Over the 7 weeks we were in Australia there were a few kooky things we picked up on that we found interesting and/or a little odd. Here are some of our favourites.
Proliferation of road signs.
For whatever reason, in urban/suburban areas in Australia there were a hell of a lot of road signs. It seemed excessive to us. For example on residential streets where there are parking restrictions, there would be a sign telling you the parking rules then another sign beside it with an arrow dictating where the authorised parking started, and then another sign with an arrow dictating where the parking ended a few metres away. There were also plenty of 'beware wildlife' and 'stay left unless overtaking' along with the odd 'SPEEDING/TIREDNESS KILLS'.
European-ish junk foods.
Some of the most popular meals in the cities of Australia were weird European-ish dishes - chicken schnitzels were EVERYWHERE. Then there were chicken parmigianas - a bastardised version of the Italian aubergine dish that is essentially a chicken schnitzel with tomato sauce and cheese on it.
Ice cold beers.
I had heard of this before but hadn't fully realised just how true it was. Aussies like their beer VERY cold. We met a number of people that put their cans or bottles of beer in the FREEZER as the fridge just wasn't cold enough. Aussies really do think that us Brits drink warm beer.
Central heating just doesn't exist in homes.
In most if not all of the houses we stayed in there were no radiators. This of course makes sense as it's not super cold but, there were times when it would have been welcome. Instead, a lot of homes have a gas pipe that you attach a very retro looking three-bar gas heater to.
American style mailboxes are more common than letterboxes.
Yeah. Pretty self explanatory really.
Slang is used a lot in advertisements.
In a lot of adverts - TV and printed - Aussie slang is used, I'm guessing to appeal to the average Bruce and Sheila. For example companies like McDonalds would refer to themselves as 'Maccas' and car brands would use the term 'rego' instead of registration. Another language whimsy we noticed was the use of puns in the names of small businesses. Our all time favourite was a plumber we spotted in Tocumwal - The Turdinator.
Sports teams have hilarious names.
I'll just leave the names of some of the Australian teams here; - The Socceroos (men's football) - The Matildas (women's football) - The Kookaburras (field hockey) - The Wallabies (rugby union) - The Dolphins (swimming) - The Cockatoos (tennis)
Foxtel (the Australian name for Sky TV) doesn't have a watershed.
One lazy afternoon while we were watching television at Nick and Nic's house we innocently switched over to Geordie Shore (which the Aussies LOVE by the way) and all of a sudden we heard "SHE'S A FUH-IN COONT!". As it was midday we both were a little shocked to hear such expletives but we later found out that this is the norm unless you set parental controls.
Political advertisements on TV are just tele-visual shit-slinging matches.
At the time of our stay in Australia the federal and state elections were looming and so political adverts were ubiquitous - on TV, radio, posters and billboards. The television adverts were the best - they were actually quite hilarious. They only lasted up to 10 seconds and were usually just some words against a black screen along with a serious sounding voice-over. Here's an example of what you might hear; "Malcolm Turnbull hates your kids and pays no tax. Sponsored by the labour party of Australia". We never heard any party policies or success stories, only insults to their opponents. A bit like a pantomime you might say.
Cars are weird.
The majority of vehicles in Australia are automatic. A lot of them also have pull/push handbrakes. Oh and the indicator stick is on the right. Fuckin' weirdos.
Many bathrooms in oldish houses have a solar lamp that heats the room.
Despite my previous point about there not being any integrated heating system in most Australian houses, in a lot of bathrooms there is a solar lamp in addition to an ordinary light that is intended to heat up the room. We loved in especially on the cold mornings.
There are two very prevalent diet fads.
Almost everywhere you go in Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide you will see restaurants, cafés, takeaways and even sometimes bars offering gluten-free and/or paleo friendly meals and drinks.
You cannot get sandwiches/lunch food in supermarkets.
In the likes of Coles, IGA and Woolworths you just can't get a sandwich or pasta-salad or any sort of lunch food - there just isn't a section for it. In fact I'm not entirely sure where you would get a sandwich other than a servo (petrol station).
You cannot buy alcohol anywhere other than an off-licence.
Unlike the UK you cannot buy alcohol in any old shop. Instead you HAVE to go to a specific alcohol shop (aka a bottle-o). No £3 B&M peach schnapps I'm afraid (upsetting I know).
The public transport system in Sydney is brilliant.
Like London, Sydney's public transport system is set up around a 'tap-on tap-off' card. It's called an Opal card and not only is it easy to use and top-up, it's also cheap. For us to travel on the train for over 1.5 hrs from Sydney to Narara it only cost us $5 (£2.50). It's not only the cost that's impressive, the frequency is also great and the routes are great. After our long night out on Oxford street we got a night bus back to Coogee (about a half hour journey) at 4am.
I'll finish this post with a video of one of the nifty features on Sydney's trains...
25.06.2016 - 03.07.2016
on advensha's travel map.
On the morning of our departure from Melbourne Claire very kindly drove us to an area called Coburg to collect our next and final relocation vehicle. This time we were driving back to Sydney in one fell swoop - 860km, 8.5 hours. After a lively drive singing very loudly to Coolio's Gangster's Paradise and Warren G's Regulate (to which Lauren knows ALL the words), we finally made it to Coburg and to the Camperman depot. This depot was smack bang in the middle of a grotty looking residential estate and also had a mechanics attached to it. After faffing with ID and paperwork we were shown to our vehicle; a huge 5-berth, 15 year old, manual (yay) beat up campervan.
