Aussie Food Highlights

As a backpacker with a limited budget, my diet really only consisted of canned tuna and bread. I do not have a breadth of food encounters during my trip to give my firsthand experience and insight on the typical Australian diet. Like Americans, the Australians do not have a cultural collection of what should be labelled as “Australian” cuisine. Both these colonized nations offer a medley of ethnic foods from across the globe.

Here are some iconic foods and brands that identify with being “Australian” (Disclaimer: Once again this is a limited observation from a backpacker’s perspective):

  • Vegemite – This is probably the most iconic “exotic” food people think of when they think of the Australian diet. The English says it tastes like marmite. Vegemite is a spread made from yeast extract and other addictive producing this soy sauce-like taste and a pungent smell. A common misconception (from images of Australians scoffing spoonful of Vegemite) is the amount of Vegemite consumed at once. You are only supposed to use a small amount that thinly spreads over a piece of toast or else it would taste extremely salty.
  • Flat white – It originated in Australia since the 1970s. The espresso, milk, and foam ratio is similar to a cappuccino, but served with a thin layer of foam. Flat whites are famously known as Hugh Jackman’s favorite drink.
  • Tim Tams– Tim Tams is a popular snack consumed by locals and visitors alike. They are chocolate coated biscuits with a filling in between (similar to the English Penguin biscuits). They come in many flavors; my personal favorite is the new salted caramel chocolate Tim Tams. I was on a Tim Tams frenzy for awhile. While they are not what I would consider heaven on earth, they are dangerously addicting. I have gotten a number of backpackers addicted since I would feel self conscious being the only one pigging out on Tim Tams.
  • Beets (in sandwich) – Red beets is a popular add-on topping to sandwiches and burgers. I am not aware of the origin or story of its popularity, but it simply reminds me of the Danish diet of eating red beets and putting them in burgers as well.
  • Soy chicken flavored chips – This is sort of arbitrary, but I see a lot of variations of soy sauced flavored snacks in the supermarket. Perhaps due to the proximity to Asia, manufacturers in Australia decided to produce an Asian inspired snack flavor to cater towards the Asian population in Australia. I’ve only tried this flavor once and was unimpressed.
  • Banana bread – I do not know if Australians actually love banana bread or if it’s because I have only recently started to grow an interest in banana bread, but I seem to see them everywhere! As I have mentioned to another post, Australian banana bread is darker in color and more moist and dense in texture.
  • Kangaroo meat – Kangaroo meat is an Australian delicacy that is not commonly consumed. I’ve only tried a kangaroo burger once. If no one told me, I would have assumed that I was eating a regular beef burger. In case anyone is wondering, no one eats koalas (probably because they ingest toxic eucalyptus leaves).
  • Crocodile meat – Like kangaroo, it’s not a common household choice of meat. I’ve only tried diced crocodile meat as a pizza topping. It didn’t have a taste. I did hear from others that crocodile tastes like chicken. I agree that it has a similar texture, but I cannot attest to the taste since I never had a proper one.

Differences in restaurant chains (in comparison to the US):

  • Hungry Jacks – I was so confused and amused when I saw Hungry Jacks because it looks like an exact copy of Burger King. In fact, it is. Hungry Jacks is Burger King’s Australian franchise; they couldn’t use the name “Burger King” because it was already trademarked for something else in Australia. They share the same menu except the Australian meat is healthier (as I have heard).
  • McDonald’s – The only thing I want to note is their 30 cents soft serve ice cream. Despite the high standard of living, their small soft serve is unusually cheap. It reminds me of the cheap soft serves in China and Hong Kong’s McDonald’s.
  • Domino – Domino is a popular dining choice backpackers resort to because their individual pizzas only cost $5 AUD. The $5 options are limited to certain toppings, but it’s good enough to satisfy hungry budget travelers. During my Australia trip I realized that only Americans quantify pizzas as “pies”. This form of measurement is not used in Australia and definitely not in Italy.
  • Max Brenner’s – Did you know Max Brenner’s is an Australian franchise? Comparing the Australian stores to the Max Brenner’s in Union Square, NY, MB in Australia operates in a cafe setup. The Max Brenner’s in New York is more of a restaurant than a cafe, offering more “real” food options.

Again, due to its proximity to Asia, there is a large variety of authentic Asia cuisines in Australia and specifically, Sydney. There are a lot of authentic Thai and Japanese restaurants in Sydney. As an avid lover of both Thai and Japanese cuisines, I really enjoyed the selection here. You can easily find delicious good quality Japanese meals with food prepared by Japanese chefs at affordable prices. In New York, you can only sample authentic Japanese food at high end places. Overall, the food selection in Australia reminds me of the U.S. Since both countries share a similar history of  being exploited lands from European colonies, they both embrace a toss salad of cultures.

