Australia’s East Coast, 2011

This is the second episode of my Australia Travelogue. Part 1 can be found in last week’s post.

While we’d barely looked at Sydney we couldn’t delay the pick-up of the campervan for another day, so we escaped the cheerful grime of the backpacker hostel and went to fetch our wheeled home for the next 4 weeks.

The plan at this point was to motor up the East Coast from Sydney to Cairns, about 1500 miles. We allocated one week for this journey.

To begin with, the beaches and harbours where we stayed were very similar; wind and wave-swept stretches of coast, for the most part almost deserted except for an occasional walker. The character of the campsites differed from New Zealand’s in that they were larger, bleaker and less intimate. On the first night’s stop we were thrilled by the sight of moderately large lizards which loitered around the pathways and tracks with a studied nonchalence, looking like security personnel.

This was a long drive, punctuated by mainly overnight stops. En route we needed to shop and [of course] pick up beers and so on, using the ‘bottle shops’, since alcohol is not sold in supermarkets as it is in the UK.

As we motored north towards Queensland the landscape gradually altered. Towns were further apart and there were vast stretches of agricultural land where sugar cane is grown. We’d sometimes spot a goods train transporting the cane and these long, snaking vehicles seemed to stretch for ever across the flat fields. The coast was also changing, the beaches huge, the tidal range massive. Along the road we encountered land trains- gigantic lorries pulling a number of large trailers. The roadsides were sometimes fringed with eucalyptus trees and during my turns as a passenger, I was constantly scanning the trees for koalas, a pursuit which was never successful.

There were, however, encounters with wildlife in other areas, such as site showers, where we’d share an occasional shower with a cane toad or a lizard.

For some reason we had high expectations on the approach to Surfers Paradise, a large city south of Brisbane- maybe it was because we’d spent long hours on deserted roads or looking at miles of sugar cane fields and the idea of a surfers town appealed to us. I was thinking of our own Newquay, in Cornwall, UK- a surfer’s paradise for sure. But Surfer’s Paradise, Australia was not at all what we expected. It is a high rise conglomeration and no glimpse of surf greeted us as we drove through. A motor racing event was taking place, so all there was to see were stands and flags. We passed on through.

I was also in a fever of anticipation to see Brisbane, and indeed it did look wonderful as we drove along the river front, searching for somewhere to park the van so that we could explore the place. But here, we drew a blank. We could find nowhere at all to park our wagon and I had to be content with photographing what I could see from the windows. Ho hum. Perhaps we’ll make a return visit at some stage?

So we continued onwards and northwards…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Peaks and Troughs in Sydney

It’s now a whole 10 years since we threw in our proverbial towels, packed our bags and set off on what remains our longest and most thrilling trip; first to New Zealand and then on to Australia. And while we were to be away for almost 3 months it felt like a real adventure, rather than a ‘holiday’.

I’ve described our trip around New Zealand, and how we were to visit plentry of spots that many New Zealanders have not seen, especially those who live on North Island. We’d timed the visit to coincide with the Rugby World Cup that year but gave ourselves enough opportunity to see the country. Even so, there remain places we missed!

Nevertheless, before the final of the RWC we’d planned to move on- not to return home, but to return to Australia for a look at as many iconic and well-known sights as we could fit in.

Arrival to Sydney from Auckland was late, and by the time our transfer had dropped us at the opulent ‘Seasons Darling Harbour’ hotel it was too late to see or do anything [we’d been last to drop off on the transfer bus]. At check-in to the hotel we were told we’d been booked in the previous year and marked as a ‘no-show’. This was our first hitch of the entire excursion and a real blow, since there were no rooms available, apparently, although the receptionist rallied and offered us a ‘suite’ somewhere high up in the high-rise hotel. This was all very pleasant as the suite comprised a living room as well as bathroom and bedroom, although we were only booked in for the one night!

The following morning, as I sat on the high rise toilet and contemplated the stupendous view of Sydney Harbour I heard a loud rushing noise qhich was quickly followed by the monorail swishing past the window. Who knew? The commuters would have a tale to tell their colleagues.

Realising we should have given orselves more time to view Australia’s iconic city before collecting our first Australian van, we asked about reserving a second night, only to learn that the price would entail taking out a mortgage, upon which discovery we checked out to seek a cheaper option. This, sadly, turned out to be the ‘backpacker hostel’, providing as stark a contrast to the previous night’s stay as it is possible to describe. Nevertheless we wanted more time to see Sydney and had little choice but to check in.

Wary of the greyish sheets on the bed and the sticky carpet, we left our bags and set off to see the sights, which were, admittedly, quite wonderful- Sydney Harbour Bridge standing stately over the glistening water and the iconic Opera House presiding over all. The waterfont is all you would expect. We took a ferry over to Manly, mainly for the views.

Eventually, after a long day of tourist sight bombardment, we returned to the skanky hovel of our accommodation and made the best of it.

In other areas, our travel fortunes continued to be rocky when a cash machine denied my card and refused to cooperate, which was yet another blow. Without card use or cash we were proverbially stuffed. We gathered together such change as we could muster and bought a phone card which we used to call my bank, who, I was at pains to explain, had been thoroughly apprised of all our travel plans; at which, yes, they did restore my financial capability. Phew!

