Cathedral Cove and Toasty Tides

Our Kiwi adventure was all made possible by a lovely company called Kiwi Experience. Now, I’m not one of those bloggers who is paid anything by anyone, so all I’m going to say is that we did the Sheepdog route, added the Milford Explorer, had a brilliant time, ran into a couple of minor issues, but overall couldn’t complain. The way the travel worked was hop-on hop-off, so you just had to make sure you called the company up a good few days in advance and then be at the designated pick-up point for the green bus. They guarantee your first night’s accommodation in each place, (first two nights in certain places) but the rest is basically up to you. They send around clipboards with [supposedly discounted] activities, and if you just wanted to do the trip with the same driver all the way through, that’s totally fine, but otherwise you can do what we did, and spend longer in certain places. In essence though, our route ran from Auckland to Christchurch and instead of doing it in 17 days, we took 35 days.

Long before I set foot in New Zealand, I’d been told about this incredible place on the east coast of the north island, called Cathedral Cove. Like a lot of beautiful landscapes in this country, it features in a film, this one was Prince Caspian, one of the Narnia films that flopped in the late 2000s, if memory serves me right.

Hahei is pretty far north on the North Island, the weather was still treating us well, and that made the conditions of the first coastal walk we did in New Zealand pretty… well, it was hot. The sun was blazing and my trusty water bottle gave me enough cold water to drink along the way, but was empty long before we got back to the bus. And it was pretty early on in the day too, well before lunchtime!

The views were incredible. The colour of the water and the rocky edges reminded me of Noosa in South Queensland, the only difference being that this coastal walk (once you actually got to it) was signposted wonderfully. It was actually a job trying to find it. We were given some directions from our bus driver, which sounded fine at first, but once we got to the beach, we realised that they were more than a little vague. Some locals pointed us in the right direction though, and we got on our way. From where the bus was parked up, it was quite a trek… a good hour and half to 45 minutes each way. But there was nice stuff to see along the way, like this gorgeous little area which goes by the name Gemstone Bay. How quaint and lovely is that? I’ll tell you how lovely… I walked down the steps into what looked like a date! I quickly took my picture, posing Thierry as I do, and as I ran off back up the steps, I’m pretty sure they started snogging on their surfboards. Well, there’s a chance they were so into each other they didn’t see me… but that makes it two dates in about as many days. Just call me the date-crasher and be done with it.img_5433

Then there were the green topped cliffs where you could see nothing but the sparkling sea into the horizon.

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This could be Noosa… right?

 

img_5432img_5439And at long last, we finally got to the area known as Cathedral Cove. It is a natural cave that has been worn away all the way through, leaving a distinctive outline of an archway, right out into the sea. You can walk through it to an awesome little beach on the other side. I can only imagine what it would be like in the very early hours of the morning when there aren’t any other people around. Nature’s brilliant, but I do like getting photos without other people in them! img_5478.jpg

After getting drenched walking through the low tides, we emerged on the other side, but I think I preferred the view from underneath the archway. When we’d seen our fill, we got going on our way back to the bus. Since it was quite a lot of downhill walking, it didn’t take quite so long, but it still felt like an age. We were so surprised when we got back to the bus, because it was barely 10.30 in the morning. A short 10-minute drive later, we had arrived at our destination for the night – Hot Water Beach. I kid you not, that’s what this place is called. Google it, and you get a map reference point for Hot Water Beach. It is worth mentioning though, that there are a lot of places that are very difficult to pronounce in the Māori tongue, even if they’re easy to say in English.

Hot Water Beach stretches for quite a ways, but the area that gives the beach its name is maybe 50metres across, if that! There is a very specific time of day that you can go out to dig yourself a hole in the sand to get to genuinely hot water. Like, hotter than a bath kind of hot. These times come twelve hours apart – 12noon until 2:30/3:00pm and then again in the middle of the night.

Armed with a shovel, dressed in only a bikini and sarong, and not taking my phone for fear of losing it in the sand, we set off with another couple of Brits that we’d met along the way. Sad to say, Thierry didn’t get to go to Hot Water Beach. It’s a good thing too, because the tide comes in super-fast, and it was only the quick reactions of one of our team that ensured our few non-waterproof belongings didn’t get drenched and then pulled out to sea!

What was even more fascinating was the fact that you could dig a pool, and the water would start seeping up, you had to dig for a while to get a hole big enough to sit in, let alone for more than one person to chill out in, and this hole would be literally next to someone else’s nice hot spa, but the water you’re getting is freezing cold. So not only do you get no privacy, you also don’t have anywhere pleasant to sit. There is no rhyme or reason as to why this is the case. Sure, there’s some geothermal activity underground that causes hot springs to rise up, but I’ve found no detailed scientific explanation for it. So… I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Eventually, there was a group of people who were leaving, and they offered us their pool. It was quite massive, so the four of us had plenty of space. Even within this pool though, the water was much hotter on one side than it was on the other. Weird phenomenon.

A fair few of our fairly large group decided they were going to go back to the beach in the middle of the night, but I wasn’t really feeling it. Digging in sand is arduous work, and knowing me, I’d be digging in the wrong part anyway, so I gave it a miss and stayed in my nice warm bed! Ready to get up nice and early to continue our journey down to Waitomo where the Black Water Caves were awaiting…img_6518

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Aotearoa – The Land of the Long White Cloud

If you pronounce each individual letter of the word, exactly as it’s written, ah-o-tee-ah-ro-ah is the Māori name for New Zealand. It used to be the name for the North Island only, but it is now commonly used as an all-encompassing name for the whole country. Helen and I began our Māori journey in Auckland, which is pretty north on the North Island. Our plane landed at ridiculous o’clock on Thursday 23rd February 2016. We’d gotten a little bit of Kiwi cash in the preceding days in Melbourne, so hopped on to the NZ Skybus that looked identical to the one we got on in Melbourne a few hours prior and headed to the hostel.

