25 day east coast trip
Since I have almost a month off til I start my new job (AHHH YESSS I GOT A NEW JOB!), I have about a week to plan this ‘backpacker’ trip. I talked to some of my friends and asked them what places I had to visit. Backpacker student travel agencies are a huge industry over here: Tribal Travel, Peterpans, Travelbugs, Adventure Travel are some of the big ones that offer basically all the same travel package deal. A basic popular one is $299. Each travel package offers nights of accom in hostels and tours all up the East Coast. I got one tailormade to what I initially planned on doing in 25 days with WANDERERS TRAVEL. All the packages are open dated. After you figure out when you’ll be there, then you call ahead to the place and book it then. That way you can spend more or less time in a location you like. These travel packages are not guided tours, they are just rooms and activities with specific companies. Each individual backpacker trips and plans vary.
First stop: Byron Bay Wed- Sat April 29 – May 1
Instead of taking a bus trip for 12 straight hours from Sydney, I took a cheap $70 flight to Ballina Airport. A shuttle van to Byron Bay, 30 min away and with my package I got 3 free nights at Cape Byron Lodge. A lot of travelers and Austalians love Byron, I wasn’t too impressed. It’s a cute little surfer town, yes, but didn’t have a super special flair to it. The weather so far has truly sucked. It’s been rainy and cold. I expected to come up north to get a tan. Not happening yet. I don’t even want to take off my jacket anywhere.
The next day I took the HAPPY COACH to Nimbin, this cracked out hippie village, 2 hours away. First place we stopped at was Minyon Waterfalls. We did a 15 min stop to take pictures of this gorgeous view. Then off to Nimbin. Umm, wow… This one street town reminded me of the old stereotypical Western movies, with the post, grocery, newsagent, library all located within a 3 min walking distance. The store fronts were all rainbow colored. The biggest difference is the people and their viewpoints. The locals roam around aimlessly barefoot, in tattered clothing, looking homeless and definitely not in their right mind. I heard the F bomb spoken commonly as if it was the word, the. These people lived, breathed and promoted weed. They recently produced an 8 page newspaper spread, with ‘creative articles’ all the positives of using weed. Lucky for me, I just missed their biggest event, MardiGRASS. Your eyes did not deceive you: That says MardiGRASS, not MardiGRAS. It’s a celebration for what else, ohhh glorious weed. It was that upcoming weekend. They had events such as hemp Olympics, guess how many ounces in a bag, roll a joint the fastest, and a huge parade with a gigantic blown up weed replica that said LET IT BLOW. For those that really know me, can understand me being in this town is quite funny. I felt so naïve, uncomfortable and out of place. I walked into the Nimbin ‘historical museuem’. Very psychedelic. When I was walking out, I was asked by a local, “How many ounces do you wanna buy?” I basically ran away. I guess It’s a great town for people who ‘deeply appreciate’ that shit. I’m just not one of them. Before leaving the town, our bus driver intensely warned us the van would probably be stopped and searched by the cops. She was required to give us a 15 min lecture on ‘how drugs are illegal’. She asked who bought any drugs, about 5 of 12 hands went up. She gave out tips to not getting caught such as leave it on the bus and not on your body. Then they can’t prove its yours. Obviously, these tips were all very new and helpful to me. On the way out, the cops stopped the bus, confiscated the goods and no one fessed up to it so no one was charged. Quite an interesting day trip.
I met some really cool people in the hostel: another Australian who recently moved up for a job from Coffs Harbour, 3 American girls on holidays from Sydney Uni, 2 really sweet german girls and 2 locals. I love meeting new people but let me tell you, it’s very, very repetitive. For my sisters, imagine formal recruitment intros times 25. Same, boring questions: “Hi, whats your name? Where are you from? How long have you been travelling? Where are you going next? What brought you to Australia? What’s your favorite part?” Seriously I answer those questions AT LEAST 3 times a day. As much as I love meeting new people, you just don’t want to talk after awhile. And I’ve only been travelling a week! So I know I could never just come here and backpack through for months at a time. After a long bus ride, arriving in a new place and new hostel, I really just want to sleep. Of course I’m social and nice, but going out drinking is not on my agenda (o-m-g, I think that means I’m officially old and boring). I’m considered one of the ‘older backpackers’. Most backpackers are right out of school—ages 18-20 so this is their first experience away from home. It’s like our first semester of college, so you can guess what they’re like. These kids are going out and drinking hardcore every night with meaningless sex with strangers. I have no desire to go out and get drunk with people I don’t know or trust. Then imagine trying to figure out your way home in a brand new area. Plusss drinks are effin expensive. A bottle of Bacardi is normally $40! I’d much rather spend my money on good food (which I do). I think I just like drinking you guys instead. You must be hard to replace—You are way more fun. J
Anyway, the next day—I borrowed one of the hostel’s bikes and took a 2 mile bike ride to the Cape Byron Lighthouse, the most eastern point in Australia. I parked the bike as far as I could, then had to walked about 45 more min up and down some intense hills to get close to the Lighthouse. After getting close, it started to drizzle and then a rainbow appeared! It was soo cool! The views up top were amazing, looking over at the whole beach on the left or seeing the jagged rocks with waves crashing on the right.
