Cape Road-Trip-ulation

So it's finally - finally! - holiday time for me. I've not really done any travelling for the last 9 months so the prospect of seeing a bit more of Australia is something I'm pretty excited about. My first port of call was Cape Tribulation - so called because it's where HMS Endeavour ran aground on it's trip up the coast. The reef comes right up to the beach so you can imagine the trouble Captain Cook got himself into...

To get there Chris and I got a car and I met him in Port Douglas where he spent the night. Then it was north on the Captain Cook highway - and amazing bit of road - but first we had to get accross the Daintree river, notorious for being filled with crocodiles. The ferry was basically a bit of wood that gets pulled from side to side with massive metal cables. Not advanced but it did the job.

Everything here can kill you...even the electricity supply!

We made it to the beautiful Alexandra lookout point. Stunning views over the rainforest and down the coast and luckily we had it to ourselves for a bit!

Although I refuse to believe in the existence of Cassowaries (how have I never seen one? Ever?) this sign made me chuckle. Someone had taken it upon themselves to edit it slightly... It should warn you about the speed bumps!

Shh, don't tell the car rental company but we had to make the last 3ks of our journey on unsealed road. The little suzuki managed it OK, but I can only imagine how bad the road gets further north towards Cooktown.

Eventually we made it to the beach, dodged a huge downpour and got snapping. It was stunning, the rainforest growns out of the sand and the water is blue with hints of the dark coral beneath.

We found a little sand river which amused us for a while as we helped the erosion by standing on the edge of the sand 'cliffs' for as long as possible. Close up it does look like a set of cliffs...or was that just us?

We walked right the way down the beach and thankfully it did start to clear. This is the actual 'cape' itself.

And after our long walk we decided to treat ourselves to a cold bottle of coopers from the hostel bar. Well deserved.

We spent the evening making new friends - of both the human and non-human variiety! We shared our goon with our room mates Charlotte and Kerry and obviously looked like we were having a great time beacuse a massive bush rat (probably larger than your avaerage rabbit) kept trying to wander under our table. Never fear, I kept it at bay a good job given that everyone else was stood on their chairs! We also had lots of different bugs, although thankfully no spiders. You really are in the middle of the rainforest and you feel it. The sky was beautifully clear and we saw tens of shooting stars. I can't recommend making the journey north of Cairns more - it's amazing!

We woke the next day to find blue skies and decided to take the short walk to the lookout point... Unfortunately we hand't thought to look up the tide times!

Hmm. A bit too wet to walk on, especially given the abundance of marine stingers and crocs in the sea this time of year.

We found another way up and got to the lookout point. I'm so glad we did - the views were stunning.

There are mangroves everywhere too.

...there are also massive spiders hanging off every tree. You can imagine how much I loved that...!

Then it was time to drive back along the lovely modern roads...

But we did squeeze in a couple of excursions to various nice beaches along the way.

We got stuck in traffic for a good ten minutes, but you don't mind so much when the view looks like this...

We also stopped at the Rex lookout point. It's a bit of alright.

Then we made our way back, stopping for coffee and sandwiches in port Douglas before getting back to Cairns. There is so much to see I'd advise staying more than one night. The sea canooeing and horse rides looked brilliant, and there's also some excellent walking tracks. There is no phone signal and they've only just got internet too! Take cash - eftpos is rare - and slather yourself in mozzie repellent. But whatever you do - go north!

When is a travel blog not a travel blog?

I've fallen into that trap again. That 'well I'm not travelling so how can I write a travel blog?' trap. It's pretty difficult as at the moment I'm leading a fairly normal/standard life. I have a room in a houseshare with friends, a job with regular(ish) hours and a healthy social life. I'm not going on adventures or doing anything particularly exciting. Sure, it's very different to the sort of life I had back home, but I still have to do the washing on my day off and nip out to the shop for milk.

As I've mentioned before, I currently work for a company called Wicked Travel booking tours for people. Weirdly enough, I love the job that essentially pays me to talk to loads of people and plan their adventures. I also love that my boss doesn't care if I come in hungover (unsurprising given that half the time he's the one that dragged me out in the first place) and have spent many happily inebriated hours taking in the Cairns night life. Work is hard and intense - I'll often finish long after I'm supposed to - but it makes a change from your usual backpackers job. I do now find it hard to tell what day of the week it is though as I work odd days and it doesn't matter what night of the week you go out - the clubs will always be packed. On more than one occasion I've almost booked someone's tour on the wrong day because my brain tells me it's Thursday when actually it's Sunday...

