Monday, 30 December 2013

Sydney and its surroundings... a medley

Over the last week, I've helped prepare for and attended a wedding* in the Sutton Forest, spent a couple of days discovering the area around Jervis Bay, enjoyed a family Christmas in Sydney, explored the city a little, visited the Blue Mountains and even tried my best to surf at Manly Beach.

So yes, it's been a bit manic, but we've found some fantastic places, all of which are fairly easily accessible from Sydney...

Fitzroy Falls-

On our way from the wedding venue to Jervis Bay, we stopped for a little walk along to Fitzroy Falls. The water itself wasn't doing much, but look at the view!

Jervis Bay and around-

Doing the tourist thing on the golf course.
Jervis Bay is around 200km down the coast from Sydney. You could hitch, we just bypassed it on our way down to Melbourne as we knew we were coming back.

Dan's parents, Rod and Janet, were kind enough to take us to stay in a house near Jervis Bay just after the wedding. This gave us a little time to explore Booderee National Park and even spot our first kangaroos.

Everybody keeps telling me that kangaroos are everywhere in Australia, but despite looking quite desperately, we hadn't yet managed to spot any. As with the koalas however, I was a little embarrassed by my initial excitement as we came across more and more over the next couple of days. If you're in the area and haven't had any luck yet, a sure place to find them is on the golf course at Sanctuary Point.

Being driven around in a hire car, it was pretty easy for us to find some of the nicest beaches, but if you don't
have that luxury, there are enough people around that it shouldn't be too hard to get a lift.

My personal favorite was Cave Beach. Being a little walk away from the carpark seems too weed out many of the area's less intrepid tourists, leaving us of the more robust variety to relax in peace, swim in the surf and on this occasion ponder the meaning of these aboriginal objects (any ideas?) standing in the sand.

Cave Beach
Green Patch

Other uncrowded beaches include Green Patch and Murray Beach, which are both similar in their pale sand, clear water and lining of forest. From Murray Beach, you can walk to Governors Head and look across to Bowen Island  to spot the little penguins. One of our hitchhiking drivers told us that if you go here in the evening you'll see them fishing. We debated swimming across to get a better view, but I decided that if we were going to be stupid enough to face the possibility
 of having to have the coastguards called out, then I'd rather Dan's parents weren't there to witness it.

Hyams Beach, recommended to us by Carmel, was a little less quiet than the others we found, but (according to the locals) it has the whitest sand on Earth. In fact, on an overcast day when the sky and sea are just as light as the sand, the whole effect is very surreal and you feel as if you are wandering around in some sort of blindingly bright dream.

Hyams Beach- I had to shut out a lot of the light as my camera was also blinded!

My main advise for visiting Hyams beach, other than trying not to go in holiday season, is to wear sunglasses as I'm pretty sure I've gained a wrinkle from the squinting.

Hyams Beach

A family Christmas in Sydney-

Being  in Sydney for Christmas was strange as I've never been away from my family/England for these festivities, but Bridget's family made us really welcome and it was interesting to see how it's done on the other side of the globe. Comfortingly, excluding the temperature, the day was a similar whirlwind of the present exchanging, game playing and glutenous eating that I'm used to back home. The all-important dinner, lovingly prepared by a couple of hardworking ladies, was a little different than what we would traditionally have in Britain, but very tasty and it's pretty obvious why salad is more popular than roast potatoes in this heat. It was hard enough to move afterwards even without the pigs in blankets!

There were also a couple of nice traditions that I hadn't encountered before... firstly, and most excitingly for a poverty stricken vagabond like myself, was the distribution of scratchcards to everyone at the table. The rules are that if you win over $500 (I think) then you share it with the table, but anything less than that you keep. I WON $10!!! So yes, that was very exciting indeed. The other tradition, was to hide a set of fortune coins in everyone's Christmas pudding. Now, I've come across people who hide one coin before, but this set, with different pieces for things like 'marriage', 'wealth' and 'peace' make everyone at the table feel like they are the lucky one (Dan and I were happy to avoid the marriage coin- there have been enough comments since Ben and Bridget's wedding as it was!). They didn't set the pudding on fire, but then Australians aren't known for wasting their alcohol.

