Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fraser Island, QLD

Fraser Island is a 120km long island just off the coast of Eastern Australia. It is an island made up entirely of sand and is the largest sand island in the world. We left Pippies guest house around 10am to the barge that would take us to the island. I wasn’t too stressed out about the crossing because I knew it would only take 15 minutes or so. Amit was the first to drive the old Land Rover 4x4 we would be driving in over the next few days. Both Amit and Trace had just finished their 3 year military training in Israel (read: dessert) so we weren’t too concerned about their abilities to drive the car in the sand. It didn’t take long to reach the barge and in less than 15 minutes we had reached the south end of Fraser Island.

You can only drive on the west side beach of Fraser Island (named 75 mile beach because of its length) because the east side, they claim, is too dangerous. The tides are the main area of concern as when the tide is high, in some areas, it’s impossible to drive. When the tide is in, the beach becomes a lot more narrow as the water can reach all the way to the sand dunes. When we arrived the tide was just going down and although the water wasn’t at its highest point, there were a couple of spots where we had to actually drive through the water. This isn’t necessarily dangerous on its own, but if you do stop in the water, the water will washout the sand from under your wheels and your car will be stuck and worst case scenario swept away. Not to mention the salt water is not good for the car as it can cause corrosion and rust. I’m happy to say Amit handled it all smoothly.

We drove on the beach for around 30 minutes when all of a sudden we pulled over seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Travelling from Pippies there were a total of 3 cars. The first car is driven by the guide who shows us around the island, the second car had 8 people in it and we were the third. The place where we stopped turned out to be a place where we can collect clams in the sand, or specifically Pippies, as these clams are names. Apparently the guest house we were staying at was named after these clams. Our guide, Tony, showed us you can tell there is a clam in the sand by the raised sand in the shape of a circle. With your finger you dig around the circle, dig in and pull up the clam. With everyone walking up and down the beach looking for the clams we dug up around 100 clams. We had to be careful while walking on the beach, as it’s actually a highway with a speed limit of 80km/h and when driving you have to follow all the highway traffic laws. So while we were walking around the beach, other cars were swooshing past us. It’s a little bit annoying but the beach isn’t really meant for swimming due to the high currents and rip tides so it’s unlikely you would actually spend a lot of time on the beach.

Our next stop was Lake Mackenzie, and Trace delivered us there safely. . When we arrived we ate the lunch we had made that morning, and during lunch I found a small leech on my foot. I caught it quickly enough so that it didn’t have time to attach itself. Of course I screamed like a little girl and made Andrew deal with it. He did, but he then found he couldn’t get it off of himself. Eventually he did without any further bloodsucking incident.

Lake Mackenzie is a fresh water lake on Fraser but what differentiates is that it has beautiful white silica sand so it makes it look as blue as the ocean and not the murky water we’re used to in Canada. It was quite warm outside in the sunshine so I waded into the water but wasn’t brave enough to dip myself in fully. It wasn’t that warm when you were wet and the cool wind was blowing on your skin. Andrew didn’t have these issues and had no problems jumping in. Some of the guys from the other car, namely Rasmus, Joah and Linus, also didn’t have any problems jumping in or even pushing, launching, throwing, flinging and hurling themselves into the water. They would even dive head first into the water from the shore. There were more than a few (and what looked like painful) belly flops. Rasmus, Joah and Linus were from Sweden and were already drunk on goon, and it turned out would not sober up for the rest of the trip. I honestly thought they were crazy. Since we were the last car and they were in front of us, we would get mooned by them multiple times. I felt sorry for the other people in their car, since the goon was flowing nonstop in their car.

I need to make a side note here about goon. Goon is something I was introduced to on this trip and I have to say it’s not too bad. Goon is basically the cheap boxed or bagged wine. It costs $12 for 4.5L so for that reason alone it’s very popular amongst the backpackers. I say it’s not too bad because to me it tastes like grape juice with some “spirytus” in it (90% proof alcohol). It’s very strong so you get a lot of kick for your buck, but the hangover (as I witnessed that trip) is a killer. You can be knocked off ass for up to a full day afterwards, obviously depending on how much you drank the night before.

So Rasmus, Joah and Linus were all very drunk on goon before we even arrived at our first stop at Lake Mackenzie and even more drunk by the time we arrived at our second stop at Eli Creek. The sun would start setting shortly when we arrived at Eli Creek but apparently, according to Tony our guide, we all had to get in and get wet even though we were freezing. Apparently it was “tradition”. Eli Creek is kind of like a lazy river. It winds down slowly from the forest and if the weather was warmer I would have enjoyed it a lot more. After everyone made their way down the river, we all just hung around on the beach trying to soak in the late afternoon sun and warm up. Some people posed for a photo and Andrew got a good pic with Rasmus flashing the camera. The funny thing was no one noticed except Andrew, even though Tony was also taking a picture.

