Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Australia's Glass House Mountains

I couldn't finish my Australia posts without sharing these lovely pictures of the Glass House Mountains with you. The area is about 60 miles north of Brisbane so, yes, I should have mentioned them ages ago!

Guess what? Our friend James Cook discovered them! The little scallywag, hogging Oz's debut for himself. And being a complete genius, he named them the Glass House Mountains because their elevation reminded him of a glass house. No, I don't get it either.

Anyway, my camera is only average, but I hope the photos really convey just how empty - physically, at least - Australia can be. Although it's not completely my cup of tea, there are parts of the country that are very beautiful and steeped in intriguing history.

The mountains are basically what's left over from volcanoes millions of years ago. But indigenous Australians view them as an important part of the Dreamtime, which refers partly to what they believe to be the time of creation, but also represents a complex set of spiritual beliefs. A good resource if you want to learn more about this important and interesting facet of the country's culture can be found here.





You're also likely to spot some roos lazing around the mountains. Gorgeous.



Rafting, AKA the day I may have confused whiplash with a near-death experience

Once upon a time, there was a girl who could not swim very well. She decided to go rafting down the Tully River in Australia. Her and a friend booked in for what is known as "extreme rafting", which means the boat leaders do all they can to get participants in the water screaming their dear heads off. Why the girl decided to go extreme rafting is a mystery to this very day. She obviously never looked at footnotes four and five of this Wikipedia entry.

They were taken, along with about 15 other fair maidens and town folk, to the river, which is in northern Queensland. They were given all the right equipment for the voyage. A man, who in retrospect may have been mentally unhinged, gave them instructions for the day ahead. It all sounded like jolly good fun, the girl thought.

The water was very cold and the rapids were furious. Shivering was constant and the ongoing, immediate threat of having her teeth knocked out by a fellow rafter was a little burdensome. Such buffoonery was taking place in the other boats. But hey ho! She thought. The inpatient on day release who had distributed the rules was mischievous, pushing people off the sides of the dinghies when they were not looking and giving the local court jester a run for his money.

After lunch of some hearty cow and meaningless grog, the rafters set upon their journey once again. The crazy fellow leading the group pointed to a giant rock. Look! It's a giant rock from which we can jump! The whole group was mightily enthused. And little did she know, the girl was about five minutes away from what later turned out to be really rather bad whiplash and a hard lesson in never giving into peer pressure.

She jumped. Being only quite small, the height of the rock was frightening. And by accident, she jumped in a somewhat odd position, hitting the surface of the water with a loud - so loud it is possible the next town heard - smack. This is odd, she thought. There is severe pain in my shoulder and head. Be there a brick wall, rather than water, she pondered? No, it is water, and she faked wellness while climbing back on to the raft. Dizziness and intense throbbing followed all day and throughout the twilight hours. Be this my last sleep, she wondered? After all, concussion has been known to silently precede an even quieter death. With no method of telegram or carrier pigeon, she set her rooster to wake her up in the small hours of the morning, to check death had not arrived. But thankfully it had not, and she lived to see another day.

Cairns, Queensland

My last stop in Australia was Cairns. This is very common, as it's one of the furthest north places on the east coast that's "worth visiting" and has a "major" airport. I use "speech marks" rather than 'inverted commas' as I'm actually quoting what somebody told me about the "city". As you can tell, I've come to regard their opinions as somewhat flawed. The fact it's the last stop on many travellers' Oz adventure means you end up having numerous versions of the conversation mentioned in this post.

In the universe where I grew up, Cairns isn't a city. It's a town. It's small, full of very short buildings and may have got stuck in a time-space wormhole at some point during the 1970s, because a lot of it doesn't look like it has progressed since then.


Regardless. I actually had a lot of fun there! I learned a valuable lesson; enjoyment isn't always about where you are and the tools or money at your disposal. It's who you're with. This isn't always true and, yes, it seems like a really obvious thing to say. But I stayed at a really rundown, odd little hostel (about a 15-minute walk from the town centre), that turned out to be awesome! And all of a sudden I just relaxed again. Lovely.

Here is a delightful picture of the slightly odd room I shared for eight nights with three girls and two complete legends. Thanks to Emma for the massively unflattering photo.


I know you want to hear about Cairns, but let's consider what's really important here: Cheesy beans on toast. When I have beans on toast, I just whack a bit of cheese on top. But no. Emma truly changed my life when we were cooking in what alleged to be a hostel kitchen and she explained that you can mix the cheese in with the beans. Here is a picture of her doing what can only be explained as wizardry and/or mind/cheese control.


Just look at my amazed face and her satisfaction at altering the course of my existence forever.



Culinary magic aside, we did the following, among other bits and bobs, in Cairns:

1. Sunbathed - there is no natural beach, so instead, the centre of the city has a manmade lagoon. This is fab, because it's salt water and surrounded by lush grass and some sand, as well as little shops and eateries. The temperature, in Australia's WINTER, was about 31C every day.

2. Came second in a hostel pub-type quiz and lost by one point after I got a question about Manchester wrong. How was I supposed to know City now play at the Etihad Stadium? I said Arsenal. But that's the Emirates Stadium. Whatever.

3. Watched Emma have to get a gone-wrong piercing near-beaten/ripped out of her ear.

4. Said goodbye... to Australia and some amazing people. Despite my weird ol' time there, I'd go back to Oz. I'd like to visit Melbourne, for sure. Just maybe not for a couple of decades.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Yeah yeah I know quit your whining

So… here I am, more than two months after I got home… and no blog updates to speak of. I still plan to finish it and hope you still want to read it. If you don't, meh, I have it to remind me of everything and you can bet I'll still find a time to bore you with stories and photos one day. But in the meantime, the 30-or-so of you (don't be surprised, I can work Google Analytics) who do check in every time I post… well, I hope you enjoy the rest of it. If you don't, then… just humour me and lie to my face.