We said our sad goodbyes to Claire and off we went into the Melbourne wilderness, me taking the first leg. Unlike the other vehicles we'd driven in Australia, this one, being an old bastard, had no USB charging points and so our satellite navigation device (Lauren's iPhone) wasn't going to last very long. We did have a radio but the button front had fallen off so you had to jam your finger into a small hole and press a tiny knob with your fingernail in order to change the frequency (that's what she said). The campervan was actually not too difficult to drive. Yes the gears stuck occasionally and it did roar quite loudly upon acceleration but once we were on the highway it felt quite smooth and nippy (albeit a bit of a gas-guzzler). We made a few stops (mainly because Lauren was feeling hungover from the copious beer from the night before) and had our main stop at a place called Taracutta where we'd actually stopped before on our original journey. I am conscious not to get too political here but during our drive the Brexit results were coming in. At one of our petrol stops, as we were strolling around the garage shop and café, I took a wander over to the small TV in the corner where some Australian fella was reporting on the UK's fateful decision. Here I heard the first rumbles of a leave result but at this point, still though remain would come out on top.
The weather was pretty on and off throughout, quite English really - drizzle and clouds quickly followed by blue skies and sunshine then topped off with torrential rain and darkness. We did eventually buy an expensive cigarette lighter USB charger (much to my dismay) in order for us to find our way to Coogee without ripping each other's hair out. At some point in the late afternoon/early evening we switched the radio over to what can only be described as Australia's version of BBC Radio 4 and heard the news; the UK had left the EU. Soon after we then heard David Cameron's resignation speech. We were shell-shocked. We'd both voted to remain (byproxy) and although we hadn't been in the midst of all the campaigning and polls and general public opinion we genuinely didn't think for a second that the result would be to leave the European Union. Our shock mixed with travel-lethargy, rain and most probably hunger (frankly the latter is perpetual) meant that we spent the last few hours angrily crying. I wish I'd have filmed it really - it would have made a great viral video. We did eventually make it to Coogee at around 9pm and luckily managed to find a parking spot for our beast just up the road from Nick and Nic's flat. As weary and distraught as we were, as we stepped onto the pavement and started our walk to the house we were revitalised by the thought of our imminent introduction to Lauren's brand new niece Lily. And my god did she soothe our souls - what a gorgeous little baby angel. After plenty of cuddles (with baby Lily and our bezzie Einstein the dog) and general catch-ups with the gang, we settled into bed for the night to rest-up for tomorrow's new destination - Narara.
Nick dropped us off at Central Station and we were soon on the train heading to the Central Coast where we were going to be staying with Lauren's friends Majella and Matt. The journey took just under 2 hours and as always I took the opportunity to sleep and drool all over Lauren's shoulder. Majella met us at the station and took us to the open day at their local eco-village - the place she and her family will be building and living in a straw house in the next year or two. The site is amazing - a 100 year old horticultural institute with lots of heritage buildings right in the middle of bushland with trees as far as the eyes can see and a huge dam and just generally lots of green space. Look it up here if you're interested... Narara Eco Village
That night Majella and the two kids (Sinéad and Michael) went to Sydney for a birthday party the following day so making the most of having no kids around Matt (Majella's husband), Lauren and I went to the local RSL to watch an INXS tribute band. As you do. Ourimbah RSL was much like the Hellenic club we'd gone to in Canberra - a large 'function room' with small stage, dance-floor, lots of tables, two bars (one with cakes and slices from the day still on show), pokie machine rooms, 'bullet alley' where all of the military memorabilia is presented and lots more unknown space upstairs too. Drinks are cheap (for Australia) and the vibe is relaxed but buzzing - mostly white, Aussie middle-aged couples and parties letting loose on a Friday night. After a few schooners I got a little cocky and suggested we have a go on the infamous pokies. We put $15 in the Cleopatra machine and after a bit of button-fiddling with Matt's guidance managed to win $42! I can see why these things are addictive! Not satisfied with one win, we then moved onto Keno - a national, 24/7 lottery/bingo that runs on its own TV channel in almost all pubs, clubs, bars, casinos, bookies and some restaurants too. As you could of predicted we lost all of our winnings and ended up with $8 left - a $6 overall loss. Not bad for our first go I guess. We hung out at the RSL for a good few hours - chatting with some of Matt's friends, watching the cover band (who acted as their own warm-up band, they just changed their clothes halfway through), gambling, drinking, learning about the Australian socialising culture. In all the drunken enjoyment I even left my handbag at the pokie machine which ended in one of the door-staff calling out for a LAUREN JONES over the PA (I had her ID in my bag). We were so drunk/excited/stupid that when we heard this we thought we'd won some sort of jackpot and they were announcing it to everyone. Thankfully everything in the bag was intact - some honest member had handed it in. I'm sure this isn't the first time an Australian has had to assist its imbecile British cousin.
The next day we had a nice lie-in and then drove to Gosford market where, as per usual, Lauren and I made the most of all the edible free samples. The market was at the racecourse and we sat on the stands eating our various homemade goodies, reminiscing about the funny night before. We then carried on to a small town called Woy Woy which has a bit of a countrified bohemian vibe. We had some fancy chai tea in a little caf (called Gnostic Mana) and then took a stroll to the local co-operative fishmongers where a load of MASSIVE pelicans were just hanging out.
That night Matt and Majella cooked us a lovely fusion meal consisting of various barbecued meat and veggies along with a ratatouille and egg-fried rice before retiring to bed.
For our last full day in Narara we chilled out with Majella doing chores while the kids were at school and Matt was at work. We decided to go out for lunch and Majella was keen to take us to a place she knew we'd like called Bamboo Buddha. We turned up to discover that it was closed on Mondays. Majella then thought of another place that was nearby and off we went again to find out it too is closed on Mondays. We'd been driving for over half an hour by this point so we asked Google to direct us to the nearest eatery and it only went and took us to a Christian bookshop café! We unanimously decided not to visit said café and instead stopped at an industrial park not far from the kid's school and popped into a small joint with a crap menu - at this point, we didn't give a shit. We all had an average meal but poor Lauren ordered the frittata which said it was veggie on the menu but as she cut it in half found lots of little ham chunks in it. Not wanting to cause a fuss or waste anything she just ate it - the pig was already pretty dead. We didn't hang around too long and soon set off to collect the kids from the Steiner school which was an amazing campus with hardly any hipster parents hanging around. That night (our last in Narara) we ate Mexican - fajitas, re-fried beans, salsa, guacamole etc. We also drank quite a lot of wine which helped make our game of Australian Monopoly much funnier.
