Australia- Blue Mountains

So 560 kilometres, passing countless roadkill and 8 hours later we arrived in Bulls camp reserve, a free campsite which is a gateway to the Blue Mountains. We had decided on a two night stay but needed to move to another site the following day as Bulls camp had a one night stay limit. The camp was clean, had a lot of people staying and even had a shower (cold). We settled in for the night and had a few glasses of vino and a rather decent curry prepared in the limited facilities of the camper.

Morning bought with it a short drive to Wentworth falls and a walk around them. It was spectacular.

Blue Mountains

There are several routes down to and past Wentworth falls that you can take. Some look pretty hair raising from a height perspective.

Wentworth falls

We opted for what turned out to be the cave walk. The path dropping under the precipice these last photos were taken from. I don’t think that the photos really convey the size of the area, or the height.

We ended up walking for a couple of hours before heading over to our second campsite in Katoomba.

We had seen (and heard!) the cockatoos all day but in our new campsite they were abundant, and quite tame.

In hindsight I would have liked to have had an extra day to explore, maybe taking a hike down into the rainforest below the falls. Alas we had to leave (becoming a common thing)

Next stop…Yass or somewhere nearby

Australia- Urunga

Our plan was to break the back of the journey to Melbourne in the first few days of our 9 day transfer. This would leave us free to stop at places longer if we found them more interesting. With that in mind we wanted to make it to the Blue Mountains outside Sydney asap.

So Urunga is a tiny speck of a town off the A1. It was marked as having a free rest stop so seemed like the ideal place to break the drive from Byron Bay to Sydney.

These free rest stops can be anything from a car park with a toilet to quite decent miniature campsite parks. This was the former, a car park under a rail bridge. What stood out with this place was the view….my word!

Not bad for free 🙂 the toilets were a bit on the “untidy” side but it was made up for by the location.

An early start was called for as we wanted to make it to the blue Mountains before sundown. Driving after sunset is really not advisable as the local wildlife are not very vehicle savvy and have a tendency to stand there and get run over. A fully grown Roo will make a bit of a mess of your bodywork…

Australia – Brisbane to Byron Bay.

We headed south again from Maryborough to Brisbane, where we traded our rental car in for a free (yes free!) campervan.

For those not in the know, a transfercar (www.transfercar.com.au) is where you agree to return a vehicle back to its original hire location after someone else has used it for a one way trip.

The Pom was pleased with his free wheels :)

The length of time you get the vehicle for is quite variable but we lucked out big time, and managed to get a hitop camper for 8 days for free (we paid $75 to extend by one day). All we had to do was get it from Brissy to Melbourne (well over 1000 miles). We have seen the same transfer down as low as 4 days, so be flexible and keep your eyes peeled if you want to try it.

Having already driven from Maryborough to Brissy in the morning and having to pick up and load the camper meant the drive to Byron Bay started later than I would have liked. We arrived at sunset, having skipped lunch, tired, annoyed at rush hour traffic, full of lurgy and without a reservation for a camp site. Really not ideal for bargain hunting or our mood! Tuna pasta and an early night it is then!

Byron Bay surfer

Morning brought with it plenty of sunshine and a much more positive attitude. We had a lot of driving ahead of us so didn’t linger too long, but did manage to get some exploring done for a few hours.

Onwards always onwards, next stop is a transit stop in Urunga. For now I’ll leave you with a picture of a funky chick..

Funky chicken

Australia- Maryborough

Around halfway along the drive back to Brisbane from Bundaberg is the small town of Maryborough. We were planning to stop for a few nights and take a tour of Fraser Island from here. The dreaded lurgy got in the way of those plans, with us both falling victim to a nasty cold as soon as we arrived (probably picked up on the flight form Singapore).

There isn’t a lot to say about Maryborough really. It’s a got some quirky old style buildings in the town centre and it acts as one of the places to launch your Fraser Island expeditions, alas it was not to be 😦

Next up….Byron Bay via Brissy

Australia – Bundaberg & Lady Musgrave Island

Bundaberg was an unplanned stop for us. We originally wanted to visit Lady Musgrave Island from a place called Agnes Water, we even had accommodation booked there. The day before we were due to leave we got a call from the tour company saying that the tides from Agnes water were preventing sailing from there for a few days, and suggesting that we go from Bundaberg instead. Some frantic searching on Airbnb followed. We struck gold and found a really good replacement 🙂

The drive up to Bundaberg from Brissy is nearly 400km and takes up most of the day. We stopped at a place called Gympie (yes, pronounced that way!) for a lunch break, arriving in Bundaberg late afternoon.

