Coober Pedy – day 322/12

Waking up 6.5m underground in a dug out that was excavated decades ago was weird… The sounds of other guest waking up in the cavernous holes (otherwise known as the hostel dorm rooms) were joined with pitch black darkness – until we turned on our room light and then we were squinting like blind moles! Managed to find a bathroom that had cubicles free for all of us where we proceeded to spend our shower time singing across the partitions, only to have a man cough halfway through our rendition of the ‘Muppets’ theme tune – cue some girly giggles from us and a hasty exit from the gentleman. Managed to get a clothes wash done whilst we had breakfast, choosing to sit outside (slightly cold) after spending the night in what can only be defined as a fancy coffin, complete with bunk beds and a mattress. Decided to spend the day walking in the town rather than partaking in one of the over priced tours which, apparently, showcase this town as a mining and tourist mecca. As we walked down the street and out of town towards our first opal mine of the day (that’s right… The first!!), it seemed like we had arrived in a post apocalyptic wasteland with the dry barren desert being riddled with holes, adjacent piles of dirt and signs warning of the dangers of ‘deep shafts’ and ‘walking backwards’. There were rusty car wrecks in front yards of houses that appeared to only have a front porch – the rest of the house is dug underground to cope with the 50°C summer days and lack of trees! Even at 10am in the morning, there were groups of aboriginals loitering on the streets in small groups, either already drunk or still intoxicated from the night before. The scene was the same for nearly every group we passed – swearing, shouting and poor attempts at fighting each other whilst calling ‘hello’ to every person who walked past them. Arriving at Tom’s Working Opal Mine, we were given hard hats and a map before being sent down into the working excavation. We were allowed to try the bosun chair that the miners used to descend themselves into the mine shaft, posing for the obligatory photos with a pick axe as we hung precariously several feet off the ground, not entirely sure if the cable on the ‘Ute’ could withhold our weight and/or had been checked in the last decade. All on solid ground and in one piece with an extensive amount of stone dust on our backs which glowed up under the UV light like a min solar system on our backs, we headed off down into the mine, exploring all the nooks and crannies including the sections where miners are continuing their search for the big vein. Jayne got far too involved in searching for her own small fortune by using the tools in the museum to crack open undiscovered opals in the rocks strewn around the place – alas, no opals found… Heading back up to the reception area, we got to watch a video on opal formation and mining (which was really interesting but I couldn’t tell you anything I learnt except that the big dinosaur skeleton found in Coober Pedy is not in Coober Pedy!). Heading back into town, we stopped off at the bakery to get some lunch of meat pies – the label said beef however none of us have seen any cats in the town – coincidence?!? Just saying! We consume our ‘beef’ pies on the veranda of the bakery listening to the dulcet tones of the fighting aboriginals al. around us. Walked over to the Catholic Church of St Peter & St Paul which was Coober Pedy’s first church and still has a sweet appeal with its statue-filled nooks and hushed classical music. Back to the hostel to have some lunch before crossing the road to explore the underground museum in the Desert Cave Hotel. More information and photos rather than anything else, the display of photos showing how people fall down the deep shafts and how they are rescued was equal parts funny and disturbing – we can only hope that they are staged photos. 

Walking back along the Main Street, we tried to find the leftover spaceship prop from the film Pitch Black but couldn’t spot it, so headed instead to the Big Winch which has sweeping views over Coober Pedy. From the view point it is obvious that the surrounding desert is jaw-droppingly desolate, a fact not overlooked by international film-makers who’ve come here to shoot end of the world epics such as Mad Max III, Red Planet, Ground Zero and (the only one I’ve watched) Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The ‘if’ painted on the side of the big bucket is designed to sum up the towns spirit and from viewpoint we found the spaceship – we had walked straight past it! Heading back down the hill and with a couple of hours still to kill before our night bus to Adelaide, we decided to visit another museum mine – Old Timers Mine. It was an interesting warren of tunnels that was mined in 1916, and then hidden by the miners. The mine was rediscovered when excavations for a dugout home punched through into the labyrinth of tunnels. We started with a demonstration of the ‘blower’, a piece of mining equipment that is fundamentally a giant vacuum cleaner on the back of a ‘ute’ which, predictably, sucks up rocks from one place and blows them out of the other end. We each got to have a go feeding rocks and our arms into the machine – imagine a giant Dyson air dryer and you’ll understand what our hands looked like… Old ladies hands! Literally had to drag Jayne away from the noodling area at the end of our tour as the museum was closing and everyone wanted to go home, except us! We headed to our last stop of the day, Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Sanctuary. A bizarre combination of art and kangaroos left us all feeling a little bit uncomfortable. Clearly not as well funded as Brolga’s sanctuary in Alice Springs, the kangaroos were feed with wasabi peas and banana chips by the tourists. It wasn’t all bad though – Jayne and I bought our Australia painting. An aboriginal night scene around a fire with native Australian animals in the background. 