However that's all about to change. Next Sunday Australia is to be the lucky recipient of an extra member of the population: my very good friend Chris. And we're going to go on an adventure.

I handed my notice in yesterday which was a bit of a wrench, but happily I should have a job to return to in the future. Our campervan has been booked and we have somewhere to sleep for NYE. In Sydney. Yes, finally, after over a decade of wanting to do it I'm finally going to see the Harbour bridge lit up with thousands of dollars worth of sparkling colour as the clock strikes 12.It's been a long time coming...

So you guys may be able to snuggle up indoors and quaff mulled wine, but our Christmas day will be spent in the surf of Byron Bay. Drink of choice will probably be beer, all the better to wash down our BBQ lunch. Down the coast we'll have a quick hop to Whitehaven beach for the afternoon, complete with obligatory 'jumping on the beach' pictures. I get to show Chris my favourite place in Australia, Mission Beach, and see all my friends there. There will be koala watching on Magnetic island and we'll get a Wednesday night sail. It's turtle nesting season at Mon Repos too, so one night will be spent on the beach with our red lights watching them lay their eggs. Basically, we're going to have an amazing couple of weeks.

And it means that, joy of joys, I'll have some travelling to blog about.

Happy Anniversary

One year ago today my flight touched down on the tarmac in Townsville, Australia. 365 days since a ghostly pale redhead flinchingly emerged into the burning sunlight in a manner akin to someone who'd lived in caves for most of their life. Only October, the end of spring, and the heat at midday was vicious  Unlike the UK, where summer rays seem to gently stroke at your skin in a loving manner, this sun felt aggressive. Dangerous. "Yeah, don't ever leave your credit cards in the car," warned Rhonda, the hospital worker picking us up, "otherwise they'll warp."

We were driven to our new home down palm lined roads; past unfamiliar shops. A cloud of cockatoos pecked like pigeons by our car as we stopped at traffic lights. Another warning from Rhonda: "Don't swim in the river, there's crocs." On our first morning we were almost joined for breakfast by a wallaby. We couldn't buy alcohol in the supermarket. I was definitely not in London any more.

My first two weeks were difficult in many ways. Unlike most backpackers, pitched into the centre of a hostel filled with people in the same boat, I was staying with my Mum. And my Mum lived 15km from the city centre, a city that only had hourly buses which ran until 6pm. Jobs and socialising seemed nigh on impossible. Don't get me wrong, I was very lucky to have my mum, my best friend, with me; I hadn't counted on it being so difficult not to have any 'friend' friends at all. Who was I supposed to discuss Downton Abbey with while drinking cheap wine? Somehow I had to change my situation. I knew I needed to do something, I just didn't know what. The buzzword for my first two weeks in Australia? Limbo.

Although I already knew I loved Australia (sunshine people, sunshine. In November) things didn't quite click into a nice new life like I expected them to. And it worried me. I've now become pretty used to this feeling and I've grown adept at just letting things slide into place naturally, they have a habit of doing that. But pre-travelling Cheskie, used to regular office hours and familiar friends was freaking the fuck out.

I'd love to visit the me from a year ago. Slathered in suncream, comfort eating tim tams and resigned to three months of banana picking because that was the only plan she could think of. I'd say*: "It's OK. You're going to visit a place for two days and stay there for three months. You'll fall in love with the ocean - being on it and in it - and change your mind entirely about what to do on a weekly basis (don't worry - your plans only ever change into better ones). One month you live on a beach, then in a city, the next an isolated farm; each time you move it gets easier to do so. You'll start nannying for three heartbreakingly amazing kids, decide to go home to work in comedy and meet Doctor Karl from Neighbours all in the space of a few days. Sure, there's an idiot or two along the way. A few speed bump like hitches in your plans. But don't worry, even the most devastating hour of the next year is going to send you back to a place you've been missing since you left. It takes a while to settle in somewhere: remember that. When you arrive back here from the UK the shops look normal, the sun doesn't surprise and the palm trees may well as be conifers. You don't touch down into an alien land, you arrive back home.

Oh, and p.s - please dye your hair back to blonde sooner. We really do have more fun."

*After explaining how I'd managed to travel through time and space, obviously.

Hello Cairns, I didn't expect to see you here.

