31 December 2010

Christmas with Kylie!

James trying out the farm quad bike
From Sydney, we took our last journey on the Greyhound bus (hooray!) to Melbourne to see my U-Mass partner in crime Kylie! We broke up the journey with a brief visit of Canberra before starting a week of festive fun, Ozzie style!

Moments before dropping it...
After a day exploring the city, we loaded up the car - surfboards and all - and headed out of the city towards a farm where we spent Christmas Eve with Kylie's dad Bryon, sampling some delicious fresh-from-the-farm lamb and a little vino!

Delicious spread
On Christmas morning, we reverted back to our childhood days of jumping out of bed at 6am, however, this time, it was not to check if Santa had filled our stockings but to feed hungry cows! James quickly fell in love with the farm quad bike (and became the self-appointed designated driver) while Kylie attended to a poorly calf. I, not being the best with animals, helped where I could then baked muffins while the other two finished things off!

James and his new best friends
James and I were welcomed into the Christmas celebration at Heyfield with open arms, being showered with gifts and an amazing spread of food with everything from turkey to king prawns! Our celebrations continued the next day in Seaspray with more delicious food and more delicious wine (can you see a pattern developing?) We also got the chance to spend some time with Kylie's five horses on the second family farm, although I think James took a bit of a liking to Blackie and Pita: the dogs who followed him devoutly after working out he would give them the most attention!

Oz Christmas gifts
Our weekend of festive fun continued with an afternoon of champagne and a spa at Rose and Steve's house and a lovely meal cooked by Diane. Then, it was time for the highly anticipated trip to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the third day of The Ashes Fourth Test courtesy of Kylie.

At the MCG - what a day!
The 100,000 capacity stadium was incredible to see and with our near front row seats, there was nothing left to do but sit back in the sun and enjoy the game (after learning the rules, of course!) The match was virtually decisive in the series (or so I am told anyway) so it was a great atmosphere, which helped when James and I wandered amongst the Barmy Army to interview some fans for STV.

Bryon and Kylie cheering on Oz
Unfortunately, Kylie had to return to work the following day but this did not stop the three of us having a great time in the evenings, with lots of laughter, yummy food and a couple of films creating the perfect holiday atmosphere. Our last night in this cosmopolitan city crept up on us fast and we were both sad to say goodbye to our wonderful host and friend, but as if all the Christmas fun hadn't been enough, Miss Liburne had another trick up her sleeve, courtesy of Tennis Australia - opening night tickets to see Le Grand Cirque!

I was so excited when we arrived at the elegant Regent Theatre and gobsmacked when watching the spellbinding show although we were all gripping the edge of our seats when one performer on the final act stumbled while running around a spinning wheel while blindfolded. Luckily, he pulled it off, earning a roaring cheer!

On Hogmanay, we took a quick flight back to Sydney and followed the crowds into to the city to see in 2011 with the famous fireworks. 


U-Mass buddies at Melbourne's Regent Theatre


21 December 2010


Brothers reunited!
The Opera House
After ten months apart from Andrew, I was delighted when checking in at Big Hostel to see him jump out from behind the desk! He has been travelling and working in Australia since February, so it was great to see him again, catch up with each other and hear about all the best places to see in Australia's biggest city. After giving us a fortune's worth of free tickets for weekend pub crawls and party boats, we set about planning our week together.

At the top of the Sydney Tower
Pam and I were unashamed tourists on our first afternoon in Sydney. We made a beeline straight for Sydney's most iconic landmark: the Opera House. What we hadn't banked on, however, was the huge crowd of people trying to get into a show there by Oprah Winfrey. It was so busy, we could barely see the Opera House (or 'Oprah House' as the newspapers insisted it be called for the day) and so walked to the city's second most iconic landmark: the Sydney Harbour Bridge. From there, we had a great vantage point and took hundreds of photographs of the Opera House while people down below tried to catch a glimpse of the American chat show queen.

