Sunday, 30 December 2012

From Adelaide to Melbourne: Kangaroos, Koalas and Coastline

I never thought I'd say this but I actually am learning to ENJOY flying! Usually I'm the sort of person that screws their eyes shut and holds their breath on take off and landing but the journey from Perth to Adelaide was so stunning I had to look out the window for practically the whole journey. I wish I'd taken more photos of the scenery but I was a bit scared of using my camera (electronic equipment messes up something right..?) so this is the only one I got...

Not bad for a plane window view!

After touching down in Adelaide I got my backpack from the luggage carousel and headed out to the bus station. My first impression of Adelaide was that everyone was so friendly - a woman on the bus helped me find my stop and then another person even walked me to my hostel when I asked directions! I dumped my stuff and went to find something to eat in the main shopping area where my opinion of Adelaiders was evened out as some bloke clutching a bible shouted at me that I was going to hell through a megaphone. I guess you can't generalize!

I was only in Adelaide three days but it's quite small so got a good feel for the city. I think it's a nice place just to walk around, visiting a couple of museums and sitting in the park and beach. The Adelaide Central Market is also really cool and definitely worth a look around. I bought my lunch of fresh bread and hummus there for about $3!

Central Market

Glenelg Beach

As I was only in Adelaide a short amount of time and in a small hostel I didn't meet many other backpackers. However on my second night I ventured out to a local bar with an Irish guy from the hostel where we ended up meeting a group of locals that invited me to their friends' gig. Turns out is was a group of sweaty teenagers in leather trousers playing to a crowd of about ten people who were swinging their hair around. Entertaining but maybe not in the way intended...

The next morning I joined my first organized tour group of my Australian trip to do something properly touristy: driving down the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne. The first day was spent doing a lot of driving as the more interesting parts of the route are all towards the Melbourne end. We eventually arrived at our first stop which was the Grampians National Park in Victoria. It is so named because the first European person to discover it thought it reminded him of Scotland. We went for a long walk (more than I imagined to be honest - the tour guide mentioned the word 'hiking shoes' and I almost wanted to cry) and saw a lot of stunning scenery. 


The best part however was after 3 months in Australia seeing my first real-life, in-the-wild, full-size kangaroo... I was so excited! Not only just one but loads of them, and we even saw a couple boxing. They weren't scared at all and we stayed for ages just watching them.

The next morning we went for another walk with our tour guide and saw loads more kangaroos, including one with a joey in her pouch as well as a kookaburra (in a gum tree..of course).


Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree...
The next day we were woken at 6am for a "morning hike" - yes, I didn't really know I had signed up for this! - and headed over to Otway National Park. I have to admit I didn't enjoy this at all. It was FREEZING even though I was wearing a t shirt, a jumper and a massive hoody, and I kept getting attacked by horrible green worm things that I was praying weren't poisonous. To top it off, the famous "tall tree" that we were trekking through the jungle to see turned out to have fallen down a couple of years ago and in it's place was just a hole. I didn't even bother taking a picture. I know I sound like Karl Pilkington moaning, but seriously it was just a hole in the ground?! Definitely not worth the effort of the trek and to make matters worse my flip flop broke on the way back to the coach and I had to walk barefoot through the mud.

I cheered up a lot once I'd changed shoes and when we stopped for lunch we saw emus and a koala! The koala looked almost fake it was just like a fluffy toy.  

The next part of the trip was the best part - finally the Great Ocean Road. There was so much dramatic coastline to see we stopped every few hundred metres to go for walks along the cliffs and take photos of the most famous formations.

Bay of Islands

The main points we stopped off at were the Bay of Islands, London Bridge and the Twelve Apostles. Apparently London Bridge used to be attached to the mainland but part of it collapsed twenty years ago leaving a couple stranded on the new island for hours before they were airlifted to safety. Rather them than me!

London Bridge

We were meant to go and watch the sunset at the Twelve Apostles - the main tourist attraction along this stretch of the road. However, as is always the case you can never predict the weather and we were really unlucky because it was SO windy and rainy that night. You'll also notice that there's only four visible rocks - that's because the others have fallen into the sea over the years. With this and the tall tree, I think the Australian Tourist Board should probably reconsider their marketing strategy. Anyway, here is a picture of the "four" apostles under a cloudy sky!

