helping keep hungry backpackers fed:

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Epic Aussi Adventure: Airlie Beach & The Sunshine Coast

Today's Scenery:
The beautiful Tin Can Bay

Today's Travelling Track:

My Chemical Romance- Famous Last Words

St Paddy's Day Breakfast
The rain is chasing us. Of that I am certain. Who knew Australia could be so very rainy? We aren’t even in the tropics anymore and still the bad weather continues. We’ve had some periods of sun however. In fact when we first arrived in Airlie Beach (which is where I left you in my last blog) it was a beautiful day, sunny, hot and calm. We stayed at the Base hostel, but in Turk. There seems to be a fair few hostels in Australia which will actually charge you less than most official campsites and allow you to camp on their premises, and use all the facilities available to their guests. This suits us perfectly; as the bed in Turk is far more comfortable than any hostel bed I have ever come across.

 Airlie beach is a place which is really only good for two things: partying and relaxing. Once the rain started again we decided there was really no point trying to relax and got down to the partying. 
St Paddy's Day Party Crew
We attended a St Paddy’s Day Eve party at The Down Under Bar, thinking it might be fun, however there were a couple of large functions being held there and everyone already knew each other making it a somewhat cliquey and insular event. The next day (the actual day of all things Irish) the rain was torrential (the Irish probably felt at home) we went around a few of the bars to see which were getting involved, had massive “Irish” breakfasts, acquired some comical green hats and commenced with the drinking. The Irish bar, Paddy’s Shenanigans, was extremely unfortunate in that its beer taps had frozen overnight and they had only bottles on offer which meant (shock horror!) no Guinness. They were really quiet until mid-afternoon when the aforementioned equipment finally thawed. It was then that we bumped into an actual Irish, who we knew slightly through a friend. He succeeded in collecting every other true emerald isle native and dragged everyone back to his house for a party. We had a great evening but retired to Turk early as we hoped to cover a substantial distance the next day.

As predicted, the next day we travelled a few hundred kilometres south in an effort to escape the rain. This was ground we had covered previously, and the stretch of road from Mackay to Rockhampton is famously boring anyway. We did stop just north of Rockhampton for an hour to visit the Capricorn caves, a stunning underground formation, which can be entered only as part of a guided tour. Finally, after a whole day of driving in varying degrees of rain, we stopped for the night at a free camping area, and hoped the weather would finally improve the next day. We awoke to cloudy skies, but no actual rain, and felt that this was good enough.

 We drove down to Tin Can Bay, a pretty little coastal town. We stayed at a caravan park in a small cabin (all of our electrical appliances were low on juice) spent the evening on boring housekeeping type tasks and awoke early the next morning to go and watch the dolphin feedings. The volunteers in this town have been performing this task for over thirty years, for the rare wild Indo-Pacific species which inhabits the nearby waters. We arrived at 7am, and joined a handful of people awaiting the arrival of the guests of honour. The feeding was supposed to commence at 8am but that hour came and went and there were no dolphins to be seen. More and more people arrived and finally, at 9am, Mystique swum right into the bay and up to the water’s edge. He was checked for any fresh wounds by the experts (his body was covered in scars from previous shark attacks and other incidents) and we were allowed to feed him two fish each.
It was a lovely thing to do and definitely made me think about the intelligence of these creatures; after all Mystique had over 30 humans waiting for him to arrive for two hours just so that they could give him food!

We drove over to Rainbow Beach. The sun was actually shining (and had been intermittently since the previous afternoon and our arrival in Tin Can Bay) so we walked over some sand dunes and across a few kilometres of beach to get a good look at the multi-coloured cliffs which give the area its name. It was great to finally feel sunshine on our skin again! We drove to Noosa and were there by the early afternoon. All of the nice hostels seemed to be full so we checked into Nomads, which was advertised as a party hostel and booked surf lessons for the next day. Not in the mood for a party we decided to go for a walk and ended up on a walk through the Noosa Headlands National Park which we probably shouldn’t have attempted wearing flip flops/ thongs. When we got back to civilisation we had some dinner at the Hog’s Breath CafĂ© (there aren’t a lot of budget eating options in Noosa) and returned to Turk to get some rest ready to start our surfing careers the following morning.