I walked down the cliff and onto another section on top of rocks. In the distance, I saw dolphins swimming! It’s time like these: taking an invigorating walk up to view spectacular scenery, seeing a rainbow and watching dolphins play, that I realize, ‘Wow, I’m really in Australia.’ Can’t help but smile. I always remember when I’m walking alone on beaches. I just love thinking and saying that.
That night, very very late, I got my first Greyhound bus trip at 315am. I had to get a taxi at 3am. To get the rest of my 8 locations, I’d be taking the Greyhound up. It’s the cheaper bus option compared to the OZ experience (a huge backpacker filled bus). The greyhound runs more frequently and stops more often. I’ve never done a bus trip and so far it’s been interesting. I already noticed I’m not a big sleeper on buses so I’m always anxious to sleep at the next hostel. Instead of spending money to stay at a hostel, the greyhound will take me up to my destination instead. At the end of this trip, I’m either gonna love or loathe bus trips.
2nd stop– Noosa—What a beaut!! Sat –Sun 3-4
(((During my VERY sleepless 7 hour bus ride, I realized I left my mobile at my previous hostel—shitttttttttttt! Or as the English say, BOLLOCKS! Not only is it my phone, but it’s my alarm clock. I called the hostel frantically and they’re going to send it to Hervey Bay since I’ll be spending a couple days there. Seriously, Thank God.))) I arrived looking like absolute hell in the small beach town of Noosa. It’s populated with rich residents and rich houses. All I wanted to do the first day was sleep. But I feel like I’m wasting time exploring the town since I’m only there for a short time. The hostel, Dolphin Beach House, picked me up from the bus stop, a 15 min drive away. It’s out of the ‘town’ but its better than the young backpacker drinking hostels. The bright pink colored dorm walls had a mini apt style set up: 2 rooms, 9 people total with their own bathroom, tv, couches, frig and stove. You definitely got to know people better, but only those 8 people. It’s a rarity for dorms to be like that. A common area with a big tv is the place to meet everyone in the dorm. I meet people everywhere I go, but you never talk longer than a day before they move on to somewhere new. Germans and UK are the most popular countries I’ve encountered. Most anybody but Americans. The first day I was there I walked along their main street, just filled with small beachy shops. I liked it at first, but it’s pretty much the same everywhere. Before sunset, I strolled on the beach for an hour, taking in the beautiful beaches, green mountains and people playing with their dogs. Even after seeing so many beaches, I never get sick of them.
Day 2– I went to bed early since I’m going to AUSTRALIA ZOO—home of Steve Irwin. It’s a hyped up, expensive zoo, but I made sure it was included with my package. Queensland is the only place in AU where you can actually hold a koala. In New South Wales, I went to another small zoo, where you can ‘pose with one’. I don’t want a posing pic, I want to actually hold me like a baby. AU Zoo has a free double decker bus that picks up with 1.5 hour of the zoo. I went with one of the British girls from the hostel. We hung out together all day, taking fun pics and yes, I held a koala!!!!!!! J Seriously, cutest animals. Probably weighed about 10-15 pounds and felt like a live teddy bear. It made my day! I left early on the Greyhound at 2pm, arrived at 4pm. I wanted to walk around the Noosa National Park. I’ve come to really enjoy national parks. It’s great exercise, right in the middle of nature. There were no signs directing people what path to take. I’m getting a lot better, figuring my way out myself. I use my instinct and ‘internal compass’ to end up in the right place. Pretty crazy. It was another 1.5 hour walk that led from the steep green forest to the sandy beaches. Ahead of me, was a newly married couple taking wedding beach pictures. Owners were chasing their dogs around (I really miss my dog) and kids (Thank God Felix wasn’t here to ruin it) were playing in the sand. Finished just as sunset was hitting (around 520-530pm). How much more ideal does it get than that?
Originally I planned on doing a 3 day/2 night Canoe trip and a ½ day of kayaking. In Byron, I thoroughly planned out my trip and realized that I didn’t have as much time as I hoped for. So even though I paid for the canoe trip, my priority trips were camping safari on Fraser Island and overnight sailing trip. Back on the bus….
