A Travellerspoint blog

Byron Bay

sunny 27 °C

The contrast between Byron Bay and Surfers Paradise could not have been greater. Goodbye to the lashing rain, high rise buildings and general tackiness. Hello to lots of sun, a small beach town and a general chilled out atmosphere. Love it. I couldn't believe my luck with the weather the past three days, it has been beautiful.

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On Wednesday I checked into my hostel and headed straight to the beach. The thrill of having sun again, how I have missed you (I'll enjoy it now before the snow back in Ireland). That evening I met up with the Danes and Swedes from Fraser. Together with two new additions we enjoyed a long evening of goon and drinking games. The 'everyone get to the chopper!' game was resurrected and it was a drunken fun evening that ended in one of the newbies collapsing, getting sick everywhere and having to be carried home to his hostel where the only choice was to put him to sleep on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. It would have been rude not to get it on camera.

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Thursday morning resulted in a very bad hangover but after some food I was back down to the beach for a spot of sunbathing and a dip in the ocean. The water here is really warm so I was loving it. Unfortunately after about 15 minutes my arm suddenly began to sting. Feck, a jellyfish?! No it was a long blue thing attached to my right arm and I didn't have a clue what it was. But it hurt badly. I pulled it off and quickly got out of the water and over to the lifeguard. Turns out I got stung by a Blue Bottle Fish along with 100 other people that day! Thanks for warning us Mr. Lifeguard, nice! I spent the next hour in agony with an ice bag and eventually under a hot shower as that works best. It has put me right off going back in the ocean. Thank god it wasn't a Jelly Fish.

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Once I was feeling better I took a stroll through the town and ended up in Wicked Travel and booked myself on a sky dive for the following day. I have been thinking about this on and off the past few years but never went through with it. However when in Rome! The Visa was put through and there was no going back. Shitting it already! That night I took it easy as I didn't want to be hungover on the big day.

Friday and it was sky dive time. I was standing outside my hostel at 1.30pm ready for pick-up. Only ten minutes later nobody had showed. A quick phone call later and I was told due to high wind it was being delayed until 3.30pm. Annoyance! I really wanted to get it over and done with. 2 Hours later and another call to tell me it was being delayed until 5.30pm. And then finally by 5pm I was told it was cancelled and I would get a full refund. Noooo! Although I was dreading it I had psyched myself up and just wanted to do it. Unfortunately as this was my last day here my next opportunity won't be until New Zealand in March.

Instead I took a walk with a few of the guys up to the Lighthouse - a 2.5 hour round trip walk. Bit of exercise and some great views on the way.

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By 9pm I was ready for my Greyhound bus - it was a rough night and definitely not as comfortable as the last overnight bus I had taken. 2 hours late and completely packed, we were assigned seating for the first time. Unfortunately I was put on the aisle next to a large Dutch guy and although I had two sleeping tablets to take, I woke up constantly throughout the night as the bus kept stopping for people to hop on/off. I arrived in Sydney at 12pm today so it was straight to the hostel for a few hours kip. I'm feeling refreshed and ready for a good night out.

Posted by mattld 22:51 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Surfers Paradise

sunny 28 °C

I arrived in Surfers Paradise on Saturday afternoon. I had heard more negativity about this particular location than anywhere else on my East Coast travels. Most people I spoke to didn’t enjoy their experience and recommended as little time as possible. Unfortunately with 3 big theme parks I couldn’t resist and had to book myself in for a few nights. I expected the worst and thankfully it wasn’t all that bad at all. Yes there are sky high apartment blocks that remind you of the ‘2 Key’ apartments from Gran Canaria. The city centre is packed full of restaurants, bars and clubs – for a moment you could almost think you’re back in Lanzerote on a cheap packaged holiday deal with Budget Travel. In comparison to all the previous places I have been to, this was my least favourite destination.

On my first evening I decided to try out a pub crawl organised by my hostel. You pay 30 dollars, get taken to 4 clubs and get 4 free drinks. It was like being back in college. Only I didn’t know anyone. The night was alright – I met a few people and had a few laughs but as there was over 50 from my hostel alone not to mention a number of others in the local area joining in. I was missing my group from the Whitsundays and Fraser. You were very much a number being ushered in and out and each club as quickly as possible. I decided to call it a night just before the last place as I had an early start the next morning.