Heading back to the hostel, we packed up our bags on the front veranda. Jayne and Tracey popped to Johns to get take away dinner to consume whilst we waited for the coach to turn up whilst I guarded the bags, listening to the continuing arguments that floated down the streets from the groups of aboriginals. Walking the five minutes down the road to the coach ‘station’ we ate our food before boarding the bus. Tracey was disgusted as Jayne and I tucked into our local speciality – a coat of arms pizza which is topped with kangaroo and emu meat. Maybe this explains the lack of red kangaroos in the area?!? Had to sit near the front but we all got a two person seat each so we could spread out a little bit. Clearly one of the older Greyhound buses, it was a little rough around the edges with no wifi or in seat USB outlets – not a huge issue except we had all run our iPhones down with the assumption that we would be able to charge them on the bus – fool on us! Jayne and I watched the only film uploaded onto our iPad (About a Boy) and Tracey watched the only film on her iPad (Sixteen Candles), before we all tried to get some sleep on the rather juddery coach. 

Wednesday 24th August 2016

Travelling – day 321/11

Pretty good nights sleep at the Alice Springs YHA. Possibly due to the fact that there may have been two bottles of wine drunk with dinner the night before, between two people. You do the math….

Got up, blah blah blah, toilet, blah blah blah shower, blah blah blah free pancake breakfast!

Note: If you put a dab of maple syrup on the plate first, it holds said free pancakes securely to your plate making it easier to scurry back to the table like you’d stolen the ring off Froddo… pancakes do that to travellers.Over free pancakes we laughed at the signs up at the YHA asking for anyone interested in being in YHA’s new photo’s for their advertising. You needed to be between 18-30….ummm nope. Photogenic……ummm nope. Turns out YHA only want photos of young good looking people not slightly older, chubby transgender females, their lesbo wife and a third wheel hobbit.

While laughing, but slightly sad that we aren’t young and gorgeous, the lady next to us said that she actually works for YHA and is running the photo shoot. Whoops, had just finished mercilessly taking the piss out of their photo shoot! We started chatting further and she said the age thing was just to stop old people her age from being a part of their advertising because they are too old and not their target clientele. This piqued my interest, how old was she? 48… How old am I? 45….. Insert the breaking of my heart, 45, chubby and irrelevant. Kill me now. Well on that note it was time to move on, quickly, so with full bellies and bags packed we made our way to the greyhound bus terminal to catch our coach to the beautiful town of Coober Pedy on what would be a fairly long travel day.
We’re on a road to no where….September 1985. David Byrne/Talking Heads
That’s exactly what it felt like, hour after hour of red earth and scrub vegetation.

 I spent the first couple of hours finishing off The Inbetweeners 2 movie and searching for the elusive big red kangaroo mobs of the outback. Still no luck. 

We did a quick drive through the Erldunda roadhouse to check for passengers and then it was back to assuming the position of staring out at the vast desolate outback landscape in search of those bloody kangaroos. I don’t think there are any. I’ve seen dingoes, cows, donkeys, camels, eagles and all manor of bird life but no Roos! What the locals should do is just put some timber cutouts in amongst the bushes so the tourists at least think that they see them, tell their friends and then more tourists will visit. You’re welcome Northern Territory Tourism!We arrived at Kulgera Roadhouse which was our lunch break from 1.30 to 2pm. Thank god they had coffee. I made Katherine, Jayne and a Dutch guy eat their apples so they didn’t take fruit across the border into South Australia as it’s illegal and contributes to the spread of fruit fly. Back on the bus and off we went again. There’s plenty of room on the bus, only Katherine, Jayne and myself, the Dutch guy and a couple of local indigenous people with their kids. Nice and relaxed.

