Monday, 27 July 2015


The realisation that my time in Australia was almost over properly hit home when I landed in Sydney from Melbourne. Sydney although not the capital is possibly the most famous city in the vast country. I stayed within the CBD or Central Business District which is where tourists wander aimlessly around in between hardened city workers dressed in designer clothes push through the crowds. There is an enormous amount of wealth in Sydney and living here I experienced it first hand. The price of living is generally higher than other cities; I learned that a stay in a hotel under the Harbour Bridge overlooking the Opera House would set you back $34,000 (almost £16,000) for a minimum stay of two nights!

On my first day I met with a friend and we took the 40 minute ferry across the harbour to Manly. This beachside suburb of Northern Sydney is a place where carefree urban sophistication comes naturally to those living in this beauty spot. We followed a path which ambles along the coast passing surfers, restaurant diners, mums pushing strollers on a morning work out and people enjoying the laid-back atmosphere in the sunshine. After we had fish and chips on the beach (such tourists!) we caught the ferry back and as it turned the final corner towards Circular Quay where we would depart, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge loomed into sight with the setting sun hovering in the background - what a sight! This iconic skyline is so much more impressive in real life and definitely worth the international attention it receives! 

The following day I made the walk towards the Royal Botanic Gardens where I whiled the afternoon away wandering around the different areas of horticulture and heritage, learning as I went. The garden is a place of peace and relaxation and also a hub of activity with many joggers using the route through the gardens for their daily exercise fix.  

After Id spent a few hours here, it was time to walk to the Bridge Climb office where I would start the ascent up the Harbour Bridge! A full safety briefing ensued including a body frisk and a scan in a metal detector and then it was time to get kitted out in completely unflattering all-in-one suits which everything has to be attached to - I even had to secure my glasses to a piece of rope which I can assure you was not one of my finer moments! The climb would take about three hours and so we set off across the lower trusses toward the steep enclosed staircase that would take us to the start point. The bridge is the  largest steel arch bridge in the world standing at 134m. Taking eight years to build it was officially opened in 1932 to connect north and south Sydney.

*Fun Fact: The arch can actually rise and fall about 180mm due to temperature change!*

On our way up any inhibitions about being so high above the water were completely forgotten as there was so much to see. From high rises, open parks, waterside condos, theme parks, Taronga zoo to harbours, islands and a bunch of different sized boats bobbing in the water every second was used in absorbing everything in sight. 

At certain points our leader stopped us to give us some information on the bridge and its history, or to take photos, and so after taking a steady climb we reached the top just in time to watch the sun set leaving the sky a shade of burnt orange which three dimensionally reflected off of the clouds hovering over the horizon. I couldn't stop looking at it it was that beautiful! As soon as the sun went down the city came alive as it turned into a twinkling beacon of light in amongst the silent waters that surround it. 

Crossing over from the west of the east side of the bridge, the pathway is directly over the eight lanes of traffic, the two train lines and two bike tracks that support the cities transport needs. With the lit up cars moving like ants beneath us towards and away from the concrete jungle I really got a sense of perspective with how high we were, how lucky the people passing below us are to witness these sights every day but more so, just how lucky I was that Id have the opportunity to take this climb and see an iconic city from a different viewpoint. A big thank you goes to my parents for buying this climb for me as an early birthday present, it was worth every cent!! 


On a spur of the moment decision I had booked a plane ticket to Melbourne for a few days as I might never get the chance to come back to Australia so wanted to see as much of it as possible. 

Melbourne is well known for its creativity in the arts from sell-out theatre productions to music gigs and commissioned street art. It certainly pays to get out of the city centre to explore the multitude of districts and see what they have to offer and there really is no reason not to with several different free buses and trams crisscrossing around the city. 

On the first day I took the tram 30 minutes out to North Coburn to Sydney Road which is meant to be a haven for clothes shopping at bargain prices. Whilst I found nothing of the sort it was nice to explore the neighbourhood which had a strong Middle eastern influence. I found a charming greek cafe which offered up the most delicious bacon and caramelised onion pie finished off with toasted banana bread! Back in the centre there is an abundance of coffee shops and restaurants most of which have the best produce on offer. 

