Catching up

So I've not really blogged about post Christmas, mostly because my laptop is so slow that uploading pictures is actually quite painful to do. I've still got Blue Mountains, food poisoning and fireworks, and my brithday to go just to give you a taster (bet you can't wait eh?. Of course, I'm now back to my 'real life', or as real as living seconds from one of the best beaches in Australia can be anyway.

That's right, I'm back at Wicked travel helping backpackers to plan their trips. I was, obviously, so good at my job that when someone from the Byron Bay branch left I got rehired. Nothing to do with how long it would take to train a newbie of course...

After a brilliant birthday week I said a tearful goodbye to my little sister and hopped on the greyhound up north. Initially I'd planned to camp with Bridget, but after two nights on a rollmat being solicited for drugs, and realising that I could get a discounted hostel room, we moved into town. So now on the mornings that I wake up before my alarm I go down to the beach and have a little spalsh before heading to the daily grind.

How's the snow?

True to form I arrived in Byron with an empty bank balance but after a 60 hour week I'm now financially solvent again and ready to cause drunken mischief...well until January 31st anyway.

That's right guys I'M GIVING UP ALCOHOL IN FEBRUARY. There. It's on the internet now. I can't go back.

Rather than drinking my money away I'm going to put it towards saving and surf lessons. My weekend next week will be a trip to Nimbin and my first attempt to stand up on a board. *Cue hilarious situations*
So there you go, a catch up. What's new with you?

Crikey - it's Christmas!

As you all know, Christmas at home is usually celebrated inside with the heating cranked up to eleven. Not for us this year, we were off to the beautiful Byron Bay! Thankfully we were only a short hop down and found the time to head to Woolies and stock up on all the Christmas essentials - meat, beer and goon. We didn't die/get pulled over in the van of death and made it to Byron in time to spend a couple of hours on the beach. It's a hard life, eh?

Then it was back to the van for dinner (meat) and drinks. We set up our lovely aussie Christmas tree - isn't it enormous? That's what she said

Of course Chris had his cooler, a fitting tribute to a trailblazing conservationist.
And the rest of us had our santa hats! Deciding that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a trip to the pub we traipsed into town hit Woody's Surf Shack for more drinks and dancing. At about 3am (we're not sure) we decided to walk back to our little campsite, kebabs from the brilliantly named "Abra-Kebab-bra" shoved into our hungry mouths.

We woke the next day sans hangover, and Chris got down to the important business of cooking breakfast. In lieu of any presents, we had bright blue skies. I found this deal to be acceptable.

Happily, on our way to the beach we discovered a surf rental place and got ourselves some bodyboards. Not that we could use them for the frist hour - the beach got shut because a 3.5m great white was cruising around the bay... Apparently he lives here, but they like to keep an eye on him and he managed to disappear. I guess even sharks need their Christmas lunch!

It didn't take long after they repoened the beach for us to run into the water all guns blazing. A very happy few hours were spent catching some waves, getting pummeled by others and topping up our tans. Unfortunately we all topped them up a little bit too high and got a smidge sunburned... Another Christmas first!
Then it was back to the campsite for Christmas dinner and Bridget's first experience of Christmas crackers. We were joined by our friend Danny who we met on our diving trip - and excellent buddy both in and out of the water :)

Foolishly thinking we didn't have too much food we dug in with enthusiasm, only for us to barely finish everything with extremely full tummies. I couldn't even finish my corn on the cob. Managing to cook a dinner using nothing but a crappy electric BBQ and tiny gas stove was quite the achievement though; after all that effort we couldn't let anything go to waste!

Tash and I were very lucky to get to spend the day together - not every backpacker gets to have Christmas with their family.

As night fell and we grew sleepier, the idea of walking 3km back into town with a heavy eskie lost it's appeal. Lots of sun and food made us fairly lethargic, shocker, although we did find the time to play with sparklers!

Boxing day dawned grey and rainy, the only upside being that we hadn't had the weather for Christmas day. But did we let that stop us from using our boards before we had to hand them back? Of course not! It was actually lots more fun than on Christmas day - the break was nicer and there were very few swimmers. Thinking that we'd probably be desperate to get out of the ocean after an hour, we were actually very disappointed to end our surf-y session and hand back the boards.