After Eli Creek we headed to camp, where we picked out tents. When it was time to start making dinner Trace and Amit took over and made a delicious rice and chicken for us in a sweet and sour sauce, so the rest of us were on dishwashing duty. Part of spending time on Fraser Island is getting to see the various animals that live on the island. One of those animals is the Dingo and as we found out they like to hang around camp hoping for any food scraps to fall their way. Dingoes are kind of like a mix between a wolf and a dog. They look like a dog but behave like wolves. They are not domesticated at all and are known to attack people. Joggers especially have been known to have their calves bit into by the dingo’s while (or whilst, as they say here in Australia) small children have been known to be killed by them. So it was a little disconcerting having them circle our camp and watch us while we were washing dishes. The fact it was mating season and therefore the dingoes were more aggressive made me even more nervous. Tony, our guide, told us to make sure we were always walking in pairs when going to the toilet. No one was really paranoid but everyone kept an eye on the dingo’s as they kept their eyes on us.

We all had a beer during dinner and it seemed that was all anyone from our group would have. Everyone except Andrew. Of the 30 beers we had, Andrew drank 9 that night by himself. That is when I knew the 30 beers would not be enough for this trip. But how much Andrew drank that night does not compare to how much Rasmus and friends drank that night. In addition to our camp, next to us was another camp from another hostel, Nomads. We were told we were welcome to go over there but if we got asked to leave by one of the guides, we would need to leave. While the people from our car were busy playing cards, Rasmus and (most of) the people from his car were throwing themselves off the tables. I sat by the fire amused by the contrast as well as awaiting when one of them would get seriously hurt. Linus sat beside me completely passed out. He had drank so much goon in the car throughout the day that he just passed out and we could not wake him up. Later someone found him in their tent and had to throw him out. Not sure where he ended up sleeping. The fire started going out and I decided to head off to bed, but Rasmus and his friends decided to go to the other camp, and Andrew accompanied them. Within an hour Tony was bringing them all back because of complaints from the guide of the other camp. Apparently one of them took a metal pipe and was swinging it around, while Rasmus threw himself into the fire and some other guy (apparently not Rasmus, Joah or Linus) tried to grab a girl and nearly broke her wrist.

If the first night was interesting, the morning after was even more interesting as we all had to get up at 7am. Having gone to bed at 2am completely inebriated some of the people who rolled out of the tents were almost unrecognizable. It was amusing to watch because you could tell they were all worn out and I thought perhaps partied out. We made breakfast and headed off to the northern part of the island to see the champagne pools. This was a beach and part of it was surrounded by rocks, kind of like a lagoon, so it was calm enough to swim, but the waves breaking over the rocks and then rolling into the lagoon caused the water to foam and made it look bubbly like champagne. The sun was shining and we were protected from the wind by the surrounding hills so it was warm enough to swim.

We spent a couple of hours there and then headed off to our next stop, which wasn’t too far away. We hiked to the top of a hill and were rewarded with a beautiful view of the island and the ocean. Jonah, one of the Swedes, did not even attempt to make it to the top. We left him behind by the car to puke his guts out. I think that was at least the 3rd time that day. After we had lunch we went to see the Tea Tree Lake. Tony said we probably wouldn’t swim in it because most people chicken out when they get there. Sure enough, the lake looked menacing. The water was completely black, coloured by the tea tree oil. There was no hope of seeing the bottom. There were some stairs that led right into the lake and a whole bunch of turtles swam up to us. There were at least 5 or 6 small turtles. As soon as I saw the colour of the lake I didn’t want to go in anymore. Up until that point I was confident I would be going in. “Are there snakes in there?” I asked. “Of course” Tony replied, “They were also in Lake Mackenzie yesterday and you weren’t afraid of swimming there”. Yeah, but the water was crystal clear there so I knew if there would have been a snake I would have seen it. I knew I wouldn’t see one here until it attacked me. Ok, I knew that was an exaggeration and a snake probably wouldn’t attack me, but you never know. Tony started talking about how good tea tree oil is for your skin and how it helps heal any cuts, scrapes or bruises, and some people started going in, their skin looking orange underwater because of the tea tree oil. I figured, if they can do it, so can I. I went it and it wasn’t so scary but the water was freezing. The top layer had been warm, warmed by the day’s sun, but we had stirred the water up so much with our swimming it was all cold now. We had swam out into the lake and the water was even colder and the water was pitch black around us. Andrew joined us and was also surprised by how cold the water us. The sun would be setting soon and it was low in the sky so it wasn’t providing too much warmth anymore. After a few minutes we all climbed out. There was one older lady (I say older because she was in her 50’s…not to say that’s old but if definitely threw the average age off) from Hamilton Ontario and she decided to go for a swim too. She went in the water but her swimming looked more like drowning and we weren’t sure if we should jump in and save her. We snickered behind her back, which wasn’t nice, but it was really funny to watch her swim.

