A year on from our incredible road trip around the United States of America in 2011 and my girlfriend Jodie and I were itching to travel the world and explore new locations once more.
We booked flights to Australia for a round the world trip incorporating New Zealand and South East Asia. These flights were flexible, meaning we could change the dates as the trip developed and we realised we wanted to spend more time in certain places. This was crucial as we have already changed our plans and are likely to stay in the southern hemisphere for more (if not all) of 2013.
Naturally, we were very excited for this “round the world” experience. Both of us had been eager to travel since leaving the States 13 months earlier and we were lucky enough to have synchronised opportunities with our jobs and flat lease ending. Rarely in life is there nothing tying one to any particular location and we jumped at the chance for an adventure, before life and careers properly get in the way. Jodes was particularly excited to board a “double decker bus” until I reminded her that the vehicle she was about to board was actually a plane. It’s a good job she has me to look after her.
We flew from Heathrow on October 10th and were clumsy enough during our wait at Bangkok airport to lose October 11th altogether thanks to a nine hour time difference. So it was October 12th by the time we finally set foot on Australian soil. Our hostel was a place called Noah’s with a great view overlooking Bondi Beach. At least it would have been had we not managed to bring some typically British weather with us – a storm was blowing in what was described as the worst Sydney October weather in 20 years. Parts of New South Wales even had snow that day; this was not the spring conditions we had anticipated and my aunty and her friends who we met that night were of course quick to blame us for all of it!
Jet lag was its usual irksome self for the first couple of days but any frustration was alleviated instantly at the discovery that in Australia they still sell chunky Milkybars – a confectionary treat inexplicably lost from British shores some fifteen years ago that has eluded me since childhood.
After a beautiful Bondi café breakfast of fruit, muesli, honey and yoghurt (the Aussies do breakfast very well) we began our first full day buy heading into the CBD (central business district). The first stop was the Greyhound bus station as we had taken the decision to take Greyhound buses all the way up the East Coast to Cairns. This was a decision that we took some time over, carefully weighing up the pros and cons of hiring a car, taking a train, flying, or combining some or all of the above. The Greyhound option turned out to be by far the best option – inter-city trains across such huge distances are events rather than convenience transportation and the cost reflects this; cars are potentially a good bet if you have a group of four but then you have to factor in finding somewhere to park and paying for it, an issue given that we were staying in towns predominantly unlike in America and we would be taking trips for days at a time when a car would have to be abandoned; flights are generally quite costly and cannot be considered for small hops up the coast. So by default really, the Greyhound bus was our best bet. Having experienced Greyhound buses around America in 2010 and 2011, we knew these could be sketchy and full of crazy homeless folk. I was on my own travelling through beautiful Virginia countryside to Maryland and D.C. a couple of years back when we stopped at a gas station and an old man followed me off the bus and would not leave me alone until I told him whether or not I could indeed see “the magic of the hills breathing”.
Anyway, it turns out that Greyhound buses in Australia are far nicer, cleaner, more efficient and generally just full of backpackers like us. Contrary to their American equivalents, these rides were actually relaxing and it was usually a good opportunity to nap, write some journal or just reflect on the latest Australian adventures. We booked our first bus to Newcastle, the first city north of Sydney, and whist we were enjoying Sydney we were eagerly anticipating getting on the road.
Sydney though, it has to be said, is a glorious city. After seven months in London we were ready for somewhere more rural but it was truly hard to fault Sydney as a welcome point for anyone who has travelled halfway around the world to get there. It is easy to see why so many travellers come to visit Australia and end up never really leaving Sydney. It has everything; everyone is friendly, it feels modern yet cultural, large yet full of community and is the perfect blend between American extravagance and British tradition. Combined influences from both countries are evident wherever you go, right down to the American style cars that drive on the left of American style roads. The whole city striked me as a cross between the best bits of San Francisco’s chilled vide and incredible harbour and Chicago’s glorious riverside and Lake Shore Drive, whilst Bondi Beach has elements of Cornwall’s St Ives, with all the beauty and excellent food exaggerated.
We wandered through beautiful botanic gardens full of birdlife far more interesting than our British avian friends, in what were by now very pleasant conditions, along the harbour to the Opera House at Circular Quay. The brilliant white of the architecture are sections of spheres (not, as is commonly misunderstood, replications of sailboats in the harbour) and it looks even more brilliant in real life. We filmed the traditional hilarious introduction to our trip video, which I will post on this blog soon. In the meantime, here is the teaser trailer for said video:
We walked around Circular Quay to the spectacular iconic Harbour Bridge, before checking out the Museum of Contemporary Art. There are some free buses in Sydney and we caught one down to Chinatown to do some shopping, before walking to the very pretty Darling Harbour. Sydney is a large city but you are never far from a glorious expanse of water, complete with wonderful eateries and high quality attractions – Darling Harbour had the National Maritime Museum, but sadly the destroyer and submarine you can usually walk into was closed that day.
The following morning we awoke to the bizarre sound of opera being played from Bondi Beach, which apparently was to do with a surf contest taking place that day. No, I don’t understand that either… We headed back to Circular Quay and caught the ferry to Manly. The views leaving the harbour from a boat are unparalleled – it really is the best way to see all of it at once. The harbour is full of inlets, meaning the coastline is incredibly long and comprises many mini harbours, as well as the zoo and the prime minister’s house.
Manly was perhaps our favourite part of Sydney – it is far enough away to feel like its own town but close enough to the central part of town to be convenient. It is north of the city and amongst the northern beaches, perhaps the best beaches in Sydney. We had some lovely fish and chips before my aunty drove us to a friend’s house, which is built on a hillside so that you can walk on the balcony and be instantly at tree height amongst the stunning array of birds this country has to offer. Rainbow lorikeets (which look like an avian gay pride parade), noisy cockatoos, kookaburras and butcher birds were all present – the latter would leap into the air from out of nowhere if you chucked some raw meat in the air, never failing to catch it. We drove to another beautiful harbour at Bay’s View and then moved on to other northern beaches, including the beach where Home and Away is filmed.
Our last couple of days in Sydney were spent around the Bondi area. Bondi is full of people up for a party, but it also has a huge health drive. People are running along the beach from the crack of dawn (we only managed it once!) Twice we walked to the next beach down, Bronte beach, for a wonderful club sandwich at “G’Day Bronte”, one of many excellent cafes, and discovered along the way that there are “outdoor gyms” with pull up bars and the like where you can just stop, work out and carry on walking before doing the same again a little further along the path. These outdoor gyms are in fact all over Australia – a fantastic idea which I believe they are introducing in British cities but is really suited best to a hot climate.
Along the Bondi to Bronte walk we also came across “sculptures by the sea” – an annual alfresco exhibition of modern art sculptures built into the cliff top for a couple of weeks a year. Clearly, the Aussies love to do everything outside. Gym? Art exhibition? No roof required. Even the main swimming pools are outside, it seems. Bronte and Bondi (as well as many other beaches) have an “Iceberg ocean pool” – a pool built on the rocks which gets replenished by ocean waves crashing against the corner continuously. As a result it is to an extent contained but moving water you are swimming in, and it is very chilly, too. We lasted about two minutes.
After a last meal at an excellent pizza place in Bondi (seriously, the food is great over here) we got on our first Greyhound bus and headed up the coast to Newcastle. The adventure had begun…