The weather forecasted when I arrived in Surfers could not have been any worse – torrential rain for the following week. Why did I have to get the Wet Season year? I wasn’t going to let rain stop me so on Sunday morning, out I went in the lashing rain to Seaworld, my first park. I had to laugh walking to the bus stop - only I would be determined enough to do a theme park in the lashing rain. It wasn’t long before I got myself a poncho and a golf umbrella – despite looking incredibly silly, I would have been lost without them. Visiting a theme park in the rain is not very fun – but hey I had little choice so I made the most of it. This Seaworld was nowhere as good as the one in Orlando. It was a lot smaller but had the usual mix of marine wildlife and a couple of average rollercoasters thrown in as well. The only highlight for me was the Dolphin show – it was brilliant. I love Dolphins! That evening I went to see the new Narnia film – I shouldn’t have bothered it was the worst one so far. But I was expecting that as I’ve read the books. Oh well. On a sidenote, it is so humid here - because of the rainfall and clouds everywhere it is boiling hot in my hostel room so it's windows open and the fan on at all times. No air conditioning unfortunately!

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Monday morning and it was time for Dreamworld – I woke up to more torrential rain! I headed out anyway and met up with Christian and Anne, a Danish couple from my Fraser Island trip. It was nice to see some friendly faces again. The park itself was another let down – not a lot of brilliant rides but we still had fun. The highlights for me were The Claw (a swinging pendulum), Alien vs. Predator (think Q-Zar in an Alien/Predator setting, it was really cool) and the Big Drop (the highest I have ever been on, it was freaking scary!). What looked like the best ride i.e. Tower of Terror II was closed due to the rain – booo. That evening we had dinner at Hard Rock Café where I tried guacamole for the first time – yep I’ve never had it before as I thought it looked like baby poo! I really liked it. After dinner I persuaded the Danes to come to Dracula’s House of Terror (a walk through horror attraction) as I didn’t want to do it on my own. This was a lot of fun and we got a few good scares along the way.

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Tuesday morning and my last full day here – the final park left to visit i.e. Warner Brothers Movie World! This was by far the best park of the three and had some great rides e.g. Superman Returns, Lethal Weapon and Batman - quality. The weather also cleared for the day so I didn’t have to walk around in my ridiculous looking poncho, hurray! That evening I went to see the new Harry Potter film – I’m not a big fan but it was the best of the lot by a mile, far darker than any of the others and a lot more action. I've just arrived in Byron Bay this afternoon, my second last stop. The sun is beaming down and I've run into the two Swedish lads from my Fraser jeep group - I just hope the good weather lasts.

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Posted by mattld 20:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Brisbane

overcast 22 °C

FYI for those of you reading this is a double entry update - I had intended to post my Fraser blog a few days ago but haven't had the chance so instead of one big huge post I've broken it up into two. Scroll down below this post if you want to read up on Fraser Island.

The bus journey from Hervey Bay to Brisbane was about 5 hours - I'm getting used to travelling by bus now and I have to say it's a lot more enjoyable than a plane journey. It's cool just plugging in the iPod, chilling out and taking in the scenary on the journey. Every bus so far has played films too which also helps the time pass quickly. I arrived into Brisbane at about 2pm to torrential rain! After 3 really good days of weather it was a bit of a shame but I didn't mind too much as it's humid. It was strange coming back into a city after two weeks of small beach towns and islands. I was jut getting used to the quieter life.

One of my good friends Tracy lives here - I worked with her at Hunter Marshal and then at Adecco for about two years. She invited me to stay at her apartment so I cancelled my hostel and met up with her that evening. It's great seeing old friends again. That evening we got a Dominos pizza and had a good catch up before an early night as we were both knackered.

