A Travellerspoint blog

Australia - Fraser Island

Sand, 4x4's and Goon!

sunny 22 °C

Hot on the heels of The Whitsunday's we were straight back on the Greyhound and down the coast to Hervey Bay ready for our Fraser Island - 3 day self drive safari.

Fraser Island is the worlds largest sand island measuring 120km by 15km and was created by thousands of years of longshore drift. Since 1990 the island has been protected as the Great Sandy National Park and in 1993 it was inscribed on the World Heritage List.

FACT: It contains more sand than the Sahara Desert (source: Paul, Reading)

Another early start, we were up at 6.30am for our first de-brief at the hostel. We were split into two groups, we had a really nice couple from Reading called Paul and Maz and two Danish girls along with us 5. After watching a video all about the island and how to avoid being savaged by a pack of wild Dingoes we had to decide on our shopping and alcohol lists (we were camping for the next two nights). It was just like being in Big Brother, but with it being so early and us being so knackered we just followed the recommended list. Paul and Maz went to go and buy all the food whilst the rest of us went down to the 4x4 rental place to collect all the camping equipment.

Rich and myself were assigned the job of checking off all the equipment which did mean having to count out 9 of everything (folks, knives, plates, cups etc) and then load it all on the roof. After a final talk on how to drive the Battle Bus (when to use 2WD, 4WD & Super-Tractor mode) and being issued a map of the island we headed down to the ferry to start our adventure.

The Battle Bus

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Arriving on the island you can appreciate why they give you such a heavy duty vehicle, there are no roads at all only really deep sand tracks and the beach to drive along. We had been given a suggested itinery of what to see over the three days and decided to stick to that to make sure we saw all the main attractions. The highlights of the first day were Lake Wabby a fresh water lake which had vegetation running along one side and sand dunes on the other - a pretty amazing site and a shipwreck on the beach.

Shipwrecked

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At 4pm we had to report into Base Camp where we would be staying for the two nights. We were greeted by the site manager, a very eccentric guy called Macca who talked at length of all the nasty spider and snakes which inhabit the island (funnily enough non of which was mentioned at the booking office). We then very painfully put up our tent which look 5 of us about 2 hours it was seriously like Dumber and even more stupid, you'll be amazed at how wrong we managed to get it. Paul, Rich and the girls made an awesome Banger & Mash for tea on the BBQ and we all got stuck well and truely into the Goon. Now I had no idea what Goon was until Fraser Island but if you can imagine the cheapest wine available which is only sold in 4 litre boxes, they have a very niche market of raging alcoholics who are treating themselves to a night off the Meths and hard up Backpackers. Having said that the Goon was flying down and we all made lots of fun "Spanking the Goon" (which is when the Goon is taken out of the box and you all take it in turns to spank the foil bag it comes in - probably makes more sense if you're Gooned)

Paul & Lisa man the BBQ

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Gooned - Me, Jules and Maz

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Suddenly there was a rustling in the undergrowth and we all thought we may be about to encounter our first Dingo attack but to our relief it was only Macca brandishing a massive torch doing his nightly spider watch. He enlightened us again to a catalogue of spider and snake attack tales delivered as only Macca could - we all decided there and then that Macca was a legend!

The following day, nursing significant Goon-heads we piled back into the Battle Bus for another day sightseeing the highlight being Indian Head. Indian Head is the top of a cliff overlooking one of the beaches but it is also an outcrop so you are quite far out at sea. From the top you can look down into the water and see Sharks, Mantra Rays and Dolphins (you can't swim in the sea at Fraser because you will either get eaten by a shark or pulled out to sea by a rip)

After hitting the on-site bottle shop for emergency Goon our second evening was spent exchanging scary stories back at base camp (very camping stylie!)

After packing up all our camping stuff which was a hell of alot easier than setting it all up we hit the road for your final day. The highlight of which was Lake McKenzie another of Fraser's fresh water lakes. It was a really hot day so there was no hesitation in wading in there for a cool off (it also works wonders for a Goon hangover)

The Gang

Team Goon.jpg

After dropping off all the camping gear we headed back to the hostel and were amazed to discover that we were still a Goon up so we headed over to the Chinese all you can eat buffet with Paul and Maz for a final spanking session. We all really enjoyed Fraser Island, it has definitely been the best thing we have done in Australia so far - such a unique place to visit.