After a hot shower we came into town to have a mooch around. Byron is gorgeous, packed full of little cafes and shops but also boasting some excellent nightlife. The rain did hinder us somewhat but as it looked to clear we decided to drive up to the famous Cape Byron lighthouse - the most easterly point of Australia.

Well, it did seem like a very good idea at the time. Until we looked up to see a literal wall of rain heading our way.

Snapping pictures as fast as we could before the rain came, we misjudged and left it too late. Monsoon style droplets drenching us in seconds.
It was worth it though, because we saw a goat! A random goat! ...Who turned out to be not so random and quite famous... Apparently there used to be lots of goats by the lighthouse but they were removed in 2005; now 'wategoat' wanders, alone, around the cape. Poor goat!
Looks quite nice, when it's not pissing it down.
Soaked to our skin and with the rain showing no signs of abating Chris cooked dinner as we huddled in the van. He prepared a three course meal - soup, eggy bread with beans and tinned peaches - which we devoured in minutes. Something about that fresh sea air...

Tinned peaches - take that Gordon Ramsey!

Finding enough amusement in our own company and a pack of cards (no one explained to me that you couldn't bluff when playing 'go fish') we drank, got merry and laughed ourselves silly.
All I'm going to say guys, is don't look at Chris' snake eyes...

Roadtrip Part 3: All critters great and small

Okay, so we may have left Airlie Beach a little later than planned. But we needed those extra 20 minutes of sleep...and that Maccas brekkie... The upshot is that we were late to see the turtles. Very late. Like we should have arrived at 6.30 and we were still driving at 8pm late. The drive also took a lot longer and was quite a bit more exhausting than we'd predicted too. I've done it before, but it's a hell of a lot different with no aircon. When we got to Rockhampton it looked as thought we'd been helping to build the pyramids so tired, dusty and broken were our faces.

But we made it; thank the stars we were late anyway because we ended up in the group with the best Turtle.

I should explain that Mon Repos is a prime turtle nesting location, and for the price of a coffee and cake you get to follow a guide and watch as they emerge from the sea, dig an egg pit, lay, cover their nest up and return to the ocean. The group who went first - our original group - had their turtle return which will often happen if they are disturbed (as soon as they begin to lay no amount of disturbance will stop them) whereas we arrived, nipped to the loo and got the full turtle show right away. Some people wait in their groups until gone everything happens for a reason, eh?

Our turtle, lets call her Theresa, was a newbie and it was her first season of laying. This was her third batch and they can lay up the five. We weren't allowed to use the flash on our cameras (although apparently no one told the Japanese group...) so the pictures aren't the best, but it was absolutely amazing to see.

The pegs are to locate the eggs, as they are moved afterwards to a safer spot on the beach. 

Theresa was a loggerhead turtle and Chris, ever the man, was amazed at how big she was. They get measured, tagged and their weight estimated. There are huge problems with turtle numbers at the moment, although due mostly to bad fishing practices in other parts of the world, so keeping track of them is important.  I can't recommend doing this enough to people. Not only does it help to support the conservation efforts, it's also just magical to watch something like this up close. I swear the voice of David Attenborough was whispering into my ear throughout...

Unsurprsingly we found it difficult to get anywhere to sleep at gone 10pm so instead opted to pitch up, dog tired, at a free rest stop. It might not have had any showers, but it gave us somewhere to rest our weary heads so we were happy.

Bridget's little tent did her proud.

But we awoke still pretty sleepy the next day...

We made the short hop to Hervey Bay where we were going to collect my sister. But plans, as ever, changed, and we left her behind to drive to Noosa for the night. Unfortunately we were all still dead tired after uber-drive the day before and gave up in Gympie where we checked into, essentially, a trailer park. Thankfully one of the nice white trash inhabitants pointed out that our tail lights didn't work. Just another thing to add to the list of Kat Slater's defects, although the first that meant she wasn't actually road worthy. We loved our spot for the night, although mostly because it had showers and power outlets. After a while you become relatively easily pleased.

The next day we drove to...dah dah daaaaah...Australia Zoo! The drive was useful, because it made us aware of quite how far out the van speedo was. Hurrah! But little did we care, we had some croc hunting to do.

This is probably my favourite sign ever. Funny how sitting on the fence can get you killed, eh?

We saw tasmanian devils.

And dingoes.

And, finally, cassowaries.

