Australia vs UK: The Showdown

So, as many of you either know or have worked out I'm not planning on heading back to the UK any time soon. It's not that I don't miss the place. I do, a lot; for the time being I really don't have any desire to live back in good old Blighty. I look forward to visits and trips back, but it's not somewhere I see myself living again.

Lots of people ask me why I want to stay out here. Those people are largely people who have never been out here themselves, so I thought I'd assemble a little comparison blog to illustrate why Down Under is such a fantastic place to call home.

Obviously there are huge differences in day to day life depending on whereabouts you live, so I'm going to go off the places I've lived...

Usually there are very serious categories to measure quality of life like GDP and political freedom. But how about we use things that actually matter when choosing a place to live? Like...

The Weather

A typical winter day in North Queensland...

It probably goes without saying that the weather out here is pretty bad ass... Although that does depend on whereabouts out here you live. If you live inland it can get bloody cold in winter and Melbourne has it's fair share of drizzle. The main benefit to being out here weather wise is that you're guaranteed a lovely long stretch of good weather at some point during the year.

My favourite place in Australia if Far Northern Queensland (FNQ) where the winters are dry and warm** requiring a snuggly duvet at night but a bikini during the day. It does get ridiculously sweaty and hot during the rainy season, but I'd happily cope with a few months of being too hot to go outside during the day for the pay off nine months of perfect weather* in between. At home it's too cold to be outside all of the time for the majority of the year.

I haven't had a winter now since 2011 and sometimes I find myself missing crisp cold mornings and snuggling up inside on a dark evening. The trouble is that UK winters often tend to be dark and miserable. I can remember a time living in Lancaster where we just had to keep the lights on for days on end because the sun never managed to quite break through the grey cloud. This would be ok if we were guaranteed smashing weather from May-September; the UK doesn't seem to ever have that. One minute it's a heatwave in April and the next it's snowing. It would be nice to be able to shove all your warm clothes in the attic come spring knowing they can stay up there battling moths for a few months.

On the flipside we do get cyclones out here, the wet season in the tropics is near unbearable and it did piss it down in Sydney last Christmas. I still think Australia wins this one though.

**Sydney has just had it's warmest winter on record, so even down south things aren't too bad!

*We've had pretty much unbroken blue skies and no rain since about the 10th September, with much of the same forecast for the next week...just to give you an idea.

The Work

In London I got paid £23,000 per annum in an executive sales job. I wore a suit every day, had targets that I worried about hitting and had to sit in an office for most of my working week. After taking out rent, council tax, bills and my travel card I had about £450 left over a month to play with. Take food costs out of that and I had a pretty crap disposable income especially considering the cost of living in London.

In Australia you usually get paid around $20 an hour for a standard 'minimum wage' job. That works out as $41,600 per annum, or £24,340. The cost of living is higher out here, but still doesn't match how good the wages are. I currently pay $140 a week rent (bills inlc.) which will drop to $100 when the ball and chain moves in with me this week ($100 each...bargain). I usually spend about $100 a week on food which is a lot in GBP terms but not in relation to my wages. It's just so insanely easy to save money here without compromising your lifestyle; it's just as easy to fritter it away on nights out when pints cost you $7.

At the moment Australia has an unemployment rate of 5.8%, the highest it's been since 2009. People are freaking out about it. The UK's has dropped to 7.7% and everyone is celebrating.

2-0 to Australia.

The Lifestyle

Living in London was amazing. The free museums! The culture! The nightlife! I used to get to the theatre about twice a week thanks to volunteering and writing for a website. Even aside from the free tickets, it's just so cheap to see shows in the UK. Most theatres offer cheap youth tickets and most fringe shows are around £10 (or at least used to be two years ago!).

You just can't get stuff that cheaply over here and as a result I've barely seen any sort of art or theatre since I moved out here. It's not just a Cairns thing either, Aussies just don't seem as interesting in that sort of thing. My 'strayan friend reckons it's because the UK weather keeps us inside for the majority of the time and I guess that makes a lot of sense - I don't think it's a coincidence that the place with Australia's worst weather, Melbourne, is the culture capital here!

London's West End...

The flipside is obviously the outdoor living over here. There are public BBQs everywhere, you will always know someone with a pool and it's unusual to find a house with no large veranda or balcony. Houses are open. Most Queenslanders even have outside stairs! It's hard to imagine living somewhere and not having some sort of outside seating area that's used on a regular basis.