Great Ocean Road

No visit to Victoria is considered complete without going through the Great Ocean Road (GOR). The scenic coastal drive through along the Great Ocean Road is a popular tourist attraction. The Great Ocean Road the world’s largest war memorial in remembrance of the soldiers who fought in World War I. I heard mixed reviews about this road trip. Some backpackers say this coastal drive would not seem special if you go after exploring other parts of Australia. It’s typically a 2 to 3 day drive for those who want to thoroughly explore all the key sites along the Great Ocean Road, but day tours to visit the key places is also an option (which I opted in for since people that I had originally planned to do the GOR with got into a minor car accident). This is definitely a worthwhile visit even if you have went on other scenic excursions in Australia.

One of the key stops to make along the drive is to the Twelve Apostles – these massive limestones formed along the coastline. However, only eight apostles still remain since it was discovered. Better visit before nature takes them away! Despite all the beautiful scenery I have seen in this country, the Twelve Apostles was the most majesty. I arrived when the sun was about to set and the sky was misty creating a serene and mystic backdrop at the Twelve Apostles.

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A new friend that I made at Kennett River

Prior to reaching the Twelve Apostles, one of the stops we made were to Kennett River –  a quiet town with a population under the three digits. Despite the scarce population, I made some new friends there while we were bird feeding. With a hand full of seeds, you are instantly any bird’s best friend. Birds were flying everywhere and lands on your head, arms, and shoulders. There was one that hung out on my shoulder for a good ten minutes and would not fly away. I was a bit concerned that they might have uncontrolled bowel movement after getting fed.

Marvelous Melbourne

Melbourne, mi amor!

I finally understand what people meant when they say you will know when love comes. Melbourne, you are like my love at first sight. Within 10 minutes of strolling down this city the night I landed, I was in love. The short walk around the hostel gave me a nostalgic feeling of home. Melbourne reminded me of New York City with a European touch to it – a city filled with art, culture, and cozy cafes!

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Degraves Street

As recommended by backpackers I met in Sydney, I stayed at the United Backpackers which is conveniently situated  next to the famous Degraves Street. Although I am normally not in favor of dwelling in touristy spots, Degraves Street is an exception. It is a narrow street sandwiched between Melbourne’s main roads. This long alleyway is populated with cafes, coffee shops, and little eateries attracting locals and foreigners. If you cannot tell already, I am a sucker for local coffee shops. Melbourne is like heaven for coffee lovers; they have a strong coffee culture like Seattle in the U.S. I think on average I drank 2 to 3 cups of different coffees every day for the duration of my stay there. No wonder I had trouble falling asleep! Besides coffee, I discovered my love for chai latte and banana bread. It is one of those things when you realize that it is not because you do not like the taste, it is because you never tried it made right. The Australian banana bread has a much darker color than what I am used to seeing elsewhere. I am not sure how the recipes differ, but the I think the ones I have tried here are more moist and dense.

I walked for hours non stop with invigorating excitement and a thirst for urban adventure.  It is like the slug in me grew wings for the first time funneling limitless energy (or maybe it is the high caffeine intake). I must admit, my love for Melbourne maybe a bit infatuated because it is the first big city I have been to after 3 wearisome weeks of exploring the coastal towns of the east. Silly enough to admit, I isolated myself from forming connections with people in Melbourne because I was afraid I would become too attached for the city to leave. If I had found the perfect city with the perfect people, my next visit would be to the immigration office!

The best view of Melbourne is in the men's washroom in some  fancy hotel!
The best view of Melbourne is in the men’s washroom in some fancy hotel!

I decided to join a free walking tour around the city before doing my own exploration so I can get an overview of the city’s history, main attractions, and some advice from the locals. Roughly two centuries ago, the city was known as the Marvelous Melbourne. The city flourished in a very short amount of time because of the gold rush. When deciding on a name for the city, it was a toss up between Batmania (borrowing the city’s founder, John Batman’s last name) or Melbourne. Although the name Batmania was not selected in the end, you can identify references to the founder’s name throughout the city with streets, parks, and hills named after Batman (pronounced as bate-man). Now you know that it is not because of any references to Marvel’s Batman.