Before we made our way back to Sydney the next day, Majella took Lauren and I for a walk around Narara Eco Village, explaining where their lot was and how the community was going to be set-up. The weather stayed bright and crisp and we got to see a lot of the site including some native wildlife in the form of cockatoos and kookaburras.
At Narara train station we had a good laugh with some dodgy looking fellas who, upon noticing our huge backpacks and scruffy attire, asked us whether we'd seen Ivan Milat. For those of you that don't know, Mr. Milat was a serial backpacker murderer in Australia in the 1990s. Upon arrival at Central Station we spent a bit of time trying to find the right bus stop but eventually we made it to Coogee. We got off opposite the beach and comprehended the walk ahead of us to our Air BnB flat. After lots of wine and little sleep the night before, coupled with 20 kilos of baggage on our backs each, we weren't quite prepared for the 15% gradient hill that is Arden street. It took us a wee while but we made it to our spot for the next week. We were staying in an apartment owned by a lovely chap called Kwon. It was a small but very nice place with a big bedroom and comfy bed. The only issue was that Kwon had neither a TV nor an internet connection. It seems he just works, exercises, cooks, reads and listens to music. How odd. So our plans of vegging out in front of sensationalist Aussie TV (60 Minutes is my favourite) while mindlessly browsing the internet were well and truly scuppered.
Much of the next 5 days in Sydney (our last in Australia) were spent hanging out with little baby Lily - getting in as much Auntie-time as we possibly could. In between we did manage to go to my favourite (art deco) cinema The Ritz to see two kid's films - Finding Dory (alright) and The BFG (really good) - and fit in a couple of cheeky choc-tops. Kwon was hardly ever in which was kind of nice but a bit of a shame as I'm sure we would have all got on very well.
One night (our penultimate) we got the bus to an inner-city suburb called Redfern. We had only heard slightly negative things about Redfern - that it's "a bit rough" and that there are lots of "drunkards and junkies". We'd also heard that the area had a large aboriginal population. Ignoring all that (as we often do) we made a visit to Redfern night markets that are put on monthly at a youth centre and have indoor and outdoor stalls and performances by local groups. It was a bloody freezing evening but we enthusiastically shivered around the stalls and tried to warm ourselves up with some Sri Lankan shredded roti and Nepalese dahl. After walking past the loukoumades truck our sweet pudding urges were awakened and so we bought a HUGE tub of them. Loukoumades are small Greek honey doughnuts and this particular stall offered them with various toppings. In our large box we got approximately 30 doughnuts; one side covered in white chocolate and desiccated coconut and one side covered in nutella and crushed nuts. After a quarter of the box we were close to hyperglycaemia but, as seasoned food-soldiers we battled on and finished the whole box, even scraping the dried chocolate bits up at the end. You could call us heroes. We watched some talented kids do a few dance performances along with some singer-songwriter-guitarists playing their best stuff. Keen to walk off the million doughnuts we'd just inhaled we made our way to a little bar we'd found on the internet - The Bearded Tit. We arrived and it was full to the brim and, much to our dismay, seemed to be a hipster jaunt. We put our initial judgemental assumptions aside and got ourselves an expensive drink and a seat. The décor was, of course, dark, eclectic and busy - there were two old fashioned barber's chairs in the corner as well as lots of weird and wonderful paintings, wall-hangings and mirrors. Thankfully, the music playing was recognisable - 80s/90s hip hop and pop music - just to our taste. A bit cheesy but actually quite cool (in our humble opinions of course).
We waited and chatted a while until Zoe and Ash who were visiting Sydney for the weekend finally arrived to meet us. We hung around the Tit for a little longer but left as last orders were called at 11pm. We then thought it appropriate (being a quartet of lesbians) for us to pop over to Oxford street - one of the longest thoroughfares in Sydney and also home to its gay village at one end. We spent the rest of the evening (and morning), dancing, singing and generally being silly in The Stonewall Hotel club. We were 4 of 6 women in the whole club (if you exclude the drag queens) and we had an absolute ball. Quite irresponsibly I introduced the nasty 'spirit' Fireball to the girls which ended in us all drinking an impressive volume of the paint-stripper. Impressively, at 4am, Lauren and I got a night bus all the way back to Coogee. We were quite inebriated but we were walking and talking without issue. The one predicament we found our drunk selves in was that I was desperate for a wee. So desperate in fact that every single step I took up the steep hill to our flat was painful. I knew I couldn't make it so we had a quick scan around for a public loo only to find that they were too far away and probably locked. The streets are covered in CCTV cameras and nowhere was open so I only had one option; to squat behind the wall separating the beach from the path. Like a dog, I weed in the sand and when finished, chucked some fresh sand over the top of my fluid.
For our last full day in Sydney we got up early as some estate agents were bringing potential buyers round to Kwon's apartment. As you can imagine the last thing you want after getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep is to have to welcome random people into your bedroom and smile at them while doing so. It was lucky I hadn't got back and pissed in the corner - it might have cost the agents a sale. Anyway we got through the viewings and used the time to go through our bags and get rid of anything we didn't want to take back home with us. After the last viewing the agent thanked us and closed the cage door (that's in front of the front door to the flat). When Nick came to collect us to go for brunch not longer after we could not for the life of us figure out how to open the cage door. We tried all of the keys that Kwon had given us but we just couldn't get it open. In order to get out of the flat we had to open our bedroom window, climb out and shut it behind us. Thank god he lives on the ground floor so we could jump into the front yard. All the commotion of trying to escape perked us up a little for the drive to the Northern beaches. We got out at Freshwater at Harbour Diggers RSL. We had some burgers at the Italian restaurant upstairs that had a lovely view of the water. At the meal Nick and Nicole presented us with a framed photograph of Lauren and I holding Lily and asked us to be godparents to which we obviously replied "NO SORRY, WE'RE ATHEISTS". Nah I'm only joshing with you, we of course were touched and accepted gleefully. On the way back we stopped at Manly - a gorgeous beach town that was teaming with weekenders enjoying the winter sun and sea view. Always eager for dessert, Nicole and I ordered sickeningly gigantic milkshakes from a café called Ground Zero.