So, I'm in Cairns. Somewhere I really never thought I'd end up; not because of my old flaw of judging somewhere before I'd been there. Sure I'd only been to the shopping centre, but I'd heard one too many stories concerning goon/vomit/dorm sex for me to ever want to go there for an extended period of time.
That was until I returned from my time back home. Having re-experienced living in capital cities - with nightlife, culture and actual shopping - I found myself less sure that my plan to live in tiny Port Douglas was quite what I wanted.

Then came a weekend in Cairns. Granted, I mostly saw my hotel room and the outer reef,  but talking to people who actually live here started to change my mind. I read the local backpacker mag and saw articles about gigs, theatre and pubs. Realised that being able to dive the GBR on my days off would be amazing. Slowly but surely Cairns began to win me over...

Back in Townsville I couldn't work out what to do. Trying to apply for jobs when you're 350km away is an absolute nightmare; I didn't have enough money to live in Cairns without a job. Equally the thought of living on mum's sofa didn't appeal (to either of us!) especially as she's in the process of moving back to the UK. There seemed little point in finding a job that I'd only be working in for 5 weeks before I had to move on and repeat the process elsewhere.

Essentially, I didn't have a bloody clue what to do.

After much faffing, worrying and refreshing of the gumtree job page I decided to pull myself together and make an actual plan; as luck would have it my plan worked almost instantly. Working for accommodation in Cairns seemed my best option, and the third hostel I called had a vacancy literally of that morning. The hostel also happens to be one of the best in Cairns. Hurrah.

So off I popped (via a weekend in Airlie beach because, well, why not) and arrived at 6am on a Monday morning. After dragging my (now extremely diminished) pile of stuff to the hostel and napping on the sofa I was greeted by two smiles almost as broad as the northern accents coming out of them. If you're going to be scrubbing floors then the right colleagues make all the difference - and thank the lord for Sarah and Jess. They left Cairns yesterday and I'll be in mourning for quite a while I expect. It also later turned out that I'd be working with a lovely lady called Helen who I already knew from my hostel in Melbourne - the world really is teeny tiny sometimes.

My first week passed by in a blur of cleaning, early mornings and job applications. On the Friday night I had a trial shift in a bar. Oh my, the only good thing about that is going to be it's anecdotal potential. Unless having a manager aged 18 and 3 weeks, an owner who shoved his finger in my face and a quick pour tray filled with bar flies and rotting mint leaves (all for a top wage of $12 an hour) seemed like the start of a beautiful working relationship.

Thankfully I was offered a job with Wicked Travel, something that thus far seems to be going pretty well. The only downside is that I had to leave my cleaning job, meaning I had to pay rent - an outgoing I hadn't budgeted on as i figured I'd clean in the mornings and bartend in the evenings. I've found a room in a lovely house share with my new friend Dave (coincidentally the person who handed in his notice to the hostel the same day I called asking for work) which means that right now I'm totally brassic. My bank balance is the lowest it's been in a long, long, long time. Two weeks in a hostel (a bloody horrid, dirty hostel), plus two weeks rent up front is a lot of dollar I hadn't counted on paying.

So, I hear you say, bet you hate Cairns then? Worrying about being homeless, starting a challenging new job and dirt poor? WRONG. I love it. I absolutely bloody love it.

I love that the sun shines almost every day. I love that the reef is only a boat ride away. I love that everyone I've met has been generous, helpful and kind. I love that even on a Monday you can go out and dance on the tables in a nightclub. I love the lagoon. I love that the art gallery is hosting a Goya exhibit. I love the Green Ant Cantina. I love that everything is within walking distance. I love that you can have a brilliant night out for $10. I love that the majority of the population is from every corner of the world.

I. Love. Cairns.

My life in an actual rucksack.

I know, i know, it's been a while. Almost four months to the day actually. Thankfully the reasons for being unable to disclose my whereabouts and whatnot are now gone (not as dramatic as it sounds) and seeing as I spent most of the British summer back home updating my 'travel' blog seemed a bit daft.

For those of you unaware, I had the pleasure of working at this years Edinburgh Festival. It was marvellous, I learnt a lot and drank even more, hopefully managing to make a few contacts (and friends!) here and there. Now, however, I'm back Down Under and have just started what I think is probably Chapter Eight of my adventure.

To recap:

Chapter 1: Cheskie gets to Townsville and has no idea what to do.
Chapter 2: Mission Beach, by accident.
Chapter 3: Sydney (although mostly Rouse Hill).
Chapter 4: Nearly bankrupted by Melbourne.
Chapter 5: Mary Poppins visits the farm.
Chapter 5: Cheskie gets to Townsville and has no idea what to do (reprise).
Chapter 6: Mission Beach, by accident, again.
Chapter 7: Homeward Bound for a bit.

