Three weeks in Darwin

I like to think I’ve been pretty honest about this trip since it started. I’ve shown you the good and the bad, even though it’s mostly been good. I was hoping Darwin would continue that trend – and it has, but it’s also thrown a few wrinkles my way.

That’s not unexpected, but unfortunately, those wrinkles haven’t worked out the way I wanted. I couldn’t find work at all, which isn’t to say there isn’t any (although there’s not much, it seems) but I made no headway in getting a job compared to everyone else looking. That’s disappointing.

So, after three weeks of living frugally, I’m heading to Brisbane to try my luck there. I really enjoyed it for the couple of days I spent there last year and, hopefully, it’ll be a bit more fruitful and I can recoup the money from Darwin and then some.

That’s not to say Darwin wasn’t good. I really enjoyed it, and I did a few pretty cool things.

Exploring the city

A gorgeous sunset in Darwin

Darwin is different to any other city I’ve seen in Australia. It had the sleepiness of Perth but not the size. The coastline is beautiful but you can’t swim (crocodiles and Irukandji rule the waters) although you can find some great sunsets at certain spots.

There’s a free museum, plenty of bars and restaurants, seasonal events and…not much else?

That’s probably not true, but I spent most of my time hunting for work, so I probably missed some stuff.

What is worth seeing are the markets on a Thursday and Sunday, with the latter being a better time to go. Catch the sunset, grab some food, have a drink and enjoy some music, and while there are buses to get you there, you can also walk in about 20 minutes.

The V8 Supercars

The V8 Supercars in Darwin

I was lucky enough that the V8 Supercars were in Darwin while I was there. I’ve seen them at both F1 races in Melbourne over the last two years but to see them in their own right, on a small and intimate track, was something else.

It also reminded me of the BTCC weekends back in the UK. Yes, it’s motorsport but different, too. There was music each night and free buses to and from the track, and while I only made two days out of three, I enjoyed seeing the racing and some music – although one big name that I did recognise was The Veronicas. That was interesting.

Discovering Litchfield Park

To make sure I really got to see even just a little bit of the Northern Territory, I booked a day tour to Litchfield Park on my final weekend. This was going to be a long day, as we set off at 6am!

Jumping crocodiles!

While a lot of people choose a three or five day tour of Kakadu, a much larger national Park, it wasn’t really in my budget or available time. That being said, I had a great day. Some people don’t like tours, preferring to do things their way. That’s fine, but as a solo traveller who doesn’t drive, this was a better option for me, and the tour guide knew his stuff.

We started with a jumping crocodile river tour on the River Adelaide, and let me tell you, those things are sneaky. More than once while we were watching on one side, another would swim up to the other and take us by surprise!

Florence Falls, Litchfield National Park

This was followed by heading into Litchfield itself and we stopped at three different swimming spots, complete with waterfalls and fish – the first, Wangi Falls could have, and probably did have, freshwater crocs but those ones are small and timid, not likely to bite you (according to our guide). Needless to say, we were all fine.

The water helped wake me up!

The second spot, Florence Falls, was my favourite, though. That’s even with the water being the coldest of three spots.

There was a lot of driving but plenty of sights and information passed on to us. I was knackered at the end!

Crocosaurus Cove

On my last day in the city, I ventured to Crocosaurus Cove. You’d be forgiven for thinking this a small place, given how it might look on a map or from the surrounding buildings, but there’s an impressive array of reptiles, fish and crocodiles here.

And some are absolute monsters!

It’s easy to spend a couple of hours here, learning about these creatures, their habitats and lifestyles but there are also live demonstrations to get closer and find out more. However, it was one particular activity that caught my eye.

It’s called The Cage of Death and it puts you in one of the crocodile enclosures.

The Cage of Death at Crocosaurus Cove

There are four different enclosures you can be put in and it all depends on the croc itself, how it’s been behaving, how much energy it has and such. The one I was put in had two, both smaller than the others but it included the only female they have. She stayed away, which is a good thing since she can be pretty aggressive. Her mate, however, got very close. He circled the cage and got right up and close and they fed him, allowing me to hear that whopping thud when those jaws clamp down.

I’m not going to lie; I jumped every time.

It was the eyes, though. They pierce your soul. I felt pretty safe but there’s no guarantees with these activities and while these are tamer crocs than you’d find in the wild, if something did go wrong, those things would tear me to pieces.

Oh, and they’re named Will and Kate after, you know, the Royals.

Still, it was a great experience and kept me busy while I waited for my early morning flight. And now, we see what Brisbane brings.

Looking back at the last 12 months

I actually can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I landed in Australia! It’s been an incredible experience from start to finish, and the includes my short time in Hong Kong just before. I can honestly say that this has been the best decision I’ve made since graduating university back in 2012.

It hasn’t always been easy, and there are times I felt pretty low, but I’ve gotten through them and I’m glad I didn’t give up. I have to thank everyone who helped me, no matter how big or small, get through the struggles.

I’m still learning, and still looking forward to seeing and doing more, but this seemed like a good time to revisit some of the trip, partly for you but mostly for me.

The highs

There are so many! I have some favourite moments, though, but in no particular order:

Help! I'm falling out of a plane!