Exploring the city on Boxing Day- so much blue sky!

The Blue Mountains-

The view from the Three Sisters lookout platform.

 A shiny bug! :)
The endangered Blue Mountains Tree Gnome.
Katoomba is a two hour ($12 return) train journey from Sydney Central.

Dan and I had one spare day before we had to fly out, so we set out 'early'**. A day isn't long enough to do the Blue Mountains justice, but we had a good (if a bit sweaty) time walking from the Three Sisters, down the Giant Steps (there's  more than 800 of them), through the rainforest below and then up more steps the other side. The Three Sisters lookout platform was absolutely rammed with tourists (it is holiday season after all), but as usual, the further we walked, the less people we found,so that seems to be the way to escape.

I'd imagine you'd have a much more peaceful time elsewhere in the Blue Mountains if you had longer to explore. It would also be a great place to hike and camp as there are plenty of trails and alternative places to explore.

The end of our time in Oz (for now)...

Back in Sydney, Ben and Bridget brightened our end of holiday blues by taking us for an early morning surf on Manly Beach. The waves were pretty small, but as the only person there who really had no clue about what they were doing, I was secretly glad... Manly seems like a pretty cool area of town to live in (I can imagine commuting to work on the ferry across Sydney Harbour would be a difficult thing to get tired of) so I hope Ben and Bridget move there eventually and we can visit again!

An accidental but (I thought) rather artistic shot of the surf at Manly Beach. I'm sorry but my battery died soon after!

Now, going a little stir crazy in Sydney airport (which has free wi-fi by the way), I'm tentatively considering how feasible hitchhiking around the whole of Australia would be. Next time I'm in the area...

*Dan's brother Ben was getting married to the lovely Bridget (hence the actual important reason behind our trip). Congratulations guys, your wedding was beautiful and I'm so happy I was able to be a part of it.
**Ok, I think it might have been more like 10.30am...

Do you have any other suggestions for escaping the city? Leave a comment below. :)

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Hitchhiking in Australia- some Feathery tips...

1. Don't look like a tramp! People can be pretty suspicious and if they think you might be smelly, thieving or murderous, you've got no chance. Don't smoke as it's really frowned upon by a lot of people here and if you're a mixed couple, get the girl to stand in front (we are less intimidating and people tend to feel a bit more sorry for us).

2. Don't BE smelly (or thieving and murderous). You'll give us a bad name and people will make excuses to get you out of their car early.

3. Keep on smiling however fed up you're feeling- nobody is going to pick up a grumpy hitchhiker. If you have time, make a humorous sign to hold up to attract their attention.

4. Make sure you actually are good company once you get a lift. Ask lots of questions (in a non-interigatory fashion) to avoid awkward silences.

  • 'Do you live around here?
  • 'Do you like the area?'
  • 'Do you see many hitchhikers around here?'
  • 'Ever done any hitchhiking yourself?' -most people who pick you up will have done- hopefully it will spark them off on a story.
  • 'What made you decide to stop?'
5. Stand at the beginning of a space long enough for cars to pull in off the road without being in danger of the car behind smashing into them. This is obviously particularly important on fast highways and don't even try to hitch from the massive freeways around city centers unless you want to die.

6. Don't stand in the road. I'm pretty sure it's illegal and even if not, just pretty damn stupid. 

7. If you're having trouble getting a lift, be flexible. Is there a nearby town in another direction that it might be easier to get a lift from?

8. Be patient. You're getting a free ride- it's not supposed to be that easy.

9. Be safe! Mixed gender couples work best for maximum safety/amount of lifts, but two people is always better than one.

10. If you feel unsafe, ask them to stop... if they won't and you're really scared, one man suggested to us that we should slam the handbrake on and run in different directions. I'm not sure how cool I am condoning that- make sure there are no cars behind! Probably a better suggestion would be to either make, or pretend to make, a phonecall to somebody saying where you are. The emergency number is 000 here, but don't worry, you really wont need it!