3rd stop—Hervey Bay/Fraser Island May 4 – 7
Bus ride to Hervey Bay. Kookaburra Resort picked us up from the bus station. Met my first camping companions, and they were Americans! A disgustingly cute young couple from NY/NJ area, Lia and Jamie. Dropped off the girls (my oversized luggage) and went for a jog/walk along Hervey Bay for an hour. When you don’t exercise for a long period of time, you can feel the sluggish effects. It was so serene on the Bay. Not many people out and the water was so calm. Run/Walking is a good way to get exercise and see other parts of the town. Hervey Bay is a veryyyyyyy small rundown town. There are 2 towns with access to Fraser Island: HB and Rainbow Beach. HB is the closer town which means less driving time and more time to enjoy the island. Came back for the Fraser Island prep/warning meeting at 6pm. There are 2 options for seeing Fraser: self drive camping with a huge LandCruiser or guided tours with hotel stays. I chose self drive, cuz its cheaper and its more fun to figure your own way. Besides I haven’t camped in a long time. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, so you need a 4WD to get around to roads are basically nonexistent. The meeting lasted 1.5 hours, with a video about carefully driving on the island. Some students a month ago died from overturning the 4WD (which is so easy to do since all of our equipment, food and personal stuff goes up top). The guy running the meeting, Richard, aka Dick, is a complete and utter asshole. We had to pay all kinds of extra insurances and food prices on top. Back home in the US, when you hear something is optional, you disregard it and assume its just another unnecessary way to make money. I was the first one out of 11 called up to pay the extras. I said no the extra insurance since we already had 3 other kinds of it. He flat out called me an idiot. I was soooo livid pissed. Everyone else in our group did not plan on paying it either, until he insulted me in front of everyone. He gave everyone attitude about it all. He works in customer service every day and that’s how he treats people?? We all hated him already.
Day 1 of camping—got up at 6am to leave the hostel at 7am. The hostel prepares food for us for $35 and we have to cook it at the camp site. The hostel also has a suggested itinerary list, based on the high tide schedule, with places to stop at and beach areas to sleep at.
Had an interesting group going: 3 Americans, 2 Germans, 3 Brazilians, 1 Irish, 1 French and 1 British. 11 people total, 2 sets of couples, 1 mother/daughter pair, 4 guys and 7 girls all crammed into this LandCruiser. Quite the diverse crew. 3 guys alternated between manually driving Jaws (our nickname for the great white beast). Took an hour to get to the ferry, drove Jaws onto the ferry, along with 10 other student groups, doing the same thing as us. The drive plus 2 more fit up front, with 8 people facing each other, ambulance style. Actually it wasn’t too bad. On the first day, we drove to Meheno shipwreck site. It’s was a huge cruise liner that wrecked in 1935. Made me excited since I’ll be diving to a real shipwreck site underwater next week! Driving on the beach is not as carefree here as it is in the Outer Banks. It’s actually considered a ‘highway’ with speed limits. You avoid driving near the water at all possible costs since salt will ruin the car and you’ll be paying a hefty fine. We were supposed to camp on the beach, but we found a fenced in campsite with showers, grills and toilets. Normally you have to pay to stay, but we were allowed for free. I shared a tent with the German girls. (Turns out they were au pairs in Sydney too! Small world!) We’re the first ones that have our tent up! That night, we drink beer and GOON. Goon is a generic term for boxed wine. You can’t have glass so goon is a very common backpacker drink. In Byron Bay, a popular shirt says, SLAP THE GOON (meaning to shake up the bag). We played some fun drinking games, Shoulders and a version of Fuck of the Dealer. When it’s dark out and you’re out in the wild, your body tries to tell you to go to bed. I passed out by 930pm—yes that’s lame.
Day 2 of camping—I’m the first one up at 6am. I guess when you go to bed that early (which you know I never do), your body wakes you up early. I start getting breakfast stuff out: sausages, eggs and toast. Not too bad huh? We take down the tents, pack it all back onto of Jaws then drove to INDIAN HEAD and hiked up to the top. It’s a huge (150 -200 feet high) with my favorite jagged rocks below. The view is just incredible. We walked 45 min along the white sandy beach to Champagne Pools, naturally made pools from the ocean. It was a long walk with a disappointing ending. Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting, but the pools were very small. The waves crashed over them and created some cool pictures, but it wasn’t worth the time spent there. Luckily, everything happens for a reason. We met 18 Australian fisherman, who drove us back to our car, saving us a 45 minute walk. As if that wasn’t good enough for us, we ended up hanging out with them for 3 hours!! They gave us free unlimited beer (too bad I don’t like beer huh?), a BBQ sausage cookout with corn fritters on the beach and just socializing with these extremely friendly middle aged guys. The guys sincerely wanted to know about our travels, where we’re all going, the typical 20 questions. They have an annual week long trip of fishing, drinking and eating. They have a gigantic frig and freezer full of food. 2 of the guys were former chefs so they’re not eating pizza and wings all week. The weather was perfect, sunny and hot until 3pm (my first nice day since I started travelling 10 days ago!). Everything about the afternoon was just so ‘Australian’- Barbie on the beach, beer, warm hospitality, music, the sun and having a good time. It was probably one of my favorite days since I’ve arrived.
After our happy hours were over, we had to book it 2 hours back to our campsite. A dark storm was coming and so was high tide. The water kept rising higher and higher to our 4WD. A bright rainbow did greet us though!! It was getting hard to avoid hitting the ocean and the sand dunes were to the right of us. We were narrowly stuck between the ocean and sand dunes. We debated a couple times pulling over and parking there for the night. We kept going and bypassed our suggested camping area. We vetoed sand in favor of facilities, BBQ grills and hot showers. Dinner was lamb stew with rice. Bed early again at 9pm. God I’m so old! I never even went to bed that early in college or high school!