Twelve Apostles
Our final day on the road was spent stopping off at various beaches and villages along the way to Melbourne. It was too cold to stay too long on the beach or go swimming in the sea but we did a lot of walking and photo-taking!
Cockatoos - the new seagulls

Our final stop before we got to Melbourne was at Split Point lighthouse which was where the 90s TV series Round the Twist was filmed. I vaguely remember this being on when I was little but couldn't tell you what it was about, I don't even remember it being Australian! Only thing is it has a very annoying theme tune that was stuck in everyone's heads for the remainder of the day.

Split Point Lighthouse - Round The Twist

At Split Point

After that we headed straight on to Melbourne and I got dropped off outside my hostel. Absolutely love it here and I'll write another post in the next couple of days about my Christmas and New Year!

Jem x

Thursday, 6 December 2012

"A Pommie Sheila in Oz"

I've been in Australia now for almost 3 months and after the excitement of backpacking around Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore have to say I've had a COMPLETELY different experience. It's like finally reality hit and I wasn't on holiday anymore. Things like getting a job and a house and sorting out tax file numbers and Medicare cards quickly filled up my to-do list and that is nowhere near as fun as lying on a Thai beach! Also, the hostels, here in Perth at least, have such a different atmosphere. Everybody is here on a working holiday rather than just passing through and so you get groups of long-timers who are all friends already and it can be quite intimidating when you first get there alone.

Plus, everything is so expensive here! Even though people warned me when I met other backpackers in Asia I thought that they meant in comparison to there where you can get a bed for a fiver a night. Nope, even London looks reasonable compared to Oz prices, especially in Western Australia so I'm told. I really struggled for the first few weeks not being able to find a job and not being able to afford to do anything interesting. The weather was even bad. I was expecting bright sunshine but I had to go and buy a jumper in the first week and practically lived in my jeans - not what I was expecting at all! Perth is OK but just not exciting enough for me - it's the sort of place you might come to live because of the standard of living, wages etc but in my opinion not somewhere you'd stop off as a tourist. At first it just reminded me of somewhere like Croydon to be perfectly honest!

I have learned to love it though after the weather got better and I spent a few days at the beach (even though my sunbathing was interrupted by five separate shark sirens - they actually make you feel like you're in Jaws!). I spent a bit of time in Fremantle which is just outside Perth and has so much more personality than Perth City it's like you're on another planet. There's lots of old buildings and you can wander around the markets and the harbour, where you can get yummy fish and chips if you can avoid the seagulls.

After a few days I also made a really great group of friends and settled in a lot, the hostel really started to feel like home. Even so, I never really felt like I was in Australia, just stuck in the city. It probably also had something to do with the fact that 90% of the people I knew were Irish, English or Kiwi and I'd only spoken to about 3 Ozzies. So after 4 weeks in Perth I thought I'd do something completely different, packed up my bags again and headed to a little outback town called Meekatharra, 775km north. I was going to work in a pub and save some money for 6 weeks and also catch up with my friend Charlotte who lived there.

The journey took me 13 hours on 2 buses and I couldn't help thinking that if I was on a plane for that amount of time I'd have been well on my way home. Anyway, as the bus went further north the scenery out the window changed completely - every time we stopped there seemed to be less and less greenery and more red dust and flies, let alone the heat increasing by about 15 degrees. There was also less and less people and buildings around until eventually we were just driving on one remote road with nothing to see for miles apart from flat red earth and the odd dead kangaroo. I did think to myself - what am I doing? - especially when we stopped for a break and some of the other passengers started talking to me. One of them warned me that if I upset any of the locals I'd be 'run out of town'...! I also kept thinking back to when I'd told the woman who worked in the medicare centre at Perth city where I was going and she genuinely burst out laughing at me for a full 2 minutes before saying "You poor girl". So you can imagine I was bit apprehensive, but also really looking forward to getting out of Perth and doing something different.