Melbourne is a city obsessed with coffee and it has even been coined as the coffee capital. There are specialist coffee hotspots everywhere giving customers a chance to sip everything from flat whites to cups of 'magic.' 
With a tasty takeaway vanilla latte in hand I went off to find Hosier Lane which is an example of unique expressions of art. A small side street like many others, Hosier Lane distinguishes itself as an approved outdoor location for legalised artwork with every inch of wall covered in multicoloured somewhat trippy designs ranging from the creative to the religious. There are even envelopes stuck to the walls with heartwarming refreshing memos inside. 

That evening I took a walk across town to the Fitzroy suburb where art galleries, boutiques and bookstores are nestled side on with bars, cafes and pubs. It was the location of a street projection festival where 35 sites ranging from green spaces within a park to high rise buildings were illuminated with colourful artistic interpretations. Even the rain couldn't dampen the spirits of the visitors and locals alike enjoying creativity splashed across contrasting settings. 

The next day we took the tram 20 minutes out of the city to St Kilda, a seaside town gaining popularity as a getaway spot from the hustle and bustle of city life. Whilst at the moment it is still a little bit dated, it is still a tourist destination and is slowly catching up with the other suburbs to become a go-to spot. Naturally, we had fish and chips by the beach side whilst overlooking Luna Park, an outdoor fun fair. 
That evening as part of a group from the hostel we went to Victoria Market where we were greeted by food stalls cooking up delicious international cuisine - Filipino street food anyone? - handmade gifts, locally brewed ales all to the sound of live music. And if that wasn't your thing, there was even an open air cinema showing films produced by Melbournites. It was a really great way to immerse myself into the underground lifeline of the city as the stall holders are part of the growing eclectic mix offering the high street mainstream a run for its money.
Although my time in Melbourne was only lasted three days, it was a short but sweet visit where I got to understand why it has such a magnetic draw and so many outlets with which to enjoy Australian life. 

Byron Bay

The following few days after Fraser Island I hopped from Rainbow Beach to Noosa for some relaxation time and then onto Brisbane to experience city life. Noosa has a calm peaceful atmosphere where expensive-looking condos overlook a family orientated beach which is lined with restaurants wafting delicious smells out into the sea breeze. Brisbane whilst one of the bigger cities on the coast has a friendly vibe to it and is a place that is easily explored with the all the offerings in the city centre in close proximity with each other. Soon enough I was in Byron Bay, a world famous surfing spot. 

Having taken a surf lesson on a family holiday years ago, I decided it would be too much like hard work to try and learn again so booked myself into a sea kayaking session. I have kayaked and canoed several times in different types of water but never on the sea so was excited for a different experience. That excitement soon turned to nerves as only two days before the water in the bay was evacuated as a Great White Shark had been spotted in the exact location where I would take to the sea! Putting it to the back of my mind myself and the others in the group got kitted out in wetsuits and life jackets before hauling the two man kayak down to the beachfront. The water looked deceptively calm but on our way out the wind was against us the entire way making it a real struggle to make any headway, and that was after we had fought against the incoming waves that threatened to tip us over. 

On the way out to the sea we made several stops to learn about the reef and the surrounding geography of the area. Because the bay is sheltered and the waters a balmy temperature year round, it is a perfect habitat for dolphins who we desperately scanned the horizon for. Unfortunately we didn't have the pleasure of seeing any but I loved just knowing that they were there all around us. At the furthest point from the beach we were in close proximity to the 'whale highway' as they made their way north to warmer waters; we even saw a few breaking the water to come up for air, with the fountain of water shooting up from their blowholes. 

I had expected the journey back in land to be a little easier going with the tide but the wind and current had other ideas so again our biceps got a good workout! In kayaks it is possible to 'surf' where the two people paddling work on different aspects of keeping the kayak from being swept sideways and rolling over in the swell. 