Arriving at the hostel which did not have a 24-hour reception, we retrieved our key from the key deposit box and got into the building. The lift was out of order and we were up on the third floor. But reception was on the first floor, and the numbering started from there, so in actual fact we were on the fourth floor. Trying to drag a suitcase up 4 flights of stairs at 2:45am was tiring, and I was blessed by an amazing girl who insisted she wanted to help me! She was checking out and flying to Australia the following day, so I didn’t even get a chance to hang out with her, but she made my night!

We had a few nights in Auckland before our Kiwi Experience bus tour was due to start, to take in the sights and to get a good rest because we knew that the remainder of the trip would be tiring and apart from a few nights we’d planned to stay with my family, it was going to be all go for six weeks until our flight home.

Auckland has got a nice green area called Albert Park. It was a welcome change to have something named after Queen Victoria’s husband, instead of herself. There was a lovely water feature where you could sit and chill for a bit, a bit of kooky street art the weather was great and a gentle stroll was just what we needed after a long lie in! There were some really pretty flowers and trees. It was like nature just got a bit of a boost, even though the sky wasn’t as blue as it could have been. Although, it does need to be said that the weather in incredibly changeable in New Zealand. Within 10 minutes, the sky can go from being solid grey to completely bright blue, without a hint of the grey clouds that were there only moments before. And back again! You’ll see this in my pictures that were taken over the course of an hour.

Auckland had some great cheap eats, but our good luck in the culinary world was to be short-lived when we came to realise just how expensive food is in New Zealand. There felt like there was a lot of choice though, and it was all on the natural side. One thing that I could feel was going to pull on the purse-strings was the abundance of freshly made ice-cream!

img_5258When you think of New Zealand, most people think about the beautiful landscapes and mountains and lakes, and Auckland is no exception. Except perhaps that the natural wonder known as Mount Eden Domain. Mount Eden is actually the name of an Auckland Suburb that many locals associate with a prison that was built a long time ago, and that many tourists associate with the dormant volcano which overlooks the Central Business District. What is really weird about it though, is that massive crater!

img_5262We climbed it in the early evening, and waited for a long while until the sun went down, and it was a brilliant sunset.

img_5406 We may or may not have walked through a first date, and then I may or may not have used Helen to get this picture of Thierry climbing the Sky Tower, looking a great deal like Godzilla. With one leg…img_5340

I like to think it symbolises the fact that we were due to conquer the delights that Aotearoa had to offer, 18,339km from home.

Adelaide to (New) Zealand via Melbourne

Adelaide is a cute little city. The Central Business District (CBD) is much smaller than those in Melbourne and Sydney. It’s very green but then so are a lot of towns and cities in Australia; it’s a stone’s throw from National Parks, but then so are a lot of towns and cities in Australia; it’s right on the beach, but you guessed it… so are most of the towns along the coastline in Australia. Are you noticing a pattern here? It’s not that I want to take anything away from Adelaide, it really is a lovely place to set up a life, but after visiting so many places and living in Melbourne, I didn’t really find anything unique and endearing about it as a visitor myself. No doubt lots of people would say the same of Melbourne and other places too, but each to their own and more of that later. We went to the Central Markets and for a wander around the Botanical Gardens that are a staple of any major town down under. There was a cool wine museum that we visited, but we didn’t time it very well and it was closing as we arrived. To be honest, our time in Adelaide was spent chilling out and recovering from a week in incredibly dry heat in the outback. At that time of year, Adelaide was coming in to the end of summer, the evenings were getting a little chilly, especially by the sea and it was welcome relief.

We had pestered our tour guide about who we could expect to be running our next trip which would take us through to Melbourne, across the Grampian Mountain Range and down the world famous Great Ocean Road. We were so happy to find that her personal favourite was to be our guide! He was an entertaining fellow, well-travelled himself and definitely up for a laugh and joke. He took us to a few places that weren’t strictly on the tour, but definitely along the way, like this spectacular salt lake.

img_4879img_4874For fear of stating the obvious, it’s pink. It’s pink due to some algae or other, but that’s not particularly interesting. Have you even walked into a salt lake? It’s got that texture of the top of a crème brulée, you know that crispy bit that you poke your spoon through, then you’ve got a clear inch or so of water, and under that I think it is solid salt. Of course, it depends how far in you go, I imagine they can get pretty deep, and though a salt scrub is very good for your skin, it’s a pain in the proverbial to wash off, so we only went ankle deep. And Thierry went in one-ankle-deep, since he’s now an amputee.

We went to Zumsteins which is a cool name if I ever heard one! Even Google has no idea what it’s named after, if anything or anyone, but the actual place is as quirky as its name… I guess it is officially part of the Grampians. We did a bit of a climb down to a Mackenzie Falls which has a small body of water at the bottom. It was still and secluded and we met a friend of ours from a different trip so took some candid shots with the sun breaking over the top of the mountains, posting them to our Facebook group. There was no rain, but the angle of the sunlight through the waterfall gave us a great rainbow, even if it was closer to eye-level than in the sky. Natural wonders will never cease to amaze me.img_4943img_4962

The next morning we went to the open area at the base of the mountains we were due to hike up from Halls Gap to see if we could spot some wild kangaroos. There were so many of them! Hopping about as they do, mums and babies, but they were very camouflaged so my camera couldn’t pick them up very well at all. There were a lot of animals about on this trip though. There was a wild fox that wasn’t fussed about a drink of water but lapped up the salt and vinegar crisps our tour guide offered him! I know practically nothing about how to care for any furry animal due partly to my allergies but mainly through my general dislike for them. We went to go see some wild birds that were quite happy to eat the birdseed we offered them. There were emus about. Like, just hanging about in the park.