Best Trip to Date…

The words ‘holiday of a lifetime’ are strange and dispiriting, I feel, implying that future excursions are off the cards. How are we to know that a trip is a ‘holiday of a lifetime’? It is something you cannot say until the possibility of travel is no longer there for some reason. For the majority of us, this reason is only going to be extinction, or such catastrophic incapacity as to make travel impossible.

There are places and explorations, however that render all other trips insignificant, that if asked where are favourite holiday or travel experience was we would answer without hestitation. For me, that trip is our tour of New Zealand in 2011. And I will endeavour to write and show all the reasons why this experience tops everything else to date.

For a start, the idea was hatched [by Husband] as a grand retirement jaunt, both of us having turned in the towel on teaching that year. Then it happened to be New Zealand’s turn to host the rugby world cup, which was an obvious lure for Husband. Myself, I’m not as averse to rugby as I am to other sports and the watching of international games was to provide an extra frisson and reason to love these very special islands.

In order to take in as much of the rugby as possible whilst also seeing most of New Zealand we opted for campervan hire, and given that we were acccustomed to vans and camping this seemed the most suitable way for us to travel.

The expedition did not have a great start, since on arrival to Heathrow we queued up to be told that our Quantas flight to Brisbane was cancelled and we’d have to go next day, spending the night at an airport hotel. This meant that our onward connecting flight to New Zealand would no longer be possible. With no options, we gnashed teeth and went to the hotel, returning next day for a flight to Australia-but to Singapore, which we duly boarded, having been blithely assured we’d be ‘sorted out’ once we got there.

At Singapore it was about 2.00am and we queued up, bleary-eyed, at a Quantas desk, finding ourselves at the very end of a long, snaking line of disgruntled passengers. Much later, at the desk, the staff member seemed to be at a loss to know what to do with us, finally adding us to the next flight to Sidney, which is at least Australia, so we’d be nearer to our destination!

Who knows what time it was when we arrived to Sidney? It was late. Dark. We dragged ourselves to the airport hotel, to wake after what seemed no time at all for another flight-to Christchurch! At check-in I believed I was hallucinating when the woman at the desk asked us to open all our luggage for scrutiny, after which we barely made it on to the plane. By the time we touched down at Christchurch I was beyond calculating how many hours we’d travelled, or how many hours we’d missed or gained.

But arrival to the small, homely airport was like stepping out of a blizzard into a warm bath; the staff friendly, the arrival pain-free. Then we walked out into spring sunshine, to where a taxi driver waited, his door open ready for us to sink into a seat and we were off to see if the hotel that had expected us 24 hours ago still had our room available…

My brand new novel, the eco-thriller, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Overdone

                When does something cool, new and edgy become tedious and boring? I’d say within moments, or as soon as it gets copied. I’ve no doubt whoever thought of the idea, creation or saying will have long moved on to more innovative thoughts, by the time the original takes off. Trends continue long past the tired level. Travelling gives you a perspective on how novelty has been eroded everywhere. Here are some of my current, personal pet yawns:

Decorated animals

                A few years ago we stopped to spend a few days in Bordeaux, en route to the West coast of France. Bordeaux is a beautiful, old, elegant city and a world heritage site, with a wide, curving river and streets lined with gorgeous edifices. It also has chic modern touches like a plateau of water spouting intermittent fountains, ideal for the warm climate. Whilst visiting this lovely place I was much taken by the cows. These were life-sized statues, dotted around in a random fashion in various poses and painted in a variety of styles and colours. One sported a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. I’d seriously never seen anything like it before.

                Now though, it seems as if no town or city can bear to be without some sort of decorated creatures littering the streets. In my own home town it is lions. I read that even Sydney, that most symbolic of modern, stylish cool, is getting ‘snails’. Why? When Sydney has such iconic and beautiful attractions?  

Knitting all over everything

                I appreciate that knitters like to have an outlet for their skills. Whatever happened to blanket squares for refugees? Or why not clothing items for charity shops? [which have struggled to compete in recession ridden times]. I fail to see how knitted sheaths enhance tree trunks or stone columns. I’m happy to see exhibitions of cleverly knitted objects in my local library, but I’m unutterably tired of seeing everything outside covered in woolly wrappers.

‘Keep Calm’ etc

                I honestly believe whoever started this one needs to be charged with crimes against sanity. Posters, mugs, aprons, tea towels-it is all a gift shop nightmare. What on earth are tat-touters going to do when this one finally dies a death? Maybe there could be a new trend of the antithesis of Keep Calm. Panic and… followed by any number of suggestions; faint? Throw up? Take valium? Binge eat?

                In starting this list I’ve deliberately kept off fashions in clothing, because once I began I’d never be able to stop-but scruffy, bum skimming denim shorts would be there alongside those jeans so low slung they all but fall down [when are they ever going away?]-

                I’m sure there are many more overdone trends and welcome suggestions-on a postcard-or in the comments section?