East Coast Australia part 2- Brisbane to Cairns

Warning! This post contains loads of fun stuff that will almost certainly give you a huge sense of wanderlust!

Firstly, an apology. For those of you reading my posts chronologically, I am sorry this is being posted so close to my last blog. One of the main issues of being in a camper in Oz is you don’t always have access to the internet (a blessing in disguise I say!) For this reason I couldn’t upload any photos to the last blog, so had to wait. I actually posted that from Cairns the day before we flew to Indonesia! Whoops. Publishing blogs from my iPhone isn’t the quickest or easiest thing to do…

Looking back on our Sydney to Brisbane trip, it’s become more apparent to me that we got the most enjoyment out of the landscape and people rather than actually doing things. This is probably for the best; doing stuff in Australia aint cheap! Every day just driving, camping, and refuelling (both us and the van) we seemed to be absolutely burning through money! It’s a really hard thing to get my head around, especially when we’ve been able to live on so little in Asia! 

Neither Kelly or I had been further North than Sydney on previous trips to Oz, so were determined to make the most of this trip across Queensland. We discussed the things we really HAD to do in Oz, and agreed to take the plunge and just do it. More on those activities later.Whilst I say having all the fun in Australia is a costly exercise, if you look around you can definitely find some cheap things to do that are quite simply, amazing. For example, the following day we drove to Bundaberg, home of the famous (in Oz anyway) Rum. It makes perfect sense that Rum is made here, almost every road you drive along in Queensland is bloody cane fields! Seriously, it’s quite amazing how much cane is grown here. During this trip we’ve visited vineyards and wineries, and brewers, but never a rum distillery, so gave that a go. The first thing to say about the distillery is WOW, the smell of molasses around the whole site is as intoxicating as the pure alcohol permeating through the air! Bundy Rum is one of the only distillers that actually undertakes the whole process, from raw materials to bottling left in the world (apparently). Regardless, that was just a fun fact; the awesomeness came from the tour around the site, finishing off with a tasting of their top Rums (over $200 a bottle good). I must say, I do love a good Rum, and some of other more exquisite rum’s were top class, even winning worlds best Rum last year. The site itself was a great mix of historic and modern, with a really interesting museum on the history. Sadly no photos from this tour (they’ve had a couple of pretty catastrophic fires on site over their 170 year life, so no electronics allowed on the tour), but if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a look. for $30 this wasn’t bank breaking, and well worth the money.

Beating that however, was our next couple of days in and around 1770 (yep, that’s the name of a place). After a bit of research looking for a place to stay, we discovered a kangaroo orphanage called Horizons Kangaroo Sanctuary, only a short drive from Agnes Waters. If I’d known about this sooner, I would have spent a whole day here. The sanctuary allowed camping on site, and obviously had hundreds of Kangaroos. Because the majority of these were orphans, they’d been hand reared since childhood (Joeyhood?) so were more than comfortable around humans. Seriously, this was probably one of the highlights of my time in Australia. We arrived at about 3pm, spent the whole afternoon feeding, petting, and generally chilling out with the Roo’s, and woke up the next morning to amazing views over the coastline, whilst having more Roo’s chilling out right next to the camper. Believe me when I say, it was really quite difficult leaving this place. I do need to say though, it’s really rather sad hearing about the Australian Governments approach to Kangaroos; allowing slaughter of thousands of kangaroos a year in each state! I get that from an agricultural perspective they can be seen as a pest, but seriously, it’s not like Aus is running out of space, and these amazing createures only live here! The more time I spend on the road, the more and more I hate humanity…..

ANYWAY

The whole reason we were traveling to this area was for surfing. I’ve never surfed, and never really had any huge desire to do so, but whilst being in oz I’ve become somewhat perplexed by it. We were told about the surf school in 1770 being very good, very cheap, and effectively the last place in Oz you can surf whilst heading north, as you start to enter croc territory! We booked onto the $17 lesson, taught by TBone from Reef2Beach surf school. After a quick tutorial on the sand, we hit the water. Another reason this area is great for beginners is the surf isn’t too monstrous. We were expecting 2 foot waves, but closer to the end of the day we were hitting 4ft waves (trust me, they seem much bigger when you’re trying to surf them!) I’m not sure Kelly really got into it, or ‘succeeded’ at surfing, but I bloody loved it, and didn’t totally suck! Within about an hour, and after changing for a bigger board, I’d finally managed to stand and ride a wave, and spent the next 2 hours attempting again, and again, and again. I was genuinely surprised how much I loved it, and can’t wait to get back out in the water over the rest of this trip! This’ll obviously be me in a few weeks 😉

 

Now, the real fun starts!

The next day, we had an epic drive to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday islands. Half way through our 700km/ nearly 9 hour driving epic, we got a flat battery! What the hell are the chances of that (the chances are raised significantly if you leave the radio on when you stop for lunch, that’s for sure). After a 2 hour ‘change of plans’, and a new battery later, we made it to Airlie just before sunset. It’s a shame as we didn’t really get to explore the town properly, but by that point we were both exhausted so set in for the night. The following day, we set off on our trip with ZigZag Tours, which we later found out meant we were on the fastest boat out of Airlie! We opted for a day trip to Whitehaven beach rather than one of the epic sail boat adventures for two reasons; time and money. A sail trip will cost in excess of $300 per person, this cost $100! We started the trip cruising around the Whitsunday islands, before stopping at a couple of snorkel spots. Sadly the snorkel conditions really weren’t great, and you could really see the huge amount of damage the recent cyclone had done (another #fuckyoudebbie right there). The snorkelling was just an added bonus for us though. Whitehaven beach was next.