Our next stop - Brisbane

Posted by greggers 04:15 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Australia - The Whitsunday's

Sailing, Diving & Elvis

all seasons in one day 27 °C

We hopped on The Greyhound down to Airlie Beach in preparation for our Whitsunday's sailing extravaganza. We were pretty relieved to discover that Airlie Beach is a pretty lively beach resort so after checking into a hostel we headed out for a few schooners, bearing in mind we had a 6am alarm call the following morning to meet the crew.

The Whitsunday's are a collection of 74 islands set in the heart of Queensland's Great Barrier Reef the largest of these islands being Whitsunday Island. We had signed ourselves up for a fully chartered 3 day 2 night sailing and diving trip cruising around the islands aboard a vessel called "Kiana"

Ain't she a Beaut..?

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We managed to get ourselves up on time and down to the marina where we met by John the resident dive instructor and crew member and the rest of the passengers. The majority of the other passengers were people roughly our age, also travelling and there were also few slightly older couples - all in all a good bunch.

After introductions we climbed aboard and the skipper Brent ran through the boat rules and various safety procedures - try not to get drunk and fall over board, we were only allowed to have one 2 min shower a day (anyone who knows me will appreciate how horrified I was at hearing this) and we were trained at how to use a marine toilet. Then Brent sparked the old girl up and we shimmied out of the marina. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't great so we weren't able to venture into the outer Barrier Reef so we headed for Hayman Island. It was pretty rough getting out there but it was pretty cool to be sat on deck as we crashed through the waves.

After a few hours we arrived at Hayman Island, anchored for the day, had lunch and then sat down for our first dive briefing. We were told at length of the dangers of the potentially fatal Box Jellyfish, one of the most deadly animals on earth - you don't need to be concerning yourself with Great Whites when these bad boys are in the ocean. The real bummer about the Box Jellyfish is that you don't even see it coming in the water until it's too late.

"You have virtually no chance of surviving the venomous sting, unless treated immediately. The pain is so excruciating and overwhelming that you would most likely go into shock and drown before reaching the shore." - nice

Me rocking a Stinger Suit

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John went on to "highly recommend" we all use full length "Stinger Suits" complete with a hood to help protect ourselves - you have never seen people squeeze themselves into something so quickly in all your life! Our first dive wasn't great, I had never dived in such bad visibility (it was about 5 meters) so you had to really stick with your dive buddy but having said that it was really good experience and I even made myself a little friend.

Me with a Sea cucumber

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The evening was spent chilling out on deck and appreciating the scenery, we saw some pretty awesome sunsets.

Sunset at Hayman Island

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We had the smallest cabin ever which slept 6 of us (Mark, Rich, Jules, Lisa and myself) plus we had Shirley Valentine in with us too - a scouse divorcee. mid-forties, looking for love. Shirley went to bed at 8pm every night and snored like nothing on earth, kept us all awake and then complained the following morning about not sleeping too well!

On the second day Brent treated us to some proper sailing (we had previous been powered by a motor) So we got the sails up, gave the engine a rest and glided through the water like a hot knife through butter. We arrived at Dumbell Island by lunchtime and did two more dives that afternoon, the visibility was slightly better but will pretty poor. We did see some decent coral and sealife including an enormous Napoleon Fish called Elvis. Elvis is quite the celebrity of the Whitsunday's and has no quarms in coming over for a cuddle with divers and snorkellers.

Elvis

ELVIS.jpg

Our third and final day was spent at Whitehaven Beach. Now I know I absolutely raved about how amazing the Perhentian Islands were in Malaysia but Whitehaven Beach is the closest we have come to beating that.

Team "Kiana" at lookout over Whitehaven Beach

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Enjoying Whitehaven Beach

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And then we sailed back to the marina, I spent the afternoon finishing The Da Vinci Code on deck (I recon that Dan Brown could be onto a winner there..) It's also tradition that the crew and passengers all go out for drinks that night when you reach dry land. We ended up having a great final night... well I presume it was great.... I know there was Sambuca.