On Thursday I was up early for a City tour I had booked the night before. It was good one too at about three hours where you were brought around all the key highlights and given all the history. The city itself is the third largest in Australia at about 2 million people and you can tell they take a lot of pride in it. It has a very English feel to it due to many of the older buildings and architecture. Australia was originally a prison/convict country and many were brought to Brisbane by the British. That afternoon I took a wander around South Bank - an amazing area with an outdoor pool/beach lagoon, a large ferris wheel, plenty of cultural activites, Chinese gardens, a small make shift rainforest and shops/restaurants.

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I visited two art galleries and the city mueseum for a bit of culture. The modern art gallery was hilarious, some of the stuff is just plain weird i.e. a room with 16 seperate screens all lined up filled with Michael Jackson obsessives singing every single song from his 1982 Thriller albulm. It was all very much out of tune. The guys on it were camper than Christmas wearing the white glove and the girls had the strange eye thing going on. I couldn't get a photo as it was too dark, shame.

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That evening me and Tracy headed out on the lash - after a spot of dinner we visited a great Irish bar for cheap drinks (4 single vodkas and a mixer for 8 dollars!) and a few hours at a brilliant karaoke bar where you are backed by a live band. I sang Wonderwall, Bittersweet Symphony and then Livin on a Prayer as a duet with Tracy. There was a prize at the end of it and I won. Love it! 50 Dollar voucher thank you very much. It ended with some clubbing and a late return home.

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Hangover.com this morning! I had intended to visit Steve Irwin's zoo but got up too late so today I am just having a wander around the streets and updating the blog and pics etc. As I said in an earlier post I've had my fill of zoos so it wasn't the end of the world. Tracy is on her Christmas night out so I will meet up with her later. Tomorrow I go to Surfers Paradise for four nights - I hear the city is like a cheap Santa Ponza and lots of schoolies but it has four massive Theme Parks so I can't wait! Really excited. It's Wet Season along the coast (the first in 29 years I'm told how typical) so I hope it won't rain too much.

Oh and finally, it couldn't feel less Christmassy here even though the Australians are making an effort. Here's a picture of a a random busker playing Jingle Bells in his flip flops, shorts, t-shirt and sunglasses - I'll never get used to it!

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Posted by mattld 20:59 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Hervey Bay and Fraser Island

sunny 30 °C

On Sunday I arrived into Hervey Bay where I was getting prepared for my 3 days to Fraser Island. The town itself is like a quieter version of Airlie Beach with a nice beach front with shops and restaurants. I chilled out at the beach that day and at 6pm I met up with the 31 other people for a full briefing on what to expect ahead of the trip. We were all split into four groups of 8 - it was myself, five other lads (2 from England, 2 from Sweden and 1 from Wales) and two girls from Germany. It was a strange split as every other group only had 1-2 guys max and the rest were girls. The Germans were not happy about it!

After the meeting we had to get our shopping budget ready so we kept it simple and went with everything advised on the list and it cost about 21 dollars each - not bad for 3 full days worth of food! Unfortunately, I got into a row straight away with the German girls who wanted a more 'efficient' list. They wanted to cut out practically everything - from the meat to the bread and butter etc. With six lads in the group and the Swedes admitting they are savages (which turned out to be very true) I was having none of it. In the end we agreed to pay more than the girls and off we went to get our food sorted followed by a box of Goon each. That evening we hung out on the beach and went to a local club at the end of the night.

Monday morning and we were up bright and early at 5.30am. We had another briefing, this time with our tour leader who advised us people have been killed on the trip, bitten by snakes and dingos etc. Lovely! He then announced that one person had to change from our group to another due to seats on our jeep - it would however just be for the jeep trips. Immediately the Germans came into my head as they were no fun and it had to be a non driver - neither of them were old enough. More fighting resumed but eventually they gave in and off they went. In came an English girl who we met the night before who wasn't happy with her group and we were ready to go!

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I had 3 of the best days I've had on this whole entire trip on the Island. It was just brilliant fun. During the day we visited 3 amazing fresh water lakes, hung out at the beaches, trekked through rainforests and enjoyed taking turns driving the jeep over normal terrain and on the beach as well. Our group was very much a lads one and there was a lot of banter - from singing Oasis songs on one of the guys iPhones to being naughty and overtaking the slower cars it was great craic.

