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Bondi Beach: Notable Mentions

We switched around our plans a bit and headed to Sydney to meet up with Robin. He is originally from Bondi and invited us to come over and stay at his place for the night after a tour of the suburb. There truly is no other tour guide better than someone who has known the area since their youth. Driving in was absolutely incredible. The sun was shining and the rushing, stunning mass of Sydney popped over the hill to display the incredible Harbor Bridge and opera house.

CLIFF TOP WALK
This walk extends 6 km from Bondi to Coogee in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. It hugs the sandstone cliffs through 3 different bays that are idyllic for swimming and surfing. Everyone who walked by us seemed to be perfectly fit and smelling of strawberry fairy floss. Needless to say the picture taking was endless!

Bondi Beach (1)

Bondi Beach Cliff Top Walk (1)

Bondi Beach Cliff Top Walk (14)

With Shoalhaven Heads our next (and final) stop, it felt amazing to have the trip end on this note. The sandstone cliffs were bubbled from years of exposure to water and sun which truly brought the trip full circle. We took a short backpacking trip to Galiano Island before we flew out to test the gear. The incredible art that nature is completing over there looked strikingly similar to Bondi.

Bondi Beach Cliff Top Walk (2)

Camping at Montague Harbour - Galiano (67)

FOOD
We spoiled ourselves more than I should mention while we were staying with Robin. Refreshing sparkle drinks, coffees, middle eastern feasting plates, exotic fruit and massive breakfasts made their way into my food porn memory.  This corner cafe called Thelma and Louise took the cake though. Somehow we made it through this breakfast and the rest of the day, albeit slowly.

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The Blue Mountains is such an incredible place and only 2 hours west from Sydney we had to give it a second go. We ventured to the same laid back hostel that we previously stayed at and the owner recognized us right away. It was so amazing to feel as though we had finished the travelling loop. With so much of our trip feeling like we were explorers constantly experiencing new it was an easy feeling to feel comfortable. Yes I know where the forks are, yes I will cuddle with the hostel cat for hours in the sun. Thank you.

The Flying Fox Hostel (15)

MOUNT TOMAH BOTANICAL GARDENS
This extensive garden showcases cool climate plants and trees from all over the world. We even got to see a bunch of Canadian trees that were absolutely thriving! It is positioned on an old volcano rock bed and because of it has some of the best soils in Australia.

Mt. Wilson Botanical Gardens (3)

BLACK HEATH
On our previous visit we hit the towns and spots within the Blue Mountains that were “must sees.” While being amazing and worthy of the title, they were all heavily populated. We ventured further into the depths of the bush and stumbled upon some breathtaking scenery in Blackheath. We visited a spot called Evan’s Lookout and watched a vicious rainstorm creep its way into the valley towards us. Luckily, we are Canadians and came prepared for every weather possible. Some other people were not as lucky to be from a rainy city.

Evan's Lookout (3)

We also did a hike through the soggy area of Bridal Veil Falls. Due to the past few weeks being really wet and miserable most of the hanging moss was saturating with water and dumping on our head. But, like someone coined it at the hostel: when you’re in the city a raindrop is gross and uncomfortable but when your hiking it just feels right. The weather up there continued to get us excited about coming home to the rainforest!

Bridal Veil Falls (5)

Bridal Veil Falls (11)

And, obviously, no trip to the Blue Mountains is complete without a cake-for-dinner night at The Blue Mountains Chocolate Company.

Blue Mountains Chocolate Company

Australian Autumn

Travelling to the southern hemisphere was strange in ways that I cannot describe. Christmas in summer, tropical rain seasons and winter being 15 degrees are a few that come to mind. Above all of these though is the absence of seasons in most of Australia. Because of the time of year that we left Canada we had a REALLY long stint of winter/spring weather. 11 months long. Thankfully, two summers back to back are in our future.

Autumn has a very nostalgic feeling for most people because it always feels like a fresh start. Feeling refreshed from the long summer season everyone was always feeling ready to start school in the fall; a new year. I have always had such fond memories of that time! The trees are showing off their last bits of life with a spectra of warm colors and scarves are coming back into cuddle mode. I was really sad to have missed all of this (as well as all the other seasons) for this year.

Luckily, upon leaving the Treehouse in Byron Bay, Robin pointed out an inland route down in the direction we were headed that had imported English trees. They still hadn't fully adapted the Australian ways and lost their leaves every year with that famous burst of color in early autumn. “Thunderbolts Way” was absolutely beautiful and started to get us excited about the trip home.

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Byron Bay: Notable Mentions

Byron Bay is a dizzying display of consumption (alcohol, drugs, coffee the next day..), overpopulation and alternative lifestyles. To be fair, we were visiting during the most gong show weekend of the year due to Easter and the Blues and Roots Festival. Perhaps the Byron elders still understand the harmony between nature and humanity but the charm and depth of the hippy movement seems sadly lost on the newer generation. Nevertheless, quite a distracting and entertaining spot to people watch.