 We were raring and ready to go at 9am when the surf company’s van pulled in to pick us up. We went to the main surf beach, where the waves seemed comfortingly small, and spent what felt like an age being told about rip tides, sharks, life guards and all manner of other safety information. We practiced positioning and technique on dry land and were finally allowed into the water, first just to ride a wave into the shore in a push up type position, and finally popping up to standing. My first attempt at standing I forgot which foot was which and went in goofy which really didn’t help matters, after a few attempts though, I was up and riding the waves like a pro. I found that paddling before standing really made me feel stable. At one point I even turned accidently! The instructor made us have a rest and when we returned to the water the waves seemed bigger and the tide was further out. I totally forgot how I had been doing it before and started failing to stand all over again. As the lesson ended, the first drops started to fall and we decided it was time to leave Noosa. The weather forecast called for lots more rain and we had seen quite enough of that already!

 Next time: Brisbane Fun, Car problems and more of the wet stuff.

Turk Visits.....The Beach
Turk felt like some sun and a dip in the Sea

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Epic Aussi Adventure: Cairns, Kuranda and South

Today's Scenery:
Barron Falls Near Kuranda

Today's Travelling Track:
Grouplove- Naked Kids
Oh hello readers, how nice to bump into you here! Shame about all this rain isn’t it? Let’s hope it lets up soon. Cairns seems like a perfectly nice city. In fact it’s a backpacker haven with extremely cheap dorm rooms, meal deals on at every restaurant, a plethora of pubs, clubs and bars and loads of stuff to do. Unfortunately few of these activities are entertaining and enjoyable in non-stop torrential rain, which is what we were greeted with and what persisted for our entire stay. The city wasn’t without its good news and high points though.
The BF tucks into epic amounts of food
 1. Turk had developed a bizarre screeching sound when we started him. This was particularly prominent when it rained. We took him to the Cairns branch of Travellers Autobarn, where they directed us to a mechanic who fixed it in about 30 seconds and charged us nothing.
2. The night markets were an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, even though most of the stuff for sale was junk. At least it was interesting junk. The food court there is a backpacker’s dream where seafood and a variety of Asian cuisines are available on heaping plates in a buffet style manner.
3. Most of the backpacker’s hostels offer free meals with a stay.
 4. The Asian influence seems to be strong in Cairns which gave some sections of town a very multicultural feel.

 Aside from that I don’t feel we really got to see the city at its best. The hostel we chose to stay at had a lot of long term residents who were strange and somewhat haughty, the rain stopped us from sitting on the beach or relaxing on the esplanade and we weren’t really in the mood to party, knowing that St Patrick’s day was imminent.
Cool quote on a Kuranda toilet floor!
On the way out of cairns, after a particularly stressful morning in which I had to visit a variety of places to obtain an Australian police check and traffic history for my next Canadian visa, we stopped at the Kuranda Skytrain for a trip up what was essentially a ski gondola, over the rainforest to the town of Kuranda in the Atherton Tablelands. Suddenly it was like the stars aligned. The rain stopped and the scenery relieved any tension from my body. The Skytrain had 2 stops before the eventual disembarking, one at a peak offering a jungle boardwalk and the other at the spectacular Barron Falls, at their best of the year due to all of the rain. Kuranda itself was also exactly the kind of place me and the BF had been looking for. A hippy haven full of markets and weird little shops, it was like a neighbourhood of San Francisco in the rainforest. We meandered around; looking at jewellery, clothes and anything else that caught our eyes and grabbed lunch at a German-themed-and-run BBQ shack which was particularly kooky and fun. We did a rainforest walk, of which there were a few around the town, and reluctantly hopped on the Skytrain to return to Turk and the real world.
Big spider!
We drove until we were just outside of Mission Beach and stayed at a free rest stop for the night. It rained sporadically, but the next morning the weather was clement, and we decided to head back into Mission Beach and go on some walks. We headed up the Bicton Hill track, which offered stunning views of the whole mission beach area, on the walk we spotted another cassowary (although from a far safer distance!) and lots of big spiders and bugs. The walk took us an hour or so and as we got back to the bottom of the hill it started to rain. We assessed our options. We had wanted to drive up to Wallaman falls, 40km off of the Bruce highway and spend the night there, at a national parks campsite, however the description of a windy, ‘mostly sealed’ road put us off somewhat, especially considering the weather, so we decided to just drive to Townsville and take the opportunity to charge the laptop. This proved difficult and we were told off by 2 different establishments for using their power. Eventually we found a shopping centre which happened to be below a library which had free Wi-Fi and accessible power points. It’s always difficult when camping to keep phones and laptops charged.