By the time we'd gotten home, we could only fit in a 30 minute nap before heading out again to Newtown for our comedy gig. We were both feeling pretty fragile and totally unprepared for another evening out but we bravely continued and took our seats at Enmore theatre. We saw Steve Hughes's new stand-up routine Nervous Breakthrough and, despite our exhaustion, we laughed our heads off almost the whole way through. Before catching the bus back we picked up some much needed sustenance in the form of a chicken wrap (for me), corn on the cob and onion rings.
We had a better sleep that night, but it was still only about 6 hours before we had to arise to pack everything up ready for our flight. Kwon saw us off with a lovely bottle of wine as a thank you for hosting the estate agents which we immediately re-gifted to Nick and Nicole as we couldn't be bothered taking it through the airports. Nick collected us and took us to the café where Jeanette, Nicola and little Lily were having breakfast. We said our tearful goodbyes and got on the road to Sydney airport for our flight to Singapore. Only 2 days left. The North is calling.
15.06.2016 - 20.06.2016
on advensha's travel map.
On the morning of Wednesday 15th June, Claire dropped us off at Melbourne's Tullamarine airport and there we met Julika - our own personal driver for the next 2 days. We found an advert Julika had put on gumtree looking for ride-mates to join her on a trip from Melbourne all the way to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road. We had originally been looking for another relocation but there was nothing available so luckily gumtree, our last resort, came up trumps. Julika is 21 and from Germany. She is a show-jumper and dressage performer and after doing a bit of travelling around Australia she was heading to Adelaide to work at famous show-jumper Megan Jones's riding school. We met at the airport and jumped in her jam-packed car - a car her friend had given to her as she was going back to Germany. I was sat in the one seat available in the back and was squashed in by copious bags, bedding, camping equipment and horsey stuff. Lauren sacrificially sat in the front and so had to embody the role of chief navigator and keeper-awakerer. True to character, I fell asleep after about half an hour - like I told Lauren I couldn't help it I felt like I was in some sort of stuff-cocoon.
We drove for a while before hitting the starting city of the Great Ocean Road - Torquay. Now I must point out that a lot of the towns along the famous coastal road have recognisable British names - actually a lot of places, monuments, roads, lakes and motorways do. As well as Torquay we went past Anglesea and London Bridge - but I'm getting ahead of myself. We stopped for lunch at Apollo bay; one of many surf, swimming and whale-watching spots and had a lovely if expensive health-conscious lunch and cup of tea. The panoramic views on the rest of the drive were truly breathtaking. Australia's coastline is inimitable; undoubtedly treacherous and unpredictable but unbelievably dazzling. We did stop occasionally; for the '12' apostles (a number of limestone rock formations of which there used to be 12), London Arch (another limestone structure formerly known as London Bridge until the bridge bit collapsed in the 90s) and Bay of Martyrs. There were lots of other viewpoints but it was quite clear that Julika was on a bit of a mission (don't mention the war).
We stopped for the night at the last town on the GOR; Warrnambool (pronounced Warnabull). We found the one hostel available in the area; Warrnambool Beach Backpackers and scoffed at but accepted the price of $60 per person, per night. The hostel was huge and all but empty safe for a few Spanish diving enthusiasts. We were in the 12-bed mixed dorm and discovered as we arrived at our bunk-beds that in Australian hostels you have to dress your own bed. Sure in Asia you had to try and not piss on your own feet when you stumbled into the spider-ridden, stinky squat toilet in the middle of the night but at least someone made your bed for you. Fucking liberties. There were plenty of redeeming features to the hostel though; the owners were very friendly and kind, there was a resident cuddly cat, the common room was huge and had a massive television and DVD player and most wonderfully, there were vending machines for all your chocolate needs. Tummies rumbling we soon spotted a poster on the wall advertising a local pizza shop's 'backpacker deal'. It was $10 for a pizza with free delivery and a free garlic bread. Like a proper backpacker (and someone who gives a shit about their arteries), Julika rustled up a measly bowl of noodles and vegetables for herself from food she had in her car while Lauren and I, eyes and bellies wide, ordered two large pizzas. In the end we could barely eat half of the pizzas before our stomachs seized up but it did mean Lauren had some lunch for the following day. We watched a DVD called Oddball - a film about the plight of Warrnambool's native fairy penguins on nearby middle island who a few years ago were almost wiped out by foxes wandering over when the tide was out. The penguins were saved by the introduction of Italian maremma dogs who instinctively guard them from the foxes.
The next morning we set off nice and early to get a head start on the remaining 608kms to Adelaide. Before we got on the highway we stopped to have a look at the aforementioned Middle island. It looked lovely in the bright winter's sun. We were expecting to arrive in Adelaide in the evening but we somehow made great time and arrived to our stop - Port Noarlunga - by 4pm. We were met by a very friendly Julia (the sister of the lady who's house we were staying in just a few doors up the road) and all had a cup of tea before Julika set off again on her own to Hahndorf town were her horsey job was.