Day 3 of camping—Breakfast: Weetbix and toast. I LOVEEEE weetbix. It’s big rectangle wheat squares you drown with milk. I normally put honey and bananas on top of mine. I seriously will miss that food when I go back home. Anyway, I finally showered. Everyone joked with me that it was about time and it probably was. You had to pay for the showers so I held out as long as I could. 3 days is my max, haha. We drive out to Lake McKenzie, one of the most beautiful places on earth. The first 30 feet of the water is crystal aqua clear, then it drops deeper and the water turns a navy blue. Not exactly warm, but not super cold either. We were the first ones who arrive since our campsite was closer than the rest of the other backpacker vans. It was breathtaking. Pictures attempt to do some justice. We layed around until noon and then made lunch. We have been warned intensely about dingoes—which looks like skinny dogs, but have the ferocious mentality of wolves. The funny saying, “Dingo ate my baby!” is based on a true story. They notice babies/young kids because they have sudden movements. As dangerous as we knew they could be, we all desperately wanted to see one. During lunch on our last day at Fraser, we saw 3!!! They don’t look scary so mostly everyone to call one over. They smelled our food and eventually ran away. But our trip was complete!
The whole 3 days it was expected to rain with thunderstorms. It only rained one night. Now it wasn’t as hot as I wanted, but viewing Indian Head and Lake McKenzie with sunny weather made it a spectacular trip. For the most part, the people were great! We had too many dominating personalities in our group. Everyone wanted to be leader. For me, I didn’t want to be leader. I was more of the silent lead by example team member who always helped set up, clean up or made food. We got pretty close in 3 days, had some good laughs and were sad to see each other leave. The funny thing about travelling the east coast is you meet the same people over again. I see the same people on the Greyhound. My next trip on the sailing boat trip, the German girls will be with me. Eh, they’re nice but loud. Grr, loud Germans.
4th stop—Airlie Beach/Whitsunday Island – May 8-13
Overnight bus trip from Hervey Bay to Airlie, yuck. Left at 800am—arrival 9am, 12 hours, every seat filled, sweetness. But I went with the American Couple and had Brazilian Roger to sleep on. I slept so much better cuz he was my huge pillow, haha. Besides the 2 nice days at Fraser, the weather has been pure crap, rainy, cloudy or colder than expected. The rainy season was supposed to end in April. BTW, in case I didn’t explain, there are 6 states: South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland (my whole east coast trip, North of Sydney), New South Wales (Sydney), Victoria (Melbourne) and Northern Territory. Queensland is notorious for being known as having sunny weather 300 days a year. I expected it to be sunny and hot like it normally is. But as my luck goes for me, I’m still pretty white and a tan might not happen. I booked more days at Airlie since I heard it’s perfect lay out weather. Ahh not so much. After getting off the bus and walking to my free hostel nights at MAGNUMS, it rained on and off all day. Again like Noosa and Byron Bay, it’s a small one street town with beach shops, cafes and travel agencies. Found a Macca’s (Mcdonalds) which has free wireless! See, that’s the only benefit of lugging around this laptop! Magnum’s is a huge hostel/mini resort with cabins. Directly attached to it are 2 bars. I really should go out. There are 3 big backpacker bars: Magnums, Beaches and Momma Africa. I have nothing to do tomorrow (Sat) so I should go out. However, I don’t like going out by myself anymore. The same thing always happens: make the effort of getting dressed, stand around the bar awkwardly by yourself and wait for someone normal to talk to you. Of course fun normal straight girls aren’t going to approach another girl, it’s weird. So it’s always the sexually driven guys that talk to you first. I really don’t feel like having to fend off hormonal guys (And do you realize how easy it would be to shag a guy? They basically throw themselves at you.) I know I’m probably missing out on some fun by not going out, but then again, maybe not. Besides, if I’ve gotta cut things out to save money, going out would be the first. I started reading The Firm by John Grisham and I can’t put it down! So yes I just said I’d rather stay in and read a book, than go out, drink and dance with strangers. I’d rather dance and go out with you guys, seriously. In the end, I passed out from reading at 9pm. So yes I turned 23 and I turned old.
Sat—up early from going to bed early. I decide to see more of Airlie and go for a jog/walk. The sun came out briefly for my 4.5 mile jog/walk. The rest of the day was pretty boring. Did a little shopping, booked a hostel for Cairns. Then sadly and pathetically, read more John Grisham and was in bed by 9:30pm. On a saturday night= I. am. lame.
Sunday—Checked out of MAGNUMS, put my big pink suitcase in 3 day storage and had to check into the sailing shop. (See how much checking in and out I have to do on a daily basis?). We had to check in between 1030 and noon. After I checked in, I could do whatever I wanted until 345pm. Blah what a waste of time, especially when its an overcast day.
