked by my wetsuit just trying to touch my toes!

The Tuesday morning sessions I spotted some dolphins as we were paddling out and Carly said I must have good eyes. I couldn't confess that the real reason I'd seen them was because I'd been nervously scanning the waves for any signs of sharks. We didn't see any. Thank goodness. But on the final day one of the guys found out that the week before two large hammerhead sharks had been spotted off the beach one south from the on we were surfing. Yikes!

Evenings at Crescent Head were spent at the humpy, sitting around the camp fire drinking 'goon' (boxed wine - classy) and chatting. There may have been some dancing. Getting to and from the site was made more interesting by having to walk through the woods on a narrow, unlit path. It was pitch black and we only survived with luck and a lot a of giggling. And hugging trees. Returning to the camp on Tuesday night I was sitting with Carly and some of the guys in the kitchen area eating a sneaky midnight snack of nachos and dip when I found a little black leech on my foot. It bled a lot but came off easily and I wasn't as creeped out as I thought I would be. Still was pretty icky.

We left Crescent Head on Wednesday after our morning surf and lunch. Our second camp was at Spot X (Arawatta Beach, just north of Coff's Harbour). This was very different to Crescent Head as the site is bigger and caters for the Oz Experience and other tour groups, not just the Mojo Crew. We arrived in time for dinner which, like all the meals on the trip, was brilliant. They certainly don't scrimp on food. Huge servings with lots of salad to help yourself to. While at Crescent Head we had to wash our own dishes - the dishwater chosen by group competitions that included Jenga and an 'Aussie relay race' (down a can of beer - blow up a balloon 'til it pops - eat a dry weet-bix covered in vegemite: I had to eat the vegemite. Yum) - at Spot X we were spoilt as the staff did them for us.

Thursday and Friday morning was spent out in the waves and those of us that had the basics down now wanted to head out the back and try our hand at the green waves. Easier said than done as first you had to get out there. At times it was like walking against a brick wall. For every metre gained you'd be swept back about five. It was very fustrating and a couple of times I had to give up and go back to shore to take deep breaths, count to ten, that sort of thing, to calm down before attempting it again. The trick was to wait for a gap between sets and then paddle out as hard as you could. Get it right and you could get out without getting your hair wet. Get it wrong and things got... interesting. I tended to get it wrong. The second best thing to heading out between sets was to 'eskimo roll' under the biggest waves. Simply you take a deep breath as the wave is about to break on your head, flip the board overand hold on underneth it; the idea being the wave passes stright over you and you flip over and paddle quickly once it's gone. It didn't work for me. Not until someone finally told me I had to make sure the nose of the board was under water as well. I'd just been clinging on and still being dragged back towards the shore. I'd just saved the waves the trouble of pulling me under.

Once I was finally out the back it was nice to relax but if you wanted a green wave you had to work for it and paddling fast enough to catch one is hard work. Not only that, if you get things wrong the wipe outs are that much more spectacular - and painful. Did I mention surfing hurts? By the end of the five days I'd notched up a pretty long list of injuries: one pulled shoulder from trying to hang onto the board it was ripped from me by a wave; numerous bruises, the best being a perfect line across my stomach from where I wiped out and landed on the rail of my board; damaged big toe from landing on it funny; grazed knees from a really scratchy board; sore inside arms from my wetsuit; and the most impressive of all - my hands that were rubbed and blistered from trying to hang on to my board. By midweek I was having to tape my hands up with silver duct tape. I looked like a robot!

I loved surfing though, especially when you catch a green wave and just sail stright down it. It feels like flying. Of course, more often than not I got something slightly wrong and ended up in a washing machine effect - being rolled around and around by the waves until they finally spit you out looking like a drowned rat. Mostly these were caused by not standing up quickly enough and there are few things scarier than nose diving. You find yourself practically vertical, looking straight down into the wave and at that point you know you're about to go head over heels so it's not much surprise when you do. Doesn't make it any more fun though.

After lunch with the kookaburras on Friday we boarded the bus for the final leg up to Bryon Bay. We'd all booked into the same hostel and that night we went out for a last meal at a really nice pizza restaurant that gave us free beer. I had a pumpkin pizza. Different but very good. It was a good evening but we were all quite tired.

Byron Bay is lovely. Very chilled out and cool. Spending time wandering around the little boutique shops and then sitting on the beach watching the surfers. The temptation to join them was huge, but my hands protested and sadly I only had a couple of hours there on the Saturday before my aunt and uncle arrived from Brisbane to collect me. It was a fantastic week and I definitely hoping to surf again before I return to the UK.