Notice something? That's right, they're all asleep. Don't go at the peak of summer, guys. Its HOT.

I narrowly avoided a croc attack by holding it open with my strident feminist strength. Rawr.

I swear I jumped higher, my camera was just too slow...

This picture illustrated how kangaroos mate, but we wondered why the male kangaroo had to have such, well, rapey eyes. Who drew this for children? He looks so angry and her arms looks so...meh.

Thankfully we found some less menacing marsupials...

...but some rather scary crocs. Ok, not this one, it was tiny.

They talked about snake safety, and got some poor bloke to dress up like a bogun and show how not to handle snakes. No one laughed, it was so awkward. 

Then there were some pretty cool birds of prey.

Before finally we got our croc baiting. These guys are mental. How do you get this job, and what does it say on your passport? 'Croc antagoniser'?

We had enough of scaly creatures and went to see some fluffy ones., although apparently even these can be vicious.

The elephant section was pretty cool, but as ex circus animals they don't seem wild at all, something we witnessed throughout the zoo. The animals are all very humanised - we saw the tiger keeper literally sat down chilling out in the tiger house - and actively encouraged to be pet like. The dingoes actually get walked around on a leash! It was something I didn't really like about the zoo, but then I'm no animal expert, so if someone can tell me it helps their wellbeing then I'll take back my criticisms.

Our final stop was the new, much hyped, over advertised 'Africa' section. Now, perhaps our hopes were too high but given the amount they bang on about this bit we'd expected something special. What we found was, literally, a large paddock with a few giraffe and zebra, and one rhino.


My camera chose that moment to give up, and so did we. Exiting via the gift shop, obviously. 

Australia Zoo is touted as a 'must see' on your East Coast, but I was slightly underwhelmed. It's marketed as a huge tribute to Steve Irwin, but you can buy tacky merchandise with his face on - it seems a slight contradiction  You can't be reverent when there's a shop that sells dolls of your 15 year old daughter and beer coolers with a picture of  Irwin's gawping face on them. It's clearly a hugely profitable business and it was a good day out, but they know what they're doing when they charge that $59 entrance fee (and a ham roll sets you back $9...).

That night we stayed in the back garden of a lovely lady who managed to be hospitable without even being at home. Thank you Heather! It also marked the beginning of three-in-a-van with the arrival of my little sister and the official start of our Aussie Christmas...

Roadtrip Part 2: Wonderful Whitsundays

So we were a little pressed for time on our road trip, as you may have noticed, so opted to do a half day tour of the Whitsundays. I say 'tour', but I mean 'boat that took us the long way to Whitehaven beach'.

Our first stop was Dreamtime Island, which was nice but not all that dreamy. It's name should actually be 'Middle Mole Island' or something equally unappealing so at some point someone decided to change it a bit.

Then we cruised along to Hamilton Island, which was altogether lovlier. The marina water sparkled blue, the buildings were shiny and the people there looked like the probably got their 'recommended monthly facial'.

Unfortunately the excitement was too much for us. Either that, or the southern comfort Mick had cracked out at 11 the night before had made getting up at 6am and driving the three and-a-bit hours to Airlie Beach a struggle. The beauty of the islands was so match for the need to nap.

But finally we made it to Whitehaven. It was very white indeed, even from a distance.

And practically blinding up close.

Of course we got the obligatory pictures for facebook/mantlepiece boasting later on.

And some nice posey ones too!

Yes that's correct, we have been called up to model for Victorias Secret, Miranda Kerr, watch your back. 

Chris, being sensible worried about stingers and not too bothered about bikini posing, went for a wander to the north end of the beach. We did think we'd lost him to the island at one point, until we saw a man friday figure striding up the beach. Or is that Daniel Craig?

On the way back not only were we treated to a surprise lunch (we didn't know it was included, so we ate everything) but we got a stunning Whitsundays sunset like the ones I told backpackers about when they booked their tours with me... It really was a brilliant day, everyone really had to see the Whitsundays at some point. It's just gorgeous and makes you want to work really hard/marry well and spend your days cruising around on a yacht. 

And it turns out that Airlie Beach actually looks nice from the ocean...

Exhausted from driving and the sea air we managed to eat dinner before falling into bed (or was that just me?) and trying to rest before our daunting 800km drive to Mon Repos the next day...