First impression of the town is that it is has hardly any tall buildings and that it was a lot bigger than expected. I guess outside the major population centres that space really isn’t a problem, so there is no need to build high.

Burnett heads coastline

We were actually staying in a small village outside town called Burnett heads. It is very quiet, close to the ocean and a stones throw from our departure point to Lady Musgrave Island. It’s highly recommended if you are just up here for the tour. Our Airbnb hosts Gabby and Ian were lovely, and the house was immaculate, well equipped and clearly had a lot of love thrown into it.

Burnett heads coastline

Our tour was not until the Saturday, so we had a full day to chill out around the amazing house, use the pool and go for a walk up the coast. One thing I would watch out for is the Mosquitos. They are huge, bite day and night and will itch like mad if you get bitten.

Onto the main event…literally.

Main event

It was an early and grey start to jump on the boat to Lady Musgrave. It’s around 90km offshore and took just over 2 hours to reach. There isn’t a lot to see en-route, except the odd dolphin pod and if you are really lucky, Humpbacks.

Lady Musgrave

Lady Musgrave pops up out of the horizon quite late into the journey because it really isn’t very high. The waters are unbelievably clear and shallow. We transferred to the island itself on a glass bottomed boat.

Glass bottomed tender to Main Event

Being a coral island it has a unique ecosystem. Here the trees provide valuable nesting space to the Noddy Terns that swarm the island, there are no predators here so the birds have no fear of people and will happily let you stand next to their nests while they sit there.

Noddy terns nesting

The nutrient cycle is brutal. The island has no topsoil so to fertilise the soil the trees produce sticky seeds, which unfortunate terns get caught up in. When they can no longer fly they die of starvation , their nutrients being returned to the soil for the trees to absorb. Yummy!

Lady Musgrave eastern beach

After a walk around the island, we got transported back to Main Event for a spot of lunch and some snorkelling.

Some still surviving Bleached coral :(Zebra fish (I think)

The coral is quite badly bleached here now, but small pockets remain intact, and there are still a lot of fish to see. If you are lucky you can see some turtles, they can move with surprisingly speed when startled.

Overall, a grand day out. For what you get it’s also pretty good value.

On the way back to the house we also clocked our first Roo 🙂

Next stop…Maryborough

Australia – Brisbane

Landed in Brisbane at 1am on a Monday morning. We had booked a hotel for the first night as we wanted something close to the airport so that the annoyingly necessary cab fare was as low as possible. As it turns out it’s really easy to get an Uber.

Hotel was clean but a bit meh, not that we noticed as we got our heads down for a nights kip. A big thunderstorm had other ideas.

Morning introduced the first revelation about Oz, our antipodean cousins are in the main super friendly people. At first you just think you have run into a few nice folk, but then you realise that everyone just seems….happier than you are used to. It’s a genuine surprise and a welcome one.

We hopped on the bus to downtown Brisbane and grabbed a spot of brunch before checking into our Airbnb in the west side of town. It was a cute place, not the cleanest we have stayed in, and it had an odd smell in the kitchen, but the host was nice and the location was decent enough.

We also did our first shop, food here is expensive, like really expensive. It’s still a lot cheaper to cook than eat out, and some random things like bell peppers are crazy money.

As for alcohol, try to forget beer. Wine can be stupidly cheap though. This has something to do with duty apparently, but quite why ale has got it in the neck so badly is a bit of a mystery.

The following day we took an early walking tour of the city with one of Brisbane’s greeters. These knowledgeable folk will take you around the city for a few hours, showing you things that you would almost certainly miss if you tried doing it self guided. They are also totally free.

We got to learn about the battle of Brisbane, which was a massive bar fight between the Aussies and Americans. Saw a whole bunch of street art (much like Singapore, it’s highly encouraged here), found a free herb garden, a free beach and outdoor pool built next to the river. We also got to take a free boat ride along the river, something anyone can do provided they know about it!