It may seem ridiculous doing a boat cruise just to get to a beach, but until you’ve been you can’t comment. Whitehaven is a bit of a geological anomaly: the sand is 98.9% pure silica! It’s so white it doesn’t get hot, you need to wear sunglasses because of the reflection from the sun, and you WILL burn whilst there. The sand was actually used to made the lens for the Hubble telescope, and can be used as an exfoliator on your skin.  This beach, is quite simply, spectacular. I’ve definitely lost count of how many beaches we’ve seen over the past 8 months, and so many of those have surpassed any expectations I had, but Whitehaven massively raised the bar yet again. I decided to go for a run along the 8km stretch of sand, which was an incredible experience. Once you head further up the beach you swap the other tourists, boats and helicopters for complete solitude. I was the only person on that stretch of beach for a good 40 minutes, and it was utter bliss! Needless to say, the water there is absolutely to die for as well; crystal clear blue and a wonderful temperature. Spending a couple of hours on this (and another) beach across the water simply wasn’t enough, I wish we had all day (although I DEFINITELY wouldn’t have escaped without becoming a lobster).

This would be a tough thing to beat. The following day, we undertook another epic drive all the way to Mission Beach, just south of Cairns.

And then I did this…

Yep, I fell out of a plane at 15000ft, landing on another outstanding beach…. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and after a failed attempt in New Zealand over the Fox Glacier (thanks to the weather; I didn’t wimp out) I decided to go big, and did the highest jump in Oz. This-Was-AMAZING! I’m so glad I got to do it finally, and would 100% do it again tomorrow! For anyone considering a skydive, just do it! I would highly recommend getting the video as well. Yes it’s expensive, but you WILL NOT remember it all once you’ve come down from the adrenaline rush. When can I do my next one???

That was going to be a tough one to beat that’s for sure!

So we went to the Great Barrier Reef for a day of Snorkelling.. That’ll do…

We booked with a tour operator who had exclusive rights to a couple of areas of the Outer Barrier Reef, far more secluded than many of the reef excursions you can do to closer reefs, apparently these slightly more untouched reefs are seriously impressive and well worth a look, so we took a punt. The tour group we went with from Cairns were great, but crazy for health and safety! We had to wear life jackets (never great for snorkelling) and we were only allowed 50m from the boat, before a man with a whistle started making noises at us. In typical Kelly fashion, she got excited and somewhat carried away, didn’t hear any whistes, and got chased around the reef by the captain of our vessel to bring her back closer.

Going to the reef was great, and I’m so glad we did it, but the group we were with were just a bit controlling. I can definitely see why, some of the other members of the tour clearly didn’t know what they were doing, or how to respect the coral, but for Kelly and I this was particularly frustrating. I can’t believe I’m saying this too, but the reefs we got to see in Fiji were actually way more impressive too! I know, we sound so spoiled. Regardless, I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef!

To finish off the last leg of our trip, we kept heading north. After a stop off for 1 night in Cairns, we drove to the Daintree Rainforest, after a number of recommendations from fellow travellers and friends living in Oz. En route, we stopped for a couple of Crocodile tours, exploring both mangroves and the Daintree river. For $25 for both tours this was a total bargain! We did our tour with Crocodile Express, setting off from Daintree village initially. This was a great tour that’s for sure, but more importantly we got to learn so much about these fascinating creatures as well as spotting a bunch (and other pretty unique wildlife along the way). To add a little to the excitement, we even beached on the river bed for 5 minutes due to an unexpectedly low tide, that was a bit of a squeaky bum moment to say the least!

We decided to spend 2 days in the rainforest, camping just south of Cape Tribulation, pretty much the most northern part of the East Coast you can access without a 4×4 vehicle. We camped right by the beach, yet still in the rainforest. The whole area was totally stunning, and somewhat Jurassic. We were fortunate to be camping right next to Noah beach;  one of the nicest we’ve seen so far in Oz. To top this off, it was totally secluded, only really accessible to those camping at our site: no one was on the beach the whole time we were there, which was just bliss. So obviously I had to take advantage of the seclusion. Sadly, this far North going in the water at beaches like this is dicing with death, so we obviously decided against this. Regardless, the beaches, the rainforest, the views and the treks were so worth the drive, and being off grid a few days was a blessing as well! Just to add to this part of the journey, we spotted a family of Cassowaries too! These elusive and rare birds are not found anywhere else in Australia apart from Far North Queensland, and to see a family is a very rare site!

Keep going, not that much further to go….