Taken at Croft Street
Taken at Croft Street

Besides being known for coffee, Melbourne’s street art (or graffiti) is another big draw of the city. Famously, Croft Street and Hoiser Street are exhibitions of the vibrant artworks. While I did not formally visit any art museums or galleries, the tasteful architecture of the surrounding is enough to keep my camera battery on low. I am always torn between whether I like the cosmopolitan cityscape or the old europe atmosphere more. Somehow, the urban planners of Melbourne combined both concepts and made it work. From Victorian styled buildings, old train stations, to bohemian neighborhoods such as Fitzroy (like Sydney’s Newtown), to the modern developments like Federation Square, the financial district, to St. Kilda’s beach which embraces the Australian coast beach culture, Melbourne has it all (except for the year round sunny weather).

Australian Lingo

Australian English and American English differ not just in accent, but also in word choice and slang. Here are some of the differences I observed:

Slang

Australians tend to shorten a lot of words or add “ie” to the end of them. It makes a lot things sound a lot more cutesy! 

  • Oz: Australia
  • Aussie: Australian
  • Brekkie: Breakfast
  • Sunnies: Sunglasses
  • Brissie: Brisbane
  • Freo: Fremantle
  • Maccas: McDonalds
  • Barbie: Barbeque
  • Footy: Australian football
  • Woolies: Woolsworth (supermarket chain)
  • Uni: University
  • Goon: Boxed wine

Different word usage

  • Tomato sauce: ketchup
  • Thongs: flip flops
  • Capsicum: bell peppers
  • Petro: gas
  • Power point: power outlet
  • Car park: parking lot
  • Cutlery: eating utensils
  • Prawn: shrimp
  • Bottle shop: liquor store
  • Chemist: pharmacy
  • Torch: flashlight

Commonly used words

  • Mate
  • Dodgy
  • Keen
  • Heaps
  • No drama
  • Reckon
  • Massive

Maggie’s Series of Unfortunate Events

With all the traveling I’ve done in the past few years, one would assume this trip would be going smoothly. On the contrary, I have been plagued with little misfortunes throughout my journey across Australia. Big or small, they are dynamic contributions to my overall experience in Oz. At some point, I was actually convinced that I would never make it back home because the bad luck seems to get worse each time. The ongoing bad encounters had held me back from pursuing a more adventurous journey. Perhaps the extra precautions I have taken had saved my ass more than I have realized. Many of the sticky situations could have been much worse and sometimes something positive come out of these encounters.

Here goes the series of Maggie’s unfortunate events:

  • 8/2 – Obnoxious toddler fidgeting next to me on the flight to Melbourne
  • 7/31 – Cloudy and windy weather for skydiving
  • 7/29 – A quarter of the crown of my inner right tooth chipped off on my bus ride to Townsville!
  • 7/21-22- Rained during major sight visits on Fraser Island
  • 7/20 – No toilet, no shower at camp surprise
  • 7.19 – Bed bugs at backpacker scare
  • 7/16 – Poured on our way to see sunset at Laguna lookout
  • 7/14 – Fraser Island tour got pushed back
  • 7/10 – Awkward confrontation/TMI
  • 7/4-7 – Sleep deprivation
  • 6/25 – Dropped laptop from top bunk bed
  • 6/23 – Bad haircut
  • 6/20 – Tiger Air flight to Sydney canceled; cold restless night at the airport
  • 6/16 – Caused a bleeding toe from tripping over a rock in the dark campsite
  • 6/14 – Dry skin caused finger to bleed right before jumping in the water to swim with whale sharks
  • 6/11 – Single float as air bed broken
  • 6/10 – Stormy weather blew our tents away
  • 6/9 – Kangaroo car collision while driving in the evening
  • 6/8 – Sealion tour unavailable due to unfavorable weather conditions
  • 5/28-30 – False hope from phone stealer – English asshole!
  • 5/28 – Lost then stolen Galaxy S3!
  • 5/26 – Useless doctor consultation; $50
  • 5/24 – Disturbing masturbating roommate confusion
  • 5/23-26 – Rosacea triggered facial rashes

Hopefully, the list doesn’t get longer. They’re brief descriptions of what happened; if you want the back story to any particular one, PM me!

Which Coast is Better?

Coming to Australia, I had the faintest clue of what I would be doing here for three months. Other than briefly learning about the common native Australian animals as a child, I did not know much about this country. I have only heard of the major Australian cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and some city close to the Great Barrier Reef (which I later learned is Cairns). I debated over whether to fly into Sydney or Melbourne. My original idea was to find some sort of volunteering opportunity in Sydney to keep myself busy and then travel to Melbourne during my last days of  this journey. During my beginning day in Sydney, I was overwhelmed with the variety of different places backpackers commonly visited. I eventually learned about the trail going along the east coast. Typically, backpackers would travel from town to town along the east coast and eventually fly into Alice Springs to visit Uluru. Few backpackers would venture into the west coast. By chance, I embarked on my first Australian adventure on the west coast.

