Melbourne

Melbourne has some of the most charming architecture compared to other Australian towns and cities we have visited.  Whilst some of the buildings have that modern, sleek look, a lot have a Victorian feel, as one might expect of the city which is the capital of the state of Victoria.  There is a real mix of old and new.  What really stands out though, is the cafe culture.  Aside from the cafes and restaurants to be found on the main thoroughfares, the city is a warren of appealing little side streets hosting quirky and individual cafes, serving freshly brewed coffee and all manner of European and Asian cuisine.

DSCN2894

The National Gallery of Victoria

During our three months in Melbourne, we had the opportunity to live in different parts of the area: from the quiet, leafy suburbs of Macleod where we were welcomed by our good friends Jess and Mike, to the laid back streets of St Kilda with it’s beach and chilled-out vibe.  Another area that we liked very much was Fitzroy, with a fantastic range of vintage shops, bars and restaurants.

We like museums, and Melbourne certainly didn’t disappoint us on that front.  At the Immigration Museum we were able to learn about the origins of the first immigrants to Victoria, including the several month long boat journeys that travellers from the UK endured.  It also raised thought-provoking questions about society: the different roles that we all feel we hold and where we feel we belong.  The Melbourne Museum, which has existed for approximately 150 years, is home to a huge array of displays, revealing information about everything from the Aboriginal tribes in Victoria, the first settlements in Melbourne, the changing Parliament, animals and creatures native to Australia and a large science section covering physical and mental aspects of humans.  At the National Gallery of Victoria we were able to see the state from its art perspective.  There we saw some truly impressive  paintings, many dated hundreds of years ago and depicting various religious scenes, as well as vast collections of pottery and glass over the centuries, from Australia but also parts of Europe and Asia.

DSCN2879

The Royal Botanical Gardens

Melbourne is very green, and when inside some of its gardens you could quite forget that there is the hustle and bustle of a city only minutes away.  The Royal Botanical Gardens are some of the most beautiful we have seen, with such vivid colours resulting from the city’s ‘four seasons in one day’ climate that it is well known for.  In this peaceful place, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on Christmas Day with my parents, which was lovely.  St Kilda also boasts its own botanical gardens: much smaller, but appealing nevertheless, with a pretty rose garden.

As great as Melbourne is, it is only one place which Victoria has to offer, as we discovered when we hired a car and ventured further afield…

Fraser Island

After 4 weeks of hard work on the farm, it was time for some beach time, so we joined a tour to Fraser Island for a few days.  It is a sand island, which only 4×4 vehicles can handle, so we felt it would be a safer option to travel with other (more experienced) visitors of the island than to go off-roading by ourselves.

DSCN2730

Lake Mackenzie

We didn’t think we would see another beach as beautiful as Whitehaven Beach, but we were wrong.  75 Mile Beach is the longest stretch of beach on the island, and boasts beautiful sunrises which we were able to appreciate as we were camping behind the sand dunes there.  Around Lake Mackenzie are hidden secluded little beaches, with soft, pure white sand, perfect for relaxing in the sun after swimming in the fragrant tea tree infused water.  Eli Creek flows gently through overhanging branches from an underground reservoir out to the ocean.  The headland of Indian Head offers the most spectacular views of the island; it’s never-ending powdery sand, the swirling shades of blue in the crystal clear ocean, and the lush green trees further inland.  The Champagne Pools are warm rock pools beside the ocean, with frothing, foaming waves crashing over the rocks from the sea.  The scenery is just breathtaking.

DSCN2719

Tom swimming in Eli Creek

Fraser Island was named after Eliza Fraser who survived from a shipwreck on the island.  Her husband, who was the captain of the ship, and the rest of the crew, all died, leaving her the sole survivor.  The indigenous people who lived there looked after her until she was rescued, however she sought fame back in England by telling wild stories about how they treated her.

The true, Aboriginal name for the island, is K’gari.  The local Aboriginal people, the Butchulla people, believe that K’gari was a female spirit who loved the island and its beauty so much that she turned into it.  A much lovelier name and story for such a stunning place.

One of our favourites to date, Fraser Island was a fantastic place to spend some of our last days in Queensland.  Back on the mainland, we made our way to Brisbane, where we boarded a plane for Melbourne.

WWOOFING in Gin Gin

1186319_730443226981562_1599303917_n

Tom driving the the Lister diesel dumper truck

We decided that we would like to get a taste of the real Australia, living out of the normal tourist traps and amongst some of the smaller communities in more rural areas. We thought we would have a go at wwoofing, which is where you work on an organic farm in exchange for food and board. Having never done any farm work before, it appealed to us both as it would be a new and very different experience.

We were quickly approached by a few farms interested in taking us on, and chose the one that sounded the most suitable. The farm was in a town called Gin Gin, about 45 minutes away from the city of Bundaberg.

