A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

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)

Hello East Coast! (Cairns & Magnetic Island)

overcast 30 °C

I really enjoyed my last few days in Sydney. Had a big night out on Saturday with Andrew, Michael, Ben, Angelica, Liz, Carly, Michelle, Neil, Louisa and Ohmeed.

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Four of us diehards lasted until the end as we headed to a Korean karaoke bar. My voice was hoarse by the end of it! I have vague recollections of singing medleys outside the Museum train station by Hyde Park at 5am with plenty of passers-by taking an interest.

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On Sunday I was too ill to do much so I just went to see Skyline in the cinema – worst film ever! I was expecting Independence Day Part 2. It was rubbish – avoid at all costs if you’ve not yet wasted your money. Very annoying characters (especially the guy from scrubs), pointless subplots, bad acting and a very bizarre ending – don’t do it! Last night I met with Liz and Carly for dinner at Darling Harbour and had a really nice evening – treated myself to my first posh meal.. a Scotch fillet steak! Yum. And a cocktail for good measure.

I had a nightmare this morning with the travel company as I made a few last minute changes and then their printer broke so it was getting frantic towards the end as time was running out. We got everything sorted though. My travel rep Hannah was really good I have to say (at Wicked Travel on Pitt Street).

I removed the canoe/hitch hiking trip as although it was free, every review I came across was negative. From being infested with mosquitoes to toilets in the ground, dirty tents, lack of security to 18 year old ravers etc. no thanks you’re grand! It would have made for enjoyable reading but I’ll get my fair share of camping/bush antics on my Frasier Island Jeep tour. I decided to spend the free days by adding on to Brisbane and Surfers Instead. I won’t bore you all with a brand new itinerary as it’s quite long but will fill you in as I go along.

I arrived in Cairns on Tuesday evening and was pleasantly surprised to hear that my hostel would pick me up for free – nice one! It had been raining earlier that day so it wasn’t too humid when I arrived. You can definitely feel it’s at least 5 degrees hotter than Southern Australia though. I was really happy with my hostel – very clean facilities, a bar (with nightly entertainment) and an outdoor swimming pool! Never seen this before in a hostel - I was thrilled. After checking in I went for a swim and met a lovely couple from the Netherlands – Sonders and Marlise. They invited me to join them that night and we had a few drinks and took part in a Wii bowling tournament with 26 people. In my element! I won my group but crashed and burned in the semi-final. There was far too many people hitting constant strikes – a pity as the winner’s prize was a free scuba diving day to the Great Barrier Reef. It was good fun though.

The next day I had an early start and headed off to Cape Tribulation – the tour included a trip to a wildlife sanctuary (I’ve had my fill of animals and these kind of parks now! You won’t be hearing about anymore unless they’re included on a trip I wanted to do). I got a chance to have some tasty fresh croc for lunch.

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After that we headed to the Mossman Gorge. I did this before two years ago – it’s a giant rainforest with a freshwater gorge. After some exploring we all got in for a swim – can’t describe how nice this is. Temperature is cold enough to be very refreshing but not enough that you’re shivering. Had great fun trying to swim against the mini rapids and jumping off some of the rocks.

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Following that we went for lunch and then a cruise down the Daintree River for some crocodile spotting – we came across about 4 lurking about. Unfortunately towards the end I kept falling asleep as I only got about 5 hours sleep the night before.

Towards the end of the day, we had a stop at a really good look out point for some snaps. It was here I had my first taste of green ant – that’s right I sucked a green ant’s arse! I was forced into it by our instructor. Very weird and I wasn’t thrilled but due to peer pressure I did it. It actually tasted like Lemon & Lime! I’m a Celebrity bushtucker trial eat your heart out.. Final stop was half an hour at Cape Tribulation beach. I really wanted to get in as the water was so warm but there were no nets to protect against stingers. Still, I had some fun with another Irish girl I met on the tour Suzanne trying to get a shot of each other in the air! We also came across an unusual road sign...

