The Wonder of Down Under

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We set off from Brisbane heading for the famous Gold Coast and decided that the Tourist Park in Main Beach would be our home for a few days. You could tell we had moved closer to the big cities again as the prices of everything had dramatically increased. We spent the day just hanging out on the beautiful beach that was directly opposite our camp grounds and had a quite night in as we had a big Saturday planned.

One of the most famous beaches on the East Coast of Australia is Surfer’s Paradise so we made a 3 Km pilgrimage to the long beach below the famous skyscrapers. It was a pretty nice city, a little reminiscent of a European holiday resort and there also seemed to be plenty of money knocking around with some lovely places to live, fast cars and big boats. Perhaps one of the funniest moments on the trip was when unexpectedly Rel accused a sleeping Matt of throwing water on her back. Unfortunately for our dear Rel it wasn’t water but in fact one of the local seagull’s had decided to poop a thick green mess all down her back. Amongst the screams of panic and comments such as, “you’ll have to go and wash yourself in the sea!” and “have you got any tissues?” the Group of lads sat in front of us thought she had actually pooped herself, especially when the first thing she did was squat in the ocean when she got in there (only to be knocked over by a huge wave, much to Caroline and my amusement). The lads were so intrigued that one of them went and asked her if she had indeed followed through. Rel was happy to put them straight but still mightily embarrassed.

That night we went to The Fiddler’s Irish Pub and persuaded them to find Derby v Blackpool on Aussie Setanta. After a lot of faffing they turned it over and we were already 0-1 down. However, what unfolded after that was a performance from my team unrecognisable from the rabble I had left behind, cheers Steeeve. It ended with a thumping 5-1 win for us Rams which delighted me and also Caroline because of her hatred of the Donkey Lashes (Blackpool are Preston’s hated rivals). We watched Derby win and Man U loose to the Toon whilst the girls kept getting chatted up by random Aussie blokes even though we were sat right there. Much to Matt’s delight we then watched Liverpool demolish West Ham.

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We spent day lazing on the beach having extended our time on The Gold Coast by an extra day ensuring we could attend ‘Christmas Carols on the beach’ which Caroline and Rel had told us would be brilliant. Assuming they’d done all the research necessary to make our extra day worthwhile we headed down to the beach as the sun was going down looking forward to hearing Silent night in Surfer’s Paradise at sundown. When we got to the beach it was empty apart from a few hardy surfers. It turned out it was carols at Main Beach Plaza, a local shopping centre!! Undeterred and led by Caroline and her insatiable appetite for all things Christmas we went to the plaza and watched three hours of very weird singing and dancing designed for the children of the town, it was like sitting through an extended Christmas episode of Rainbow. It wasn’t quite what we had expected so Rel and I amused ourselves with by stroking all the dogs that were there, mostly in Christmas fancy dress!!

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We set off the next day to drive to Byron Bay to stay at a Nomads hostel called The Arts Factory. Which was a huge hostel, where we would be sleeping in their car park for three days. Byron Bay is a really nice little town that reminds me of Glastonbury without the mud and pear cider. A very relaxed atmosphere where the town is made up of rich Aussies, backpackers, hippies, musicians, religious folk and surfers! There are some really great bars and happy hours that we took advantage of and even a backpackers bar (Cheeky Monkeys) where we found our evening dinner for only $5 each which was sensational value in any country but amazing considering this was Australia. The food was surprisingly good and plentiful. So good (cheap) in fact we came back the next day just so the two Northern Girls could have sausage and mash.

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Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worst so whilst Caz and Matt tried to improve their surfing skills further, I went to Crossfit Byron Bay and Rel went Secret Santa shopping and tried to keep warm. It is a lovely beach at Byron but with the cloud it was reminiscent of trying to sunbathe in Cornwall in April! We wandered around town and saw an amazing little band called Timberwolf playing a gig in the street. Earlier had watched a guy called Tom Francis do a great little bit of busking. It’s a very arty town where busking is encouraged and the standard is exceptionally high.

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Our next long driving day was a monster, 900km drive from Byron to Blue Mountains outside Sydney. It started with an attempted Sunrise at the Lighthouse which is Australia’s most Easterly point. It was a bit cloudy but still made for a great picture. The drive was long but kept interesting by animal spotting, we saw kangaroos and camels. We drove to a campsite at Emu Plains after a very long day and were told it was full, which was a bit of a blow but worked out well for us in the end as we went to a Town Club in Richmond and got to stay in an amazing Wanderest campsite for only $5. If only there has been more of these we could have saved hundreds of dollars. It was basically a huge crown green bowls club which had 3 bars, two restaurants, hairdressers and gym.