I sat down on the bench and looked around at who I’d be spending the next 2 days in confined spaces around the Whitsunday Islands (there are 74 tiny islands).. 20 something very young party animals were standing around each holding their own box of Goon, including me (Ahhh we hate it, but we can’t seem to stop buying it. 4.4 liters is about $11-14). Definitely some cute foreign boys as well! The German girls from my Fraser trip were on the boat too. A blonde short haired confident girl began talking to me and of course, asked the same 20 questions. Claire, from England, had quite an interesting story. Although it’s frustrating and repetitive asking and answering the same questions, it’s really intriguing to see how people live, where they’ve travelled and what they’ve done. This 27 year old have backpacked (on and off during a couple years) to about every country in the world for a total of 15 months (All of South America, Europe, Asia and now Australia– do you realize how many countries are in each of those continents?). If you guys think I’m brave, I’m nothing compared to her. It’s inspiring to listen to. We have similar personalities and got on really well. We all walked to our home on the ocean. Pegasus our small white sailboat, in which I found out was the oldest and one of the smallest boats in Airlie Beach (since the 70’s). According to the crew at the ‘orientation’, we have a ‘more chilled out boat, compared to the other backpacker party boats’. Ha, well, ummm, read on. There were 11 small bunk bed style rooms and luckily, Claire was my roommate! Boat left at 4pm and our cute all male crew, Pat, Danny and Johnnie, and we had no idea what to expect. We mingled with everyone and began some fun convos with Sophie (1/2 German, ½ French), Natalie (Swiss), Jarno (adorable blonde male—pronounced Yarno- full german), Claire (English) and me (again the only American). Steak, potatoes and salad for dinner in our very small dining table/kitchen area/bedroom of 4, followed by apple pie with custard for dessert. Pretty impressive for a tiny boat like ours! Then the Goon came out. We played drinking games with the crew. Learned a new game called Think Before you Drink. I dominated at it!! I was helping people with their answers. We’re definitely going to play it at home! Goon was hitting me good. Yess!
Now the sleeping arrangements…. On our Fraser trip, one of the guy just got off Pegusus and was COVERED in bed bug bites all over his body. They’re caused from sleeping on the boats’ mattresses. I was terrified of getting disgusting red bumps so I bought the cheapest sleeping bag I could find ($40 ouchhh). The first night I actually slept on the dock with Sophie. Stopped drinking at 11pm since I had to dive the next day. Quite the sleepless night, rolling around on the top of the boat. But I did wake up before everyone and saw the beautiful sun rise. The next night I (illegally) took my sleeping bag to my mattress and got a full nights sleep.
On Monday, we sailed to the notorious Whitehaven Beach, known for its 98% pure white pristine sand. It’s a historical landmark now so resorts can’t build on it. I’m so glad for that. I love staying at beach hotels like anyone else, but there’s something so special and rare about an untouched, natural beach. Within Whitehaven, another highly photographed area is Betty’s Beach. Not much of an actual curved shaped beach area, but more of a triangle shape. Claire and I took pictures of the beach, naked boys running around, and layed around on the white sand. The weather was pretty overcast the whole trip. None of us were getting tan.
Back on the boat, had another great lunch, rested for an hour and then certified divers got a free dive, while they taught beginnings the basics. Honestly, it might’ve been one of the crappiest warm water dives I’ve done. Visibility was shit, meaning you couldn’t see more than 5 ft in front of your face. Sometimes, you just have crappy water days though so I’m not implying the diving the Whitsunday is always crap. Obviously you want great vis so you can see the great fishes swimming around you and to prevent getting lost by losing your dive group. For the first time, I can say the snorkeling was better than the diving. The coral reef was shallow enough, you could see plenty of fish in great visibility since it’s much closer.
Dinner was sausage, pasta and salad. I’ve never had so much sausage in my life (that would be about 5 whole times) and I’m getting sick of it now. Monday night is when the craziness begins. We started drinking our own individual boxes of Goon; mine of course was Fruity White. Thennn the Goon Olympics started… but ironically none of it involved us drinking Goon. Sunset around 530pm. Around 8, we headed up to the front of the boat. We had 2 team captains and split into 2 teams of 12 each. Normal line games, then, da da da, the clothes came flying off. For our last 2 games, we took any clothing we had on and put all of our clothing the fastest on our team captain. The team that took off the most clothes and therefore, put the most clothes on their team captain, won. Then the classic Greek Week game, take a rope and thread it up and down, through each member’s clothing. But the less clothing you had on, the faster your team went. We dominated, because we were basically naked in front of 24 people. Initially I had on jeans and a hoodie. I’m not that confident with my body so I’m not one to show it all off. Eventually I stripped down to nude colored bra and underwear (gasp!). Mom you would’ve been so proud. Yes that was still ‘covered up’ compared to others. But there were some people who completely hanging out, girls and guys, including our crew members. So much for this ‘not being one of the party boats.’ After the Olympics ended, we kept drinking (with our clothes on) and from the sexual tension going on during the games, people definitely hooked up. The next morning reminded me of Sunday morning brunches at WC—talking about who hooked up with who, what happened after some people went ot sleep. Basically it was just awesome. After that night, we all were closer.
Tuesday – we went snorkeling in the morning. I went with Nat and disappointedly, it was worst than the first day. Eating lunch was interesting, the waves were very choppy. The boat was on an angle for the 3 hour ride home. Food was literally sliding around the table and people flew into other people. I turned white and started to get a little nauseous then. That night we all went out. The crew was supposed to meet us out; they never showed. The 4 blondes hung out together: Sophie, Claire, Nat and Me. We pregamed with the rest of our Goon. It worked pretty well since I don’t think any of us bought a single drink. We danced like drunken idiots, had some great girl conversations, and kissed some boys.