Then we went hiking up this mountain and our aim was the Pinnacle. Thierry didn’t make it to the actual Pinnacle, something about being scared of heights and falling to his death… but I did. The picture doesn’t really do it justice, but a fair few people have refused to look at this photo again as it makes them feel queasy. It was definitely high, but I’m blessed that heights don’t scare me in the same way they affect others. pinnacle.JPG

We started our journey along the Great Ocean Road just as the weather turned. The idea was to be at The Twelve Apostles for the sunset, but all day, hardly saw the sun, so we made alternative plans. The weather was changeable – wet and disgusting, bright and crisp, grey and cold, but as we were leaving Port Campbell National Park, the sun decided it would make an appearance, casting bizarrely shaped shadows on the glittering ocean. I believe the phrase I’m looking for here is Sod’s Law.

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Apostles are just another name for disciples, as in those 12 dudes who followed Jesus around, spreading his message of peace and kindness and all the rest of it. It’s funny – I asked Google to define apostle, and I got the word disciple, do you want to take a wild guess as to what happens when you try it the other way around? Anyway, Google’s definitions aside, I made the fairly logical assumption that once upon a time, there were 12 little islets at the Port Campbell National Park. Our guide told us how one of them used to be much taller, and now you can barely see it when the tide is out, after a dramatic collapse about 10 years ago, but counting that one, there were only ever nine of them. Apparently, it is much more marketable as a tourist attraction if you use something recognisable, even better if it comes from the bible. Who knew?

Other names for other natural wonders that we visited in this part of the world include London Arch (formerly London Bridge) due to the resemblance to its namesake, Loch Ard Gorge which was named after a Scottish ship of the same name crashed into the cliffs. In fact, in keeping with the way that the lovely Aussies name things in a blatantly obvious fashion (see brown headed snake from earlier in my travels), this part of the Victorian coastline is named Shipwreck Coast, due to the fact there have been over 50 ship wrecks in a stretch of coastline only 130km long.

As our Great Ocean Road trip was coming to a close, we approached Melbourne and I had the weirdest homecoming kind of feeling as we drove over West Gate Bridge, the sun was going down and the lights were beginning to twinkle. The seat that I had in our little van was directly behind the driver, which is the seat I used to have driving back from whichever neighbourhood we were door-knocking in whilst I was living there. I could almost hear one of the guys I used to work with saying “look at that Melbourne skyline” just as he did every single time we drove back to the office that way.

I was really looking forward to showing Helen my temporary home from earlier in my travels. I’d managed to get a friend of mine to put us up for a couple nights, I had a few eateries and places that I wanted to take her to, but by this point in our trip, we were so caught up in the backpacker budget that we didn’t want to spend large sums of money on eating out. This is where I feel like Melbourne is a wonderful city to live, to make friends and have a job so you can enjoy the events that get put on at the weekends in Fed Square, but unless you have a whole lot of cash to spend, there isn’t a whole lot to see.

Of course, we went to the usual haunts; we went to Hozier Lane, I found this new piece that Thierry was thrilled to see; I took Helen to see the little penguins after sundown at the breakwater pier at St Kilda Beach; we found some new art of the likes that I’d never seen before and will probably never see anything similar in the whole wide world. I actually went into work and saw a few familiar faces and was subject to a few bone-crushing hugs! img_5223img_5228

And then our Australian journey was finally coming to an end. The best six months I could have had, made by the people who I shared it with was over, but we were hopping on the plane to Auckland, New Zealand, another adventure just around the corner.

So much more than a Big Red Rock

Head on along the East Coast of Australia and you’ll meet a lot of 18-year-old Brits and Germans. They love the carefree style of the surfer towns and glorious beaches and don’t get me wrong, I loved my time there too! Just have a read of any of my previous posts and you’ll see that I absolutely enjoyed myself, despite being a little older than the average. The thing is, when it comes to Travelling with a capital T, you expect a bit of culture and a bit of a language barrier and to learn some stuff. Maybe that’s not for everyone, because I’ve lost count of how many people who’ve asked about my travel plans and questioned why I’d want to go to Ayers Rock because “it’s just a big red rock, isn’t it… but each to their own, I guess…”

Ayers Rock is the new/old name for Uluu. The land was forcibly taken from the Aboriginal people and renamed after some Chief Governor dude called “Ayer” and then, as recently as the last 40 years, the land was finally given back to its rightful owners and the name restored. Though the land has officially been reclaimed, the governance of it is questionable. Since this is a very contentious political subject, I’m not going to weigh in too heavily, all I am going to say is that something about it doesn’t quite sit right with me, and I will be using the proper name from here on out.

Uluu is as amazing as you would imagine. It is vast. It has every shade from deepest purple through red and orange to salmon pink. It has the profile that we all know from every single picture ever taken from the front, but walking around it there are bits that protrude and there are sections that are indented. There are marks across it that might be geologically explained, but each one has a story attached to it. There are sheltered areas and some parts that you’re not allowed to take pictures of because according to the Aboriginal people to take a photograph is to capture a part of the soul of a place, and if too many pictures are taken, too much of the soul is taken away. As a whole, Uluu is wonderful but as much as I can describe it, words and pictures don’t do it justice. I, as a human being will never do it justice because I am not Aboriginal and I can’t share those incredible stories that make the site as remarkable as it is.

