Australia

Sailing the Whitsundays

We had booked tickets aboard ‘The Mandrake’ and had to check-in at 8.30 am the following day for a ‘security briefing’. The ‘check-in’ basically consisted of the crew telling us to bring a small bag of clothes, no valuables and no red wine onto the boat… It was a waste of time ‘checking-in’ at 8.30 am because the boat didn’t leave until 2.30pm! We caught up on sleep in the van for a little while before we tested out the public electric BBQs that we’d seen around town for lunch.

Later in the afternoon we made our way towards the marina to find the catamaran and the people we’d be spending the next couple of days with. Our catamaran was pretty small and there were only 13 people on our boat, so a lot smaller than the bigger party boats that hold over 100 people for 3 nights. The majority of the passengers were British apart from two French girls, an Israeli, and an American girl who wouldn’t stop going on about Taylor Swift (!!!!). As soon as we got on the boat, we were shown to our bunks and it came apparent that there’d be very little privacy over the next couple of days… The toilet was so small that you could barely move. Our sleeping quarters were right in the bow of the catamaran and they’d somehow managed to fit 6 bunks in the tiny room. We were putting our belongings onto our bunks when two French girls asked me whether this was all a joke? They were apparently expecting a luxurious catamaran with a beautiful ensuite cabin and an endless supply of champagne… all for $400. They were living in a dream world!

Stole this picture to show you exactly how small it was... We were in the two bunks next to each other at the bottom.

Stole this picture to show you exactly how small it was… We were in the two bunks next to each other at the bottom.

It was so cramped downstairs that we all went to sit on the deck to enjoy the sunset before the anchor went down for the night. It was a really nice evening on the boat and we were served a lovely spaghetti bolognese prepared by Tom, the Mandrake’s deck hand and host (he was also a splitting image of Olympic Swimmer Tom Daley). After dinner we tried for the first time ‘goon’ (what Aussies call box wine) and got to know the other people on the boat.

IMG_2833 IMG_2835 IMG_2841

I actually slept amazingly well on the first night – perhaps it was the slight rocking of the boat or too much goon? As our bunks were right in the bow of the ship, we were woken up at 5.30am by the captain rising the anchor. We managed to fall back asleep for a little while longer before we were woken up again for breakfast by Tom at 6.30am. The two French girls were rather unimpressed with the breakfast options: cereal, toast, tea and coffee. Maybe they thought Tom was going to rustle up some fresh croissants and a round of espressos for breakfast? They were absolutely miserable and made a point of showing it.

After breakfast and filling up on coffee, the catamaran set sail towards the beautiful Whitehaven beach. The sand was almost white and had a flour like consistency, and it was completely untouched – there were no other footprints on the beach! We spent a couple of hours exploring before we returned to The Mandrake for a spot of snorkelling. The water was ice cold and the stinger suits that we’d been forced to wear (to protect ourselves against box jellyfish) weren’t thick enough. I only managed about 20-30 minutes in the water before I had to go back to the Mandrake, the water was just too damn cold!

IMG_2848 IMG_2860

Untouched sand!

Untouched sand!

IMG_4499

Whitehaven Selfie!

Whitehaven Selfie!

We spent the rest of the day sailing around the Whitsunday Islands spotting whales and chatting to our new friends on the deck. For dinner we were served hot dogs and mashed potatoes, and it was probably the best mash I’d had for a very long time. The deck hand couldn’t work out whether the sausages were beef, pork or both, so the young Israeli guy had no choice to eat them because there was no vegetarian option available. Dan, the young Israeli, had just completed his compulsory three years of military service in Israeli and had hopped on a plane as soon as he finished for a holiday.

IMG_2879 IMG_2893 IMG_4504

On our last day on The Mandrake we were given the option of hiking to a view point or swimming with turtles… naturally everyone wanted the latter. At 7am we’d already eaten breakfast and were getting ready to jump back into the icy water…. there was no need for a coffee pick me up that morning! We found loads of turtles so everyone was pretty happy! When we returned to the boat, it was time to start heading back towards Airlie Beach but the winds were strong. The winds were so strong that the boat stayed tipped on one side for most of the trip back to Airlie Beach and water poured into the decks below. The sea water soaked the two French girls’ stuff: clothes, shoes, makeup, even an iPad. I kind of felt bad for them because they’d obviously been told it was a luxurious sailing holiday and instead it was a budget and cramped catamaran. I kind of felt that they were pretty stupid for not trying trying to make the most of the situation, but instead they were miserable, complained about everything and refused to socialise with the rest of the group. To top it off… as the French girl was getting off the boat she dropped her designer sunglasses into the sea and lost them forever!

