Friday, April 11, 2014

T-Minus 21

Recently I was musing about the less-than-stellar jobs backpackers often do to keep our travel funds topped up. I concluded by saying that although the work isn't always fun, it's worth it, and it is (the proof is in the pudding turtle-filled ocean!) But after an epic week of gallivanting around Queensland it's back to the grind (on my own for the time being, as Ben's visa is up whereas mine's valid for another month) and I'm already counting down the days until my next bout of travelling begins (21 days to be exact.)

Here's what's happening:

- Working in Manly for the next three weeks (living in a new flat with four new housemates: an Italian guy and three girls from Finland/Germany/England) and saving up as many dollars as possible
- Flying to Siem Reap, Cambodia on May 3, where I'll be riding in tuktuks and 
visiting friends for a week
- Flying to Paris on May 11, where I'll meet up with Ben and spend a few days eating baguettes and drinking wine under the Eiffel Tower, or something equally as stereotypical
- Taking the train to London and meeting my family, who fly in on May 16
- Travelling around England/Scotland/Italy with my family for three weeks
- Spending the rest of the summer in Ben's hometown of Shrewsbury (he has to be home this summer to be in his friend's wedding!) with a little Euro travel/visiting friends thrown in as well hopefully!
- After that, who knows? Teaching in Korea perhaps... 

Needless to say I'm beyond excited for these upcoming plans and to get back into 'travel mode' for a longer period of time. But I need to make a couple more coffees and clear a few more tables before then... T-minus 21 days until it all begins!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Adventures in FNQ

After a few amazing dives on the Great Barrier Reef, our week in FNQ (Far North Queensland) was off to a fantastic start! 

We spent two nights in Cairns (a rather unremarkable city in my opinion, but a good jump off point to the Reef) then picked up our rented campervan and headed north. Now we were set on seeing crocodiles in Queensland, but in case we didn't see one in the wild (spoiler alert: we didn't) we decided to stop at a crocodile farm (which sounds evil but apparently it's sustainable? I'm still undecided) to have a look at these guys. Boy are they SCARY... but it was cool to get a look at them up close.

That night we parked the camper in a nice, quiet spot near a sugar cane field. Perfect location for a good night's sleep... or so we thought. As soon as the sun went down, the bugs came out to play. Not just one or two - I'm talking hoards. Armies even. It was war: them VS us. And we didn't stand a chance. So into the camper we went. They can't get us in here, we thought to ourselves smugly. But our triumph was short lived, because within minutes we realized we had another problem on our hands: The heat. The stifling, humid, unbearable heat which, with the windows closed to keep the bugs at bay, had us basically suffocated. We woke up every couple of hours throughout the night, drenched in sweat and gasping for air. (This experience prompted us to buy something that would normally seem ridiculous but considering the circumstances made perfect sense... see the photo below)

Cooling off the next night with our rad new fans

Despite nearly suffocating to death, we made it through the night and first thing the next morning we went to Mossman Gorge. Situated in the Daintree Rainforest, a massive national park in FNQ, the Gorge is not only a sacred Indigenous site but also a perfect spot to have a swim and cool off.

After a refreshing swim in the Gorge, we drove further north all the way to Cape Tribulation, a small, remote locality in the Daintree Rainforest. With a population of only a few hundred people, there wasn't much more in Cape Trib than a few shops, a primary school and a handful of small resorts/hostels/campgrounds. 

Cape Tribulation can be as relaxed or as full on as you want it to be. We decided to make the most of our time and do a couple of day trips while we were there. The first was a guided kayak trip, where a small group of us ventured through mangrove trees and some pretty rough waves, before arriving at a beautiful, coconut-covered beach. 

We would have loved to go diving as well but as there are no dive companies in Cape Trib, the second trip we opted for was snorkelling out on the reef. I thought I might be disappointed considering we had just been diving, but I think I actually enjoyed the snorkelling more! This part of the Great Barrier Reef is far less trafficked (we were the only boat out there that day!) and therefore more intact, resulting in more marine life to see - including TURTLES!!!

Seeing the turtles up close and swimming beside them was without a doubt one of the coolest moments of my life. They are so incredibly calm and graceful, you can't help but be just a little awestruck by them.

But the amazing wildlife didn't stop in the ocean - there was plenty to see on land as well. Ever heard of a cassowary? I hadn't before this trip but it's basically an enormous, colourful ostrich. They're rare to see in the wild, but luck must have been on our side because Ben and I saw four in one day (baby ones too!) They have to be some of the most unique looking animals in the world. 