The Blue Mountains were a place we hadn’t really been that aware of until the recent bush fires which had dominated the news whilst we were in New Zealand, fortunately they had now been put out and were no longer a danger. Our first stop was Wentworth Falls for a view over the vast green canopy of Eucalyptus trees. It is these trees that turn the sky a blue colour with the vapour from their leaves, hence the name, Blue Mountains. Highlight of the day was undoubtably our walk from our campsite in Katoomba to the lookout over the Three Sisters, an iconic rock formation. It was so vast up there with some great colours, especially at sunset.

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The next stop on our road trip was to be Wagga Wagga (just pronounced Wogga apparently). Its been a bit of a pilgrimage to this place as it was a completely random town that Caroline saw on the map about 4 months ago and decided we had to go visit it!! The added bonus of Wagga was that it was a Saturday so we decided this was to be an evening out in this strange Aussie city. It turned out to be a lot bigger than we thought and we had a belting evening. After watching some really good live music until about 11, we were contemplating calling it a night, this however is never a possibility when you go out with chief of the ‘Never Enough Club’ (Caroline) so we headed off to a huge bar that was pumping out some terrible music (Scooter). Inside it was like a maze of different rooms and bars, scarily enough turns out it used to be Australia’s 4th most violent bar which explained the plastic glasses after 9pm! We managed to avoid any trouble and Matt and I kept an eye on the Man City v Arsenal match on the TV behind the bar. However this was enough to alert the local police and bouncer that we were either insane or very drunk. The police officers in the bar sent the bouncer over to see if Matt was intoxicated because he was watching the footy!! The bouncer was cool enough and knew we were just English, however the policeman wasn’t convinced and came to speak to a pretty sober Matt. When asked if he was drunk Matt looked at him with his eyes wide open and uttered the following words,”Shit, you’ve got a gun!” The officer wasn’t entertained but after a quick grilling he realised we weren’t the ones to be worried about and were just a group of football addicted English!

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About a week previous we had changed our route from going inland to what we realised would never be the true outback and instead decided to take on one of the most famous drives in the world, the Great Ocean Road. This was to begin in a great little surf town named Torquay, where Rip Curl’s headquarters were and loads of other surf shops. The owner of the backpackers hostel we stayed in was an ex-guide for the road so told us all the best places to stop and clued us up on some fascinating history behind the road. He told us that when the Australian servicemen from WWII returned at the end of the war there weren’t enough jobs for them as all the women and people who had not been to fight had filled them. So the Government came up with the idea to build this great costal road in order to give them something constructive to do. They had done a great job and it was a really beautiful drive of winding roads with spectacular coastlines. We stopped every now and then to take some photos including the actual lighthouse from the TV show Round the Twist that we all loved as kids. One secret little spot we’d been told about was absolutely incredible. It was a campsite in Kennett River. First up there were dozens of Lorikeets, Parrots and Rozellas (beautiful parrot type birds) which were so tame that they would eat out of your hand and amusingly they would also often land on your head or shoulders. Whilst I was entertaining myself with them the girls had disappeared and soon scurried back telling to leave the birds as there was something much better in the campsite. When we got there the was a little Koala only 10 feet up a eucalyptus tree munching on the leaves. It was amazing to see this iconic animal so close up and after about half an hour of taking photos we started feeding the birds again. The koala was obviously jealous that we weren’t paying it any attention anymore and clambered down the tree right in front of us. This little bear (actually marsupial) was now on the ground and began walking around searching for another tree to climb. It must be said when on the floor these animals are a lot less cute. It walked on all fours and looked like an old little dog riddled with arthritis, it was really weird looking at it on the floor!!

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After our koala experience we got back in the camper and were bombarded with amazing view after amazing view. None more amazing than the iconic Twelve Apostles rock formations. They are one of the famous landmarks of the world you always see in every travel book and it had to be said it was absolutely stunning and didn’t disappoint. We must’ve spent a good hour taking photos there. After that we stopped at even more places such as The Arch, London Bridge and The Grotto. We spent the night in a small town called Apollo Bay in the car park of a strange hostel which was a complex of old buildings and it felt like we were staying at your Grandma’s house!