Why haven't I updated it? Um, turns out I forgot about a whole heap of allegedly obligatory stuff that constitutes the bulk of 'real life'. That's 'real life' in 'inverted commas' because for the most part, this involves me:

Working freelance

Watching Entourage

Losing my remote control (not a euphemism for marbles, I genuinely always lose my remote)

Moving house

Trying to get music from Mario Kart out of my head


Before I tell you about Cairns, I'll post something I've just found on my computer. I appear to have written it while at Hong Kong airport, right before coming home. I think I was highly caffeinated and needed to kill some time. I'll leave you to read it and then potentially delete my number from your phone.



This is how you kill 15 hours at an airport

I'm going home tomorrow! My last stop, which you'll hear all about in ooh maybe five years when I finally get round to blogging properly again, was Hong Kong - an absolutely fabulous city I had always wanted to visit.

Two small problems made my stop in Hong Kong a little more irritating than I would have liked.

Glitch #1: There are some hostels in Hong Kong and, as usual, I booked a few days in advance. However, using - the site via which I have booked most of my accommodation during my trip - I noticed that the addresses seemed all to be located in the same building, right in the heart of the city. That's weird, I thought. How can 15+ guest houses and hostels be in the same place? Oh look, they've all got different block numbers. I'll Google the building, Chungking Mansions, and see what comes up. Wait, that looks like a really rough council estate crossed with a sweatshop… a really bad sweatshop though, not like the knicker factory in Coronation Street (which was super legit). That can't be it. No, that's it. Weird. And what's this… universally bad reviews of every single hostel? Unsafe… expensive… DO NOT STAY HERE. Hmm. I'll keep on looking. (Roommate enters) Oh hi I don't suppose you've been to Hong Kong have you? You have? Where did you stay? Oh you did? Is it really that bad? You left after 45 minutes? Book a hotel? I guess I'll have to. Rundown I can handle, dirty I can handle, full of complete idiots I can handle, unsafe I refuse to handle. One thing I've learned while travelling is that no price is too high for feeling safe and secure, because I won't be able to spend the money I've saved if I wake up in the boot of a Ford Fiesta (or foreign equivalent) now, will I?

Glitch #2: It turns out there are frequent typhoons and tropical cyclones in Hong Kong and, according to the lovely receptionist at my lovely hotel, the height of the buildings in Hong Kong coupled with its geographic location make it a really unstable place when extreme weather hits. But I didn't know this, and had only booked two nights - the 28th and 29th - at the hotel, because my flight is due to leave at 07:35 September 30th and therefore I'd have to be at the airport at about 04:30ish. I figured meh, check out late on the 29th, do a little more sightseeing and then just kill a few hours at the airport after arriving there about midnight. They have showers and stuff too, so it'll be fine.

Famous last words. My plan has been well and truly foiled by the weather gods.

I checked out this afternoon and headed out to explore Kowloon, which is north of Hong Kong Island and home to lots of things to do. First stop: coffee. My coffee habit has worsened. I keep walking, really just taking in the surroundings, buoyed by a faboosh previous day yesterday during which I did loads of touristy things and marvelled at the city's spectacular scenery, culture and cosmopolitan vibe (and by cosmopolitan vibe, I mean the healthy number of investment bankers in sharp suits). The first thing I notice is that many shops are closed. I figure maybe it's because I'm walking through a market area - maybe the markets open late? I continue walking. Okay, so everything's closed. The ferries are closed. Heck, even tourist information is closed. There are a few bits and bobs open but nothing of interest and I'm gutted to see the Hong Kong Space Museum, which I reeeeeally wanted to visit, is shut. At this point I'm really appreciating the fact I did 90 per cent of my sightseeing yesterday. But I'm mildly panicking, because if everything's closed, how do I get to the airport (located a good 40 minutes away on Lantau Island) and what the frak do I do with the next ten hours?

I find a mall partly open and ask why the city looks like something out of Dawn of the Dead, minus the zombies… although for all I know, they're about to attack.*

Nice mall lady: "The typhoon. There is a typhoon warning."

Me: "But it's not even raining. It's just overcast."

And that is when the heavens open, which is kind of fun given that it's about 28 degrees C as well.

I don't mind, because I have on my funky rain jacket (thanks mum). But then I realise I have no choice other than to investigate getting to the airport and literally wait there. Wait and wait and wait. There is nothing to do if everything is shut and I don't want to risk waiting until dark. A hairy bus ride and an extortionate airport shuttle trip later, I arrive at Hong Kong International Airport… 15 hours prior to take-off.

Laugh all you want. But I'd rather be 15 hours early than a minute late, and unfortunately, I had no choice. There weren't even any cinemas open in the city. There was literally nothing to do except solo rain dancing, and I was way too tired for that.

It is now 18:50. I wonder how long my laptop battery will last? Oh look, the Wi-Fi at the airport isn't working! Fantastic. I have read a good chunk of my current book, even though it's complete rubbish. Heat magazine is HK$48 from the book shop. That's about £4. Is Heat even that good? I might crack and buy it. For now, I'm going to write a bit more of my blog offline. That should take up a little more time.

19:30 – I'm still blogging and the internet still doesn't work. The majority of flights are being cancelled or delayed. Yikes.

20:07 – Still blogging. Texting a few people, even though Vodafone will give me a massive bollocking.

