Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Back on the Horse

Holy God. A blog! What madness.

The last month of my life has been a crazy one in which I’ve lived out of a suitcase and without a reliable internet connection. I’ve been insanely busy travelling around Australia, either with my family or on my own. The few days in which I stayed in one place passed in a drunken haze while I watched England beat Australia in the cricket. Not terribly productive, but what can you do?

I’m back on the horse now however and thought it would be a good idea to tell you in a little more detail what I did on my extended hiatus.

Soon after my last blog, my parents and brother arrived from the UK (only one day before snow covered the country and closed Heathrow) and travelled up to Orange to see me. We did what little sightseeing there is around this town; hiking around the local hill, wine tasting, that sort of thing, before driving back to Sydney via the Blue Mountains for yet more walking!

From Sydney we flew to Melbourne, where we were staying for Christmas in a hotel in China Town. Christmas Eve was spent on St Kilda beach (I really hate beaches), and I managed to get a sunburn – a great start to our stay in Melbourne. Christmas Day was a bit better – we ate lunch at a really nice restaurant on the dockside before walking the length of the CBD along the river (my parents really like walking). It wasn’t terribly Christmassy, what with it being the middle of summer, but we survived. Actually it’s very strange how Australians have imported Christmas almost entirely unaltered from England, despite the fact that the weather is totally different – Santa still wears a huge red coat and all the cards have snowmen, reindeer and other wintery things on them.

On Boxing Day we took a bus tour around the City, hopping off to do some shopping (I also hate shopping) and some more walking. Stupidly I forgot to take my camera with me, so I didn’t get any photos of Melbourne. The day after Boxing Day we went to the MCG to watch a day of the cricket between England and Australia.

That marked the end of our visit to Melbourne. I found the city to be somewhat quiet, although visiting around Christmas may well have contributed to that. It was also quite unfinished. The area around the docklands was still being built, so it seemed like most of the city was a work in progress. It also felt very planned and soulless – it was built on a rigid grid pattern and seemed to have very little history – none of the city was really all that old.

Sydney was a stark contrast. We flew there on the 28th and spent the next four days there. We met with some family friends the day after we arrived and walked around Sydney (yes, more walking). We did all the typical touristy stuff, like walking over the bridge, going up to the top of the Sydney Tower and walking through the Botanical Gardens to the Opera House. We were staying out in the Suburbs, a good 15 minute train journey away, which was a bit of a drag, so we spent pretty long days in the city to make the most of it.

The day before New Year’s Eve we took a bus trip around the city and out to Bondi Beach (more bloody beaches). I didn’t get sun burned this time, because a flatly refused to actually go to the beach; I went to an internet café instead. On New Year’s Eve we went to a point almost directly under the Harbour Bridge and staked out from 2 pm for the fireworks, which were absolutely spectacular! In our long day sitting around doing nothing, I started reading Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ (having not actually read the first book…) which I might review next week unless something more interesting comes up.

On New Year’s Day (happy new year, by the way), we went to Manly (a suburb or Sydney) to visit some more family friends and then went to the beach (again. This time I read). The day after that was my family’s last day in Aus, so we did some more wandering round Sydney (including going to the Chinese Garden) before saying our farewells. I then travelled to King’s Cross to the hostel in which I was staying for another week or so.

Thus began the part of my trip in which it was just me! Some of you might know that King’s Cross in Sydney’s Red Light District, which I didn’t know when I booked the hostel. Don’t fear; I didn’t hire any hookers during my week there. The reason I was staying in King’s Cross was that it is only a fairly short walk from the SCG, where I was going to watch the cricket that week.

The week passed in a fairly drunken haze, while England won The Ashes and I tried to survive without my parents paying for everything! It ended a rather enjoyable time in Sydney, which I preferred to Melbourne. Sydney was a lot busier (although that may have something to do with the time of year) and seemed more organic as a city – it was built on a grid, but it didn’t always stick to the grid like Melbourne did. Unfortunately it was also a lot harder to get around and there was an awful lot of traffic.