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We spent two nights at an Aboriginal camp site and we were very lucky as it is one of the few without a curfew and we were allowed to have a fire - the only conditions from the Aboriginals were not to spit in the fire or whistle after sunset as it 'attracted evil spirits'. Bless them. Each evening we'd cook dinner and then get stuck into the Goon over a number of drinking games. The best one involved putting cards down which had an action everyone had to do straight away - the slowest person would then have to drink half a cup. My favourite action was shouting 'Everyone get to the chopper!' in an overly dramatic Arnie voice while simulating a helicopter motion above your head. Very funny seeing 20+ people doing it at the same time. Later on in the evenings we would head to the beach where I was brought back to my youth - drinking outdoors under the most amazing stars playing the likes of Truth or Dare and 'Spin the Torch' was more fun than I remembered.

There are a couple of downsides to staying in a camp fire - you have to be covered in anti mosquito spray the whole time or they will eat you alive. I put it on and still got bitten. A few even managed to fly up my t-shirt and bite both sides of my stomach. Feckin mosquitos! I haven't stayed in a tent in years and now I remember why. I had two of the worst nights sleep ever with a rock hard base and a towel for a pillow. Thank god I was drunk enough on Goon otherwise I'd have gotten no sleep. And finally, the dirt and sand. It got everywhere and you were filthy the whole time - the showers were ice cold with a dribble of water so I didn't bother with it. You just had to embrace it. All of the above was well worth it though for the craic we had.

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The German girls annoyed the hell out of me and everyone else on the trip - despite wanting very little food they ate just as much as the rest of us and constantly spoke in German to one another and you could just tell they were slagging us off. To them we were immature boys and to us they were stereotypical Germans with little personality and no fun factor at all. We did amuse ourselves though several times pretending there were spiders in their bags and hiding their lunch which didn't go down too well. For the record there are a huge amount of Germans over here, more than any other nationality and a lot of them are really nice. It's just a few that give them a bad name. Aside from Germans, the most common nationalities are English, Scandinavians and Irish! For a country of just 4 million, it's hilarious that you run into other Irish travellers on every trip, hostel and Greyhound bus along the way. Who the hell is left in our country?

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We got back from Fraser on Tuesday and that night some of us got together for a final shindig on the beach with more Goon and a small after party. Most of the people I met on the Whitsunday and Fraser Island trips were amazing fun - it's sad when they end as everyone is going in different directions and it's a pity you have to say goodbye. You form friendship bonds very quickly when you're travelling alone - Facebook is great for staying in touch though and luckily a few will be in Surfers Paradise the same time as me. Wednesday morning was another early start - up at 7am, out of my hostel and off to Brisbane!

Posted by mattld 20:39 Archived in Australia Comments (4)

Airlie Beach, Whitsunday Islands (and Vegemite)

sunny 27 °C

On Tuesday I arrived into Airlie Beach for an overnight at Magnums. The difference between here and Magnetic Island couldn’t have been greater. Everything is much cheaper and competition is sky high to attract backpackers so everyone from the local smoothie shop to Dominos are doing special deals aimed at tourists. It made a nice change to Magnetic where there was very little choice and everything was over priced. It’s definitely got a more tourist feel to it, which is a good and a bad thing. The ‘schoolies’ who are on their break are everywhere to be seen – teenagers running wild. It all made me feel very old at 27! Anyway I got a nice Thai meal for dinner, got my clothes wash done and took it easy for the night. The hostel itself is not as nice as their other chain on Magnetic - there are no swimming pools, I was just getting used to that! I booked a double room and it was like a shoebox but it did the job. The whole hostel itself reminds me a lot like Camp Crystal Lake from the original Friday the 13th – a bit too much actually.

The next day I was down at the dock by 11.30am, complete with my box of ‘goon’. It’s a very cheap wine substitute in a box that everyone drinks on these trips over here. Apparently it’s made from fish and eggs, two ingredients I am not generally keen on but hey when in Rome. A 4 litre box cost me just 17 dollars – bear in mind that 1 glass in a bar is at least 7 dollars and you’ve got a very good deal! There are plenty of options available for the Whitsunday Islands tours. I had originally been booked to go with Avatar but unfortunately it was double booked last minute so I opted for Powerplay – a slightly more expensive trip but I did not want to be stuck with a load of 18 year olds screaming ‘Spring break!’ for 2 full days. One of the tours here is actually called ‘Spank Me’.