20:22 – Still blogging. The woman next to me has an iPad. I really, really want an iPad, but they're kind of a cross between a laptop and an iPhone, both of which I have. Maybe I'll save up for a proper Mac instead. I wonder if she can get on the Wi-Fi? Or if she can see my screen? Let's see. HELLO iPAD LADY! ARE YOU READING THIS? No, nothing. She's obviously having too much fun on her iPad.

22:45 – I've got the Wi-Fi to work, so I'm catching up on emails, blogging some more, guiltily reading the Daily Mail online even though it's some of the worst journalism on the planet, and bouncing off the ceiling thanks to an ultra-strong coffee. Wheeeee!

23:57 – Skyped my sister and listened to the entire Bruno Mars album, because it's not like I haven't heard it about 40 times in the past month.

02:02 – Played 21 games of solitaire on my iPod. Won: 0 Lost: 21.

02:51 – My flight is delayed by 40 minutes. Brilliant. My mum suggested upgrading to Club and using the lounge. I'm sure Mastercard would have something to say about that.

I have no idea why I stopped writing, but I stayed awake until the plane took off at 08:00. Suggestions as to what you think I got up to in the comments boxes below please.

* This is not the actual phrase I uttered. I'd like to see what would have happened if I did though.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Skydiving in Mission Beach, Queensland

It takes about three hours longer than planned to reach Mission Beach, thanks to a delayed and then broken-down bus. Luckily, I meet some fantastic people on the way, but I'm so tired when I get there, I just want to crash in the nearest bed.

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Mission Beach is yet another place in Oz that is so poorly connected to the rest of the world you'd think you were on Mars. There is no public transport serving the town, no mobile phone service for some networks, no Wi-Fi (AT A HOSTEL, I MEAN FOR GOD'S SAKE THAT IS RIDICULOUS) and one supermarket that is closed on Sundays. It's infuriating. Now that I've been to Asia, I realise I'm perfectly okay without a phone and the web for a bit. But that's because I was in less developed places, where there is more to do. In Mission Beach, however, there is nothing to do. The only reason I went is because it's from there you can skydive over the Great Barrier Reef. I later learned Mission Beach used to be livelier, but a recent hurricane destroyed a huge area and it's taking a while to get back up to speed.

Nevertheless, you can't beat another picture of clear blue sky and deserted sand. So here's one of Mission Beach for you:


It looks a bit like the island from Lost, minus the bad writing, polar bears, rubbish ending and the feeling you've wasted six years watching a show that the writers knew was going nowhere not that I'm digressing or anything but really come on that show could have been so good and they just ruined it RUINED IT all to keep people guessing and there was no conclusion to anything I mean what was that polar bear all about and why did the shark have a Dharma Initiative logo and why when Mr Eko crashed was the land in the shape of a question mark and while we're on the subject did they ever explain why Mr Eko was mute for 42 days no I didn't think so and why did The Others take that kid, you know the one whose dad was Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet and then went batshit and killed those two what were their names Ana Lucia and hmm the one that went out with Hurley for a bit ANYWAY BACK TO THE MATTER AT HAND.

The next morning, I go for a run. Four kilometres in the wrong direction. There is no shop from which to buy water so I am a big sweaty heap of a mess when I get back. The hostel, despite its owners clearly living in the dark ages, is lovely, with a pool (!) and gorgeous lawns on which to relax. I finish reading my book and potter about, then meet up with some friends I met a few towns ago. The nice thing about going up the east coast of Oz is that everyone follows the same route (well, mostly everyone), so not only do you often bump into people you've hung around with before, you play the annoying guessing game with a load of others. It goes like this:

"I'm pretty sure we've met before."

"Me too! But I can't place where!"

"I know, it's annoying me. Did you go to [insert Australian location here]?"


"Hmm. Maybe it was there?


Repeat with different person.

Friday - the day after - is skydive day. Skydiving was an unequivocal must-do for me. I even sacrificed going to the Whitsundays so that I could afford it, because the cost for a 14,000 ft dive, with DVD of the whole thing, plus a day of "Extreme Rafting" (more about that terror-filled brush with death later) was getting on for £350. I'll pause while you intake some breath sharply. I wouldn't say I'm a daredevil or anywhere near an adrenaline junkie, but I think years of sitting at a desk have made me want to try riskier stuff, so the day arrives, I sign my name on the dotted line - you know, the one below the sentence saying "you may die and if you do don't even think about suing us" - and meet the people who will be jumping at the same time.

I meet the instructor who will be jumping with me. He's a cutie. Yay! God, I'm so shallow sometimes. He takes me through what can only be described as vague instructions re: what to do when you jump. Basically, you have to push and pull your arms, legs and neck into certain positions before and during the jump. It's pretty straightforward, so on goes the harness and before I know it we're all getting on the plane. Now, when I say "jumping with me", it means this guy (his name escapes me, it was probably something cute and Australian) is literally strapped to me. Or me to him, whichever. It's kind of awkward. The plane is chock full. It's too exciting to be nervous, but I'm jumping out of the plane last, so I get to see eight people go before me. The noise they make when they boing out of the plane is similar to the noise of a wine bottle being uncorked. I'm not sure if they jump, or are pulled by the wind.

It's me next, and before I know it, I'm looking at the Great Barrier Reef from 14,000 feet in the air. I kind of feel like I can't breathe and my heart might explode, but that's okay, because this is exactly the kind of experience I worked my balls off to be able to do. After 60 seconds of freefalling, which feels like ten, the chute opens and we toddle down to the beach in a matter of minutes. It's wonderful. Utterly, utterly wonderful. My eyes are watering and my pulse is thumping and it feels really, really good.



Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island's name has nothing to do with the fact it is magnetic in any way, so let's just all calm down and face the front of the class. Apparently, that jolly old fellow James Cook had a compass that went a bit berserk when he sailed near Maggie Island (so-called by locals, and by locals I mean every other backpacker who visits), so his crew was all like WOAH IT'S TOTALLY MAGNETIC and he was like YEAH I AM SUCH A BADASS EXPLORER and one of the crew said NO I THINK YOUR COMPASS IS BROKEN GOOD SIR and Jimmy replied DON'T BE RIDICULOUS, SCURVY HAS CLEARLY SENT YOU INSANE, BOYS GET THIS MENTALIST TO THE PLANK AND MAKE SURE YOU ALL EAT NUMEROUS ORANGES.

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I digress. To reach Maggie, you hop on a little ferry from Townsville. It's fairly straightforward.


We stayed at YHA Bungalow Bay, which in typical YHA form is quite dull but nice and safe, as well as being generally good value for money. Rather than typical dorms, the rooms are three-bed wooden huts, set in the grounds of a wildlife park. It's all very cute, if a little contrived, but fun.

Or so I thought.

You know in horror movies, right at the end, when you find out who the killer is, or all the zombies have been killed (zombies are un-dead though, so is killing even the right word?), or the ghost has been exorcised, and the protagonist looks all pale and clammy and even though they're okay and all their friends are dead, bar the ones played by really famous actors, you know they're going to be really screwed up for a bit? Well, that's how I looked after two nights at Bungalow Bay. They were terrifying. I'd been in Oz nearly a month by this point but hadn't really encountered any of the legendary spiders or snakes or creepy crawlies you hear of. Until now.

The first night, it's just me and my friend in this three-bed hut. The roof is, at its highest point, probably about seven feet high. There are gaps between some of the wood planks, with low beds and a kind of mesh section of wall right at pillow level.

We go to our respective beds. The friend is out like a light. I am not. All of a sudden, something crashes on to the bin. I let out a yelp. We turn the light on. There are two geckos on the floor. Until now I had never seen a gecko, let alone realised they are not just harmless but actually good to have around, as they eat mosquitoes. One of the geckos has fallen into the bin. They have suckers on their feet which make them able to cling on to ceilings. But not this one, which has clearly been cursed with some rubbish gecko DNA. They scurry about everywhere. I figuratively shit myself. Not literally, as that would be not just gross but a severe overreaction. I spot something moving on the wall. Yep, they're legs. Eight of them. It's a massive dob-off spider hiding behind the light switch. We ignore the geckos and try to kill the spider with bug spray. Not only does it not die, it legs it (pun fully intended) down the wall on to the floor, where I squash it and hit it with my brand new Havaiana flip flops. Crisis averted. The geckos bugger off. We decide we need the loo. During the walk outside to the loo, something - probably a possum or similarly evil being - bobs right past us. I figuratively shit myself again. It's a dramatic night overall, and I get little to no sleep after we come back from the bathroom. Later that week, I learn the noise made by geckos - it's a smoochy little kissing noise - is them flicking their tails. Not some fang-exposing, stomach-rumbling signal they're about to eat you whole.

The next day, I'm grouchy and bitchier than my usual self. Not just due to tiredness, but of the fear of what's to come that evening. We do a pub quiz with a couple of friends we've met in Noosa, come third and drink the winnings. Fantastic! I'll be able to sleep thanks to this booze!

Or not.

I wake up at 3am. I hear rustling. Something crawls over a carrier bag on the floor. I am actually sweating with fear under my sleeping bag. I hear a footstep next to my pillow, behind the mesh panel. I bolt out of the bed and sit on my friend's. Another footstep. It's like whatever's out there is watching, waiting, planning the right moment to pounce. Either that or it's a possum trying to get about in the night without waking anyone. But oh my god, what's that I hear on the doorstep? I open the door. It's a mega-sneaky possum going through the bin (I knew I should have destroyed that Tim Tams wrapper).


I can't take any more of this. I admit it. I admit defeat, and I admit being a pussy. But when a giant, genetically mutated possum-gecko hybrid with eight legs takes over the world, we'll all be sorry. I fall back asleep and wake again two hours later. I need the bathroom. Friend is fast asleep. Gods damn it I'll have to go alone. So I do, and it's so scary, Blair Witch Project-style scary minus the gratuitous snot scene, but I make it back, and I think that counts as facing a fear, especially as the YHA receptionist told us earlier there is a massive golden orb spider who lives above the door to the ladies' bathroom. And I just swanned right past it. Spiders: 0, Me: 1.

To celebrate this victory, enjoy some pictures of Magnetic Island in all of its horrifying glory.






Just like the guy from Crimewatch says, "don't have nightmares".

Townsville, Queensland

After the trip to Fraser Island, I went back to Noosa for a night to catch up with some people and do my laundry! Unsurprisingly, I ended up playing Mario Kart.

My next stop, annoyingly, was somewhere I didn't want to go but had to, due to the bus I was on. There are compulsory overnight stops and one of these is Rainbow Beach. Rainbow Beach sounds like Rainbow Road, which is arguably the hardest Mario Kart track (aside from Wario's Gold Mine, but this is debatable). I was hoping this meant the location would be exciting and full of Italian plumbers, talking mushrooms and hungry dinosaurs, but it wasn't at all. In fact, it was a very dull, one-horse town with a beach full of "multicoloured" (i.e. brown) sand. Ho hum. I made some dinner, took it easy and finished my book.

View Larger Map

I passed through the Town of 1770 and Airlie Beach (pictured below, yes it was overcast and not very warm at all) in the next few days, in order to get to Townsville.