We drove a few kilometres south of Townsville and spent the night at another free rest stop in a town called Home Hill. Previously we tried to stop elsewhere and realised we had found a mosquito haven and had to drive to escape the buzzing insects!
In the next instalment: St Paddy’s Day at Airlie Beach 

Turk Meets... A Cassowary (just like the Hungry Backpacker and the BF)
Don't get too close Turk!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Epic Aussi Adventure: The Daintree and everything else North of Cairns

Typical Scenery:
Today's Travelling Track:
The Wombats - Techno Fan

Dear readers, I have decided to stop labelling each post by day. I feel this is confusing and difficult. I will henceforth label posts according to locations covered since the previous post, I hope this will not prove too difficult for you chronologically, my apologies if it does. I would like to further extend my apologies regarding the amount of time it has been since my last post. You poor things, you must be on the edge of your collective seats. Anywho, now that’s out the way, we can begin!

 When I last left you we were in mission beach planning on sticking around a couple of days and going on some hikes. Unfortunately the weather had other plans and we decided a beach resort wasn’t really the place to be in torrential rain. We headed north with no real plans. As we drove, the weather improved and I noticed on the map a site known as the boulders which looked like a good place to stop for lunch. We grabbed some food in nearby Babinda, a cute country village with one bakery, a Spar and little else. We ate, and then went for a walk around the trails which had stunning scenery.
Swimming in the creek at the Boulders
We noticed locals were bathing in the creek at certain spots and decided to get involved. The water was cold but we felt like real explorers swimming in a river! There were signs explaining which parts of the creek were safe and which were dangerous and we stuck to the safe parts, warnings told us that the waterfalls further downstream had claimed a number of lives. The weather took a turn for the worse and we hit the road. When we got to Cairns we realised we really weren’t in a city mood and decided to keep going, all the way up to the Daintree rainforest. The road north of Cairns followed the coast and the sun decided to peek its head out to make this section of the journey extremely beautiful. It was at this part of the journey that the sign graffiti started;” Falling rocks” was edited to say “Falling in love rocks” and “One lane” became “One Planet”. This kind of thing continued all the way up to Cape Tribulation. We crossed the ferry over to the Daintree rainforest and negotiated some windy roads and scary looking bridges. The scenery was incredible, just like pictures of the amazon and the signs warned constantly of cassowaries (huge Australian wild flightless birds) after about 40 minutes we reached PK’s Jungle Village, where we were allowed to park and camp in Turk for an extremely reasonable price. There were also cabins and dorms for those without their own accommodation. The jungle bar was playing Bob Marley and the sun was shining on the tropical swimming pool. It looked like paradise. We parked up, went for a swim and an explore and then the rain started. We hid out at the jungle bar with beer and pizza and retired to Turk during a break in the storm. 

Clever Sign Graffiti

 The next morning it was still raining and I felt somewhat disheartened. I wanted to go for epic jungle hikes through the wilderness. After breakfast the rain died down a little and we headed for the Dubuji boardwalk. We wandered happily through the dense rainforest pointing out vines, spiders, birds and other “rainforresty things” as I happily meandered over a bridge, staring at a flower to my left the BF stopped me and told me to walk backwards slowly. As I did I realised there were two fully grown Cassowaries and a baby less than 3 meters away on my right. We backed off and watched them from afar. Very cool. Since we were in a walking mood, and the sun had decided to make an appearance, we headed to cape tribulation itself, via the beach, however a few hundred meters into our walk we found our path blocked by a large creek. Deciding it was sensible to avoid the crocodiles and jellyfish advertised, we backtracked, and walked to the cape on the road instead. The cape itself was pretty unexciting and covered in tourists. We were starving at this point and saw signs to a bistro a couple of kilometres further down the road. We set off and were pleasantly surprised to find a YHA resort with a beachfront bar and bistro serving some fantastic food for cheap prices. I had a smoked salmon wrap and the BF had a duck salad. We were really slumming it in the jungle as you can tell. Just as we arrived back at PKs it started to rain. The rest of the evening was mostly uneventful. We used the internet, watched some movies, and generally hung out in Turk. As we were at our most relaxed we heard an extremely loud noise and the van shook violently. Thinking it may be an animal, or a coconut falling onto our roof we investigated and found that a tree had fallen just onto the side of Turk. We were lucky that a vine had stopped it from going through the window and it had basically just missed us. Freaky!
Croc Attack Show
The rest of the night passed without incidence, apart from much more rain and the next morning we packed up and headed off. On the way back to the ferry crossing we stopped at the Marrdja boardwalk, which was much the same as the Dubuji but with less cassowaries, and then at the Daintree discovery centre. Maybe it just proves that we are philistines but aside from climbing up the tower to see above the rainforest canopy myself and the BF found it somewhat boring, although we appreciated all of the conservation efforts detailed and were happy to have paid a somewhat steep admission free if it went towards similar projects. We had a cup of Daintree tea and left on the ferry.