Darling Harbour
That night, Andrew treated us to a delicious Indian meal, a few beers and a trip to the cinema to see the Due Date - a hilarious comedy tailored to a male audience. Pam was out-voted for film choice.

The next day, though, she got her own back on me as I followed her around every clothes shop in the city. That evening, tired out from pounding the streets, we took a trip up the Sydney Tower which gave us incredible views of Sydney. It was only from such a height that I realised just how much water plays a part in its landscape.

That night, we met up again with Andrew at the plush Soho Bar, where his discount card came in very handy as we polished off a few cocktails and renewed old battles on the pool table.

Spot the idiot
The most famous beach in Sydney is found in Bondi and it was there we decided to go the following day. With the weather turning a bit Scottish, we opted to do a trail walk along the cliffs of Bondi first, in the hope the sun would come out later. The views from the cliffs were spectacular and allowed for some great picture moments, though I couldn't condone Andrew's idiocy when he sat down on the edge of a cliff, about 100 feet above the swirling ocean. I hate to say it, but he's right, it did make for a pretty cool photo.

There's nothing wrong with a post-lunch siesta!
After lunch, when the sun did eventually show itself, we were too tired for any strenuous activity and opted instead for sticking our heads inside our bags and falling asleep on the beach for an hour! Pam claims to have been kept awake by our synchronised snoring, but I think she's exaggerating...

Our week in Sydney was flying by and before we knew it, we were on Route 69's party bus pub crawl. It would be fair to say that Pam and I probably would not have chosen to go on this if it hadn't been for the free tickets Andrew had given us, but we were excited about it all the same. That was until we realised that every other person on our bus of around 40 people worked for a company and were celebrating their Christmas night out! We felt a bit out of place to begin with, but after the first couple of stops, we were welcomed in as honorary employees of the company for the night. Little did they know that upon entering each pub, Pam and I were being slipped double the amount of free drink tokens by our accommodating host!

At the Hawaiian sunset cruise
We awoke the next day after an award-worthy long lie and felt ready to keep the party going on Route 69's Hawaiian sunset cruise. As we boarded the party boat, we were given a lei and a bottle of Long Island Iced Tea cocktail, which was to be the subject of one of my more embarrassing faux pas.

With my drink in hand, I caught the eye of a guy on the boat who raised his bottle to me. I asked if he was enjoying his Long Island Iced Tea and told him I was nursing mine slowly as I didn't really like it. Andrew, who was beside me, said under his breath, "James, that's the owner." The owner of the boat, I asked. No, this guy owns the company that makes the drink you're speaking about. After a heartfelt apology that was graciously accepted, I hurried to the refuge of the bar and ordered a cider!

At dinner together on our last night
On our last day in Sydney, Pam and I decided to escape the city and took the ferry across to Manly for a day at the beach. We met with Andrew in the evening for a last meal together, vowing to meet up again when we return for New Year. Now, though, we begin our journey to Melbourne where we're spending time with our friend Kylie and her family for Christmas!


16 December 2010

Newcastle & Hunter Valley

The beautiful YHA hostel where we stayed
Our penultimate stop before the big smoke of Sydney was Newcastle. Coined as a sister town to Port Macquarie, we were pleasantly surprised with this quaint coastal town.

After trudging from the bus station with our heavy bags, our jaws dropped when we arrived at our YHA hostel. It could have passed for a grand hotel somewhere in the Scottish countryside. There was a big Christmas tree next to the grand wooden staircase which was set just off from the plush ballroom - the setting instantly made us feel more Christmassy.

This festive feeling didn't last long, though! As soon as we stepped out into the sun and set off for the beach, we time-warped straight back to that warm August feeling that we have been floating along in for the past three months!

Nobby's Head in the distance
Our three days in beautiful Newcastle passed by in a flash. We soaked up some sun at the beach, attempted (and failed) to try surfing on our own and wandered around the weekend market, but the highlight had to be our day trip to the famous Hunter Valley wine region.