So now, for the first time on this drive in Oz, we started heading South…

By chance, our buddies Tim and Steph (from previous blogs about India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Melbourne) were visiting Cairns for the weekend. We just can’t seem to stay away from these guys! We all stayed at Ellis Beach, just north of Cairns for one last night together. It really can’t be stressed enough how nice it is to see familiar faces on a trip like this, where you don’t have to do the standard commentary again, and again, and again (where have you been, how long you been on the road, etc etc etc), and with these guys it’s just all so easy. After another cracking evening, we agreed the best way to say our (potential) final goodbyes was watching the sun rise over the ocean, and it definitely delivered! Yet again, what a pleasure it was to spend time with them.

So, that’s basically it! We spent our final day in Cairns (which I must say is a seriously cool city!) before getting a very late night flight to Bali. Looking back, this leg of the trip has been pretty epic! We’ve stayed at 2 vineyards, been to the theatre and the super rugby, explored 4 coastal cities and countless towns, enjoyed 100’s of beaches, been to a wedding show, bought a wedding dress (!!!), caught up with so many awesome people, kayaked with dolphins, hiked alongside Echidna’s, spent an morning and feeding Kangaroos, spotted wild Koalas and Cassowairies, snorkelled at the Great Barrier Reef, jumped out of a plane at 15000ft, run across Whitehaven Beach, gone for a naked stroll along a crocodile laden beach, been to a Rum distillery, spent 2 nights in a tropical rainforest, driven the whole of the East coast of Australia (over 5200km in total), and finished off watching the sun rise over the ocean with some great friends. This 2 months has gone so fast, and I’ve bloody loved it, but It’s time to get back to Asia, so we can stop haemorrhaging money!

East coast Australia part 1- Sydney to Brisbane

So far on this trip of a lifetime we’ve hired Campervans twice, once for 43 days to explore the whole of New Zealand, and once to get from Melbourne to Sydney. Van life may not be the most glamorous way to travel, but damn it’s fun! Without a doubt it’s my favourite method of getting around so far (maybe a close second actually to driving a TucTuc around India), mainly because of the freedom it gives you. When we were figuring out our method of getting up the east coast of oz, we debated between flights to key spots, getting the Greyhound bus the whole way, or a van. In the end the van won, purely because it gave us the freedom we have loved so much to properly explore the place we’re visiting.
For anyone considering a journey like the east coast of oz, you need to consider a few things. Firstly, are you happy being stuck on a bus for hours on end, with limited stops, and potentially being in very close proximity with people you just don’t like (we weren’t, i’m secretly a grumpy shit). Secondly, can you afford to hostel hop constantly and eat out for potentially every meal three times a day (we couldn’t really, and I love cooking so….). Finally, are you happy just seeing the key tourism spots, cities, or hubs? We weren’t; clearly 3 weeks of van life trumped all other options for us!

So off we set again, driving from Sydney to Cairns over 3 weeks, in our new steed, Deadrie. It would be an understatement to say she’s a little rough around the edges, has clearly been around the block a few times and kinda needs some TLC, but she has done us okay so far. We’ve spent the past 9 days getting to Brisbane, making the most of van life by stopping wherever the hell we wanted! This has mainly consisted of stopping at shed loads of Australia’s stunning beaches and exploring a great variety of the coastline and surrounding areas.

Our initial plan for this chunk consisted of driving immediately to Coffs Harbour, about 200mi up the coast. We should have known though, this would never happen. We had our last supper with Kelly’s parents at Hurricanes (an absolute MUST if you’re in NSW, genuinely some of the most amazing ribs we’ve ever eaten), meaning we had literally no chance of getting that far north. We made a last second decision to cut back to the Hunter Valley, purely because it was just so bloody beautiful the last time we were there! We just about made it before the kangaroo witching hour at dusk. Sadly our camping options are somewhat restricted in oz in contrast to the amazing array of options available in New Zealand, so we opted for the cheap option at a site on a racecourse. Typically, there was a circus in town the night we arrived, so we shared the site with some rather “interesting” neighbours. Regardless, we were in the Hunter Valley, it was beautiful, and got to experience some wonderful roads in and out. 

Over the next few days we aimed for Port Macquarie, another coastal town further north. Again, massively underestimating the drive, this took another two days rather than one. We don’t appear to have been very good as this estimated driving Malarkey so far… Alongside this, we took a couple of routes resulting in a two hour round trip to get back to the same spot, thanks to one way inlets, boats not running, and entire stupidity. Typical… alongside this we nearly ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere after exploring some sand dunes on a historical aboriginal site, just to add to the fun.

When we FINALLY made it to port Macquarie though, we were greeted by an awesome beachside town, with plenty to do and see. One of the highlights of Port Mac was definitely the koala hospital, a voluntary organisation set up entirely to rescue and nurture injured koalas. Sadly these cute guys are getting to the point of severe endangerment now, all thanks to humans obviously (not helped by the fact they all have chlamydia though). The work they do is wonderful and you really got a sense of the cohesion of aim from the staff members volunteering there. 

Anyway….After Port Mac we continued our journey north. We are constantly on the hunt for free camp sites which often tend to lead us to some pretty weird places. Our next stop can only be described as a stereotypical hick town to be honest… we ended up pretty inland in the middle of nowhere, staying in the car park of a hotel. This hotel was literally the only sign of local economy for probably 15 miles in either direction, and was populated primarily by guests frequenting the establishment whilst donning their custom made bottle coolers, extreme mullets, and looks of bewilderment as we entered the bar for a schooner. Needless to say, we felt yet again like we were in a sketch from a league of gentlemen “you’re not from around here are you?”