... and around.

My train ride to Sydney was pretty unremarkable, though luckily so many people got off at Broken Hill I ended up with two seats to myself so I could curl up quite happily. I woke up as we were passing through the Blue Mountains the next morning but you couldn't see all that much from the train. Just a lot of trees, and a couple of grey kangaroos. I arrived in Sydney Central station and my train was met by Harry and Jeannette - my Grandad's brother and his wife who have lived out here since the 60s. Thankfully they recognised me as I'd only seen them once before, back in '97 and I couldn't really remember them. They are both absolutely lovely and I had the most amazing week with them as they took me around Sydney and the surrounding area. They live in the Liverpool suburb, about a 40min train ride out, in a bungalow they built themselves with their dog, Jack, who's a kelpie (Australian sheep dog). We often sat out in the garden and watched the local birds - lots of brightly coloured lorrakeets that are so noisy as well as a couple of sulpher-crested cockatoos who were so friendly you could literally get them to eat out of your hand. The first night I was there we had a barbie which was delicious and a sign for all the lovely food I got to eat that week. Yep, even vegetables and salads! I have a new-found addiction to butternut pumpkin (butternut squash).

Our first trip out was to the northern beaches - up as far as Palm Beach which is where the super rich live, and is also where Home and Away is filmed. It was a lovely drive and we came back via the city and Sydney Harbour Bridge. The view over the harbour with the Opera House was just breathtaking. Definitely one of those 'oh wow, I'm really here' moments. During the week we also visited the Blue Mountains, Sydney and the southern beaches.

The Blue Mountains were incredible. The wind up there was really icy at the lookout point for the Three Sisters - three stacks of rock on the edge of the immense Jamison Valley. Words cannot describe how big this thing is, and old too. They say it was already fully formed as you see it today when the river that became the Grand Canyon was only a trickle! We had a look at the Scenic Railway: a cable car and bizarre rail line that goes over the edge of the cliffs to the bottom of the valley. There are a few walking trails down there but you have to make sure you know where you're going as it's very easy to get lost and not find your way out. Some British backpacker got lost in there for three days recently and was lucky to be found alive. We had a picnic in a park and then Jeannette and I took a walk to look at a waterfall. You could see where it meets the valley and just falls down over the ledge. There were some hikers about three quarters of the way down it messing about on the edge of a very high drop-off. I was just waiting for one of them to fall but luckily they didn't.

On the Wednesday we went into Sydney proper via the RiverCat. We dropped the car off at the Olympic Village and caught the cat (a catamaran ferry) into Circular Quay, under the Harbour Bridge and passed the Opera House. After a coffee we walked up to and around the Opera House, which was really odd to see it in real life. It's a beautiful building though and an amazing feat of architecture and engineering. We had lunch around the opposite side of Circular Quay in The Rocks area - the oldest part of Sydney. I had my first real experience of an Aussie hamburger. Absolutely massive and came with bacon, cheese, egg, salad and beetroot (my other Aussie addiction. Mmmm beetroot). We took a walk under Harbour Bridge and then caught the cat around the corner to Darling Harbour. It was gorgeous but filled with very expensive restaurants. We were in time for the 3.30pm ferry back to the Olympic Village but as it was the Easter holidays there were so many people wanting to get on it was full and the next one wasn't for an hour and a half. They hadn't thought to put on any extras. Smart people. We had a drink in a bar before managing to get on the later one and getting back around 7pm. It was a very long day!

The Friday I was there we drove down to Shellharbour where their son Russel lives with his wife and children. We drove through some of the national parks, stopping for an ice cream at a place on the cliffs and watched the hang gliders and paragliders taking off. We'd brought Jack with us and he was very very excited to get out the car and have a look around. We got down to Kiama where there's a blow hole in the cliffs - basically a where the roof of a cave has fallen in and now shoots up water when the waves hit underneath it. We had a late lunch down in the little harbour and then drove to Shellharbour beach but as Jack wasn't allowed on the beach we drove slightly up the coast to where he was allowed to have a run. We had dinner with Russ and Shauna and left soon after as the children had to go to bed. Mind you, I was so tired I was nodding off in the car on the way back also!