The farm was small compared to others around it, covering about 19 acres, and it had a variety of things that interested us such as tending to animals and growing vegetables.

On our first day at the farm we were thrown straight into working. The clutch on the minivan was completely burnt out and needed changing. Sophie and I had the task of dismantling this in order to change it. We were given a little bit of guidance and a rough guide to what we had to remove. The rest was pretty much up to us!

DSCN2659

Sophie feeding one of the newborn lambs on the farm

When we weren’t fixing engines our other duties included doing the morning feeding of the animals. We would wake up around six in the morning to fill wheelbarrows full of sweet potato, giving some to the pigs, cows and sheep. We also chopped up some of it very fine to throw into the chicken coup.

We spent four weeks working on the farm and we experienced a lot of things. I am now able to drive a tractor and a dumper truck and can also use a rotary hoe and drive with a trailer.  Sophie can now bake bread.

The farm was at times very hard though. We were sleeping in a cramped room with two other people and on a sofa bed which was killing our backs. Days could be long and the temperature could get to the high thirties! Some days were even spent picking rocks out of a field which, although necessary for the development of the farm, wasn’t much fun.

The farm work was definitely an experience and I’m glad we gave it a go. I would recommend that other travellers give wwoofing a go as a way of trying new things. Four weeks, however, was more than enough!

Road Trip Part 3: Town of 1770

DSCN2642Continuing our journey down the coast, we spent a couple of days in the seaside town of Yeppoon before arriving at the Town of 1770.  Set on a lovely beach, Seventeen Seventy only has a population of around 220 people.  Such a small, quiet place, it could hardly be called a town, yet historically it is one of the most significant places in Australia.  The town marks the second landing of Captain Cook on Australian soil, in the year (you guessed it) 1770.

Our time there was peaceful, relaxing in the sunshine with only a few other people scattered along the beach.  As we took in the most amazing sunset, a squadron of pelicans landed on the sand.  It was almost as if they had come to appreciate the sunset as well.

We were reluctant to leave the town, but as we had a date for returning our hire car we had to move on.  The town of Bundaberg marked the final destination in our road trip.

Road Trip Part 2: The Capricorn Caves

DSCN2625Heading south via Mackay, we set up camp at the Capricorn Caves just north of Rockhampton.  These unique caves are set above ground, in a dry rainforest, and are built up of limestone rock.  There are four different species of bats that roost in the caves, mainly in the warm, wet weather.  The caves were first discovered in 1882 by the Norwegian explorer John Olsen, who came across an entrance to the caves after chasing a kangaroo in that direction.   He waded waist-deep in bat poo, with no light except for a single flame he carried in one hand.   Winding our way through some of the steep, narrow passages in the caves, we could only imagine how claustrophobic Olsen’s journey must have been.

DSCN2621

We were lucky enough to have the whole camp site to ourselves, apart from a bush turkey who visited us on a number of occasions.  In the evening, Tom lit a roaring fire, which we warmed ourselves around with a glass of red wine.  With no street lighting, the only illumination came from the crackling fire and the mass of stars which twinkled above.

Road Trip Part 1: The Whitsundays

DSCN2583

Returning to the mainland after our lovely stay on Magnetic Island, we hired a car and set off on a road trip down the east coast.  Our first port of call was Airlie Beach, the stepping stone to the Whitsunday Islands, a collection of 74 islands located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef.

Travelling by boat, we navigated around a number of the islands, including Heart Reef  (named due to it’s unusual shape), all the way to Whitehaven Beach.  It’s an idyllic place with soft, powdery, white sand and the swirls of blue in the ocean make it look almost like a painting.  It was the most beautiful beach either of us had ever seen.

The wonders of the Whitsundays didn’t end there.  We snorkelled in the ocean and saw some of the coral and fish unique to the Great Barrier Reef, not to be seen anywhere else in the world.  A truly amazing experience.

Magnetic Island

DSCN2523

Leaving Mission Beach and catching the bus south, we arrived in the city of Townsville, the main port for the journey to our next destination, Magnetic Island.

We had bought brand new camping equipment for this trip and we were excited about staying in a sanctuary for koalas. The koala sanctuary was on the opposite side of the island to the port near a beach called Horseshoe Bay. It was a nice place and there was lots of local wildlife where we had set up camp.

DSCN2531

On the second day of our trip we went for a champagne breakfast with the koalas, which was an extra excursion that you could book through the sanctuary. It was an all you can eat buffet and whilst we were eating we were able to get up close to some of Australia’s strangest, cuddliest and deadliest, including creatures such as a blue tongued lizard, a saltwater crocodile called Barbie, and, of course, a koala.

The island was small and intimate. There weren’t many people around which meant you could find your own section of beach where you could listen to the waves and watch the sunset. The beach side barbeque was also a big bonus where we could cook up a couple of sausages for our evening meal.  It was such a relaxing and peaceful time before the start of our road trip.