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That night I met up with the Dutch couple again who cooked me dinner. How nice is that? I cleaned up and bought them a pint to say thanks. We played some volleyball in the pool and spent the evening playing a Dutch version of Switch (known as Bully). Same idea but the trick cards were different e.g. an Ace reversed and a Joker meant you had to pick up 5 cards – all wrong! I installed some Irish rules and we had our international version. Poor Marlise had a 19 card pick up at one point, muhaha.

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I wish I had more time in Cairns – unfortunately I’ve a busy schedule ahead so it was onto Magnetic Island for my 3 day Padi course. It was a 5 hour bus journey on the Greyhound and not too bad – interestingly most people on the bus were travelling on their own like myself. Arrived into Townsville in the late afternoon and took a ferry out to Magnetic Island. It’s a beautiful island I must admit and it’s pretty cool staying off the mainland for a few days.

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Only problem is everywhere closes at 7pm and there is no night life at all! Once again the hostel (Magnums) was great. This time with two pools and a jacuzzi. I stayed two nights in a private room and two in a dorm. Private rooms have a tv, ensuites and lots of space. Only downside is there are about 50 small ants crawling around the toilet! I didn’t bother complaining as both bathrooms I’ve been had this problem so I think it’s to be expected here. I tried killing them all initially but they came back so then I just changed tactic and ran in and out of the loo as quick as I could when I needed to use it.

The Padi course was quite challenging and intense – it’s normally done over 5 days but we did it in 3. It consisted of 9 dives – 5 in a pool and 4 in the Ocean where we dived at Alma Bay. We had two half days of theory and then on the final day a 50 question exam. Friday and Saturday night were spent doing homework given on the day and studying ahead. It’s not what I was expecting when I booked this trip I’ll admit but the nerd in me kind of enjoyed studying for an exam!

There were only thee of us doing the course – myself, a Norwegian girl Katrina and a Germany guy called Henning. Our instructor Scott was competent and efficient but lacked a personality – I wasn’t expecting a stand up comedian but to say he was dry was an understatement! Oh well feck it. Anyway after getting 88% on the test in addition to 10 blisters, a back ache and man flu I am now a qualified Padi Open Water diver. Love it!

Today (22nd November) I am back to Townsville and on the bus to Airlie Beach. I’ll spend a night there before a 2 day tour of the Whitsunday Islands by boat. Providing I have internet, I’ll be back by the end of the week with another update. Until then take care!

PS: Took pics from Magnetic Island without my card in it (duh!) so won't be able to upload them until I'm home.

Posted by mattld 16:06 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Luna Park, Bondi Junction, Oceanworld and Blue Mountains

sunny 32 °C

In contrast to my last post, it has been a busy five days trying to get some last minute sightseeing in. The weather has finally picked up! I'm now moaning that it's too hot lol. Here's a snapshot of my week:

Monday - not much to report on here as I spent a good bit of the afternoon with my travel rep organising my East Coast trip. There's a lot to work out with the dates and hostels etc. so we had to map it all out. Collecting my tickets on Saturday so hopefully be sorted by then.

Tuesday - met up with Andrew (he's now my official tour guide) who took me on a trek from Circular Quay across the harbour bridge and over to Luna Park. Unfortunately it was closed but the walk through the bridge has some amazing views of the harbour area and opera house.

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On the way we found the most stereotypical Irish shop you could imagine - leprechauns, tweed jackets, shamrocks and Mary Black albulms are just some of the items you can buy!

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Before heading home we headed to the Sydney State Parliament and managed to sit in on two sessions - for someone not very political I was half thrilled I must admit.

Wednesday - I headed out to Bondi Junction for a spot of shopping - I heard several times from people that they had a great shopping mall and they weren't lying. It was feckin huge! I spent ages just wandering around and managed to get myself some shorts and sleeveless t-shirts (aka Wife Beaters) for the East Coast. Have to say though still not mad on the fashion over here. There's not a great choice at all and most sizes are very small - if they're not catering for the average sized man what hope does an overweight person have? It's probably because there are very few heavy people here. The Australians generally know how to live a healthy lifestyle in fairness to them. That night I saw Jackass 3D with my landlord Will - very funny but that last segment was just too gross!