Saturday morning Harry and Jeannette came with me to Circular Quay and said goodbye as I caught the ferry across to Manly. There son Stewart had said he'd take me around that day and I'd crash at his before he'd drop me into the city on Sunday. He met me at Manly ferry port and we had a look around the town and got an ice cream from Cold Rock - white chocolate, cookie dough and marshmallows. Mmmm. His house, which he shares with two mates, is gorgeous. Up on the hill overlooking a beach. I've never seen so many surfboards in one house in my life! I was staying in the spare room which was basically a surfboard storage room! It might be paranoia but I did check the room for spiders. Stewart got bitten by a red back in his own bed and while one bite doesn't kill you they do make you pretty ill. Stewart's been surfing for years and he was more than happy to tell me some 'horror stories' in preparation for my surfing trip next week. The one that stuck with me most was the one about his friend who was surfing in Hawaii. The guy was on the beach watching a couple of his friends out in the water when suddenly one of them was fired about 13ft into the air and came crashing down. Great white shark had attacked him. They hit you from underneath at about 60mph and stun you. They found the guys body two days later. Great. Just what I needed to hear. At least that was in Hawaii... At least, I think it was....

Anyway we went out that night. Met a couple of his friends at the Newport Yacht club where they'd spent the day sailing and then we went to a bar near the beach for food and drinks. We left when the bar shut (no idea what time it was) and had to walk up the [very] steep hill back to the house. The next morning we were all feeling a little tender and so went for a swim in the sea to wake up. The sea was lovely but there were quite a few big waves and I got bowled under quite a few times. Dried off in the sun and then went back up to the house to get my stuff together and get ready to go. We drove into Sydney to try and find Bondi Beach, as I figured I couldn't come all this way and not see it. We passed through the infamous Kings Cross area looking all innocent in the daylight. It's the club scene of Sydney and is renowned for drug dealing and gangs, and has now been dramatised in the Aussie tv show Underbelly: The Golden Mile (which is actually quite a good series). Finally we found Bondi and went for some food as we were starving before having a walk down the beach. There were a lot of surfers out and it was interesting to see the lifeguard tower where the documentary series Bondi Rescue (another of my Aussie tv addictions) is filmed. Stewart then dropped me off at the Wake Up! hostel in the city where I was going to stay that night as my surf trip leaves from outside it early the next morning. Checked in and asked if they were going to be showing the Grand Prix anywhere in the hostel. They said they weren't, but instead there was a free gig that evening in Hyde Park so I wandered down there to check it out as guess who was playing live? The Stereophonics!!!! They were awesome! I joined about 5000 other people just sitting on the grass listening to them. I had an amazing view and they were brilliant live. Feeling very happy I wandered back to my hostel to get ready for the week ahead. Surf surf surf!

Monday, 3 May 2010


The train to Melbourne was long and dull. Unlike the Indian Pacific and the Ghan, who despite being longer they were also overnight so you could sleep, I didn't enjoy this one at all. It left Adelaide at 7am and didn't get in to Melbourne until 5pm. I had to put my watch forward by half an hour (yes, there is a half-hour time difference between Adelaide and the East Coast. Why? How? Not a clue. Crazy country) and then catch the metro to the stop nearest my hostel. The area I was staying in was called Fitzroy and my first impressions were not favourable. The whole area looked run down and a little bit rough, with deserted shops and a lot a graffiti. But the hostel was lovely, when I finally found it that is. It's quite an old house, with a courtyard area and balconies tucked away inside. And a couple of huge fat cats lolling around the place. Very homely. The people staying there were nice, but apart from one German girl (Jana) and the English night manager, they all seemed a little distant. I joined them for breakfasts and dinners at the most amazing vegetarian restaurant about a 15min walk from the hostel. It was called "Lentils as Anything" and you ordered breakfast (I had the best sweet French toast ever! And they had something called a Sri Lankan Farmer's breakfast which was sort of like a pancake filled with curried potatos) while dinner was a buffet, often themed. And the best part? No fixed prices. You paid whatever you thought the food was worth, or however much you could afford. There was just a donation box to put money in. It was incredible. But apart from these meals and a Sunday watching free comedy in Federation Square I didn't really hang out with anyone from the hostel.

