A Travellerspoint blog

Cairns: under the sea

View Australian adventure! on Rebecca Heller's travel map.

I found Cairns to be a slightly odd place. Not not nice, just a bit odd. It seemed like no one was from there, they just moved to work there, but I suppose I just might not have met the born and bred locals.

My first night there was St Paddy's day so I found myself in the infamous Gilligans for a celebratory beverage. Gilligans is a big hostel with two large bars and a larger reputation for parties. People were really dressed up in there, it was the first time in ages that I was conscious of my backpacking attire, or rather, just my lack of high heels, body con dresses and false eye lashes. It didn't detract from a fun time though, I really enjoyed the outside bar with live music.

The following day I set off nice and early for my Uncle Brian's rainforest trip. As would suit our location, it absolutely poured at intervals during the day and we did pass through the wettest town in Australia (why would you choose to live there?!). Our tour guide 'cousin Brad' loved to chat incessantly and loudly, and allowed no sleeping on the bus at all. Brad was weirdly flirty with everyone for 7.30am, and the eyebrow wiggle was frankly too much.

Despite this, I actually enjoyed the trip a lot. We went swimming in various lakes and under the Mila Mila waterfall (home to Peter Andre's Mysterious Girl video - yes there was some hair flicking). And for all the weirdness, Brad had an excellent playlist that excused the eyebrow wiggle, just about.

The next day was my most exciting in Cairns as I went for my first trip on the Great Barrier Reef, and contrary to the forecast we had a beautiful day! On the boat they made us fill in medical forms and took us through the safety briefing for first time scuba divers. I felt fine about it so I got stinger-suited and flippered up for my first snorkel.

Now I've seen Finding Nemo, I went to the Natural History Museum Coral exhibition and I've watched the telly, but seeing the Reef for the first time is pretty cool. They weren't wrong about the different kinds and colours of coral, and they were fairly spot on about all the fish.

Oh and I found Nemo. Several times actually, I'm not really sure what all the fuss was about.

I wasn't nervous about my dive until I was in the water itself. I remembered all the tests I had to do under the water and it was after that that my unconscious took over and I struggled to breathe properly. It's odd really since the big instruction is to breathe as normal. It was as though my brain screamed 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING FULLY SUBMERGED IN THE OCEAN?! COME TO THE SURFACE AT ONCE!'

We came to the surface, I regulated my breathing and we went again. Weirdly, pinching my nose helped me to distract me so I wasn't overthinking the whole breathing thing. As you can imagine though, holding on to the instructor, pinching my nose, breathing and trying to take photos with my rented underwater camera was a bit of a performance but I managed it!

I'm really pleased I tried it, but I'm not in a massive hurry to dive again soon. I absolutely loved snorkelling though, and it was a relief to get back in the water to snorkel around, and find Nemo again.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 02:18 Archived in Australia Tagged waterfalls lakes snorkelling rain scuba-dive Comments (0)

Melbourne Take One

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Attending the wedding was a big focus of my time in Melbourne, but post-wedding, I did make it into the city to explore. As per my habit, I went on the free walking tour of Melbourne, and would you believe it, I bumped into Chryso, a former colleague of mine. I had just been coming round to the idea that the world was in fact much larger than we give it credit for, since I'd seen such a small percentage on it during my trip. But bumping into a former colleague, that was proof that it is in fact a small world!

I visited the excellent joint Andy Warhol and Ai Wei Wei exhibition at the National Gallery. I'm not sure if it will be on anywhere else, but I'd strongly recommend it if it comes to a city near you!

Before I left I also managed to see my friends Rama and Kariza who I'd met in Peru and saw Carly again for a spot of dinner at Victoria markets. So really I had a wonderfully sociable stay in Melbourne.

I also finally booked my East Coast adventure. As opposed to most of my time in South America, I discovered that I really needed to pre-book my East Coast trip, since everything from hostels to buses to tours books out ahead of time. So I swiftly got myself a couple of quotes and went with the cheaper option through Peter Pan's.

There are so many options when it comes to tours it can be overwhelming. Thanks to conversations I'd had with Carly and other people I'd met along the way, I knew vaguely what was out there, what to avoid, and the questions to ask. This definitely saved me time, and I'd like to think, money.