The bit I love about travelling is that you never know who you will meet. The Dutch guy works for a swiss company that develops software and they sold it to a refrigerated transport company in Sydney so he was here to trouble shoot then do a little travelling before going back home. Patrick the bus driver was from Tasmania and after working up here for 15 years was moving home to Tassie.

We made it to the Sth Australian border at about 2.30pm of which has a sturts desert pea on the border crossing sign. I made Jayne take a photo of one of these a few days back so she can insert that here…

With the Greyhounds free wifi barely working, I started listening to the songs on my phone (I have a serious collection of 60’s and 70’s country music) Jayne was doing something computerish and Katherine was watching Everest (the movie) just filling in time until our 6.30pm arrival into Coober Pedy. 

Coober Pedy, a town of mystery, I’ve been told by 3 people that they felt unsafe here and about the same amount saying they have the best food…weird! What I do know is that the town is sometimes referred to as the “opal capital of the world” because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined there. Coober Pedy is renowned for its below-ground residences, called “dugouts”, which are built in this fashion due to the scorching daytime heat. The name “Coober Pedy” comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means boy and hole.

I then watched Everest (the movie) after Katherine to see what all the fuss was about, turns out not much. What I did learn is that some people who climb Everest (the mountain) are idiots who only think of themselves and don’t care that they are putting other people’s lives in danger. I also learnt that some movies go too long and that Kiera Knightly cannot do a New Zealand accent and sounded like Meryl Streep saying “a dingo ate my baby” in Evil Angels (also based on a true story).

Anyway, back to reality, one hour left to Coober Pedy, dusk was upon us and this is meant to be wildlife time where they are on the move but still no bloody kangaroos!!!

So we arrived in town right on time and walked to our accommodation with Dutch guy who was staying at the same place. 

What can I say about the Radeka Downunder…. Originally an Opal Mine from the 1960s, it was converted in the mid-1980s to a unique underground accommodation that is tunnelled out of the Sandstone surrounds.

The rooms range from 3.5m under a sandstone ridge to Rooms & Dorms that are 6.5 metres underground. 60% of those who live in Coober Pedy live underground to avoid the heat of summer. If it is 45°c outside, underground it is 26°c – 28°c. And when winter nights can be close to zero°, underground it is 20°c – 22°c. We stayed in a dorm 6.5 metres underground and after the initial fear of spiders, fire, earthquake and vampires we settled in pretty well!We headed out to John’s Pizza Place for dinner with the Dutch guy. It was the happening place to be with several people of all walks of life. We went back to Radeka and watched one of the movies said to be filmed in the area. It was the critically not acclaimed movie “Kangaroo Jack”. Well, it was never going to win any awards but it provided a good way to wind down before bed. 

We parted ways with Dutch guy and headed for our dorm in the depths of earth…..

Tuesday 23rd August 2016

Townsville & Travelling – day 307

I hadn’t noticed any of our roommates coming back at various stages during the night but woke when the large gentleman decided that, since he was awake at 6am, he would say good morning and chat to each and every other person in the room as they got up, regardless of other people sleeping… You could tell that everyone was getting more uncomfortable as he got louder and louder, as their answers went from being sparse to non-existent! With everyone out of the room by 7am, we decided to cut our losses and got up too. We both showered and dressed before heading outside to have more breakfast of champions (fruit toast with cashew nut spread). Went back to the room to pack up our bags before checking out and catching the local island bus to the ferry terminal. An easy 30 minute journey back to the mainland where we decided to head to the nearby aquarium and turtle hospital before catching our bus to Cairns later that day. We had planned to leave our bags at the ferry terminal but the $8 locker fee seemed incredibly excessive, especially since we’ve never paid more than half that amount (even in the major cities) and you could only open the locker once. Decided to just carry our bags around the aquarium so walked the short distance to Reef HQ. After buying our tickets, which they gave to us at concession price, they even offered to store our bags for free! Locking our bags in what I imagine is the schools cupboard, we were free to explore the largest coral reef display in the world. 