Help! I’m falling out of a plane!

Skydiving in Cairns

Given my disliking of heights, falling from 15,000 feet doesn’t sound like something I’d enjoy but it was amazing! Even better, it was at sunrise! Getting over the initial fear and settling into it allowed me to enjoy the views and sensation. Would do again.

Sunset in Byron Bay

Sunset in Byron Bay

Sunset in Byron Bay

It might not be the best sunset ever, but the place is stunning and the water, the hills, the lighthouse – they all add to the effect. This was just after surf camp so I was already on a high from that. I also got to catch up with an old friend, so bonus.

Magnetic Island

This is a dream getaway with koalas, wildlife and beaches. The island is small and scenic – you can walk across it and back in less than a day, but there are a lot of hills. I could have done with more time here but I was able to recharge my batteries, hug a koala and get some great views, too.

The lows

Before I left, I promised to share the good and the bad, and there’s been a few lows along the way.

Not being able to find work

This hit me hard at the end of my east coast trip. I had gone almost six months without working, other than bits of freelance, and had run out of money. I survived a little longer before taking the plunge and coming back to Melbourne, which has proven to be the right decision. I got so low that I almost decided to come home before and after this decision. I’m glad I didn’t but I found it hard to stay motivated when I felt like I couldn’t catch a break. Lessons were learnt, though, and I won’t get in that situation again.

Feeling a little lost and alone

There have been a few times that travelling solo has hit me. This was most obvious when I had no money and no job but every so often, despite being a solitary person who likes my own space, I’ve missed being around people I know – and other backpackers don’t really count. I miss people from back home and the familiarity and security they offer, even if only for a short while.

The mundane

Working full-time can be quite mundane. After arriving in Melbourne, I got a bar job in a music venue. Easy enough but good fun. I also started working in the hostel I’ve been staying in, mostly doing nightshifts. That was different for me but ruined my body clock.

Eventually, I got a full-time 9-5 back in digital marketing. It pays well and I’m using this chance to save as much as I can, without living a boring life in Melbourne. There are definitely worse jobs out there, though.

The top pick

The Champagne Pools on Fraser Island

The Champagne Pools on Fraser Island

The stars on Fraser Island

Hands down, this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I’m sorry there’s no picture but they were breath-taking and I’d love to see them again. Fraser Island itself is also one of the best things I’ve done in Australia. It’s so serene and beautiful, but dangerous at times, too. Gorgeous lakes and rivers, champagne pools and a rainforest all on one sand island.

Other moments

Quokka

Quokka

The F1 at Albert Park was fantastic! The race itself might not have been the most exciting but seeing it somewhere else for the first time was something else – and it was so cheap to do!

Surf camp was so much fun, and I really would like to do more surfing over the next year.

Visiting Perth to see a friend from Manchester was awesome – I had my own tour guide! We saw dolphins, penguins, quokkas and much more.

The whole east coast trip was incredible, and something I can’t wait to experience again, kind of, when I do the west coast!

The East Coast: Brisbane, Noosa and Fraser Island

From Surfer’s Paradise in the Gold Coast to Brisbane, a city of split views – at least, that’s what I’ve heard so far.

About half the people said Brisbane is great and the other half said it was boring, with only a few indifferent opinions in between. Given how much people were raving about Surfer’s, I had a feeling I might get on a little better here and so it turned out!

Brisbane letters

Brisbane letters

Less than a two-hour bus ride later, during which I bumped into a friend from Spot X and we had a good catch up, I arrived in the next city. For those keeping track, I’ve now been to Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane, so that’s four.

Brisbane is a smaller city than the others but the advantage of that is things are closer together, and since I only had two days before moving on again, that helped me get through a few things.

I took some time to explore the CBD, finding an awesome bookshop called The Archive, which mainly had old books, so if you’re looking for some older covers this is the place to go. The botanical gardens were really nice and after walking around them along the river, you can cross a bridge to Southbank, where there’s another park, an arts centre and an artificial beach!

Brisbane's artificial beach

Brisbane’s artificial beach

Yes, you read it right. Brisbane doesn’t have a beach, and while you can certainly reach the coast in some way, it takes time. This beach sits next to the river and is sand based with salt water. There are pools on either side too so if sunbathing next to the water isn’t for you, there’s another option.

I want to spend more time here as there are some really nice bars and restaurants around, in Southbank and up in Fortitude Valley, just finding time for it all was impossible on this trip.

Almost too soon it was time to head to Noosa, which is where one of my big trips started. I got there in the afternoon, checked out the beach and before I knew it, was heading to bed for a 6am wake-up so I could get myself on the way to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world!

Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island

Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island

This was a group of four 4×4 cars, with those with a valid license able to drive at some point (damn my past self for not getting a license!) but there are no roads on the island, you’re driving on sand the entire time. As a passenger, I was in the front car with the tour leader who, having done these tours for 14 years, knew a good deal about the island, its history and locations.

There were a number of main spots we had on the list to visit; Lake McKenzie with its clear water and ridiculously fine sand (the kind you can exfoliate your skin with and brush your teeth with – true story) but while that was incredible, it was also the cloudiest day so not as warm as usual. I know, I know, I shouldn’t really complain but just imagine how much nicer it would have looked with the sun. Regardless, I didn’t want to get out of the water.

