On Monday we took the 3 hour coach ride to Australia’s capital city - Canberra - and met up with my mate Dave who’d moved here a few months ago. Canberra is a designed city, with massive wide streets and huge monuments and as such completely soulless. We did the obligatory tour of the war museum, the parliament and the national museum. The first was very good except for the strange quasi-religious central dome where stained glass windows depicted soliders wielding weapons and gas masks with saintly halos. This idea that nationhood stems from war (hence the common opinion that Australia wasn’t a proper nation until its participation in WWI) is disturbing. Certainly, wars should be remembered but the primary reason is to examine the causes to prevent their re-occurence not to glorify slaughter. We’ve been to alot of war museums in various countries and the causes of each war are invariably glossed over and the displays centre mainly on the glorification of native troops and demonisation of the enemy.
The parliament proved to be an exceptionally un-impressive building from the outside, built as it is into the hillside. Inside, however, it’s nicely designed and there is a copy of the Magna Carta on display (one of only 4 existing).
The national museum was sited in a controversial, ultra-modern building which I actually liked but the displays were fairly poor. And that my friends is Canberra. There’s precious little nightlife or atmosphere in general.
On Wednesday we flew to Melbourne where we met up with Rich’s mate Shane. Wandering the streets was a vast improvement on Canberra. The city is very European in style and architecture with plenty of historic buildings lurking between the modern skyscrapers. The next 2 days were spent exploring the streets, cafes and pubs of which there are many fine examples.
On Saturday I flew back to Sydney and began exploring this famous city. It’s bigger than Melbourne and there’s more cash floating about but the city centre is still very nice and the harbour areas beautifully designed. I met up with Dave and we headed out to explore the nightlife. unfortunately we started at 6pm whereas no Sydneyites come out until 11pm so we were written off before the night got started. We did sample the Rocks, Kings cross (nowhere near as seedy as it’s made out to be) and Oxford Street before stumbling home though.
A tour of the opera house on Sunday was surprising. From a distance the building looks like you’d expect from the photos, with the sail-like roofs gleaming in the sun. From close-up, the first thought I had was “it’s not even finished yet”. The concrete infrastructure of the building is left undressed apparently to show off the engineering and as an example of neo-brutalist architecture but undressed concrete is not a pretty material visually and the huge brownish slabs which make up the base give a very 60’s towerblock feel. Once, you get over the shock though and get inside, it’s a great building and thankfully the interior areas cover the sight of most of the concrete. A walk around the botanical gardens gives a great view of the city and the cheery entrance signs telling you to walk on the grass, hug a tree and sniff the flowers is a welcome change from the usual, no dogs, no football, no breathing signs.
From Monday to Thursday we bummed around Brisbane seeing the sights and trying to sort out our shipping. Brisbane isn’t the prettiest city but it does have some good architecture and a large student population so it has a bit of life to it. A boat ride through the city turned out to be the best way to see it. And we were getting fed and boarded by the good family Tucker so we couldn’t complain.
On Friday we headed out to the famous Gold Coast, home of the rich and famous. Our first stop was at Surfers Paradise which wasn’t as tacky as we’d heard. We booked ourselves on a whale watching tour which took us through the rivers past innumerable trophy homes (some with personal helicopter) and out to sea. The whale watching was quality. We followed a pair for a bit and one breached fairly near the boat. Then we chased a huge group of dolphins and caught a glimpse of a massive turtle. After a while we came upon a sleeping humpback and when it woke up it breached 3 times in succession 30m from the boat to get a look at us. Excellent. Afterwards we drove down to Byron Bay and got up at 5.30am to see the sunrise from the lighthouse. This was a nice view and we could see several pods of whales making their way up the coast but there’s not much to do in the town so we slung hook for the long drive to Newcastle stopping only for a crocodile pie on the way.
Newcastle doesn’t usually have much interest for tourists but the recent storm had driven a massive coal bulker right onto the beach in front of the town and people were coming for miles around to see it. It was an impressive sight but a potential environmental disaster as the rough seas lashing it could potentially break it up spilling its huge oil store.