Our next stop - Fraser Island.

Posted by greggers 20:14 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Australia

Cairns, Port Douglas & Mission Beach

all seasons in one day 26 °C

So we eventually managed to drag ourselves out of Asia and into Oz, although it was abit touch & go at Immigration. It appears my new Bohemian travelling look isn't to everyone's taste and suggests that I may be someone who carries a backpack full of unsavories. After a thorough searching of my bag and Marks trainers making a brief trip to quarantine for a scrub up we were welcomed into Oz with open arms. (mental note to self: smarten up general appearance and maybe run a razor over my chops more than once every 6 weeks to avoid this embarrassment in future)

Our first stop was Cairns, now there isn't anything particularly wrong with Cairns but there isn't anything particularly right with it either. It's essentially a purpose built holiday resort, abit like Blackpool but with better weather but bizarrely despite being on the coast - no beach. We did find ourselves a decent hostel and spent the next few days exploring, sampling the "colorful" nightlife on offer and an awful lot of time complaining like two old women about the price of just about everything. It's going to take us a while to get used to 1st world country prices again.

After a few days Jules (Mark's girlfriend) Rich and Lisa (2 of our mates from London) flew out to join us for a three week holiday. They were allowed 2 days to get over their jetlag and then it was time to move on.

Port Douglas

It's fair to say Port Douglas went down alot better than Cairns. It's a fairly small town popular with the well-heeled Aussie (so why we ended up there is abit concerning). The place itself has a real community vibe going on, everyone seems to know everyone else and spend alot of time hanging out chillin - I don't think anyone there has a job.

The main attraction of "Port" is it's easy access to the Barrier Reef so we wasted no time in signing ourselves up for some diving the following day. The company we had arranged to dive with had a brand spanking new boat with all the mod-cons so we cruised into the reef in fine style - very Port Douglas. We had all opted to do 3 dives so it was a pretty hectic day but all the crew were really organised so it all ran very smoothly.

Our dive boat

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The first two dives were at the same site but exploring different parts of the reef. Obviously the main attraction is beautiful coral which was stunning but we also saw some excellent sea life we hadn't seen before. After lunch we did our third dive where we moved to a different site and were taken out on a small boat to the middle of the reef. We then spent the dive swimming back to the main dive boat against the current. It was pretty hard work but a good experience, plus we got to do a James Bond style backwards dive into the water which was cool. This was our best dive in terms of sightings. We saw all types of different fish - Stingrays, White-tip Sharks, Triggerfish, Parrotfish, Clownfish and Sea cucumbers. We all really enjoyed the day and were really chuffed to have dived the Great Barrier Reef - it was a great experience.

There was an underwater photographer taking photo's as we dived so I though I would have loads of wicked photo's to post on my blog. Unfortunately, I have never been the most photogenic guy and there wasn't a single decent shot out of seven he took. Infact, on each and every one there is a look of sheer, unparalled panic on my face. This was abit gutting for me as I always imaged myself looking alot more sexy whilst I'm diving.

Mission Beach

We began our journey south down the East Coast stopping off first at Mission Beach as it had been recommended by some Aussies we met ages ago in Vietnam. We got off the bus, checked into a hostel, went down to the beach and then wondered where the fu*k everyone else was...! I appreciate the place only has a population of 1,090 but we haven't seen a single other person in nearly 48 hours. I'm convinced we're being Punkt and Ashton Kutcher is going to appear from underneath a palm leaf any minute now.

We tried to escape today by booking a day trip to the nearby Dunk Island just so we could try and integrate ourselves back into some sort of normal community but "apparently" the boats weren't running (we're suspicious of the guy who runs the hostel - he has sneaky eye's). So we went for a rainforest trek instead. Apparently there are loads of sightings of the infamous Cassowary birds in the forest so we trekked for 3 hours, camera's poised, did it makes an appearance? Did it Fu*k..!

Our next stop - The Whitsunday's.