These are all the turtles that would swim up to us. They were all quite small.

This is Anne, not the funny swimming older lady. I loved how orange the skin looked in the water due to the tea tree oil.

Our next destination was a lookout over a very large sand dune which ran across the whole island. We learned these dunes are created naturally; as the wind from the ocean blows, it blows the sand across. Grain by grain a large sand dune is formed and eventually it cuts across the whole island. This isn’t necessarily good as it buries whole trees. Apparently the small bushes we saw sticking out from the sand were actually the tops of trees which had been buried by the sand.

We headed back to camp and prepared dinner. It was an interesting moment when we sat down for dinner and everyone in our group discovered there were only 5 beers left for the 6 of us. Andrew looked a little sheepish knowing he contributed greatly to the lack of beer. This meant we wouldn’t have anything to drink for the rest of the night. Obviously 30 beers had not been enough for 6 people. This night a second group had joined us from Pippies. This was their first night and our second, and last night. The groups kept to separate sides all throughout and after dinner. The second group was playing a drinking game (Zumi Zumi…anyone ever heard of this?) and at one point one of the guys got up on the table and took his shirt off and was swinging it around. On that side of the room they were all cheering, and Andrew said to me “I bet you Rasmus is not going to let this go…he’s going to take his pants off for us. Let’s go see this”. Our side of the room were also playing a drinking game. This one didn’t have a name but basically everyone had to come up with an animal and have a sign for that animal as well as a sound. You were assigned a sign and a sound and whoever called out your sign/sound you had to get up, do your animal sign/sound and then call out someone else’s sign/sound. If you didn’t do it in that order, you had to drink. This was probably the funniest drinking game I had ever seen and I wasn’t even drinking (because Andrew had drank all our beer the night before). Watching everyone get up and do various sound was hilarious because the animals were sharks, snakes, dogs, cows and even a Tasmanian devil. It didn’t take long for Rasmus to make Andrew’s prediction come true. He got up on the table, screamed “What time is it?” and we all yelled back “It’s party time!!”. He had been walking around yelling this out over the past 2 days. Even when he would just wake up we would ask him, “Rasmus, what time is it?” and he would mutter “It’s party time”. Sometimes he would add “But I’m all partied out”. This time he was yelling at the top of his lungs and so were we. As he was standing on the table yelling, Linus ran up behind him and pulled his pants down. He wasn’t wearing any undies so he was fully on display for everyone to see. At first he was a little surprised but then he just went with it and was swinging it around. That was not the only time his Johnson made an appearance that night. It would be on display many times that evening. The other group were almost stunned into silence. Later on I was talking to one of the guys in our group, Greg, and he said after the shirt swinging incident in the other group, Rasmus came up to Greg and said “We have to party harder”. He stayed true to his word. By the end of the evening our group was going wild and a lot of people were dancing on the tables, while the other group went to sleep. Greg was so drunk we somehow convinced him to drink some spilled goon from the table. He one upped us and snorted it too. It was so disgusting I actually gagged. I was just sorry that I was sober because I would have totally joined in on the party…but not the goon snorting.

Andrew, Melissa, Fabian and I went for a walk to the beach as we were the only sober ones. The night was pitch black and there was no moon so it was very dark. The sky looked amazing with all the stars. But it was also very eerie because we couldn’t really see anything and even when our flashlights were on the dark just swallowed the light right up. I was also worried there were Dingoes watching us just at the edges of the light, where we couldn’t quite see them. That night the dingoes were a lot more aggressive with each other. They were stilling circling the camp but would get into quite aggressive scuffles with each other. I was worried they would take that aggression out on us. Luckily we didn’t run into any dingoes and headed off to bed even though some people were still partying. Tony told us we had to be up at 6am the next day to beat the high tides.

The tides had been very high the past few nights and Tony was worried we wouldn’t be able to make it off the island in time for the next high rise. I don’t know how but Tony actually managed to get everyone out of bed by 6:30am. I was talking to Greg the next morning and he didn’t even remember goon snorting incident. He was disgusted with himself but laughed about it too. There was only one place left to visit. It was about a 45min hike to another, smaller, sand dune and it had a clear freshwater lake at the bottom of it. When we got there we could see huge catfish swimming in it. That morning was fairly quiet as everyone was still recuperating from the night before. We hung out there for a couple of hours, had lunch in town and then headed back to mainland.

