Top image: After what- in the end- felt like a weeks imprisonment in Bangkok, we finally leave Asia after three months. What’s the first thing we see…7/11. Not only that, but the first person to encounter us having collected our baggage at the airport, was a Thai guy trying to sell us something. Seriously thought we’d simply circled Bangkok airport for a bit before landing.
Bottom image: Here’s the shot you were all expecting; nothing novel about this photo. Sun plus Bridge plus Opera House. The sun is misleading. Whilst it was bright, the harbour wind made sure it was anything but warm (taken from the Botanical Gardens).
I signed off my last post with a surety that, because of a less-than-half full plane, we would get plenty of rest on our overnight journey. Of course, I forgot to mention that we had at that moment flown into Opposite Territory or as you may know it: the southern hemisphere. In this upside down world everything is topsy-turvy. Men are women, dogs are really cats and the finned and gilled creatures of our oceans swarm high among the clouds where only birds should intend to sail. Also, it means that anything you predict will not come to fruition. If you hadn’t worked it out already, we didn’t get any sleep on the plane.
Not that it was that much of a problem. We had a plethora of books, films, and music to keep us entertained for the nine hour flight. Anyway, it meant that there was no chance of us missing the sunrise which was quite possibly one of the most beautiful, natural occurrences I have ever witnessed. At first we thought we could spy a mountain in the distance, which up close may have been vast and bold but to our eyes was a mere spec. However this turned out to be a collection of clouds close to the horizon where the suns eager rays burst through, illuminating the clouds in bright orange and giving its bumpy rims a silver highlight.
We landed in Sydney’s airport around 7am local time having left Bangkok at 7pm south-east Asia time. We may have lost three hours but feelings of jet-lag were either yet to arrive or were not arriving at all and we felt fairly awake as we dawdled through immigration, throwing away sachets of sugar at the last minute, scared that we might be denied access to the country for bringing in foreign and harmful granules. By declaring various things like, tea-bags and medication we thought it best to be safe than sorry having heard how strict customs can be. However anyone actually wishing to smuggle in contraband need only declare everything before immigration as the officer who checked our documents could clearly not be bothered searching through two back-packs. After a 10 second interrogation of what was inside our packs, he waved us through, content that we were not smugglers of illegal or hazardous goods.
I spoke in my last post of how ready we were to finally leave Asia, and all its illogical customs for which there often seemed no explanation. So of course we were delighted to land in the country of our ancestral cousins- where they speak like us and the only barrier worth worrying about is the Great Barrier Reef- to find two Asian guys handing out leaflets in an attempt to sell us something. Walking from Central train station to the YHA we encountered the Asian flagship of convenience stores: the 7/11, and we seriously wondered if we hadn’t simply taken off back in Bangkok, circled the airport and landed back where we started.
But you need only look about you, at the high rise offices interspersed with European style architectural buildings hundreds of years old, for confirmation that the days of hearing “Thai massaaaaaage?” on every corner were firmly behind you.
This was Jo’s second time visiting Sydney, but I had an instant sense of amazement simply walking across the road to the ATM machine. Growing up, Australia was always one of those places in the world that seemed an entire world away. As I grew a little older, I realised it was in fact only half a world away, but I almost resigned myself to the admission that I would never see it in person. It was strange then, that things looked very familiar, yet glimmered with a different accent and it was the combination of the known and unknown that intrigued me. I instantly wanted to set about exploring the city, agonisingly watching the morning herds of city-folk walking past the window. All I could do was sip my tea and wait to check in to our room.
First thing was first though: I had a special package to collect. It was being sent from home; it was brand new; it was a few inches long but could take you a long way and I had been missing its usefulness since our journey from Koh Phangan to Chiang Mai. Guessed what it is yet? Yes, it was my new credit card, and we had a lot of making up to do. Luckily the route to the post office took in a spectacular stretch of downtown Sydney and I gawped endlessly with my head craned skywards at the countless buildings of fine architectural brilliance, admiring their incredulous attention to detail. This is a past time I have often afforded myself in Liverpool, taking the historic route through Castle Street and Dale Street until my neck can no longer take it and in this way, I felt instantly at home.