On top of all this incredible array of wildlife, I also had the best fruit ice cream I've ever tasted at the Daintree Ice Cream Company (also with the best view I've ever seen while eating ice cream.) I mean, eating ice cream made from fruit from trees you can see right in front of you - does it get any better?!

Best ice cream shop ever

Apricot, blueberry and wattleseed (yep, it's a real thing!)

When we weren't kayaking, snorkelling, cassowary-spotting or devouring the most delicious ice cream known to man, we were perfectly content just enjoying the scenery that this 135 million year old rainforest had to offer.

Sometimes when you travel, a place just doesn't impress you all that much. FNQ, and the Daintree Rainforest in particular, did just the opposite; It completely, 100% exceeded my expectations. It's one of those places that I know has made a lasting impression on me, probably because I have never seen (and possibly will never see) anything quite like it. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Underwater ATM

Diving the world-famous Great Barrier Reef was the one thing I had to do before leaving Australia, so we made sure it was the first thing we did on our week long adventure here in Queensland!

After arriving in Cairns late last night (and being greeted by humidity that was like a slap to the face) Ben and I made our way to our hostel and went straight to bed so we could get up early for the three dives we had booked for the following day.

Our boat was pulling away from the dock by 8AM the next morning, with (much to my dismay) tropical rain pelting down at us in full force. But our skipper (who was an absolute dead ringer for Paul Rudd in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) assured us he would get us away from the coast and out of the rain. An hour or so later the sun was shining so bright that you would never have known it had been raining when we left. 

Now I hadn't done a dive in six months, so I was kinda nervous. (It actually took me three tries to get my wetsuit on properly, so... maybe a bit more than kinda.) But knowing that Ben would be my dive buddy made me feel a million times better. 

The first dive is a bit of a blur. It was mostly just a good chance for me to get re-acquainted with the sensations that coming along with diving: the feeling of being weightless, of being so far below sea level and of being able to hear nothing but the air flowing in and our of your regulator (a sound ressembling Darth Vader breathing).

After getting into the swing of things dutring the first dive, I enjoyed the next two immensely. To my surprise, the marine life on the Reef didn't 'wow' me quite like it had in Fiji (probably because I saw a turtle in Fiji, which is hard to top) but we got to swim through several incredible cave-like crevasses, which I had never done before. It was thrilling and exhilarating (if not slightly claustrophobic!) in a completely different way, and I loved every minute.

I feel so lucky to have been able to explore such a renowned and magical piece of the world, not to mention getting to share the experience with Ben. Plus, it reminded me how much I bloody love diving and that I want to make it more of a priority in my future travel plans!

Once we were on board we had to pay for our dives. I paid for both of us on card, so Ben gave me cash for his share. This meant that I had about $500 on me, a sum of money I didn't feel comfortable leaving in my wallet onboard while I was in the water. Luckily, Australian notes are waterproof, so Ben kept my wad of cash in his pocket for me while we dove (dived?) Diving with half a grand in your pocket seems slightly ridiculous in hindsight but there you have it, pretty much an underwater bank machine!

Giant clam

One of the 'caves'!

Nemo's all grown up!

The money was a bit soggy afterwards but still intact!

The most amazing rainbow I'd ever seen.. perfect end to a perfect day

Friday, March 7, 2014

Give and Take

Awesome as it is, traveling just ain't free. Plane tickets, food, sightseeing... sure it can be done on the cheap, but any the end of the day you need a bit of cash to make it happen. Which is where the whole work thing comes in.

Now I don't mean to complain; I know work is a part of life and everyone has to do it. But when you're working on the road (i.e. doing shorter stints at different jobs) you gotta take what you can get, and sometimes that means doing a job you just don't like. Which is the case for me in Manly.

I found work here in a cafe with relative ease but putting up with the job has at times been anything but. The owner (who is a complete loose cannon, due to the fact he did 'too many drugs in the 70s'... his words) hires and fires
people (without notice, obviously) like there's no tomorrow. One time I actually had to console a very distraught ex-employee as she stood crying in the carpark after being fired. 

In addition to playing therapist for former employees, I get paid on a different day each week (I've narrowed it down to anytime between Wednesday and Saturday) and I never know when I'll working one week to the next, which makes planning anything in advance rather impossible. It's not all bad but I definitely far from love my job. (I sure hope the coffee I make tastes less bitter than I sound...)