Where I lived and worked for 6 weeks
We eventually arrived and I got off the bus and was met by Bob, one of the managers at the pub. He took me in to meet everybody and showed me my room - an actual room to myself after sharing for so long = amazing! Meekatharra was just what I expected I guess - it's the most isolated place I've ever been to. On one of my first days I decided to go and explore and I was done in ten minutes. There is two pubs/hotels (the one I worked at and one other) plus a post office, chemist, supermarket, bank, service staion and caravan park. That's pretty much it! I've got to admit my heart sank when I heard the nearest clothes shops were a 5 hour drive away. I saw a cinema but was told that it had been shut for years because the guy who ran it used to get robbed every time he put a film on because people would know he wasn't at home. Lovely... ! I got the impression that Meekatharra used to be a lot busier but a lot of the shops had shut and were empty, and people told me the population had decreased a lot over the last few decades because mines nearby had closed down. Now most people that come to town are just passing through (the town is a mid way point between the north and south on the main Great Northern highway), or working on sites out of town temporarily on contract work. You also get a lot of people coming for prospecting trips, hunting for gold and a few people that stayed in the pub showed me what they found. Too bad I didn't find anything! So as you can imagine there was not a lot to do when you weren't working, and especially without a car, but I did get taken to a few local places while I was there. Five Mile is an old mine site filled with water and really impressive actually, and the Granites are some rock formations where we went out and had some drinks and a BBQ one night. I saw my first shooting star there which was amazing. I've never seen so many stars, you could even pick out some shapes because the sky is so clear from city pollution.

Five Mile

The Granites
I met some real outback characters anyway, with people coming in actually wearing cowboy hats, with various missing teeth and without any hint of irony calling me a "pommie sheila". My first day at the bar I was pointed at by a bloke from the other side of the room who announced "I don't like you!" and the proceeded to ask me who I was every time I tried to serve him for the rest of the night. I later learned that he was basically the town crazy who annoyed everyone by telling them he was their boyfriend... most other people were lovely to me. One of them even bought me a present when I left! It's the sort of place that everyone knows everyone and by the end of my first couple of days working in the bar people would come in and say hello and know my name even though I was sure I'd never met them before. You have to get used to the fact that everybody has crazy nicknames too (Splinter, Funky..?!) and try to remember not only what people are called but what they drink and how they like it served before they even ask for it. For example, there was one woman who'd come in every day and get served in a special glass just for her, with ice all the way to the top and half a shot of vodka with Diet Coke. If you got any of these components wrong you'd be in trouble! And I thought city types were meant to be fussy...It seems the outback lot don't like change and definitely don't like waiting for a beer.

Talking of which, I've never seen so many types of beer in a pub. At home you'd have maybe 4 or 5 and either a pint or a bottle right? Well, here you have to know not only all the different types of beer, but if they're light, mid-strength, full strength or if they want a stubby (bottle), can, middy glass, pint glass, schooner glass.. it's enough to make your head explode. Don't even get me started on the fact that people don't even call them by their proper names - a Red Can is an Emu Export or a TEDS is a Toohey's Extra Dry etc. There was a lot to learn...! I also got a few comments from people at my attempts to pull a pint ("What's that? I didn't ask for an ice cream") but I have to say I think I got a lot better after a bit of practice - that's a life skill learned! 

It was good to actually see some 'real' Australia after my experience in Perth and speak to some actual Australians. I didn't realise just how different the British and Aussie accents/phrases are and sometimes I literally couldn't understand what people were saying to me; at least I really felt I was in a different country. Some of the things I can remember that got lost in translation are duvet (translation: dooner), skiving (translation: bludging) and a lot more that I just can't remember. I should have started an Ozzie phrase book and written them all down! I also was really looking forward to seeing some Australian animals but apparently you don't see a lot in the town and would have to drive out into the bush to see anything. Luckily though, a woman who rescues animals had a little joey kangaroo she was looking after and brought it into the pub for me to see. So cute! I saw an eagle on the drive back to Perth too which was really impressive - too fast to get a picture though.

After my 6 weeks were up I was quite glad to leave to be perfectly honest. What with the flies and the 40 degree heat (I got severely dehydrated several times - I just can't handle it!) and the lack of shops I couldn't live here permanently. But I did meet some great people and was made to feel at home, and I'm really pleased I went and saw a bit of a different side to Australia before I go back to the cities again. I'm in Perth now, just passing through and catching up on some shopping and sunbathing before I fly to Adelaide on Tuesday. This is when I can start being a proper tourist. I've booked a tour from Adelaide to Melbourne which travels down the great ocean road and visits some national parks etc so I'm looking forward to seeing some interesting things and meeting some more backpackers. After that it'll be Christmas and New Year in Melbourne (so weird to have a sunny one away from home!) and then we shall see... the best things happen when you don't have too many plans!

Miss you all at home! Jem xxx