About to snorkel!

About to snorkel!

A Humphead Maori Wrasse!

A Humphead Maori Wrasse!

So many fish... I hated them flapping against me.

So many fish… I hated them flapping against me.

A turtle!

A turtle!

More turtles!

More turtles!

Advertisements

Magnetic Island, Australia

We hit the road early the next day because we had quite a few kms to go until we reached Townsville for Magnetic Island. Joanne’s boyfriend lived in Townsville and we parked our camper at his house and then walked to the ferry terminal to get the boat over to Magnetic Island. We had originally wanted to our van over to the island but it was over $100 for the ferry ticket alone plus a camping permit etc, so we just decided to go on foot.

One of my mum’s friends had told me about Magnetic Island before I left for this trip and she had told me it was one of her favourite places in Australia and a must see. I can totally understand why she called it paradise as it had some stunningly beautiful beaches and hikes.

We’d booked a couple of nights at the Base Hostel on Magnetic Island. The hostel was HUGE and was essentially just made of loads of beach huts along the beach that they’d stuffed with as many bunk beds as they could find. When we walked in our 6-bed dorm, we were greeted with the stench of smelly boys, socks and unwashed clothes. It seemed that some of the people in our dorm had been staying there for a VERY long time. The room was absolutely tiny and barely had enough room for 6 bunk beds let alone everyone’s luggage, and it only had ONE plug socket for the entire room. After being in Asia and getting used to having your own lamp and plug for your bunk, the facilities were incredibly basic and the hostel was very overpriced. We got out of the room pretty damp quick and walked to the nearest supermarket and bottle shop. We bought some food to make fish tacos and sat on the beach having a beer whilst the sun went down.

The huts at the hostel!

The huts at the hostel!

The hostel’s kitchen facilities were a bit of a joke. It looked promising when we walked in as there were 16 hobs, but quickly found out only about 5 of them actually worked. The hostel was very poorly maintained and I’d recommend staying elsewhere on Magnetic Island in the future.

We met two English guys from our dorm and they’d just come from working on a zucchini farm and were blowing off some steam as they’d just been fired. The guys told us how they’d never worked so hard in their lives and never in such terrible conditions… The farm owner was this awful woman who’d scream abuse at them all day long. One of the boys actually seemed quite traumatised by the way she treated him. They’d been working on the farm to do the 3 months of required farm work to secure their 2nd year visa when they were fired! To rub salt in the wound the bitchy farm owner only signed them for 18 days of farm work instead of the 80 or so that they’d worked.Naturally they were rather pissed off with the situation and were annoyed that there was no governing body that they could complain to. Apparently from next year the Australian government is going to automatically issue 2 year working holiday visas to stop backpacker exploitation on farms. The boys told us how they were forced to pay $200 in rent a week to live in a 16-bed cockroach infested corrugated iron shed. When they initially applied for the job, the farm owner had told them there was free wifi, TV room, free food, clean showers and kitchen… it was all a lie. One of the boys told us how he had to walk 15 minutes up a hill to get ONE bar of mobile reception, let alone an internet connection. They were completely cut off from the world in the bush.

The barbie car!

The barbie car!

The next morning we woke up early to do some exploring! You could hire these Barbie cars for the day to drive around the island but they were incredibly expensive, so we just decided to get the bus and walk on foot instead. We were only wearing flip flops and had to walk down a huge hill on rocky terrain for about 15 minutes to get to this beach that was meant to be a fantastic spot for snorkelling. We put on our silly stinger suits (to protect us against the dangerous box jelly fish) and ran straight into the water to spot some cool stuff. We spent a good half an hour snorkelling but it wasn’t spectacular and we soon realised that we were covered in this funny grey/black oil, so we decided to get out.
Magnetic Island wasn’t turning out to be the paradise that I’d imagined.

Snorkelling on Alma Beach!

Snorkelling on Alma Beach!

Later that evening we hung out in the hostel’s and the island’s only bar (apparently) and it was full of lots of random drunk old Australian men drinking in the bar all night. They were getting very rowdy and picking fights with people all the time. It seemed that the bar attracted more locals than people actually staying at the hostel.