Anyway, I couldn’t have made a better decision. The boat itself was almost brand new, plenty of room for the 18 passengers + 4 crew and it had a Jacuzzi! Sold. The group I travelled with were probably the best bunch of people I have ever gone on a tour with. There wasn’t one person I didn’t get on with. Most of them ranged in their mid twenties to early thirties and there was one couple in their early 50s who we christened the mammy and daddy of the boat. Nationalities were dominantly Americans, English and Irish but there were some Welsh, Canadian, Italian, Swiss and French as well. I have to add the Americans were great banter – we were all constantly taking the piss out of their accents and general Republican type things but they took it very well to be fair.

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The tour consisted of a number of stops for sightseeing, snorkling, scuba diving and a trip to Whitehaven beach – a beach that is closer to paradise than any other place I have seen before. The photographs do no justice to how stunning it really is. The sand there is officially the finest and most impressive in the world. There are strict laws against anyone who takes any with them and the only company that are allowed are NASA who used it to build the Hubble Telescope! We spent a couple of hours there playing about, swimming, taking in the sights and messing about.

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After getting my Padi cert it would have been a shame not to do a dive so I did two – one at Luncheon Bay and another at Manta Ray Bay. They were much better than Alma Bay on Magnetic but the visibility still wasn’t that great. Still, I got see a huge turtle up close (Dude!) and a giant fish that I cannot remember the name of, but they go through a natural sex change from female to male in order to mate with the dominant female once the dominant male dies. Bizarre but interesting.

One downside about tours in Australia is that they like to punish you if you are late back onto a bus/boat or don’t follow the general rules they set. The punishment on both tours I’ve been on so far involves being forced to eat a spoon of vegemite (also known as Bovril). In the case of this tour, if you didn’t sign back onto the boat when getting back on board from a scuba or snorkel you would be punished and made to eat it. I had been dreading this and on the second day I did forget to sign in – nooo! There was not getting out of it. It was disgusting. Mingin! Rotten. Not happy! I can’t believe people actually eat this. I hope I don’t get it again…

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Vegemite aside, we were very well fed throughout the trip, the crew were highly entertaining and both nights involved plenty of goon, laughs and some drinking games for good measure. I have to say I was very sad to leave. That night, 8 of us met up at Beaches for an after party along with groups from the other boats - we got jugs of free beer/cider and wine! It would be rude to say no so a good night of drinking was had before we ended up at Paddy Shenannigans (lol) for dancing and singing.

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Today I checked out of my hostel at 10am but have to hang around until 7pm with nowhere to go as my bus isn’t until then. Thankfully there's a cheap 24 hour wireless internet connection for 10 dollars next door to my hostel - time to catch up on lots of Apprentice episodes, write this and upload pics! The bus later is overnight at about 14 hours – I'm not looking forward to it. However it’ll get me to Hervey Bay, my next destination where I have a 3 day jeep safari on Fraser Island.

Update on my travel plans for 2011
FYI I've changed my plans around a little for next year - nothing is 100% concrete yet but this is what it is starting to look like. I'm off to Asia in Jan/Feb to visit Thailand/Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam/China and I have a travel buddy! Carly, one of the girls I met through Liz, who I met through Aidan is coming with me so I'm thrilled. Didn't fancy doing Asia alone. We've a lot to see over 8 weeks but will make it work, I can't wait. After that I'm passing Australia so a token Sydney visit for a week is a given, especially as it's Mardi Gras and I've heard a lot of great things. I then spend 3 weeks in New Zealand, 2 weeks in Fiji and finally a week in LA (3 days LA, 3 days San Diego I'm thinking). I will be home end of April and most likely back to work in May. I got a good price on a round the world ticket for all those stops - just under 2,000 Euro (in comparison my return ticket just to Sydney was 1,400!).

Posted by mattld 00:28 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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