So, back-tracking ever so slightly, from Cairns, we flew to Alice Springs and from there it was a considerable drive through to Uluu. We visited the Cultural Centre there, or rather, we were given a meagre 45 minutes to explore the most fascinating place I’d been to in quite a long time. I was the annoying person who had to be retrieved as everyone else waited on the sweltering hot bus. Sorry guys! Then we headed to a sunset spot to see what the fuss was all about. Now, if you were to go see a sunset, wouldn’t you imagine you could see the sun setting? No, not here. Here, the sun set behind us, lighting up the rock at every angle as it dipped away. In hindsight, and with enough data storage on my trusty iPhone, a timelapse video here would have been beautiful. David Attenborough, eat your heart out!img_4604

Before I left home, I hadn’t even camped before and now, I could definitely go camping and not complain about it. Whilst I’ve “camped” before on Fraser Island, that night in the Outback was my first experience with a swag. A swag is like a giant water-proof canvas sleeping bag with a built-in mattress. That first night, as I lay there looking up at the stars, I was struck with a light drizzle of rain in my face. Luckily it only lasted a minute or two, otherwise I might have sworn off camping for life. And then I was back to staring up at the Milky Way, where it struck me that the night sky is a beautiful thing when there are no clouds and nothing to obscure a view of the stars, until I drifted off to sleep. It was going to be an early morning to see the sun rise over Uluu.img_4657

Instead of going to the designated spot from the night before where it was crazy busy, we collectively decided to pull up on the side of the road and watch from our own little lookout point. It was a magical moment for a myriad of reasons. The road was beautifully sparse. A true representation of the outback. The clouds were thick and fluffy but definitely threatening rain if not a full-on storm, but they gave us the most glorious oranges and deep crimsons against a bright blue backdrop.

img_4662And the best bit? There was no rain, but a rainbow. It turned into a double rainbow and then we willed it into a full arc. Have you ever seen a complete rainbow? It is super difficult to get it into one wide angle shot, and you can’t use the panorama function on your iPhone, because the perspective gets all out of sync. It ends up having a lump in the middle of it. Did manage to get this one though!

img_4668-1I know that this blog has predominantly been Thierry and how he can pose in different angles and in different places, but just this once, I’m going to share a fair amount of my photos that don’t have him in them. My main reason for not taking or sharing my own landscape pictures is that even though I joke about my prowess with a camera, I don’t profess to be a fantastic photographer and I definitely don’t have a good camera with me on my travels, so if I want an awesome shot of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, or Halong Bay in northern Vietnam, or the Sydney Opera House, I can get one off Google Images by a professional. But just this once, I’m going to share some of what I have. Mostly to prove that I can take picture without the minion, and also because I feel like can’t share the few Aboriginal stories that I was told, as they’re not mine to tell, so I have to share something. Photos are all well and good, but I recommend you come to this incredible place and see it for yourself. See what this place means to people and feel the spirit in the air. img_4734

Then tell me it’s just a big red rock and it’s not your thing.

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Where Two World [Heritage Site]s Collide

Our plans for Cairns were possibly the most wishy-washy out of all the places we’d been thus far on our East Coast journey. We had a whole week to psyche ourselves up for our trip into the outback, and what better way to prepare for plus-40oC dry heat than spend a week in cool and rainy Cairns? We were really lucky that the wifi in the hostel was pretty good. Yes, we had to pay for it and if we were only going to be staying there for a couple of nights then I probably wouldn’t have forked out for it, but there you go. Instant internet access is so important these days that it’s quite scary. Anyway, I digress. We had three things sorted – a snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef, a skydive and a trip further up north into the Daintree Rainforest and on up to Cape Tribulation.

Cairns is the only place on Planet Earth where you can see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites at the same time. Granted, you are also in the vicinity of a LOT of creatures who can kill you, but how many people can say they’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef from the Daintree Rainforest? I mean, it’s true you can actually see the Reef from Space, but I would imagine that there are far fewer people that can claim they’ve seen that!

Of course, the first thing we had booked was snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef. Due to the fact that I don’t have a GoPro, I have no pictures of this, but rest assured, even in the light drizzle, we got to see some pretty incredible sights under the water. Of course we had to put stinger-suits on, and we got given flippers again, so I was quite happy with the flotation devices we were given. Annoyingly, we also had to wear a life jacket too, but I guess the companies offering trips out into the middle of the ocean have to cover their backs somehow… yes, we had travelled out around an hour and a half from the coast of Cairns before the boat stopped to anchor and we could jump off and see one of the seven natural wonders of the world. (If you want to spend an hour on the internet actually learning stuff instead of an hour scrolling Facebook and watching cat videos, try Googling the Seven Wonders of the World, and seeing how many different lists there are. Seriously, I don’t know where that hour went!) In and amongst the awesomeness of the corals, the beautiful colours, and some pretty fish too, I heard a call of my name from the other end of where we were all snorkelling. Helen had found a Green Sea Turtle! I swam over as quick as my life jacket would allow and then no joke, we swam with this turtle for a good few minutes. Obviously, no touching, but I was that close that if I wanted to, I could have done. So graceful and massive! That’s another thing to cross off the bucket list!