With the package secure, we continued to wander the busy city streets and found ourselves at Darling Harbour where we admired the city skyline in the late evening sun to the subtle sounds of the lapping water. We let the sun go out and watched the skyline light up; each building twinkling in its turn, nudging its neighbour in an uncoordinated Mexican-wave. We finished the night with $6 pizza, which having spent an afternoon snorting at the price of various city eateries, gave us much satisfaction. Also, it was a very tasty and very homemade pizza which only makes us feel even better for bagging a bonza bargain (sorry, last time I use that word).
Our second day in Sydney was significant for its flood of rain. It rained all morning and showed no sign of stopping into the afternoon but we were determined to make something of the day. A free bus ran close to our hostel which performed a circular route in both directions around the city centre, so we hopped on and hopped off near to the Australia Museum. The museum didn’t turn out to be the same museum I thought we were visiting. Michael had told us about a museum in Sydney that was full of technology, gadgets and games but this was a museum devoted to natural and Australian history.
Londoners and proud Brits, you can rest assured, it wasn’t quite on the same level as Bighty’s Natural History Museum but it wasn’t far off. It did however, have a member of staff dressed up in a convincing, 10 ft. dinosaur costume complete with voice changing microphone which imitated the presumed groans and grunts of whichever species they were trying to imitate. It served to scare- in an amusing and fun way- the younger children but also the older and more oriental visitor as a petrified little Japanese pensioner clung to my arm in sheer terror at the sight of it coming close. Now, I’ve not concocted her reaction as a cheap, comic ploy to entertain readers, but I am certain that as she moved closer to me she breathed a horrified whisper: “Godzilla!?”
To our relief, the man in the dino-costume did not escape the confines of the museum and partake in a city-wide, destructive rampage and we stepped out to find that Sydney was still going about its Thursday business. It had also stopped raining, so we took another opportunity to immerse ourselves in the city before we lost the light.
The following day took us to the Powerhouse Museum which was the one we had intended to go to the day before. It wasn’t quite as engaging as we’d hoped, at least not all of it and we did pay a little extra to visit the Chronicles of Narnia exhibition which housed numerous props and items from wardrobe that befitted the big screen adaptations of C.S Lewis’ books. We got to launch a (modified) catapult that had been used in one of the film’s battle sequences and we also geeked-out on a slightly ripped-off version of Space Invaders and Donkey Kong.
Refreshed with a brew, we braved the harsh winds blasting in from the sea to view the famous Sydney icons of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House which we admired from the green and pristine Botantical Gardens. I remarked to Jo that these images, these icons, are so familiar from their appearances in film, television, adverts, magazines, newspapers and the internet, sprouting up in childhood and revisiting you through adolescence and into your twenties that by the time you see them up close, they don’t quite appear as they should. It’s as if the pictures and sketches of the Opera House you made during a school project of Australia are the real icons, and that this is just the building.
We moved on to the Rocks which gives tourists a close up of Sydney’s colonial past in its aging buildings. It’s hard to remember at times, given the historic architecture, that Sydney is just a babe in the arms of its adoring mother compared to the Granddaddy’s of Europe: London, Paris, Rome and the like. They stand shoulder to shoulder now, which means Sydney deserves credit for how quickly the city has risen in global, business and economic terms. Sydney truly is a world-class place to be and we felt we had only pinched a thumb-and-forefinger-ful of what the city had to offer. Far from being sad that we did not get the chance to see it all, it makes me happy to know that I’ll certainly be coming back here in the future. Who knows, in a few more years, it might only be three-quarters of the world away.
It has been an entire week since you last heard from me reader, and in that time we have travelled long distances by road, sea and air. Presently we have taken up residence in Auckland, New Zealand where we will be until Sunday. From here we will officially begin our seven week tour of the country’s two islands; hopping on buses when we feel we’ve seen the best, and hopping off at destinations that offer activities that may literally require of us to throw ourselves at.