Julia took Lauren and I to our new abode that was on top of a pretty decent hill. The house (owned by my Dad's wife's cousin Carol) was MASSIVE; 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a utility room, a huge deck/balcony, 2 living rooms, a dining room, walk-in wardrobes, pantries and a large garage. And we had the whole place to ourselves. The balcony overlooked the port-town and you could see the nearby beach and gulf of St. Vincent. We dropped our bags and pranced about contemplating which bedroom we should take. We decided on the downstairs bedroom and just as we were unwinding we realised that the water wasn't on - there was nothing coming out of any taps. We spent the next half hour desperately trying to find the stop tap. Now I will admit we're not the handiest of couples (one con of being a lesbian) but we did look in all the most obvious places - under the kitchen sink (all sinks actually), in the garage, in the utility closest, in the room under the stairs, we even had a look around the perimeter of the building. We eventually swallowed our pride and went back round to Julia's who let us use her shower and said her husband Jim would come and have a look later. Julia then took us on a walk down to the pier and around the town. We saw the beautiful and vast sandy beach and deep blue gulf where lots of whales hang out. The town itself was very cute; pubs, antique shops, hardware shops, fishing and surf shops and restaurants. Later on Julia and Jim took us out for dinner to a nearby Thai restaurant Ampika's Kitchen. The food was lovely and good and spicy too - like it should be and we all had a good laugh getting to know each other and telling stories about each of our travelling experiences. When we got back Jim popped over to help us with the water situation and instantly found the stop tap opposite the front door in between some shrubbery.
For our first proper day in Port Noarlunga we basked in our opportunity at doing absolutely nothing. We lay around watching TV, only heading out to get some food from a Coles supermarket nearby. We also made the most of having a proper kitchen to ourselves to cook; Lauren made us a delicious sandwich for lunch. We ALSO capitalised on the presence of a bath - a luxury we didn't know we missed until we saw it.
The next day Carol's daughter (Julia's niece) Liz and her little 1 year old Max came round to take us out for the day. We drove almost 2 hours to Gorge wildlife park, deep in the heart of Cudlee creek (cute I know). Halfway through the drive little Max woke up from his sleep to find us two strangers in his mum's car chatting away. This understandably caused him some distress and he started crying his eyes out. He just wouldn't settle so we stopped at a petrol station and Liz moved into the back and asked Lauren to drive the rest of the way. This was fine until we got to the valley and its dramatic winding narrow rounds with blind bends and sheer drops. With an ever-lengthening queue of traffic behind her, Lauren slowly and cautiously drove around the snaking roads - conscious not to prang this woman's car who we'd just met. We made it unscathed and as soon as we were outside of the car Max made friends with us. So much so that for the rest of the day wandering around the park each of us took turns to hold him (he's not a fan of walking). The wildlife park was great - better than the one we'd been to in Sydney and quite a few dollars cheaper. It was the perfect semi-wild environment for all of the animals - of which there were plenty - deep in mountainous valleys with lots of trees and other flora. We saw reptiles, amphibians, many big and small birds (including a gorgeous albino peacock) and of course hundreds of marsupials (kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, bilbys, quokkas etc.) We also got to swap our new baby friend for a koala which was a little odd because in New South Wales it's illegal to hold koalas but in South Australia (where we now were) it's absolutely fine. We finished off our day by eating dinner at a local 'Asian' restaurant to eat and watch Jim perform (he's a singer-guitarist).
The following day Julia let us borrow her car as she had fractured her arm (what can I say we bring bad luck). We drove and parked at Port Noarlunga train station and head out on the train to Adelaide city, 40 minutes away. The views out of the window were pretty; along the coast and through a few provincial towns. We got to the city centre and walked to Flinders street market where there were lots of vintage, homemade a crafty things for sale. We had a browse and munch at some free samples and then walked back to the main square to have a look at the big old buildings. The roads and pavements were nice and wide and it was cold and crisp but sunny. We then walked to Rundale market (a shipping centre) to eat lunch and finished our jaunt by visiting the Art Gallery of South Australia which was amazing. The format of the gallery was something I'd never encountered before; a complete mix of contemporary and classic art - paintings, sculptures, furniture and visual art - old and new. It was really different and interesting and we spent a good 2 hours there wandering around.
We managed to find ourselves another relocation to get back to Melbourne from Adelaide and so the next day Jim very kindly took us to the airport to collect our car. We got a great little Hyundai i20 new compact car that, to Lauren's relief, I was happy to drive. For the rest of our last day Julia and Jim took us on a drive around the Fleurieu region. We stopped for tea in Strathalbyn town and then drove to Port Elliot. We stopped at Victor Harbour for lunch in a pub with live music on where as well as the food we paid for we also got free leftovers from a finishing function. At Victor Harbour there's an old horse-pulled tram that still goes through the town as well as a steam cockle train. On our way back we drove through the McLaren Vale wine region - Adelaide is famous for its vineyards producing some of the best wine in the world. Although they weren't so lush as it's winter, they were very picturesque. At odds with the pretty sights for some reason we all got on the topic of famous Australian murders - lots of which have happened in Adelaide. Over the decades loads of backpackers have been picked up and killed. We were glad we weren't hitchhiking.
Although we didn't do much while in Port Noarlunga we thoroughly enjoyed chilling out in our very own pad and embracing the quiet beauty of South Australia. Only an 8 hour drive back to Melbourne...
02.06.2016 - 05.06.2016
on advensha's travel map.
From Sydney airport we flew off on our Virgin Australia flight to another new state - Northern Territory. Our destination; Uluṟu, also known as Ayers Rock. Most of the 3.5 hour flight (yes Australia is THAT big) was wholly uneventful until we started our descent. Uluṟu and its surrounding area was unusually cloudy thus we hadn't seen much out of the aeroplane window. All of a sudden we could see a vast wash of red ground only a 100 metres below us; a crazy sight for usually grey eyes - landing was imminent we thought. Then, all of a sudden we accelerated back up and the aircrew came over the PA to say "please remain seated, we are not yet landing" followed by the pilot "we are just heading to our waiting place where we will receive instructions from air traffic control as to what to do next. Please know that we do have enough fuel to divert to another airport if necessary". By this point Lauren isn't quite freaking out but her anxiety has certainly spiked. After about half an hour the pilot attempted the landing again and this time, we made it. It was only after we arrived that my friend Loz (another one) that we were staying with told us she'd heard the airport staff talking about a possible diversion to Adelaide and that the pilot had been too brazen with the first landing and so had to abort. Anyway no harm done and we'd made it to Uluṟu only an hour or so late.