After lunch we took a long walk back to our accommodation and grabbed an early night.

We had a rest day on the following day, took a walk down to the public “beach” and had lunch on the grass before diving in for a swim. It’s a little on the cold side but not too bad this time of year, I imagine that it get very very busy in the summer months.

Ambled back in the late afternoon and went out for pizza and beer just down the road from our digs.

Three nights over all too soon! Brissy is a fantastic city with a very friendly population, great public transport and amenities and a top climate.

Tomorrow we pick up our hire car and head up to Bundaberg and the southern barrier reef.

Singapore

Singapore’s weather is best summed up by a quote from Robin Williams / Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam…

What’s the weather like out there?

“It’s hot. Damn hot! Real hot! Hottest things is my shorts. I could cook things in it. A little crotch pot cooking.”

Well, can you tell me what it feels like.

“Fool, it’s hot! I told you again! Were you born on the sun? It’s damn hot!”

Welcome to Singapore. A place where its so humid that you can get a drink from the air by sucking it through your teeth.

First things first, this city is beautiful. Jaw droppingly so. The Singaporean government grant tax breaks to companies that adorn their buildings with plant life and art so naturally every major building has enough greenery for you to expect David Bellamy to pop up just about anywhere.

Parkroyal hotel
Parkroyal hotel, modelled on the hanging gardens of Babylon

Like a chameleon, by night the city morphs from green to light. Take a look at how the view changed from the hotel balcony..

Its so refreshing to find a country that actually cares what it looks like. Nothing really feels out of place here. The old rubs shoulders with the new and it just works. Once you leave the central part of the city you can see the familiar plain high rises start to pop up, but even these have greenery in abundance and you cant help but feel that the central areas vibe is slowly spreading (growing?) out across the city.

If you visit, I strongly recommend the Indie Singapore walking tours. They run three different tours a week. Check out tripadvisor for more info. We went on the Riverfront Thursday tour with a very enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable guide. The tour was mainly concerned with the colonial and historical past of the city and took in sites and events that have shaped this highly diverse city state. It’s a free tour and doesn’t take you to local “recommended” eateries for kickbacks. Bring a water bottle, there are chances to refill and don’t worry too much about the heat as there are plenty of stops in aircon. If you enjoy it you make your appreciations felt with a tip.

The main thing I took away from the tour, apart from a good history lesson, was that while the city may be broken up into ethnic quarters, they are really proud of their diversity and languages (officially English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil). This is officially a very young country (1965), but also one that has struggled through a long history of oppression, sometimes very brutal (WWII). Singaporeans are a forward looking people, with a great deal of pride in their country. Have you ever seen a teenager out with his mates just pick up a random piece of litter and put it in the bin?!

One thing that is a “must do” in Singapore (even if you are staying 1 night) is the Gardens by the bay. A collection of artificial super trees, gardens and biomes which put the Eden project to shame (probably because the climate is naturally like parts of the Eden project!). I visited in the evening, when they run a light show twice (the second one was less busy) and was rewarded with some spectacular views.

Gardens by the bay, supertrees
Gardens by the bay, supertrees. MBS showing off in the background.
Downtown from Gardens by the bay
Downtown from Gardens by the bay

If you only had one evening and were not on a budget I would take in the sunset from the Ce La Vie bar at the top of Marina Bay Sands hotel. You have to pay $20 to get up there, but that gets you a $20 token that you can redeem against food and drink, a drink will cost at least $20 though! Get up there at least an hour before sunset as the service is slow and you will want a good perch. Be warned that it gets very busy up there right around sunset.

From there I would go down to the bottom level of the MBS mall and grab a bite to eat from the food court. Tons of choice here, and very reasonable prices (for Singapore). Head back up and over to the gardens in time for the second light show (8:45 I think, but check). The light show lasts about 20 mins but its worth hanging around for a while after to let the crowds disperse and soak in the atmosphere.

After that you could walk back through MBS and take the helix bridge and waterfront path back to town and be rewarded with some more spectacular views.

Onwards! Next stop…..Brisbane!

More mature. Apparently.