This wasn’t the last time we’d feel like this on this leg of the journey. Another evening again, hunting our a low cost site (of which there are surprisingly few), we drove off track for an hour or so and ended up in a very different situation. This time, I was warned of the “feral” locals before they all arrived for the evening raffle (which we were welcome to join). Kelly with her pink hair got some interesting looks, and I got a full blown stare down from a couple who’d obviously never seen anyone like me before (and I thought I blended in okay here, but apparently not). To finish off the evenings entertainment the local village drunk (I think drunk, but might have been something else) made friends with me at the bar, just as Kelly abandoned me for the solitude of our camper just as I got a fresh beer. It probably goes without saying, but the conversation that came in tow wasn’t the greatest discussion of philosophical theories I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in…. The evening was topped off by witnessing a feral local battle to the drunken topple-over, over I believe who truly won the meat platter awarded in said raffle (with a bit of Trump politics thrown in). This was rather entertaining until it took a full on racist turn. I’d been told about the blatant racism which can be witnessed further afield in Oz but this was the first experience I’ve had of true racism in quite some time (probably the first time on this trip). Once the scrap was over, said rowdy feral locals stumbled into their cars and drove off (it appears drink driving isn’t a thing in feral land either). The weirdest thing is, all this end-of-night activity actually occurred about 8.30pm!!!! Ho Hum.

During this leg of the trip, we stopped off at as many of Australia’s beaches as possible, and I must say, I can definitely see what the fuss is about. East coast beaches in Oz have consistently been pretty fabulous; long stretches of sand both along the coast and towards the sea, impeccably clean, and great facilities. It’s a real shame that camping is prohibited at most otherwise we’d have a consistent spot outside all of them up the whole east coast. Ive managed to get a few good runs in along the beaches en route which has been great! My barefoot skills have definitely dwindled somewhat though; the exfoliation from the sand on my feet has made them as soft as baby’s bums after months of toughening them up from rebelling against shoes almost permanently!

Around 1500km north of Sydney, we reached the legendary town of Byron Bay. I can definitely see why this place is so popular; it oozes chilled hippy beach vibe from every pore. We ended up spending a few days here but could have easily made that weeks if we had the time! The weather wasn’t really on our side most of the time, but we got to enjoy sunsets over the beach, some great views across the bay, and the absolute highlight was the sea kayaking expedition we did! We spent a good 3 hours out on the water with our group, and got to see a pod of dolphins surfing the waves just ahead of us. Sadly I didn’t get any great photos of this (this is the best I got) but what a great thing to experience! We can also now both say we kayaked around the most eastern point of Australia. I think it’s safe to say we didn’t really want to leave Byron, but we booked heaps of fun stuff for the next leg of our trip, and there was plenty more to see further north! 

We were also really fortunate to catch up with some mates we made in Vietnam, who lived in Brisbane. We met Gemma and Eric whilst out on our boat tour of Ha Long Bay, and instantly hit it off. I think Kelly and Gemma bonded strongly over their mutual dislike for the drunken northerner we had to endure on our boat. Gemma very kindly offered to house us whilst we were in Brisbane, and was an awesome tour guide too! We spent 3 days with these guys exploring the local area. The outskirts of Brisbane are pretty beautiful, you definitely don’t feel like you’re so close to a city! The city itself is tiny in comparison to others we have seen. Although we didn’t get to go in and explore the city Eric (our trusty chauffeur) gave us a quick drive through. After a day of exploring the surrounding areas, another day trying to explore the Tamborine Mountains (loads of roads and trails were still closed following the onslaught of Cyclone Debbie, donning the phrase #fuckyoudebbie for the rest of the trip), an evening playing drinking games, hours playing with their new pup Nala, walking between islands at low tide and cooking copious amounts of grub on the barbie we’d probably overstayed our welcome so continues north again. Guys it was great to see you both again, and we have to return the favour when you head to Blighty! To add to our Brisbane experience we also linked up with Kelly’s old school friend from Ireland, Marie, and her adorable family. It’s always nice to see how people live in areas we’re visiting, and this was no exception. I could definitely see myself living in a Brisbane suburb after the last few days around here.

So there you have it, over 2500km later we are only half way up the east coast! The next ten days we will be heading to Cairns, with a quick stop off en route to explore the Whitsundays, jump out of a plane at 15000ft, snorkel around the barrier reef and spend a day in a rainforest. No biggie 😳

Sydney- A Family Affair

After an awesome week in Melbourne with some great friends, we were off to see Kelly’s family in Sydney. They moved here about 9 years ago, and whist Kelly has seen them during that time, she hasn’t seen her mum in 3 years and her dad in 6, so this was a well deserved catch up to say the least!

But first, we had to get there….

We decided to sign up for relocation offers, which is exactly as it sounds, relocating a vehicle from one location to another. The basic premise is you pay next to nothing for the pleasure, and you’re given a time frame to drive from A to B. Simple right? Look what we ended up with! Ladies and gents, meet Bertha.