For some detailed information have a look on-

Phantom Falls, Lorne, Australia

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Why you should never pay to see the Great Ocean Road...

There are a variety of options if you want to see the Great Ocean Road. Obviously the ideal choice would be to drive, but for those of us on the really frayed shoe-string budget, byeing or renting a car is pretty much out of the question. Hitchhiking on the other hand, is affordable (obviously) and unbelievably easy in this area- we barely had to wait more than ten minutes for a ride.

Accommodation in Australia is always pretty expensive and being so popular, the Great Ocean Road is especially bad. Even a non-powered tent pitch in a crappy caravan park can be $40. Thankfully we actually found some legitimate free campsites in the national parks along here, so that wasn’t a problem either. To find these, you might want to download an app called wikicamp, as we've been told  this is really helpful.

River by Allenvale Mile campsite.
With accommodation and travel available for free, there is really no need to bust your budget ticking off this famous road-trip from your bucket list. It was so easy that we were almost a bit bored in comparison to our adventure between Sydney and Melbourne… but we did get to meet some lovely people, spot a lot of exciting wildlife and see this coastline for nothing more than the price of our food. 

By Allenvale.
We began our excursion with a seven dollar train ride to Geelong (good luck to you if you fancy hitching out of Melbourne’s city centre) and, as we were running pretty late already decided to catch a bus from there to Torquay and the beginning of the Great Ocean Road. To our delight, the bus’s swipe-in system was broken and we got a free ride, but the driver wasn’t too optimistic about our chances of hitching to our first free campsite that night and recommended we get another bus. I guess he was just doing his job as we only had to wait ten minutes before our first lift. The lady who picked us up was exactly the last sort of person I would expect to stop; well-dressed, alone and driving a pretty nice car, but to our surprise she knew of a free campsite in Lorne. Allenvale Mile, buried deep in the forest, was where we spotted our first koala. Now we’ve seen so many that our excitement at that one is a bit embarrassing, but it was a nice way to start the journey. 

Allenvale Mile Campsite- I was a bit in love with these ducks...

We stopped for lunch in Apollo Bay.
From here, we never had a problem finding lifts out of the campsites every morning. That night, we met some people who were driving West, so our morning was sorted (this is what I mean about it being easy) and after we left them, our second ride took us all the way to Cape Otway. These international students from Melbourne university drove past us, turned around to come back and pick us up and then had to turn round again ten minutes up the road when we realised that we’d left Dan’s camera bag (containing the obvious camera, but also all his money and a microphone with all of his sound files saved on it). It was a tense journey back, but the inhabitants of Wye River are obviously a trustworthy bunch and it was still sitting there on the bench. 

If you want to see a koala, the road down to Cape Otway is the place to do it. Unfortunately, this information is freely given out from tourist information centres and half of Victoria’s visitors that day had beaten us there. People were driving five kilometers an hour in zig-zags, straining their necks to look up in the trees, parking up willy-nilly and running across the road regardless of irritated local drivers. The koalas seemed exhausted, but I’m pretty sure that’s normal anyway.


From Cape Otway, Australia’s most southerly point and home of ‘Australia’s most significant lighthouse’ which we didn’t pay to have the privilege of seeing, Dan and I began the somewhat exhausting trek to Blanket Bay. If you’re hitching, it would be best to get dropped off at the entrance of Blanket Bay Road and either wait (what could be a rather long time) for a lift down there or brave the five kilometre trek on foot. This campsite is free apart from in holiday season, has allocated fire pits and is situated pretty much right on the beach, so there’s no need to pay to stay down at the Cape Otway.

