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!



22 November 2010

Magnetic Island & Airlie Beach

Our tent!
After our stay in Port Douglas, we headed south to the mysteriously titled Magnetic Island (I'll explain the name later). After a long bus journey, we took the late night ferry across to the island then hopped aboard a bus that dropped us off at our accommodation: a nice change to the protocol in Asia where taxi drivers bombarded tourists at the ferry ports to offer rip-off prices. 

The island, which measures only 52 square kilometres, had just experienced a power cut, so it was with some trepidation that we checked into our guesthouse and were led to where we would be sleeping: a tent in the middle of the resort's tropical grounds.

Back on the golf course at last!
Let's just say that sleeping that night was quite difficult, surrounded by squawking birds, croaking toads, noisy lizards... and snakes. The owner assured us they were harmless - and happily pointed one out that was perched in the rafters of the lounge area!

I had read that former world number 1 golfer Greg Norman used to play the golf course on the island and decided, after a stretch of over ten golfless weeks, to give it a go myself while Pam had an afternoon at the beach.

The course was short, tight and difficult and it would be fair to say that I played terribly, but it felt great to swing a golf club again!

We took the bus to Horseshoe Bay - the busiest area of this tiny, quiet island - where we chilled on the beach before we set off on the Forts Walk to see koalas in the wild. We saw two on the walk to the top of the hill, and one even climbed down a tree to greet us!

Working the camera
The sleepy Magnetic Island was not one of our favourite places we have been to on our travels, so it was with renewed hope that we left for Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays. However, we hadn't planned for weather typical of a rainy April in Scotland!

With just a few shops, restaurants and internet cafes, the rain left us with little to do. So, instead of sailing in the Whitsundays or enjoying some time at the lagoon, we ended up booking our hostels and bus journeys for the next two weeks. I had a hair cut at the local barber shop and was (surprisingly) permitted to take scissors to Pam's hair. I maintain I did a good job, though you'd have to ask Pam what she thinks!


PS: If you wanted to know why it's called Magnetic Island, it's because when Captain Cook sailed past it, his compass behaved strangely. Although there is no scientific basis for why this happened, the name stuck.

The sun came finally decided to come out just hours before we were due to leave!
Rain, rain, go away...
Dweebing in an internet cafe
Pam's new hairdresser: The Butcher

16 November 2010

Cairns & Port Douglas

In Gilligan's on the Frog & Toad Bar Hop
After just a few hours in Cairns, I realised why my younger brother had chosen to live and work there for a few months: there were pubs and nightclubs galore! On our first night, we spoke to his former workmate ‘Snapper’ and ended up going on the Frog & Toad Bar Hop (for a discounted price, of course - mention the name 'Tully' anywhere and most people will know who you mean). It was a lot of fun, but we were glad to have elected to stay at the chilled out Tropic Days hostel rather than the third stop on the pub crawl - Gilligan's - a huge hostel and noisy nightclub that parties through the night (Andrew’s home during his time there!)

Pam at our hostel, Tropic Days
We read that Cairns is regarded by locals as having "sold its soul" by catering almost exclusively for backpackers and, despite adding to the issue by staying there, I can see why they would think that. On virtually every street (which weirdly all look the same as each other) are several tour operators in between the bars, and each night the city feels like a Saturday because of the sheer number of young people out drinking and partying.

Preparing for my dive!
However, Cairns remains a popular destination because it is so close to the Great Barrier Reef and we decided to see it up close... by scuba diving! With our hired underwater camera in hand, we jumped aboard our boat and on the way to Michaelmas Cay were given a safety briefing and a presentation by a marine biologist to learn about what we'd be seeing on the dive. Once we reached our first stop, we went snorkeling around the boat. Had this been the sole purpose of the trip, it would have been worth it, but then came the time for our first dive (after much persuasion, Pam agreed to give it a go). Being twenty metres under the surface was incredible, an experience like no other I’ve ever had. We saw colourful coral, exotic fish and rays of sunlight¬¬ streaking through the water. It’s ironic that when breathing through the mouthpiece connected to the oxygen tank – under all that water – your mouth becomes as dry as a desert! Our second dive was at a reef the crew were really excited to see because they only go there around three times a year, as conditions need to be perfect. This time, we were allowed forty minutes under the water rather than the twenty-five minutes we had on the first dive. I can safely say the whole experience was the best I’ve had since travelling.

Scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef - we loved it!
Anyone who knows Pam will understand how she gets ridiculously excited in the lead up to her birthday. To ensure she would have a day to remember (it was to be her first away from home, so no pressure then...) I set about devising a plan. The posh tourist town of Port Douglas, an hour north of Cairns, was picked as I booked us in for two nights in a seaside apartment.

The birthday girl!
When we walked into apartment, we were delighted to see a complimentary bottle of wine, balloons and a card for the birthday girl. This was going to be a welcome change to staying in hostels!

At the Port Douglas Sunday Market
That night, we planned to have a barbeque (the balcony had one just crying out to be used!) However, after several attempts to get it working – and a minor explosion – we gave up and fried our burgers, sausages and kebabs instead. We then settled back to enjoy our grub as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came on the movie channel – bliss!

Body boarding
On the morning of Pam’s birthday, she opened presents and cards from her friends and family, enjoyed breakfast in bed (toast!) then went jewellery shopping at the Port Douglas Sunday market, which is said to be one of the best in Australia. Afterwards, we went to the gorgeous Four Mile Beach where we took advantage of the free body boards from the apartment. We rounded off the night with a delicious meal at On The Inlet – an award-winning seafood restaurant – and a Skype session home to Pam’s family.

As much as we’d have loved to have stayed in Port Douglas for a few more days, weeks and months, our budget simply doesn’t allow for it! We are now heading to Magnetic Island – where we are staying in a tent!


My choice in jewellery is slightly less expensive than Pam's!

14 November 2010

Around Brisbane

My family!
Australia: a new continent on our journey and a completely different travelling experience. We made it through the strict border security (past the sniffer dogs) and were welcomed at the airport by Uncle Jack.

We arrived at Mango Hill where we were greeted by Aunt Margaret and the best dog in the world – Max. We arrived here with no specific plan of action but luckily Margaret was on hand to help us out.

Where we stayed in Mango Hill
Our first day began with a trip to the nearby seaside town of Redcliffe. Poor Max does not enjoy his car trips but once he arrived at the beach for the first of his two daily walks, he was a happy doggy.

James and I went off to explore the town and, after passing what initially looked like a wedding party, we remembered that it was the day of the famous Melbourne Cup! Plans for lunch were put on hold as we went to join in the crowds and watch the big race.

Our hire car - what a beast!
That night, we had a family reunion as Stewart, Tania, Emily, Ben and Kim joined the four of us for dinner at Outback Jacks. With lots to catch up on from both sides of the world, the night flew by.

James and I were spoiled rotten by Jack and Margaret during our time here, they drove us everywhere, cooked us amazing home-made dinners and we had some quality conversations, making our time at Mango Hill one to remember.

We spent one of our days visiting Queensland's capital: Brisbane. We went to see some of Jack's recommendations at the art gallery and had lunch at South Bank where an amazing lagoon has been built for city lovers to relax.

After lunch, we found our sea legs and took a trip on the City Cat, taking a sneaky stop at Queen Street - a shopping promenade which branches off into lots of malls. We both loved Queensland's temperature - no humidity but a nice bearable heat.

Soaking up the sun at Mooloolaba Beach
We decided to explore the Sunshine and Gold coasts so set about hiring a car for a couple of days. 25 was the minimum driving age so James (secretly delighted) stepped into the role as designated driver and we headed up to the beautiful Sunshine Coast. Our first stop was Mooloolaba - a seaside town that oozes glamour. While we were there, we even saw a part of the beach being prepared for a sunset wedding.

We checked in at a hostel in Maroochydore. With only a couple of hours left in the day, we picked up some brochures to choose a lucky dip adventure and much to James's delight, found a nearby mini golf park with a two for one voucher – perfect.

After Kim forced me to touch a sea cucumber!
From Maroochydore, we headed to the Eumundi Saturday market then continued north to Noosa to sample its stunning beach before returning to our homely retreat in Mango Hill for some undeserved TLC from Jack and Margaret.

Petting the dolphins
On Sunday, we were catapulted back to our childhood as we joined the Browns on a trip to Sea World on the Gold Coast. Emily, Ben and Kim were our tour guides around the park, leading us to the animal shows and rollercoasters and had us laughing all day with their endless enthusiasm and games. James had an unfortunate incident at lunch after one of the swarming seagulls decided to relieve itself right smack bang on his cheek – whoops!