Overall, this was a truly awesome trip, better than Fraser because of the awesome people. Since I don’t party that often, it was so nice to meet some friends, where the convo went beyond just partying (although it may not sound like it). The pictures from the whole trip involve lots of body parts, which unfortunately you won’t be seeing. I felt like me with these girls and that was a great feeling to have friends. I’ll see Claire again in Cairns next week & Sophie is coming back to Sydney for a bit before she goes home. I can’t wait to see them again!
5th stop—Ayr—Wreck Dive May 13-15
Bright and early, 745 am to catch a 930am bus to the ridiculously small town of Ayr. Travelling on the bus with friends, Claire and Jarno, felt much more like home. The 3 ½ hour ride(my shortest bus ride!) flew sitting next to friends, instead of sitting next to strangers (that means no 20 questions!). In Ayr, I wasn’t there to sight see the town, but sightsee underwater. One of the top 5 dive sites in the world is near Ayr, in Alva Beach, called SS Yongala Dive. I really enjoy diving, especially since this was a shipwreck site and one of the best in the world. I specifically altered all my plans on the trip to see this site.
With a packed bus of 48 people, I was the only one getting off. There was a reason there wasn’t a huge tourist destination. I know I’ve said the other beach town are small, but I take those comments back. Nothing here, kinda like Nimbin without the weed. There are 2 dive companies that go out: Adrenaline Dive and YONGALA DIVE. Yongala picked me up from the bus station and it took 20 minutes to get back to the company. The actual lodge is located in the middle of nowhere. No supermarket, no internet, no phone service, barely even paved streets. In this lodge, underneath was the dive equipment and reception and on top was a clean, brand new hostel lodge, sleeping up to 10 people. Clean hardwood floors with a kitchen area, and tv room. The first day I went out to the beach, read my book and went for a looooong run. This beach is different, it has many water pools and sandbars before the waves broke 300 yds away. Not a single soul on this beach, a hidden beach. I took my ipod and I danced/jogged/walked on the beach until sunset. If anyone was watching, they would’ve been peeing their pants. Back at the lodge, I met Jamie, a cute older dive instructor from Sydney. Jamie has been diving there all week. Started reading a new John Grisham, The Client and passed out by 930pm.
Early start 630am with a great yummy breakfast of Weetbix and honey. Got the wetsuit, vest, mask, fins and hopped into the LandCruiser. It was the same style car from Fraser Island with 3 people up front and 8 crammed in the back. We drove on the beach until we find the boat. We weren’t getting into the water normally from a pier. The small boat, a max of 12 people, was tugged along the beach by a huge John Deere tractor. The tractor reversed and slowly lowered the boat into the water, no pier, no ramp, just picked a spot. 6 guys and 3 girls (each from different nations) all anxious to see the site, braced for a bumpy 45 min ride out to the site. Because it’s a small boat, it’s easily tossed around on the wicked waves. Jamie said this was the calmest day yet, I just laughed. It was almost as bad as the Whitsunday. Thank goodness I took 3 seasickness pills this morning. It’s very common to get sick on this boat, like 3 people did today. I was getting nervous, closer we got, worried how challenging this dive would be. It’s 27 meters down (88 ft), which I think is pretty shallow for a wreck dive. The max depth with a basic OPEN WATER DIVER card is 60 ft, but I know in some of my previous dives I’ve gone to 80 ft. Beyond that, you need to get more study more, and pass a test to be certified to dive that deep. I read 20 pages and answered the test before the boat went out. Everyone had varied experience on the boat from instructors to newbies to intermediates like me (I’ve done about 30 dives in 5 years).
Suiting up, air on, fins on, regulator in mouth, backwards roll off the side of the boat, splash into the water. 5 minutes later, I’m clearing my ears and descending down 90 feet. You always dive with a buddy so we’re all buddied up with someone. We land on the sand and have to do some exercises to pass the Deep Dive test. Then we get to explore. This is a massive liner, sank in 1911 by a cyclone which carried freight, 1st and 2nd class passengers, 1 horse and 1 bull (random I know). Not only is this a gigantic ship, but it’s now the hang out for THOUSANDS of wildlife, completely covered in coral. In the first 5 minutes of being down, there was a sting ray close to me, devil ray swimming above. Kobe kingfish (looks like baby sharks), clownfish (finding nemo fish!), thousands of colorful fish, and my absolute favorite a big turtle! It was breathtakingly BEAUTIFUL. I told the crew how I’m slightly scared to see the ‘friendly, non poisonous’ sea snakes. Just my luck, the snakes smelled my fear. 3 or 4 long 2 foot snakes swam too close within my comfort zone. My face turned white and my eyes bugged out while the instructors were laughing underwater. I lost so much air trying to swim away from them.
I couldn’t get over how incredibly beautiful it is. Everywhere I swam, schools of big and tiny fish were swimming around me. Was down for 35 minutes and time goes so fast. There’s always something fascinating to stare at.