West vs. East

A lot of people asked me which coast I preferred. It is a difficult question because they are completely different experiences and none that I would give up for.

I started my west coast journey with a completely different mindset. I barely even realized that backpackers “do” the coasts. Only arriving in Australia for 10 days, I hopped on my first flight to Perth and began making my way up the west coast with my travelmates via rental car. At the time, the aussie lingo and backpacker mentality was still foreign to me. As a non driver and lack of awareness of the popular attractions, I let my travelmates make most of the decisions. Western Australia is so sparsely populated that you can either feel eerie sometimes because its baroness. We would be driving for kilometers without a sign of other people. On the flip side, we get the luxury of enjoying the tranquil pristine scenery all to ourselves and pretend we own the land because no one else would be there to interject. We would make our itinerary as we go and camp out at nearest camp grounds when it is the evening. For this deserted part of Oz, I am glad to have found like-minded people to explore with (because you are literally stuck with them for the entire ride).

The vacant, but pristine Shell Beach in Western Australia
The vacant, but pristine Shell Beach in Western Australia

I did a lot more research on the east coast before hitting the road again. I was surprised by how prevalent the backpacking culture was on the east coast. Backpackers make up majority of the tourism along the east coast. There were plenty of hostels, shuttle buses, and tours designed for backpackers. This time around, I traveled alone through the Greyhound’s hop on hop off bus package and stayed in hostels. Ironically, it was a much more social experience as a solo traveler to interact with other backpackers throughout my journey. At the same time, the east coast is much more touristy and crowded with travelers and locals all over.

Beautiful sunset at Urangan Pier, Hervey Bay
Beautiful sunset at Urangan Pier, Hervey Bay

I was reflecting on my coastal experiences on my flight to Melbourne. I am still amazed over the fact that I had seen majority of both coasts in my short stay in Australia. I tried to think of my favorite spots that I have visited and I realized that it was the people that I have met that contributed immensely to my experience. The weather was not working in my favor for me to truly see the beauty of the Australian landscape. It was the wonderful (and not so wonderful) people and conversations that filled my memories. My camera captured the scenery and my heart safe keeps all the conversations I have shared with people.

Stop #6: Cairns 7/31 – 8/2

I shared the same sentiments as the passenger who exclaimed, “I made it!”. It felt a little strange hopping off the Greyhound coach when I arrived in Cairns. Cairns is my final destination on this 3-week east coast journey and I cannot believe this is it!

Unfortunately, I only have 2.5 days in Cairns. I was booking my flight from Cairns to Melbourne when I was in Airlie Beach and for some reason the cheapest and fastest flight was on the evening of the 2nd. I had originally intended to stay in Cairns until the 3rd or the 4th, but I figured that extra time in Melbourne wouldn’t hurt. Backpackers typically either start out in Cairns or end their east coast expedition here. Cairns is a small city which serves as a springboard for travelers to book tours outside of Cairns such as to the Daintree Rainforest or the Great Barrier Reef. Coming here I had skydiving and a day trip to Cape Tribulation (in Daintree) booked. After discussing possible half day reef tours with people at the hostel, I decided not to go on one. Half day tours are only available to the inner reef and I was told that was nowhere as spectacular as the outer reef. Since I had already visited the Ningaloo reef in the west coast, a hostel staff suggested that there wasn’t a need to see the inner reef.

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Soaring through the clouds like a bird!

The day for skydiving has finally arrived! I had my 14,000ft tandem skydive at Innisfails, which is roughly an hour south of Cairns. After going through so much in Australia, I didn’t feel nervous about skydiving. I was excited as the aircraft took off in the sky. My instructor attached his gears onto mine as the plane reached closer to 14,000 feet above ground. The moment I was dragged out to the edge of the plane, I let out a quick scream. Arms crossed and head tilt back, my instructor pushed us outside the plane. The first 2 seconds of the freefall was scary and I had my jaws tightened for the plunge. The 60 second freefall was the best part of the experience. Once the parachute was up, we drifted for roughly 2-3 minutes in midair. To be honest, it was not as scenic as I had hoped. It was also a cloudy day so we did spend a couple of seconds in the clouds; I suppose that’s how heaven feels like. A few minutes after landing, I felt a little nauseous probably because I jumped on an empty stomach. I would describe this overall experience as ‘good’. I certainly believe that this is not the best jump and is interested in skydiving again. Maybe I’ll finally feel the adrenalin rush (that everyone talks about after skydiving) the second time!

