Let’s see if I manage to make this one shorter than the Malaysia post. Lots to write about, though.
Our first contact with Australia… clearing customs at the airport. We had been warned about how serious they take bio-security, so, since we happen to carry around half a pharmacy and more than a few food-products, we went to the “declare” queue. Then came our turn with this Australian customs officer, hairstyle -and attitude- à la Fonzie from Happy Days, who looked at our form and said, pointing at the door: “don’t be so Italian… do you see that exit sign?”, half-smiled and let us go. Not sure what he meant with the “Italian” comment, but we were in. And so was our Malaysian muesli, black rice and moringa powder.
Anyway, to start with the conclusion, what a wonderful -and diverse- country! We totally loved it… and would totally live here! For us it was a confirmation that there’s more to this would-love-to-live-there world than Europe (I know, I know, there’s also Canada and a few other ones). It’s so cool here that instead of stray dogs and cats, they have stray turkeys! (really, what’s with all those turkeys? good thing thanksgiving is coming) Oh!.. and they still have Blockbuster! Doesn’t get much cooler than that.
– newest Australian hits… stray turkeys and Blockbuster Video –
We had a similar feeling than with Singapore…so many things for people to do and enjoy, clean, organized, safe… things work… and without Singapore’s “firm hand”. It’s like here things work because people want them to work, not -only- because father government will punish you if you misbehave. Some argue that being so far away helps, as people who might “interfere with things working” -see how politically correct I am?- have not made it here. The other big difference is that Singapore, more than a country, felt like a city. Australia, more than a country, feels like a continent. You can fit 31 Netherlands in one Peru. Well, you can fit about 185 in one Australia! And only 24 million people. Imagine the space everyone has.
– Not everything can be perfect though… this is also the birthplace of UGGs. Ugg. –
And the famous Australian animals, yes, we saw most of them…touched a few, played with some, fed a couple, ate one or two (including the ones we had fed and played with). No dangerous encounter of any kind, luckily.
This has been a journey of nature, in a land of people who walk barefoot in shopping malls, of kids at beaches and parks playing rugby -not football- and learning to surf at the age Dutch kids are learning to ride a bike and Peruvian kids are learning to distinguish between their mom and their nanny. A marvelous sequence of golden-sand beaches and scenic drives, huge pick-up tracks with outback gear on the rooftops, 300 natural reserves, 500 camping parks, 1000 waterfalls, 2000 boardwalks, 3000 lookouts and 10000 wild-life signs on the roads. And trees, millions of trees.
-see what I mean?-
Life in a Campervan
I had heard that Australia was best explored with your own wheels, but the thought of driving on the left and the realization of how big Australia is, made me hesitate. My friend Christian, who had been here with the family not long ago, even suggested to rent a campervan.
…”there are small ones where you can sleep on the roof”, he said. Yeah right… like Sandra and mua will sleep on the roof of a van. P-p-please.
Last time I had camped was… probably in 1985, in the garden of my childhood house in Arequipa, with friends from school in my dad’s tent. I believe that was the first and last time that brown tent was ever used.
Well… long story in short, we spent 20 nights here:
– our Australian penthouse –
Turns out this country is SO well prepared for camping life, that it was an awesome experience. You can camp for free in many spots, but we, being newbies, decided to stick to paid parks, and there’s one every other corner… for a fee, you have a space to park your van and can use common facilities to shower, cook, do the laundry, etc, etc. Like a mini club. We loved the whole concept.
Also, it’s SO easy to drive in this country (once you get used to the left-hand mode). Roads are perfect (just be careful with crossing animals… so many poor dead kangaroos on the road). And so well signaled! There are signs for EVERYTHING. I’m sure there are signs to let you know there’s a sign coming.
We drove over 3600km. Sandra drove a good couple of hours as well. When I told my dad over the phone that she was driving, he and Sandra spoke at the same time. I heard “He better don’t say “how scary!””, with my right ear, and “how scary!!!” with the left one, over the phone.
Camping came with a new routine of waking up at 7am and going to bed at 10pm. Check-out time in this part of the world happens to be at 10am (for all types of accommodation). We kind of adjusted, most of the time waking up to the sound of birds (except for that night when our campervan neighbor -a showgirl dancer, she said she was- got back from partying at 3am and couldn’t turn off her van’s alarm for 15 minutes, nor her hormones for the following 3).
We spent nights in so many different places, that I’ll try to aggregate them and stick to the highlights… there was much more than what you’ll read here below:
This whole chapter started in Cairns. We couch-surfed 4 nights at Dee’s home, a lovely retired lady in her 60’s, who hosts people -for free- almost with no interruption. She gets energy from sharing her millions of wonderful stories. She knows TONS about the country and its aboriginal origins. It was interesting to hear that version of the story (not the one told by the colonizing side).
We snorkeled the Great Reef Barrier (awesome!) and saw a bit of the Daintree rainforest and the Atherton Tablelands. Gorgeous little towns and impressive landscapes. Gotta stay away from the waters though… this is croc country.
Central Queensland, Sunshine Coast, Golden Coast, a lot of coast
After short stops in Mission Beach (very nice!) and Townsville, we arrived to Airlie Beach, in front of the Whitsunday Islands. We “camped” in the small parking lot of a backpackers hostel, which let us use their common facilities. It is in this type of places that we realize we are probably close to the age-limit to still be able to “blend in” with the most hardcore backpacking scene without feeling awkward. Folks having bread with Nutella for breakfast and bread with ketchup for dinner and such.