To say this vehicle was an upgrade to Leeroy, our home in New Zealand, would be a massive understatement! Bertha came equipped with a proper Inbuilt shower and toilet unit, a full size kitchen, enough space to sleep 6 people, the works! Apparently Bertha was the most expensive vehicle they had in the fleet, and would have retailer or over $200k brand new and well over $200 a day to lease. For this relocation, we paid $5 a day…

There are really two options when driving from Melbourne to Sydney, drive the short and dull inland road, or drive the considerably longer coastal road. We did the math, and worked out we should have plenty of time to drive the coastal route and still make it to the drop off on time. What’s the point in doing something like this if you don’t get to see any sites eh?

So off we set, on our 1500km journey, with effectively 3 days to do it in. 

Sadly, the weather wasn’t on our side. We spent the first day driving through some monsterous forestry and woodland areas, but also through one hell of a storm. The whole day was wet, miserable, and overcast! Because of this, we didn’t make it quite as far as expected, so ended up camping in the middle of one of said forests, only leaving the vehicle to turn on the gas, before hunkering down within Bertha. The following day we had agreed to make it to Jervis Bay, an area known around the world for having some of the whitest sand on the planet! Before we could dip our toes in the crystal clear water though, we had to drive the best part of 800km! So, we set off at 7am, and didn’t arrive until sunset. Fortunately, the weather was glorious most of the day, so we did get some pretty awesome views along the route. However, when we arrived, it became apparent our planned destination was going to cost around $90 to stay at, due to national holiday fees, said establishment being on a national park, and the size of Bertha, so we ventured further up the coast of the bay. Sadly this resulted in further rank weather setting in (and darkness, go figure), resulting in another let down! To make matters worse, we discovered that the shower was actually broken in Bertha (the sliding doors were totally knackered) and the cupboards containing ALL our stuff had jammed shut, and would simply not open! This may not seem like that big a deal, but when your whole life is in a bag, to say it’s a bit of a pain in the arse is a slight understatement!

The next morning was exactly the same; minging wet and cold, to the extent where we abandoned the planed beach walk, and continued our so far laborious journey to Sydney. The final leg should have been short and relatively easy drive up the coast. Somehow though, we only made it to the drop off point 10 minutes before the deadline at 3pm! Considering we pretty much only stopped for lunch this is still a total mystery to us.

But we made it! 1200km driven in 3 days, in about 22 hours of driving! Bertha, you were both great and a grumpy shit. Sadly we won’t be able to afford anything like that quality of vehicle again on the trip, but living the life of quasi-opulence for a few days was rather nice I guess.

So kids, lessons learned for this kind of trip like this. Check how long the route will take and add at least 20% on top, CHECK THE WEATHER before you set off, work out if you will actually get to stop anywhere en route, and figure out if you’ll actually save any cash doing it (we didn’t really). 

AANNNYWAY

The reason we did such an epic drive in such a short space to time, was so we could suprise Kelly’s parents. We had planned to arrive 3 days later, but Kelly had decided probably 7 months ago she wanted to suprise them. So after the dropping the vehicle off, we headed straght to the surgery where Angie (Kelly’s Mum) is a practice nurse. After contacting reception, getting the ladies on the desk in on the act, and basically booking a fake appointment, we eagery awaited her mum to enter the room. The reaction was absolutely textbook! The scream Angie let off was like a sonic boom, and must have scared the crap out of everyone else at the practice, but we did it! Following this, the suprise for Eugene (her Dad) followed, when we jumped through the front door of their flat. So the suprise worked; what a result! 

The next few days were spent with Angie and Eugene. We didn’t really do much, but that was great! After the best part of 6 years, there was obivously a lot to catch up on, and just spending time with each other was more important than being active. Kelly’s parents were very sweet, and had the Xmas tree up waiting for us, as we hadn’t really celebrated Xmas whilst in Thailand. To top this off, because we had arrived for Easter weekend (apparently, I had no idea of this) we had a combined Xmas/Easter lunch, and an Easter egg hunt (which I must say, Kelly took FAR too seriously). A great weekend all round really (with a little too much over indulgence on food, drink, and chocolates)…

A week of celebrations

We had quite a bit to celebrate whilst being here though. Kelly’s parents had recently renewed their vows, we hadn’t seen them since getting engaged (now over a year ago, how time flies when you’re having fun), my 30th/Kelly’s 30th (in August), and her parents 60th birthdays which sadly we’d miss. Because of this, we decided to book a few days away in the Hunter Valley, which is only about a 3 hour drive from the city.

Wow, what a stunning place! We booked into Hunter Valley Resort after finding a Groupon deal (another tip for Aus; abuse Groupon!) for a night of accommodation and a few activities. We all enjoyed the obligatory wine tasting when staying at a vineyward, learning about the vines and the history of the vineyard/surrounding area, and had some great food alongside the wonderful vino. The night we arrived, we were advised to go for a short walk away from the vineyard, as it was very common to see Kangaroos at dusk. I’m so glad we listened! Less than 1km from our accomodation was a huge group of Roo’s, all quietly hopping around rummaging for food. I said that whilst in Oz, I was adamant I’d catch them in the wild, and now I can tick that box! 

