We’ve officially started the ocean portion of our trip and it will probably continue for a long time. As we go further north, the weather is getting hotter and the beaches are getting even more beautiful. Since we left Sydney, we’ve taken the Greyhound bus north, making stops in the towns of New Castle, Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay. New Castle and Coffs Harbour were both nice, but nothing spectacular. The highlight was seeing humpback whales. They’re migrating south now and we saw them while we were hiking up a hill in Coffs Harbour. I had never seen a whale before. We first noticed them breathing, shooting air and water up. Then we saw a few of them jumping up and splashing. I’m not quite sure why they do that, but it was pretty cool to see. We were far away from them, of course, but I think we had a better view than the whale watching tour boats. From where we were sitting, we could see both the whales surfacing and the boats racing across the ocean to them. It was kind of funny.
Byron Bay was incredible and we had a great time there. First we walked up to the lighthouse, which had really nice views and an interesting history, then we swam in the ocean and slept on the beach. I’m not sure how long we slept for, but the tide must have been rising quickly, because by the time we woke up the waves were all the way up to our feet! That night our hostel (which was really nice, it had a pool and hammocks and everything, it seemed like a resort for us) was having pizza night, so we ate pizza for dinner and after that we went to a bar to watch the Rugby World Cup Final. New Zealand won, which is good, we were rooting for them. Then there was a blues band playing at the bar, so we stayed and listened to them. When the band finished, we walked down to the beach, which was totally dark except for the rotating light from the lighthouse and tons of stars in the sky. We just sat there, listening to the waves and watching the lighthouse. It was very beautiful and peaceful.
After that we went to Brisbane for a couple of days. Brisbane’s population is about 1.5 million and it seemed even more gigantic compared to the tiny beach towns we had been in. The city was nice, but the best part was our first home stay. Before we left for our trip, my mom put me in touch with Carrie, a childhood friend of hers living in Brisbane, who invited us to stay with her family. Sleeping in a house and eating delicious, home-cooked meals again was incredible! Carrie, Mark, Alex and Oliver were all very welcoming and friendly, too, and they gave us good advice for our remaining time in Australia. I’m so happy we were able to stay there!
For Brad’s birthday we went out to North Stradbroke Island, which we heard about through Carrie. Getting there was a bit of an ordeal-we had to take a train out of town, take a bus to the ferry station, take a ferry across to the island and then take a bus to our hostel-but it was really beautiful. We walked along the beaches, took a lot of pictures and ate gelato. Our plan was to watch the sun set at the beach, but all the sudden the weather got kind of nasty. For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant that was having an all-you-can-eat pasta and pizza buffet, perfect for Brad.
After that, we went up to Noosa, where the rain kind of ruined our beach day. We took an overnight bus up to Airlie Beach and we’re planning on going out to the Whitsunday Islands on Tuesday. I wanted to go tomorrow, but the tour is all booked up. We might miss the Melbourne Cup, the big horse race here, but I think seeing Whitehaven Beach will be worth it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain that day!
It’s funny how these things work out. We met Julien just because he asked if he could tag along to practice his English. And tonight we met these really cool people: Ellen and Ali, a couple from Scotland living in Melbourne, and Megan, a girl from Michigan living in San Francisco. They were all very nice and funny, especially Ellen. (And with their accents, at first I thought their names were Allen and Alley.) The only reason we even met them is because we went to a free BBQ and trivia night at The Brewery. They sat with us at a table and we formed a trivia team after dinner. Then we went and bought drinks and played Uno in the YHA before they kicked us out for drinking and being loud after hours, so we went and drank in the park across the street, sitting and laughing under the yellow light with the bats screeching in the trees and owls flying around. It just makes me sad to meet all these cool people and have to say goodbye right away. And to top it all off, a cockroach crawled up out of the drain of the sink while Ellen was brushing her teeth.
The first words of the Australian national anthem are “Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free,” which seems especially applicable to Sydney. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more young and free than I did while we were walking through its streets and seeing the harbor for the first time.
Sydney is an incredible city. As much as I liked Melbourne, Sydney just has more to offer. Our stay started off with a bang when we arrived during free wine night at our hostel. They were not stingy with it, either! The following day we walked and walked and walked. We saw the Botanical Gardens, Hyde Park, the Domain, the harbor, the bridge, the Opera House and The Rocks District, and then we walked across the bridge and saw some of North Sydney, and then we walked all the way back after that. I was just so thrilled with the city that I didn’t want to stop sightseeing all day.
After that long day, I was exhausted and we decided to take it a little easier. We went back to The Rocks, a historical neighborhood that used to be the dodgy part of town with all the gangsters, but is now a really fun and interesting area. They have a market there every weekend that has all sorts of crafts, clothes and other random things. That night we watched the All Blacks knock Australia out of the Rugby World Cup. Since we were rooting for New Zealand, we decided to just stay in and watch the game from the safety of our hostel! No, actually rugby isn’t as popular here as it is in New Zealand.
We also took a couple of day trips outside of the city. One day we rode the train out to the Blue Mountains and did a little hiking there. It was quite pretty, but nothing compared to New Zealand’s scenery. Another day we took the ferry to Manly Island to enjoy the beaches there. That morning, Julien, a French guy in our hostel, asked if he could come with us and practice his English. We said sure and had a nice day hanging out with him. He’s a photographer, so he and Brad had a lot to talk about. (You can check out Julien’s pictures here.)