We came up for an hour break, then back down for another 40 minutes underwater. This time, the instructor pointed out the 2 coral covered toilets, glass windows, a claw footed bathtub and the insides of the wreck. It’s illegal to swim through (or penetrate) the wreck, but looking through it, you can envision how large it was back in 1911. It’s remarkable for a boat to be that pristine and every part still intact. It seriously was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. On most dives you see a couple colorful fish and a little coral. But I was swimming with the THOUSANDS of species of fish in one area. Diving from now on will have high expectations and would surely disappoint me.
6th stop—Cairns May 15-16
Last bus ride 930am—530pm = 8 hours! Wahoo! It’s been pretty crowded but I was determined to have 2 seats to myself (call me selfish, but you’d fight for them too!). Jamie and I sat together, he’s getting off at the next stop to catch a plane back to Sydney. After he got off, luckily no one attempted to sit with me. I must smell, but hell that is just fine with me for today. I’m writing while on the bus and is it sad to say I haven’t talked to a single soul the whole time? Truly, I don’t mind at all, actually relieved. I don’t feel like starting up convo. I know it’s the same questions and answers, all while trying to look enthused about repeating the same stuff for the past 20 days.
Arrived in Cairns and checked into my hostel, JJ’s Backpackers. Nice enough place. The owners are so accommodating. They made us a huge sausage BBQ (I’m so sick of sausages!) with tons of side foods. Apparently, they do that every Saturday night, which is so extremely appreciated for backpackers who live off of pasta. That night, I met up with Flo from the Whitsunday trip. Met the people at his hostel, drank some quality Goon and we went off to WOOLSHED, the notorious backpacker party pub. Lonely Planet quoted it as, ‘if you can’t get laid at Woolshed, you can’t get laid anywhere.’ We had an awesome night. Then the next morning, he was leaving to go to Bali. One of the cons of traveling: you find someone you actually enjoy being with, but you both have different travel plans and more than likely will never see then again in your life. Today I hung out at the Lagoon—this free pool in the heart of Cairns. There’s not much of a beach so everyone recovers from their hangovers here. The weather sunny and wonderfully hot—about time! I’d be waiting for this. At the Lagoon, they had Saturday markets of little booths of clothing, jewellery, etc. I met an older American man (50ish) and we talked for awhile about young travelers in Australia. The Gap Year concept (travelling around the world after high school or uni) is so common, its actually encouraged in European countries. The concept is so unheard of in the States. He was just amazed listening to how young travellers do it, the idea of hostel rooms, how we travel around, where we go. He went on a day boat trip and met tons of young foreigners. He was surprised at how much they knew about our country and (for the most part), how intrigued they were with America. You don’t realize until you leave the country, but we are a huge powerhouse country. Whatever happens to our country effects the world. They knew more about us, because their economy is likely determined by our economy. Our pop culture is widely known. Travellers from all countries know the major movie stars, actors and singers. The only con to them being so interested in us is: we know nothing about them.
7th stop—Cape Tribulation May 17-18
Wanderers booked a Cape Trib tour with Tropics Explorer. This company will pick me up from my hostel, drop me off at my Cape Trib hostel, pick me up again, drop me off at Port Douglas hostel, then finally pick me up from Port Douglas to go back to Cairns. Pretty sweet deal! Otherwise it costs $75 for a shuttle to pick and drop you off. They picked me up at 8am, and drove the most magnificent, windy, spiral highway Capt Cook Highway which borders the ocean. It was one of the drives where car companies use for commercials. We went an hour crocodile boat cruise, where we saw 5 crocs. We went to a couple amazing lookout points, learned that one of their biggest crops is sugar cane, and after 2 hours of driving, made it into the rainforest Daintree. This is the 2nd biggest rainforest in the world, next to the Amazon (aka Holly would’ve loved it). Did some bushwalking (aka normal walking) through the rainforest and marveled at the trees. Stayed at PK’s Village, ‘supposedly’ the party resort, set in the jungle with not another business for a mile. Before coming out to the large breathtaking beach of Cape Trib, you pass through the rainforest. Back home, its just straight to the beach, or coming out from your hotel on the beach. Here its so secluded, lying on the beach in front and the green rainforest and high mountains behind you. Really so beautiful. Met a really sweet, fun girl, Charlotte from England. That night we played a couple rounds of some fun card game. Absolutely no party at night and barely anyone was there. It was the most boring hostel I’ve ever stayed in. They had a nice bar/ restaurant, but meals costs between $9- $20. Char and I decided to go to the local convenience store and buy some cheap food. We bought tuna, wheat rolls, eggs, baked beans. Out of the ordinary combos huh? After splitting the price, it costs us a whopping $4 for 1 dinner, 1 breakfast and 1 lunch, quite the deal. We went to bed at 10pm; that’s super early at a hostel! They also charged you for everything! You had to pay for plastic plates, cups, utensils, etc. The kitchen facility was crap so we ate straight out of the pan/bowl. The tin openers were secured to the metal sink with a metal wire. There was no microwave. It was just crap. We had the most interesting meals though: tuna with sweet chili sauce and couscous out of the Tupperware container for lunch. Repeat with eggs on top for dinner. It was so ghetto and looking disgusting, but seriously so good.