 We drove to Hartley’s crocodile adventures, a fantastic zoo 40km north of Cairns. I was starving hungry and immediately tucked into salt and pepper crocodile which tasted surprisingly similar to chicken (doesn’t everything??) we went on a boat cruise around a lagoon and the enthusiastic guide fed crocodiles in the lagoon with a stick from the side of the boat. He supplemented this with frequent ‘dad jokes’, usually related to crocodiles and a lot of teasing and humour based on the nationalities of the tourists on board. The highlight of Hartley’s was the Croc Attack show, in which an experienced guide explained all about crocodile attacks and on many occasions became dangerously close to becoming a victim of one himself as he waded around in a pond with an angry croc trying to get it to show a variety of instincts and behaviours. Afterwards the BF and I were very glad that we decided against swimming across the creek the previous day. We saw some of the obligatory Australian marsupials and got back on the road to Cairns

 We are currently still in Cairns, so I will update further once we leave, the weather has been somewhat disappointing so there hasn’t been a lot to report here so far but you never know what the future might hold!
Turk Meets: A Drunken Tree
Turk was a litte disguntled to have this tree stumble onto him during the night

Friday, 9 March 2012

Epic Aussie Adventure: Day 5 and 6

Best signpost of the last 24 hours:
Speeding has killed Cassowaries

Today's Travellling Track:
Eliza Doolittle- Moneybox

I don’t know if you, my loyal readers have been awaiting the return of the Epic Aussie Adventure ™ quite as much as I have but if somehow you bizarrely have then today is your lucky day. My employment on Hamilton Island ended on March 7th and therefore we have severed all ties, packed up our apartment and are now officially ON THE ROAD. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of freedom when you realise that everything you own is packed into a van, you have no obligations, no job prospects and are basically able to do whatever you like. To celebrate this freedom we had a suitably drunken and disorderly farewell in Airlie Beach (a town where every day is like a weekend; I would hate to see how packed the clubs are during peak season considering the mayhem that was a random, off-peak Wednesday) and spent much of the next day recovering. In case anyone is interested, the following are my top hangover banishing techniques:
1. Water. An obvious one I know but the classics are always best
2. Bacon and eggs. Not sure why but they make a massive difference
3. Naps. Don’t be tempted to lie in all day- it will make you feel worse, just find time for the occasional catnap.
4. Keep busy. Doing nothing just helps you to focus on how awful you feel.
5. Swimming. The cold water does wonders.
6. Time. Just remember it will all be over soon.

Anyway, after we felt human enough to proceed we hit the open road and headed north on the Bruce Highway. Due to the organisational structure of Australia it’s pretty difficult to get lost on a long distance journey. It seems to me that basically there is one long highway and anywhere you may want to visit is off of it somewhere. We’ve barely been off of Bruce since Brisbane! This part of the journey has already proved more interesting than the last section of the previous one where there was occasionally nothing to see for over 200kms. Yesterday we passed through Bowen, Home Hill and Ayr, all decent sized towns, as well as a handful of smaller villages and hamlets. We noticed that the scenery became increasingly more tropical as we travelled- the trees were more exotic, the land was greener and the air was muggy. We camped overnight at Alligator Creek Campsite in Bowling Green Bay National Park. These National Park’s campsites are pretty prolific and, despite being relatively unpredictable in terms of what facilities may exist, have a standardised (and extremely reasonable) pricing system. Our favourite aspect of the campsite was all of the wildlife- turkeys, wallabies and mosquitos (the least favourable of the 3) being the most prolific. Noticing that our phones had no signal we felt like true explorers! Still suffering slightly from the excesses of the previous night, we whipped up some pasta and retired to Turk’s extremely comfortable interior. During the night a rain storm hit and The BF was happy to find that his previous waterproofing attempts had been a complete success!

Bowling green bay national park is only about 30 minutes’ drive from Townsville, so this morning we headed in to check out the regional capital of north Queensland. We were pleasantly surprised by what we found. A lot of the guide books we had read described it as somewhat characterless but I thought it looked like a bit of a frontier town. I could almost imagine cowboys strolling out of the pubs and restaurants in the place of the tourists searching for cheap scuba diving and the bleached blonde locals pushing babies in strollers. We drove to the strand; a marina area right on the beach with all the facilities backpackers in a van would want- toilets, showers, picnic tables, BBQs, even a pool! It’s a shame we weren’t allowed to camp there as it would have been perfect. The BF has a friend who lives near Townsville, so we went to visit him. I was having a particularly bad-with-directions day, which for me means I can no longer tell my left from right or follow a simple map, since I’m always pretty lost. I think that by the time we eventually found our way to the random suburb the BF was very close to murdering me.