My first full day was spent finding out how to get a tram into the CBD, getting a tram into the CBD and having a look around the central part of Melbourne. It was definitely the busiest city I have been in since reaching Australia and has a very European feel about it, with lots of little lanes and cafes. It was also quite cold while I was there (less than 20 degrees some days *shock*). I actually wore jeans, but still did the Aussie thing of keep wearing my thongs. I think Melbourne considers itself the cultural centre of Australia and to be honest it does live up to its name. There always seems to be some festival going on and there's a lot of theatres, street performers and music concerts. The big event while I was there was the Melbourne Comedy Festival with literally hundreds of stand-up comedians, sketch shows, musical comedy... anything funny you could think of on display. So of course I had to go to at least one! The first one was the promisingly titled "Accidents are Prohibited on the Road" by a guy called Russell McGilton, said to be 'comic travels tales on a road less travelled'. I thought it might be appropriate. Sadly, while it had its funny moments it wasn't the best stand-up I've ever seen and some of his stories were just boring rather than funny. However my second venture to a gig was 100% better. I went to see Sarah Millican (off Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow and Live at the Apollo) and she was hilarious! Her show was called "Typical Woman" (here's a clip of it from the Melbourne Gala) and there was only about 40 people in the audience so it was very 'up close'. Everyone was practically crying with laughter the whole time and we all came out with a big grin on our faces.

On my third day in Melbourne I managed to meet up with the guys at the Melbourne Shorinji Kempo Club for a wonderful training session. It was nice to do some proper exercise again, as just walking around really doesn't count (even if I've done a lot of walking. Two of my days were spent exploring the city centre with Simon, a guy I knew it the OTC who is working over here. It was a nice surprise to find someone I knew here and we had a fun couple of days watching bizarre/depressing short films by Adam Elliot (director/writer of "Mary and Max"), taking photos of Batman (John Batman, founder of Melbourne. Yes, this really is a city founded by Batman!), eating French crepes and trying to visit the Immigration Museum on one of the two days of the year it's shut. Oops. I also met up with three of the four girls I met in Halong Bay and we had a lovely afternoon in the Dandenongs (the hills just outside the city). We took a small walk through the bush to a viewpoint to get an amazing, if hazy, look over the whole of Melbourne (it's huge!) and then stopped off in a little village for coffee.

On my final full day in Melbourne Jana and I caught the tram to St. Kilda, the 'beach resort' area of Melbourne. We stopped into a McDonalds as we both had a McFlurry craving and I got a bit of a surprise when I bumped into Sven - the Swiss guy I'd spent an afternoon walking around Singapore with. Small world! We went and sat on the beach with him and his friends from his hostel for a bit until the rest of the German girls from my hostel arrived and we went to see them. After chilling out in the sun for a bit we caught the tram back to near our hostel so we could go to the $4 pizza night at a place called Bimbos. I had a halloumi and green olive pizza which was different but really nice.

I was up at 6am the next morning to catch a tram to the train station, arriving in plenty of time to get the Overland back to Adelaide. Another insanely long and dull train ride but it was nice to get back to Sunny's Hostel (where I was in the same room and same bed again - just like coming home!) I had my first taste of Campbell's Tomato Soup that night and it was no Heinz, I can say that. Ugh, not nice.

My final two days in Adelaide were spent seeing the rest of the 'sights' that I hadn't seen already. Namely the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese (Himeji) Garden and a tour of Haigh's Chocolate Factory (that was actually pretty rubbish and they didn't give us chocolate! Well, a tiny bit but I was disappointed). I made sure I had enough snacks and food (mostly a whole heap of peanut butter sandwiches) for my final 'big' train ride of Australia: The Indian Pacific to Sydney. I said my final goodbyes to the lovely people at Sunny's and left for the train station on a really wet and rainy Friday morning. Next stop Sydney!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Alice Springs and Uluru

The Ghan up to Alice Springs was nice but quiet. I ended up sitting next to a German guy called Frederik who comes from Detmold, Germany. It's a small world. We arrived in Alice at 3pm and it was only a 5min walk to my hostel from the train station, but it was very very hot! After checking in and chilling in the wonderful air con I ventured out to the supermarket for food and got a slight culture shock as Alice Springs probably has one of the highest populations of Aboriginal people in Australia. It was... different. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool in the hostel and then having a minor drama with a bug in the shower. Luckily no spiders!

The next day I'd booked myself onto a one day tour to Uluru. I'd been planning on sort of finding my own way there, but though Alice Springs is the closest town to Uluru the rock is actually 500km away! My tour was "Emu Run" and was one of the best tours I've done. Scotty and Nick were our guides and they were both incredibly knowledgeable, enthusiastic and very funny, calling us all 'possoms' and 'vegemites'. I was picked up from my hostel at 6am to be transfered to the main bus. And guess who was on it? Frederik from The Ghan! Very funny. We were given breakfast and I dozed most of the way to Uluru but when I was awake I kept my eyes peeled for roos (as there's meant to be about 40 million of them in Oz) and saw... none. None at all. And the Red Centre was green as they've had so much rain there recently! Typical; I go to one of the driest places on earth just after they've had a record-breaking amount of rainfall - 300ml since January and until then a record year had been 250ml! Ah well.

