Sunday, April 20, 2014

We'll Never Be Royals

Although I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a royalist, a chance to see the future King and Queen of England practically right in my backyard seemed too good to pass up. As part of their Australian tour, Will and Kate stopped by Manly Beach to pay a visit to a children's hospice, view a lifesaving demonstration and accept a custom made surfboard for baby George (who wasn't there unfortunately!) It seemed everyone in Manly, myself included, was there to give them a warm welcome - and they were all smiles in return.

Royal Fever in Manly

Some people got pretty into it...

And at last they arrive!

Kate talking to some of the local kids in the lifesaving club

Crazy crowds

Gorgeous in real life!

Baby George's surfboard

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