Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Today is the first day that I’ve had free since touching down over two weeks ago on British soil for the first time in eight months. Since getting back, I’ve discovered that I passed this past semester with a distinction, a credit and two passes (the Australian grading scale works as a fail for anything under 50% then pass, credit, distinction and high distinction). Notably, my distinction was in the anthropology module and as a result of some kind of minor miracle, I got a pass in my Chinese history module. 58%. Not bad for someone who made up case studies in the exam. I needed to pass one of the four modules for each semester, and I passed all eight with varying degrees of effort if I’m completely honest. Since being home I spent just short of a week in Bangor sorting my room out, messing around with Sean, seeing people and mostly messing around with Sean.

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Following watching Wales Vs Portugal at EURO 2016 in Wrexham

The rest of my time has been spent seeing Mags, seeing Connor, trying to spend time at home and failing miserably at seeing everyone else really. I’ve also started volunteering at a LEGO Exhibition at Chester Cathedral which is well worth a visit! So my free time is pretty minimal at the moment, but that’s okay, it’s good to be busy. Before I got back, my time was spent catching up with friends such as Sara and Colleen – my American friends who I’d met all the way back in my first semester at Deakin. The majority of my time was spent finishing off assignments, making the most of Melbourne whilst I could and preparing to leave – getting the necessary forms signed, ticking the necessary boxes and packing things up. At the time, my mind was often wandering towards home and thinking about how close I was to finishing out on the other side of the world to get home and see everyone that I was missing so much. I couldn’t wait. That was leading up to the 18th of June. When the 18th came around, I had all of my things packed up, left a few bags with Stan and Kenny for them to move across to their new house that they were moving into shortly and for the last time, I left MB building at Deakin University. I left with my hiking rucksack on my back whilst I carried my other rucksack and walked to the tram stop, heading towards the airport. The last time I’d been to international departures at Melbourne airport was when Mags left to go home a few months earlier which, to put lightly, was not a good time. “The next time I’m here, I’ll be going home” I thought to myself. As it was, I was off to New Zealand flying from Melbourne to Christchurch. My flight arrived into Christchurch early by about 30 minutes. Upon arrival I was exhausted, confused by the time difference (I thought there was a three hour difference but it was only two) and so I was quite keen to get through security. That was a mistake. There was a queue for the e-passport machines so I asked if I could use the person on the desk instead because there was no queue, and I was told that it was not for e-passport holders. That was fine, so I queued up and waited the extra few minutes. After getting through, I was stopped by security who asked me detailed questions about my intention of visit, where I’m staying and kept questioning me which I thought was odd. After answering all the lady’s questions, she spoke into a walkie-talkie whilst looking at more security people saying “he’s clear” and then told me that I had been stopped because I “didn’t look right”. If I wasn’t exhausted I probably would have been offended.


I arrived at my hostel out of reception hours as expected, so they had left me the key to my room in a wooden box with a printed map with directions and a note saying that they had given me a free upgrade to my room from a 6 bed dorm to a 4 bed dorm. I walked in to find a Swiss girl there who was leaving in 20 minutes for the airport, so we spoke a little about her time in New Zealand and then she left me in an empty dorm. I settled down for the night knowing that I had to be up at 6am. I couldn’t sleep. I had been hit by a barrage of excitement out of nowhere really to get going on my tour of the South Island.


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The next day, I was up and out by 7:30am waiting for the Kiwi Experience bus outside the hostel. It was still dark and my first time seeing frost I think since I was in Germany before I left for Australia, if not winter 2014. I was to complete a loop of the South Island with Kiwi Experience but I was unsure how it was going to work. I only had hostels booked for the first night and my last night in Christchurch because Kiwi Experience sort out accommodation and activity bookings, with guaranteed minimum nights on accommodation. Whatever pass is purchased with Kiwi Experience is valid for 12 months from the first day of travel. I was doing the route on minimum time because of my overwhelming stubbornness to not change the date of my flight home, but the bus takes you from one place to another and, in theory, you can spend as much time as you like in one place as long as you find your own accommodation after the minimum nights of guaranteed accommodation with the Kiwi bus have passed. I had this explained to me by the driver after we had got out of Christchurch. He had several clipboards at the front of the bus – one for activities, one for accommodation and then others for special activities or meals in certain locations. Most days we would stop at a café for breakfast and a coffee if we hadn’t had anything already, then a stop for lunch, before getting to the final destination either at lunch (rarely) or later in the afternoon before doing activities in some cases immediately afterwards, in other cases not until the following morning.