The beaches is Byron are amazing and the waves are mellow and perfect for D. The whole beach vibe really reminded me of a warm Tofino. Markets line the coast and international dishes steam at street side cafes. The water was so incredibly salty that I could lay on my back and just float with zero effort. Just lovely.

BLUESFEST:
One of our main goals was to see The Cat Empire in Australia. One moment we thought our luck was taking a tragic turn and the next we realized that they were on a Blues Festival circuit. Tickets were pricey but in the end there ended up being heaps of other awesome bands to see that we may not have otherwise ever had the chance to watch. The Bluesfest (ironically) was also a dizzying display of consumption, overpopulation and alternative lifestyles. The weather went a bit Vancouver on us and torrentially poured for the majority of the day. The smarties had their gum boots on but the second smartest people were in sandals so that when the clouds parted their feet would actually dry. The true blue aussie legends were just walking around in their bare feet. All of the music was incredible and the scene that surrounds live shows was extremely unifying. I often find back home that I am standing in a room of people who came to a show but don’t like the band that’s playing. Bluesfest for me will always be remembered by the masses of smiling dancing bodies taking the show from the artists by singing at the tops of their lungs.

ROBIN’S TREEHOUSE:

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We booked some accommodation titled “the Treehouse” about 20 minutes outside of Byron. To our surprise a 4 km steep hill (as advertised) turned into a 30 minute off-roading adventure while we scaled mud banks and STEEP hills beside cliff faces in our Mitsubishi Express. Good thing we got those tires!

The main house sits atop one side of a valley with amazing views down the mountain side and up the other side to the ocean. Outdoor shower overlooking the valley, roaming chickens, perfect sunrises, flawless internet connections and warm people were only a handful of things that blew my mind staying here.

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Robin has constructed the house all on his own and rents out some land to another wandering soul named Deon. He is currently building another smaller version of the treehouse and working in town. We became fast friends with Deon (ironically he had also done some seasons up at Big White) and had an amazing 4 days of exchanging meals. Easter dinner was a Canadian classic with pork chops (instead of ham), scalloped potatoes and green beans with carrots. Deon was impressed.

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East Coast Hinterland: Notable Mentions

We traveled inland from the surf (and from our impossibly nice stay near Surfer’s Paradise) to take in some of the rainforest bushwalking that everyone was talking about. This area of Queensland is made up of the McPherson Ranges which form a natural barrier between the state and New South Wales. The surrounding land is very lush and green with farmers of all walks dotting the windy roadways.
Heading back into some potentially muddy roads and inconvenient conditions we finally agreed to put new tires on the van. It was a bit of horrible timing because we are selling it in 3 weeks but so much weight was lifted when we had our 4WD capabilities back. How bad were they? Well, the wires were sticking out through the rubber..

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LAMINGTON NATIONAL PARK
This park is absolutely massive. Before any development or mining prospects were proposed this area became a Unesco Heritage Site. The flora and fauna in this park are ancient and the majority of them can only be found in this one spot in the world – including the ever confusing blue lobster! Many interpretive signs told us about the tree varieties dating back to times when Australia was connected to Antarctica. Carbon dating showed researchers around the area that some of the trees still standing and contributing to the biodiversity are over 1500 years old. Sadly, they sprouted in a time of different climate for the area and as the climate continues to change the chances are less likely that new trees will have everything they need to sprout. Once these mammoths are down, they may be down forever.

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Most of the park is on top of a 900 meter plateau and is separated into two accessible sections. We traveled up the impossibly windy road to Green Mountains in hopes of getting some damp bushwalking in to remind us of home. Atop this hair pin, cliff hugging road is a heritage rainforest retreat which is still owned by members of the original family the O’Reillys. All of the bushwalks leave from this retreat and it also boasts a rope and plank suspension bridge tree canopy walk.

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Our destination here was a lovely campground run by the Queensland Parks Department. At $5.15 a night per person with hot showers and bountiful wildlife it was heaven. Unfortunately, the area was just coming out of its wet season and many of the trails were closed. We still got in a 4 km bush walk through virgin forest to some beautiful cascading waterfalls.

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NIMBIN
To complete the hinterland experience we made up a bit of a hippy town loop. By far the most bizarre and interesting was Nimbin but I am afraid the peaceful goal has been tragically lost. Upon stepping out of our van we were instantly the New York high rise office drones feeling out of place. And, let’s face it, we live in a van and have long, curly bleached out hair ourselves so you can imagine the extent of shady creatures. With bouncy techno music reaching the streets from bong shops and drug dealers trying to catch your glace you can’t help but feel like prey.