Two snafus made this a more difficult journey than I'd anticipated.

Snafu #1: 1770 is a complete DUMP and the hostel I'd booked into was like Guantanamo Bay, minus the repeat plays of the Barney theme tune (and obviously the waterboarding, which for the purposes of UK media law MAY NOT HAVE HAPPENED AT GUANTANAMO BAY, IT'S ALL JUST UNSUBSTANTIATED RUMOUR).

Snafu #2: I totally missed my bus from Airlie Beach to Townsville, so had to pay again for a replacement ticket, then had a big homesickness barf when I got there.

Anyway. Turns out, Townsville is actually really cute. You can't get more of a generic name than Townsville. As it happens, this quiet little um, town in Queensland has a slightly student/bohemian vibe, making it a touch more interesting than the numerous beach um, towns on the east coast.

Townsville's not even a beach town, though (I'm totally shift+F7-ing the shit out of this blog entry now so as not to use the word town too much) - it's the jumping-off point if you want to visit Magnetic Island (more about that later). It's pretty quiet, with a cute market on Saturday (or Sunday, I can't recall which; constant travelling means you forget what day it is and rarely know the date) at which I bought some nice earrings. Yes, I'm that interesting. I also did a bit more running around the, ahem, municipality.


Not much more to say, except from the fact Townsville (damn I just said town again. And again) is where my super-duper, nearly-new, beloved black Berghaus fitted fleece jacket disappeared, never to have been seen since. Gutted. Oh and I met a guy there who had lived in the apartment block opposite Hannah and I in Salford. Small word, insert cliché here, etc etc…


Thursday, 29 September 2011

Fraser Island, Queensland

Before I start, a quick note on why this beast of a blog hasn't been updated frequently of late.

Um, I was having too much fun! Which in no way reminds me of Fraser Island - a rather pretty 70-kilometre stretch of sand off the coast of Australia. Don't get me wrong, I liked the two-night, three-day trip. But I was still in my Oz-themed, near-emo level funk, and I was just OVER looking at beaches in weather that was downright chilly.

Here's a pic I took of Fraser Island for you...


You know what I think the problem was at this point? Australia, as I've mentioned, wasn't somewhere I was ever too fussed about going; and it's not that I wasn't excited about it, I just didn't have the drive and determination you need sometimes while backpacking. On the odd occasion when travelling you just hit a slump… your bag annoys you, hostels annoy you, money annoys you, even the teddy I brought with me wasn't providing any respite (don't tell him I said that). Travelling solo, for all of its awesomeness, gets exhausting. Yes, you meet loads of people and it's a huge amount of fun. But just when you really need it, there is nobody off of which to bounce ideas, nobody to give you that kick up the bum you need. What's more, the days when you do nothing seem a waste. This is illogical, because in real life, no one does amazing stuff all day every day. Yet because it's such an effort to be travelling in the first place, you feel a bit guilty when you take the "day off".

So, spoiled western girl problems aside, I wasn't massively excited about Fraser Island. It's a big sandy island and it's really beautiful and BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. There are few permanent residents and no roads, so every trip there needs to be done in a 4x4. I went with Trailblazers, which differs from the norm by offering accommodation at a little beach hut-type-thing, rather than camping, which is the more popular type of sojourn on Fraser.

Here's a pic or three of where we stayed etc.




I get picked up from Noosa and our (I say our because a friend I had met was coming too) group numbers about ten people and our tour leader is this really fun guy called Brett, a name I am overjoyed to hear, because you can't get more Australian than a name like Brett. Well, maybe Kylie. But Brett is good enough. Basically, Brett will drive a big 4x4 mini van from Noosa to Fraser, take us to various places on the island and cook/get his minions to cook dinner for us each night. One of these dinners turns out to be kangaroo, and boy it is delicious.

For anyone who doesn't know - and I didn't until about a day before the trip - Fraser Island is basically a giant sand island, home to thousands of wildlife species and beautiful lakes; and it is also a Unesco World Heritage Site.



Getting to see Fraser from above in a little six-seater plane


Seeing whales

Seeing a dingo (remember, they're not cute, they're deadly, just ask Meryl Streep)

Meeting some really nice people (I'm the Smurf at the back)


Seeing a baby shark go a bit too near a surfer (OOH THE TENSION!)

Paddling down a lazy river (full of natural, drinkable mineral water)

Sitting round a camp fire and chatting


Having to go to bed in tights, leggings, jeans, a hoody, a fleece and giant fluffy socks

Then waking up to a cold shower

Meeting some annoying people

Realising my appetite is bigger than everyone else's

Freezing my nads off after paddling down the lazy river

...but overall I highly recommend Fraser Island; it's very beautiful, it's fun, it's simple, but just make sure you go in summer!



Solo book club

I picked up a copy of Tweak by Nic Sheff in a hostel in Bangkok and quickly finished it within a few hours, thanks to the author's hyperactive writing style which makes it an easy one to speed through. A memoir of Sheff's "life growing up on methamphetamines", it falls squarely into the genre of addiction memoir, although he is careful to pop a disclaimer at the beginning stating that some characters and events have been changed so as to avoid offense or breach personal privacy.

Yeah, right. This is what annoys me about these books. If an author is going to lay bare the horrors of addiction and make money from telling people about how they went through hell purely by making bad choices, they need to be upfront about the whole lot and not make edits here and there in order to make the story more interesting. It's patronising and risky, because once a reader's belief in the subject matter is suspended too far, it's hard to give any weight to the true parts of the story. What's more, certain authors have only started doing this since James Frey, who won praise and, soon afterwards, scorn for his book A Million Little Pieces (and even then it was only because Oprah found out a chunk of the "autobiography" was completely made up) was made a literary laughing stock and now churns out garbage like I Am Number Four through a weird writing house/pseudo book-writing collective (apparently). Side note: I've still not watched the entire movie adaptation of I Am Number Four. Is it worth giving it another go?