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The Southern Island route the Kiwi bus took

The first journey was from Christchurch to Kaikoura. This map is the route the Kiwi bus took going in the direction of the arrows, after I had started at Christchurch.

On the way to Kaikoura, we visited a seal colony where there were some seal pups on the coast before we headed on to the hostel. I had signed up to go swimming with dolphins that afternoon and despite the weather getting the better of two trips out that morning, the one that I was on was scheduled to go ahead. After being given wet suit, fins, snorkel and even special socks to keep our feet warmer on the swim, we got on to a boat and headed out into the choppy waters using only the knowledge of the staff and our eyes to find the dolphins. We found a group of 3 dolphins which we thought was quite exciting, but the captain thought he could find better so we moved on to find a pod of around 400 dolphins which we swam with! Despite the freezing water which had me shivering underwater, it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. It was stressed to us that we were there to entertain the dolphins as opposed them to us as we were in their environment. To attract the attention of the dolphins we were encouraged to make dolphin like noises which through a snorkel sounded a lot like you were listening to a human scream internally through a stethoscope. There was a moment where eight dolphins swam directly underneath me, and I came face to face with two or three dolphins at different points too. Before it was time to head back we were told that on that coast there were two resident sperm whales. We think we saw both of them, we certainly saw a whale in two different places and a whale swam alongside our boat for a few minutes too. When it was time to leave, the water seemed to have become choppier and most of us were sea sick going back.


Next day we were up at 8am on the bus from Kaikoura to Kaiteriteri. The scenery on most if not all of the drives was just incredible. If there weren’t rolling hills there were mountains revealing themselves with each bend in the road and then quite often on the other side of the road was the sea. At one point I fell asleep on the bus and woke up to a view of snow capped mountains.2016-06-20 09.08.50

I thought I was dreaming.

On this day it became apparent that “sweet as” was the New Zealand equivalent of “cool” and it was growing on all of us on that bus I think, especially in the kiwi accent. When we arrived at the hostel after a few stops, I’d joined a game of beach football with a group of guys predominantly from the UK and Ireland – most of which had joined the bus that day from the North Island. When it became too dark to play, I went to shower, eat and then joined the pub quiz at the pub owned by the hostel.


At 7am the next day I woke up the whole dorm despite attempting not to. I’d decided to take an aqua taxi with some of the coach group, including the driver to go into Abel Tasman National Park to do a hike.

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Not sure why they call it Split Apple Rock

We passed the second most photographed rock in the Southern Hemisphere – Split Apple Rock (after Uluru/Ayer’s rock in Australia… That I didn’t go to) and the rest of the morning was largely forgettable due to the thick cloud cover obscuring every view of any mountain in the area. Lovely. We continued on to Westport where there wasn’t really anything but it was in a good location to split up the journey. Before arriving at Westport, we visited Lake Rotoiti which is one of the most picturesque spots on the route and was a popular spot for jumping off the jetty and getting an iconic picture. A few of us including myself were still recovering from the freezing morning we’d had and didn’t fancy jumping into a freezing cold lake, particularly after watching one guy jump in and walk out purple from the cold.

The dorm I stayed in at the Westport hostel was large and the room was named ‘The Unit’. I was already close to most of the people who spent the night in that room and by the time we reached Queenstown a few days later, I’d befriended all of them, with some of us referring to our group as ‘The Unit’ after we bonded further spending about £1.50 each on spaghetti Bolognese ingredients to cook together that night.