A staggering 2.5 million litres of water flow through the coral-reef tank, which is home to 140 coral and 120 fish species. They have separated out the ‘predator’ fish as they want to preserve the marine life and reduce the amount of of coral being eaten. They have also separated the male and female zebra sharks to reduce the amount of breeding although the female shark has started laying eggs by cloning herself (parentogenesis), one of the first times it has ever been seen in captivity. We had arrived just in time for the dive talk which took place in their theatre. A segregated room with seating that had a view window of the predator tank with one of the aquarists kitted out in a full face mask with built in microphone so he could talk to the visitors whilst swimming around. It was a really interesting talk where he swam around to point out the fish he was talking about, answered questions from the crowd and, at one point, hugged ‘Cuddles’ (the tawny nurse shark) to encourage him to swim past the window. 

After the talk, we spent time just wandering around the displays. Reef HQ isn’t huge but they have managed to achieve quite a lot in such a small space. Being a weekday, there was a large amount of school children racing around in groups, some better behaved than others, all being led around by the aquarium volunteers – kind of made me nostalgic for my old teaching job but not for taking classes on school trips! 
We managed to get tickets to visit the turtle hospital so, after a brief talk about what they do and a plug for some money, we were being led out the back to see the two turtles that they currently have in the hospital that are allowed ‘visitors’. The first one (a green turtle) was admitted after being found malnourished and severely underweight whilst the second one (a green and loggerhead hybrid) was found to have two fishing hooks suck in its mouth, causing it infections and difficulties in eating. The second one was obviously fascinating to everyone as no one (not even the marine scientists) knew that cross-species could reproduce. Having seen the facility and learnt that both of these turtles will be returned to the ocean once the weather warms up a bit, we headed back inside to grab our bags and head to the supermarket to get some lunch. 

Clearly further down The Strand than we had anticipated, even the palm trees that provided the shade couldn’t keep the heat away. Deciding that it was pointless to both go looking for the supermarket with our big bag, I left Jayne with our stuff to head slowly back to the ferry/coach terminal whilst I continued on looking for Coles. Must have walked a good kilometre further on before finding it, buying some food and then making my way back along the promenade, which is interspersed with parks, pools, cafes, playground and sculptures all alongside the marina and golden sand beaches. 

Meeting Jayne back at the transport hub, we sat on the grass and had some sandwiches before catching our bus to Cairns. The most exciting thing about our six-hour coach journey was the rest stop where there was a giant crab (not sure if it is a big thing or not) and our first ‘beware of crocodiles’ sign!!

Arriving in Cairns, we walked to our hostel and checked in only to find out that it was Australian Census night and, because we were in Australia, we would have to fill out the 56 question document (just what we wanted to do after a long coach journey!!). Chucking our stuff in the room, we came back down to reception to fill it in, listening to the poor staff being inundated with questions from foreign tourists who didn’t understand the English on the form and the manager gently reminding (repeatedly) the group of lads clearly heading out on an all night bender to complete their forms. All completed and sealed in the envelope, we headed straight to bed – both of us in a top bunk again, which we both hate! Ah… First world problems.