When we arrived back at Pippies guest house I was just happy to see a normal bathroom again with a shower. Even though it had only been a couple of days I felt filthy. We made dinner and spent some time chatting with Anne, a girl who had been on the Fraser trip with us. We would end up hanging around with her all the way to the Whitsundays. That night everyone headed over to the bar next door, Fraser’s, for karaoke night. After the bar shut down we headed back to the hostel where some of the people who were working there for accommodation (2 Canadians!) had gone dumpster diving and came back with a load of bread that had been thrown out. The bread was still good and we pigged out on it before going to bed.

The next day Andrew and I went to the beach. The past few days had exhausted us so we just chilled out. That night some new people had arrived at Pippies and were getting to go on their Fraser trip the next day. We all ended up drinking that night. It was a tough morning the next day but we knew we had to get up early as we were heading to 1770.

Rainbow Beach, QLD

Once we left Tin Can Bay it was a short drive to Rainbow Beach. Rainbow Beach is one of two gateways to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. We weren’t sure if we should book a trip to Fraser Island from here or from Hervey Bay, which was the other gateway to Fraser. I wanted to book from Rainbow Beach because the ferry crossing was only 15 minutes and around an hour from Hervey Bay.

The town of Rainbow Beach is quite small with only a handful of stores, but it has a very beautiful beach and large exquisite sand dunes. Unfortunately the water was quite rough and the wind quite cold so we couldn’t really go swimming. We walked around the town and tried to find the best deal for Fraser. We ended up booking with Tribal travel which included 3 nights at Pippies Hostel. We would be leaving to Fraser Island first thing tomorrow morning so we decided to spend our first night at Pippies that night (and shower ) and then use the remaining two free nights after we came back from Fraser Island.

That afternoon we attended the orientation session and met the people who would be in our cars. We had 6 people in our car, which was smaller than the usual 8. We thought this was nice since we would have more room in our car but it turned out we had more trunk space, not room for passengers. The people in our group consisted of me and Andrew, Melissa and Fabian from Switzerland and Trace & Amit from Israel. In addition to driving in the same car and taking turns driving, we would also be cooking together which meant we needed to go shopping together.

It was an interesting experience trying to shop for food for 3 days for 6 people who didn’t know each other. Not only because we were all strangers but because dietary concerns were also brought into the mix. Andrew and I eat pretty much anything, but Melissa is a vegetarian and Amit and Trace keep Kosher. We spent a lot of time at the grocery store trying to figure out all the meals for 3 days but somehow we did it. We bought a lot of cheese for Melissa for her lunch sandwiches, turkey breast for the Israeli guys and sausage for everyone else. Dinner was much simpler as we made rice with veggies and chicken, but we cooked the chicken separately so Melissa could eat with us. On day 2 we had vegetarian pasta. The most interesting part was the alcohol. Melissa and I let the guys decide on the alcohol and I found it interesting that they only came out with 30 beers for the 3 days. I asked Andrew if he was sure this was enough and he said the other guys claimed they didn’t drink a lot. I knew 30 beers was nothing between 6 people but I also didn’t know if Andrew and I just drank a lot compared to the other people or if they really didn’t drink that much. I guessed we would find out. That evening we went to bed early as we had to get up quite early to get ready to leave. Fraser Island would turn out to be one of the more interesting experiences we would have in Australia.


Beerwah was really just a free rest stop for us. We went there just to spend the night, make some food and then head to the Australia Zoo. We were excited as this was the first free rest stop we were staying at which we had found in our new book. We stayed there overnight and while getting ready to make something to eat we met a guy named Phil and started chatting with him. It turned out Phil is in the Australian Navy and was on a 2 week leave for a vacation. He was very friendly and even marked all the places we had to see all over Australia in our camping book. While talking with him we made breakfast and by the time we were done it was already 11:30am so we knew we had to get going to the zoo. We exchanged contact info with Phil and said goodbye.

We arrived at the Australia Zoo near noon. We were worried we wouldn’t have time to see everything we wanted to see but the ticket agent said we would need at least 4 hours to see everything, and since we’re quick tourists we knew we would have plenty of time to see everything. The entry tickets were $59 each, which we thought were quite expensive but we really wanted to visit the zoo. In addition we paid another $2 each to visit the animal hospital the zoo had set up.

The Australia Zoo was started by Steve Irwin’s (Crocodile Hunter) parents. Steve Irwin met his wife while they were both working there and then took over running the zoo later on. After Steve died his wife took over running the zoo. This is very much a family place and it’s especially evident in the letters, pictures and awards which are on display in Steve’s memory. I also found it to be a very personal place for Steve as you can see how involved with the zoo he really was. Everywhere you look there is a story from Steve’s perspective about each animal or from someone else’s perspective on how Steve was involved with that animal. An example of that are the crocodiles. Each croc has a plaque that says how it was saved or captured by Steve or his father. You can read about each adventure of how each animal arrived at the zoo. On display there are also items with stories behind them. For example, Steve’s boot with scratches on it from a croc bite where he explains how the bite happened. I loved reading all the firsthand accounts. Of course there is also a lot of information about Steve and his death and the letters the zoo received from his fans after he died.