All in all Magnetic Island wasn’t as amazing or as beautiful as I’d imagined. I guess after being in the paradisiac islands of Thailand and Indonesia, it didn’t exactly wow me. It was a cute little island but nothing to write home about! We were excited to get back to the mainland and head on our way.

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Once we’d finally decided to leave Cairns, we only had a couple of days left to do everything we’d planned: dive the Great Barrier Reef,jump off waterfalls at the Atherton Tablelands and visit the Daintree National Park. Unfortunately the weather in Cairns hadn’t improved since we’d arrived… every day was grey and wet. There didn’t seem much point going to the Atherton Tablelands if it was going to be cold and wet the entire time. The weather forecast didn’t show any signs of improving for the next week or two. We knew we couldn’t leave Cairns without diving the Great Barrier Reef, so we decided to do a dive come rain or shine. We managed to find a good deal with a dive boat that went to the outer reef for $100 with lunch, snacks, drinks, snorkelling gear and a dive, and an additional $20 for each dive after that.

We had to be at the dive terminal for ‘check-in’ at 7.30am which meant getting up and leaving Joanne’s house very early for the first bus into the city. It was a cold and grey morning and the weather forecast didn’t show any signs of improving. Once we got to the boat we were given all our dive equipment to set up. We were the only 2 certified divers on the boat and the other 100 people would be spending the day snorkelling above the reef at the different dive sites. It was soon clear that it was going to be a very rocky day on the boat as the staff were handing out free natural motion sickness pills. When we arrived at the first dive site it was raining heavily and the sea was so rough that people were already throwing up.

We put our wetsuits and BCDs on and walked over to the back of the boat to get into the water, but it was pretty difficult because there were waves breaking onto the back of the boat. It was so choppy that the dive master told us to descend as soon as we entered the water because staying on the surface was too difficult. With a huge leap I plunged into the water and emptied my BCD to descend, and after going down a few metres under the surface the sea was calm. It was pretty cool looking up at the waves breaking on the surface above us, and yet it was so strange that everything was calm just a few metres down. We went down 12-15 metres and took in the beauty. Lots of people had told us that if you’d done a dive in Thailand and on the Gilis in Indonesia that you wouldn’t find the Great Barrier Reef that special. How wrong they were! The Great Barrier Reef was spectacular! The coral was more vibrant, diverse and alive than anything we’d seen before. We were very lucky indeed.

Clown Fish!

Clown Fish!

DCIM100GOPRO

Pointing at something amazing, obviously

Pointing at something amazing, obviously

We returned to the surface for a spot of lunch before going on the next dive. The dive master told us it was much better to be underwater than on the boat and he was right. The boat was rocking like crazy. I felt sorry for the people that were attempting to snorkel – the sea was so rough that they couldn’t see anything. We then went to another dive site, suited up and jumped in the water for a second site. We didn’t really see anything more than at the first site, but we did spot a huge turtle! There were also quite a few caves and swim throughs at this dive site but for some reason my BCD kept filling up with air. It filled up with so much air that I began floating up towards the top of the cave and I had to grab onto the cave to stop myself banging my head on the sharp edges. Kyle realised what was going on and pulled the emergency release valve on the back of my BCD to empty the air out. 🙂

Kyle with the turtle

Kyle with the turtle

Sea cucumber!

Sea cucumber!

DCIM100GOPRO

When we returned to the boat, I realised that I had a nasty cut on my leg from the reef. As reef cuts are known to get infected very quickly, the dive master made me go to the first aider on board to get my cut cleaned up. I was really exhausted by this point so decided to have a nap in the cabin upstairs whilst Kyle went on the final dive. Apparently 80% of the snorkellers on the boat hadn’t ventured out into the water because of the poor conditions – they basically just paid to sit on a boat all day throwing up.

Once Kyle returned from his final dive, the boat headed back to Cairns and the crew provided some entertainment. The chef got his guitar out and began singing and making up songs about various passengers on the boat. There were people running to the toilets to be sick every couple of minutes. It was only when we arrived back at the port in Cairns that the sky cleared and the sun began to shine.

DCIM100GOPRO

Our Help X Experience with the Hoults

When I was researching our Australian leg of this trip, I came across the Help X exchange programme website (www.helpx.net)

HelpX is provided primarily as a cultural exchange for working holiday makers who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad, to stay with local people and gain practical experience. In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of 4 hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals for their efforts.