Also on our Sunshine Coast hit list was Maleny and the Mary Cairncross Rainforest. The rain followed us on our car trip but it was a really pretty drive and we saw wallabies in the rainforest.

Max choosing an inconvenient place to dry himself!
On our last day, Jack agreed to take James on at a game of bowls at his local club. Playing a winner of several tournaments, James knew the challenge was a tough one. He didn’t win but he did put up a good fight, so much so that Jack says he isn’t playing him again in case he shows him up! Luckily, the game ended in good spirits as we left Mango Hill that night for our flight to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.



8 November 2010

Two become six!

Our last destination in Asia was Singapore. We were welcomed by Alix and Shaun, experiencing our first home-made dinner and being spoiled rotten in their beautiful city apartment.

On the 41st floor of the apartment
We spent our first day wandering the pristine streets, starting with Bugis Market and Arab Street. As the day went on, we both began to get excited as two more Lawns neared Changi Airport.

It was really quite exciting waiting at arrivals (even though they managed to be the last people off the plane) and they soon clocked us waving like mad and soon we were celebrating their arrival with some good old nosh and a pint.

Our week in Singapore began as our wonderful guide Alix took us to all the best spots in the city. We walked for miles taking in the sights, stopping only when James’s stomach made the cry for food!

At the beautiful Singapore Botanic Gardens
First on the list was the botanical gardens where we saw hundreds of orchids and spotted a couple of flying squirrels. We walked along the bustling Orchard Road, taking in the Christmas decorations against a bright blue sky – it just didn’t look right!

We visited the famous Raffles Hotel, where the Singapore Sling was invented, although ended up sampling the drink at a bar across the road, for $12 less – we are Scottish! Later, Shaun joined us for some al fresco dining after work and we took in the sights and sounds along the river at Robertson Quay.

Riding the subway
Also on our itenary was Sentosa Island – Singapore’s beach resort and a place I had fond memories of from my first visit a decade ago. The island has changed so much. It was unrecognisable to us all however, we did enjoy relaxing on the beach and having lunch by the sea before returning for, what James has rightly decided, were the best fajitas he has ever eaten!

Mum and Alix gradually caught up on eight years of conversation on our third day as we headed towards Chinatown. Dad and James found the perfect street bar to enjoy the sights with a cold beer, leaving us girls a little time for some retail therapy. As always, the cry for lunch was made from a certain Mr Tulloch. He was not left disappointed as Alix took us to a wonderful local cafe where we watched a showman of a chef make our noodles.
Noodle chef
After pounding the market streets in the heat of the day, James and Dad felt it was time for some Friday night boy time – cue the Singapore Turf Club Racecourse... and my unfortunate bet.

Now, trying to place a bet is confusing enough for me in Scotland so you can imagine my trouble in Singapore. After watching the locals, I gave it a go and was chuffed when presented with my ticket. 

Wondering which horse to bet on
Unfortunately, I soon realised I had been given a coupon for a European race instead of the local. The girl was apologetic and soon changed my ticket however, I then realised I had been given horse number 5 instead of 4 – another ‘lost in translation’ moment. Once Dad arrived, I explained my dilemma and said I was just going to leave it but was soon persuaded I should get it changed as horse 5 was a big outsider. So, embarrased I once again went to the till and had my ticket changed. Can you see where this is going?! Yup, that’s right, the outsider won, grrr!

Our trip in the Asian equivalent of New York was only just beginning as we moved into the weekend. We spent the morning on a river cruise, sharing the water with the dragon boats at the annual competition. Following a short rain burst, we walked along to the esplanade for our first close up glimpse of the brand new Marina Bay Sands Hotel. To top off the day, we joined the crowds at Boat Quay and added another food type to our list with a delicious Indian meal.

After a non-stop schedule, we opted for a lazy Sunday to round off the trip and enjoyed some chill time at the pool and a lovely picnic lunch from Alix. In the afternoon, we returned to Chinatown for some last minute shopping – leaving the boys at their favourite bar for their farewell beer.

The last supper!
We said our goodbyes to Mum and Dad as they left for home and we then prepared for our onward travels in the opposite direction towards Brisbane in Australia. The two separate journeys would cover so many time zones that, in the end, we gave up on working out who would arrive where first!

A big thank you to Alix, Shaun, Mum and Dad for making Singapore a great week!