I went on a day trip to Cape Tribulation the following day. There is so much to see in the rainforest, I wish I had more time to book a 2 or 3 day tour. Our first stop was Port Douglas which is approximately 40 minutes north of Cairns. It was another peaceful town along the coast. After the quick stop, we headed to the Mossman Gorge. Our tour guide led us through a 40 minute hike around the gorge. I really enjoyed the walk in the rainforest since it was a different experience than the beach landscape I’ve been seeing so far in Australia. I was really excited to look at all the greenery and waterfall encompassing the gorge. I wish I had more time to fully explore the gorge. We proceeded to Cape Tribulation there afterwards for lunch and the lookout. We went on an hour long ferry tour down the river feeling like Crocodile Dundee and we spotted two crocodiles up close.

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Mossman Gorge
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Look at those vines!
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Big crocodile encounter
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Baby crocodile sighting

Cairns itself has an esplanade and lagoon encompassing the shopping and restaurant streets. It was nice bumping into other backpackers that I had met earlier on my journey to Cairns. I wished I could stay a little longer to meet up with other backpackers that were also in Cairns at the time. It is a bit of a bummer that I didn’t get to see the outer reef, but I was not sure what type of reef tour I would want to go on anyway (with my limited swimming abilities).

This is it — Solo adventure up the east coast complete ✓

I’m glad I made it here alive and met so many different people along the way. It is a challenge I am proud to have taken and endured by overcoming the struggles, insecurities, and self dependencies of being a solo backpacker.

Stop #5: Magnetic Island 7/29 – 7/30

Magnetic Island is an island a few kilometers away from Townsville. One of the biggest reason why I decided to make a stop here before heading to Cairns is because Magnetic Island’s nickname is Maggie. It was a bit of a struggle to fit this 2day 1night visit since I had originally scheduled to skydive on July 30th. Generally, visitors come here to snorkel, fish, and engage in water sports.

It was a difficult morning for me because the corner of the crown on my inner right tooth suddenly chipped off. I was on the bus and suddenly part of my tooth just fell off! I was in shock and I was so paranoid that the rest of the tooth or teeth would continue to fall off. It felt like one of those falling teeth nightmares coming true. My teeth had been aching on my west coast trip. I am assuming my tooth had been decaying for weeks to a point where it was so brittle, it just chipped away. Looks like another costly expense to take into consideration when I get home; getting that fixed is probably going to cost thousands. My main concern is to prevent the tooth from getting infected while I’m still abroad!

Taking the early 7AM Greyhound from Airlie Beach to Townsville, I arrived at the ferry terminal at noon. I bought a round trip package to the island along with a day pass for the local hop on hop off bus for $35 AUD. The bus conveniently picked me up at the other end of the ferry terminal and brought me to the Bungalow by the Bay Koala Village hostel. With limited time here, I immediately dropped my stuff off in my bungalow dorm and jumped onto the next bus to Alma Bay.

Rock wallaby at Alma Bay
Rock wallaby at Alma Bay

It was quite confusing to navigate the island at first since there weren’t any clear paths for pedestrians. I walked to Alma Bay to see the rock wallabies. Since I did not buy any food to feed them, I just took pictures of these tiny fuzz balls from afar. Although they are considered wild wallabies, they are not very afraid of humans since they are used to people going there to feed them. Next, I walked along Geoffrey Bay down to Nelly Bay, where the ferry terminal is. There was a nicely built pedestrian walkway alongside the freeway for people to stroll down the island while enjoying the view of the bay. I took the bus to Picnic Bay since I had the day pass to take advantage of. The area had a ‘mall’ for food and souvenirs and a small jetty for people to fish.

I hiked up to Hawkings Point to watch the sunset. The journey up was a bit confusing since there were some split paths and fallen signs with arrows pointing in opposite directions. I finally made it up to the lookout which was on top of a huge rock up the mountain. I was concerned with the walk back down since the area was so secluded (and what the lady at the information desk referred as a hidden trail); I would only imagine it would be even more challenging to navigate back down after sundown in the dark. The lookout had a nice view of the southern parts of the island and an elevated view of the sun setting. I assumed no one else would be joining me up there for sunset so I decided to sing aloud to my iPod as if I am in a shower. Just my luck, a local retired fireman and his dog trekked their way up to the lookout. Hopefully, he did not hear my awful singing, haha. It was quite nice to be able to learn more about the island through a local and have him guide me back down the hill. Back at Picnic Bay, I sat on the jetty while waiting for the bus to Horseshoe Bay where my hostel was. I am glad that I decided to wait on the jetty instead of the bus stop since I was lucky enough to spot a small manta ray in the dark water. Did not get to see one in the Ningaloo Reef, but I guess this makes up for it.

