Western Australia – Perth – Shark Bay – Ningaloo Reef

Perth

So I left cosmopolitan Sydney (which I loved) and boarded a flight to Perth for the next leg of my Aussie adventure. It was the worst flight I have ever experienced in my life; 6 hours trapped on a plane with a hysterical child screaming next to me. To add to the misery,  I had been bitten all over by a rogue mosquito and the itching was unbearable. It was also my birthday.

Once I touched down in Perth, I was intrigued to see this less famous of the Australian cities. To be honest, I found it to be quite drab, lacking character as well as modernity. Perth is the capital of Western Australia, a gargantuan state that covers an area of 2.5 million kilometres (approximately 10 times the size of the U.K) yet has only 2 million in population. I met a lot of Irish travellers at my hostel, most were working and travelling to escape the poor economy back home. Australia avoided the global recession which meant that prices were relatively high for backpackers.

Fact: Perth is the most remote city in the world, in terms of the distance from any other city, and is actually nearer to South East Asia than the other Aussie cities.

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I didn’t exactly wander with abandon.. I had booked a group tour through Trailfinders, 14 days traversing the Western coast of this vast continent via the Indian Ocean Drive. The highlight was to end the trip by camping in Kalbarri National Park, but angry Mother Nature was too big a force to be reckoned with. She placed floods, storms, bush fires and roadblocks ahead, so sadly I never got to camp in Kalbarri. Natural Disasters strike often in the Land Down Under and so, you just gotta’ go with the flow to stay safe!

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Our guide was Bushdog Steve, an expert bush man who respected the outback and knew its many dangers. Bushdog Steve was a really engaging character who drove us to our destinations and imparted his wise knowledge of the land, animals and indigenous culture. He possessed a talent of great storytelling and succeeded in terrifying us with tales of tourists dying horribly in the outback!

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Steve bought our food along the way but understandably expected each of us to help him with prepping, cooking dinner and washing up. One night I cooked a Spaghetti Bolognese for 20 people on a BBQ; Aussie style.

As usual with backpacking, accommodation was very basic, with mixed sex dorms, bunk beds, no air con and salty showers being the norm. The immense heat was unbearable at times and so the salty showers didn’t do much to cool and refresh. Fresh water was in scarce supply due to droughts. We each had to drink 3 litres of bottled water a day to stay hydrated in the burning sun.

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I would definitely recommend booking a group tour when touring Western Australia, it’s extremely remote, the terrain is harsh, the elements are unforgiving and the wildlife is venomous. On day long road trips we would have to ‘relieve’ ourselves in bushes, avoiding getting bitten by snakes! One day I went for a tinkle in a bush and scared a family of kangaroos who were sheltering. I frightened them and they frightened me!. A surreal moment.

Top Tip – take a white hat, quality sunglasses, a fly net and high factor sunscreen, I burned even with SPF factor 50 on, so buy as high as you can find.

Highlights of my trip:

Sand Dune Surfing – Lots of fun

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Pinnacles Desert – A Natural Phenomenon

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Lake Thetis and Stromatolites – Actual living fossils

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Hiking at Yardie Creek Gorge

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Kalbarri Abseiling – If you like dangling off cliffs

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Z Bend of Murchison River – Scenic views of the meandering river

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Nature’s Window – Take a pic at this iconic natural ‘window’

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Kangaroos.. boing boing

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Shell Beach – A beach entirely consisting of tiny shells

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Turquoise Bay – Absolutely stunningly perfect!

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Shark Bay – Spot Lemon Sharks in the translucent waters below

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Monkey Mia – Dolphins not Monkeys

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Despite its name, Monkey Mia does not have an abundance of monkeys. It is in fact famous for the scores of dolphins that visit the shore every day to be fed by their human friends. We waited patiently on the beach for the dolphins to arrive, cameras at the ready,  eager to see dolphins fed in shallow water.

They. Never. Came.

We were massively disappointed.

However, a boat trip saved the day. the boat took us out to sea and so we spotted the shy dolphins having fun in their natural habitat.

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Ningaloo Reef

Snorkel the reefs with brightly coloured fish and majestic Manta Rays.

Whale Shark watching is in season from March to July.

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Quad Biking

A fantastic way to whizz across the vast sand dunes that hug the shimmering Indian Ocean.