The next day we headed out and had a couple of walk stops on our way to Lake Mahinapua, which were stunning, before driving to Greymouth – “the most depressing place in New Zealand” according to our driver, Dan. You could kind of see why, but we were only there to raid fancy dress and charity shops on the theme of something beginning with the first letter of our name.

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Some made more effort than others

I bought a shirt for a pound and a magician’s hat for about £2.50 and went as a magician. There was a dog living at the hostel pub (which was in the middle of nowhere) who stole a toy sword, a transformer mask and other items and I am absolutely convinced that that dog has a collection of items stowed away somewhere from Kiwi bus fancy dress parties.


The next day, we were heading to Franz Josef which was a particular highlight of my trip. On the drive we were going over some particularly interesting single lane railway bridges – in the South Island, there is a population of just one million people, therefore what’s the point in building two lane bridges? This day was particularly long in terms of travelling and the cloud was so thick that the stunning views out of the windows were reduced to whatever cloud we were in at the time.

We spent two nights in Franz Josef. The first was dull and early after a long, tiring day travelling. The second was after a day much more exciting than that. I was up at 7:30 and ready to walk to the Ice Explorer base. After being briefed and equipped with waterproof trousers, arctic jackets, crampons and other gear, we walked to a helicopter pad to be flown up to Franz Josef glacier. We put our crampons on up on the ice and snow before spending the next three hours walking around on the ice and snow.

We were lucky with the weather as for at least the previous eight days, the tours were cancelled and in fact whilst we were up there, the clouds started rolling in over the valley so the helicopters were starting to pick up the pace and frequency of their shuttle flights. After returning to the hostel and getting lunch at a hostel, myself and a few friends decided to check out a tunnel at the end of a hike. When we got there, the four of us decided we wanted an explore of the tunnel which turned out to be flooded. So rather than be deterred, we took our shoes and socks off, rolled up our trouser legs and left them at the entrance. The tunnel was only about 300 metres long but the water flooding the tunnel had not seen sunlight, so was freezing cold and the tunnel itself was pitch black. We started the tunnel with four charged, working phones with torches. Two torches died by the time we’d reached the end to discover that it was in fact a dead end. Mine worked, but with the case on my phone once I’d gone to check the time (or use some other function) I couldn’t get the torch back on because the case had got wet, so I couldn’t perform the necessary swipe up from the bottom of the screen to turn it on. So to give us light, I started recording video of our adventure back. That video is thirteen minutes of three men screaming and cursing their way through a tunnel trying to avoid the sharp stones and failing miserably whilst an American girl powered off ahead without a murmur of complaint, laughing at us the whole way. Afterwards, we relaxed at the spa as we had a spa ticket included in our Ice Explorer ticket and joined others from the Kiwi bus who visited the spa too. We returned to the hostel to discover that the UK had left the EU, so indulged in pizza and toasted beer to the end of all civilisation in the United Kingdom. Ah well.


We left Franz Josef so early that it was still dark, heading on to Wanaka. On the way to Wanaka, we visited Mirror Lake and had a group picture at the aptly named Pleasant View. Although there wasn’t so much in Wanaka, I think it was actually one of my favourite places on the trip. Partially because I had bonded with the majority of the bus so well by that point and partially because Wanaka was actually quite nice. After checking in at the hostel, four of us decided to go hiking up Mount Iron before it went dark, arriving back in Wanaka after dark.


The next day I met up with Phil at 7:15am to go and look at the most photographed tree in the Southern hemisphere. In my notebook I wrote that it was “dark, cold and uninspiring”. Moving on… We visited Puzzle World on our way out of Wanaka on the relatively short journey to Queenstown. Puzzle World was a building filled with mind boggling optical illusions and an outdoor maze. It was good, but perhaps too mind boggling for so early on in the day. The Kiwi bus stopped at a bungee centre on the way to Queenstown so that certain individuals who felt so inclined to jump off bridges with only a bit of rope to protect them could do so. I didn’t.