Being at the back, I acted as the rudder to steer the kayak in the right direction and thankfully, we glided on to the golden sand with no problems!! By the time we had got back on dry land and de-robed, we greedily wolfed down biscuits to feed our well earned appetite. I would have relished seeing more wildlife during the jaunt but it was a fun, natural way of harmlessly experiencing why Byron Bay is so famous. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Whitsunday Islands

Following on from my whistle stop jaunt on Magnetic Island it was now time for me to travel to Airlie Beach ready for my Whitsundays adventure. For the next three days I would spend my time on the S.V Atlantic Clipper with 54 other people whilst we sailed around the Cumberland Islands, or the Whitsundays as most people know them as thanks the the largest island in the chain, Whitsunday. 

After setting sail we took to the waters for a few glorious hours under the baking sun whilst lapping up the views; miles and miles of rolling waves reflecting the shimmer of the sun, with the horizon interspersed with greener than green islands like the backbone of a underwater sea creature coming up for air. Once we had reached the resting spot for the night, in a pass between Whitsunday and Hook Island it was time to don the not-so-flattering wet suits, skid down the slide and into the royal blue waters beneath us. Little did we know that this area was a haven for sharks at certain points of the year - perhaps had we known that we wouldn't have been so eager to dive in! 

The next morning, after an evening of good food, a few drinks and games, we were off to visit world famous award-winning Whitehaven Beach. The sand here is 98% silica and is so pure that it is actually protected meaning to knowingly take even a grain away would be illegal. 

*Fun fact: The only time sand has ever been removed was by NASA for use in satellite dish reflectors!* 

We went to the northern end of the beach where Hill Inlet is where the tide shifts the sand and water to create a beautiful fusion of swirling colours. Although the weather wasn't that great, the sand was still almost luminescent in its purity and the water crystal-clear. Not a bad place to spend the morning! After spending some time there, the next stop was Hayman Island which is the playground of the rich and famous. The afternoon was spent snorkelling in the bay with, at times, a mere meter between us and the reef. Even though I scuba dived in Cairns, the view will never get old and it is so fascinating to observe reef life and to appreciate the beauty of nature. The fish are naturally inquisitive so, within the safety of the shoal, they followed us around as we floated in the current and at one point we were the central focus of around 100 different fish with one brave fish even nibbling at my bare foot! 

That night as we were sat above board clinging onto the last of the day's warmth, a feeding frenzy took place right by the side of the boat! Five reef sharks, all around 1.5 metres in length, were hunting a small shoal of fish and we had front row seats. It was absolutely fascinating to see from above how perfect their hunting tactics were in order to maximise the catch. Irrespective of our misconceptions about sharks, there is no denying the fact that these predatory animals are incredibly smart. This went on for around ten minutes then, with all the fish snapped up, they withdrew back into deeper waters. The evening then progressed into final-night celebrations with party games, music and fancy dress! 

As we made the journey back to Airlie Beach the following morning, I took the time out (whilst sat in the jacuzzi at the front of the boat!) to appreciate the natural beauty and restorative peace that my trip to the Whitsundays has offered me. The adventure has allowed me to indulge in some quality time spent in Australia's backyard learning about the history of the country, the fragile natural world with which it epitomises and also how we act in order to ensure the future of this amazing place is preserved. 

Fraser Island

As my time in Australia was limited, and with no time to hang around I hot footed it down the coast to Rainbow Beach, which was to the base point for my Fraser Island trip. Inhabited by the indigenous Butchulla people, Fraser Island was first sighted by Captain Cook in 1770; after the inevitable arrival of Europeans, relations with the natives turned sour with the introduction of logging in 1863. This lasted until 1991 when the island achieved UNESCO World Heritage status. 