8th stop—Port Douglas May 18-20
2 weeks into traveling, my very last week and I’m finally having fantastically warm sunny weather. The company picked me up from the PK’s and dropped me off an hour south in Port Douglas, a rich resort seaside town. When you drive into the main part of town, the road is lined with palm trees, as if you’re entering a resort. Again there is one major street with shops and pubs. There’s also a beautiful marina at the end of the road. On the other end of the road, is 4 Mile Beach, a smooth flat endless beach. I went for a run on it and it was better than running on the road. I stayed at Parrotfish Lodge, one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Has a great bar with cheap food, colorful large rainbow colored rooms and a pool lounge area, not to mention extremely helpful staff! On my first day there, I walked around the town and down to the marina. There’s not much to do at Port. I really wanted to do a horse ride. Wagga Beach Ride picked me up for a 3.5 hour horse ride on the beach. We had a small group: the cute young guide, me, and 2 italians on their honeymoon who’d never ridden before. I live on a farm and obviously have some experience on a horse. Just my luck, they give me the slowest horse out of 32! I was sooo pissed off I would never recommend it again. What really made me love the trip was the bus driver, Tom. For an hour, Tom told me all about his life, living on a ranch and working as a sheep shearer for 25 years in the middle of nowhere towns of Australia. These weren’t the touristy, they were places where getting to use a phone was a big deal. He told me you get really close to the people you’re working with all the time, but then you’re sent to different locations every 2-3 weeks for a new job. He still keeps in touch with many of his old shearing friends. They all slept in the same hotel/hostel. Showers weren’t showers. They were cold water pumped from a well and dumped on your body. Every night they would go out to the local bars and start bar fights and pick up girls. It was absolutely fascinating listening to him talk about ‘the real Australia’. That was the best part of the whole trip in Port Douglas. It’s meeting open, friendly people that make each travelling experience so unique.
9th stop—Back to Cairns May 20-22
I arrived back to Cairns with just a couple days left on my big tropical adventure. I stayed at Bohemia Resort (where I stayed with my mom) only because it came with the travel package. It’s a nice hostel, a great pool and a yummy free weat bix breakfast, but its entirely too far into the main heart of the city where the action and fun happen. They have shuttles that only go until 11pm, while other hostels run theirs until 4am (which is obviously much needed!). I walked home one night and it took 25 minutes! Normally I wouldn’t mind it, but at 3 in the morning I did!
The best part about Cairns, is its very backpacker friendly. Most hostels will have vouchers for free meals at 3-4 local pubs. Free food includes: some type of pasta, bangers and mash, chicken schnitzel (fried chicken), fish and chips. Or you can upgrade for $5-7 to a healthier option: grilled chicken with honey mustard, salmon, salad, etc. The bars and hostels all fight for backpacker money so they’re always advertising free food. They usually the backpackers will stay at the pub they ate dinner at. The notorious WOOLSHED gives you free meal, drink and dessert for under $10. It’s not dainty portion sizes either, they’re pretty massive. Definitely enough to fill you up.
The night I got back I did a pub crawl around 5 bars. It was alright—met loads of people. They played very sexual games which made it a surefire way for people to drink and hook up. See the pictures! Funny pictures but when horny people got drunk and obnoxious fast, I was rather annoyed. Since I’m generally sober with strangers, the guys were hitting on the very young immature easy girls.
The next morning I got super early and did a boat trip out to the Reef again, because it was included as free with my package. It was with Reef Daytripper. The actual ride out was 2 hours so the 25 passengers laid on the catamaran. It was a fairly quiet group, didn’t meet many people. Most of them all came together so they didn’t venture out to meet new people. The snorkeling at Upolu Cay was pretty great. On each boat trip, there’s always the option of doing a dive or 2. I never pass them up since I’ll never get to dive in warm water back home. We went through a bunch of caves and tunnels but after doing the Yongala, it was absolutely nothing in comparison. I think every dive after that will just disappoint me immensely. The weather was warm and beautiful so that made up for any lack of repeated conversation. The boat trip (Passions of Paradise) I did with mom in March was much better, more interesting people to talk to. The staff wasn’t that friendly, they seemed bored and didn’t interact with anyone.
Summary of travelling
When I first started this trip, I knew this month would fly the fastest out of the 4 I’ve been here. It definitely has. I’m packing up now, hoping my pink suitcase is under the weight limit of 23 kilos (50 pounds). This was my first ‘backpacker’ experience, of constantly being on the move, living with other people and always rearranging your suitcase. It’s always so nice to return home though. Living out of a suitcase and sleeping on buses sounds like the rockstar life. I was just missing my screaming fans, haha. I’m so glad that I did this trip, first one of many more to come. I proved to myself that I can live out of a suitcase, make decisions, make trips on time (you know, just barely) and befriend people I just met. I’m supposed to be flying home on June 29, but I feel like I’m just getting a taste of OZ. Ahhh what do the next few months hold? 🙂