Anyway, Tweak is very Frey-esque, in that he seems desperate to show his readers how screwed up his life was and the depths he would sink to in order to get the next hit. The difference is that Sheff makes no excuses for his behaviour, nor attempts to examine the cause of such intense and debilitating addiction. He also relapses again and again even after the book ends; a fact the reader is encouraged to discover via the author's somewhat pretentious blog. A little more Googling led me to discover that not only is Sheff's dad a much-acclaimed journalist, but has also written a book about his son's problems, entitled Beautiful Boy. So I start to wonder; is the publication of Tweak down to nepotism, or would it have been strong enough to stand alone? I highly doubt it.


Saturday, 24 September 2011

Noosa, Queensland

Noosa is a little surfing town (yeah, another one) on what's called Queensland's Sunshine Coast. It is picturesque (yawn), with a few nice shops, a pretty beach (another yawn) and not much else. There are two bars, frequented by all the backpackers. They are worse than the old Manchester Met University Student Union, which was spectacularly grim.

That said, I ended up having a grand old time in Noosa. I had been feeling a bit like I needed to start exercising again so went running along the shoreline and, cringefully, had one of those moments where you look at the gorgeous ocean, the soft sand, the blue sky... and think yes I definitely made the right decision to go travelling. Running is the one thing that clears my head and it felt great to get out again. It definitely beat running on the treadmill at the gym my sister and I go to... she can tell you all about the characters in there if you have a spare five hours and want to be put off your dinner.

Here's the beautiful coastline I was lucky enough to visit... but don't be fooled; it wasn't nearly warm enough there to sunbathe.


ANYWAY. In Noosa there was the usual selection of hostels, but a friend and I plumped for Noosa Flashpackers, which lives up to its name by offering a little bit of backpacker luxury for only a few more dollars (it was the maximum I paid for accommodation in Oz, at $30 per night. I'm writing this from Asia, where the idea of paying $30 per night makes me feel a bit sick). It also meant I got to meet some awesome people, minus a few bad apples/foxes in the henhouse/whichever metaphor you prefer. We spent many an hour playing Mario Kart on the Wii in the TV lounge. It got pretty ugly. I'm not naming any names but you know who you are and dirty tricks won't get you very far in life. Also, 150cc is way too difficult and if you hadn't stolen King Boo every single race maybe I would have won a few more times. Losing isn't my speciality and neither is Dry Bones.


Flashpackers is the kind of place you go for a night and end up staying five or six. It was all too easy to just laze around and relax. For me, this was a new thing. I'm not used to doing nothing. Between my iPhone, netbook, compulsive need to write lists, go to the gym, work, chatter and stay busy, it's simple at home for me never to have a spare moment. Here, on the other side of the world, I had to get used to doing the total opposite. Not only does your body have to slow down, but your mind does. It literally empties because you have so much time - oodles and oodles of time - to untie mental knots, compartmentalise, regroup and reboot. It doesn't mean you work perfectly when you switch yourself back on again, but it sure does feel good to stop and look at your surroundings for a minute. That reminds me of a line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Didn't he say something similar?


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Solo book club

I've had a busy week travelling, but one that also gave me a lot of time on planes and trains to do some more reading. Here are the three I've devoured in that time...

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua - this is OUTSTANDING. Amy Chua is a law professor at Yale University and this memoir discusses her decision to raise her children using the "Chinese Method". For instance, she does not let them go to sleepovers, act in the school play, or get any grade lower than an A. At all. She drills piano and violin practice with them for at least three hours every day and makes sure they grow up speaking Mandarin (even though she doesn't). She raises them in the Jewish faith, even though her Jewish husband is non-practising. It's shocking and extreme, but she writes with such wit and a hint of self-parody that makes this book easy to eat up - and think about for a good while afterwards. Although the premise is simple - her method is controversial and she expects criticism - it's hard to dislike her. Her arguments cover everything from ethnicity and "Western values" to identity and self-belief. The book made me question what hard work is, where motivation comes from and the value of ambition - and whether or not everyone would benefit from a bit of tiger mother mentality!

The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell - I picked this up in Singapore Airport thinking it would be a bit of harmless fluff. Well, it turns out that the worse a book is, the longer it takes to read. Remember how I talked about disappointments? This was one of them. Candace Bushnell created Sex and the City (in book form), which remains one of my favourite TV shows to this day, and here she writes about one of the characters as a teen. Any fan of the series would be interested in reading this prequel, I don't doubt. But it's just terrible. Bushnell rolls out every cliché in the book, making Carrie completely unrecognisable to those who have watched the show. Even the details don't work; there is no continuity, no charm, none of the wit and intelligence of the screen version. The blurb even uses the words "coming of age". Barf. It's devoid of humour, love and characters you can relate to. A complete waste of everyone's time. The second SATC movie was bad enough, so let's just leave things as they are and remember the show as the classic it was, hmm?

A Paper Life by Tatum O'Neal - a random choice yes, but this actress, who was married to John McEnroe and remains the youngest-ever Oscar winner, is oddly fascinating. It's not exactly a ground-breaking memoir (drug addiction, check, horrid parents, check, growing up too fast in Hollywood, check) but it suffices and is, ostensibly at least, very honest.

PS. I know it's wrong, but I still think John McEnroe is really hot. That should surprise nobody.