We had a bit of lunch back on the boat and then we had a serious swim ahead of us. The boat had anchored to a buoy 250-metres away from a tiny little island. When I say tiny, there was literally 15-20-metres of sand in the middle of the ocean. No trees, no shade, nothing except a couple of logs that some birds were chilling on. We were told that we had to swim from the boat straight to the island and not to drift because the current was pretty strong. You’ll never guess which current it was… anyone seen Finding Nemo? Yup, it was the EAC, or the East Australian Current. Pretty strong it was and all! On the way, there was of course some awesome marine life to look at. There were these brilliant royal blue starfish that were really quite big just hugging some of the coral, but every time I got distracted by the cool stuff under the water, I found myself drifting. I would look up, see the island in the distance, rotate my body directly to it and start swimming with purpose, long kicks of your legs from your hips, like you’re some kind of mer-person. Then I would look back up again and find that I was swimming to the left of the island. I’d readjust myself and no sooner had I looked up again, I was hardly making any traction and swaying towards the left of the island again. It took a long time for me to get there. But I did. Eventually. Helen and some of our friends were already on the island and could see someone needed some life-guarding assistance and joked that they hoped it wasn’t me! She says that she could see me already, so wasn’t concerned for my well-being… In any case, after a while on the island where we were treated to a bit sunshine, though it was slightly easier to swim back to the boat, it still took me an extra 5-10 minutes! I keep telling you how unfit I am. I should join a gym when I get home.

A couple days after my skydive, we had a trip up to Cape Tribulation planned, and this was where we’d get a chance to go through the rainforest, go swim in the Daintree River, and go croc-spotting! Unfortunately, Mother Nature had some other ideas in mind for us! We got to the rainforest. Where it rained. We couldn’t go swimming at Josephine Falls or the normal swim spot because the water level was too high and rising rapidly. No bother, we just went to another spot a bit further along. Nu-uh. Not happening here. Normally, the water here is completely still and about knee-level if not lower. Our guide was gobsmacked! The water wasn’t still at all and at least 4-ft. And even though this area was a little bit sheltered, if you got swept up in it, you’d be rushed out into crocodile-infested waters! Not ideal… And the croc-spotting boat-trip? Well, we did go on the trip but apparently due to all the rain, the water temperature was down, so the crocs were out of the water, trying to keep warm under the trees making it close to impossible to find them. We saw lots of bats though.

Okay, so we stopped off for some lunch at this nice little hostel/bar/pub/restaurant in the middle of the rainforest. Since we’re on a bit of a tight schedule, we’re told we can have 45-minutes. After eating, there was a beautiful beach a little further on through the trees that we could go have a look at, but no swimming, because of the numerous things that can kill you. You know, the jellyfish, the other stingers, the crocodiles, the sharks and all the rest of it. Trouble was, as soon as we finished eating, it started chucking it down again. A few people were clever and brought raincoats with them, but I am apparently not one of those people. In fact, my raincoat is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Another girl decided she was going to walk down to the beach in just her bikini and I thought that was a genius idea, so we went, shivering slightly in the cold rain down to the beach, took a picture and then walked back again. It was a little bit like going to the beach in England to be honest with you. And what with only wearing a bikini, I didn’t have a pocket for Thierry to sit in. So you can have this picture of me grinning like a loon. 

Along the way, there was a boardwalk over what I imagine on any normal day would be a cute little creek. Not today, it was a gushing river maybe six inches below the wooden bridge. When we got back to the bar our guide gathered us all together and let us know a few things. Whilst he had been conducting tours out in the Rainforest for around 15 years, it was only his first solo Cape Tribulation tour with this particular company. He had asked the locals and they all said that their creeks in their gardens had overflowed in the past day or two since they’d had over 300mm of rain overnight. This part of the rainforest normally gets on average 600-800mm rain per year. Almost half that had fallen in less than 24 hours. So he wanted to get in touch with the bosses and find out what the back-up plan was in this kind of situation. Surprise surprise, there isn’t really a plan “B” when the back-up swimming area to the back-up swimming creek to the back-up bit of water was all flooded out. Our guide was brilliant. He used to white-water raft at his last job and he said he wouldn’t even trust himself in the waters that day, let alone let any of us jump in. He even said that when there were warnings, sometimes he would talk to the (National) Park Rangers and work around them, but not today. No chance. Not when apparently Josephine Falls can rise a whole meter in 20-seconds of rainfall. Instead we went to a family-run ice-creamery where they actually grow all of the fruits in their orchards to ensure only the freshest ingredients.

On the way back to Cairns we stopped off at Port Douglas and their world-famous Four Mile Beach, but in the rainy greyness of the day, it didn’t really look all that impressive. I mean… At least I can say that I’ve been there. Just didn’t experience it in all its glory. It just gives me a good excuse to come back to Cairns one day… you listening, Mike?!??

Even though it was pretty much a washout trip to the rainforest, we didn’t actually get to see any of the waterfalls that the rainforest is famous for, so when we got back to Cairns we found ourselves in a Happy Travels shop right next to our hostel. Mostly because the guy in there was bored towards the end of his shift and he stopped us to say hi, but we got chatting and managed to get ourselves booked on to a waterfalls tour through the rainforest a couple days later at a great price too. Also – note to anyone who finds themselves heading up through that part of Australia and who needs a sound guy to help them out with some travel plans, hit me up and I can give you his contact details.

We went to the Babinda Boulders which was gushing water like you’ve never seen before. Not that this is a normal swimming area in the rainy season, but it felt like this rainforest trip was going to be just as much of a washout as the last one… Although on the plus side, you do need water for good waterfalls.

