A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

Byron Bay to Sydney

Part one - Merry Christmas

We came to Byron Bay as another stop off to break up our journey down to Sydney. We found a lovely little town, if a bit hippy. This was the first of our stops where, due to our late bookings and the approaching Christmas holiday, it became cheaper to stay in a hotel than a hostel. So continuing on from our spot of luck in Fraser Island we enjoyed staying in relative luxury.

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As a laid back town we enjoyed wandering around the boutique shops, eating fish and chips, watching the sun set over the ocean, taking a stroll around the headland and marvelling at the bravery of the turkeys wandering in plain sight this close to Christmas day.

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After some careful consideration we decided not to attend the winter solstice gathering, despite the free food and drums, as a number of attendees appeared to have personal hygiene issues.

One overnight bus later and we find ourselves in Sydney, our last stop in Australia. We will be here for Christmas and flying out on New Year’s Eve – it would have been nice to stay to see the fireworks on NYE but the cost of accommodation and availability of flights would not allow.

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Our first hotel is the Travelodge where we stay for two nights, one day to wander around the city and another day spent touring the wineries of the Hunter Valley. Our wine tour included 3 stops where they took us through their wines from dry whites, fruity reds, sparkling whites & reds, desert wines, port and even jungle juice. All of these served up with cheese and crackers. Not a bad day and in a display of restraint we only bought four bottles of wine.

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Throughout Australia we (more Stiamh than Niamh) have been disappointed by the lack of festive spirit. Very few houses have decorated, Christmas music is not to be heard, and even the shopping centres seem drab and empty. To some in the midst of an over commercial Christmas, that started in July, this probably sounds ideal. To those of us not lucky enough to have snow and having to tolerate sunshine and beaches, that Christmas joy is proving an elusive sentiment.

Would Sydney come through for us.... not really. We have been to carols sung by the local youth choir and seen a number of quite pleasant trees and lights. Tonight (Christmas Eve) we will be going to Darling Harbour to hear more carols and see the fireworks. If that all fails we might have to take desperate measures and head to midnight mass to see if the Church can succeed where Woolworths has failed.

Today we have moved to the Sheraton hotel where we will be until the 27th. The bathroom here is bigger than some of the hostel rooms we have stayed in up to this point. We did briefly consider renting out the wardrobe to a couple of backpackers. We made enquiries about the hotel’s Christmas lunch but a Sydney Christmas is more about seafood and less about turkey and $240 per person for a seafood buffet is a little too much. Instead we have found a small hotel that does a turkey lunch and we have a few bits of cheese and ham and a couple of bottles of wine hidden in our mini bar.

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Suffice to say we will have a lovely Christmas despite our humbug surroundings and we wish everyone a fantastic merry Christmas.

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Posted by steve1000 23:41 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Brisbane

all seasons in one day

Australia is pretty big – the whole of Europe fits very comfortably into Australia and you get a real sense of the size from the hours spent on the bus plotted on a map. Over a few trips we’ve spent the best part of 24hrs on the bus and covered only a small amount of the east coast. To break up the bus journeys we were looking for stop off points. Brisbane wouldn’t have been a top choice except for one important thing – it has a Kopy! Adam aka Kopy is an old friend of Stiamh’s from uni days. Not having seen him since a fairly lively Halloween party five years ago I was keen to meet up.

Adam took us out to see the sights of Brisbane ie a big hill with impressive views across the city and a bridge designed by the same guy that did Sydney Harbour Bridge. Most importantly he and Kate took us out for a couple of XXXX Ales and a good sized steak.

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I remember Adam starting at University as the quintessential physics student, witnessed, if not somewhat responsible for, his degeneration into a drunken fool. He is now a married man with a full time job, a baby on the way and an interest in sport– the circle of life and all that. It was great to catch up.

To continue the theme in Brisbane we managed to catch up with Ryan and Oonagh who were staying in the same hostel as us. We went out for dinner and drinks but this time we left the travel sickness pills at home. We’re really pleased to have met these two especially since they have done an excellent job of selling London to young Niamh. Hopefully we’ll be able to meet up again for a couple of beers when we finish our travels in April (or May, perhaps June – definitely by July.......)

Posted by steve1000 23:31 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Airlie Beach & Whitsunday Islands

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If there is one thing they seem to do well in Australia, it is their outdoor space. Boardwalks running along the coast, outdoor pools with excellent facilities, not just toilets and showers but gas BBQs, gazebos etc. The BBQs used to be coin operated but since people kept breaking in and stealing the loot, now they run many of them for free.

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Airlie beach is our jumping off point for a 3 day catamaran cruise of the Whitsunday Islands. So far on our trip we have (with the exception of the odd train journey) had private rooms. This cruise would be our first time sharing, and in close quarters too. When we arrived on the cat, we were given our briefing and then sent to our rooms (cabins?) and were delighted to discover that we had been allocated a private double. Not even the furnace like temperature and 6” fan whose noise could outgun a Boeing 747 could challenge our relief or dampen our enthusiasm.

The first afternoon was spent sitting on deck in the sunshine, a little snorkelling and generally being patronised by the two girls that were running the show on board. We came to the conclusion that a few seasons of work on the budget boat (56 drunken backpackers to seven tour guides) the girls were only capable of treating their charges like children, even if they happened to be 12 upstanding members of the community like our good selves. We were very forgiving though and got our revenge by refusing to do any diving. They got a little irked by this, being certified divers and choosing an “adventure” trip which specialised in diving they saw us as a nice little earner.