On Sunday we toured around the Hunter Valley winery area sampling the local brews before driving into Sydney. We passed right through the city into one of the southern suburbs where we stayed at one of Rich’s friends - Kynan’s. We hardly saw any of Sydney on the way through as most of the time we were in tunnels under the city but this was almost the last bit of driving we are to do. We cleaned the landy out and made it ready for shipping. Over the next few days we were planning to head down to Canberra and Melbourne before returning to Sydney to have a look at the place and ship the car out.
A 10am departure saw us anchored at a large pontoon at Moore Reef on Monday morning. This is one of the reefs further from the main land so is still in excellent condition. From the pontoon we did snorkelling, diving, a glass-bottomed boat tour and a semi-submersible tour. It was all great aside from the semi-sub tour from which you could see very little and actually hit the reef at one point. No marks for that. Still, a good day was had by all and we shook off our hangovers the next day for some quad bike racing that our friend Nick insisted we go on. This was great craic and I showed off my skills by crashing into a tree in the first 3 minutes - the beers we drank beforehand weren’t such a good idea in retrospect. I wasn’t the only one though so it was alright.
On Wednesday we bade goodbye to Mr. Clayton and to Cairns and made our way down the coast. We reached Airlie Beach on Thursday and booked a boat tour of the Whitsunday islands for Friday. Airlie beach is a picturesque tour totally committed to tourism and full of young Americans and Brits. The Whitsundays were beautiful and Whitehaven beach probably is the best beach we’ve seen on this trip. Don’t tell any Aussies that though, its more fun telling them Indonesian beaches are far superior.
Saturday was a full day of driving south heading past Mackay towards Brisbane. Sunday saw us in the location that couldn’t be missed (or so we thought) - Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. We couldn’t miss an opportunity to give our respects to the greatest Australian after Big Rolf so we enthused our way in. Up until the entrance that is where the exhorbitant 49 dollar entrance fee caught us off guard and we grumbled our way around. As much respect we have for the big man, the zoo just isn’t that great and is aimed primarily at kids. American kids. With lots of terribly enthusiastic “come on folks, cheer for Barney the crocodile” type shows.
Afterwards, we made haste down to Brisbane where we met up with my old friend Luke. An actual bed to sleep in for the first time since leaving Perth. Luxury.
After 9 hours solid driving on Monday we reached Tennant’s Creek in time for dinner. The only thing we’d passed on the way was the famous Daly Waters Pub which is the oldest in the territory. Unfortunately it was a total tourist trap and very lacking in real atmosphere. We went to a local social club in Tennant’s Creek where we got fed up and talking to some locals. Kiwi Greg was kind enough to invite us back to his gaff where we had a good nights sleep without our mosquito nets for once. Nice one.
Tuesday was another 9 hour marathon drive across the Border into Queensland. It’s hard to describe just how little there is to see when driving these roads. Huge long straight roads for vast distances broken only by the odd one horse town. The longest we managed was 35 miles without having to turn the wheel even the slightest degree and this wasn’t a rare occurance.
Wednesday was more of the same until we finally hit the east coast on Thursday when we arrived in Townsville (good name eh?). We went to the aquarium here which was pretty cool - containing a living reef and lots of turtles and sharks and then had some local brews from the brewery. We cleverly booked a days whitewater rafting for the next day aswell so we had to drive up to Tully that night.
The Whitewater rafting was pretty cool. We ended up flipping the dingy plenty of times and at one point I floated away down the river for about half a mile before getting resuced by a boat full of Japanese tourists. They were well impressed when I told them I’d been to Japan and more so when I told them I’d had Fugu. They weren’t so impressed when I told them it was minging though. Still a good day was had by all and it was a good introduction to the east coast. The 2 Richs signed up for skydiving the next day at Mission Beach and looked suitably queasy when they returned to land. Fools.
Saturday and Sunday saw us in Cairns which is a quality town with lots of great venues and eateries. We met up with some locals we’d met on the rafting and got stuck into the nightlife. Cairns is a cool town and we’ll probably spend a next few days here but time is running short for me and Mr Reed. The Landy has to be out by the end of the month when the carnet runs out. Mr. Clayton is going to hang around Cairns and try to get some work while we make haste down the coast to Sydney. Not before we see the Reef though which we are booked on for Monday.