An awesome public BBQ, such a brilliant idea

Back home I'd usually spend one of my days off hungover and in bed. Out here I usually spend one of my days off scuba diving. My mum used to finish work on a Wednesday night and go sailing. There are an insane number of amazing inland places to swim within an hours drive of Cairns; my tour guide for Uncle Brians described Lake Eacham as his 'local swimming pool'. Even elsewhere you get the stereotypical beach lifestyle only it's not sterotypical it's just where people hang out.

Aussie's, however, have not perfected the art of the pub. They tend to have 'hotels' or drab, personality free bars. It's also near impossible to get a decent beer, Aussie brew tends to be more like carbonated piss than anything else. I can't work out if this is a cause or a result of the fact that most of the time people want to drink outside on the beach or in their pools.

Not that you can particularly afford to drink much out here. A six pack of beer or cider will set you back roughly $16 (£10). I fondly remember the days of buying two crates for £18 from the supermarket...and I cringe when I think about how much I complained when Sainsbury's increased the cost of their 'basics' cider up to £1.25 for 2 litres. Since my mum moved back and I'd had to source my own gin (miss you) I barely drink the stuff; every time I visit the bottle-O I stare longingly at a bottle of Hendricks ($80) then resign myself to picking up a box of fruity lexia 'goon' (sometimes as cheap as $12 for 5 litres). I like to think of it as 'sunshine tax'.

It's hard to love Australia when I can't afford to drink gin; it's hard to love the UK when it's too cold to drink gin outside.


So there you go, a few things to explain why I love it out here compared to back 'home'. Anything else you'd like me to discuss about my old life vs my new? I can always do with suggestions...

East Coast Part 8: Mission Beach

Ah, Mission Beach.
It seems like an absolute lifetime ago that I rocked up here with my Mum fully intending to only stay for two nights. Thankfully my banana picking job in Tully fell through and I ended up making this beautiful place my permenant base for a few months. Even though I've spent time in many other places in Aus this still feels like the closest thing I'll get to coming home.
I'd spent the previous month telling the guys how amazing a place it was and I was slightly worried I'd bigged it up way too much... But my hopes were unfounded, and we all left for Cairns feeling like if we'd picked up jobs while we'd been there we wouldn't have left!
The second we arrived at the Mission Beach Retreat (my old home on two seperate occasions) we were welcomed in by Richard and Anthea the hostel owners, and their very cute dog Gilly. After saying our hellos we went on a food and booze run and got chatting to Adam the new hostel bus driver.
That evening Helen, Dave, Becki and I headed to the beach to see if we could catch another moon rise. Unfortunately there were low clouds on the horizon so we saw more of a moon peep show, being tantalised with slivers of brightness without revealing anything much at all. We didn't mind, and had one of those excellent chats  about life, the universe and everything until we were reminded that our alarms were set for 6am the next day........
That's right - it was time for Becki, Dave and Hannah to throw themselves out of a perfectly good plane! Happily they were also jumping with our friend Clem.

I was very pleased that Becki was getting to jump with my friend Dawson, and Hannah with the guy who took me for my first jump - Des!

Although some people were more nervous than others (....!!) soon Helen and I were waving off the guys hoping we'd see them again soon.

Well there was of course no need to worry - these guys are pros hardly anyone ever dies.

And look how happy everyone is to be alive!

After all the excitement we needed some beach time but soon became embroiled with a coconut war, with each of us trying to split one open.

Thankfully we (eventually...) all succeeded. There's something a bit awesome about drinking coconut water right out of a freshly opened shell on a tropical beach.

Realising that we'd maybe collected a few too many coconuts we improvised...and thus began the 2013 coconut olympics.

(I won the prize for biggest coconuts, obvs)

See, who needs a tv?
Dave and Becki were the only participants in the gymnastics round and were duly awarded both bronze, silver and gold. 

Deciding that the only kind of fun is organised fun Helen and I went and pre-built a fire on the beach before showering and heading over to my old place of work Zenbah. Drawn by cheap alcohol ($3 for a gin? Yes!) and also to catch up with my old friend Pete. We were more than happy to drink, eat pizza and chat with everyone until the lure of a beach fired pulled us away...

Having a bonfire on the beach is something you have to do here, and we were joined by almost the entire hostel all enjoying our work! My good friend Luke came along and we enjoyed chilling out and watching the moon rise again. I felt very lucky to be with some of my favourite people in my absolute favourite place.
Somehow it ended up being 2am and we found ourselves on Luke's patio with many empty wine bags... Deciding to call it a night we practically rolled down the hill to the hostel, all agreeing that we really didn't want to leave the next day...

...and so we didn't.
We booked in for another night and we chilled out; I even got to go out on Luke's boat for a bit of a fish! I didn't catch anything but still had fun.