Queenstown was just starting to get into their ‘winterfest’ – an annual celebration of winter in Queenstown with special events held all over the (very small) city. It’s a tourist heavy place, with souvenir shops that I took advantage of, many activities nearby and most hostels fully booked – hence why Kiwi Experience’s minimum nights guarantee was useful. Most of us signed up to go on a bus meal as a goodbye thing almost, as at Queenstown many people choose to spend weeks or in some cases, months there after having found work. Afterwards we were going out drinking and stumbled across the rest of the group, where they got the ever dwindling group thrown out of six bars for being too drunk. Of course it’s wrong to stereotype, but they were Irish….


Picture the scene: It’s 2am, you’re still in bars with people from Belgium, Germany, Ireland, England, Sweden and wherever else having such a good time and then out of nowhere you realise you have to get on a bus in 6 hours. Bed time? Absolutely. Myself and my friend Joe – also getting on a bus in 6 hours head back to the dorm that we’re both in. 5 hours later I jump out of bed, pretty excited for the day ahead feeling unusually full of energy the morning after a night out. As I’m walking around the dorm sorting out a bag whilst trying to remain quiet I realise that perhaps the full effects haven’t quite worn off yet. We both make the bus in equally interesting states. Just a five hour bus journey ahead before a boat ride and a five hour bus journey back. It was fine. We went to Milford Sound – named so after the discoverer named it after his hometown of Milford Haven in Wales.The English rediscovered it and weren’t such big fans of that, so changed it to Milford Sound. Spoil sports. Our driver was a different person to the one I’d had for the rest of the trip – Dan, this guy was called Jacob and unlike Dan, Jacob was good at his job. Dan had his moments, but he was nowhere near the comedic level, the informative level or the general approachyness (that is a word) of Jacob in my humble opinion.

Whoever was driving, Milford Sound was incredibly beautiful and was the epitome of everything I hoped New Zealand would be. A friendly Kiwi driver, a good group of people and views so good you almost wanted to do a bungee jump to make sure you weren’t dreaming. The wildlife was good too – we saw wild dolphins on a 90 minute boat cruise and I discovered what is now my favourite species of bird – the Kea. When we eventually returned to Queenstown we went to the apparently famous Ferg Burger (I had a wild fiordland deer burger with Thai plum chutney, lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli – basically mayonnaise but better and more of a garlic kick to it) and it was beautiful. That night I said goodbyes to people as I headed onward with maybe two other people from my bus that arrived in to Queenstown.

Two more stops – Lake Tekapo and Christchurch.


Most of the Brits were awake early to watch Iceland have their way with the English in Euro 2016. Along with a Frenchman and a Swede (the nationality, not the vegetable) we chuckled at the misfortune of the English and then proceeded to get on a bus and become friends at Lake Tekapo. Bus driver Dan gave us the classic “if you look out of the window on the left you would normally see a lake… Today you can see a cloud. Sweet as.” We stopped to take pictures of the cloud.

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Amazing.

In winter in New Zealand clouds just sort of decide to pop down and rest their floofs for a bit and have a sit down on the lake which whilst I’ll admit must be lovely for them, it was rather inconvenient for those of us wanting to see Mount Cook and other mountains on the other side of the lake. Ah well. Some of the drive turned out okay.

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Average.

 

 

At Lake Tekapo, after getting to the hostel and relaxing for a bit I went for a hike up Mount John with a Frenchman and a Swede to catch sunset, to walk back down only to get a bus up again 30 minutes later. That was for an observatory tour I had opted to do. Lake Tekapo is an International Dark Sky Reserve which is a posh way of saying “it’s really dark.” The street lights in Lake Tekapo are intentionally of an incredibly low intensity so not to give off excess white light to pollute the skies. From half way up the mountain the bus driver had to put the headlights off for the same reason and on top of that, we weren’t allowed to use phones and the only torches we could use were the free ones we were given which produced a red light. I’ve seen the Milky Way with my naked eye before, but never at that intensity or that clearly. It was astonishing. Through their telescopes I saw Jupiter, Saturn and its iconic rings, the butterfly cluster, the wishing well cluster and the tarantula nebula. We could see Venus, Mars and Jupiter with the naked eye. I went up expecting to see Saturn and its rings and I came down having seen a galaxy with two suns. There were four telescopes in domes, with one dedicated to searching for new planets, another remote controlled from Boston, USA and the other two for research/tours. It was a wonderful night.