We took a sailing tour to the Whitsundays. WOW. We walked in a constant state of wow on that 98% silica sand, whiter than white, softer than soft, which you couldn’t look at with no sunglasses on, so white it was. And the sea… remember I had fallen in love with the sea at the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia? Well it seems it wasn’t true love. This sea is now at the top of the list (did I mention wow?).
On that sail boat we met Elise and Felix, a super nice Dutch-German couple we would later also meet in Cape Hillsborough -feeding Kangaroos and Wallabies at sunrise- and then in Brisbane (this third time was coordinated). A few days later, in Sydney, they got engaged. Felix will say that the final proof of true love were those weeks they survived together in a van, but I know it was our love which inspired him so much that he bought the ring 🙂 . Good people.
– I have a strong feeling we’ll meet again –
Driving down to Brisbane we spent our only “for free” night in the backyard of a bar/hostel, in the middle of nowhere. The house looked like an Alfred Hitchkock movie set. Very shady folks staying there. We confirmed we’d stick to paid camping sites from then on.
We spent one night in Noosa (lovely higher-end beach town), and drove on to Brisbane. It has the reputation of being a boring city, but we found it quite livable.
And south of Brisbane, the famous Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise. In our view, overrated. Weather didn’t help though. Here we discovered that camping life under the rain is less fun. Luckily there’s Blockbuster!
We Also spent Sandra’s birthday here… not the average birthday for her, blowing a birthday candle sticking out of a chocolate pudding. Oh well.
Things got even more interesting as we crossed to New South Wales (the state south of Queensland). We started with Nimbin. Oh, Nimbin… funky little town. The -unofficial- marijuana capital of Australia, they say. There was a hippie festival back in the 70’s, after which it became quite popular. Many of those hippies stayed. THEY are now in the 70’s. Full or sustainable shops, herbal dispensaries and alternative vibe.
Sandra invented a new word, after seeing some of the most picturesque residents of Nimbin: “the nimbos”… Sandra doesn’t like the nimbos. I found Nimbin super authentic, nimbos and all… as if time had stood still. Go if you have the chance. One night is enough.
I also sat in front of the local market for a while, taking pictures, to show you what your looks need to be, if you want to pass for a local in Nimbin. We felt a bit out of place, I must confess, wearing Nike dri-fit instead of fairtrade organic hemp fiber in earth colors.
– Jhonny, la gente esta muy loca-oca-oca –
Then, close to Nimbin, back at the ocean, Byron Bay… “where hippie meets surf”, I read somewhere. One of our best stops in Australia. We spent 4 nights there. Great atmosphere. We tried some surfing as well. The instructor chose a beach for beginners which was more like a lake, so it felt more like a paddle-board class without the paddle. Shrug.
And Finally, Sydney and surroundings
Before hitting Sydney, we made a detour inland. First, the Hunter valley, with a million great wineries to choose from for some wine tasting. We flipped a coin -not really- and Sandra was the designated driver. Very nice. 😊
We then went to Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains region. Another wow. Best views ever. You feel so insignificant. Check the pics. Also passed by some lovely little towns in the area, worth visiting (don’t go with a day tour from Sydney… spend one or two nights there… it’s worth it).
– crazy views –
And finally, Sydney. Such a nice city. We returned the van and spent a few Airbnb nights at -go figure- a Peruvian girl’s apartment (total coincidence)! We checked all the boxes… city tour, ferry, Opera, Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach, … then some great local markets and walked like there was no tomorrow. If you ever asked yourself -like I at some point had- what the Opera House’s “sails” are made of … well it’s ceramic tiles in two colors… and they could really use a good wash.
One of the highlights was definitely the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee. A 7km stroll enjoying many beaches, plenty of art pieces, 50 shades of blue waters and many runners and walkers, most of them women wearing more weight in make-up and fashion shades than in sports apparel, in an evident “see and be seen” mood.
So far, so good…
And that’s it for now… from Sydney we crossed over to New Zealand and will later come back for a -shorter- second part (waiting for the weather to improve in the south).
– this is the ground we covered… for a more detailed version, click here –
I must confess that we ended up a bit tired…. with a feeling of being always in a rush. There is SO MUCH to see in this country, that no matter how long you spend here, time will always run short. Remember our stories about going to the movies and shopping malls, or crashing into Hotels’ gyms? Well that didn’t happen here. No time.
– this is how we have to workout now –
The amount of time spent planning for the next move can be a bit overwhelming. But hey, these are the type of problems one shouldn’t complain about, right? In the end, the one discussion I remember about not having enough time was because “we are spending too much time having breakfast”. Big drama, I know.
More to come after a kiwi break.
… for the musical bonus track, I have to go back to Nimbin and this very inspired street performer and his didjeridu. I’m not sure if he’d qualify as a nimbo. You’ll have to ask Sandra.
– so melodic-
…aaaaaand, if you made it all the way to here, and still want to see how our campervan was in more detail, here the full demo, presented to you by beautiful model Sandra (audio in Spanish, sorry).
– not getting any kind of sponsorship by Jucy, just in case, but we wouldn’t mind! –
Wellington, New Zealand, October 29, 2017.