And just like that our time in Sydney was over. I’ve kind of been dreading writing this post because I’m not sure how to sum up Sydney in a succinct and interesting way. We saw many strange and contradictory sights, like homeless men sleeping across the street from Lamborghini dealerships and puddles of vomit outside of expensive clubs with beautiful views of the harbor. For me, just being there and taking it all in was thrilling. If I had to sum it all up, I would probably say the city seems young, fit, energetic, beautiful and fun. In any case, we had an awesome time and I really hope we can go back there again some day.
We had a great time driving down the Great Ocean Road. It begins in Bells Beach, the most famous surfing beach in Australia and site of the first professional surfing competition. There were about fifty surfers out when we were there, so we stayed and watched them for a while. I don’t know much about surfing, but even I could tell that they were awesome! It was very entertaining.
The road continues down the coast with stops at various rock formations in the ocean. The most famous of these are the Twelve Apostles. The name is a bit misleading, as there’s only eight of them. They used to be called the Sow and Piglets, but were renamed in 1922 to attract more tourists. One collapsed in 2005 and it’s only a matter of time before the others do. I was amazed by the strength of the waves and wind. Just standing there with your hair whipping around your face in the breeze, it’s easy to see how powerful these forces are.
The best time to take pictures of the Twelve Apostles is sunset, but we couldn’t stay for much of it because of the crazy weather. Brad was determined to take more pictures, so we got up at dawn to go look at them. Yes, you read that right. I actually got up before sunrise to go look at limestone in the ocean. Unfortunately, it was overcast and there wasn’t much light for pictures that morning. Oh well, at least Brad got some good pictures the night before.
After that, we went all the way to Port Fairy, a cute historic town at the end of the Great Ocean Road. From there we drove up to the Grampians National Park. The Grampians are mostly woods with a few mountain ranges cutting through them. We did a hike up Boronia Peak and had a nice picnic at the top while we enjoyed the spectacular view.
The best part so far, though, has been the wildlife. First we saw a few koalas behind a caravan park in Kennett River. They are so cute! Most of them were asleep, but one of them woke up and climbed to a different branch in his tree. I was excited to see just a few of them, but we ended up seeing dozens on the drive south to Cape Otway. For a long stretch of road, it was like every tree we looked up in had at least one koala. After that we saw emus in Tower Hill and we’ve seen kangaroos all over, mainly in the Grampians. There are tons of kangaroos in the Grampians. When we were out walking, one of them hopped right by us. I also saw one with a little joey in its pouch. And finally, the birds here are beautiful, too. We’ve seen all sorts of red, green, yellow and blue birds. Most of them are too fast to get a picture, but Brad’s caught a few of them. I was already enjoying Australia, but now that we’ve seen all these creatures, I really love it here!
Backpacking doesn’t always go smoothly and we ran into a good example of that in the Christchurch airport. We had a 6:00 AM flight, so we slept in our clothes, got up at 3:00 AM, packed our bags, returned the rental car and got to the airport at 4:00, exactly as planned. Then the problems began. First we tried to check-in at the self-service kiosk, but it told us we had to go to the desk. The lady at the desk informed us that our travel agent (cheaptickets.com, which is apparently just as dodgy as it sounds) had booked us on a flight that doesn’t exist and we would have to contact them. Brad called them on a pay phone and argued with them for about twenty minutes. They put us on a 5:00 PM flight, but that was all the help we got from them. Luckily, Air New Zealand is the best airline ever and a super nice lady at the service desk was able to get us on a flight to Auckland right away with a really tight connection on to Melbourne. We had to literally run to the international terminal in the Auckland airport, but we made it to Australia!
We spent three enjoyable days walking around Melbourne, a very cosmopolitan city with a population of 4 million. We saw the Royal Exhibition Building, which was built in the late 1800s and is now a World Heritage Site. We took an interesting tour of the Parliament House and learned a bit about Australian politics. We went shopping, walked through China Town and saw the Old Melbourne Gaol (jail), where the infamous Australian criminal Ned Kelly was hanged. We also visited many parks and gardens, including the Carlton Gardens, Treasury Gardens and Queen Victoria Gardens.
But Melbourne isn’t really known for sightseeing. It’s famous for sports and food. We didn’t have much to do with the former (except for listening to the Brewer game online, so exciting!), but we enjoyed a lot of the latter. Our last day in town was our designated food day and we started it off with the Queen Victoria Market. This market is one of the best in the world. I thought it was pretty similar to the Pike Place Market in Seattle. We spent the afternoon winding our way through the various stalls, taking in the sights and eating quite a bit of fresh, delicious food. Then we went to a chocolate shop and had really yummy chocolates. We also went to a candy store and tried a few Australian treats. Our plan was to end the day with a sushi dinner, but by then we had spent so much money, we held back and just had pizza. Still, it was a very fun and rare day of indulgence!
Now we’re about an hour away in Torquay, excited to spend the next couple of days driving on the Great Ocean Road. After that, we’ll be going north to the Grampians National Park, then heading back to Melbourne briefly before we go up to Sydney! So check back here frequently because I’m sure Brad’s going to have some awesome pictures to post!