That night we had another bonfire and reflected on the last four weeks. Holiday time was nearly over and none of us wanted to face reality any time soon.
Mission beach was a great way to finish off our trip. I'd say we saved the best until last but every single stop has been a highlight in it's own way.

My only regret? I've still not seen a Cassowary. I just refuse to believe that they actually exist now.

Next stop: Reality, or as much of a reality as you can have in Cairns...

East Coast Part 7: Maggie Madness/Townsville

Note: All pictures stolen from Georgia/Dave and Becki due to my camera being broken and Hannah not uploading her pictures even though she flew home in July. Not that I'm complaining Hannah. Just saying. Might want to put those pictures up.... ;)

Our greyhound journey was unevevntful and only slightly hungover. Dave had a very proud moment at one of the meal breaks however when he found, and opened, a coconut. Drinking milk from what looked like a furry shell at a service station in the middle of nowhere...there's a first time for everything!!!

Day One
(although not actually a tour, breaking it down into days helps me to write, and I'm lazy)

But soon enough our Greyhound arrived at the ferry terminal - a bus stop I knew very well - and it was time to meet Maggie!

Magnetic island has always been one of my favourite places in Australia. Okay, so it might not actually be magnetic but it does somehow draw you in. Covered in rainforest and surrounded by beautiful tiny bays I don't even feel as though I've scratched the surface of this place, despite having visited it many times.

Both times that I've needed to choose a hostel on the island I've gone for the Bungalow Bay YHA. It gave me one brilliant birthday and a fantastic place to park Kat Slater for a couple of nights. This time, however, we'd booked into the Base hostel around the other side of the island. This was purely a frugal choice (I could get it at cost through work) but did go to show that sometimes you really should step out of your comfort zone.

It's in literally the most perfect location, right on the beach and with absolutely incredible views.

Sadly we were down two Canadians as Becki and Dave had alternative accommodation included with their dive course. There were very sad faces all round when we worked this out - only on the ferry on the way over! Good job they checked before trying to check in...!

Hannah, Helen and I had a lovely roommate Georgia who we got on with instantly. We knew we'd be firm friends when she shared the excitement of renting out a 'Barbie car' to drive around the island the next day.

I'm a little bit (okay...a lot) obsessed with moon rises and had basically planned our evening around the super moon rise that was going to happen.

Settling in with our free meal and cheap jugs of beer the lunar showcase didn't disappoint. Obviously it's very hard to capture it with bog standard cameras but suffice to say pretty much everyone yelped "Look at the fucking MOON that's INSANE" at some point in the evening. Along with some poignant silent reflection too, obviously.

The east coast is a funny beast with you often bumping in to people you met earlier in the trip. So it was that we found 4 girls who'd been due to do Fraser island with the same company as us the day after ours finished. We teamed up with them and two hilarious northerners and initiated some drinking Games. 'Koala' was modified, with the rules applying only if you hugged a random stranger in the bar. Last to hug lost. 

But most people were rising early so Hannah, Helen and I were left to battle the possums and curlews as we sat outside enjoying the balmy evening and clear sky.

Day Two

We woke up and had our free breakfast sat looking out over the beach and ocean... There are worse ways to start the day! Once our tummies were full of coffee and bacon we wandered down to the mini moke shop to collect our trusty steed for the next 24 hours: Barbara the Barbie Car!

Looking pretty cool we drove over to the other side of the island to check out Horse Shoe bay, beeping and cheering as we passed Dave and Becki waiting for a bus!

We had a nice time mooching around and mentally spending a lot of money on art. Barbara also had the added use of driving Dave and Becki back to their dive centre after they missed their bus back after a medical. Thanks Barbs!

To be honest, we probably would have been happy to simply drive around for the entire day with the wind in our hair, but we'd got a nice picnic packed for lunch in Radical Bay.

Unfortunately the walk wasn't particularly well signposted and, after getting pretty lost, we ended up wandering down to Arthur Bay instead. Just as beautiful!

There's something very nice about having a beach to yourselves or only sharing it with a couple of other people, especially on a little cove like this. You can keep your Sydney beaches, Bondi has nothing on this!

Helen and I opted to have a splash about, with the warm water still coming as something of a novelty.

But we had a date with some feathered friends and so took off back to Horse Shoe bay and - more specifically - Bungalow Bay for their daily lorikeet feeding!

These little guys might look cute but, trust me, when you have ten of them screeching in your ear it's like being in a technicolour Hitchcock.

All the little blighters kept being scared away but we persevered until a random guy turned up. It seemed like he was the bird whisperer because as soon as he raised his arms all of a sudden they lost their fear and flew down for some dinner!