From Lake Tekapo we travelled to Christchurch and despite it being ruined, I loved it. Christchurch suffered a serious earthquake in 2011 which has either directly or indirectly (as a result of earthquake damage) meant that over 70% of buildings have either collapsed or had to be demolished. Christchurch is one big construction site. Rather than seeing this as something negative, Christchurch are now seeing it as a lucky opportunity. Most cities grow through expansion. Christchurch has the opportunity to build a 21st century city from scratch in the 21st century and a lot of thought and planning has gone into it to make it a wonderful city… In about 40 years, which is when it’s due to be complete. At the moment Christchurch is basically one large construction site. It has a shopping mall made purely out of shipping containers and its buildings are either ruins or construction sites with the odd complete street thrown in for good measure.

I visited two museums – one focused entirely on the earthquakes of 2011, 2010 and further back into Christchurch history. I briefly visited Hagley park and the botanical gardens, Cardboard Cathedral (a Cathedral made out of cardboard believe it or not) Cathedral Square and actually basically everywhere of any interest including Pita-Pit! Pita-Pit was used maybe three or four times whilst I was in New Zealand. It’s basically a better version of the fast food chain Subway, where they prepare either salads or wraps and you choose what goes into it but the staff were always really friendly and their smoothies were like that feeling you get when you touch a really soft dog. You know the one? Just a really good feeling. Pita-Pat was great. In the UK we only have them in Manchester, Leeds and of course, London. Further proof that the North is better.

One day I’ll need to go back to New Zealand to see if that rings true over there too, is the North Island better? I can’t answer that just yet, but I can say for sure that the South is looking incredibly tough to beat.


When my trip to New Zealand came to an end, I returned to Melbourne and stayed at Kenny’s for a couple of nights. I took myself out one day and saw some of my favourite Melbourne sights.

Degraves Street, Flinders Street station, Shrine of Remembrance and the view of Melbourne’s skyline from the top and also Federation Square.


Then all of a sudden, I was at Melbourne’s International departures terminal with every single thing that I owned in the Southern Hemisphere of planet Earth and I was going home to my family, my friends and my girlfriend. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks since I’ve been back and I’m not entirely sure when the end is going to come, but long may the busyness continue.

There is so much that I haven’t included because this is over 4200 words long at this point, and if I carry on it’s going to be exhausting for literally everyone involved.


Wherever in the world you’re reading this from, thank you for reading, whether you’ve read them all or just this one, it’s made my effort just a little more worthwhile!

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One Whole Month… Remaining?!

One Whole Month… Remaining?!

That’s right folks… I have one month remaining on my year abroad (I begin my journey home a month today) yet somehow it feels like it was about three weeks ago that I wrote my first blog post from out here in Melbourne entitled ‘One Whole Month’ (see what I did there?). Time has absolutely flown by and I’ve tried to cram as much as I can realistically do in the time I have had available. Looking back, it’s been such an incredible journey but I’ll save all of those thoughts for another time. After all, I still have this one month coming up and what a month! In just over two weeks time I’m flying to New Zealand, which to me is still a little mind boggling but it’s happening. In the meantime, I’m going to update you on how mind boggling the past few days have been, but before that, let me bring you up to date with what I’ve been up to in the past couple of weeks since my last update.

I wrote a load of essays and hit all of my deadlines. You are now up to date.