Thursday - when I bought my tickets for Sydney Aquarium/Tower and Wildlife World I also got Oceanworld in Manly included for free. With the weather being lovely I headed back out to Manly beach for a second time to check it out and get my value! On the way I managed to offend a Jehovah's Witness when discussing Christmas - she said she didn't celebrate it. I asked why not? She explained. I froze up and didn't know what to say. All I could respond with was "But Christmas is great!" in an overly thrilled manner. I got a filthy look up and down before she stormed off. Oh well I don't like your religion anyway Mrs.!

Back to Oceanworld Manly - Unless you're doing the shark dive they offer it's a bit rubbish and very small. If included free, go if you're out there but otherwise I wouldn't bother. I took a stroll down the beach and found a nice little rock pool that's large enough to swim in. After dipping my toe in and out for about 15 minutes I took the plunge and it was freezing! But very refreshing given the heat. I ended the day at the beachfront in a nice restaurant eating garlic prawns with rice - yummy. Met up with John Power that evening for a drink - another Irish person I know who has moved over here permanently! Can't blame him..

Friday - went to the Blue Mountains with Liz and her sister Michelle who just arrived over on holidays. I did this tour two years ago but really enjoyed it so decided a second trip wouldn't do any harm. It's a long day though. I was up at 6am and didn't get back to my apartment until after 7pm - earliest start I've had in at least two months. One of the stops includes Featherdale wildlife park which is far more interactive than any other zoo in Sydney - you can feed the kangaroos, hold a snake or cuddle up to a koala bear. Nice!

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They then bring you out to Echo Point where you can see a view of 'the three sisters'. This is a towering rock formation and its history is very strongly connected to the aboriginal culture.

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The main event is a visit to the Blue Mountains where you get to take a cableway down overlooking the view where you can then take a walk through a timber boardwalk in a Jurassic style forest under a canopy of trees. The highlight for me was getting on the world's steepest incline railway with Indiana Jones music playing as it takes off!

Before leaving the driver dropped us off at a town called Leura to wander around and we found this very cute sweet/chocolate shop that had loads of stuff I have not seen in years e.g. Double Dips and Frosties! And lots of stuff I've never seen before e.g. Fanta Pineapple. I treated myself to a Kit Kat Chunky Cookies and Cream - release it in Ireland now please.

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The final part of the day was a cruise back to Circular Quay - it was very pleasent but by this stage we were all wrecked and dying to get home to bed. I don't think I appreciated it as much as I should have done. Overall, would highly recommend this day trip if you are in Sydney at some point. But make sure you a good nights sleep the day before!

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PS: I lost my sunglasses during the week - feck! That's two things now including my phone charger which I left behind in my hostel on the first week. Oh well, by now I should have lost at least two mobile phones, the camera, a bank card and possibly an ipod for good measure. So I'm not doing too bad :D

Posted by mattld 21:04 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Drunken Nights

overcast 16 °C

Not much to report on as it’s been lashing rain for most of the week. Apparently it’s due to be the wettest Summer Australia has had for a long time – typical! Just as well I’ll be heading North in 9 days – surely I can’t go wrong there.

The highlight was definitely the weekend. Had two brilliant nights out on Friday and Saturday. Friday was Palms for seriously cheesy dancing followed by Nevermind where I went to see Therese perform. Who? She sang that song Put ‘Em High with Stone Bridge a few years ago. All 12 minutes of her show were great!

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On Saturday I escaped the city centre going to Newtown to the infamous Imperial club. This is where a small part of Priscilla Queen of the Desert was shot. Unsurprisingly, they had a load of shows on that night as a musical tribute. It was packed and actually very good.

Both nights were drunken to say the least. The less said the better – my stomach was not good today but I’m going to behave all week as I have to get more sightseeing in before I leave. Early mornings here I come (well 10am start that is…).