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Brisbane, Queensland


Hands down the most boring city I've ever visited. No culture, no identity, nothing. A river, some buildings, some shops, some lights, a good library, that's it. Sorry if I've offended anyone who lives there (? - pretty sure this blog's readership isn't that wide).

So dull I fell asleep for three hours in the hostel lounge. In the middle of the afternoon.



Surfers "Paradise", Queensland

I think we've all had days on which we've been disappointed. For Dave, it was the day The A-Team got cancelled. I was particularly gutted when I found out Father Christmas wasn't real. Fi was super down when Ross Kemp left EastEnders, Hannah has never gotten over the end of My So-Called Life and Woodie is devo'd everytime Fi turns on the TV to watch Kendra. So we've all had our fair share.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, my next stop after Byron Bay was Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast, in which I'd only planned to spend one night just to check it out, look around and relax. On the bus there the driver announces, as we enter Queensland from New South Wales, that Castlemaine XXXX beer is absolutelythebee'skneesandeveryonedrinksithere. Great. When the most noticeable thing about somewhere is the type of (shit) beer drunk in the region, you know you're not on to a winner. (Side note: I was trying to think about what drink the UK could be described as/famous for and I've settled for a Blue WKD or, if you're feeling flush, a Cheeky Vimto).

I'd also been told by numerous people that Surfer's Paradise is "totally like Miami or Vegas".

Well, I've been to both, and it's NOTHING like either. NOTHING. It's more like Blackpool. In fact, it's less fun than Blackpool, because when you go there you can at least have a possible brush with death.

I yawned at the skyline

Rolled my eyes at the beach

But I loved this

The thing that was starting to occur to me about Australia is how - and I don't mean this unkindly - prehistoric it all seems. It's just not advanced in the way we take for granted at home, whether that means the internet, the buildings, the general culture... there's just very little of anything. For instance, if you go into a book or music store, there is a) hardly any local material and b) the stuff from elsewhere is thin on the ground and hugely overpriced. I don't really understand why, but I did a little research and it looks like Surfers has only been an actual town for the past 80-odd years. 80 years. That's NOTHING. That means when my Nana was born, it didn't even exist. It's made me look at England's history and culture in a completely different way. Not that I'm using my Nana as the benchmark for whether a culture is old or new, but you catch my drift. (Side note: She is awesome though. I think she's like 85 but doesn't look it at all. She's super classy, had a cat called Piglet - best cat name ever - and loves horror movies. I love her.)

So... as you can tell by now, I was a bit disappointed with Surfers Paradise. It was grey, concrete and tacky. It was also raining heavily, so I put on my awesome little flowery rain mac (thanks mum!) and went for a quick walk. This is when disappointment #2 came in... I'd swapped some music with someone in my room and was really looking forward to listening to Adele's first album, given her second was so good. Guess what? It was rubbish.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Mile-o-meter #3

It's August 16th and I am truly overwhelmed by how much I've seen and done in three months. Let's have a look at how far I've travelled...

Manchester to London: 200 (all figures are approximate - well, according to Google Maps)
London to New York: 3,400
New York to Baltimore: 185
Baltimore to Miami: 1,200
Miami to Charlotte: 750
Charlotte to Los Angeles: 2,450
Los Angeles to Seattle: 1,140
Seattle to Summerland, Canada: 330
Summerland to Whistler: 300
Whistler to Vancouver: 80
Vancouver to Seattle: 155
Seattle to Los Angeles: 1,140
Los Angeles to San Diego: 120
San Diego to Las Vegas: 320
Las Vegas to Los Angeles: 270
Los Angeles to Santa Barbara: 100
Santa Barbara to San Francisco: 325
Total: 12,465 miles
San Francisco to Oakland and back: 32
San Francisco to Los Angeles: 344
Los Angeles to Sydney: 7,500
Sydney to Byron Bay: 450
Byron Bay to Surfers Paradise: 56
Surfers Paradise to Brisbane: 50
Brisbane to Noosa: 87
Noosa to Fraser Island and back: Approx. 120 miles
Noosa to Rainbow Beach: 86
Rainbow Beach to 1770: 224
1770 to Airlie Beach: 439
Airlie Beach to Townsville: 171
Townsville to Magnetic Island and back: 10
Townsville to Mission Beach: 149
Mission Beach to Cairns: 86
Cairns to Sydney (by air): 1,512
Sydney to Denpasar, Bali: 2,873
Denpasar to Singapore: 1,050
Singapore to Kuala Lumpur: 191

Total: 27,895 miles

I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Toodles (yawn)

Byron Bay, New South Wales

So a 12-hour bus ride, while suffering from a bad cold, gets me to Byron Bay, home to Australia's most easterly point and... drum roll please... famous residents such as OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN. WOW. It's still really nippy in Australia and I'm not loving it. Imagine my delight when the girl in the bunk next to me decides to bring a guy back for the night? That's sarcasm, by the way.

The whole thing lasted four excruciating minutes, preceded by her saying "how the f*** did I get so drunk?". What a classy lady. And what a boy of dubious morals. She also banged her head on the bunk bed ladder halfway through. Halfway through the four minutes, that is, not halfway up the ladder. I guess they just assumed everyone was asleep. The next morning, before I checked out early, he told me all about his exciting career plans, which involve "doing that fruit picking thing in Australia so I can stay for another year". And to think, ladies and gentlemen, that students now have to pay a whopping £9,000 per year so that they can graduate and then hit the heady heights of a banana plantation.