Blanket Bay
At Blanket Bay, we were befriended by a German man named Ralph* who was again driving West the next morning. With Ralph, we stopped by Johanna Beach (to check out our campsite for that evening), the misleadingly named Prince‘town’ (and all four buildings it consisted of), the Twelve Apostles and finally Port Campbell. I was a bit disappointed by this stretch of the road. If half of Vicoria’s tourists are checking out the koalas, the other half were certainly crammed along the viewing platform at the Twelve Apostles. Pretty much anywhere with a viewing platform is bad news. The cliffs are incredible, but there are better places to look at the than here. Try and find a less publicised track down to one of the beaches and you might get to experience them in a little bit of peace. Failing that, I’d go early in the morning if you can find a lift with somebody going to work or something.

A few apostles, carefully cutting out everyone else's extended camera arms.

With Port Campbell being little to write home about either (just a typical touristy beach town), we were happy to head back to the wilder Johanna for the evening. This beach was my favourite since we stayed at Longswamp a week ago and we were actually allowed to camp here for free.

Johanna Beach is beautiful.
After a lazy morning and a short attempt at swimming (the waves are crazy down there), we decided to try out a little bit of the Great Ocean Walk** to Castle Cove. Unfortunately, this section wasn’t quite as short as we thought and we actually struggled to get back before dark. Over-excitable as ever, I would have done the whole thing twice for a chance to see the porcupine and wallabies that surprised us along the way… 

'This is me in a forest' ...There were some very strange plants along the path.

Castle Cove

Johanna Beach

Noisy kookaburras at Allenvale Mile. 
Our lucky streak with the lifts continued for the next couple of days as we wove our way back to Lorne and finally Melbourne thanks to the kindness of people we met along the way. Sophie and Freeman, our final drivers and friends for an evening around the fire and morning in the sea, were kind enough to drive us strait back to Melbourne’s central station, so it really couldn’t have been easier.***

*Hi there Ralph if you’re reading this.
**The Great Ocean Walk goes from Apollo Bay to the Twelve Apostles, but you have to pay for a camping permit which seems pretty stupid as some of the campsites are just right next to the free ones anyway. 
***Thanks guys! Sophie has a pretty awesome tumblr-

Monday, 16 December 2013

Melbourne, its Street Art and why it would be cool to live there…

We were lucky enough to have friends to stay with in Melbourne. Although I hadn’t seen Karl since I was fifteen, and had never even met his wife Sarah, they took our unpredictable plans in their stride and made us feel at home even when we arrived a whole day early and probably not smelling too fresh. It was amazing to have some nice food, a comfy bed and two whole nights sleep without needing to worry if we were going to be turfed out at any moment (hopefully we weren’t irritating enough to drive them to that!).

Karl and Sarah's house

...and some parrots in their garden

Once we’d recuperated a little, Dan and I were keen to explore. Melbourne is a quirky city and everything from the architecture to the art on the streets seems to have been designed to make you look twice. There was a projector right by the railway station which played funny short films to the square below, a forest of tiny Christmas trees and so much reflective glass in the buildings that the city seemed blue.

There are some interesting sculptures, a lot of which are very small and often hidden in places you wouldn't expect to find them...

Others, like this strange beast by the river, you can't miss...

A lady stopped to explain to us that the sculpture below represents the scroll upon which thousands of women signed a petition to be allowed the vote. 

Even more common throughout Melbourne is the colourful graffiti which adorns every blank wall outside of the Central Business District. A lot of it is the classic scribbled tags and scrawled penises of bored teenagers, but amongst those are some fantastic murals. We found a lot of these on and around Smith Street, which seems to be Melbourne’s answer to London’s Camden. It's also the place to go if you want a cheap bite to eat. N. Lee Bakery had the most reasonable food we’ve found since arriving in Australia.

Smith street is home to the country's most exciting toilet- according to Dan, it sings to you on the inside!

Also a variety of space men...

There seem to be a lot of fish...

...and even a whale!

Something strange is hiding in almost every street corner.

Aside from its quirky nature, Melbourne is very open and green. It seems to be more space to breath than most other cities and I'm looking forward to returning once we have finished hitchhiking along the Great Ocean Road.