Tuesday 9th August 2016

Travelling & Magnetic Island – Day 305

A very disturbed nights sleep with noisy roommates, or maybe it was just one noisy roommate on several different occasions!! We were woken up around 2am by some one who had forgotten his room key and Jayne was sure she heard someone trying to ‘cook crack’ in the bathroom with the sound of spoons clicking together around 3.30am (I am so naive… I have no idea what that really means!!). Anyway, we woke up with our alarms and got up showered and dressed before heading downstairs for breakfast. We had found cashew nut spread in Woolworths yesterday and we had it with some hot crumpets and pears – it is divine!! There are no words to describe how amazing it is but I could simply devour the entire pot using just my fingers!Went back upstairs to pack up our bags with all our freshly laundered (and dry!) clothes before walking down through the marina to the coach terminal. A really dull five hour coach journey with our highlight being the stop at the service station where we saw a woman being confronted for shoplifting (she refused to let them search her), a gorgeously cute golden Labrador puppy who, judging by the size of his paws, is going to become one huge beast soon and our ice creams.Arriving in Townsville, we had just under an hour to wait for our ferry to Magnetic Island. We used the super fast internet in the ferry terminal to upload some of the photos to blogs that we have neglected to do over the past few days, hoping to make it easier to upload everything once we get them written… Oops – we have been too busy having fun (and too lazy to sit down and write them!!). The SeaLink ferry to Magnetic Island was easy and efficient with the turn around for loading and unloading passengers being surprisingly quick. Before long, we were powering through the surrounding bright turquoise seas towards the coastal rocky and mountainous national park. Arriving at the ferry terminal in Nelly Bay, we jumped straight on a local bus (whose timetable revolves around the ferries) to take us to our YHA accommodation – the Bungalow Bay Koala Village. It only took about 15 minutes to drive in and out and all around the streets of the island to get us to Horseshoe Bay, dropping us right outside the door of the ‘resort’. We checked in, dropped our bags in the cabin and headed to the beach. Popped into the local convenience store to get some fruit bread for tomorrow’s breakfast and spotted some marine stingers and poisonous snakes in jars on the shop counter. Apparently they’re just for show, Jayne freaked out even more when we saw a sign on the beach identifying the six different types of stinging jellyfish in the area and the netted swimming area in the bay…Walked along the beach to the end, perching ourselves on a set of rocks to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see it clearly but we did get to see the sky and clouds changing colour as the sun dipped lower behind them.Back at the ‘resort’, we quickly checked emails before heading towards the campers kitchen. En route, we got distracted by a possum in a tree – our first wild possum in Australia! Had to drag ourselves away from the little bundle of cuteness so Jayne could start cooking dinner. However, this YHA doesn’t provide any cutlery or crockery… Slightly surreal moment looking around the kitchen (and then double checking) to find that here was nothing there to use to eat our food. Fortunately, we have our ‘SeatoSummit’ collapsible bowls and sporks so I headed off to the room to retrieve these as Jayne got busy cooking pasta. It only has an outdoor eating area so we had dinner with a multitude of wildlife – wallabies, possums and insects. One extra large cricket decided Jayne’s back was the perfect place to rest…Headed back to the room and, since we are both in top bunks tonight, we couldn’t snuggle up to watch some TV or a film. So, with the large gentleman fully clothed in his high vis safety gear snoring loudly in his bunk to the giggles of the girls opposite him, I climbed into my bunk to read some of my book as Jayne got into hers to watch a film that I didn’t want to watch. 

Sunday 7th August 2016

Travelling – day 298

SO EXCITED!! Finally, after far too many years, I awake and am able to download the new Harry Potter book – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Still gutted that I can’t see the play in the West End as we are traveling, I am absolutely delighted that at least I can download and read the book when it is released. Managed to download it before we even left the hostel this morning to catch our coach to Hervey Bay and was then even more excited (nine and three-quarters more excited!!) to see a whole stand of HP books at a shop along the way.Quite a lazy morning as we know we’ve got a seriously hectic week ahead of us with our Fraser Island and Whitsundays tours coming up so decided to abandon any previous ideas of going on an early ferry ride up the river in Brisbane and had a lie in instead. Got up, showered and had breakfast before checking out of our room. As soon as it was 9am Australia time, I was able to download the new HP book so I started reading that whilst Jayne did some Internet website work for Azra and the beauty clinic. Only had about an hour before we had to make our way to the transit centre to catch our greyhound coach. The sun was shining and, even with a slight chill in the air, it was a beautiful day.A pretty boring coach journey with nothing much to look at out the windows. We caught up on odd jobs that required internet (thanks for the free onboard wifi!) and I, obviously, kept reading the new book. Slightly strange reading a story as a play script but it’s still enjoyable none the less – really makes me want to go back and read the other books in the series (again!). Stopped at a service station for the necessary driver rest stop. Turns out that it is home to ‘Matilda’ the kangaroo who made her debut on 30th September 1982 at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. The 13 metre high mascot was then homed at a water theme park before being moved in 2009, and having 2 years of substantial refurbishment, to her current spot at the petrol station. We sat on the banks of the lake having the juiciest oranges ever – thanks Tracey for the tip – it was like eating solid lumps of orange juice!!Back on the bus for the remainder of the journey, arriving in Hervey Bay just after 5pm. As the transfer bus had to wait for another Greyhound to arrive, we took the opportunity to head to the supermarket to get some food for dinner and a goon bag of white wine to take with us to Fraser Island. The second coach never turned up so we waited all that time for no reason, although we did get to enjoy the noisy rainbow lorikeets that were flying around the car park.At the hostel, which is more of a caravan park which happens to have a dorm room than a hostel, Jayne got back onto her task of sorting out the beauty salon website whilst I reorganised our bags for tomorrow and cooked dinner (I know – it’s a shock to everyone that I cooked!!!). Made spaghetti bolognaise and let Jayne carry on with her work after dinner whilst I kept reading my new book!!

