Friday, 1 February 2019

Backpacking Part Deux - Australia via Singapore, Honk If You're Wicked

So, dear Readers, we find ourselves in Australia. Picture the scene: your hapless backpacking blogger has managed to get her backpack on again without falling backwards, and has headed to Heathrow. After many hours (I think Cattle Class has actually improved by now, but I hadn’t prepared myself for just how long it takes…although as an aside, travelling on your own or with another adult for 13 hours is INFINITIELY easier than travelling with a toddler for 2 hours) I land in Singapore.

No one prepared me for the wall of sheer heat and humidity that would hit me as I disembarked, so bare that in mind. I had pre-booked a cheap hotel which was absolutely lovely and if you do go “via” somewhere, make it Singapore. I completely stumbled across Clarke Quay which was next to the hotel, and it was beautiful: full of vibrant stalls and street food – sea cucumber, anyone? Beware, can be poisonous and looks a bit like a poo, but a real delicacy. Being a Princess, I had to visit Raffles and have a Singapore Sling…Can I be really honest here? Ever so slightly disappointing…

On to Oz…now I’m not going to bang on too much about places, as this blog is about travel trends rather than a narrative on various destinations. On arriving in Melbourne, and spending time with family, your esteemed blogger made her way to Cairns. This is where the story starts: Cairns. A place from which you can take numerous tours to see the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is also very hot and very, very tropical. It rained. A lot. So much so that it was too rainy and too stormy to actually see the Great Barrier Reef. So there.

Cairns is also full of Aborigines. This is an interesting topic, and a rather sad one. In New Zealand, I found the Maoris integrated, revered and their history lovingly kept alive. In Australia, for the Aborigines, quite the opposite. They were in little drunken huddles in the streets. It was so sad.

So deciding to leave Cairns and tour down the East Coast with Sydney being the eventual destination, I had to think about how to get there. You’ll love this. Not wanting to go with the general backpacking crowd, who were all embarking the “Oz Experience” coaches, your hapless blogger decided to go renegade and hire a campervan to drive the East Coast herself. Now, remember I did mention in the last article that I DO NOT CAMP. Bear this in mind.

Unfortunately, being at that stage under the age of 25, I was not old enough to hire a nice campervan. Now, being extremely old, should I ever be crazy enough to do it again, and all those of more advanced years embarking on such a trip, ABSOUTELY hire a campervan, you will have the time of your life! But remember, hire one with a nice place to sleep, and most importantly, AIR CONDITIONING.

So, dear readers, I, obviously, did not have these luxuries. The only campervan company available to me was they had just opened and were cheap and happy to rent their campervans to younger people. Suffice to say, by the time I collected the van (a converted, elderly Toyota Hiace) from the shed they had in Cairns, and driven it North (confusingly but I wanted to see some rainforest), I had named it. Arsehole. Mainly as it resembled its namesake. I stopped at my first ever campsite in a Godforsaken and very hot place called Palm Cove (sounds lovely, wasn’t really). Arsehole was duly parked and set up for the night. Arsehole was not only infested with BED BUGS but it was so hot, and there was no air conditioning, and don’t forget the volume of mosquitos up there in the tropical parts of Australia, that you had to keep the mosquito nets on the windows shut, blocking out any kind of breeze. Whilst the campervan in the pitch next door had their air conditioning unit running all night to assist you in the lack of sleep. It was the first and last time I ever camped.

Arsehole and her passengers made it to Airlie Beach, where she duly expired, marooning them for weeks on a dingy caravan park (it was preferable to the youth hostels)…once she was fixed, we bumbled along the coast. Now, I hadn’t realised until I was there, that swimming in the sea on the East Coast isn’t as pleasant as it sounds. Depending on where you are, you can only swim where there are shark/jellyfish/saline crocodile nets. Ever so slightly off-putting for the average traaveler. Apparently you “tend” to be fine, South of Brisbane…but it kind of puts you off taking the chance. I was always rather concerned swimming in these so-called “safe” areas or netted areas because the last time I looked, sharks and crocodiles have teeth. It’s part of their USP. So could they not chew through the nets? Or, let’s face it, Crocky could just pop round via the shore…

Noosa, and Noosa Heads definitely worth a visit, and I carried on to Brisbane, where, on finding the “Wicked” garage, I dumped Arsehole. In fact, dear readers, I rejected her. I was given a new one. Van, obviously, not arsehole. And on we went. Brisbane is lovely and I was lucky enough to go to Steve Irwin’s Zoo whilst he was actually there. Very cool.

As I was departing Brisbane in the new van, people kept honking their horns at me. I started to panic: had I not shut the back door properly? Were my pants falling out onto the road? So I stopped the van and went round the back to have a look. Now, if you have a quick look at the link I put in earlier for “Wicked Campervans”, although at the time I had no choice, they are, erm, spray-painted with erm, interesting artwork. Arsehole was so old and bashed up that you couldn’t actually see what her artwork was, but the new van had a fresh paintjob, and clearly spray-painted on the back of the van was “Honk if you’re Wicked”. So ALL THE WAY from Brisbane to Sydney, I was honked.

As an aside, if you are going to hire one of these monstrosities, it’s worth noting that not all campsites accept “Wicked” campervans. As you’ll see from the website, some of them are very, very rude.

Another note: I couldn’t recommend you had your own set of wheels more. If you get the coach tours, of which there are many, you are totally beholden to the youth hostels. And despite their names and reputations, are often not the cheapest option. Having your own set of wheels, even if they are Arseholes, gives you the choice. From my own experience, motels tend not only to be cheaper, but infinitely nicer. Obviously I had a companion, so if you’re on your own, maybe not. However cheap hotels and motels should not be overlooked.

Now, I am not going to list all the places I visited or tell you where to go, but if you do find yourselves in this area, then I would send you to, on nearing Sydney, the Blue Mountains National Park. Katoomba is the place you want to head for to stay, and it is undoubtedly beautiful. Sydney is definitely worth a visit, and I ended up staying, having said goodbye to Honk if You’re Wicked, finally, in the red light district. Not on purpose, obviously, but it was good fun. Sydney was without doubt my favourite place in Australia that I visited. I realise I only drove the East Coast, but that was quite a feat and, after purchasing some Ugg boots (before they were popular – yes, I am that old), I was more than ready to depart for New Zealand.

What can we take from travel trends in Australia? Hire a campervan that you can actually camp in; or a Wicked one, if you want a laugh. The locals will torture you with stories of snakes and spiders…the only wildlife I came into contact with was a frog in the loo…; they have great anit-drink drive signs: Drink, Drive, Bloody Idiot. Motels are often cheaper than youth hostels, and infinitely nicer.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your trip to Australia, now get someone to help you on with your backpack, and get ready for New Zealand!



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