We arrived at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park around 12pm and, after a quick toilet break at Yulara (Ayre's Rock Resort - the only place nearby to stay and so is incredibly expensive), we headed to Kata Tjuta, known in English as The Olgas. En route we were given our lunch and then went for a walk down the Windy Gorge, which was very pretty and had a stream with some tadpoles in it. From there we drove to the Cultural Centre, with a brief stop to look at some camels that were wandering around happily. Australia has the largest population of wild camels in the world - about 1 million of them. They have become a bit of a pest. But the farmers like them because they eat a plant which is a natural antibiotic (hence why they're so healthy) and then they drink from the same water as the cattle and so pass on the protection. The cattle here are very healthy and also free range! Scotty told us there were two types of cattle in the Outback: the Australian and the Scottish. It's very easy to tell the difference he said, "The Scottish cow has a pair of bagpipes between its back legs while the Australian one has a didgeridoo hanging down from its stomach"... Yes yes, very funny.

The Cultural Centre was nice to walk around as it told a lot of the Aboriginal 'dream time' (or 'creation') stories of the area, such as the one about Kuniya and Liru (python and poisonous snake) and of the Mala tribe. All of them are stories the Anangu (Aboriginals) tell to their children as they don't consider foreigners 'mature' enough to be told the true ones. From the Cultural Centre we drove to the base of Uluru and Scotty took us on the first of two short walks to see some of the areas mentioned in the dream time stories. There were areas along the trail that we could not enter or photograph because they are sacred to the Anangu. But we did see some wall paintings and a waterhole. It's one of the reasons Uluru (which means "meeting place") is so special to the Anangu - because in the desert it's one of the few places they could be almost guaranteed to find water. One the way to the last viewpoint, Scotty stopped the bus so he could grab a thorny devil (lizard) from the road and show it to us all. It was very spiky! Our final stop was for a BBQ complete with champagne while we watched the sunset at Uluru. The sun actually sets behind us so what we were watching was the colour change on the rock - from orangey red, to pink, to purple. It was beautiful and we had a perfect evening for it too. No clouds just clear sky. In fact, the whole day had been lovely: sunny and 36 degrees! Once the sun set we all piled onto the coach and set off for Alice. I didn't get back to my hostel until 12.30am but it was worth it!

I had a full day in Alice the next day and as my attempt at a lie-in failed I ended up wandering around the town. First stop was to climb Anzac Hill to have a look at the war memorial and get some good views of the countryside. It was so hot and the path I took to get up there didn't look as if many people used it. There were grasshoppers everywhere, hundreds that kept flying up at me every time I moved and I was scared a snake would jump out at me. It looked like the right area for them and I was only wearing my 'thongs' (flip flops to all us normal people). But I saw nothing and survived the walk up and back down. I found the main street in Alice after that and had a look around some of the shops. It was a little strange walking around as there were groups of Aboriginals sitting everywhere and they were a little intimidating as they'd stare at you as you walked passed. But I smiled at them and they smiled back so I never felt threatened. Just don't try and get into a conversation about them with a white Aussie... Well, some white Aussies anyway. Eventually I was too hot and tired to do much else and escaped back to my lovely air conditioned hostel to eat and pack for the train back down to Adelaide the next morning.

I had enough time the next morning to run to the supermarket and get some supplies for the train (I've learnt my lesson with train food. It may seem fairly cheap but you don't get nearly enough for a meal!) before walking to the station. I was determined not to be late this time so I arrived an hour and a half early! But most other people had the same idea so the station was pretty packed. I was next to a window this time and as the train was fairly empty I ended up with two seats to myself - and a nutter sitting behind me! His name was Joel and he was a street magician from Sydney. He said hello from somewhere behind my head and then came and sat next to me to chat and I couldn't get rid of him! I confess in the end he just got one-word answers from me and as soon as he got up I spread my stuff over the seat to prevent a return. I wasn't the only one though. I think he was definitely a few sandwiches short of a picnic and was a little distracting at night because he kept talking to himself! Seriously! Very odd. We finally arrived back in Adelaide that afternoon and when I got back to my hostel the owner gave me a free nights accommodation because of the time I stayed there before (they do a 'stay 6 nights get the 7th free' but I thought it all had to be in one go. Not this one). I was in the same room and the same bed as before and bumped into the Irish guys pretty much as soon as I got off the bus.