Christmas (or ‘Cashmas’ as I read somewhere on Facebook) is alive and well in Australia. Decorations are starting to go up. Not too weird yet as the weather has been so bad but it will be when it’s 30 degrees and I’m looking at decorations of Santa in his fur coat!

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Posted by mattld 05:41 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Halloween, Taronga Zoo and Red Paint

overcast 14 °C

Spending Halloween weekend in Sydney was interesting, if a little uneventful. For the first time ever in my life my ears weren't constantly listening to the sound of bangers and fireworks going off for at least a full week (maybe that's just from living in the Northside of Dublin then?). I have to say though I was missing home a little. To be fair to the Australians, many of them got dressed up and there were a lot of fancy dress parties going on. But knowing that most of the city wasn't bothered and that very few kids (I didn't see any living in the city) were not trick or treating was a little sad - you all know I'm a big kid and love Halloween lol. I couldn't resist a snap of the only pumpkin I came across.

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I tried to get a last minute costume but couldn't find anything reasonable in the end. I was in Paddy's Market when it was closing and panicked so I quickly tried to bargain with a 100 year old little Asian lady for a dressing gown, pyjamas and slippers for some sort of theme. I offered 20, she wanted 23 and was having none of it! Don't they bargain at market stalls, what the hell? Thank god though it would have been a crap costume. The club I ended up in on Saturday night had about 2% of the place dressed up. I would have been scarlet in my dressing gown and accessories. There's not many horror films on TV either here but I made up for that in the cinema seeing Paranormal Activity 2 (3 bits in that scared the bejaysus out of me) and Saw 3D (meh!) last week. I've had a cinema overdose lately so there's practically nothing left I want to see.

On Monday myself and Frankie went to Taronga Zoo. I had been two years ago but really wanted to go back - it's probably the best zoo I've been to and you can get a very nice ferry trip from Circular Quay over to the island where it's based. Unfortunately weather in the past week has been hit and miss and an hour after we arrived it started to lash rain! Feck it. We paid our money and we were seeing every last animal on offer.

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So off we went around the park in the rain until a point came where we were so wet it didn't matter anymore. That's when it's kinda fun! All the Australians had proper raingear and umbrellas - there we were the two Irish fools walking around with nothing and Frankie even had flip flops on. A good (if very wet) day was had and we managed to get a few decent pics and the few obligatory cheesy ones (Clare eat your heart out).

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That night I met with Andrew's mate Michael for Malaysian (see I'm packing in the oul Asian meals) in Chinatown and had a decentish curry (although I hate it when they give you half the cartilage with the chicken as well in the bowl of sauce!). Thank god I didn't opt for the fish option (as if) as poor Michael had about 50 bones to pick out of his mouth throughout his meal. The highlight though was a fine dessert, 'Roti Tissu' which is effectively paper thin batter, covered in sugar and all things fatty wrapped around in a cone shape. You can have it served with either fish or ice-cream. Hmmm what a difficult choice... As Bruno says, Carbicide! Loved it though.

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Today (Tuesday) I continued some more sightseeing by going to the Australian Museum with Andrew. Really nice place it focussed mainly on dinosaurs (my fave), animals, birds, insects etc. and a big section on the Aboriginal people (the PC term which I must remember when drunk is Indigenous Australians). I was nicely enlightened by the end of it! Although we were kicked out halfway through as someone set off the fire alarm so we had to wait in Hyde Park before we could go back in. Annoyance! Chilling out now back in the apartment and getting an early night.

FYI if you would like to subscribe to my blog all you have to do this click here and fill in your email address: http://mattld.travellerspoint.com/subscribe/

That way you can get notified when it's updated (no spam I promise) and don't have to be frantically refreshing all day long ;P Suze/Will that's another idea I've stolen off you from your travels sorry! I hope everyone had a great weekend - if you're reading this and haven't spoken to me lately drop me a line and let me know how things are going back home. Always great to get emails off you guys.

PS: Health Witch Mary Harney being covered in red paint on Halloween weekend in public - LOVE IT! Only in Ireland. It should have been my fave 'gay icon' politician Joan Burton throwing it at her :D

Posted by mattld 02:25 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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