But to talk of New Zealand is to get slightly ahead of ourselves. Let us travel back in time, you and I, to Thursday morning of last week where Melbourne, Australia welcomed us as bleary eyed and sleepless passengers. Our coach arrived slightly ahead of schedule shortly after 6am and barely aware of our darkened surroundings we made our way from bus station to nearby train station at the driver’s recommendation. Knowing only the address of our hostel without any further orientation, we arrived at Flinders Street Station. Luckily, our hostel happened to be on Flinders Street so it was a simple matter of counting the building numbers till we came to 567. Harder than you think in the dark and from the opposite side of the road.
Above: The incredible Flinders Street Station building…without doubt my favourite building in Melbourne
We were five hours early for check-in but we were given access to the kitchen from where we made our breakfast porridge (our welcome winter warmer in Oz) and a brew, and found the nearest thing to a bed before falling asleep. The image of Jo and I snoozing top-n-tail on a TV room sofa mustn’t have been the most startling of scenes, but I did want to reassure the two American girls who wandered in around 10am that we were not in fact homeless (as it may have appeared); we were just waiting to check in. Seeing Jo in her new tartan-patterned and furry hat, I don’t think they were convinced.
Once we were allowed into our room, we set out to explore. Unfortunately we only got as far as Melbourne’s shopping mall so not a lot of sight-seeing was done on this particular day. Due to our restless night we agreed to suspend tourist activity in favour of orientation and the pursuit of some winter clothing. Despite this, we were generally impressed by what we had seen although it was mostly what we had expected from a major city. Sprawling high rise offices and apartments made you feel like a lab-rat in a maze in the central business district, whilst the odd neo-classical or Victorian period structure would occasionally break up this scene.
Above: The opposite end of Flinders Street Station
The next day brought us face-to-face with a familiar face. Pete from school days had come to Melbourne in search of work and…well I’m not sure I can legally tell you what else he was looking for. Jokes aside, it was nice to see a friend from home after all this time and we had a good walk about Federation Square before visiting ACMI: The Australian Centre for the Moving Image. This had been very kindly recommended by Teckael (remember them?) who were here a few months ago and I must therefore thank them greatly for half of the enjoyment I took from this city.
The centre could quite easily have been called the Centre For Geeks and Childhood Games Nostalgia, but I suppose ACMI is a better abbreviation than CFGCGN or Cuffguccgun. The centre housed technology and demonstrations of everything to do with film, media and gaming, making this exhibition by far the most engaging and enjoyable ‘museum’ we had been to. Ever. From Eadward Muybridge’s first moving image of a horse and rider in the 1870’s to Facebook, this centre had everything in between. If it lives on a screen, this museum has it. Star Wars, The Matrix, Mario 64, Tomb Raider, Lemmings (what a game!), Space Invaders, the first ‘Tennis’ computer game, Neighbours, Pro Evolution Soccer…I could go on.
Above: Lemmings! Don’t tell me you never let them die on purpose.
We must have spent at least an hour and a half in the centre but I could easily have doubled that time without running out of things to do, such was the extent of the exhibition. We did manage to drag ourselves away and outside to enjoy the glory of Melbourne whilst we still had daylight. We walked along the river, down to the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance (which gave us some brilliant evening views of the city) and finished the day with a pint. And in between all that, I claimed a free Mars Bar. So far Melbourne was treating us very kindly.
Our next two days would be filled with tours that we had booked with Bunyip who were set up near to our hostel. Again, Teckael had recommended a trip to Phillip Island which is home to a penguin colony, the attraction being that you can watch the 30 centimeter high Little penguins (yes, that’s their name!) coming in from the sea after a hard days fishing. The penguins don’t return from the water until nightfall when the risk of attack from predators is reduced, so to fill the day the tour took us to a couple of nature reserves where we could feed free-roaming wallabies and kangaroo’s and get up close to koalas. On Churchill Island, we also stopped briefly at a farm where we were given a sheep-dog demonstration thanks to a gorgeous chocolate brown coated border-collie, as well as witnessing some sheep-shearing .
