East Coast Australia

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Friday, April 7, 2006

Hey, that flight back from Perth to Sydney seemed a million times easier than the land trip. Thank god for planes hey, and for pommy Richard Branson, who thanks to his Virgin empire has taken on Qantas, forced them to knock down their prices, and made flying around OZ affordable for non-millionaires.

We're back in Sydney, and about to embark on what is probably the most famous of Australian road trips, the East Coast from Sydney to Cairns.

After leaving Sydney on the greyhound coach, a temporary home where we would spend at least 46 hours of our next few weeks, we break for an overnight stop in Coffs Harbour. Following on the next day to Byron Bay.

We've heard so much about Byron Bay that we expected it to be Australia's Koh Pha Ngan. Unfortunately, it wasn't, so we cut our time short there and headed up to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.

Surfers Paradise has to be the most Americanised place in Australia, with glitzy high rises, theme parks, flash bars and restaurants. We'd heard a lot of negative comments about Surfers Paradise, but we found it to be quite a pleasant place, nowhere near as tacky as we were expecting.

Next on the itinerary was a tour to Fraser Island. The world's largest sand island where the beach is actually the main highway. It's so weird to be riding in a bus on the beach. The huge sand deposits have made the island's fresh water lakes, great for swimming in. Our favourite being Lake McKenzie, which has so much sand, that it looks like a coastal beach. Swimming there is like swimming in mineral water, it's a pretty weird experience to be able to drink the water you're swimming in!

Our Queenslander driver/guide had an accent so strong that even the pommies on the tour had trouble understanding him. The group of 4 french had no chance and just switched off. He also seemed displeased when one of the french took over the BBQ cooking, and produced steaks so rare that they were swimming in blood. He kept repeating in his strong Aussie drawl: "Are you sure those bloody things are cooked? they don't look cooked to me, I don't trust the bloody French. If they're not burnt, I don't eat them!" It was hilarious.

After Fraser Island we headed to the Whitsunday Islands for the mandatory sailing tour of these stunning islands and bays. Whitehaven beach is one of those places which look much better in reality than in even the glossiest magazines. Just paradise!

The last part of our journey up to Cairns took us through the Innisfail region. A place which experienced a category 4 cyclone 1 week earlier. In fact, the road to Cairns had only been re-opened for a day so we were lucky.

The backpackers on the coach looked quite shocked, as the coach passed by all the destruction that this cyclone had unleashed on this area. Barely a tree had escaped unscathed, with many being completely knocked over. Most of the banana crop was completely wiped out, road signs had been ripped into shreds, and most power lines were down.

When we passed through the actual town of Innisfail, which bore the brunt of the storm, there was barely a building which had escaped damage. The whole town was active, trying to clear up the mess. These are scenes we've only seen before on the TV and seeing them for ourselves made us realise how frightening and powerful nature can be.

We leave behind the destruction and finally arrive in sticky Cairns. Our stopping off point to visit the Great Barrier Reef, the largest one in the world.

After a day snorkeling around the amazing scenery of the reef, some partying in Cairns and a few days rest, we head to Brisbane, our final stop in Australia before we leave for the Pacific Islands.

There we visit the world's largest Koala Sanctuary, where Patty fulfills her dream of hugging one of these adorable creatures.

We stuff ourselves on some of our favourite food items, which we may not see again for a while. Cadbury's chocolate, Cheddar Cheese, Fish & Chips etc and stock up on supplies before departing for New Caledonia, our 1st stop in the Pacific.

Summing up Australia. We've been here for so long (3 months) that it feels like we've lived here, so much so that we're now actually thinking in dollars and not pounds!

Before arriving in Australia, several people had described it to us as a kind of mix between the UK and the USA. We would agree and say that Australia shows it's most English side in the Tasmanian cities of Launceston, Hobart and Ross and shows it's most American side on the Gold Coast of Queensland.
We have been amazed with Australia's variety of scenery and climates, it's vast distances and the friendliness of it's people.

Our favourite city has been Perth, and although it doesn't have the cosmopolitan mix and variety of Sydney, to us it seemed like a very pleasant place to live.

Our favourite scenic places have been the Outback, Wine Glass Bay in Tasmania, Fraser Island, the Whitsunday Islands, the Kakadu National park and the Great Barrier Reef.

Are there any negative points about Australia? Well, it's a relatively new country so understandably the cities are not as interesting as European ones, in terms of cultural offerings, history and character.
But the one thing we definitely won't miss are those pesky Traffic lights. It seems that you can't walk more than 50 metres in a city centre without getting stuck for a few minutes at a pedestrian crossing light. The timing of the lights are so biased towards cars and against pedestrians, that it can make walking around town, a frustrating experience. Sorry, we just had to get that off our chest:-)

We can't complain too much though, overall Australia is really well set up for backpackers and is extremely easy to travel around. When we're arguing with a long line of taxi drivers in South America, and remember that in Australia somebody from the hostel would drive around and pick us up at the station, we'll think back, and realise we miss it so much!
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