Sunday 31st July 2016

Byron Bay & travelling – day 296

Woke up early in our dorm, delighted to find it was still just the two of us (or someone had come and left in the middle of the night without us knowing!!). Got dressed and checked out, putting our bags into a storage locker and having breakfast before heading out for the day. Byron Bay has a reputation of being a famous beach town and it was lovely, but not entirely sure what the fuss is about. I could have happily lived there as a local but, for us, a day as a tourist was plenty! The beaches are great but we’ve already seen spectacular beaches along this coast (and are due to see even better ones shortly!!). The vibe in the town is very surf culture meets hippie, resulting in lots of barefooted people padding around the streets and supermarkets. That being said, it was lovely – possibly because it wasn’t as crowded as it could be – and we had a great time wandering through the back streets on our way to the Cape Byron State Conservation Park. We started on the Cape Byron walking track and, before too long, we were treated to views of dolphins swimming adjacent to the morning kayak group (lucky bastards!). You can see how close they got…IMG_1956IMG_1967We continued along the path, encountering brush turkeys along the way and stopping off at various view points to admire the spectacular views and watch the migrating whales pass by… That’s right – we have now seen humpback whales for five days in a row. Jayne is beside herself and I think, now more than ever, I have a real chance of convincing her to move here!! The walking path hugs the headland as it dips and soars towards the lighthouse. We managed to spot some more whales passing at the most easterly point of Australia.IMG_1983IMG_2545We stayed for ages at the lighthouse, admiring the view and being wowed by the passing marine life. So much so that any plans of renting a surf board before our coach this afternoon went out the window as the time flew by as we sat and enjoyed. IMG_2547IMG_2550IMG_2000IMG_2012IMG_2016Walking back down towards the town, the path went through beautiful forests and it felt like we were the only people there for miles. Descended upon the beach and decided that, even though we couldn’t go surfing, didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun in the water so we jumped in!! Swimming in the ocean in the middle of winter in Australia is a lot more agreeable than doing the same thing back in the UK or Ireland!! Back at the hostel for a shower and a late lunch before catching our coach to Brisbane. Three hours later, we were walking through the streets to the YHA. I sorted out laundry whilst Jayne went to Dominos to get us something for dinner. Sat on the roof top terrace, enjoying the eye-popping views of the city before going to bed.

Friday 29th July 2016

Port Macquarie & Travelling – day 293

Having heard that Port Macquarie is one of the best places to see whales, as it is the second most eastern point in New South Wales and after seeing humpback whales so close to the shore yesterday, we decided that a whale watching boat cruise was a must do! Having organised it through our hostel last night, we were up at 6am and walking down the streets to the harbour looking for an ATM so we could pay!! Finally found an NAB bank which gave us some cash and saw a koala sculpture inside the branch. Having seen a couple of koala sculptures at the koala hospital, we thought it was simply part of their display. However, it turns out that they are part of a Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, just like the Shepparton Moooving cow art. The fifty-one large scale koala sculptures are manufactured in fibreglass, individually designed and hand painted by local artists – had we known about them sooner, we would have definitely tried to find more of them! Down at the port, we donned some very fetching life jackets and climbed aboard our RIB (rigid inflatable boat) before heading out past the magnificent coastline and into the open expanse of the Pacific Ocean. A bit more of ‘whale chasing’ as opposed to ‘whale watching’, our captain seemed a little impatient to just sit and wait for the whales to surface (I guess you have to give the guests what they paid for!) We must have been out on the water for about 2 hours looking for whales – I’d spotted one breaching in the distance, so the skipper headed out north to try and follow it for a while. However, it didn’t come up again (or it changed direction!) so we headed back down south. We learnt that between June and October the whales begin their northern migration to to give birth in the Whitsundays, returning to the Antarctic with their young by December, to feed.