Wine tasting in Hunter Valley
As most of you will know, James doesn't particularly like the taste of wine so it was an unusual destination but he was up for the challenge! The weather was perfect for the trip: blue sky with wispy clouds - the perfect setting to enjoy wine and spirits - 25 different varieties to be exact!

Hunter Valley is a really beautiful part of Australia and it was a nice change to see mountainous landscape as we drove towards the famous valley that is home to hundreds of vineyards.

On our first stop, at the refreshing time of 11am, we learned how to 'properly' taste wine and then the drinking (I mean tasting) began! After two vineyards, at least a dozen different wines and a quick lunch stop, we were delighted to further line our stomachs with chocolate and cheese tastings before heading off to another winery for more samples.

Who needs wine tasting when you have beer?!
We both liked the Semillion, Hunter Valley's Pièce de résistance, although I can't say our taste buds were quite ready for the Dragon Breath chilli liqueur! Thankfully, this was not to be the last drink we tasted as we had one more stop to make - the brewery. Beer paddle in hand, James duly tried the six local beers before choosing his favourite for a full size version - a fine end to a fine trip!

Our next stop is to a city we are both excited about seeing - Sydney. James is looking forward to a full week of boy time with his brother... and I to some retail therapy!


12 December 2010

Port Macquarie

A carefully selected photograph!
Waiting a for a good wave
After the weather had previously denied us a chance to learn how to surf, we took advantage of the glorious sunshine to take a lesson with Port Macquarie Surf School.

Our first surfing experience
The lead instructor was a typical surfer dude (who I later learned had finished 4th in the Australian Surfing Championships) and, after finding out Pam and I were Scottish, decided to tease me about kilts (or 'skirts', as he put it). After we squeezed into our wetsuits, he explained the basics then told us to grab a board and give it a go. Needless to say, it was far from easy! After a while, we both managed to stand up on the board, though we spend a lot more time falling off it!

Moments before a front flip - unfortunately, I missed the shot...
Port Macquarie is home to the only koala hospital in the world, so we decided to take a tour there one afternoon.

Wipe out!
The hospital is run by volunteers who look after the cuddly creatures if they get knocked over by cars, attacked by other animals or just fall out of trees. It was really nice being shown around the grounds and being told the different stories about the koalas. My favourite was Bad Boy Barry; a male koala who, according to the tour guide, 'is very proud of his anatomy and has a liking for presenting it to females of all species'.

Next stop: Newcastle. Why aye, man!


Feeding Bad Boy Barry

7 December 2010

Coffs Harbour

Getting a kiss from a dolphin at the amazing Pet Porpoise Park
We arrived in Coffs Harbour expecting a small, coastal town, with not much going on (as our guidebook had suggested) and, while the former is true, we found that we loved it and would have happily stayed for longer than we did.

The marina
We stayed in Coffs Harbour YHA which was a lot nicer than the YHA we were housebound to in rainy Byron Bay.

Luckily for us, the sun remembered it was summer in Australia, meaning Pam and I could enjoy the beach, blue sky and a walk to the top of the nearby Muttonbird Island where we enjoyed a great view along the coast with the mountains visible behind the town.

Playing catch with a dolphin
For us, the highlight of our time in Coffs Harbour was definitely going to Pet Porpoise Pool. It's basically a much smaller, more interactive version of Sea World without the queues.

As soon as we got there, we aimed straight for the dolphin pool and discovered there were only a handful of other people there, so we got to play catch with the friendly creatures for a nearly an hour. They seemed really happy to be stroked and would literally throw the ball to someone with their nose (or rostrum as I later learned it is called) if no-one had thrown the ball to them for a minute or so.

"Hurry up and feed me!"
We were offered the chance to be kissed by a sea lion and a dolphin and were more than happy to oblige. The kiss/headbutt from the dolphin was ok, but the smooch from the whiskery, fishy-breathed sea lion was far from enjoyable!