So here's what I booked ahead of time:

  • Cairns: an Uncle Brian's Daintree rainforest tour and a Great Barrier Reef trip for my first ever snorkel and an introductory scuba dive.
  • Airlie Beach: Whitsundays tour with Wings
  • Rainbow Beach: Dingo's Fraser Island tour
  • Byron Bay: surf class
  • All bus tickets with Premier - far cheaper than Greyhound and fit my schedule
  • All hostels

Whilst my itinerary had very little wiggle room, it was quite nice knowing it was all booked and paid for, so all I had to worry about was food and treats for the next three weeks.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 02:11 Archived in Australia Tagged friends family tour Comments (0)

A nice day for a family wedding

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We have a fairly small family. Joe, my Mum's first cousin grew up in Melbourne, Australia, not knowing his wider family. About 10 years ago, Joe and his wife Robyn came over to the UK to meet us all for the first time, and although we have since met a number of times, the next leg of my journey was really special, as I went to visit them in their home and home city. If that wasn't enough, I was able to be in Melbourne at the same time as my cousin David's wedding to Lexi.

It's not true of everyone I know, but many of us aren't that good at seeing our wider family on a regular basis, even when they live relatively close by. A combination of busy lives, the illusion social media gives us that we are up to date on people's lives, and knowing people aren't really that far away means it can be months or longer between seeing family members. When you have family that live on completely the other side of the world, seeing them is a rare treat and something really quite special.

It's not just because I was fed and watered, I also got the tour of key childhood sites, was driven around the city by night (thanks Emma!) and was introduced to their friends. It was a chance to get to know them and their lives better. I know there were a hundred and one things they needed to be doing, but they made so much time for me, it was lovely.

A wedding is always a special occasion and I loved flying the UK family flag at David and Lexi's simcha from the Aufruf to the wedding itself, the post wedding brunch and sheva brachot. It was special to be part of the simcha; it's a shame to live so far away, and I'd love to go back to visit them in Melbourne again one day. In the meantime, we'll catch up when we can and see you in December!

Posted by Rebecca Heller 13:25 Archived in Australia Tagged wedding family Comments (0)

Taking the scenic route from Adelaide to Melbourne

The Great Ocean Road

all seasons in one day
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My Aussie adventure continued with a trip to Adelaide where I met my friend Carly at the airport. We hadn't seen each other since August so it was really great to catch up.

We spent our only full day there in the Barrossa Valley on a wine tour. Yes, another wine tour for me!

We went to just three wineries in the region. Our tour didn't include the Jacob's Creek winery, but we'd been told it's very touristy and not too authentic in there for the tour.

It's a pretty interesting combination, plenty of wine and no food but hey ho, that's the fun! I actually thought we didn't get too much information at the places we visited. We tried plenty of wines but didn't learn anything of the production processes, unlike the wineries I visited in Mendoza.

The following day, we found the car rental office to pick up the car for our road trip! I had said from the start that I wouldn't drive, since it's been a while since I've driven and I didn't want the first time I drive in years to be in a rental car with a passenger next to me, in Australia. Carly loves driving so it worked out well on that front, even still, it's a lot of driving for one person so I'm extremely grateful that she was happy to do it!

Driving along the Great Ocean Road is one of those must do activities in Australia, but most people go on a round trip tour from Melbourne and don't make it to Adelaide. That's partly because it's a long drive from Adelaide to the first big place of interest, the Grampians national park. There is a pink lake close by, which was thankfully pink when we visited, I think the idea of the pink lake was keeping Carly motivated on the long first stint!

But get there we did and this is where we spent our first night, surrounded by mountains and trees, a stark contrast to my nights spent in the Outback! We even spotted some koalas just chilling in the trees.

We made a few stops the next day on the way to Apollo Bay, stopping at some lakes and waterfalls. It's amazing how peaceful you can feel outdoors amongst nature. It's something we easily forget living in a big city, just rushing through life.

We stopped at Warrnambool for some lunch before finding our way onto the actual Great Ocean Road! This day we saw all the good Great Ocean Road sites: The Grotto, London Bridge, The Arch, Loch Ard Gorge and the Twelve Apostles.

On the second night we stayed in Apollo Bay, a small surfing town with some interesting characters in our hostel. I'm referring specifically to the inebriated French man who told us that he was being deported, despite having a one year old son staying in Australia with his mother. Apart from everyone else seemed alright!