That evening two of the Irish guys and I went to our first Aussie Rules match at the Richmond Oval - the North Adelaide "Roosters" vs. the West Adelaide "Bloods". It was South Australian league game rather than an AFL match but even so there was about four thousand people there. The game wasn't very close (80 to 20 or something like that - the Bloods won by a huge margin which was good as we were apparently supporting them that night. According to one of the Irish guys workmates anyway.) and I couldn't figure out what was happening in the middle of the pitch but I did get my head around scoring pretty easily. During the quarter breaks everyone could go down onto the pitch and have a kick around or listen in to the team talks which was very strange but a good laugh. The next day saw me and the Kiwi guy go on a disastrous hunt for an Australian SIM card for my mobile. Having spent ages looking I finally found a really good one only to discover my phone was locked. Typical. Knew I should have checked it before I left. Never mind. That afternoon we watched the Melbourne F1 qualifiers and sat out the back with a couple of beers. I had a go at Hurling (yep, the Irish game. The guys have a couple of hurls over with them so we had a 'puck around'. Thank you Niamh for teaching me so I didn't make a complete fool out of myself!) and then we went to watch the football in a sports bar - at 2am because it was live. I'd forgotten my ID and was wearing two things forbidden on the bars dress code but the bouncer still let me in to the disbelief of the guys! When the games ended we left, mostly because the English guy that was with us was too drunk to walk properly! Getting him back to the hostel was quite amusing. As a result everyone had a nice quiet day the next day. We watched the Grand Prix and then went to an Indian restaurant in the evening which was lovely. But I got an early night because I was off on another train journey in the morning. Woo, more trains!


My first day in Adelaide was spent with Esther just walking around the city. Adelaide is small and green. The Central Business District (CBD) is surrounded by parks in a sort of square shape. The main shopping area of Rundell Mall had a tourist information centre where we could pick up some maps and leaflets and then went on a little walk the lady had recommended - across the bridge to the northern part of the city, passed the Adelaide Oval up to a viewing point and then back down along the river. It was really nice and chilled out, not feeling like a big city in the slightest. We decided it was too hot to go into the Adelaide Zoo today so made plans to meet up again later in the week before I headed back to the hostel to meet the locals.

My hostel was amazing. It was tiny and homely, with most of the residents having lived there at least a month if not longer. They gave us a free breakfast of fresh-made pancakes every morning!! Everyone was very friendly and my first afternoon I went down to West Beach with two Irish guys and two English guys for a swim and a kick around. Had a mild heart-attack after seeing black fins in the water but thankfully they were just dolphins. The difference? Dolphins go up-and-down while sharks just go straight (and you'll probably never see the shark until it bites you - isn't that comforting?!).

The next day was St. Patricks Day and with a strong Irish presence at the hostel it was also an interesting day! A group of us tried to get to the beach with four of us squeezed in the back of a car only to be pulled over by the police and escorted back to the hostel before we'd even driven five minutes! With that plan scuttled we ended up sitting out the back of the hostel with a couple of beers until going on to an Irish Pub that evening. The Australians do love their St. Paddy's Day here! The place was packed with people dressed in green and drinking Guinness. It was a fun evening.

On the Thursday I met up with Esther again and we went to the Zoo. They've just going two pandas in - Wang Wang and Funi - who are incredibly popular and have been made into cartoon characters. Got creeped out in the reptile house (nice to see all the lovely things that can kill you) and tried to spot the tigers but they were hiding. The monkeys were pretty funny though and there was the tiniest baby meercat ever! Talk about aw! The following day the two of us caught the tram out to Glenelg - the beach town near Adelaide. The weather was overcast but still warm, even if the breeze had a slight chill to it. We swam in the sea and snoozed on the beach - lovely and relaxing! For lunch we had a Nandos. Yes, they do have them here. Wasn't as good as the UK though but still pretty tasty. That night Transformers was on tv. It's based on a true story, y'know. Or at least, that's what we tried to tell the Kiwi guy. The guys ended up having a big night that night, proved when we woke up the next morning to find the Kiwi passed out on the sofa hugging a bottle of scotch, with no trousers on. We laughed at him. A lot.

For those of us sober/not hungover (two German girls and a couple of English guys) it was back to the beach. We cycled there as Adelaide City Council does free bike hire. They were bizarre bikes - old fashioned looking black ones with a basket on the front and to brake you had to pedal backwards. But we got down to Glenelg fine and all of us fell asleep on the beach! On the way back one of the girls got a flat tyre so we had to walk over the half the way but it wasn't too bad. Just very hot. That night everyone in the hostel (practically) went out for a pub crawl led by the Aussie guy that was staying there. It was a fun evening which ended with a few of us in 'Hungry Jacks' - basically Burger King but there was already a brand out here by that name and they refused to sell to the American company. We were in bed by 3am.