In the underwater viewing area
After a brilliant dolphin show, Pam and I got to feed a seal, a turtle and even baby penguins in between taking a million photographs!

Randomly, there was a huge peacock who strutted around the grounds of the park as though he owned the place. He even strolled into the shop, much to the confusion of the customers, but the staff didn't bat an eyelid.

At the top of Muttonbird Island
The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing on the beach, which we felt a bit guilty about after learning about the snow chaos back home!

So, Coffs Harbour, hardly endorsed by our guidebook, gets a glowing review from the two of us!



6 December 2010

Byron Bay

Byron Bay lighthouse
After a brief stop-over in Brisbane where we had time to catch the new (amazing) Harry Potter film, we left for the hippie town of Byron Bay.

We both really liked this seaside town; it is touristy but has retained its charm and has a nice vibe about it with music performers playing on every street corner. Unfortunately for us, it was still raining... a lot!

An unusual market stall location!
After a stroll along two of Byron's seven beaches that stretch for miles, our first night was confined to our hostel as we listened to the rain battering against the windows. I downloaded Championship Manager 2011 on the iTouch for James thinking it would help pass the time... little did I realise it would dictate everything he wanted to do for the next 24 hours! He even wanted to play it while we were walking around the town... until he was sacked as Aberdeen manager in what he deemed 'very unfair circumstances'. He doesn't like the game so much any more!

On the lookout platform at The Point
Our last two nights were spent at the Baystay Bed and Breakfast which was so homely compared to the nice but sterile YHA. We enjoyed two amazing breakfasts and were pointed in the direction of the local Sunday Market.

The happy-go-lucky style of Byron Bay was on sh­­­­ow for all to see at the market. There were singers, flamenco dancers and the most incredible mix of smells as we meandered around all the stalls.

Cooking up a storm!
After some chocolate coated strawberries, we walked towards the lighthouse to see the most easterly point of the Australian mainland.

The busy Johnson Street
We kept thinking, 'ah, it's just over that hill' but it turned out it was a lot further away than we thought! Hours later, we made it to the top, grabbed some cake to refuel our weary limbs and then enjoyed the wonderful views over the Pacific Ocean.

At Byron Bay market
Just when we thought we saw a glimmer of sunshine - you guessed it - the rain came back on! We took shelter in one of the backpacker travel agents and ended up walking out with a campervan booked for New Zealand thanks to James' out-of-the-blue amazing haggling techniques... however, it did come at a cost of adding to our country's reputation of tight-fistedness as the travel agent said to us, 'Oh, you two really are Scottish!'


Spectacular view on the walk to Byron Bay lighthouse

30 November 2010

Hervey Bay & Fraser Island

Cooling off in the sea at Hervey Bay
The Friendly Hostel was where we stayed during our time here and it definitely lived up to its name. The building was split into different apartments that shared a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room, meaning that it felt like we were living in university halls again! Getting to hear other travellers' stories was great and we became friendly with an English couple who, by chance, had booked on the same day tour of Fraser Island as Pam and I.

At Lake McKenzie
The beach at Hervey Bay was where we spent most of our time. As it is protected by Fraser Island, it was lacking the giant waves of Mooloolaba but it was clean and the water was clear and cool. That said, what Hervey Bay had to offer was not a patch on the natural beauty of Fraser Island.

In the rainforest
We started our day tour with a bus leaving our accommodation at 7:15am, before boarding a ferry for the half an hour ride to the island. Once we arrived, we jumped into a massive eighteen ton truck that was driven by our tour guide (who reminded me of Steve Irwin). It was a really bumpy ride as Fraser Island has no tarmac roads. It is a sand island, so all vehicles on the island have to have four wheel drive to handle the terrain.

The rusted Maheno shipwreck on 75 Mile Beach
Our first stop was the stunning Lake McKenzie - a perched rainwater lake with white, powdery sand. It looked like something from James Bond film! After taking loads of photos, we went for a dip in the crystal clear water.