On day three we had wanted to visit the beach but sadly it was a tad drizzly in the morning so we made our way to Lorne, a small beach town perfectly placed for an afternoon sunbathe on the way to Torquay. Post sunbathe we stopped at the world's most disappointing waterfall. Ok that's probably a bit harsh, it's just that there was absolutely no water there. I do feel as though the trail should have come with some sort of disclaimer, you know: 'warning: there may be no water'.

It was then time to head back to Melbourne, this particular road trip was over.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 09:40 Archived in Australia Tagged mountains beaches friends roadtrip Comments (0)

Into the Outback

sunny 43 °C
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So it turns out that flights to Uluru are really quite expensive so I flew from Syndey to Alice Springs and decided to go on a three day tour to visit Uluru.

Alice Springs is the biggest place for hours and hours in Australia's Red Centre and so it has kind of a weird mixture of people living there. It would seem that not many people are from Alice Springs, they tend to move there for work, or for many of the Aboriginal people living there, because they have been thrown out of their communities elsewhere.

Unfortunately, many of the Aboriginal people in Alice Springs have turned to drink and drugs, and so many tourists who meet an Aboriginal for the first time, really see those struggling to adapt to a life outside of their upbringing, this does nothing to mend a historically terrible relationship between the rest of Australia (mostly white Australians nee colonists, but not exclusively).

It's a pretty small town, considering it serves pretty much the whole of the middle of Australia. The most exciting thing I did when I arrived it purchase a rather expensive leather hat and fly net (very attractive and extremely necessary!). I'm actually very pleased with my hat, as you'll see from my photos!

The next morning I was picked up from my hostel at 6.30am but Justin, our tour leader for the next few days for my Alice to Alice tour with Adventure Tours.

Now I knew the Outback was huge, but let me just clarify, it's a really bloody large place. Alice Springs is 6 hours away from Uluru, and there is exactly one right turn. That's right, it's something like fourth ours on the first road, the big turn, followed by another two hours on the second road, and there's not a whole lot to see on the way.

We did stop at one service station that claims to be at the centre of the centre, but apparently there are many different definitions for that...I had a photo there anyway, because it seemed unlikely that I'd be at any of the other centres of the centre.

After we'd picked up some passengers from Uluru airport, we went straight to Kata Tjuta for a short walk through the domes. Kata Tjuta is not a very well known landmark, it gets forgotten next to the better known Uluru, or Ayers Rock, which you can just about see from there. But it's a beautiful natural landmark that really is worth a visit if you're in the area.

It was a short walk because it was a mere 43 degrees, which is, well very hot. Too hot to go for a long hike at any rate. That evening we went to watch the sunset at Uluru, which as you may know, glows a brilliant red when the sun sets and rises, as we saw the following morning.

Following a rather spectacular sunrise (it's absolutely worth the early morning), we went for the half base walk around Uluru. It was the first day of the year the the authorities had opened the path to climb Ayers Rock, and we were given the opportunity to do so. We were also given all the reasons why we shouldn't, the main one being that it's hugely disrespectful to the Aboriginal people who ask that people do not climb. I was therefore quite surprised and a bit disappointed that half of our group decided to climb it.

I however went on the half base walk, where you can read the aboriginal story which explains how Uluru came to exist, followed by a visit to the cultural centre during the hottest part of the day.

We then made the four hour journey to the Kings Canyon camp site, where for the second night we prepared to sleep in our swags, under the stars. Before we went to sleep, we joined another tour group for spot of star gazing and explanation of our breathtaking view of outer space.

We were up again at the crack of dawn to drive to Kings Canyon itself, for a hike. We went early firstly because it's far too hot in the middle of the day, and also because we had a six hour drive back to Alice Springs that afternoon.

Kings Canyon is actually a gorge, with a stunning view from the top, a Garden of Eden in the middle, a peaceful spot to rest out of the burning Outback sun. A lot of people miss this walk, but if you have the time and means to visit, then do stop by.

My visit to the Outback was unique to anywhere else I went on my trip, the distances are massive, and there are natural dangers (like 43 degree heat and snakes and such like, which thankfully I didn't see!) but if you're prepared and careful, it's an adventure worth having.

Posted by Rebecca Heller 07:01 Archived in Australia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises desert uluru tour Comments (0)

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