Because we had spent so much time talking with Phil, we missed the “big croc feed” at 11am. That’s the big show the zoo puts on “Crocodile Hunter Style”. We were able to see the elephant show where they get washed and fed. Background information is provided about how the animals arrived at the zoo and how they are kept entertained. Apparently an Elephant’s mind is like that of a human 7 year old, but as the elephant keepers said “You don’t want a 2 ton 7 year old getting bored as they can cause a lot of havoc”. They keep them entertained by creating walking tracks for them by spreading peanut butter on the grass, or they go swimming in their pool, or they teach them commands to help with the grooming process. Basically they need to keep their minds stimulated so they don’t start getting bored.

We liked this zoo a lot more than the Featherdale Zoo we had visited while in Sydney because the grounds were much better maintained and you could tell the animals were well cared for. In Featherdale zoo the kangaroo’s had a small space where they could walk around whereas here they had acres. Also, here the staff walked around with some animals so as you were walking from one exhibition to the next, you could stop and pat a wombat (officially my new favourite animal), or you could pet and partially hold a baby crocodile. You could also tell all the trainers loved their job and were very dedicated to what they do. The tiger handlers get right into the tiger area and wrestle with the tigers. It takes years to build up a relationship like that with them. It was amazing to watch.

We then attended a croc feeding show. This was not as large as the one at 11am but we still were able to learn a little about how crocs hunt and watch the handlers feed them.

After the croc feeding we walked around the rest of the zoo and at the end we visited the animal hospital. It was great to see because the procedure/operation rooms are all behind soundproof glass and you are able to see as the vets work on animals and you can see right into the area where animals are recovering. While we were there the vets were working on a brown snake (one of the top 10 venomous snakes in the world) and another vet was walking around with a baby koala in her arms. The koala was sleeping but it had various tags attached to it which meant it was recovering from something. The koala was super cute and he looked like a little baby in the vet’s arms.

Once we left the zoo we started driving north once again. Since it’s winter here in Australia it gets dark fairly early. So when we arrived in Noosa around 7pm it was already very dark. We didn’t know very much about Noosa but had been told by some people it was worth a visit. The town looked nice enough. A very typical beach town. We parked at the beach and discovered they had free showers. I was very excited since we hadn’t showered in a couple of day. Living in the car is not that difficult except for the lack of certain amenities. Namely the toilet and the shower. The toilet situation we can typically figure out, but free showers are harder to come across. That’s why we were excited. And it looked like we weren’t the only backpackers with the same idea. There was only one shower stall and I had to wait for it to free up…and then there was a girl waiting after me. There was also a guy sitting right at the entrance with a laptop on his lap. I guess he needed to charge up his battery and this was the only plug he could find. The life of a backpacker…sitting around in shitty public bathrooms.

After we had both showered we drove around Noosa for a bit but it was a small town. The homes in the area seemed to suggest it wasn’t a poor town either. We didn’t plan on staying there mostly because we were heading towards Tin Can Bay to see some wild Dolphins.

We arrived in Tin Can bay around 10pm and decided to spend the night in the marina parking lot. Tin Can Bay is a tiny town which normally doesn’t make it on any tourist map. The main reason people come here (like us) is to see some wild dolphins. I guess the term “wild” is open to interpretation but basically these are dolphins that live in the wild but every morning come to the marina for a feeding.

We spent the night at the marina parking lot which wasn’t too bad because it was also right next to a public pool and therefore access to free bathrooms. Unfortunately they didn’t have showers but the running water where we could brush our teeth was nice. We woke up early in the morning and made our way over to the spot where the dolphins come. It’s near a café and I swear it’s almost like the café planned it this way. It was Sunday morning, 7am, and there were already at least 50 people there. I’m sure a lot of them had bought their breakfast there this morning. More importantly, the dolphins were already there was well.

The two dolphins were just hanging around in the water by the beach with one of the volunteers standing in between them. We could all get in the water with them and touch them if they would let us. Which they didn’t. There were too many excited kids splashing around for them to approach anyone too closely. The volunteer said our chances of the dolphins letting us touch them would increase if we would hold still. He also explained how this feeding started taking place. Apparently in the 1950’s a hurt dolphin was found in the marina by some fisherman and over a 2 month period they nursed him back to health. Once he was well he swam away and they thought that was the end of him in the marina. However the next morning he showed up again and that is how the morning feedings started. Over time he would bring his “girlfriends” and his kids. Once he died his oldest child, in this case a female, took over and she started bringing her family to feed. Once she passed away her son took over and now he brings his family to feed every morning. He apparently has 5 girlfriends but only 1 of them accompanies him to the feedings along with his son. The volunteers think his son will take over once this dominant male dies. This morning it was only the dominant male and one of his girlfriends. His son did not come in. At first I thought it wasn’t a good thing to keep feeding the dolphins because then they don’t learn how to hunt for themselves but apparently they only feed them 25% of their daily required food intake. They still have to hunt for the remaining 75% alone. In addition, the dominant male must hunt for food for all of his girlfriends.