We first visited Central Station in Wanggoolba Creek named after the log-carrying train lines which used to divide the island. Now a picnic area and display botanical garden it is home to some of the worlds oldest plants including the primeval-looking Giant Fern which once featured in a David Attenborough documentary. Whilst we were inland, we next visited the famous Lake McKenzie, a 'perched' lake meaning it was formed on top of a impenetrable layer of decaying twigs and leaves. Because of this the water is transparent and the sand clean enough to exfoliate skin and clean hair and jewellery with. More like a ocean beach vista, Lake McKenzie is a top attraction on Fraser Island and is an exquisite place to relax, swim and generally enjoy the beauty of life. We self drove 4x4's along the islands highway, the beach, from place to place and our final spot of the day was the half submerged World War One hospital ship S.S Maheno shipwreck. Having been there for 80 years, visiting at sunset made the browny palette of the rusting metal take on an orangey glow which reflected eerily off of the damp sand. 

We spent our first night in an electric fence-protected camp; dingoes, the islands wild dog, have been known to be aggressive in the past as a result of scavenging food left by visitors and some fatalities have occurred. Of all the dangers made aware to us, dingo attacks were the most serious. 
The following day we drove to the Champagne Pools, a collection of pools formed by volcanic rocks which are topped up by waves crashing and 'fizzing' in from the ocean, hence the champagne reference. With the waves come fish who once in cannot leave, forming a micro-habitat which was once a major contribution to the Butchulla people's diet. Flanked by beaches and with rocks banking up behind, the Champagne Pools are ideal to while away a few hours in the only spot on the island where saltwater swimming is allowed - the sea is too unpredictable and sightings of sharks and crocodiles are frequent. 

Close by is Indian Head, a rocky outcrop and one of only three sections of rock on the island; Fraser is the worlds largest sand island. Indian Head is a sacred place for the Butchullas as many women, children and elders were pushed to their deaths by explorers on the island making it a cemetery and a place of remembrance. Whilst the views are absolutely breathtaking - 75 Mile Beach to the right and waves crashing into the rocks below - it is a special place to feel the history and its spirit. There are even talks of closing Indian Head off from tourists as a way of marking its importance. 

In the afternoon we were given a once in a lifetime experience to take a plane ride over the island for only around £25! I was lucky enough to take the front seat (apparently that does not make me a co-pilot) in the eight person propeller aircraft. Within minutes we were in the air after a take-off from the beach and whizzing over the island. Although around 70 people live permanently on the island,  there are some parts which are completely inaccessible such as Butterfly Lake, cleverly named because it looks like a butterfly...! Sandblows are a large part of Fraser Island formation. From the easterly winds sand is blown inland to create massive dunes that encroach further and further each year, consuming everything in its wake. From above we could see the extent of this coverage making it easy to understand why it is the worlds largest sand island. As we were flying over the ocean I spotted a Humpback whale making its way north to feed in warmer waters away from the Antartica winter! What a special moment! All around us were sublime examples of how beautiful Fraser Island is and the plane ride was worth every penny! 

After we'd landed and the euphoria had subsided, we took a walk to Eli Creek coined as a 'natural lazy river' and one that pours four million litres of fresh, clear water into the ocean every hour. Floating down the swiftly flowing shallow river was a really invigorating experience before you slow to a halt in the emptying pool of water on the beach. We frolicked here until sunset before it was time to head back to camp. It was a truly magical day! 

On our last morning we had just enough time to walk 40 minutes to Lake Wabby, once a large expanse of water which has now decreased in size due to the impending sandblow towering above it which will eventually consume the lake completely. Unlike the other lakes on the island which are too acidic, Wabby is the perfect habitat for a range of fish with whom we swam with in the not-so-warm waters! Whilst we were enjoying ourselves on the sandblow, watching local children whizz down on bodyboards, there was an element of finality in the air as we were all too aware that we had to get back in time to catch the car ferry back to the mainland. I drove the final distance home on the sand which was a first for me. It requires more concentration than normal driving and is certainly more dangerous but with the sparkling waters to my left and the sun casting its orange glow over the island, it was impossible not to have a 'I can't believe I'm here' moment! Without a doubt, Fraser Island is a gem in the host of natural beauty spots on the east coast that cannot be missed.