After a few curse words from the captain about the lack of activity from the whales, we spotted a mother and its calf within 10 to 20 metres from our RIB. It was beautiful and so special to see the fifth largest mammal on earth up close, with the fully grown adult weighing up to 40 tonnes each. One of the whales breached in front of the boat, which was amazing – unfortunately, the only photo we managed to capture was of the massive splash as it came back down!!! Headed back into shore and spotted dolphins swimming nearby the surfers at the beach (lucky bastards!!!! Although, the water must be freezing so I guess it is an appropriate reward for their dedication – I wouldn’t have been in that water, even in a wetsuit). Walked back up the hill to the hostel, checked out and hung around the hostel (using their wifi) until it was time to get the coach to Coffs Harbour. Managed to find myself a pair of ‘sports’ leggings in the free clothing recycle bin, which is great as I really needed a new pair of trousers that actually fit. Used the time at the hostel to catch up on blogs and clear SD cards of photos ready for the rest of our trip around Australia. The resident parrot came to check up on us, deciding that Jayne’s head was a perfect perch!Had some lunch before jumping in the van and getting dropped off at the coach station. Brian was our coach driver again and was in an equally cheerful mood as he was the other day when he drove us from Sydney. Only four of us on the bus today, so we chatted away about what we had done in Port Macquarie before setting off. (Un)fortunately, the wifi wasn’t working on the coach toady so we had to entertain ourselves the good old fashioned way – reading books, listening to music and staring out the windows. 

Took about 3 hours to get up to Coffs Harbour, where we were met by Craig who drove us to the YHA hostel (we are definitely being spoilt! I have to say, youth hostels are not as painful as I thought they would be!). Craig chatted away on the journey about what we could do and even took us to the view point so we could orientate ourselves with the town. 
Dropped us off at the hostel and we checked in. We have been placed in the staff dorm with the two cleaners, who are clearly used to being on their own… The place was a bomb site. Clearly embarrassed, the room was a (bit) tidier when we returned later on to go to bed!! Headed to the nearby supermarket to get groceries only to find it had closed 10 minutes earlier… The next nearest supermarket was 3km away so we started walking!! 
Back at the hostel, Jayne made dinner as I worked out ways to get us to Dorrigo National Park tomorrow (there is only one… Renting a car!). Booked a car with Thrifty for tomorrow and headed to bed, surprisingly tired after our early start this morning but our relatively ‘easy’ day. 

Tuesday 26th July 2016

Travelling & Port Macquarie – day 291

The dorm room resembled a poorly made WWII film… 4 Germans, 2 French, 1 Irish and 1 British in a room that looked like a bomb had exploded!! Also, with one of the German ladies snoring like an aircraft, it is a fitting description!! Waking up at 6am, we tiptoed in the semi darkness as if we were trying to navigate a fully loaded mine field – avoiding the masses of strewn around clothing, shoes, shopping bags and rucksacks (what the hell happened here after we fell asleep?!?). Made it out of the room with all our limbs attached and, more importantly, without making a sound before checking out and making our way down the road to the bus station to catch our Greyhound to Port Macquarie. Had a wonderfully cheerful bus driver called ‘Brian’ who admitted himself that he had had a great nights sleep and was full of jokes as he chucked everyone’s luggage in the hold and chatted to all of the 8 passengers onboard (including us) as we waited until 7am when we were officially allowed to set off! The drive was easy – being a Sunday, there was no traffic leaving the city and before we knew it we were storming down the motorway. Clearly, the journey was going much better than Brian had anticipated as we stopped several times en route as we were ahead of schedule and couldn’t arrive at the next stop. Picked up one more passenger in Newcastle, had a thirty minute coffee break (with a cheeky sausage roll) at around 10.30am before continuing on the road.  Not sure what happened but neither my iPhone or iPad would connect to the onboard wifi so Jayne was left with the job of uploading photos to the blog and publishing while I entertained myself with music and reading my book… 