After a couple of days of over-indulgence (again), we headed back to Sydney to continue our antics. 

Kelly and I are massive Rugby fans. We were lucky enough to be at the local Super Rugby derby whilst in Dunedin, New Zealand, and as there was a match on in Sydney whilst we were there, we felt this was too good an opportunity to miss. It’s safe to say, Angie and Eugene are some of the least sports orientated people I know, and between them probably couldn’t differenciate between a ruck and a maul, try and conversion, but regardless we dragged them along as well. After an enjoyable journey to the ground with Kelly perfecting her ‘idiots guide to egg ball chasing’ we had an enjoyable match. 

To makes things even better, we met up with an old mate from uni who we haven’t seen in over 7 years! For those of you who remember Spock from Ruskin days, you’ll be glad to know he’s not changed THAT much since uni days.What was somewhat suprising though is Angie and Eugene seemed to not only enjoy the match, but actually GOT IT as well! 10 points to Kelly for exceptional describing clearly.

As mentioned earlier, Kelly and I got engaged just over year ago. Because we’ve been on the road for over 7 months now, it’s undertandable to say we’ve put wedding plans on the back burner (they never really even made it onto the burner but..) until we get home. Regardless, we wanted Angie and Eugene to have some level of involvement in the process, so booked onto the Sydney Bridal exhibition the day after arriving home from the Valley. Now, my plan was to let Kelly and Angie go off and look at dresses, whilst myself and Eugene looked at wedding cars, sound systems, and venues, but this failed completely. We spent the whole day at the show, because there was just so much to see! We even got the floodgates to open from both parents when discussing venues in Bali (seriously, there’s some stunners there that are so much cheaper than UK venues). We hadn’t planned on spending the whole day, as Kelly and I were off to the City for a night of partying with Tim and Steph, to celebrate her 30th, but we did..

We may have been a tad late for them, but this didn’t matter too much. After one of the best meals i’ve had since leaving the UK at Big Poppas in central Sydney, we spent the night partying, enjoying high class tequila with Moet chasers (yep, this is now a thing), dancing in birdcages in Gay bars, and embracing our inner youth through pillow fights and jumping on the bed till 5am back at their hotel. Needless to say, we did the 30th right, and definitly paid for it the next day. I’ve also 100% confirmed I no longer want to wear jeans or shoes. Yet again, Tim and Steph, you guys are amazing! Thanks for another amazing night, and another monster hangover.

To finish off the week of fun and frollics, we met up with Kelly’s cousins who again, we haven’t seen for 6 years! Last time we were in Sydney, we took the boys Matt and Ryan to the Ashes, but they were just kids! This time, Lauren is 19 and working full time, Matt was about to take his driving test, and Ryan was in his mid teens, and gearing up to take his GCSE equivalent! As ever, it was lovely seeing them again, and for the Sweeney’s it was a very rare occasssion having all the family (or nearly all the family) together. Annoyingly, we got so caught up in conversation we didn’t get a photo (sorry Tricia). These separate photos will have to do though. 

At this point, I thought the week of family fun was over, but Kelly and Angie had different ideas. They’d arranged to go wedding dress ‘trying’ for a day. This obviously is a proper right of passage for mother and daughter, but as we live the other side of the world this was one of the only opportunities for this to happen. However, what I didn’t expect was for them to BUY a dress! Obviously I know nothing of the details of said dress, but I do know lots of tears were shed, and regardless ofthe number of dresses tried on, this was ‘the one’. Guess we should probably start planning the actual wedding now that a dress is bought!

Fun with old friends

It feels like we have managed to meet up with people in the majority of places we’ve been, but Australia has raised the bar on this yet again, and Sydney was certainly no exception. We’ve literally dedicated a week to meeting up with people! It seems like the majority of Ireland emigrated to Oz about 6 years ago, so Kel has a few mates out here, as do I. On Anzac Day, we met up with (another) Kelly, one of her oldest friends from school. We were quickly given an introduction into an Australian past time, 2up. It’s literally a coin toss on steroids (+alcohol) that people bet on. I managed to win $20 over the duration of the day, so I was happy. Apparently it gets so heated, this game is illegal every other day apart from Anzac. We were given a tour of Bondi, and the lovely Watsons Bay, which i’d highly recommend visiting if you get the chance whilst in Sydney. 

We also got to frequent her 30th birthday in central Sydney, which came rather close to being a very long and heavy night (as I understand, this is pretty commonplace when Kelly McD is involved), but we managed to escape around 1am. We met some awesome people, and Kelly had told all her mates about her oldest school friend making an appearance, which was lovely and super welcoming. 

To add to the Irish caucus, we spent an evening with Niamh (pronounced more like neeve), another school friend from the land of the spud huggers. We spent the evening touring the Rocks, and Circular Quay, enjoying the famous sights of Sydney. Kelly and I last saw Naimh in 2005, so as you can imagine, we had a huge amount to catch up on! 

Next it was my turn to see old faces! We linked up with Lou, a (sort of) colleague from Uni days. Lou used to work for the Students’ Union when I worked for the Uni, but she was also my running buddy and (gossip fiend) whilst we worked at the same time. We had a great day at Manly doing a coastal walk, and met up again to go for a run (and gossip obviously), for old times sake.