Now, bear with me here… there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation about the location of a certain British Pop Star’s music video for his smash hit 1996 single Mysterious Girl. This is a truly terrible song by Peter Andre who is very famous in England and not in (m)any other places, but it’s catchy and I feel somewhat attached to it because my surname is Mistry and I have (half-) seriously told my mother that this monstrosity of a song is going to be the first dance at my wedding. Mostly because I can’t be dealing with having a soppy love song. Anyway, I’m not planning any weddings, so let’s just forget I mentioned it. Right yeah, many places in Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand claim to be the location for the iconic waterfall scenes in this music video. (Click here for a bit of mid-90s nostalgia, or if you’ve never even heard of Peter Andre… you can thank me later.)

Turns out, Millaa Millaa Falls is not where the video was shot. It is, however, the location of a certain Herbal Essences Advert from a few years back. It was funny seeing lots of girls trying to do the hair flick, and being one of the only girls who decided not to get into the cold and kind of murky-looking water, I became something of the group photographer! And I must say that I think I’ve gotten a bit better at taking pictures since I embarked on my travels over a year ago now… 

We stopped off at a few other places of interest, like this cute little baby turtle hangout! The picture isn’t very good, but trust me, there were lots of little turtles swimming about.

We did a few more rainforest bush walks and went tree kangaroo spotting. Having no idea what a tree kangaroo looks like, and only being given the following description, it wasn’t too much of a surprise that we didn’t see one. “You’re looking for these little grey animals that are not really well equipped to live in trees. They tend to fall out of the trees a lot. They look a bit like bears with a big long tail.” We did see some pademelons though, that were really cute little wallaby-type animals, just hiding off in the trees. And a golden orb spider. I think I’m right in saying that the only place on earth you can see one of these particular venomous spiders is the Daintree Rainforest. Can you see it?

In any case, we went off to this crazy massive tree called the Curtain Fig Tree which is a heritage-listed strangler tree, that although kills its host, isn’t technically a parasite. It forms roots down to the ground and doesn’t take nutrients from the host tree’s sap. It was during a talk about the significance of this tree in this part of the rainforest and the Tablelands that Helen spotted a tree kangaroo! It was so far away though, so I couldn’t get a decent picture, but I saw it, and that’s pretty rare! The guide was so happy that he had a whole bus see one that he kept going on about it for the rest of the day.

The last stop on the tour was Crater Lakes National Park where the Freshwater Lake Eacham is actually the basin of a long-dormant volcano. Apparently, a few freshwater crocs hang out there too, but there haven’t been any confirmed sightings yet. I did learn the difference between freshwater and saltwater crocodiles though, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. Freshwater crocs don’t tend to kill people, but will defend themselves if under attack. They’re not quite as big as saltwater crocs and they only live in fresh water. Saltwater crocodiles on the other hand are the complete opposite. They’ll quite happily chill out in fresh water. They’re vicious as anything and can grow up to seven metres long. Not 7-ft. Metric metres. Actually, crocodiles are fascinating creatures. They basically have GPS built in to their brains. There was an exercise carried out in the mid-80s with these “problem crocodiles”. Basically, there was this one town that had some issues with these crocs that liked to hang out near play parks and there were a fair few attacks in a fairly short period of time. So these croc specialists tranquilised and tagged them and put them in some crates, took them all the way across Queensland and released them in a completely different area, nice habitat, river, and all the rest of it. Over the next few weeks, these crocodiles trekked it all across the +1000km and settled back in their old river. Creatures of habit, I guess?

I did jump into this water because it looked beautiful and still. And the sun had come out. It was incredibly deep though, so I stayed quite close to the jetty thing. Great temperature too actually, but I didn’t stay in too long, in an effort to dry off before we had to get back on the bus.

Leaving the rainforest for the second time I was hit by what an amazing part of the world Far North Queensland is. I’ll leave you with these facts, and if you have any questions, fire away.

  1. The Daintree is over 135 million years old, making it tens of millions of years older than the Amazon
  2. There are over 200,000 species of known bugs in the Daintree Rainforest
  3. 1 hectare of land in the Daintree has 1,300 species of tree, whereas the whole of North America and Canada combined only have 120 species
  4. 40% of the world’s butterfly population can be found in the Daintree Rainforest 
  5. You really do have to see it for yourself

Bungee jump? Not a chance. Jump out of plane? Sure, why not?

We got through a lot in our week in Cairns, despite the fact it continued to rain. This was where I’d booked to jump out of a plane and I was alternating between excitement and absolutely crapping it. I’d chosen Cairns because you get to see the Great Barrier Reef, the rainforest and the coastline between the two as you hurtle towards the earth at an incredible speed. Granted you don’t get to land on the beach, but then again you also don’t get sand all up yourself! The only thing I was worried about the morning of the jump was the weather. I’d heard stories from a friend of ours who had their jump scheduled for earlier in the week for early morning but due to weather conditions it kept getting put back; they even got in the van on the way to the airport once and had to turn back because conditions became too unstable. She finally did her jump at 3.00pm, but it meant she had a whole day basically on stand-by so she couldn’t really do much of anything else. She was absolutely pumped after though, and I was really looking forward to that feeling!

I had a phone call confirming my skydive time the afternoon before, and my pickup was confirmed to be an hour earlier than I had booked! I guess it gave me less time to freak out in the morning! In the end although I was picked up at about 7.30am, I didn’t jump until 10.00am. This meant that I had the whole afternoon to myself afterwards though, since Helen had planned to go to the cinema with some other friends of ours to go see Rogue One. (Ooooh. I’ve just thought… when I get home, in my jobless and severely jet-lagged state maybe I could finally get around to watching all the Star Wars films… before you ask, yes of course in the order 456, 123, The Force Awakens and then Rogue One. Did you not work out I was a complete nerd yet?)