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Gold Coast: Notable Mentions

Sun loving (or hating if you’re from a variety of Asian countries) tourists seem to be in a heavy, steady stream on this end of the country. I cannot believe the volume of bodies in every shop, on every beach and basically any surface you can find. From being in isolation for the majority of this trip and having beaches to ourselves we are humbly reminded that we are now on the east coast. We are lucky enough to be staying at a friend’s place 20 minutes out of the chaos with good movies, a pool and a patio overlooking a beautiful garden of fruit trees!

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SURFERS PARADISE:
Surfers Paradise is a dizzying display of nightclubs, strip clubs and late night drunken food met by skyscrapers of hotels met by beaches. Hoards of people and flagged tour guides have their pick of any food they could think of and basically any form of entertainment. They even have a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum! The relentless pace doesn't suit everyone though and I am thankful that I am staying away from the crowds.

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Ironically, all of the surfers we have met on this trip have been extremely peaceful people. I would even stretch to say spiritual. This town seems more like a 20 year olds dream rather than a “surfers paradise.”

SPRING BROOKE NATIONAL PARK:

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This national park is remnant of a 20 million year old volcano sheild. We visited one end of this beautiful park called natural Bridge. There was an incredible 1 km round trip bush walk that meandered through sub-tropical rain forest with water falls and pools. Recently they have denied access to the rock arch and water formed cave because of the rare and threatened colony of glow worms that live there. Unfortunately  Australians don't listen all that well and we saw some boisterous young twenty year olds splashing and yelling about. I would like to think for the most part these warnings are respected. 

North Stradbroke Island: Notable Mentions

There are a few islands that shield Brisbane in from the Pacific Ocean. One is accessible by bridge and popular with the grey nomads, one is popular with people seeking the ultimate tourist attractions and one is pretty chill and populated with locals and surfers alike. We chose the chill one in hopes of some good waves and relaxing vibes. I know everyone thinks that I am gallivanting Australia holding hands with the love of my life in one hand and a kangaroo paw in the other but this is only partially true! Travelling this country is hard! It’s so incredibly wild and menacing and hot and uncomfortable and I am in some serious need of a beach holiday after these first 9 months!

NORTH GORGE HEADLANDS:

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Some courageous people built a lovely wooden boardwalk hugging to the Cliffside and skirting the many beaches on the eastern side of the island.

BROWN LAKE:

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Our first lake sighting in all of Australia was on this tiny island. This one was incredibly interesting because it was actually just a massive pit of tea! The native tea trees that live along the edges of this fresh water lake have actually turned the water a beautiful orange/brown tone. Unlike what swimming in an actual tea cup would be like, the water was refreshingly cool and did not dye our skin!

Brisbane: Notable Mentions

It’s amazing to me that more people weren't raving and begging us to visit Brisbane. It is honestly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen and having 21 countries on my belt, I’ve seen a few. The picturesque Brisbane river snakes its way through the city and separates it into the CBD and the slightly less chaotic and uber cultural Southbank. The green spaces here (all amazingly tropical) are plentiful and packed full of people on their lunch break, on an outing with the kids or just having a lazy afternoon napping in the green grass. Unlike Sydney, these people actually seem to be enjoying the outdoors while being active, not just rushing about trying to get their morning jog in. Woven into the modern skyscrapers and green spaces are beautiful historic limestone buildings with iron lace terraces and ornate staircases. It all seems contrasting and it all fits just the same.

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Unfortunately, the city has suffered massive floods multiple times and has basically had to continuously be rebuilding itself. Lucky for Brisbane though, its people are so in love with their city that every single time a major disaster has occurred everyone gets together and fixes the problem. Everything gets restored with the public’s loving hands and life goes on… time and time again. Most notably  in 2011 the CBD was up to my nose in water and there were sharks and crocodiles swimming in the streets hungry for a meal. As a Canadian, this is something I never would have dreamed a reality for some people in a first world country! It's hard to see in the picture but these are all the heights marked on this building of all the big floods.

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A MAJOR thank you must be sent out to Dee and Sandy for housing us and cooking us a traditional Swiss dinner and giving us an early Easter bunny chocolate. You two were beyond the moon and back amazing.

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CITY BOTANICAL GARDENS

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This place is unbelievably large and skirts around the Queensland University of Technology. The towering fig trees, bunya pine trees, macadamia trees and tropical bushy flora give the park life with bright flowers, birds and massive (up to 1m long) lizards.

QUEENSLAND SPECIALS
I suppose every city has their own housing “special” and Brisbane is no exception. We stayed with a friend of D’s from Big White when we first arrived who just purchased a fantastic stilted Queensland special. Built in the early 1900’s this house has survived the wars. Inside space flows into outside space with little to no transition and windows are louvered pieces instead on one massive pane. The house has no insulation and cracks leave little to the imagination as to what the outside world is like. Geckos frequent the kitchen and bush turkeys and possums frequent the roof. It was a beautiful, tropical, magical place to stay.