The next morning I had breakfast before being dropped off at the train station by Monty, one of the Irish lads, to catch The Ghan up to Alice Springs. Was a little late but made it! Woo, another overnight train journey begins.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Perth and the Indian Pacific to Adelaide

I touched down in Australia at 2pm after a lovely flight that had involved me watching both "The Blind Side" and "Up In The Air" while chatting to the English lady next to me. She was called Chris and had been living in Perth for the past four years and was surprised to find I was travelling by myself. She asked me how I was getting from the airport to the city, as it's quite far out, and I had to confess I had no idea! I think she felt sorry for me as she offered me a lift. Or rather, insisted on giving me a lift! We got through passport control, passed the sniffer dogs to collect our luggage. I was convinced I was going to be searched because, after answering one immigration officers questions another one sidled up to me as he'd overheard I'd been in Vietnam and was very curious. But they just waved me straight through without even x-raying my bag again. We met Chris' husband and I was dropped off outside my hostel in the city centre. They were really lovely!

The hostel I was staying at was "The Old Swan Barracks" and is basically an old army barracks, complete with Victorian-era facade. Looked quite cool and was so big! It has a kitchen. I think the emphasis on Australia is that you cook in hostels. Oh dear. I have to feed myself again. Good job there was a BBQ at the hostel that evening! Yum yum.

I went for a walk into town the next morning and bumped into a guy staying at my hostel - a South African called Alwyn who is currently in the British Army. We had a look around and then headed off to the beach for the afternoon as it was 40 degrees and I wanted a swim. Stopped off at a Woolworths - here it's a supermarket - and grabbed some sandwich-making stuff for a picknic and caught the train to Cottesloe. The beach is beautiful. White sand and the clear blue Indian Ocean. Gorgeous! We met a couple of English girls there and chatted to them before all going to get an ice cream :D Cottesloe has an art exhibition on at the moment called "Sculptures by the Sea" so there was very odd art installations everywhere that just made the beach that bit more interesting. We stayed to watch the sun set over the ocean before heading back to the hostel and spending the evening sitting outside with a group of people just chatting away.

My second full day in the land of down under I visited Fremantle (or Freo as it's known locally) because I'd heard so much about it. While it was a nice place I must confess I was a little disappointed by it, as it didn't appear to be anything special. Perhaps it was because the weather was overcast and it all looked a little gray... I stayed long enough to have a look around the markets and to get come Cold Rock ice cream (design your own basically - I went for honeycombe ice cream with added cookie dough! Mmmmm) before returning to Cottesloe for lunch and then falling asleep on the beach. Ooops. That evening was spent once again sitting outside of the hostel eating carrots and chatting to a Maori guy that played professional rugby league for a French team. The hostel is nice but area it's in is a little rough (as proved the previous night by a Scottish guy getting into a fight with a Kenyan right outside the front door - two hospitalisations and three arrests followed). As we were sitting there a rather drunk Irishman stumbled passed singing loudly and handed us all a bread roll. Random, and highly amusing.

Having only spent three days in Perth I felt it was long enough and was glad I'd booked myself on the Indian Pacific to leave that Sunday morning. Finding my way to the station didn't prove too difficult and I actually got really excited when I arrived to see the gleaming silver Indian Pacific sitting happily at the platform. I checked my backpack into the luggage compartment and then settled in to the seat that would be my 'home' for the next three days. There was a lot of leg room and luckily it reclines quite a way, but it was quite narrow so sleeping proved to be interesting. I was next to the window so I was extra happy. There was no one next to me for the first part of the journey and I got talking to a lovely English girl across the aisle from me, Esther. We had dinner that evening in the dining cart and were joined by a girl called Jo, from Scotland. The food isn't as expensive as I was expecting, but most of it is microwaved meals and small portions. We watched the sunset from the dining cart and saw lots of emus! But no kangaroos. At 10.30pm we had a couple of hours stop in Kalgoolie, a famous mining town in the bush. We had a quick walk around but at this time of night it was mostly deserted. The only places open were the bars and suffice to say, as fully clothed women, we would not really have been welcome in them! When we returned to the train the seat next to me had been filled by a lady from Kalgoolie who is completely mad, and more than a little strange. Luckily she didn't talk much that evening and I managed to curl up and sleep.