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As this was to be our first Christmas away from England we wanted it to still be traditional even if it was about 30 degrees hotter and so after finishing off the Great Ocean Road we hunted out a campsite that had a oven so we could make a god old fashioned traditional Christmas dinner. When your starter is mulled wine you know you are onto a winner. Earlier that day Matt and I had raided a local butchers and had managed to get some huge turkey breasts, sausage and bacon whilst the ladies had been in the supermarket sourcing the veggies, potatoes (for roasting), gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing and not forgetting sprouts. The campsite we had chosen was perfect as we had a huge kitchen pretty much to ourselves and a great big table complete with decorations and crackers to eat it all off. We all cooked and made a really beautiful Christmas dinner on this our ‘unofficial Christmas Day’. After we were all stuffed we retired back to Fritzy (the campervan) and opened our Secret Santa pressies. Matt got a bottle of beer and a postcard, Caroline a toothbrush and a miniature surfboard, Rel a koala shaped pencil case and a bracelet and I was the very lucky recipient of a tub of mixed nuts and a bracelet. With a $5 limit on the pressies we had all done really well and like the saying goes “it’s the thought that counts”. We had managed to have a really lovely Unofficial Christmas Day and must’ve listened to Matt’s Xmas playlist approximately 78 times in the last 17 days to get us in the mood (apparently)! Before bed we even managed to squeeze in a special screening of Elf on Matt’s laptop.

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We drove on the dull highway back to Melbourne as it was much quicker and had a final night out in the Fitzroy area of the city. It was amazing and full of some of the coolest bars I’ve ever seen. The highlight was a bar called Naked for Satan with a roof terrace overlooking the whole city. We also finished our ferocious pool competition with Team Taz (Tom and Caz) beating Team Rat (Rel and Matt) convincingly in the end!! 13-10

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After a really incredible month together in our little campervan we said an emotional farewell to our mates Rel and Matt (Team Rat) and dropped them at the airport so they could go back to the UK in time for Christmas. It had been such an amazing month that none of us will forget in a hurry and I think it’s fair to say we certainly are a lot closer to each other now than when we started!! We had snorkelled in the Great Barrier Reef, seen wild crocodiles, driven a pink car around a crazy island, feed rock wallabies by hand, sailed The Whitsunday’s, learnt to surf, driven 6,000 kilometres, seen incredible places, nearly been arrested and had Christmas Day all whilst having a great laugh along the way. We were really sad that they had had to leave us and a little confused about it just being the two of us again.

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Caroline and I drove to a little suburb of Melbourne called St Kilda to stay with a close family friend, Glen and his girlfriend Rani. They were so unbelievably kind to us and offered a bed in their house for 3 nights which felt amazing after a month sleeping in the sweaty camper van (Fritzy) for the last 4 weeks. The treated us to a lovely BBQ and we spent a great evening eating and drinking outside in their lovely garden.

The next morning we went into Melbourne City centre and took in all the sights. It’s such a great city full of fascinating little alleyways all with amazing graffiti covered walls. Amongst them were some great shops, restaurants and cafés, with many of them so well hidden you may never find them. We spent a great hour in a free exhibition in the ACIM museum about the history of moving images. It had all the old computer games and tv programs and it even had one of the cars from Mad Max, which was special for me as it is one of the first films I can ever remember watching with my Dad. We could have spent a whole day there but moved on to see the rest of the city.

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Near to where we were staying was the funky Chapel Street area of St Kilda so on Saturday morning we went on our own eating tour and had paella, healthy grilled burgers and dumplings. In the evening Rani rustled up some sensational pizzas which she somehow cooked on the BBQ and we went to their local for a few Christmas beers. To catch up with Glen and get to know Rani was really lovely.

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Sadly we had to leave Melbourne for Sydney (although that is a pretty good reason) and we drove to a free campsite 4 hours away. That night was to be our last in our third campervan so far this trip and Fritzy had been great to us. Unfortunately the last night sleeping in him was to be a bad one as we got absolutely nailed by flies, there must’ve been 2,000 that got into our van through the fly-screens and gave us a really depressing last night’s sleep!! As soon as the sun was up we cleared up all the dead little midges and got on our way to the big city where we going to be spending Christmas (the Official one) and New Years Eve which we were incredibly excited about.

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As usual we have a tonne of other photos for you to check out if you fancy. Please click here!

Sending you all our love and thinking about all our friends and family over the Christmas period.

Tommy and Caz

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