You could participate in the programme on farms, hostels, pubs and families all over Australia, and was a great way to save money on accommodation and get the ‘true Aussie experience’. I’d spent quite some time messaging a few families in Cairns on the website and eventually one family agreed to have us in exchange for some babysitting and housework for four hours a day.

We were picked up by Joanne (the mum) in Cairns city and she drove us to her house in the suburbs of Cairns. Joanne was in her 50s and a single mum from Darwin with three children: Patrick (10), Annie (13) and Georgie (17). When we arrived at their 40s style house, Georgie had already made a tuna pasta bake and a vegetable pasta bake for dinner. The family had so many different food likes and dislikes. Joanne, for example, was a vegetarian and had been all her life, Georgie only ate chicken, canned tuna and beef mince (only in bolognese), and Patrick only liked peanut butter sandwiches… As Joanne was a vegetarian and didn’t like to touch meat, the children cooked 90% of the family’s meals.  The children had strict house rules and were each expected to cook a couple of times a week, clean the house, wash and iron their own clothes and walk the dog. The children had lots of questions about what our lives and schools were like back home – they particularly enjoyed hearing about the Oratory’s ridiculous rules. As their mum only bought healthy food and no junk, they would us ask what certain sweets that they’d seen on TV were like. They’d never tried peanut butter and jam sandwiches either!

We woke up pretty early the next day as Joanne said she wanted us to have breakfast with the children every morning before they went to school. We ate a very early breakfast with Patrick at 7.15am and then dropped him to school before getting on with our ‘chores’ for the day. Once we’d done everything she’d asked we went into town to figure out whether we should settle in Cairns for a couple of months or go down South. We walked around the city and quickly came to the conclusion that Cairns wasn’t too exciting and started considering our next move – Darwin or Brisbane?

Joanne asked us to cook dinner for the family that night, so we returned home later that afternoon to make a dinner of sausages, coleslaw and dauphinoise potatoes (Joanne’s idea). After 3 months of tofu, curry, noodles and chicken satay, the food tasted soo good. Joanne went out in the evening to catch up with friends so we were required to babysit as part of our work exchange. We ended up playing Just Dance on the Wii with Annie and Patrick for hours before convincing them they had to go to bed. (What hard work!)

The next morning Joanne asked us to help her fit the new washing machine she’d just bought as part of our ‘chores’. Kyle helped her carry it in from the car and then we were responsible for taking out the old one and connecting the new one. We’d obviously never done anything like this before but it wasn’t too hard! As Joanne is a single mother and doesn’t get the chance to go out that much, she went out that evening with some friends to a ukele performance and we ‘babysat’ the kids again. It wasn’t exactly ‘babysitting’ but more making sure that they don’t kill each other. They were well behaved most of the time but occasionally the two sisters would have screaming matches.

On Saturday we were assigned our biggest task yet: painting the house! I was pretty glad she did because I didn’t feel like we were doing our 4 hours of work a day, and painting the front of the house definitely made up for it. We had to sand down the panels that were to be painted, wipe them down with bleach to prevent mould, cover the edges with masking tape to protect the house against paint splodges, and then paint the panels blue! It took us about 6 hours all in all and Joanne was really pleased with the results. They’d only bought this house a year and half ago when they moved from Darwin and the house was very much stuck in the 40s. I actually really enjoyed the painting (possible career move?).

Joanne wanted to go away for the weekend and meet her boyfriend in Townsville, so we were in charge for the kids for the next couple of days. We cooked a delicious roast chicken for them all on the Saturday night and then watched a film together. Joanne said Georgie might try and sneak out to see her boyfriend, but she didn’t (well at least I don’t think she did….). It was also on Saturday that made the decision to head south for Brisbane and started planning our trip. Cairns is great if you want to visit the Great Barrier Reef or Daintree Rainforest, but you can’t visit these places everyday because it costs too much money. For example, a dive on the Great Barrier Reef will set you back about 100 pounds, whereas in Asia we were paying about 15 quid or so a dive.

Now that we’d decided to leave Cairns we were trying to decide how to get to Brisbane. I really want to buy a campervan and drive down the coast, but Kyle thought we should just rent one and see what it’s like first. The Greyhound coach is also another alternative but works about the same price as renting a van once you factor in petrol… Decisions, decisions, decisions!!!