The rest of the day was somewhat uneventful. We made it to mission beach (as planned) just before 6pm and I was particularly entertained on the road here by signs explaining the dangers of colliding with cassowaries (large native Australian birds) tomorrow we are going to go for a hike to hopefully see some in the wild. We chose to stay in a backpacker’s hostel today to charge up electrical devices, have a shower and use laundry facilities. Tomorrow we may move on or remain somewhere around the area! Stay tuned…

Turk Visits....A Mango Themed Double Feature:
The Big Mango

Frosty Mango

Saturday, 3 March 2012

50 Things to do Before you Die 3: Australia Day Pool Party

The BF gets Nationalistic
Australia day is held each year in the midst of the Australian summer; Christmas and New Years have become fleeting memories and the nationalistic antipodeans want an excuse to enjoy the weather and celebrate what really makes their nation great! Therefore they join together around pools, on beaches and in parks and grill a variety of meats whilst wearing as few clothes as possible. The garments they do wear are generally adorned with either the Australian flag or some combination of green and gold. Beer is usually involved and the soundtrack is generally a music countdown known as “The Triple J Hottest 100”- a selection of the best songs of the previous year as chosen by the radio station JJJ. My memories of Australia days around the world are some of my most cherished.

Traditional Aussie Day food, drink and costume
As a Non- Australian the idea of The First Fleet arriving on the shores of what is now New South Wales in 1787 isn’t a particularly important piece of historical trivia, but it isn’t for the Australians either so that’s ok! What is important to most residents is that it is a day when they can exploit the idea of a national pride, which almost borders on jingoism, as an excuse to act in a way that confirms every stereotype that the rest of the world has about them. And it’s bloody good fun. If you are lucky enough to be in Australia on an Australia day I urge you to get involved in some kind of celebration. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of freedom you will get whilst bobbing up and down in a pool at 10am with music blaring, a bottle of Pure Blonde in your hand and the smell of sausages in the air whilst the unrelenting sun beats down upon you. The locals will offer you drinks, food and conversation and you’re likely to meet a variety of other travellers who have been invited to celebrate in a similar fashion despite national background. Maybe it’s not the best thing for Australian unity (the Native Aboriginals see it as a day of mourning) but as a Brit I have never felt so involved in an event or occasion which by definition essentially excludes me. It is displays of national pride like this which make me wish that my fellow countrymen were not only capable of patriotism at times when sport is involved. Maybe some Australians are only attractive bimbos who are only interested in keeping beers cold and getting a tan, but at least they seem to be proud of it!!

Friday, 2 March 2012

50 Things to do Before You Die 2: Oktoberfest

The magnificent Lowenbrau tent
There is nothing quite like Oktoberfest. It’s like a music festival in which the headlining act is beer. Munich itself is well worth a visit even in quieter months but during September and early October it truly comes alive. Despite the less than tropical temperatures every campsite becomes full of revellers. So full that tents are pitched almost on top of other tents. We returned to our camping spot one night, rather worse for wear, only to find that a group of kiwi travellers had pitched their own tents in a circle around ours, making it impossible for us to open or enter our dwelling without trampling all over delicate canvas and possibly possessions!

The mayhem of the campsites, however, is nothing compared to that of the beer halls. Vast Bavarian women battle their way through the hordes with 20 jumbo-sized glasses in their arms, inebriated octogenarians wearing lederhosen dance nimbly on tables with paralytic Australian backpackers and Asian couples armed with multiple cameras watch on with bemusement.

The BF worries that he may have shrunk
Be warned, the beer served at Oktoberfest comes in one size and one size only- huge. It is strong too; often up to 7 or 8% ABV, almost making it worth the 9 euro you will pay for it (essentially 10 euro as you will never, ever receive your change!) It’s all worth it though to mingle with travellers from every country you can imagine and really soak up the atmosphere. Try a massive pretzel or a meter long bratwurst hotdog (everything at Oktoberfest seems to be huge) you never know it may alleviate the unavoidable hangover you’ll no doubt be suffering the next day. My main piece of Oktoberfest advice is ‘get involved!’ Dance to the band, chat to the strangers and sing along to the covers of songs you know. Trust me, the memories you actually have, you will treasure!