So my friend Loz (who is also known as Ren and that is what I will refer to her as to minimise confusion) is an environmental scientist and works as a ranger at the Uluṟu national park. We felt very lucky to be getting such an amazing insight that other tourists wouldn't enjoy. We first drove in Ren's big old ute to Yalara (the resort at the park) to do some shopping. There was a blanket of cloud covering a lot of the desert but the landscape was still spectacular - so uniquely Australian. On our way back from the shop we spotted a man pulling some sort of animal to the side of the road. Ren jumped out to help and discovered that a euro wallaby (like a small kangaroo) had been hit (most likely by a tourist driving too fast) and seemed to have broken its legs and/or back as it couldn't move, but was still very much alive. Being a ranger (and a good person), Ren thanked the man for helping, sent him on his way and called the office for assistance. Ren told us that there wasn't very much wildlife at Uluṟu so it's always very sad when something gets injured or killed in an accident. After a short while one of Ren's colleagues turned up and was able to put the poor little thing out of its misery. Ren told us that the carcass would be given to the indigenous community (Mutitjulu) and that the Pitjantjatjara people would make a load of meals out of it. So at least its death wasn't totally in vain. Lauren and I couldn't believe just how Australian our first hour in Uluṟu had been - against the backdrop of both 'the bush' and one of the oldest and most recognisable natural monoliths in the world, we had witnessed (from a ute) a wild, Australia-specific marsupial dying on the side of the road. All we needed next was a crocodile to crawl out of the spinifex and gobble the little wallaroo up. But apparently crocodiles don't hang out in the desert - shame.
We eventually got to Ren's house - Uluṟu Lodge - which is situated within Mutitjulu (the indigenous community), outside of the resort. As expected the house is ace; it sits on a large bit of land which Ren, her boyfriend Matt and her housemate Rachel have cultivated into a veggie patch, small pool and lovely garden with cacti, trees and many plants - all frequented by birds we've never seen or heard before. Two dogs are also residents; Millie - a gorgeous and playful little jack-russell dog and, a new addition, Ninti the semi-domesticated dingo who Ren is looking after for some friends. Ninti was run over a few years ago so her hips and back legs just aren't quite right. This makes her very wonky - she has a funny walk and when you give her a good scratch she just can't take it and falls over. She's naturally a little timid and lives outside but she will come up for a sniff and stroke and is as sweet as anything. That night Ren cooked us an amazing Laksa soup and for pudding we bombarded her with questions about the big rock and the community. How lucky we are to get an insight that most tourists would never experience.
The next day we drove in Ren's ute (a fun experience in itself) to the cultural centre. It being national reconciliation week - a time "dedicated to growing respectful relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians" - there was a cultural talk led by the Anangu (indigenous Mutitjulu people). We sat with a load of other (mainly white Australian) tourists and learned about some traditional homemade tools, food and hunting and cooking methods. The presenter spoke in Pitjantjatjara and another guy translated into English. Two of the elders were also sat watching; one of whom is called Mr. Uluṟu - the rock allegedly named after his ancestors. As clichéd as it sounds, it was fascinating and reminded us (Lauren and I) just how disconnected we are from the earth we inhabit. At the end of the presentation I ate a freshly barbecued wichetty grub, which tasted a bit eggy and was quite tasty.
Well and truly captivated, after the talk we spent an hour in the visitor centre reading more about the history and culture of the Anangu and their relationship with Uluṟu and Kata Tjuta. We then did a short walk to one of the watering holes which was breath-taking, and along the way we even saw a small snake slither along the path in front of us. For dinner we went to Gecko's café which is next to the brilliantly named Ayers Wok and then toddled off to the mini stadium where we sat under the astonishing night's sky and watched the film Mabo (which I'd highly recommend). Ren told us that in Uluṟu, you're closer to the stars than you are to the nearest McDonald's. Back at the house Ren started a fire and we sat with cups of tea looking up. The night's sky is so clear you can see the milky way. In all honesty it blew my mind.
The next day Ren had a day off so the three of us went on the Mala walk led by James. The Mala is a small hare-like marsupial that is an integral part of the history, stories, learning and rituals of the Anangu. We walked around the rock looking at specific caves and gorges that are or were used for men's and women's business. For lunch Ren made us an amazing salad with veggies from the garden and homemade dressings and condiments. We sat outside and the weather was perfect; sunny but not too hot or humid. We then drove 1hr out to the other rock (or more accurately rocks) - Kata Tjuta, aka the Olgas. As we were getting close to sunset we only hiked halfway to the 2nd lookout but along the way we absorbed the awe-inspiring sights of the ancient, colossal rocks, against the piercing blue sky with only the sounds of birds to be heard. It's enough to make you feel incredibly insignificant; a mere (very temporary) dot on the landscape. Ren told us all about the plants and flowers that are blossoming at the moment due to last week's rain. We found a dead micro-bat in a small crook and had a look at his little wings. It's the closest to Steve Irwin I'll ever get.
We climbed back to the ute and parked up to watch the sunset over Kara Tjuta. We sat in the back of the pick-up and observed the sky turning all the colours of the rainbow. With the silvery thin clouds, glowing sunset and tree silhouettes it looked just like an oil painting. As darkness consumed we all quickly got changed on the side of the road as we were booked into the posh Anali restaurant for our last dinner (generously paid for by Ren's mum Cheryl). There we indulged in some cocktails and yummy gourmet food while conversing about or lives. The beautiful sunset must have made us go all philosophical. I chose kangaroo steak (rare), which was very nice - when in Rome and all that.
The next morning we discovered our early afternoon flight had been delayed so Ren took the extra time as an opportunity to show us around her old place of employment - the camel farm. Naturally we met lots of the camels as well as jumping in the most Australian animal playpen you'll ever see. In it was an emu, a few kangaroos (one of which was pregnant), a huge buffalo (called Buffy) and some ducks. We had some cuddles and strokes and watched some Chinese tourists squirming and screaming with laughter while trying to feed the pecky emu.