On the Saturday (that’s the 8th) I flew to Hobart for a tour of Tasmania. My Tassie experience began first thing on Sunday with a trip to Richmond – a small village with an old bridge and some cute ducklings – we didn’t stay long – before continuing onto Port Arthur, the place where all the bad people went. And not just stole-a-loaf-of-bread bad, the repeat offenders got sent to ‘Hell on Earth’ as they called it. In the evening we got the opportunity to go back for a ghost tour, which was actually pretty spooky and very fun – basically the guide just walked us round the site and told us ghost stories relating to the places we visited.

On Monday we jet boat cruise around The Tasman Peninsula, which was great fun – we saw lots of dolphins and seals, as well as some stunning scenery. The sea was a bit choppy, so we got thrown around a bit, but it was all good fun. In the afternoon we drove up to Cole’s Bay on the edge of Freycinet National Park.

The next morning we walked through Freycinet and took in the beautiful Wineglass Bay, then it was up north to the Bay of Fires for more beautiful beaches and scenery.

On Wednesday we went across to Launceston (Australia’s 3rd oldest city) to look at Cataract Gorge and pick up the 7th member of our tour group and only the second non-English speaking. I was the only Englishman, there were 4 Aussies, a Dutch woman and a French Swiss (the latter we picked up in Launceston), overall a pretty good group. The Swiss girl’s English was pretty poor, which wasn’t ideal (neither was starting half way through).

After we left Launceston we drove all the way to the top the Cradle Mountain, where it was raining and we had no power… So we went to a local pub with a generator and stayed there for a little while, before huddling in front of the fire playing card and retelling ghost stories that we heard on the ghost tour (to the people who were too scared to go!)

The next day we were supposed to do some hiking around Cradle, but it was very wet and cold, so we walked for a bit, and then retreated into the pub, which was unfortunate. Despite the cold and the wet Cradle was beautiful. In the afternoon we drove down to Strahan, where it was supposed to be warm and dry.

Of course it rained most of the next day. We were supposed to go Quad Biking or Kayaking or some other optional activity, but we ended up just hiring sand boards and getting very wet on the dunes (and sandy). After a shower and a warm cup of tea, we headed out to the Franklin River to sample the fresh waster of the world’s only wild river (it runs without any human interference or usage from start to finish).

Saturday was the final day of our tour and it began with a stroll around part of Lake St Clair (Australia’s deepest freshwater lake), before heading out to Mt Field National Park to see the tallest flowering trees in the world. We staked out for a while to see some Platypus, but it was the middle of the day, so they refused to oblige us. Still we saw some very pretty waterfalls. Before returning to Hobart we stopped off at a wildlife sanctuary to see some of the locals. We met an adorable Wombat; some very misunderstood Tasmanian Devils (much cuter than the cartoon); a sleepy Koala (not actually a local); an Echidna; lots of Kangaroos (we even got to feed them) and even a Tasmanian Tiger! (Just kidding, they were extinct in the 1930s)

Then it was back to Hobart to say farewell and have one last evening of drinking together. Overall a fantastic tour; plenty of sights to see, even despite the weather. Tasmania reminded me of New Zealand in many ways – the North Island certainly (without the volcanism). It was lovely to see a part of Aus that most tourist neglect (some even miss it off the maps!). I’m especially glad that I was wise enough to leave Queensland until a little later on in the year (April), because I don’t think I’d have gotten very far!

I did actually have another day in Hobart. A number of the tour group met up for breakfast and explored the city a little (it didn’t take long) before going out separate ways. I first went to an internet café to catch up on what I’d missed (Tasmania is pretty backwards with regards to internet, so I was somewhat adrift all week. In fact one of the charms of Tassie, as well as one of its downfalls that it is a little like stepping into a time machine and going back somewhere between 5 and 20 years; so much is old fashioned and backwards.)

Anyway, after catching up with the world at large I went for another stroll along with picturesque dockside and followed my ears to a local music festival that happened to be going on (it also happened to be free!). It was an alternative Music Festival and had some very alternative stuff indeed, like an Italian man playing Minimalist music with kitchen utensils and a mixing deck, and a giant ball which made noises when hit that was released into the crowd so that we could make the music ourselves. There was some more conventional music as well, like a string quartet playing rock music (ok, not so conventional, but at least it’s with actually instruments, not pots and pans!)

And that’s why I’ve not had a blog in over 3 weeks.

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