The whole of the Monday was spent on the train. Most of the morning Esther, Jo and I sat in the dining cart trying to spot kangaroos. We only saw three and were very disappointed. Jo said she wanted to see wild camels, and no sooner had she said that than some appeared out of the window. We spent the rest of the morning camel-spotting, much to the amusement of some of the other guests. We were travelling through the Nullarbor along the longest straight stretch of railway in the world. 478kms without a bend. Not even a little one! At lunchtime we stopped at a 'town' called Cook. It isn't really a town. Mostly it's desert. It has a population of five (not to mention five billion flies) and we had a walk around the school - which isn't in use - and the souviner shop which must rely solely on these twice weekly tourist trains. Very odd place. Mind you, it wasn't any odder than some of the people I met on the train! Apart from my lady from Kalgoolie (who said she emphasised with the women from the film 'Misery', yes, the one who broke the guy's ankles), there was a bikie from Melbourne who was part of the Comancheros biker gang (and if you think biker gangs are just groups of guys who happen to ride around on motorbikes think again - they're basically the criminal gangs that run mostly Melbourne and are a big issue down here!) who tried to assure me that while he'd been in Perth for 'bikie business' it had been completely legal... And a part-Scilian, part-Lebanese guy from Sydney with half a metal jaw due to a rigged boxing fight who definitely had been part of Sydney's criminal underworld. He offered me a place to stay in Sydney and was lovely, even if he did have a bit of a dodgy past. Oh dear.

We arrived in Adelaide at 7am the next morning, literally with the sunrise, and stumbled off the train to try and find our way to the hostels. Esther and I were staying quite near each other so we dropped our bags off before heading out to explore Adelaide.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


The flight to Singapore was uneventful and I landed safely at Changi Airport at 10.30am. On landing the stewardess made the usual announcements and then came out with "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a serious announcement: drug trafficking is a illegal in Singapore and carries a mandatory death sentence"... Well that's good to know! I got through passport control ok but then got stopped at customs as my razor blade in my wash bag confused the x-ray machine (your bags get x-rayed on the way out of the airport as well as in). Took a while for them to figure out what it was but finally they let me out!

I caught the train (MRT) from Changi to Aljuied where my hostel was. The ticket system was sooo cool (well, it amused me). You pay for the ticket and the price includes a $1 deposit. The ticket is actually a card, like an Oyster card which you swipe to get through the barriers. Once you get to your destination you then put the ticket back in the ticket machine and it gives you a dollar back! Yeah I know, little things please little minds...

Got slightly lost trying to find my hostel before realising it was through an unmarked door into basically a block of flats. They'd converted one flat into a hostel so you had a proper living room and kitchen with some small bedrooms.

In my room I met a Swiss guy called Sven who had also just arrived so the two of us caught the MRT and then a bus to the infamous Changi Prison where the Japanese had kept POWs during World War II. The prison is still in use but has been modernised and the old structues are no longer there. All that's there for tourists to see is a small museum just about life in the prison and Singapore during the Japanese occupation. It was quite interesting but very small and not what I was expecting. From there we caught a bus into the city centre and found somewhere to eat. Then jumped on the tourist "hop-on, hop-off" buses for a tour of the city. It was a really good way to get an overview of Singapore, especially as I only had the afternoon there. We saw the Singapore Eye (5m bigger than the London Eye), the F1 racetrack, Little India, China Town and the old colonial buildings as well as driving down a really posh street full of expensive houses and the famous Orchard Road with all the designer shops and malls. We got off at the super-posh Raffles Hotel which looked like something out of the 1900s colonial era (which is actually was but it was so glamorous!). From there we went to the Bugis indoor market for a nosey around before grabbing a drink. After that I headed back to the hostel to finish packing and get an early night.

Singapore was very bizarre. It's definitely not an 'Asian' city, but nor is it really European or American. I'd definitely say it's unique. I couldn't make up my mind whether I liked it or not. I don't know if more time there would have helped, or if my one afternoon was actually enough. Odd.

Had a panic attack the next morning as I realised I hadn't changed the time on my phone so when I thought it was 6am it was actually 7am and I had to rush out to catch the MRT back to Changi Airport. The train felt like it took forwever and I rushed to the check-in desk only to be told it was ok, I had pleant of time. Panic over, I got through security and then remembered I hadn't found out the address of my hostel in Perth. Luckily they had free internet so I could quickly look it up before boarding my flight to Australia!!!! :D