The night, well, both nights, actually, we ended up on the beach around midnight. With no light pollution, you could see the stars and, my God, its one of the best views I’ve ever seen. I can’t even describe to you how stunning it looked, both nights. It made me wish I had a proper camera with the right lens to even attempt a photo of it. It remains in my mind though, don’t worry.

The Champagne Pools on Fraser Island

The Champagne Pools on Fraser Island

We cleared our hangovers in Eli Creek the next morning, with some cool and refreshing water before pressing on to a shipwreck and later the Champagne Pools, which do not have champagne but when the waves crash over the rocks, it creates the bubble effect seen in your champers glass. You are swimming with fish too!

A little history lesson of Indian Head on our way back and that was us done for the day.

The final day took us to Lake Wabby, which was a 45-minute trek from the beach, where we had to park, and back again after our hour there. The fish in this lake eat the dead skin off your body, much like those beauty treatments you see, or saw, dotted around shopping centres. Very weird to feel. As gorgeous as it is, it won’t exist in the future as a sand dune is slowly filling the lake. It used to be 16.5 meters at it’s deepest but currently sits at 9.5m. That’s scary to think.

Being a sand island, you wouldn’t expect there to be a rainforest on the island, would you? Would you?! Well, there is! It’s to do with the underground freshwater streams that keep it going. It was an experiment that took hold. That’s just one of the extra bits we got told by our tour guide/driver.

Sunset in Noosa

Sunset in Noosa

Then it was back to Noosa, where, I promise you, we all slept soundly. I was in a tipi for the two nights on Fraser Island, which was fine enough with a mattress and blanket but a real bed was so much better.

Yes, even a hostel bed!

Two days in Noosa followed, recuperating and enjoying the beach, a sunset over it, and a coastal walk to the Fairy Pools (much like the Champagne Pools) and Hell’s Gate.

Next up; a 9-hour coach journey to Agnes Water. Great.

The East Coast: Chilling at Byron Bay and Surfer’s Paradise

From Spot X to Byron Bay was only a four-hour Greyhound journey – simple compared to the last two, right?

Wrong.

My bus was at 3am! The 7am was full, ugh. That being said, it got me into Byron just before 7am and that gave me a full day to explore (after dropping my gear off at the hostel again). Although, the driver kept talking into the microphone throughout. Not cool, dude. Not at that time!

Now, Byron Bay isn’t huge but it’s full of independent and boutique shops and restaurants so plenty to sink your teeth into. It’s also very chilled out, more so than other place I’ve seen so far but everyone still goes about their day. It’s a calming chilled out and I felt really happy and at home there, despite it being smaller than every other place I’ve lived – or considered living.

I also almost got rained on properly for the first time (outside of the F1). A ten-minute downpour that, thankfully, I was already undercover for on the way to the hostel. It would have soaked me to the core in less than thirty seconds but then it dried up in less than an hour. Madness.

Killen Falls

Killen Falls

That night, I met a local, who I befriended in Doncaster many years ago, and she drove me to the Lighthouse for the latter end of sunset. It was amazing. Then we hit a few bars and had a good catch up before I totally crashed out.

The next day was even better. I was taken on a drive around the area, having a look at some of the villages around Byron Bay and stopping at a number of spots and lookouts for pictures. The best spot was Killen Falls, a waterfall after a dam that is part of the water supply for Byron. It was a sheltered cove where people would come and relax in the shade and swim and I’m so jealous I didn’t have my swimming gear – I could have spent all day there!

Then again, I wouldn’t have seen anything else if I had!

Sunset in Byron Bay

Sunset in Byron Bay

We rounded the day off with more drinks and food in the local RSL club (t’s been so long since I had a roast dinner so it was definitely needed) while watching the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, a timely reminder that I’d be heading up to the Gold Coast shortly.

My final day was spent with friends from Spot X who’d finally arrived in Byron. We took the coastal walk to the lighthouse in the afternoon, arriving with plenty of time before sunset, and seeing the whole thing blew my mind. The colours, the sound of the ocean, the pure peacefulness of it all. I definitely prefer sunsets to sunrises but that might be because I’m already awake at that time!

Surfer's Paradise

Surfer’s Paradise

Then it was a short Greyhound to Surfer’s Paradise in the Gold Coast. There’s a lot going on here because of the Commonwealth Games, so there are stages everywhere with music and performances, but it’s also a party area of the city.

Great for groups but less so for me, since I prefer pubs to clubs! I spent most days exploring and chilling on the beach (as well as catching up with some work and writing!), using this time to recharge before next week, which is going to be pretty full on.

I did see another friend here, too (met in Doncaster but a local here). We had food and drinks one night and just a really good catch up, which I’m sure won’t be the last one!

While it’s a nice little holiday destination, there are probably other parts of the Gold Coast better suited for me and in the future, I’ll come back to find them, but taking some time to chill was definitely needed. Also, my body has almost fully recovered by now so when I’m next able to get back on the surfboard, I will!