Unfortunately that is largely the reality of what’s been going on, but I did grab a day and get out and do something different. At the time, between essay deadlines and even dissertation research in preparation for next year, I needed a break.

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Wanderlust 108

So the Wanderlust festival I had booked a few weeks earlier for one Saturday in May fell on the perfect day. I woke up early (around 6am) and headed out to a park area called Catani Gardens right next to St. Kilda beach. Weather wise the conditions were perfect, there was a light breeze, clear skies and a warm sun. This particular Wanderlust event, Wanderlust Melbourne 108, was described as a ‘mindful triathlon’. It consisted of a 5k run, a 75 minute yoga session and then a meditation session. The last organised running event I participated in was the Liverpool Santa Dash in 2012 (I think) and although I loved it, I did struggle. I know 5k isn’t what you’d call long distance, but I am not a distance runner, I’m used to short sprints from playing football so I’ve always struggled pacing myself at these things.

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The setting for the yoga and meditation

Also I don’t have running shoes out here so just wore my football trainers which past half way really hurt my feet but now the excuses are out of the way, I managed to do the 5k in around 35 minutes. There was a lot of walking. After the run I had a lie down on my $6/£3 yoga mat I’d bought that week to recuperate and ease the pressure on my feet by taking my trainers and socks off. After a few minutes I went to have a walk around part of the park that had been transformed into food stalls, charity stalls and a Wanderlust merchandise shop with everything promoting health, equality and there was a genuine feeling of positivity surging throughout the place. There was a tremendous atmosphere and everyone came across as incredibly friendly. Yoga instructors got up onto the stage joining guitarist Arli Liberman who provided a relaxed backing soundtrack for the 2,700 strong crowd to enjoy whilst following the instructors. My yoga experience was limited to trying out the mat in my room by following two online videos of instructors and realising it’s actually kind of difficult. Before they started, everyone was sat down on their mats and the instructors asked the men to stand up. Apparently at the same event they ran in Auckland, New Zealand literally 8 men were there. Rather embarrassingly I thought (I’d gone out of curiosity and a result of some kind of desire and drive to do something different) the women present applauded us men stood up just for turning up. The instructors were trying to encourage yoga for men and were saying how we’ve done more than most already just by turning up. At that point I wasn’t entirely sure if that was such a good thing but I was there and once it started and I was trying, I actually managed to do most of it! It felt good. Some of it was strenuous, but it still felt okay. As the yoga was winding down and rolling into the meditation segment, I was getting hungry. Meditation had begun and one of the instructors calmly said “listen to your bodies” so I walked off and bought pizza followed by doughnuts. I was only doing as I was told. I later returned to my room exhausted but very relaxed and ready to snap back to reality and press on with work.


For the next week, all week there is one thing at the back of my mind that I simply cannot shake. I have a weekend coming up and I don’t have anything to do. All my assignments are done, I’ve finished lectures, I could go somewhere… Where should I go? What should I do? It was on my mind for a while until one day I just sat down with a blank piece of paper and worked things out. Where, how, when, how much, why?

Cairns, planes and shuttles, next weekend, within budget, Great Barrier Reef. I went for it and as the week drew to a close and I finished with my classes at Deakin University forever, I was becoming more and more excited for my little trip alone up to the Australian state of Queensland to visit Cairns and to see the Great Barrier Reef. The day came and I was so excited, it didn’t hit me that I was going to see the Great Barrier Reef and now that I’ve seen it it still hasn’t hit me. I left rainy Melbourne and arrived in Cairns at about 6:30pm, which was still at least 20 degrees warmer. I checked into my hostel – JJ’s Backpackers after being dropped off by a shuttle bus I’d booked online and I was immediately made to feel very welcome by the staff. Went to my room, flicked the light switch and waited for the light to flicker on and as soon as it did I was greeted by a cockroach scuttling across the floor. Not the start I had in mind and it dampened my enthusiasm a little but there was no time to dwell on that. I followed my phone maps into the centre of Cairns to find food and ended up eating a McDonald’s on the Esplanade before heading to Woolworth’s to grab some food, water and snacks. Walked in to the supermarket at 20:55 thinking “I’m not sure when they shut but I’m sure it’ll be alright” seconds later there was an announcement “ladies and gentlemen just to let you know this store will be closing in 5 minutes time so please start to make your way to the checkouts” oh. okay. So I rushed into making decisions buying 8 croissants, a loaf of banana bread, some chocolate I still haven’t finished and 1.5 litres of water. I got back to the hostel – not yet warming to it and went to sleep with an alarm set for 6am the next day – Sunday.

