On our final day in Byron Bay the weather took a turn for the worse, the much worse. Australia has seen some of its worst floods in the last decade over the past few days. On the plus side, it spelt the end of a severe drought they’ve been experiencing; but that was scant consolation to us as we sat huddled in our ‘van listening to the rain pinging off of the roof.

In a country completely geared up for outdoor activities the rain can become somewhat of a hindrance so we decided to head down to Sydney in order that at least we could find something to do. We waved goodbye to Becky, who was travelling back to Bris-vegas (which, unbeknown to her, was to be where the weather was at it’s most horrendous!) and drove the 800-or-so kilometres South, stopping overnight on the roadside.

Unwilling to relinquish our campervan adventure, we decided on one final foray inland, to the Blue Mountains. We stayed in an odd little town called Katoomba which must have more second-hand book, antique and bric-a-brac stores per capita than anywhere else in Australia. The Blue Mountains are described as New South Wales’ most attractive national park. Unfortunately we can’t really comment on that because when we arrived at Echo Point – the best vantage point to see unique rock formations of the Blue Mountains – the fog was so bad that visibility was down to about 10 yards. Our interest was piqued though, and we came back the next day…to more fog. This time we were granted a brief glimpse and what we saw was indeed magnificent, and on a clear day must be astounding.

The next day we had to give the campervan back which, as is often the case, was when we realised how much we’d become attached to the old rustwagon! It was quite a sad moment. But we soon got over it and checked into a hostel in the district of Kings Cross, which is – if such a thing can be imagined! – like a seedier version of its London counterpart, but is within walking distance of all the city’s major attractions.

On our first night we met up with one of Amy’s friends, Lauren, who had emigrated from London about 5 years ago. We had a great night out with her and she invited us to come out on her yacht on the following Sunday. We didn’t realise at the time, but we has just unwittingly joined a yacht racing team! Okay we were only used as human ballast, and every time the skipper yelled ‘tack’ or ‘jibe’ (sailing terms, you wouldn’t understand) we had to rush frantically to the other side of the boat to balance it out. The race was a real spectacle though; the tilted masts and billowed colourful main-sails of hundreds of yachts cutting gracefully and noiselessly through the water, with sea planes circling above, the odd ferry or small cruise ship, and all against the striking Sydney skyline, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, which itself looks like a number of sails caught full in the wind. We ended up coming third out of our division of twelve, and went for a few drinks in the sailing club afterwards.

The rest of our time in Sydney we spent wandering round the city taking in the sights. We walked across the giant meccano structure of the Harbour Bridge, saw the Opera House, strolled between the aboriginal buskers and smart cafes of the Circular Quays, through the pristine Royal Botanic Gardens beneath hordes of hanging bats in the trees; we came third in a pub quiz, visited the aquarium, took a bus ride to Bondi Beach, a beach within the city that 35,000 people flock to on a hot summer’s day, even went to a photography exhibition in the library (initially because it was free and out of the rain, but it turned out to be excellent!). Sydney is a marvellous city and has been a perfect ending to the Australian leg of our trip.

Our time in Australia has been absolutely terrific, it was great to meet up with old friends, and the campervan adventure was just that: an adventure. An adventure through some of the most magical landscape on the planet. It truly does have something mystical and ancient about it; you almost fancy you can see dinosaurs rearing their heads on the distant hills. This is a place that we will definitely be coming back to – we’ve barely even scratched the surface – and would recommend in a flash to anybody.

South America is next on the agenda – we have a 17-hour flight to Santiago, Chile tomorrow morning. Better brush up on our Spanish!

Our Wicked Adventure Pt 2

This week saw us continuing our campervan-cruise down the East coast. After Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays we carried on down towards the ever-approaching Sydney, and the end of our journey. Some more highlights included:

St. Lawrence Wetlands – we only decided to stay here because it was free, but were gobsmacked when we turned up to find an almost 360 degree panorama of the flat wetlands with silhouetted mountains in the far distance. We sat and watched the sun go down whilst kangaroos hopped around not 100 yards away and birds of prey wheeled and swooped over the plain.

Fraser Island – this is another must-see on the travelling circuit, and was possibly the highlight of our trip. We did a 2 night 4-wheel-drive self-drive trip to the island, the largest sand island in the world, just off of the coast of Hervey Bay. In our group were an Ozzie couple – who we ended up getting on with famously – and 4 Japanese, only one of whom could speak a word of English; so we communicated through the age-old media of smiles and charades. Fraser Island is basically one big 4WD track which interlinks beautiful freshwater lakes, rangy beaches, unique rock formations, shifting sand dunes, a rusting skeletal shipwreck, and the only pure-bred Dingoes (wild dogs) left in Australia.
The 74k beach doubled up as a road, with ordinary road rules applying. The only difference was that small planes simultaneously used it as a landing strip! Elsewhere on the island the roads were completely unmade which meant the journeys were bone-rattling rides, but the destinations were delightful. The best of which was Lake Mackenzie, a marvellous freshwater lake with unimaginably clear water that was a deep turquoise for the first 20 yards, then fell away into a rich navy blue. It was good enough to drink; like a swimming pool without the chlorine or the sea without the salt.

We also met a British couple – Jamie & Heather – who were not in our group but were staying at the same hostel on Fraser. Jamie was a lawyer, writer, and borderline alcoholic! We all met up back on the mainland and the next two days were lost in a beery haze.

Noosa – a chic little town at the mouth of the Noosa river where the well-to-do launch their yachts from riverside dwellings and power-walking, for some reason, is inexplicably popular. Despite being a patent rip-off of a French Riviera town, it’s not without its charms; boutique designer stores and flash restaurants are en vogue, and there’s a national park with a stunning coastal walk where we saw a koala, a goanna (big lizard) and several – dozen – power-walkers!

Surfer’s Paradise – although not exactly a paradise in the traditional sense – an array of monolithic high-rise blocks and hotels leave it looking more Manhattan than Malibu – the Gold Coast City is still impressive. It boasts the highest residential tower block in the world, with each one being built incrementally taller than the last so as to obtain the lucrative ‘sea-view’. The beach is slightly more paradisical and obviously the waves are ‘gnarly’ enough to attract the eponymous surfers.

We also stopped in Brisbane to meet our friend Becky who had just flown over from England. As anyone who lives in Brisbane will tell you, there’s not much to do. But we went out for a night on the tiles and woke up in a flat inhabited by three Irishmen, about 2 hours away from our campervan! Less said about that the better. Anyway, Becky has been travelling in our ‘van with us for the past few days…

Nimbin – we had absolutely no idea what to expect from Nimbin, a small mountain town 60k inland from the coast, other than it was the site of the launch of hippy culture in Australia. It was perhaps the strangest town any of us had ever been to, inhabited entirely by aged hippies who probably hadn’t been home since the ’60s (or indeed washed!). They would sit outside their rainbow-painted shop fronts, staring into space, grinning, or wandering round in a state of stoned perplexity. Any conversation with them was at best slurred and at worst nonsenical. But – that said – they were really friendly people, and we ended up having a drink with two, River and Frank, who could have been a comedy double-act they were so unintentionally funny. Frank, for instance, was trying to get his guitar out of his car to play us a song. He’d tried every door in the car, including the boot, and was staring befuddled at his key, turning it round in his hands, before someone pointed out that it wasn’t his car! We were in stitches.

Sitting now in an internet cafe in Byron Bay but have only just arrived…to be continued!