CBD/CITYCAT

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Being a city on the river, it makes sense to have an immaculate and outrageously fast ferry bopping around town. We took the city cat into town a few times when we were staying with two lovely twins (again, friends from times past in Big White) in the suburb of Auchenflower. At $5.60 it came in at a really cheap river cruise option!

LONE PINE KOALA SANCTUARY
Words cannot even describe this amazing place. It is set 20 minutes outside of the city in an attractive park lands along a section of the Brisbane River. It is home to over 130 koalas as well as kangaroos, possums, wombats and a handful of birds. Koalas are pretty fussy eaters and are in luck because Eucalyptus trees are all over Australia. To further their fuss, they only like 50 out of the 80 species and prefer the new shoots rather than older leaves. The loss of habitat and human invasion are the only real things that seriously threaten the koalas so the sanctuary was born from one man’s ambition to give back to the undeniably cute animals.

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Not only did I spend hours flirting and dancing with cockatoos, I got to actually cuddle a koala and witness some rare dinosaur bird sightings. I though emus were a trip to watch but check out this Cassowary! It’s a wonder how any of these massive (this one stands close to my height) flightless have made it through years and years of predators.

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Broken Hill: Notable Mentions

The largest town in New South Wales’ outback, Broken Hill is way more progressive than one would think. The silver and zinc mining days are more or less over and the shells are all that remain. And what fabulous shells they are! Artists and film makers FLOCK to this town to use its old warehouses, open spaces and surrounding ghost towns. Even though Broken Hill had such a prosperous past, they are not stopping because the ore stopped. The last tributes are the miners memorials and the street names which all relate to the periodic table. Being a science geek, this was pretty much the coolest. Broken Hill has turned into a really hip small town with boutique shops and super friendly people.

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BELL’S MILK BAR

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Apparently THE place to be in the 50’s, somehow this fabulous milk bar has managed to sustain itself over the years. The amazing photo collection in the back of the bar told the story of Italians and Greeks coming over wanting to make a life for themselves and their family without having to get underground. They sustained the town’s meat, produce and coffee supply at local shops and joined in the agriculture industry. Milk bars were the biggest success because it gave people a place to beat the heat and a safe place for kids to socialize. But, don’t be fooled. There were also hooligans that congregated here. They did have pin ball machines, don’t you know. D and I both ordered the most magnificent sundae we could find on the menu and shortly after went straight to heaven.

OLD BUILDINGS

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After visiting an incredible photographic history of all things Broken Hill, I wandered the streets for a bit and tried to trespass into the amazing old warehouses. After seeing what they looked like in the old photographs I really wanted to get a peek in there! The technology and immaculate condition of the old power station was absolutely incredible for the time. Unfortunately, I am not exactly stealth and the flies were driving me to scream so I got the hell out of there with at least a good idea of the outside. Some film studios have bought them up and renovated them to use the space but they basically lay untouched for now.

AIR CON
Temperatures in Broken Hill were high; stupidly high. We have done our best all throughout Australia to take in the temperatures like champs (even though the locals go from air con office to air con car to air con house) and managed to get through Perth with a stand up fan. BUT, coming across the Nullarbor and sleeping in the van at wtf temperatures made us go a bit tropo and we caved. What a glorious two nights it was. The air con roared all day and all day and even though we set it to 16 it could never make it under 20. Surprisingly though, we both had goose bumps sitting in our suite. D was also a bit under the weather so we spent the evenings with our long lost friends: tea and blankets.

Martindale Hall, Mintaro

This place gets all of my votes for most worthwhile site we have visited so far in Australia. The town of Mintaro was founded in 1849 and has since become heritage listed. Even though we were visiting in the dead of the Summer I still could have been convinced that I was somewhere in the English countryside. Sometimes it is easy to forget that Australia was “founded” by the English because of how far they have come on their own but this was pretty bang on.

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The city got its name for the large deposits of slate around the area. Apparently it is world renowned and was used for billiards tables around the world almost exclusively at one point!

Anyways, the hall. A mansion by no stretch of the imagination, sleeping up to 16 guests and having 14 permanent staff when it was lived in. Everything was hand carved and most of the marble fireplaces (present in every room) were carved and imported from small towns in Italy. All the chandeliers and lamps were gas powered at the time and ever so sparkly. The men’s smoking room was absolutely exquisite. Complete with floor to ceiling tapestries, wooden tribal weapons from Papua New Guinea, 16th century traditional Japanese samurai armor and an ash tray the size of a bird pond.. honestly exquisite. This (quite obviously) led into the billiards room complete with tournament sized snooker table and floor to ceiling bookshelves of all the classics. Unfortunately no photography was allowed but here is the link:

www.martindalehall.com

They will even let you book it out for weddings/events with full butler catering AND they host murder mystery nights.  

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