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Picnic Bay

With another half a day left on the island before returning to Townsville to catch the bus to Cairns, I woke up early to do the Forts hike and visit the Five Bays. Thanks to my roommate, I was able to have a solid brekky before starting what turned out to be a 5 hour hike. I got lost finding the entrance to the Forts hike. It was quite an easy class 1-2 type walk up to the fort. Unfortunately, I was unable to spot any koalas on my way up. There was a nice overview of the westerly bits of the island  at the highest point of the climb.

After the Fort hike, I continued along the Radical Bay Road to visit the five bays: Arthur Bay, Florence Bay, Radical Bay, Balding Bay, and Horseshoe Bay. With no clear maps and road signs, I hiked with uncertainty for the most part until I finally saw someone in the passing to confirm that this road actually leads to the bays. I was thrown off in a tangent a couple of times, but I was able to complete the trails in time to catch the ferry back to Townsville. The largest bay was Horseshoe Bay where people can take on different water activities. The other bays were smaller and more quiet. The journey to reach the last 3 bays were rather strenuous. The one way return trail detour to Balding Bay was the most difficult as parts of the path were extremely rocky to the extent where I would consider a class 4-5 hike. I accidentally went off track when I was making my way back up the mountain; I was wondering why it was so much harder to cross, haha. With the time constraint, I must admit that I would have been better off skipping Balding Bay even though it was supposed to be the most beautiful one.

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View from the Fort
The field by Radical Bay
The field by Radical Bay

Overall, I found Maggie to be a quiet and relaxing home to many Aussies. I noticed an overwhelming population of elderly people living on the island. Perhaps the peaceful environment is inviting for retirees to stay there or couples to raise families. There aren’t many shops and such to maintain the interest of young adults for anything longer than a short getaway. I cannot say I was taken away by any of the natural beauty on the island. For the efforts needed to make this stop possible and the rush I had to go through, I would say it was not the most worthwhile visit. Another bummer was that there were less references to Maggie than I had expected.

Stop #4: Airlie Beach/ Whitsunday Islands 7/24 – 7/28

I had a couple days to relax in Airlie Beach prior to the sailing tour since the original tour I wanted to book at an earlier date was full. I used this downtime to finally Skype people from home and to mail postcards. I stayed at Backpackers by the Bay which was a 5 minute walk from the town center. Coincidentally, I bumped into two of my English hostelmates from Eva’s Backpackers in Sydney. The hostel had a very chill and relaxing atmosphere unlike the other hostels in town which attracts the rowdier bunch. The shower stalls had life sized pictures of shirtless men on the wall so you get to choose which guy you want to see when you shower, haha. My only complaint is the soft mattress and pillow; the mattress was so thin that I can feel the bed frame when I sleep on it. The commercial area in Airlie Beach is more concentrated than Hervey Bay. There seems to be less shops, but more tourists than Hervey Bay. I spent the first two days to unwind a bit as I waited to board the Avatar 2 day 2 night sail. The main attraction here is the man made lagoon and the beach. I learned about the hike trail up to the mountains that overlooks Airlie Beach a bit too late so I did not get a chance to partake in the hike. Like Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach serves as the gateway to a major attraction; in this case, it is the Whitsunday Islands and more specifically, the Whitehaven Beach with sand made up of 98% silica.