Finally, meeting up with Spock on numerous occassions. Spock went off the radar somewhat when he moved over here, but we’ve stayed in touch from time to time via email etc. But catching up with him was literally like jumping back in time, absolutely nothing had changed, and we were all more than happy chatting utter shite like we used to all night long. We eneded up meeting up about 4 times, and finally got to meet his wonderful lady Sam. If you guys are reading this, thanks so much for such great evenings and even better company. Spock, she’s a keeper, take good care of her! It’s great to see you both doing so well and loving life so much.

So there we have it; 3 weeks in Sydney. It’s been so nice being with the inlaws, I have no idea how they put up with me for 3 weeks, but we all survived! Angie and Eugene, thanks for having us and thanks for everything you’ve done for us whilst we’ve been here. 

Now, we have another 3 weeks to explore the rest of the east coast in a camper again! If anyone has any must see places on the east coast to Cairns, let us know!

Melbourne- Getting by with a little help from my friends 

“Here’s to tall ships. Here’s to small ships. Here’s to all the ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships so here’s to you and me.” Irish proverb

One of my favourite things about travelling is the people, without a doubt. We’ve met some absolutely awesome people in every country who have inspired us, guided us, supported us, excited us, made us laugh, made us cry, and generally made our trip so unforgettable. Many of the people we’ve met we probably won’t see again, but we now have friends on all continents, so who knows, our paths may cross again. People say the world is a small place, and we’ve realised how true this is on so many occasions! I’ve bumped into an old school friend by chance at a bar in New Zealand, met a couple from Colchester in Vietnam, who’s parents live in the village next to mine, and a guy from Cambridge who worked with two of our closest friends, on a tiny island in Fiji! Seriously, what are the chances? We’ve obviously made some great friends for life too, who we will be seeing without question again (yes Mat and Sofi, this does mean a trip to Chile), but it’s always so sad saying goodbye to the people you just gel with, especially as someone is always moving on in this nomadic lifestyle.

But conversely, perhaps one of the best things is meeting up with old friends; reuniting with people from the old days or those you simply haven’t seen for too long. We’ve been so lucky so far to travel alongside old friends for much of the trip, and when we arrived to Australia the only real plan we had was to meet up with these people!

We arrived into Australia in Melbourne at the ungodly hour of 2am. After a night slumming it in a cheap ass hostel (still £40, that would have got us 5* in Asia😡) we got in touch with Tim and Steph. We’ve met up with these guys in 80% of the counties we’ve frequented, and by chance they have based themselves in Melbourne! Tim is now working for Rome2Rio and Steph was about to start a consultancy role in the city. These guys were yet again absolute legends. We arrived at their place to be greeted with a table laid for a roast dinner (our first in over six months!), and the offer for us to stay with them! We’ve done quite a bit of travel with these guys so we get on really well. It’s so nice to have some normality restored In a new city, but also to hang out with familiar faces again! The building they lived in also had a gym and a pool, which we took full advantage of! Every time we meet up though, we seem to end up getting shit faced, and this was no shift from the status quo. After a beautiful roast lamb (cooked on the barbie of course), we got the Lonely Planet tour of the city from our local guides, before heading to the cider and wine festival on the river! I mean, what are the chances this would be on whilst we arrive! The city at night is just as beautiful as parts of London with back alley streets similar to Brighton. The word “artisan” springs to mind at nearly every turn down these lanes, with hipster coffee and brioche burgers lining most stores. The thing that Melbourne is really famous for though is the fantastic array of street art that’s literally everywhere to see. Seriously, we’ve seen some pretty impressive stuff so far on this trip, but the street art we saw in Melbourne took gold, silver and bronze! What’s really cool is there are some streets that apparently evolve monthly with new works; id love to see this in action!

We had a week planned for Melbourne, and lots to see! We spent our time exploring the cities suburbs, back alleys and main sights. This is definitely a nice city to just wander around. There’s a really interesting mix of old school buildings clearly from Victorian rule, modern high rise buildings and old school shop fronts. There’s obviously a massive foodie culture here too (which makes me very happy) with huge Greek and Chinese quarters offering a wonderful variety of treats, as well as one of the best food markets I’ve ever been to. The street art again was out on full show for us, and is even more impressive during the day! Alleys like this attract hoards of millennials to get that perfect Instagram photo, but I just wanted to snap the art. 

We hadn’t realised, but the Melbourne comedy festival was on when we arrived! Hundreds of venues offered tons of comedians over two weeks, we had far too much to choose from! We ended up meeting one of the comedians, a guy called Jeeves Verma who was bloody hilarious! His whole sketch was based around his life growing up in an Indian family, which really reminded us of our time in India staying with families in Jaipur and Bombay. We could have spent hundreds of dollars on tickets for shows as there was just so much on!

We were also super lucky to end up seeing the Book of Mormon whilst we were here. The two of us and Steph entered into a lottery to get half price tickets. Sadly we didn’t win but Steph kindly donated hers to us as she’s seen it already. Wow, I had heard it was a funny show, but we were in absolute stitches from start to finish! We ended up with front row centre seats too, so I got to perv with all the musical equipment under the stage too! Seriously, if you aren’t easily offended, go see this show immediately! 