I loved learning about the dolphins and their “lifestyle”. Around 8am we could feed the dolphins if we wanted to by purchasing a $5 bucked that contained 1 fish. We could then take the bucket, walk into the water and hand feed the dolphin the 1 fish. It was more like throwing it to him. Andrew and I chose not to participate. It wasn’t worth the money and we had at least gotten to see the dolphins whether we fed them or not. The surprising thing to me was how many people did want to participate in the feeding. There were at least 100 people lined up to purchase the buckets. And that’s not counting the buckets they were also buying for their kids. This café must make a killing on these fish.

Surfer’s Paradise, QLD

After leaving the campground in Mount Warning we headed to Surfer’s Paradise. This is a town in Queensland (QLD) just on the border with New South Wales (NSW). Although the weather was improving because the clouds had gone away and the sun came out, it still wasn’t hot. It wasn’t cold but I wouldn’t consider it swimming weather. We arrived at Surfer’s Paradise but before we could start exploring we had to eat. We bought a Domino’s Pizza and took it to the beach to eat. The view was great and seeing the salt rise out of the ocean into the air was amazing, unfortunately the winds were quite southerly and quite strong so it was also quite cool. After eating we took a quick stroll on the beach but decided to head more into the city to explore. Surfer’s Paradise has a very “beachy-chick” feel to it. There are a lot of new high rises going up and the town is full of small boutiques. As the name suggests this is surfer’s paradise due to the winds and waves. We walked around the town and Andrew even invested into a pair of flip flops which we paid $2.50 for. This was a big step for him as he had been refusing to purchase a pair since we left Canada and had instead been stealing mine. These flip flops are special because they have the Australian flag on them and say “Australia” in big letters. Now he really looks like a tourist.

We walked around the town a bit and stopped in at a local Tribal Travel shop where we obtained some information about the different things we wanted to do while in Australia. It was getting near dinnertime so we went to Woolies (Australian grocery store) and bought a roasted chicken and some buns and took it back to our van. We had parked right at the beach so we had a great view of the ocean (even though it was evening already) while sitting in our van and eating. The great weather was starting to turn on us and it started pouring. At least we were in the van eating and not walking around. It stopped raining around the time we finished eating so we did some more walking around and headed to the bar. We found an Irish pub which had a live band playing. After paying $15 for 1 beer and 1 drink we promptly decided we would not be frequenting any more bars/clubs while in Australia. Our budget just doesn’t have the room in it. We stayed at the bar until our drinks were finished (and trust me we wanted to drag those drinks out as long as possible since we paid so much!) and decided to look for a place to sleep.

Andrew had heard the police are very strict in the Gold Coast area (Surfer’s Paradise and surrounding areas) with ticketing backpackers that sleep in their vans. The maximum on the spot fine is $1,500. Needless to say we didn’t want to get that kind of ticket as it would eat into our budget drastically. My thought was to get away further from the city and head into the suburbs and just park on the street, but Andrew was very paranoid about this and we spent the next 2 hours driving around the suburbs looking for the “perfect” place to park. In the end it felt like we had driven around every single street in the suburbs and Andrew still wasn’t convinced of any spot. I honestly thought he had lost his mind because he just kept muttering to himself as we drove around. No location seemed to be good enough for him. We settled on a spot in an empty parking lot in an industrial area, but as I got out of the car I saw a very large spider hanging off the tree and it was moving so I said we could not stay there in case it got into the car. So the search started again. We finally settled on a spot in a residential area on the street where we hoped the car would just blend in with the rest of the cars which were parked there. We slept very lightly that night as every sound we heard we thought it might be a cop about to bust us. By 6:30am we had had enough and we got up and headed to the nearest McDonald’s to brush our teeth. We then headed to a park which was at the end of a peninsula and made breakfast there (canned tuna….very exciting). From there we walked along a pier where we saw very large waves breaking. It was very sunny but the wind was still high and the waves breaking on the pier would splash quite high and in places splash over the pier.