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Whitehaven Beach

 Avatar 2D2N Sailing Tour

_MG_6944After hearing stories about Avatar being a party boat where people tend to strip down and skinny dip every night, I felt uneasy about boarding the boat. ‘What have I signed up for?’ I asked myself – a naked party boat. Thankfully, my group was not too wild for me to handle. Actually, I was surprised that my group had a handful of travelers in the late 20s age range. The morning of the 26th, I went to the office for a quick briefing before boarding the vessel at the Marina that early afternoon. The trip has no set itinerary other than a short hike to the Whitehaven beach. We had our shoes collected before climbing into the catamaran; typical Aussie style to walk around barefooted. Actually another hostemate from Eva’s Backpackers was on the same tour. I did not recognize her, but she told me she recognized my voice (not sure if that is a good thing…). I was assigned to sleep in the ‘cabin or room’ on the left wing; it was really just a hole you climb into. I was stoked to be sleeping in this tiny compartment as I have told people that I would really like to sleep in a small cozy coffin-like space because it more or less makes me feel safe than claustrophobic. Benefits of being short was exemplified on this tour. The sleeping space was just long enough for my toes to be roughly 5 inches away from the wall and the toilet door frame almost touched my head. Despite the lack of ventilation, sleeping in a hole is not too shabby. For the first day, we sailed to the end of the Whitsunday Islands and had our first snorkel. At first, I was going to hold back on the snorkel since I still do not know how to swim. However, everyone was ushered into the water since most of this trip would take place on the vessel and this one of the few opportunities to be off the boat. I had given the crew a heads up for being a non-swimmer and told other people on the boat about my situation so they can be on the lookout for me. The water here is so much more calming that the whale shark tour since we were much closer to shore. Everyone was so considerate and had stayed by me in the beginning and kept an eye on me the whole time. It was a bit challenging to ‘swim’ with the two noodles I insisted to bring with me. I kept asking people if I was moving because it felt like I was not propelling anywhere; everyone replied saying, “Yes, you are just moving very slowly”. After snorkeling, we sailed (where I did a bit of the steering) over to Tongue Bay, the entrance to Whitehaven Beach to dock for the night. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy so we could not stargaze nor expect to see the sunrise the next day since we did not dock by a good view of the rise of dawn.

Eagle spotting on both days of sailing
Eagle spotting on both days of sailing

The first activity of the day was to make our way to Whitehaven beach. Just our luck, it rained the night before and the sky still did not clear out completely when we landed. As part of the tradition, boys and girls separately stood behind the Whitehaven beach sign for a pseudo nude pose. We proceeded to the lookout of the beach. The picturesque view was just like the images we have seen online. The sand was still damp when we arrived; if only I was able to experience walking on the dry floury silica sand. Silica is a good skin exfoliator. I rubbed the sand all over my body and I did feel my skin being softer afterwards. Two more snorkeling opportunities were scheduled for the day. The first one was supposed to be the best spot to see the coral and fishies. I participated in the first one and was amazed by all the colorful fishes and coral I saw. Unlike the first day, I was more comfortable floating on the noodle and concentrated more on looking for wildlife than staying afloat. I opted out of the last snorkel spot since the current was more unsettling and the waves were bigger. The few people that did snorkel in the last one said I did not miss out on much so that was reassuring. Afterwards we sailed back to a location 20 minutes away from Airlie Bay. I was quite annoyed over the fact that this could have easily been a 2 day 1 night trip since we could have sailed back to the dock that second evening.

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If I can redo this trip, I would either go for day tour of the Whitehaven beach on a sunny day or find a 2 day 1 night tour to save myself some money. I did enjoy the crew and the folks I spent the trip with, but it would have been nice for better weather and for better prices.

Stop #3: Hervey Bay/ Fraser Island 7/19 – 7/23

Fraser Island is a world-heritage site located along the southern coast of Queensland. Rainbow Beach and Hervey Bay are the two access points to get to the island. I had booked a tour that departs from Hervey Bay to Fraser Island. Hervey Bay itself is known for whale sightings and is a popular place to go on whale tours. Hervey Bay is spread out along several bays with shops and restaurants hugging the esplanade.

I arrived at Hervey Bay early because the original 3 day 2 night tour for Fraser Island got pushed back to 20th since the tour on the 19th did not have enough people going. I was worried about checking into the Palace Adventures hostel linked with the tour because of old reviews saying that people have found bed bugs here. Luckily, everything looked relatively clean when I arrived. I arrived in the late evening so reception was closed. The shuttle bus driver picked me up and gave me my room key without asking for validation of who I am. I walked along the esplanade with my Canadian roommates the next day. The esplanade stretched out to be 14 km long. Other than this festival celebrating the whale mating season at the beach, not much was going on in the area.

Fraser Island

_MG_6630We had a briefing the day before our departure with a short overview of the island and things to bring there. We were dropped off at Coles to buy our groceries for food for the next few days since meals would not be provided on the tour. We had to meet at 6:30 AM the next day to watch a safety video of Fraser Island and the precautions we need to take to avoid dangerous encounters with dingos and driving on sand. Of the 10 most poisonous snakes in the world, 8 of them are found in Australia and 7 of those live on Fraser Island. The ferry that brought us over to Fraser Island also carried our vehicles on it.