Our whole time in Melbourne wasn’t a cultural furore, we did some boring stuff too! One of our favourite ways to experience a city is to just wander around. Melbourne is perfect for this with a huge variety of districts each with their own flair. We spent a day chilling at Brighton Beach with Steph enjoying the vibrant (and sometimes eccentric) beach huts, before walking to St Kilda, another beach side district. The walk itself was absolutely lovely and it was great to see the Australian outdoor ethos so alive, with so many people out and about running, cycling, roller skating, or chasing their dogs; definitely a place I could see myself enjoying more. We even managed to spot a pod of dolphins as we walked along the coast. We also spent a day enjoying the botanical gardens with a picnic by the river. The punting on offer was somewhat unexpected and obviously reminded us of Cambridge, but we avoided this due to the excessive cost! The gardens themselves are stunning and vast! We spent a good 4 hours exploring the different parts of them and enjoying the natural flora and fauna. It’s so nice to be somewhere so peaceful whilst being so close to the city. 

I started this blog by talking about meeting up with old friends. We weren’t done with just Tim and Steph that’s for sure! We spent the evening before the comedy show with our old uni friend Izzy. She’s been on the move for the best part of 4 years now. Her travel photos were one of my main points of inspiration for this trip and definitely gave us a few must see spots on the route. Izzy has been Melbourne for the past 6 months and is working as a video producer. She took us to a very quirky bar hidden down a dark alley behind some bins. Without her I definitely wouldn’t have known it was there! This place felt like walking straight back to Dalston, where you get cocktails served in vintage tea pots, the the music is all played from a gramophone, and beard oil and tattoo sleeves are more commonplace than anything else. We spent the whole evening until the show just chatting about our trips and Uni times. It’s great to reflect on all the amazing things we’ve done with a fellow traveler, as you can easily forget all the mini things that can easily make an adventure.

I can’t mention Izzy without mentioning her epic adventure doing rural work for her 3 months. Most people just end up picking fruit; that sort of thing. Izzy made a snap decision to book a one way flight to Sydney after breaking up with her long term boyfriend, to work as a cowgirl at a massive cattle farm! The stories she was telling us were mystifying, terrifying, and upsetting at times, but wow what an adventure! She ended up being at the ranch for 6 months, and by the sounds of it would go back in a heartbeat! Seriously mate, if you’re reading this, sell your story and make a movie!

We also ended up meeting up with Jennifer, a family friend of Kelly’s. These guys haven’t actually seen each other for 17 years, but it was like they saw each other yesterday! That’s when you know you’ve got a good friend, regardless of how long you’ve not seen each other it’s just like old times. We ended up being out until about 2am with them at a local club (well, sort of club) in a suburb outside the city centre. Jen, it was lovely to meet you, and we may well take you up on that offer of the South of France! 

To finish off our time in South Australia, we headed out to the Yarra Valley to meet up with an old school friend Rachel. Rach and I have a number of mutual friends, we’ve worked at the same restaurants, and went to the same school, but didn’t really become that close until a couple of years back. We ended up spending a day kayaking 8 miles, dragging a boat across a field, running away from cows, and sliding down reservoirs. Yes, this sounds ridiculous, and it definitely was!

Rachel has been living in the Yarra Valley for a few years now, and has made quite a name for herself at the Cherry Orchard she works for as marketing director. Since being there, she’s introduced a number of awesome cherry drinks including a knockout cider, a damn tasty cherry Weiss beer, and a couple of super healthy cherry drinks. This has sent her all across Australia and even across Asia selling her products. Anyway….

We spent a day exploring the cherry farms and learning about how it all works, followed by a cheeky tour of a local vineyard Rachel also works at. The Yarra valley is synonymous with excellent wines, and I can see how it’s gained this reputation! All the wines, from Shiraz to Chardonnay were sublime! It’s a good thing I don’t live here as I’d become a full blown wino! I must say though, the views across the valley are truly stunning! Sadly, the weather was against us for the duration of the time we were there, so we just HAD to stay in, sample more local wines, eat awesome food (thanks Rach) and chat utter bollocks for hours on end. To be honest, it was just what we needed, and really felt like home! Rach, it was awesome to catch up after so long of talking about it. It was great to finally meet Alex too, he’s alright I suppose 😉. 

So as you can see, our time in Melbourne was absolutely fuelled by friends. It was such a joy to see so many familiar faces. As ever Tim and Steph properly sorted us out and were outstanding hosts. We can’t thank you enough for your hospitality yet again! You guys really are legends and have become such a key part to so many memories on this year away. Also thanks for the extreme workouts in the gym, I think Kelly has only just stopped aching!

Steph, this is my new motto for fitness now!
Melbourne, you’re bloody awesome! I loved the chilled out vibe, the architecture, the food, the coffee, the beer, the teams, and definitely the culture. If the rest of Oz is like this the next few weeks are going to be a treat!

So now onto our next part of our trip, a drive up the coastal road to Sydney, all 1500km of it! Friends, say hello to BERTHA!!