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Turtle Watching – Fascinating creatures that rise to the surface to gasp for air.

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Sunsets – Always breath-taking in WA but quite hard to capture on camera

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New Friends –  the highlight of any trip is making new friends 🙂

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Flying High Over Sydney

Flying High in Sydney

The next leg of my Aussie adventure took me from mellow Melbourne to iconic Sydney.

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Here I stayed at one of the best hostels I have ever come across, the YHA hostel based at the trendy Rocks district of Sydney. This modern building is equipped with everything that backpackers need; dorms, private rooms, laundry room, breakfast service, 24 hour reception, communal kitchen, weekly BBQs and a fantastic rooftop terrace that overlooks the Opera House. You get to stay in a premium location for a bargain price. What’s not to love?

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I only had a whirlwind 4 days in Sydney, but it was a very special time for me because I spent my 28th birthday there. I was fooled into thinking that my birthday present was to climb the mighty Harbour Bridge, but unbeknownst to me, my loved ones had paid for me to enjoy a surprise helicopter ride over the city!

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I was gearing myself up to don a blue boiler suit, harness and helmet to climb the heady heights of the bridge, when I was told that I was in fact heading back to the airport to Blue Sky Helicopters!

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I spent an exhilarating hour flying high above this stunning city, seeing the famous sights from a bird’s eye view. The chopper toured the whole beautiful bay that surrounds Sydney.

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Sail boats looked tiny in the bright water below, pine trees lined the deserted beaches and I got a glimpse of the glamorous million dollar properties that hug the bay. Ferries glided across, taking Sydneysiders to work in the heart of the city. A colossal cruise ship sojourned in the harbour and temporarily blocked the view of the Opera House.

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For regular readers of my blog, I know I always say this.. but the best way to explore is to walk around! I walked the whole city and only took trains when going to and from the airport. Get yourself a map, plot out what you want to see and just wander with abandon!

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To further support my walking philosophy, in Sydney, my boyfriend and I had a unfortunate run in with an aggressive taxi driver and two police officers. After our chopper ride, we needed to get back to the main airport to catch the train back into town. A taxi was called for us but we didn’t want to be taken the whole way into the city. The taxi driver properly kicked off, shouting at us for wasting his time. We argued with him, stepped out of his taxi, but accidently left our (only) mobile phone behind. We only realised once we were halfway around the airport perimeter. I was hot and bothered, upset and frustrated so I waited whilst my boyf headed back to try and retrieve it. Cue the police approaching me in a big van, alarmed that I was some crazy girl sat by a barbed wire fence next to the runway! Embarrassingly I had a cry when telling them what had happened. The police were really nice and dropped us off at the airport, no harm done. It wasn’t funny at the time but I can laugh about it now!

Go see:

Darling Harbour is a nice area to visit, hosting shops, bars and restaurants. Visit the Australian National Maritime Museum or head to China Town, a large vibrant area for Chinese commerce.

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Chinese Garden of Friendship, a gloriously magical garden that sits serenely in between skyscrapers. It’s well worth a visit. If you’re lucky you may even see a Komodo dragon!

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The Museum of Sydney is worth a visit for some indigenous Australian culture and education about aboriginals. I was greeted by big multi-coloured surf boards lining the walls. Australians take their surfing very seriously and it was interesting to learn about the history of Australian surfing. It was also fun for me to stand on a board and pretend to surf (I have tried surfing for real and on a Flow-rider, but it’s really not my forte!)

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Sydney Opera House is world famous and a must see. The architecture is truly unique and still fascinates me to this day. It looks so different up close then it does from afar. I just spent time on the steps and the outside but you can pay to take a tour of the inside if you fancy.

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Taronga Zoo was such a cool place to visit via a ferry ride across the bay. Now, I’m an avid animal lover and so I’m easily pleased looking at any kind of animals, in any kind of setting, in any part of the world. Taronga has indigenous koalas, kangaroos and wallabies as well as zebras, giraffes and cute pygmy hippos. It also boasts an incredible view of Sydney city.

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Royal Botanical Gardens nestled next to skyscrapers and overlooking the bay, these gardens are a picturesque place to stroll, relax and even see some bats and spiders (if you’re not too scared)

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Opera Bar located next to the Opera House and overlooking the Harbour Bridge. It is THE best place in Sydney to sip an ice cold beer and people watch. With a mix of tourists and local cool kids, it’s not cheap to eat there, so my tip is to just order a beer, make it last and soak up the brilliant vibe.