The lead up to the jump was totally fine. I wasn’t nervous even after we put some extra trousers on, after we watched an instructional video with Chinese subtitles, after we met our tandem skydive instructors, after we got strapped into our outfits, after we hopped into the van, until the GoPro came out and Ray, my instructor dude, asked me how I was feeling. I hadn’t even paid for the video, just pictures but it was an upsell sort of deal, so if you changed your mind, you could just pay them some more money and they would add the video to your USB stick. I hate hearing myself back on tape and I knew that I would not look pretty on video falling from 15,400ft, so I didn’t say anything particularly exciting. Another thing I didn’t do was get Thierry out at any point. We had to make sure our pockets were empty and I was not going to risk dropping him somewhere over the outskirts of Cairns with a close to zero chance of ever finding him! I did manage to take this picture and edit the absolute bejesus out of it!

I hear you screaming “What was it like!!??!?!??” It was completely exhilarating. From the point where you climb into the smallest aeroplane you’ve ever seen, where you don’t even get strapped in all that much, when the door isn’t even fully shut for take-off, when you hear the instructors yelling to each other that we’re going to fly a little further up because there was an awesome break in the clouds, when you emerge through the clouds and notice that the sky is bright blue above them, when you are told to dangle your legs out of the plane, and you have this voice in your ear yelling

“head back, and big smile!”

and you are literally launched from the plane and freefall, it is all just adrenaline-fuelled amazingness. You don’t get time to freak out, because it all happens so quickly. People have asked me how long it was from when you jump out of the plane to landing, and I honestly couldn’t tell you. Like, it could be 50 seconds or 5 minutes, it is so difficult to know. You freefall for quite a while, and during that time you have to arch your back a lot, so there is a good streamlined shape to fall, then after the parachute goes up, you can take your eye-wear off and try make your ears pop, but you can do stupid faces and poses if you want. A few of the Chinese people we had on our plane had written things on their arms and knuckles but I wasn’t sure if you would only see the reverse, like when you take a selfie, and the image you see is backwards? Plus, they all had things like “Crazy Brave Girl 2017” and “Superman 2k17” which I thought was a bit old and not in a cool retro kind of way…

Monsoon on Maggie Island

I’ve always had this picture that there is always beautiful weather in Australia. Obviously, this image has been rudely wiped from my mind, having spent three months living and working in Melbourne, where the city tagline is ‘four seasons in one day’ but that’s fine. Naively, I thought that anything north of Brisbane would be hot all year round. And for the most part, that is true. It’s just that I hadn’t really thought about the fact that it’s a tropical climate. And in the tropics, you get rain. A lot of rain. We saw some of this rain whilst enjoying the sights and wonders of Magnetic Island.

Turns out, transport around the Island is a bit of a mission. There is one public bus service that goes from the north to the south where there are a couple of quaint townships. Up in the north you have Horseshoe Bay and in the south, there’s Nelly Bay which is where the ferry docks for access to and from the Island and where our hostel was. All the rest of it is either National Park, only accessible by 4WD, or complete bushland.

Therefore, the thing to do in Maggie Island, as it’s affectionately coined by locals and backpackers alike, is hire a car to see all the hidden spots around. After the driving on Fraser Island, I was quite happy to drive whatever vehicle (hark at her… suddenly an expert driver!) and so we teamed up with our East Coast shadows, Ella and Flo, and split the cost between four, even though it was only Helen and I doing any driving. The choice was between a ‘Barbie car’ or a 4WD. Since we’d been told that you can’t get around unless you had a car that had some serious suspension and a half-decent engine, we opted for the 4WD. Plus, none of us were particularly fussed about driving around in a little pastel-coloured car that looked like a toy and sounded like it struggled to carry 2 passengers along a flat road, let alone any terrain with an actual gradient! My only regret is that we got an open-top car. It would have been so much more comfortable in the torrential rain with a roof over our heads.

Not that we had much of a choice in the matter. When we got to the car hire company, the guy we met was covering for a friend of his who’d had to “go to the mainland” for something or other. He fumbled his way through the health and safety stuff, and got us to fill out some paperwork, popped out back to grab a set of keys and then told us to follow him out into the open air where the cars were waiting for us. There were two groups at this point and it was literally luck of the draw. Both cars were manual and looked like they’d seen better days. Our only instructions were to make sure we cover the car up at night with the cover they provided in the tiniest boot you ever did see. Also, very nicely, they said that if we return the car re-fuelled up, they’d drop us off at the ferry terminal. So far, so good.

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Picture credit to Helen

On the first day with the car, having picked up our snorkel gear from all over the island (Ella and Flo were staying at a hostel up at the north of the island and we were at the south. For a story about poor customer service in true British style send me a message; I’ll be all too happy to regale you the story!) we checked a map (we didn’t use GPS here!) and headed in the direction of Florence Bay. img_3923We got into our stinger-suits on the beach, flippers and all, and an old man called up to us and waved us a bit further down the stretch of pebble-beach. He looked like a seasoned snorkel-master with his yellow swimming shorts, no sign of a stinger-suit, so we followed his advice, backing out of the water so as not to get sand stuck in our flippers. I tell you something… it is a pain in the butt walking about on sand with flippers on! Helen’s top tip for walking in flippers…? Walk backwards. Once we moved over a bit, we did see some fish and other stuff, but compared to the Whitsundays, visibility was rubbish and it wasn’t really much to write home about. Apart from a baby black tip shark. The water couldn’t have been much more than waist deep and this little dude was swimming about. He didn’t stick around for long though, and neither did we. img_3912