The flight kept getting delayed so we then fit in a lunch and some window-shopping at the resort before finally making it to the airport. In the end we were only 3hrs delayed. We soon discovered that everyone's flights has been delayed meaning the tiny airport was chock-a-block. Eventually we got up in the air and we watched out of the window as we flew over Uluṟu. We said goodbye to what I felt was 'real' Australia and we will always be grateful to Ren for giving us a view that very few would have the privilege of encountering.
06.06.2016 - 24.06.2016
on advensha's travel map.
First visit (Mon 6th June - Tues 14th June)
We spent Monday morning getting everything packed up ready for our relocation campervan adventure to Melbourne. For the benefit of those who don't know about 'relocations' the idea is that a car or camper-van hire company (of which there are many in Australia) need a vehicle relocating from one place to another. Picture this scenario; Tristan and Brittany are archetypal American backpackers and have hired a funky 4-berth Jucy camper-van from Cairns and have driven south to Sydney and left it at an office there. Jucy Campers in Sydney already have their own fleet and so need to get this camper back to the Cairns depot. This is when they'll advertise on various relocation websites for some stingy, flexible sods (that's us) to drive said camper back to its hometown for not a lot of money (often $1 per day). Sound too good to be true? Well the cons are that you have to rely entirely on what trips come up on the websites and so must be very flexible with your dates. The other thing is that you are restricted by both a kilometre and duration allowance. So if you want to relocate the camper but fancy going on a bit of a detour for a week to Alice Springs - you can't. Overall though for us, the cost is benefit enough - we only have to pay for fuel and an 'admin' fee to cover tolls and linens etc. For those of you interested, during our time in Australia we have used 3 different relocation websites and had only positive experiences; Apollo, imoova and transfercar.
Anyway, back to the blog in hand...
To get to the Apollo camper depot from Coogee we had to get 2 buses and a train, a 90 minute journey. This wasn’t all bad as it gave me the opportunity for a few cat naps. I also managed to fit in a steak and onion pie from a Vietnamese-owned bakery while waiting for our last bus. We finally made it to the arse-end of Sydney were our modern Toyota camper-van awaited. After finishing the formalities Lauren climbed up to the driver’s seat and tried to figure out the pull/push hand-brake and two pedals. Navigating Sydney’s foreign roads was a little scary but we did make it back to Coogee and even managed to find a parking spot outside the house. We had a cup of tea and chucked our bags in the van along with some carrot cake made by Jeanette. We set off from Sydney much later than we wanted to, mainly due to us not realising how far away the camper depot was. After only an hour of driving it started to go dark and the weather-front we’d been hearing about began to move in. One monster of a storm was about to annihilate the east coast with high winds and torrential rain. A few people had suggested taking the coastal roads to Melbourne as they were apparently very beautiful but, because of said storm, they were closed. Plus it was dark anyway.
While driving 3 hours along the Hume highway Lauren battled to stop the 2.6m high camper-van from blowing into the other lanes. Our windscreen wipers were on high and the roads were very badly lit so overall it wasn’t the smoothest of journeys. Soon enough though we landed at Yass Caravan Park where we would stop for the night. Yass town is a strange, sleepy place that looks like it’s stuck in the 1950s. The town has little to no television reception and the first sign we saw said “beware of falling limbs”. I thought this was some sort of pun until Lauren explained that limbs mean tree branches.
We parked up and ran to the toilet block where I suffered a sudden and nasty bout of diarrhoea. While I shivered on the toilet for 20 minutes Lauren plugged us in to the electricity, sorted out our bed and made us some toast and tea. Anyone would think my gastric troubles were a ploy to avoid doing chores. I eventually made it back to our mobile home and wrapped myself in a hundred layers. We were actually very cosy on our foam mattress with only the rain and wind to be heard outside.
The next morning we made the most of the hot showers and got off nice and early on our way to the funkily named Tocumwal (pronounced toe-come-wall). There we were meeting Peter and Sandra; our new friends that we met in Vientiane, Laos. The 3.5 hour drive was much more scenic than the night before; farms, forests and blue skies with lots of amazing colourful feathered creatures to be spotted.
We parked up on Peter and Sandra's drive and remarked at how much their neighbourhood looked like Ramsey street; large, fairly new spread-out bungalows and big gardens. We chatted for a while before Peter and Sandra drove us around the town. We saw the Murray river which was unusually low, where lots of people go to free bush-camp, canoe, swim and fish for Tocumwal's famous spotted Murray cod. There was a sweet old disused mill, a train station now only frequented by the occasional freight train. We even saw some wild kangaroos hopping around. It felt a bit like the wild west. Apparently what puts Tocumwal on the map is that it's a hotspot for gliders - glider planes than is. The famous four time world championship winning German glider Ingo Renner moved to and became naturalised in Tocumwal. He even has a street named after him (where he still lives to this day at age 77). After sampling the sights we were then treated to a long dip in Peter and Sandra's hot tub along with an ice cold bottle of cider while a roast was being cooked on the BBQ. It was pretty delightful. We filled up on roasted goodies and wine while waxing lyrical about Australia and travel destinations before retiring to a proper bed with a proper mattress and everything. Needless to say we slept like babies.
The next morning we were on our way again, headed to our next state - Victoria. We made it to Melbourne in just less than 4 hours and dropped our camper-van off at an industrial estate miles away from anywhere. Luckily, Lauren's old friend Janya (whom she met 8 years ago when she herself lived in Melbourne) and her boyfriend Dan very kindly drove 40 minutes to collect us. Unfortunately, our welcoming weather in Melbourne was grey, rainy and generally miserable. Reminiscent of good old Blighty actually.