Another break in a town called Toncurry which had a gorgeous inland marine lake where people were fishing, closely watched by a nearby pelican. The water was crystal clear and even from where we stood we saw a puffer fish. I put my toes in the water – it was perfect scuba diving temperature!! Apparently it is possibly to do that there, as is spotting dolphins and whales… Hmmmmmm. Another town on our list for when we visit again. Arrived in Port Macquarie at 14.20 and had a free pick up from the YHA waiting for us. Said goodbye to Brian, who is going to be our bus driver on our journey to Coffs Harbour on Tuesday! Jumped in the van and drove through the streets chatting to the hostel lady (whose cousin is Hagen from House Rules…). Dropped our bags off at the hostel and headed straight out to the koala hospital.The Koala Hospital is not only a Hospital to treat sick and injured koalas but it is also involved in research with University Sydney, University Technology Queensland and the Australian Museum into koala diseases. It consists of a treatment room, 8 Intensive Care Units, 6 outdoor intensive care units and 33 rehabilitation yards, many of which have trees for koalas to learn to climb as part of the rehabilitation process. Between 200 and 250 koalas are admitted through the Hospital annually and apart from Chlamydia, accidents involving vehicles and dog attacks are the most common cause of injuries sustained, predominantly during the breeding season. We were fortunate enough to arrive just after 3pm, in time for their Walk and Talk tour when the koalas were fed and a volunteer explained the issues that brought the koalas into their care. It was really interesting and we learnt lots (especially that koalas don’t get drunk on eucalyptus – they just don’t get enough energy from the leaves to move much!!). Walked around with the volunteer for over an hour as she pointed out the different koalas, explaining there various injuries and whether they were going to be reintroduced into the wild. There are 8 resident koalas at the moment, most of whom are blind, and a rehabilitation area that is not accessible to visitors for obvious reasons.  Having stayed for ages, made a donation and some enquiries about their overseas volunteer programme ( before we started walking back towards the hostel via Coles to get some supplies for dinner. The rest of the evening was spent with Jayne cooking a delicious peanut curry and me sorting out laundry before snuggling up on the lower bunk bed to watch some episodes of Friends.  

Sunday 24th July 2016

Travelling & Sydney – day 285

Woke up relatively refreshed, despite being in a 10 bed dorm full of smelly boys (and us)!! Showered, dressed and went downstairs for breakfast, leaving one roommate still snoring away on his bed. A well needed vanilla latte (from a sachet – we’re on a strict budget!!) and supermarket pain au chocolate, which weren’t actually too bad, before heading back upstairs to the now empty dorm to pack up our bags and head over to the coach station. Having torn my new ripped jeans in one section a bit too much (can’t get used to putting them on and off!!), I set to work sewing up the additional and accidental hole with bright pink thread to make it stand out… At least that is my excuse for the random and slightly poor needlework skills – although, in my defence, it was cold and I was wearing the jeans at the time!! 

The coach was quite quiet and relatively painless as we used and abused the free wifi and in-seat USB plug sockets to catch up on writing and uploading blogs as well as some FaceBook stalking and research for things to do in Sydney. Jayne was so fixated and determined on uploading photos that she did it all during lunch – precariously balancing iPhones and hotdogs as the coach speed along the road.
Arrived in Central Station Sydney after 3.5 hours and headed up to the information desk to find information and train times for our visit to the Blue Mountain region in a few days time. All sorted, with shiny Opal cards in our pockets (the Sydney version of Oyster cards for TfL) and we started making our way towards our hostel. 

Decided to stretch our legs and walk the 3km to ‘The Rocks’, enjoying the weather and the views as we passed through the city. Walked past the beautiful Queen Victoria Building. Built in 1898, the Victorian building was repeatedly put up for demolition before it was restored in the mid-1980’s. It now occupies 200 speciality shops but it’s the wrought iron balconies, copper domes and stained glass windows that really make it stand out. Unfortunately, there were road works in front of the building so none of our photos really do it justice!

As we stood waiting to cross the road by the imposing statue of Queen Victoria, a little boys scooter rolled into the road. Several cars drove around it before a guy in a white van drove straight into it and dragged it off down the street to the astonishment and yells of the people waiting at the traffic lights. The mum of the little boy used it as a lesson to her son about not chasing his stuff out into the road…
Arrived at the Sydney Harbour YHA and checked in, the receptionist flabbergasted that we had walked from Central Station!! This hostel is an usual building as it is built on stilts above an archaeological site. In 1994, the remains of over 30 houses, two laneways, shops and pubs were excavated here along with over a million artefacts. 

Dropping our bags off in the spacious dormitory (with private bathroom!) we headed up to the rooftop to see the million dollar view of Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House (not too shabby based on the fact we are only paying $23 each per night!). After a while of soaking up the view, we separated out to complete different jobs. Jayne headed out to find a supermarket to get some food and wine for dinner and I set about washing our clothes in the attached laundry. A couple of hours later, Cheryl turned up and the three of us had a fantastic evening catching up, swapping travel stories, drinking (too much) wine and eating dinner in the hostel. The evening passed too quickly and, before too long, we were walking Cheryl to the train station. Got ourselves an ice cream as we walked back up to the hostel and chatted to our Canadian roommate before falling asleep. 

Monday 18th July 2016