We headed off to another area, on the hunt for rock wallabies. We came armed with some pellet food for them and followed the signs to Arcadia. I pulled up in this weird little layby on the side of the road with some steps going up and in hindsight, I think this may have been a residential driveway, but there we were, debating on whether the road goes that much further or not, we saw this cute little wallaby with a joey in her pouch, just hanging out on the steps. She was a little jumpy, but after a little while she was quite happy to eat from our hands, Thierry included.

img_3931 I was the last one, having taken photos for everyone else, and as I sat down next to her, she bounded off down into the bush. I tried to follow her but she was pretty nimble and had probably eaten her fill. We got back into the car and carried on around the corner where there was a whole carpark full of Barbie cars, what with Arcadia being one of the only places you could actually get to in one of those monstrosities. There were so many people there trying to tempt the wallabies with all sorts of foodstuffs from bananas to carrots. We ventured a little bit further into this little cave type area and there were a group of three girls huddled around not one, but two little rock wallabies and a little joey! We asked if I could just grab a quick picture and then we got on our way to Westpoint, which is THE spot to be for the sunset.img_3944

The drive to Westpoint was eventful. It was one of the roads that we’d been warned about. When we first got onto the road, it didn’t seem all that bad, we were zooming along at the national speed limit, no dramas, as they say in Aussie-land. Then the road just ends. There’s a sign that says something along the lines of “4WD only past this point” and it turns into a dirt track. Still good, a few minor bumps here and there. Then the bumps turn into signposted dips with a 10km/h limit and then there are craters in the road. It transpires that the quality of the seats varied quite considerably from driver to front passenger to backseat. I was more than happy in the driver’s seat! The rest of the girls though… well, it was always going to be a bumpy ride. One good thing though, Flo had checked out how long it was supposed to take, and then tagged on an extra 20 minutes just so we wouldn’t be late, so whilst we were gearing up for an hour-long drive, we made it in little over 35 minutes!

When we got there, the sky looked ominous but beautiful. It was a hundred versions of grey, from murky lilac to gun metal and everything in between, but then it broke with a streak of bright blue and a band of white light on the horizon where we could see the sun dipping away. We used this as the background for some epic ‘jumping in the sand’ silhouette pictures. Very artistic. Problem was, that by the time I got Thierry out of his precious little bag in my handbag, the parting in the clouds got smaller and smaller but the heavens literally opened and we got drenched. So, you get to see us, but not him.img_4024

We called it a day when the rain wouldn’t let up, and jumped into our car. You know, that open-top car I was talking about? Yeah, there was already a pool of rainwater in the backseat, but we were only getting more wet, so we just got on with it. Helen took this drive because she struggled with her back on the way there, and successfully manoeuvred us from Westpoint, along the road with the potholes the size of small ponds, through the bat-filled trees in the dimming light. The rain was relentless. Photo-taking opportunities were minimal! Sitting in the front seat, we at least had the windscreen to protect us from the worst of it, and I was incredibly grateful.

We had heard there was a fantastic Mexican restaurant up in Horseshoe Bay, so we drove the girls back to their hostel to put some dry clothes on and then set off in search of some jalapeños and copious amounts of melted cheese. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be though, because just as the rain cleared up and we got back into the car, just as we were leaving the carpark, we heard a yell from behind us. Some friends of ours had just returned from the town only to find that everything was closed! It wasn’t even 7:30 yet, but whether it was due to the rain or just the fact that they don’t get much business, all of the eateries around town closed super-early. All they had for us to eat at the hostel was pizza and cheesy garlic bread, so at least we got our cheese-fix in!

Needless to say, it was a quiet night, but that’s fine because we had a fairly early start in the morning, to go right on back to that hostel again to the animal sanctuary; it was finally time to get that all-important picture with a koala. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been much of an animal lover. It may have something to do with my allergies, or as I discovered out in Laos over a year ago (wow…that’s gone fast!) that I’m kind of a bit scared of animals. I popped a couple of antihistamines, just in case I started getting a tickly nose and red streaming eyes complete with a sneezing fit when I had a koala attached to me, because that would make a disgusting picture, and it wouldn’t be too pleasant for the koala either.

It turns out though, that I managed to put away my dislike for animals for the morning, so I could hold and get pictures with a whole bunch of the little critters. Having said that, the snake was a pretty long one, and there were a few reptiles that I decided against holding. My personal favourite was the red-tailed black cockatoo, who likes to give a little kiss provided you’re holding a seed between your lips! He also gets his crest up when he’s having fun or if he likes you, and check this out! I was the only one in the group who he did that for. This could mean one of a few things:

  1. He fancied the smell of my pheromones
  2. He kinda liked me
  3. He likes shirts, and I was wearing a ¾ length one

Either way, I kinda liked him too.

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The rest of the morning was spent traipsing back and forth across the island with all our luggage in tow, dropping it and our friends at the ferry terminal and getting the car back in time to catch our ferry. And guess what? It rained again. One thing that I can attest to now is that I genuinely am now happy to drive any type of car, dodgy gearbox and all, and I have a new-found love of driving barefoot. You see, whilst it had rained a lot, it was still pretty warm so we lived in out flip flops. I can’t tell you how dangerous it is to drive in wet slippery flip flops. So much easier to go without. Plus, it all adds to the experience… after all, if you’re careful, a bit of wet weather never hurt anyone before.