We spent our first evening in Melbourne chilling out and catching up with Janya and crew at her home in Balaclava. We sat in their lovely boho garden under the stars with Mollie the dog, a few chickens, a couple of sneaky possums and some drinks. Janya and her cousin Tom are kiwi and her boyfriend Dan is from Kentucky, USA. The next day Janya took us on a pub crawl around St. Kilda; Lauren's old stomping ground - to both reminisce and introduce the area. We met a few of her eccentric friends; Tripper - an elderly guy who rides around on a chopper style bicycle wearing all leather with no teeth and comedy spring-eyes glasses and, most notably, Ray - an old, wise and very interesting aboriginal guy who calls Janya his daughter. What struck me about St. Kilda was the prevalence of many more old and interesting buildings than Coogee and also a completely different set of residents. Compared with Sydney, St. Kilda seemed to be brimming with (for want of a better word) 'riff-raff' - there were homeless people, drunkards, drug addicts wandering around begging for change or a light and in certain areas, sex-workers. As well as this there were also many more native Australians. Despite the very noticeable presence of the undesirables - the area didn't feel remotely unsafe, in fact it felt welcoming - to all people, hard-up or not. That night, after a brief rest from beer-drinking, we went out again to a local bar called Lost where a live rock band was playing. Janya, Lauren, Ray and I enjoyed the music and chatted away putting the world to rights. When the band had finished we proceeded to dance around like idiots to our own music choices that we played through Youtube (a bit of Where's Me Jumper never hurt anyone).
For the next two days at Janya's we did next to nothing - a bit of shopping, a bit of reading and mindless telly-watching and a lot of sleeping. Such is the joy of not having an itinerary. We then made our way to another one of Lauren's old friends from the same era; Claire. Claire lives right on Fitzroy street in the heart of St. Kilda in a lovely art deco style apartment with a cute courtyard in the middle. We met Claire's huge man-cat Ezra and got ready for a nearby house-party for another one of Lauren's buddies Bower. The party house was very modern and huge and right on the sea-front. We mingled, drank Passion Pop (like Lambrini) and managed to find the dog of the house (as we do)- a huge soft golden retriever. We spent the last hour drunkenly playing fuse-ball in the garage at the back before we sneaked out and on the way back to Claire's, ate a cheeky Coneheads (chips).
All hungover the next morning, we had big breakfasts at Miss Jackson café where a really weird Canadian waitress was awkwardly oversharing to all of the customers while getting everyone's orders wrong. We then walked around a cold but bright St. Kilda - along the pier to where the fairy penguins live in the rocks. The water at Port Phillip Bay glistened in the winter sun and all was calm.
The next day Claire took us on a nice long walk around Albert Park where we saw plenty of wonderful wild Australian birds. That evening we partook in our first pub quiz (which they call trivia night in Aus) since Thailand at The Local Taphouse pub. We met Claire's friend Emily and her boyfriend Brian who joined our team (Quiz on your face was our name - original I know). The pub specialises in craft ale which is great or most people but for a non-beer drinker like myself it can be tricky to get hydrated. At one point Lauren was getting a round in and after being turned down for about 5 different spirits she knows I like, she settled on a recommendation from the barmaid - Campari. The barmaid told Lauren it was orange flavoured, and, knowing I enjoying a Cointreau, Lauren bought it over for me. As you may already know, Campari is actually hell-flavoured (grapefruit). She couldn't have picked a worse tipple for my awkward taste-buds. The Campari stayed put on our table for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately we didn't win the quiz but we had a lot of fun nonetheless dancing to the 90s classics the cool quiz-master lady was playing.
The following day we left for our ride-share to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road (see Adelaide blog post).
Second visit (Mon 20th June - Fri 24th June)
We travelled back to Melbourne in a really great little Hyundai i20 car that we were relocating through Europcar. We collected the car from Adelaide airport where we were met with some very rude and condescending looks and grunts from the manager. Clearly he didn't like the idea of two unkempt backpacker females driving his spotless hire car the 725km to Melbourne. Little did he know I drive like a grandma not a boy-racer. This time we took the inland route along the National Highway A8 as we'd already done the Great Ocean Road on the way there. As per our usual luck, the weather for the first hour of the 8hr drive was incredibly foggy and drizzly. I couldn't quite figure out how to put my fog lights on so I just used my dipped headlights and drove very slowly. The visibility couldn't have been more than a couple of metres ahead. I managed 4 straight hours of driving on what's an almost perfect straight, unchanging road. I was quite proud of myself. Lauren then covered the last 4 hours. Along the way we marvelled at the funny little towns; namely the inventively named 'Border town' and the mad looking Old Tailem Town - Australia's largest Pioneer village, complete with stables, a hydroplane and plenty of barns. We arrived at Claire's in really good time at around 6pm and head straight off to another quiz night - this time at the Elsternwick Hotel pub. We met Claire's other friends Emily, Cat, Hannah and her boyfriend Alex. This time we called ourselves 6 girls and 1 cup, because we're classy like that. Again we didn't win but Emily DID win a jug of beer so that's pretty good.
Lauren dropped our favourite little car off the next day and then we spent the day doing some wandering and shopping at my favourite 'Op shop' Sacred Heart, followed by Aldi. Another quiz was awaiting that night at Windsor Ale House (aka Pint on't Punt) where Lauren managed to get a vegetarian parma made from aubergine. Thanks to our well-rounded genius, this time we actually won the quiz with first prize being an $100 bar tab. Fuck yeah! With a name like 'Get your Schnitz out for the dykes' of course we were going to destroy the competition!
The next morning while Claire was in work we had a mini disaster in the form of the shower not turning off. The crisis was averted quite quickly with the consultation of an emergency plumber and we eventually made it out to Melbourne centre where amazingly we'd not yet visited. We checked out the impressive and widespread street-art, perused the art gallery and ate curry from an amazing tiny Indian shop/café. That night we went to Janya's to meet Roger (another one of Lauren's old friends from Liverpool) and his girlfriend Tara. I brought along a really cheap tawny port I'd bought from Aldi and pretty much polished the whole bottle off. It was an interesting 30 minute walk back to Claire's.
Our last day in Melbourne consisted of drinks in an Irish pub with Janya and some of her friends followed by a cosy night in with Vietnamese takeaway in Claire's with her friends. A fitting end to an indulgent and fun-filled week and a half in St. Kilda. Now back to Sydney to meet a certain new addition to the Jones family...