It looked like it was about to rain so we headed back to Surfer’s Paradise. The sun managed to stay out and it looked like the day would be beautiful after all. We walked around the walking street and took some pictures but Andrew wanted to go to the beach so we changed in the car and headed to the beach. Since the sun was out it was actually quite nice, but the wind was quite cool. I braved the water but only made it up to my thighs. It was too cold to go all the way in. After a while Andrew braved the cold and the waves and made it up to his chest but he too quickly came out of the water shivering. We dried off a bit, changed in our car and headed off. On the way out of town we stopped at a plaza to get some lunch at Woolies and we came across a map/book shop. There we purchased an atlas/camping guide which gave us the info with all the campgrounds in Australia, including all the free rest stops. Although we paid $60 for the book, we knew it would pay for itself with all the free campgrounds we could stay at. We decided to go to a small town called Beerwah as it was near the Australia Zoo, the home of Steve Irwin.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mount Warning, NSW

We woke up in the morning and headed to the parking lot of Mount Warning to eat our breakfast, which consisted of canned tuna, bread and hot tea. Captain Cook (he discovered Australia) named the mountain Mount Warning because the mountain is visible from the sea and this saved Captain Cook from crashing his ship into rocks off shore in a storm. (It also turns out that very many towns/cities/mountains/attractions are named because of Captain Cook…this gets kind of old after a while. Each town tries to make it sound exciting why they named the town this or that but really it’s all the same story. Captain Cook arrived here in 1770 and noticed this town had a lot of this; he arrived here in 1770 and that’s why we named it that; his boat crashed here and he had to stay here for months to fix it so we name it after him, he saw a kangaroo and decided to name it kangaroo (apparently the aboriginal word for “I don’t know”), etc. Not that it’s wrong to be proud of how the country was discovered, it’s that a lot of towns make such a big deal about it. I don’t think they realize other towns are using the exact same story to differentiate themselves, and after you’ve heard the same story over and over, you realize how unoriginal it is and you start to wonder, is this the only thing this town has going for itself?)

It had been raining quite heavily the past few days and we were hoping today would be more dry. It was drizzling when we headed out for the hike but I was still optimistic. On the board at the bottom of the mountain it said to reach the top of the mountain would only take around 2 hours and 2 hours to come back down so it wouldn’t be too long of a hike. Unfortunately there was really dense cloud coverage so we didn’t have any good views on the way up. The last 300 meters of the hike were vertical rocks which we had to climb with the aid of chains which were there. When we reached the top the view did not improve and everything was white because of the clouds. On the way back down we ran into a few people that were climbing up. About 15 minutes before we reached the bottom it started pouring rain. It wasn’t just raining, it was like a torrential downpour. Initially we tried to walk faster but gave up quite quickly as it didn’t make any difference. I felt sorry for the people I had seen going up in their flip flops. Because it had been raining for the past few days everything in the forest was wet and slippery. With the downpour we had just encountered everything turned to mud and puddles. We had a hard time walking in our running shoes. I even wiped out and fell pretty hard on a large rock and ended up bruising my thigh and arm and scraping my knee, so I’m not sure how the girl with the flip flops fared. By the time we reached the bottom we were completely soaked. Even though we were wearing rain jackets, every single item of clothing was completely drenched, including my underwear. We quickly changed in the car (it’s very convenient living out of your car because everything is very close at hand) and went to a campground we had found near the mountain. There we were able to take hot showers (the first since leaving Sydney) and do our laundry. It was nice to have clean and dry clothes, even if it cost $10 to get them to that state. 1 load of laundry can end up costing quite a lot. Unfortunately our shoes would take a few more days to dry. The campground had a large covered eating area with a gas stove, fridge and toaster. We went back to Murliwumbah to buy some “proper” food and made sausages that night. It was nice to eat something besides tuna and instant noodles. We hung out at the campground that night and it rained the whole night. The next morning we hung around the “camp kitchen” and tried drying our stuff. Unfortunately they were so soaked it would take a lot longer to dry than we thought. I had a brilliant idea to dry our shoes over the gas stove. I removed all the shoe laces and was holding the shoes above the flame until they were steaming. This seemed like a good idea at the time, unfortunately I ended up burning parts my shoes so now when I wear them the burnt parts rub my ankles so much it hurts. I have to wear long socks any time I wear my running shoes now, which is not that often since I live in my flip flops most of the time.