And what, I hear you ask, should we call chapter 8? Well, I expect it'll be the chapter where I learn how to be a proper backpacker. You see the title of this blog is rather misleading. My life hasn't been in a rucksack at all, not even close. I flew over with two bags and had half a box of stuff arrive a few months later. In all honestly my life probably wouldn't have fitted into three rucksacks. I've had the luxury of a home to go back to, a base from which I can travel out. I've had an absolutely fixed abode with no semblance of nomadity; that's all about to change.

In a month my Mum is relocating back to the UK. That means I absolutely have to be a proper backpacker. And I've done it - it may have taken blood, sweat and tears but somehow I made it happen. My life really does fit into a rucksack now.

In the Bleak Midwinter

The endless summer couldn't go on forever. I'd pushed my luck for a year - although one doubts if May-Sept 2012 counted as a summer - and it was time for winter to unleash it's bitter coils, fading my tan and forcing a panicked few days as I knitted myself an appropriately warm scarf.

Well, maybe that would be the case if I'd stayed in Melbourne or Sydney. Up here in Far North Queensland winter goes a little differently. Rather than sitting out horrid winters for the pay off of a glorious summer, up here the locals bear a few months of heat and humidity for six months of beautiful clear skies. Mum and I landed at the end of October and Townsville had just had it's first rain to break 6 months of drought. Can you imagine? I remember having an eight day stretch of blue sky in Lancaster one year and everyone went mental.

Over here? Blue skies and sunshine are the norm. Or they were until my little sister decided to trade in the black and white drabness of Melbourne winter for some tanning time up here...

It decided to rain. And I don't mean 'soaked-in-two-seconds-but-it's-warm-and-the-lightening-is-pretty-cool' rain, I mean British style grey skies and fine soaks-you-through wetness. We had one nice day to swim up in Crystal Creek and that was it. Two weeks of nastiness interspersed by one glorious day to (presumably) keep our vitamin D levels up. Basically everyone in the UK got our typical winter weather - sun, blue skies, warmth - while we got typical British summer weather - warmish, damp, grey - and I greatly disliked not being able to be smug on facebook while everyone back home BBQ'd their hearts out.

A particularly wet sail...

Thankfully the weather has now reverted back to normal. People rarely discuss the weather here (it's a definite British past time) probably because it's usually fairly predictable. However it seemed like all the locals went Brit: "When do you think it'll pass?" "Well it is good for the garden." "Ooo it's horrible!" I think that itself shows how unusual an occurrence a fortnight of wet weather was! In the end I think we had the wettest May for fifteen years or something.

The only downside to our (now) beautiful clear skies is that we no longer have insulation keeping us warm at night. It's normally about 25C during the day, but as soon as the sun starts to dip the temperature follows suit. It's not that it gets particularly freezing - about 11/12ishC - but the houses up here are specifically designed to keep the heat OUT. For the last two nights I've found myself tucked up with a hot water bottle and two blankets, wrapped up like a little baby bear.

It's such a nice time of year though. With no humidity and gentle heat you can sit out at midday and really enjoy the sun rather than being massively paranoid about dying of skin cancer. It also means air conditioning is surplus to requirements and the temperature is just fine with balcony doors thrown open to let in a cooling sea breeze.

In short, when the weather behaves itself this part of the world has brilliant winters. It's going to be pretty difficult to go back to eight weeks of British summer after a few months of this!

See you soon British summertime...!

My May via Instagram

I'm a recent instagram convert. Having mocked it as being a hipster invention I succumbed last month and haven't looked back. Although it did take me until last week to realise there were more than three filters...ahem. Here is a selection of photographs that (I hope) illustrate my Aussie life during the month of May.

View from my friend's balcony; pistachio and salted caramel gelato;
greedy seagull eyeing my lunch; afternoon cinema terror.

Sparkly toes in sand; maggie island in the sun; return of blue skies;
fresh satsuma and passionfruit from a friend's garden.

Pear cider to kick off a sail; drinking XXXX and cheering QLD;
Mama likes her wine; amusingly placed letters on numberplate.

She sells sea shells; view from our cabin in Bowen; sunset from
a desert island; live music on a Saturday night.

Breakfast view on Maggie Island; sausage sarnie by a waterfall;
a wintry BBQ; Saturday bike ride on a deserted track.

The desert island on which we partied; Green eggs and ham at brunch;
6am sunrise from our doorstep in Bowen; reassuring beach sign.