From there, we went into the rainforest to see Wanggoolba Creek, as our guide told us about the history of the island and its unique geography. The fact that there is much vegetation on the island is astounding considering it is made up of sand and not soil.

Sharing Eli Creek with eels!
After a delicious buffet lunch, we were driven up 75 Mile Beach (not all of it, thankfully) with the mammoth waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing down just a few metres from the right side of the truck! All the while we were in the vehicle (being thrown about!) the tour guide was talking over the intercom, giving information about what we were seeing.

On the ferry to Fraser Island
We stopped at the Maheno shipwreck before checking out the Coloured Sands - bright yellows and oranges rather than the talcum powder white we were getting used to!

I thought bats only came out at night!
Our final stop was the gorgeous Eli Creek where Pam and I waded, relaxing to the sounds of the birds in the trees and the feel of the sun on our skin - until Pam spotted an eel swimming towards her! Thankfully, we never found out if it was electric, though I highly doubt it was; after all, we were advised to go in the creek!
After that, we headed back to our hostel. Our nights there were really fun. On the three of the four we stayed there, we watched DVDs (Fred Claus, The Mask and Elf) and on our final night, had a little drinking session! Needless to say, we did Scotland proud!


At the stunning Lake McKenzie (a rare photo of the two of us together!)

26 November 2010

Agnes Water & Seventeen Seventy

Sunshine at last!
After a journey on the night bus in wet clothes (Airlie Beach gave us a send off storm as we walked to the bus stop), it was nice to arrive in sunshine at Agnes Water and check into 1770 Beachside Backpackers.

Cycling to Seventeen Seventy
We had a good room with a small shared kitchen, so we stocked up at the shops and made some nice home-made grub.
Gorgeous sunset in Seventeen Seventy

After nearly a week of rain, we were delighted when the sun finally revealed itself. Abandoning all rain-related activities, we headed straight to the beach!

There, we watched the local surf school. It was a relief to see the beginners looking exactly as I imagined I would: not actually standing on the surfboard! I decided I would give it a go, so James and I signed up for the following morning's class.

Feeling energised by the sun, we hired bikes and cycled to Agnes Water's twin town of Seventeen Seventy. After taking in some gorgeous views over the sea, an unusual caravan park wedding and a sunset (which meant we had to cycle the last forty minutes in pitch black), we enjoyed a relaxing night after the eight mile cycle began to take its toll!

A broken man after his crushing 21-15 defeat
The next day, we decided to keep our sporting mood going with a table tennis challenge. I hammered James in the first game (his tale of events is of course different) so, infuriated by his defeat, he demanded a re-match. I have never seen him take anything so seriously; he was not prepared to be beaten (again) by a girl. After an intense match, James evened the score - leaving us with the prospect of a decider. We set a time for the re-match, however, when we arrived later in the day, the table tennis table had been taken away!

The windy view point
Our final day in Agnes was surfing day. We slapped on the sun lotion and ready to go. When we got to the surf shop, though, we were gutted to find out that the day's lesson had been cancelled due to a swell in the sea. I could tell James was disappointed (surfing was more his thing than mine, anyway) so there was only thing for it... a trip to the local pub 'The Tavern'.

After sitting down with his first pint, the smile began to reappear on his 'I just wanted to surf today' face: we realised he had smashed Dad's 11:41am holiday beer record by clocking in at an impressive 10:10am!

Caught in a downpour!
Determined to get a little bit of outdoors for the remainder of the day, I persuaded James to come for an afternoon walk along the beach. It was just our luck when, halfway through our walk, the heavens opened and we got absolutely drenched - oops! James was not very happy!

Despite a few minor hiccups, we left Agnes Water on a high after our three days here. We caught a reasonable o'clock bus and were excited about arriving in our next destination - Hervey Bay and the highly recommended Fraser Island!