Posted by greggers 04:25 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Singapore

One cool city

sunny 31 °C

Had we save the best until last? - it's a close call but Singapore absolutely rocks! I had pretty high expectations but they have been completely exceeded. I don't think I have ever been to a city which is so clean, organised, efficient and so damn cool! I could seriously live here!

We met a guy at the bus station when we arrived called Ali who lets out rooms in his family home to travelers. Accommodation costs are pretty high in Singapore so we needed somewhere cheap and this fitted the bill perfectly. It was such a good experience to stay with a proper Singaporean family, we all ate breakfast together every morning and if you fancied a quite night in you could always chill out in front of the telly with Grandma in her PJ's. Ali proved indispensable with his advice on what to do especially as we only had 3 days before we flew out to Australia.

Ali's Kitchen

Ali's Kitchen.jpg

Our first afternoon was spent on a bus tour to get a feel for the place and take in some of the sites (and also save our feet for a change) it was a "hop on - hop off" affair so we could have a wander round the places of interest and then press onto the next.

The following day we did do alot of walking, China Town in the morning which was pretty impressive, obviously alot more modern than the likes of Melaka and we visited our last temple (I'm thinking temples may be abit thin on the ground in Australia). Then we went to go and see the Merlion on the Quayside which is the national icon of Singapore. It a bloody weird thing, a Lion's head with a Mermaids body - like that's ever going to happen...! Anyway, it was a tick in the box and a photo opportunity. Apparently the Lion represents strength and courage and the Mermaid represents the river running through Singapore so there is a method behind the madness.

The Merlion

merlion.jpg

No trip to Singapore would be complete without a trip to Raffles Hotel so we raided our backpacks for some posh threads. This resulted in me wearing a collared shirt and long trousers for the first time in 3 months and we headed off to be posh over afternoon tea. The hotel was pretty damn nice but lacked the homely feel of Ali's place so I was happy I we hadn't made a mistake with our digs. Rather bizarrely and also quite worryingly Mark "thought" his Dad was on the next table in Raffles having a few beers with some mates (now come on - how hard can it be to identify one's own father..?) well if your Mark it takes you a grueling whole hour. It turns out, against all odds that it is infact a random bloke we had " a very similar facial features and mannerisms" This I found slightly disappointing as I was on the verge of pulling up a chair and placing a drinks order with Mr Russell.

Raffles Hotel

Raffles Hotel.jpg

The evening was spent having a few drinks on the Quayside (at a whopping 4 quid a pop) whilst watching the footy (2008 European Qualifiers.. apparently). We moved onto another bar where the young lady who owned the establishment took a rather significant shine to us and kept on plying us with free beers. We also had free run of the tunes as the DJ literally played whatever you asked him to so I treated the Singapore nightscene to an Inferno's inspired disco mega-mix that proved quite a floor filler.

Our last day in Singapore was spent at the zoo. I hadn't been to a zoo since a junior school trip to Chester Zoo in 1988, I dare say they may have changed slightly. Firstly, it was absolutely enormous and seemed to feature every animal ever created and then a further few hundred I had never heard of. Secondly, non of the animals were in cages they we just sort of chilling out in their own designated zones (well the big cats were behind glass but eveything else was just sort of there). It was really well laid out and the environments they had created were really realistic. They feature quite a few endangered species such as the White Bengal Tiger so it is as much a conservation project as a tourist attraction.

White Bengal Tiger

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Check out these cheeky Monkey's

Monkey's.jpg

And that concludes our travels through South East Asia - 6 countries, 3 months, 1 hell of an experience. We were discussing our Top 5's over a few beers the other night so I thought I may as well include them as closure;

Top 5 Countries;

1) Vietnam - for sheer variety & history, every place we visted was completely different.
2) Singapore - please refer to the above...
3) Loas - unspoilt & so laid back.
4) Malaysia - excellent cultural diversity and very big towers.
5) Thailand - because sometimes you want to drink so much local whiskey you nearly go blind.

Top 5 specific places / attractions;

1) Perhentian Islands: Malaysia - got to see it to believe it, I really hope it doesn't get really commercial like the Thai Islands have.
2) The Gibbon Experience: Laos - living in the tree's and zipping through the clouds.
3) The Temples of Angkor Wat: Cambodia - a man made marvel.
4) Singapore - Uber-cool
5) Chiang Mai: Thailand - in my opinion the best thing about Thailand.