Byron Bay, NSW

When we left Sydney the weather was miserable. It was pouring rain for most of the day. New South Wales (NSW) has a “Driver Reviver” program and the objective is to get drivers to stop every 2 hours to avoid fatigue. Since it was the Easter long weekend, part of the program is to offer free coffee, tea and cookies at stations set up all over NSW. We stopped at a few stations and I think Andrew particularly enjoyed the cookies. On the way up we stopped in at Coffs Harbour, a small town on the North coast of NSW. We arrived in Byron Bay around 9:30pm that evening.
Byron Bay is a small town around 800km north of Sydney which is very popular with backpackers. Over the Easter weekend there was a Blues Festival going on so the town was fully packed. Friends of my aunt and uncle who we had gotten to know quite well were at the festival, and we were trying to meet up with them but in the end it didn’t work out. Byron Bay is a small town with a lot of little stores. It has a very similar feel to Grand Bend in Western Ontario. Because of the festival the town was packed and we didn’t have a place to sleep so we headed 20km’s north of town to a rest stop where we could sleep for free. The rest stop had restrooms we could use but it was also home to one of the “Driver Reviver” stations so we had as much hot tea, coffee and cookies as we wanted. It was nice to wake up to hot tea.

The next day we woke up and went back to Byron Bay, parked the car and headed to the beach. It wasn’t really hot outside but when the sun was out it was quite nice. Unfortunately the sun didn’t stay out for long as big black ugly clouds came along and we were absolutely drenched. We tried running back to the car but after 10 minutes we knew it was pointless. We were soaked anyway. We returned to the car and changed and headed to the lighthouse. The parking there cost $7 and we said no way so we found a free one 200 meters away. We waited for the worst rain to pass and then headed to the lighthouse. Byron bay, and the lighthouse specifically is the most easterly point in Australia. The lighthouse sits at the top of the cliff and the views were stunning. The beach on either side stretched out for miles.

We did some shopping at the local Woolies (see the “slang” section of our blog which will be updated as new slang is discovered) and then headed towards the mountains. It was an hour drive through very small towns, but we finally reached Mount Warning. We went to Murliwumbah to do some shopping. We were lucky enough to find an open Coles as stores typically close quite early in Australia. We walked around a little bit and went for a beer at the local pub. We then went to the very small town of Uki and parked in the back of a bakery for the night.

Leaving Sydney…for now

We stopped working about a week before Easter but decided to hang around Sydney until Easter for a couple of reasons. 1. We wanted to spend Easter with family and 2. We hadn’t properly seen Sydney yet. During the week we were off we spent a lot of time visiting various friend of my aunt and uncles, but we also took a day to visit the parts of Sydney we hadn’t had a chance to do yet. I really like the public transportation in Sydney because besides buses and trains you also have ferry’s you can take home from downtown (if you live close to the water which a lot of people do). You can purchase a day ticket (which costs $20!!!) but it allows you to ride any ferry, train, subway or bus. One day we took a ferry from Circular Quay in Sydney to one of the beaches on North Head, called Manly beach. Although the weather was not warm enough for swimming, we packed a lunch and headed there. The Manly ferry is popular because it’s the longest ferry ride in Sydney and it’s not meant as a tourist attraction and is part of public transportation, a lot of tourists take it as it cruises right by the Sydney Opera house (which I still get excited about every time I see it) and it’s the longest cruise as it takes about 30 minutes. What Andrew and I forgot about is that the week before Easter was also school holidays so the ferry was packed with people and their children. On the way to Manly we didn’t get a chance to see the Opera House because there were so many people but on the way back we did. We spent the day at the beach, ate our lunch and did a small hike around the north head.

We spent Easter Sunday at my uncles parents house. They prepared a beautiful Easter Sunday breakfast, as well as a delicious dinner and then the ladies watched a movie while they guys played some PS3. It felt really great being welcomed into the home of people we only met a couple of months ago. I can honestly say we feel like part of the family now and the reception we received could not have been warmer.

When we got back on Sunday we started packing up our room. The mood from earlier in the day shifted drastically as we all became very quiet. Andrew packed up our stuff and packed up the van. We were leaving in the morning.

We woke up early on Monday, and the plan was to leave by 9am. The 4 of us sat down to breakfast at 8:30am and didn’t get up from the table until 10am. We were having such a great time chatting, the time just flew by. But then it really was time to leave and we were walked out to the car. As we were saying goodbye I was very emotional and may have shed a tear or two. Before coming to Australia I had met my aunt and uncle only once while they were on a 1 week visit to Canada 4 years ago. I really didn’t know what kind of reception to expect and I really wasn’t sure if we would get along at all. The initial plan was to stay for 2 weeks and move on. We ended up staying for over 2 months and I can honestly say we had a blast. It was amazing how well we got along. The most touching part was being welcomed into not only the home but the lives of my aunt and uncle and their friends. We went to every party (almost) with them and we can now call some of their friends our friends. Living with someone for 2.5 months is not easy when you know someone well, and living with people you barely know is even harder. I’m happy to say the past 2.5 months have flown by because we had such a great time together. I don’t know how to thank my aunt and uncle for their generosity and I’m sure “Thank You” is not sufficient, but I hope we have shown our gratitude to them and we’re always ready to repay the kindness they have shown us. I can honestly say we now feel like family and not just because we are related by blood.