Enough of the bile. But Australia's pretty odd in that it attracts A LOT of young Brits who basically drink their way up the east coast. That, to me, isn't travelling. Anyone can book a plane ticket and a bus pass, buy some boxed wine (nicknamed goon in Oz, it's a badge of pride if you can survive a goon hangover. Mine was pretty horrendous, I have to admit. But then again the boxes are 4.4 litres. Who needs 4.4 litres of wine?). I therefore realised I'd have to be pretty careful about the kind of hostels I stayed in, because some were specifically full of people who were still clearly getting excited about drinking without mummy and daddy around, while others were chilled and fun.

Speaking of which, I stayed at another hostel for the next three nights in Byron Bay, and it was really good. The hostel was kind of open plan, with a great communal area, so after meeting some people we generally just hung out. I later discovered that someone who I thought was really cool was convinced I had merely "tolerated them". It must have been that complete bitch stare my friends tell me I've got - looks like it's my default setting...

In Byron Bay, I have to admit, I didn't do a whole lot. It's a cute little beach town and entirely pleasant on the eyes. Walking up to the lighthouse also provided some great views, but because I was a little on the poorly side I just took it easy and relaxed. There is a place lots of people go nearby called Nimbin, which is like a hippy town in which you can eat "special" cookies (I'll leave you to guess why they're special). I didn't go, but apparently it's pretty good fun.

Here's the view from halfway up the lighthouse path:


And here's the lighthouse (obviously):

Gorgeous views:

And on the beach:



Saturday, 13 August 2011

Solo book club

Hostels are pretty neat in that there is usually a shelf of books from which you can exchange something you've already read. Here is a list of what I've eaten up so far, in case you have read them, or were thinking of doing so. Comments/abuse welcome! I'll add to it as I read more.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld - Described as "The Secret History meets The OC". I can assure you it is similar to neither. It really irritates me when book jackets make crude comparisons, especially when they're utter hogwash. The Secret History is one of my favourite books and this one doesn't deserve the comparison. Boring, contrived and just plain lazy writing made this a mis-step for me.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson - I'm late on the bandwagon with these books but having now read the first two, I get why they're so popular. You can devour them in a couple of sittings. Ideal beach reads, if not slightly graphic for my taste. By the end of the second, you have to suspend your belief a wee bit too much for them to become classics - and I'm going to controversially say now that I think they've only really become so popular because the author died unexpectedly and he's therefore been made into some sort of literary legend - but I'm looking forward to reading the third and final instalment.

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson - See above.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - yes it's about a 60-something-year-old who lusts after an 11-year-old, no it's not entirely pleasant, but it's a classic for a reason and it's a tough one to read. I enjoyed it, but purely from a (kill me now, I don't mean to sound super-pretentious) literary perspective.

My Life in France by Julia Child - only my sister will know why this American chef makes me laugh! This book chronicles her move to Paris and adventures learning the art of cooking the finest French food. It's a very positive, if not slightly patchy account, but makes your mouth water with every meal she describes. The book is easy to digest (pun absolutely intended) and also serves as a sweet love story.


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - as with most Booker Prize nominees, this is light on humour and heavy on - note the inverted commas - "meaning". A love story with a touch of the gothic and a few pretentious hints here and there, it plods along quite nicely but never really gets going. I have a feeling my enjoyment - or potential enjoyment - of it was ruined by the fact Keira Knightley's face was plastered all over the book jacket. It's been described as "a dystopian science-fiction thriller" which, in my view, is grossly exaggerating its excitement level. I also hear the phrase "dystopian hell" used to describe a lot of things (albeit by myself, in my head, and I'm usually referring to the gym or the waiting room at the doctors' surgery), so it means little to nothing when a book critic wheels it out.

God Bless America by Piers Morgan - I don't usually like people whose faces remind me of overcooked meat (Harry Redknapp is an exception, no I don't fancy him by the way) but this is a very funny account of the ex-tabloid editor's attempt to crack the States and, if you've read The Insider, a good conclusion following his sacking.

Next on the list: Why Men Marry Bitches and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

If you have any recommendations, let me know!


Bondi Beach, New South Wales


I don't know if I was just in a generally blah mood but something about Australia so far just wasn't checking the boxes for me. So, I took a short bus ride to Bondi Beach, a cute town about eight kilometres from the centre of Sydney. I realise now there are more activities and places to go in and around Sydney than I chose to visit. But I only had a few days so I thought Bondi Beach would be worth a look.

View Larger Map

It wasn't. I'm glad I didn't miss out on going, but it's nothing special. I face the wrath of many Australia-lovers when I say this, but I just didn't see the attraction. There weren't even any hot surfers around. Now, remember that I've visited Australia during its winter. This means yes, it's sunny, but it's also nippy as hell and not nearly warm enough to sunbathe.

The beach itself is pretty picturesque, but the little town is surprisingly run-down and completely uninspiring. I have a feeling that it's one of those places in which you could have a really fun time and you'd therefore love it, but I had a stroll around and was back on the bus about an hour later. (Sidenote: I finally had a bit of time in Australia to catch up on my reading. I've written a separate post on those I have read and what I thought of them, if you're interested).

One thing I did like, however, was the artwork on the walls and steps next to the beach. This was my favourite:


There was some awesome graffiti and some touching murals dedicated to the Aussies caught up in the Bali bomb (Bali is a big Aussie holiday spot).






I also spotted what I think was another Banksy, but I can't be certain it was real.


Maybe someone can enlighten me as to why Australia wasn't OHMYGODLIKESUPERAMAZING thus far? Don't get me wrong, it's pleasant enough, but I can think of at least 50 places I've enjoyed more. In retrospect, I wish I'd taken the opportunity to visit Melbourne - but I can go back and do that another time!