Tuesday, August 11th 2009 - Saturday September 5th 2009
East Coast trip
We booked our tours for the east coast while in Sydney because there was a friendly Canadian guy named Andy who said he'd give us a good deal. It wasn't a bad deal but it was pretty much the same deal as all the other places so it wasn't really a bargain. We also discovered that if you don't book ahead then you can get really cheap last minute deals when you're closer but that's something we'll remember in the future.
1st stop - Byron Bay
Byron Bay was lots of fun, a very relaxed surfer town. We loved it immediately, as do most people that visit it. Most people end up staying there for a while and finding jobs so that they can stay in a hostel and surf all the time. We were very tempted, but we did take our first introductory surfing lesson while in town. It only cost $40 and we got the 2 hour lesson, a wet suit and a half day hire to use any day afterwards with the equipment. It was so much fun and harder than it looks but they basically just push you out on your board with the wave and all you have to do is 'pop up' and stand on your board. Tyler was amazing and I fell more often than stood but it was still good fun. We will be surfing pros one day.
We tried surfing by ourselves the next day with our free hire but it was so choppy that the waves just threw us around even when just riding the wave on our stomachs. Crazy! But we practiced timing the wave and I think we have the hang of it now.
There is also a worthwhile hike to the lighthouse in Byron Bay that was very beautiful. We reached the most easterly point in Australia and saw our first whale. Did not manage to get a photo though, they're too quick!
2nd stop - Noosa, QLD
We bypassed the Gold Coast due to the description in our guidebook which summarized it as 'glitzy' and thought that didn't sound like our cup of tea. So we took another night bus to the Sunshine Coast and stayed in good ol' Noosa. It was another relaxed, quiet town with excellent beaches and surf. This time we just got body boards from our hostel because they were free to rent but still lots of fun. Also did a little hike around all the cliff faces and beaches.
3rd stop - Brisbane (aka ' Bris-vegas)
We weren't impressed with Brisbane. The promenade was pretty nice and the little man-made beach/pool looked fun for families. But the hostel charged us more than they said on the phone and it was super crowded but the rooftop was amazing. We spent most of our time up there relaxing and enjoying the coolness to the air (since the daytime was soooo hot!). It's funny calling it Bris-vegas, I think that's my favourite nickname. You have to go there to appreciate the nickname, does not remind you of Vegas at all.
And the grocery stores close ridiculously early. Very disappointing for hungry travellers.
4th stop - Hervey Bay, QLD and Fraser Island
There's not much to Hervey Bay other than it's a good place to go whale watching and it's the take-off point for all the Fraser Island tours. We did our 3 day tour with Koala Adventures and we got a 4 wheel drive that was top heavy with an upper storage compartment - but in 5 weeks they are no longer allowed to have those for the tours because of all the accidents with backpackers who drive too fast and flip over. There have been casualties in the past but thankfully everyone in our group was very safe. I was the only girl in the group and there were just 7 of us - me, Tyler, a Scotsman named Andy, 2 kiwis, 1 guy from Switzerland and a German. Good mix.
Fraser Island was beautiful - the best fresh water lakes we have ever seen and fun sand dunes to roll down in. You could drink the water as you were swimming - amazing! We saw a few dingoes but it was mostly at night when we were cooking and they could smell our delicious food. They never attacked though, we must have been too scary for them.
Fraser Island is a must-see though. Driving was quite the experience - on the beach it was nice and smooth, we only had a few close calls with rising tide times and driving over rocks and making the car tip at precarious angles. Otherwise driving on the pathways was crazy, we got stuck a bunch of times and had to push the car out a lot but nothing we couldn't manage. We even had a lucky team song (the ever popular 'Battlefield' song you hear all the time on the radio here in Australia) that always got us out of the ditch if we sang it while the car struggled.
5th stop - Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays
Our Whitsunday sailing 3 day trip was also lots of fun. Very similar to our Croatia cruise so we enjoyed the Fraser Island trip more on the whole since it was different, but you can't complain about beaches and swimming and snorkelling. We didn't have sleep on the boat either, we actually got to stay on an island so that made it more enjoyable (boats are awfully cramped). The beaches were beautiful, we got very tanned. And the snorkelling was my favourite part. Tyler and I even saw a sting ray up close - he was light purple in colour with yellow spots and I knew better than to follow him too closely. He lost me quite easily anyway. I did touch all the coral I could though, and all the fishes that came close to me - I'm such a rebel! I didn't hurt the coral though and our shipmate told us it was okay (he also recommended grabbing onto turtles and 'turtle surfing' so he had his own set of rules).
Our boat was called the 'Pride of Airlie' and it was quite the party boat. Within 5 minutes of taking off from Airlie Beach harbour people had taped up a snorkel to use it a funnel for goon (boxed wine - very cheap). We were not allowed red wine on board the boat as they knew how messy people would be and it stains. But it was fun to watch all the drunk people - British people can drink a lot. We were amazed.
We saw tons of whales while sailing but I never managed to get a good picture again - they're tricky animals.
6th stop - Townsville, QLD
We had heard mixed reviews about Townsville but thought we'd give it a go and see what it's like and we did not regret it. We finally tested out the whole paying for one bed because we share a bed and I got to be the 'secret' and Tyler snuck me in. And it worked! Despite the hostel having cameras all over the place - quite the rebels.
Townsville is a cute town, very cosy but with all the city essentials you need. We spent most of our time on the promenade under the cover of trees. They had amazing parks for children, way better than any we had seen back home. It's basically heaven on earth for kids. There's a water park as well. Just wish it didn't look creepy for us to hang out in the 'kid areas'.... we were mighty jealous.
We also did a hike up Castle Hill in the early morning but it was still boiling hot and we sweated up a storm. Great views though. And we spent the rest of the day in the pool/stinger free area. There were signs all over the place warning about jellyfish, I think they're a big probelm in the area. But we never saw any - boy were we disappointed. ;)
7th and final stop - Cairns, Northern QLD
We were sneaky again in Cairns and only paid for 1 bed - hurray! We love getting better deals. Most of the time we just relaxed in Cairns. They really spoil you in the hostels, they're a little out of the city centre but they have free shuttle buses every hour that take you to and from the city. And we even got a free dinner every night at a place in the city centre and the food was tasty and sizeable (mostly curries, spaghetti or stew). And beer was pretty cheap as well. One of the nights we just kept winning free pitchers of beer, we were on some kind of lucky streak or the host/MC just really liked us.
Our main accomplishment in Cairns was that we went for our first dive lesson. It was pretty nerve wrecking and I freaked out a little bit at first feeling like I couldn't swallow because my mouth was all salty but once under the water I relaxed and it was amazing. We had to link arms with the instructor (Tyler and I on opposite arms) and they slowly guided us around, I think we only got about 5 metres under the surface but it felt so deep. We got the hang of popping our ears, getting water out of the mask and cleaning out our breathing apparatus. We saw some amazing fish and coral, some fish were about the size of us and quite scary even if they aren't able to eat us. Definitely a memorable experience and something we'd like to try again sometime. Don't think we want to get certified though... at least not yet. Have to get used to it first. And I'm terrible with flippers on - my feet like to be free! That was probably one of the hardest things for me. I kept doing the bicycle kick instead of the proper straight leg and the instructor was annoyed because I was making him have to kick harder.... whoops! Next time I'll be better, I swear!
Cairns was a nice city, but the beach was terrible. Best to hang out in the lagoon/pool or go on one of the diving excursions to actually see the reef. It's the stuff you'll remember for the rest of your life.
Flew back to Melbourne on the Saturday morning in preparation for our big road trip through Central Australia with some hostel mates. Adventure awaits!