Our next stop - Cairns

Posted by greggers 01:46 Archived in Singapore Comments (1)

Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur & Melaka

Big Towers & National Malaysia Day

all seasons in one day 31 °C

So we managed to drag ourselves away from the Prehentian Islands and onto a night bus to Kuala Lumpur. We arrived at 4am, checked into a hostel in China Town we'd had recommended and hit the sack for a few hours.

I have to admit that our first stop when we got up was Nando's and it tasted as good as ever, plus, after 3 months of Asian food I have finally graduated from a "Lemon & Herb" guy to a "little bit spicy" guy. We spent the afternoon wandering around and sussing the place out like we always tend to do when we arrive somewhere new. First impressions of KL were pretty good, not as hectic as the likes of Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh city, abit more chilled out. The weather took as turn for the worse later in afternoon so we took refuge in the local multiplex cinema and watched Nacho Libre the new Jack Black film - hilarious!

Petronas Night Shot.jpg

One of the main attractions in KL are the Petronas Towers so we were up early the following morning to secure ourselves some tickets. As geeky as it may sound I was pretty excited about our visit as I had seen them featured on National Geographic's "Asia Mega structures". At 452m tall they were the tallest building in the world at the date of completion in 1998. However, some smart-arse has since built a taller building but they do remain the tallest twin towers. The ticket allows you to visit the sky bridge which links the two towers at the 41st floor (out of 88) so it just less than half way up but you still get a pretty impressive view of KL.

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And who's this handsome fella...

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The following day we visited the National Museum which catalogued the history of Malaysia and it's culture. With the population being made up of Malays, Chinese and Indian it was interesting to learn about how this all fits together.

After 3 days in KL we moved onto Melaka a two hour bus ride south. Melaka is a pretty small place but it has quite abit of charm about it. We visited China Town on our first day which is probably one of the nicest we have seen. It is home to the Cheng Hoon Teng which is Malaysia's oldest temple dating back to 1646. We also visited a really wierd museum about beauty and how different cultures perceive beauty in the human form. It had alot the pictures of tribal people with massive plates inserted in thier earlobes and lips and chinese women with bound feet. I think we were only people who had visited the place in years, it was deserted and the ticket guy looked abit shocked when we rocked up at the entrance.

We arranged to go mountain biking the following day with a guide. We were driven about 30 mins out of the centre of Melaka into the countryside. The majority of the ride was on trails through the forests. We learnt about rubber production from the rubber tree's and saw the guys slitting the bark and collecting the rubber from the night before. We had the opportunity to sample lots of wild fruits and went to go and have tea and cakes with some locals from this little village. It was really good to get some fresh air and be hurtling through the tree's on a bike.

In the evening we got chatting to a local guy called Alex who said he knew a restaurant that served free food. We were abit wary at first but agreed to go along with him if it meant saving some money. It turns out the food is free for a reason, there was alot of stewed vegetable type things, other unidentifiable food stuffs and some very strange green soup. As soon as we sat down he started asked us again all about our religions, it turns out to be a Buddhist restaurant and he was trying to convince us we should give it a whirl. The bad thing was that he had given me loads of the food and wouldn't let me leave until I had eaten it all. I kept saying I wasn't hungry but he was insistent that I eat it all because it was bad karma to waste it. Eventually we managed to escape but I'm pretty sure we're not welcome back.

The last few days have been the build up to Malaysia Day which falls on the 31st August. It is a big celebration of the countries independence. Everyone goes out on the night of the 30th and they have a countdown to midnight similar to our New Years Eve. So we went out last night and had a few beers to be part of the celebrations. They certainly know how to party, everyone goes crazy. We ended up in quite a swanky bar which was full of young trendy Malay's, we were the only westerns in there, it was like being a celebrity for the night. Everyone comes up to you and wants to chat and have a dance. We ended up partying till the small hours with a really nice group of people and had a really good night.

Our next stop - Singapore.

Posted by greggers 02:34 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

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