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360 Bar and Dining Dine buffet style in a revolving tower that gives you a 360 degree view of Sydney. The food is excellent and you can help yourself to as much as you want.

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Melbourne, Geelong and Lorne

The Land Down Under

It’s been 3 and a half years since I explored awesome Australia, it seems an age ago but it’s well worthy of a blog post! The trip was instigated by an invite to a wedding with my now ex-boyfriend. That was just the excuse I needed to travel to The Land Down Under! I flew to Melbourne on Christmas day of 2011 with Malaysia Air. No, it wasn’t cheaper despite it being Christmas Day. No, there wasn’t any festive food, we ate curry. And no, Malaysia Air wasn’t dire. At the time, I was really impressed with the airline that is sadly now synonymous with tragedy. The funny thing is, I did no research for this trip, I didn’t book a thing, it was taken out of my hands, so I simply packed a bag, grabbed my passport and rocked up!

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Marvellous Melbourne

I touched down in Melbourne at the end of Boxing Day and was greeted by cold rain. This was not what I was hoping for. Where was the dazzling sunshine and the smell of barbequed food?! After exploring, I found Melbourne to be a fantastic city, it’s classy without being pretentious, it’s cultured without being stuffy, it’s got enough buzz to keep you fascinated without being hectic. The food and drink is world class but expensive for backpackers. The Yarra River divides the city and sets the scene for some great bars and restaurants. These attributes keep winning Melbourne the prodigious title of ‘most liveable city in the world’.

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My best tip is simply to get a map and walk around. You can get trams or horse and carts, but as a rule, walking is the best way to get a feel for a place. Another tip is always wear suncream in Melbourne. I stupidly assumed I wouldn’t need any on a cloudy mild day, but there is a hole in the ozone layer right above Melbs, consequently my porcelain English skin ended up getting seriously burnt!

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Eureka Skydeck – located at a vertigo inducing 297m high, head here for the best view of the city.

Street Art – Head to Hosier Lanetake a camera and view the incredible street art. By the way, It’s illegal to graffiti or tag. You can pay for a 3 hour guided tour by the artists themselves, or you can simply wander around the streets and capture the charm of this public art.

Melbourne Cricket Club– bond with locals and catch a game of cricket or AFL footy.

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Geelong is a good 2 hour drive from Melbourne but well worth a visit. A pretty beach town with an authentic laid back ‘by the seaside’ vibe. Geelong is where Melbournians go on holiday.  It’s also a great place to start a road trip along the scenic Great Ocean Road. I spent New Year there in a plush apartment overlooking the promenade and carousel.  I saw in the year 2012 with friends and enjoyed a balcony BBQ with a front row view of the New Year fireworks display. It was fab.

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Cunningham Pier – take a stroll up this old fashioned pier and stop for a spot of lunch in one of the sublime restaurants.

Eastern Beach – take a beach towel and a picnic, relax, then cool off by taking a dip in the art deco style fenced off sea pool (it stops sharks from nibbling people)

Surf brand outlets – if you like a bargain, head out of town for tons of surf brand outlets selling some seriously discounted gear.

Lorne and the Great Ocean Road

We drove part of the very scenic Great Ocean Road up to the town of Lorne, which has the most glorious stretch of beach with fantastic surf. Standing on Lorne beach, breathing in the fresh sea air, listening to the surf crashing down and feeling the heat of the December sun, was the moment that it truly hit me that I was really the other side of the world, in a continent that I’d always dreamed of seeing. It was a memorable moment for me.

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Lorne is famous for its fish and chip shops; they line the beach front and nostalgically remind an English girl like me of home. I slapped on some factor 50 suncream and tried to protect my skin from the harsh UV rays. My Aussie mates started calling me Porcelain Doll due to my paleness, haha!

Great Ocean Road – is an epic and winding 151 miles or 243 kilometres. It’s a wicked way to get to the city of Adelaide by hiring a car, or simply drive part of the way for a day trip.

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My time in the state of Victoria drew to a close. The next leg of my Aussie adventure would take me to Sydney where I had a big birthday surprise in store..