The sandy hill we climbed to get to Lake Wabby
The sandy hill we climbed to get to Lake Wabby

Navigating around Fraser Island requires a 4WD because the island is built on sand. Sometimes we drive through hard dried sand and sometimes we have to race against the waves on the soft sand to avoid getting dragged into sea. When we arrived, we drove through the hard sand to get to the first lake.  It was a bumpy drive up and down the hilly roads. Sitting sideways on the tour guide’s van, we bobbed up and down with the curvature of the road. It was actually fun to be on a bumpy ride because it kept us awake. The lake had really soft sand that is partially made from silica. Our tour guide Jeff told us that silica is a good exfoliator for our skin and good alternative to shampoo for our hair. Just for fun, I rubbed the sand all over the legs. It did feel softer after I ‘exfoliated’ my skin, but I couldn’t tell if that was just psychological. After having lunch at Central Station, we proceed onto a hike over sand dunes to reach Lake Wabby. As much as I love hiking, I really do not enjoy hiking up hills of sand since the soft sinking surface. I was told there are little fishes in Lake Wabby that would nibble the dead skin off your toes. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any fishes in the lake.

As our tour guide drove by this rundown campsite, I thought to myself, _MG_6446“Please don’t stop the vehicle.” I felt a sense of relief when we drove past the campsite, but my heart sank when the driver made a U-turn and parked at that campsite. I knew beforehand that there would be no showers on site, but no one told me there are no toilets either! It would have been nice if our tour guide gave us a heads up that the previous restroom stop was going to be the last one for the night. As much as my hygiene standards gone down the drain after the Western Australia camping trip, this is a whole new low – bush camping. Everyone was shocked to learn about the toilet situation.

So what happens if we need to pee? I thought we were told to stay away from the bushes because that is where snakes tend to nest, but we are also expected to pee and poop by the bushes. We have a designated shovel aka the ‘shit stick’ for you to dig a hole if you want to poop. By default, everyone knows what you are up to if you are seen with the shit stick. As a girl, I am not even trained to aim to pee, how can I aim where my bowel lands? Solution: Build a hill instead of digging a hole. Also, another concern is when we want to engage in excretion of any sort, we put ourselves at risk of dingo danger. While dingoes may have a friendly appearance, they are aggressive hounds to avoid. When you have to pay your duty at night, be sure to take the dingo stick!

The highlight of the tour was the first night. After dinner, we sat on the sand right by shore and looked up in the sky. The stars lit up the sky and it felt like the world was ours. Undisturbed by other lights, I could clearly see the milky way. People kept pointing out the shooting stars they saw, but I kept missing them. At some point, I was so determined to spot a shooting star that I decided to lay down on the sand and concentrate on the sky. Still, the stars always seem to pass by in the opposite direction of where I was looking. I gave up. I got up and told my friend that I will probably see one when I stop looking. And there, right when I finished my sentence, I saw a shooting star flash passed my eyes!

I woke up extra early the next day in hopes of watching sunrise. Just my luck, a huge rain cloud was blocking the sun. It ended up being rainy on the day where we visited most of the attractions on Fraser. We drove along the 77 Mile Beach to the Champagne Pool. Champagne Pool is a body of water separated from the sea by a formation of rocks. When the waves are big enough, they splash over into the pool. This one fully clothed guy who was walking along the rocks got hit by a big wave and was completely drenches – pure genius. We also visited Indian Head where a few of us spotted a whale! Along the beach we passed by the Maheno shipwreck and Eli creek.

Champagne Pool
Champagne Pool
Maheno Shipwreck
Maheno Shipwreck

We picked a good tent as many of the other folks had rain seeping into their tents. Unfortunately, the third day was as gloomy as the previous day. _MG_6531It was quite a bummer since we visited Lake McKenzie before leaving the island. The sun was hidden behind the clouds when we were at Lake McKenzie. I wish I was able to see the lake on a bright sunny day. The sand on this lake has the highest concentration of silica on the island. Some of the backpackers took this opportunity to wash their hair with the sand and take a bath. They claim that their hair felt softer, but once again I question if that is psychological. The sky finally cleared up when we were waiting at Kingfisher Bay for the ferry to bring us back to Hervey Bay.

This tour turned out to be better than I expected mainly because I had really low expectations after the reviews I read online. The rain definitely detracted from the experience, but I am glad to be able to enjoy the island when it was nice. I really enjoyed the car ride on the sand; it was quite the experience!

While waiting for the Greyhound bus the next day, I decided to walk along the esplanade until I reached Urangan Pier to see the sunset.  Urangan Pier is one of the longest piers in Australia extending over 800 meters into the water. The beautiful sunset sighting from the pier was worth the 2 hour walk. I figure it is better to wear myself out for the overnight bus to Airlie beach that I would soon be boarding.

Urangan Pier
Urangan Pier
Sun rays piercing through the clouds at sunset
Sun rays piercing through the clouds at sunset