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The snorkelling was good but we didn’t see anything new or exciting but it was very pleasant and a welcome opportunity to cool off.

After a couple of quiet beers we settled into our cabin / hot box for the night. At first we were just too warm, unbearably so, but then the waves picked up and our cat was being thrown around with doors flying open and slamming shut. At about 4.30am our skipper decided enough was enough and fired up the engines to find some calmer waters to sleep out the rest of the night.

If the heated accommodation couldn’t dampen our spirits the weather on day two certainly could. The rain didn’t really affect the snorkelling but between trips into the water there were few opportunities to dry off and get warm. Any attempt to enter the inner sanctum of the boat was met with an abrupt scolding from our newfound surrogate parents.

Our jaunt on shore to see Whitehaven beach was a particular highlight. Given the wet weather and lack of rain coats we found ourselves hiking through the forests on the island in wetsuits. Whitehaven beach itself was beautiful in the rain so must be absolutely stunning in the sunshine which is supported by all the postcards we have seen subsequently.

Back on board we discover rough seas and a broken engine – fortunately we still had one functioning so we set off again in search of still waters. This took a little time, meanwhile everyone was beginning to feel a little nauseous. Sniamh to the rescue with the travel sickness pills picked up in Vietnam. Sniamh, Ryan and Oonagh all dosed up and washed our medicine down with a couple of beers. Oonagh was the first to note that we all had saucer sized pupils and that she felt a little strange, so much so that she had to go and have a little lie down. God bless Vietnamese pharmacists – I certainly wouldn’t use the word stoned – pleasantly relaxed and a little chilled would sum it all up rather nicely – would someone please pass the munchies.

The next day the seas were calm and the sun was shining as we chugged back to Airlie Beach with one engine. Safely back on land we spent the rest of the afternoon at the lagoon before catching our bus to Hervey Bay.

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Posted by steve1000 22:08 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Cairns & Cape Tribulation

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We should have read the fine print – our flight to Cairns included a 5 hour stopover at 2am in Darwin airport. Not the best place to spend the night but we amused ourselves watching TV, eating muffins and drinking coffee so not all bad.

It’s the small things that are best about being in Oz – you can drink water from the tap, you can buy stuff from the supermarket and cook your own dinner, if someone offers you help you can be reasonably sure they aren’t going to misdirect you to a market from which they receive a commission. The sun is shining, the pool & lagoon are shimmering, life is good.

Our first touristy trip is to Cape Tribulation – so called by Cook as this is where it all started to go wrong for him. This is a gorgeous area of rain forest surrounded by the lapping ocean which would be very inviting if it weren’t for the 20 foot salt water crocs and jelly fish that can pretty much kill you. In fact it seems that most of the water is a no go area.

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I thought in Australia that, as a rule of thumb, if it moves it can probably kill you. We weren’t long into our rainforest trip when our guide pointed out that the trees and plants, if they don’t actually kill you, can do you some serious harm too. Vines that grab you and won’t let go, plants that look the same as all the others but give you a sting that is painful for months afterwards and don’t get me started on the giant chickens that are related to the Velociraptor and will disembowel you the moment your back is turned – I exaggerate of course, as I’m sure did our tour guide but this is Australia so really who knows?

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Our second day in Cairns was spent on the water – a cruise out to the reef for a couple of dives. Good news – we’ve found Nemo. We also found sharks and dolphins and a few other interesting critters and fishes. Visibility compared to Cayman was pretty poor but perhaps we’ve been a bit spoilt in that department and it was nice to see a few new bits and pieces.

It was also time to say goodbye to our trusty SE Asia Lonely Planet which makes a surprising difference to the weight of our luggage. As long as you ignore most of the accomodation and restaurant reviews LP is brilliant especially for giving me plenty of scams to worry about.

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The following morning we take the Greyhound bus to Airlie Beach.

Posted by steve1000 21:31 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Singapore

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The train journey to Singapore was comfortable. We had a quick hop off to get stamped in and clear customs, fortunately Niamh didn’t get caught smuggling. My wife didn’t realise she was a smuggler as it didn’t occur to her that chewing gum importation was illegal. Many things in Singapore seem to be against the law so perhaps we should have guessed. The rules are plentiful and the punishments harsh but the city runs like clockwork.

We bought ourselves topless bus tickets and spent the next couple of days seeing the sights to the soundtrack of a 45 second jazz clip on repeat changing only to the music from your local curry house for the short stint through Little India. The only other respite from the jazz being the recorded tour guide voice that was that annoying, patronising sing song voice that is common on US tv which can make any subject matter sound like a children’s bed time story. The bus was really a good way to get around and see everything and we soon learnt to filter out the background noise.

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A highlight was the Botanic Gardens but we also enjoyed the high end shopping malls and associated underground networks along Orchard Road. We saw parts of the F1 track, the Singapore Flier (which they delight on telling you is 5 metres bigger than the London Eye) and the brand new Marina Sands Resort hotel complete with 150m inifinity pool on the roof. We visited the night zoo where I saw the flying squirrel fly.

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I was particularly excited when we found M&S where the presence of mince pies, Christmas puddings and festive tunes filled my heart with childlike joy as did the Singapore Slings served up where they were created in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel – a snip at $25 each. Niamh took me to Hooters for chicken wings and beer. We even got to the cinema to check in with Harry.

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Singapore is our last stop in Asia and with a slight twinge of both regret and relief we board our fight to Australia. Next stop Cairns.

Posted by steve1000 13:59 Archived in Singapore Comments (1)

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