 That being said, I really do try and focus on the positives as much as I can, of which there are many: the cafe is a stone's throw away from the beach, I make decent money and most importantly, working there is allowing me to experience more of a foreign country while saving a bit of money in the process. Sure I would probably have a more 'fulfilling' job if I was living back in Vancouver but I also wouldn't be fulfilling my travel dreams. In the last couple months I've done some pretty incredible things: Rang in the new year at Sydney Harbour, explored the island of Tasmania and spent many a day off snorkeling at nearby beaches. If all goes to plan, I'll be finding Nemo somewhere in the Great Barrier Reef in a few weeks. These are things I would far less likely get the chance to do if I was in a more secure job back at home, and that's what I need to remember: Travel (and life, for that matter) is all about give and take.

New Years Eve fireworks at Sydney Harbour

Beautiful Wineglass Bay, Tasmania

Popular snorkeling spot in Manly

The Wharf

It's moments like this that make it worthwhile.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tasmanian Devils

Loooong time no blog! I've definitely gotten into the swing of things here in Manly, which unfortunately includes a lot more work time than it does free time! Still, Ben and I managed to fit in a quick trip to Tasmania this week, a place we'd both been longing to visit. 

Often confused as being a different country, Tasmania (which, in true Australian form, is commonly shortened to Tassie) is in fact part of Australia and is special for several reasons: it's Australia's only island state, the air there is said to be as clean (or cleaner) than Antarctica's and it's the only place in the world where you can see Tasmanian Devils (yep, they're real!) in the wild.

We only had four days but we'd heard so many good things about Tasmania that we were determined to cover as much of the island as we could. After arriving in the capital of Hobart and picking up our campervan, we immediately headed northwest. Western Tasmania is known for being rugged, wild and sparsely inhabited, which it absolutely was. The majority of the time we spent driving in the West there was nothing but trees or wide open spaces as far as the eye could see. The 'towns' we passed through every so often were, and I mean this in the kindest way possible, almost comically small.

We visited two National Parks in Tassie's 'Wild West'. The first was Mt. Field National Park, where we took a nice walk out to iconic Russell Falls.

We also visited Lake Dobson, a glass-like glacial lake. Although 'skiing' and 'Australia' aren't two things that usually go together, people can actually ski around Lake Dobson in the winter, although nothing about the area suggested skiing was possible (apart from a sign that said 'snow plough turning area' and a few verrrry rustic looking cabins.)

As we made our way further northwest we could've probably counted the number of other cars we saw on one hand. It was just us, the road and endless wide-open spaces.

After a heck of a lot of driving we reached Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. We did a pretty rigorous four hour hike to Cradle Mountain and were rewarded with stunning views of Dove Lake, the surrounding mountains and absolutely no sign of civilization in sight. Uh-mazing.

From there we drove East to Wineglass Bay, which is not only one of Australia's most renown sights but also considered as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. Accessible only by foot (about an hours walk from the nearest carpark) Wineglass Bay was beautiful, all-natural and wonderfully unspoilt.

The water was mighty chilly but the Canadian in me/the Brit in Ben couldn't resist going for a swim in the crystal clear water, much to the amusement of the handful of other beach-goers.

Now Ben and I had our hearts set on seeing a Tasmanian Devil in the wild but as our trip came to an end we still hadn't seen one. On our last day, we decided that if we were going to see a devil it would have to be at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. Although it was a last minute decision, visiting the Sanctuary turned out to be a highlight of the trip. We got to see a ridiculously cute, orphaned baby wombat named Max...

Get up close and personal with some kangaroos...

And see devils! Which, you may be surprised to find out, don't look anything like this:

They're actually pretty adorable little guys and not as vicious as their name (or the cartoon) suggests - except for when they eat, apparently that can get pretty gruesome! Although it's a behavior that they can't help, it's unfortunately what is causing their demise: We learned the reason you don't see many devils in the wild is that 85% of the population has been killed, primarily from a contagious cancer that devils transmit to each other through saliva and blood when they fight over food. The cancer gives the poor little devils horrible facial tumors and has a 100% mortality rate. Fortunately, they are breeding disease-free devils on a small island off of Tasmania to try and save these guys from going extinct forever.

See?! They're cute!

Visiting the Sanctuary was so worth it but unfortunately it meant missing out on spending an afternoon in Hobart. We had a quick look around before we had to return the camper and as far as I could tell it seemed like quaint, pleasant city with lots of colonial architecture. I would really have liked to spend more time there but, as I've realized time and time again while traveling, you just can't do everything.

When thinking of highlights to visit in this country, Tasmania isn't usually what comes to mind. I think that's what makes it so special; the fact that it's so far removed and untouched is exactly what I found remarkable about it. It has so much of nothing yet so much of everything, and its range of natural beauty, from mountain glaciers to white sand beaches, is outstanding. While it's a place I'm almost sure I'll never revisit due to its remote location, I'm incredibly glad we had the chance to explore this unique region.