Heading South

Trip Start Aug 17, 2003
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26
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Trip End Jun 04, 2004


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Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Not wanting to really hang around my slightly odd Fraser Island companions for too long, I hopped onto a bus heading south the next morning...

And got off again at Noosa, a popular resort town, famed for surfing, and according to the lonely planet, a great place to see koalas in the wild. I'd been feeling fairly cheated on the seeing native australian animals in the wild front up to now, having only seen a few kangaroos off in the distance, so it was definitely time to put some serious effort in!!

I was also determined to do something a little different, as I'd been feeling a little bit like I'd been following the herd for a couple of weeks, with Airlie Beach, the Whitsundays, Hervey Bay and Fraser Island. Noosa is still a popular stop on the backpacker trail, but not so busy... To make sure I was doing something different, I booked myself on a tour of the Everglades, the lake system around the Noosa River in the Great Sandy National Park, north of Noosa.

And it was definitely a little different from the backpacker trail, with most of the other passengers well over 40...! But it was fantastic. We cruised on a boat up through the river, stopping off at a few points to walk through the rain forest. The guide was really informative about the area, which was great, and we saw quite a bit of wildlife... pelicans, more goannas (one was slightly too friendly when we stopped for morning tea!!), a tawny frogmouth (a bird with amazing camouflage that looks just like the tree it's sitting in), and some wallabies (which I was VERY excited about, having not seen any very close up to that point).

Part of the area we cruised through was burned about a month before in an accidental bush fire - and it was incredible to see the contrasts in colour as the regrowth started to come through. For many australian plants, rather than being a disaser, fire is actually an essential part of survival - without it they couldn't reproduce. So soon after a fire, these plants start to regenerate very quickly - leaving an amazing landscape of scorched tree trunks and bright green fresh shoots. This was particularly fantastic when reflected in the waters of the river, turned black by the tannin in the water, and therefore acting like a perfect mirror...

I also wandered into the Noosa National Park, craning my neck upwards all the time to look for koalas - and saw a couple after just 10 minutes or so - a mother and a baby, high up in a tree. It was very cool. And just a couple of trees over, I saw a kookaburra as well - suddenly all the boxes started to get ticked - kangaroo (well, wallaby), koala, kookaburra - I feel like I've been in Australia now!!!!

In absolutely pouring rain (not what I came to Australia for - I'm thinking about asking for my money back...), I continued south down to Byron Bay again. It was quite odd being there without Nick this time, but it was a great place again. I kept myself busy, firstly with the almost obligatory trip to Nimbin. Nimbin is a pretty hippy town, kind of the hash capital of NSW, ever since a protest festival there in the 60s. And now it thrives on the tourism around hash!

I took a trip out there from Byron Bay with Jim's tours, which was excellent. Jim had loads of stories about previous trips, which were very funny, and he had exactly the right music to capture the moment at any time...! Nimbin itself is a really small town, with not a lot to do (except get stoned). There is a very very odd museum, which seems to mainly be a collection of random objects and profound sayings - well worth a look, but I think mind-enhancing drugs may help....

And then there was the buying of hash cakes... No shortage of people offering to part you with your cash either. I think I was the only one not stoned on the bus back - and it was very funny watching people - the girl who was in absolute hysterics at absolutely nothing, the 3 people who wandered off at one stop and we had to just leave them, the guy who ate 14 cookies in one go (he bought an extra pack to take home with him, but liked the taste....!)

After Nimbin, was the other obligatory activity at Byron Bay - a surf lesson. I hadn't picked the best day for it (not raining for the first time in 4 days, but not nice surf), so it was pretty tricky, but I got on ok. Getting up on the board on the beach made it seem easy - just take your time, bring up your feet, and bam, there you are, surfing away.... And then you get out into the water... and suddenly the whole balance thing comes into play and it all gets a bit more complicated. The lesson went straight out of the window, I started putting the wrong foot forward first, I kept wrapping my foot up in the ankle leash, and I drank about 2.5 litres of sea water in the first 10 minutes. Not to mention the fact that my arms were wondering what the hell had happened when I was paddling like stink to try to get out to the waves (and every time I got there, it went completely flat, so I had to paddle again against the current!!!). But I did get a couple of really good runs in, caught a few waves on my own, and with the exception of a few small sense of humour failures (I'm sure those who know me best can imagine...), I really enjoyed it!!! Not sure I'll be rushing to buy a board, but at least I can say I've done it!

From Byron I headed further south, on the overnight coach trip from hell to Newcastle, abotu 2 hours north of Sydney. This was intended to be a stop to break up the journey and just spend a couple of days again doing something slightly off the beaten track. And in fact in was two of the best days I'd spent in ages.

I'd been starting to get quite fed up of travelling on my own (fed up of my own company mostly), but everyone in Newcastle was so friendly - a lovely group in my dorm, and a great crowd of staff in the hostel. And the weather finally got better for a bit of time on the beach, which obviously always helps!!! I was so glad I stopped off there - a real tonic for the soul, which reinvigorated me to keep the travelling up.

Newcastle itself isn't really all that much to write home about - although the city is a bit of an odd mix - very industrial at one end, with a load of colonial buildings at the other end (it was one of the first convict colonies) and some fantastic beaches. But it was definitely a great place to hang out for a couple of days.
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