Above: Feeding the skip
Unfortunately on Phillip Island, all cameras are banned from the Penguin Parade - as it is officially dubbed- due to the risk posed by flash photography. The incessant bright lights are harmful to the penguin’s vision and- according to our guide- despite initial signs prohibiting just flash photography, the ‘no camera’ rule was brought in as a result of the constant disobeying of the former. We initially viewed this as a real shame, as the image of the penguins emerging from the sea to return to their respective burrows was a charming and unforgettable sight. However not having the pressure of trying to immortalise the moment, meant we could relax completely, and instead of viewing half of the experience through a lens, we managed to take in every second, affording us some priceless memories.
The following day began very early and we boarded our bus at 7.15am and headed for the Great Ocean Road. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like: a vast road that snakes for miles and miles along the south-eastern coast of Australia (although locals will tell you that the body of water constantly visible from the drive is not the ocean, but the Tasman Strait).
We made many stops including a lighthouse that we walked to the top of before lunch as well as another lighthouse which our very informative and humorous guide told us was used in the filming of the popular (or at least it was popular at Denton Drive) children’s TV series Round the Twist. Popular and from what I can remember, often terrifyingly creepy!
The final stop on the tour before turning back to Melbourne was the Twelve Apostles: a collection of limestone off-shore rock formations that offer a striking scene. Whilst it was a shame that the day was haunted by grey clouds and often side-ways rain, the stormy weather actually complimented the rugged rocks and cliffs, adding a sense of drama to this coastal scene as the bluey-green, frothing waves crashed thunderously against the apostles.
Above: Some of the Apostles and the stormy waters of the Tasman Strait
Of the two days, it was definitely the former trip to Phillip Island which gave us the most pleasure and the greater sense of value for money. Not that we felt ripped off, but it seemed the Great Ocean Road trip’s success is largely dependent on the weather, and due to the constant rain the views were not quite as good as they could have been, whilst most people didn’t fancy leaving the shelter of the bus at certain stops. However, because we had purchased two tours with Bunyip, we were given an attractions pass that gave us free entry into some of the city’s main attractions. As such, we enjoyed our last day in Melbourne visiting the aquarium, the Old Melbourne Gaol (jail!) and the Eureka Sky Tower.
The Old Melbourne Gaol was the highlight of the day: a now disused prison (Melbourne’s oldest) that closed (or should that be opened?) its slammers as recently as 1994. We queued up at the Watch Tower where we were greeted by an angry sergeant who demanded we come in, before lining us up against the wall (boys one side, girls the other) and demanding we admit our names and offences (courtesy of a plastic sheet detailing the details of our crime, handed to us when we came in).
The sergeant put us in a cell and turned out the lights before allowing us some ‘free time’ to explore the complex. The main cells that housed the long-sentenced inmates were also available to tour and we enjoyed the walk in and out of tiny cells that had been left in their original condition, reading about certain past inmates that had gained infamy for either having been imprisoned here or chased by the authority; the notorious Ned Kelly coming into the latter category.
Above: Part of the Old Melbourne Gaol, with one of the old trams clonking by in the foreground
From the gaol we wandered through some of Melbourne’s famous laneways (Flinders Lane, Degraves, ACDC Lane) and enjoyed a hot drink and some respite from the drizzle before heading for the sky tower. It was a shame we could not have viewed the city from the 88th floor of Melbourne’s tallest building on a clearer day but it was fun nonetheless.
Now all that stood in our way between Melbourne and NZ was a 12 hour overnight bus trip to Sydney- the reverse trip we had made five days earlier- and a short two and a half hour flight across the Tasman Sea. We were looking forward to the trip with much eagerness but it was sad to be leaving Australia. The country had given us cold weather, yes but it had also given us a fantastic two weeks and a lifetime of memories. Whilst we knew coming here that two weeks was never going to be enough time to “see Australia”, I left with quite conflicting thoughts. I was happy with what we had accomplished in our time and the things we had seen yet disappointed we had not seen more. With this in mind, I think I can say with some certainty that this is not the last I’ll see of Australia.
“But what about New Zealand?” I hear some of you shout. I started this post with New Zealand yes and we have indeed begun our adventure in the “land of the long white cloud”, but if you want to hear about our comings and goings, and doings and don’t-sings, then you’ll just have to look out for my next post. Hmm, “don’t-sings” kind of sounds like a Gollum-ism, which is quite fitting considering our location.