The colours are so bright and they really are cute to look at.

But they dug so hard into Helen and I's arms that we were covered in lots of scratches. It did look a little bit like we'd done a really crap job at cutting our wrists. 

After making sure all the birds had their fill of soggy bread we whizzed back around to Horseshoe to see the sunset.

And pose in the car too, obviously.

And write in the sand...

The sunset was absolutely incredible.

When it got too dark we cruised over to picnic bay to take in the lights of Townsville and then picked up Dave, Becki and their friend from the dive course. We spent our evening chilling out on the beach and drinking cider. It's such a hard life...

Day Three

We dragged ourselves out of bed nice and early to drive over and do the famous 'Forts Walk' before we had to return Barbara. On the drive over we ended up behind a 'Ken' car piloted by two people we named Ken and Sven. Unfortunately due to both cars overshooting the turn off and subsequently do a U-turn back in the same direction we looked very much like we were following them...whoops!

The Forts walk was beautiful. It's supposed to be a brilliant place to spot wild koalas but we had no luck. We even had people telling us that they'd seen a mum and baby but after searching fruitlessly we gave up. 

The walk itself was pretty gentle, but we did see one guy old guy who was for some unknown reason dragging a small suitcase up the hill with him. Sure.

Magnetic Island was used as a military base during WW2 although no shots were ever fired. All that remains now are some ruins filled with animals.

We could easily have stayed up here all day drinking in the view, but sadly Barbara had to be returned by a certain time.

After a very emotional goodbye we all passed out on the beach. Bed time was early that night as we all had to be up very early the next day...

Day Four

Even though our alarms were set disgustingly early we didn't mind as it was so we could be up early four our 'Bushtucker Champagne Breakfast' over at Bungalow Bay. To say the food was FUCKING AMAZING would be a massive understatement. We had toast cooked on an actual campfire, herb encrusted lamb chops, bacon, eggs, sausages, 'toad in the hole', fresh honey lifted from a hive that actual morning, pancakes, rosella jam and all different kinds of fruit. It almost made us not too fussed about the animals that were brought out and paraded for our enjoyment.

First up we had a little crocodile. All of us (eventually) had a stroke, but poor Helen got a fright when it suddenly decided to make a break for it as she was right next to it. 

There was also a big snake, name unknown. 

After stuffing ourselves we headed down to the Koala park to see Hannah hold a koala.

Helen and I also got a little stroke; we then all got to meet a teeny tiny baby koala who was only a few months old! It was so cute it hurt my eyes.

Sadly it was then time to head to our ferry. All of us were really sad and not at all ready to leave. Every time I visit Maggie it just makes me realise what an amazing place it is. I could easily spend another week over there and not quite fit everything in.


It wasn't all bad however as we were going to have a lovely sail with Mick and Val that evening! After strolling along the strand and getting the world's best pistacio gelato from Juliette's we headed to the yacht club via a bottle o ready to get on the water!

As Dave and Becki's course finished too late they headed over to 'Hotel Wally' and our home for the night - thank you Wally for putting up 5 backpackers!!!

But Helen, Hannah and I really enoyed our sail so big thanks to Mick, Val and the crew of Panacea. Unfortunately there wasn't much wind, but we still really enjoyed ourselves. I also hope we answered Hannah and Helen's questions about why we had to stock up on alcohol for a short sailing trip...!

Such a beautiful sunset

We dashed off after we got back in as we had a BBQ date at Wally's and also had to cheer Queensland on in the State of Origin match. They must have heard us shouting (and doing a little bit of swearing) because QLD romped to a glorious victory!!!

Wally cooked up a feast for us - thank you so much!!! - and after the match we even got to Skype my Mum and introduce her to my new Canadian friends.

At some point someone suggested doing tequila and before we knew it it was 2am and we were all pretty tipsy. We had such a fun night and are very grateful to Wally for his hospitality and company. Don't you love unexpectedly fun nights like that???

Chez Wally gave us the best view to wake up to, even though we were pretty hungover! There was only one thing for and jaffles at my favourite Townsville place The Sweatshop

Ahh...that's better! 

We ALL want this painting

Even though we felt much better after stuffing ourselves with carbs and caffeine the though of more walking with our piles and piles of stuff felt overwhelming... And even Dave 'Hodor' Canavan was feeling tired.

But we made it...only to find that our bus was delayed. Thanks to SO MANY ROADWORKS the journey felt like it lasted forever but I knew that soon we'd be back in my favourite place in the world...

Next Stop: Mission Beach!!!