I slept quite well but to say that I leaped out of bed might be pushing it just a little bit. I was up though and quite happy having my croissant and banana bread breakfast before jumping on a shuttle outside the hostel to take me to Cairns Marina.

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Reef Experience

The driver told us exactly where we needed to be on the marina and how to get there, so having followed those instructions, I was boarding the ‘Reef Experience’ boat, given a pair of fins complete with snorkel mask, wet suit and a scary looking health and safety form (no it isn’t your fault if I die, no you won’t have to pay anything, yes anything that ever goes wrong is all my fault and you can’t ever be held accountable for anything ever etc etc). I took a seat on the boat and I was joined by two Americans who seemed friendly. After handing our forms in, receiving my hired underwater camera and between safety briefings and informative, entertaining talks we got talking and realised we were each travelling alone. We’d reached the first snorkelling area and having never snorkelled before, I was thinking about the main rules – fairly basic stuff like remembering to breathe. Then I got in the water, swam about 20 yards and was gasping for air realising that I was forgetting to breathe. I turned around, fixed my mask a little at the boat and then swam roughly back to where I’d got the first time, realised actually I was struggling quite a lot with the breathing thing. So I asked one of the staff members if they’d mind going out into the water with me because it was my first time snorkelling, I was on my own and I had NO IDEA what I was doing.

The staff member helped me out though and all of a sudden I was snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef! She pointed some things out such as a bright blue starfish that I hadn’t seen because I’d been distracted by a fish or something. Although it was incredible, it wasn’t as colourful as documentaries would have us believe. After I’d snorkelled I was offered a free glass bottom boat tour, so I went along. The captain gave us a stream of good information in an entertaining manner and there was so much it was almost overwhelming, so I actually managed to retain very little. What I do remember is the reason why the Great Barrier Reef looks so colourful in documentaries but not in person. Underwater, we lose the colour red. The water filters it out completely. When people film professionally underwater, they take massive floodlights to shine down onto the reef on the most perfect, clear, calm day with big red filters on their big professional high quality cameras and it exaggerates the colours visible to the naked eye. The pictures taken on the camera I had are pretty much as my eye saw the reef that day and it was still incredible. I thought that information was quite interesting more than anything, it isn’t something you think about because we don’t know any different but if you’ve just read this, you do now!

There was an abundance of included food on board. I got a second breakfast in the morning and got lunch after the first snorkel location.

After lunch, we moved on to the second snorkel location and on the journey I got talking to the two Americans again – Chris and Carla, and we got on really well. We arrived at the second location and we were going to stay for around an hour, so I went up on to the top deck to get some sun for maybe 5 minutes but ended up talking to a Dutch guy for a good 20 minutes before we both headed out to snorkel.

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“3…2…Smile!” “How much more of a smile do you want?!”

I went out on my own and this time I’d got it. I understood how to breathe and how to clear the snorkel of water, too. So I ventured out and took pictures of anything and everything, it was an incredible experience seeing everything that was down there. The journey back to the marina involved chatting away to my new American friends, cheese and biscuits and now that we weren’t going back in the water, it was legal to have alcohol so Reef Experience provided us with a glass of wine too. Very civilised.

Chris, Carla and myself had agreed that after showering and changing we might meet up for food later on. In reality Carla napped and woke when I was finishing a fish and chips from the Cairns Night Markets and Chris had just flat out fallen asleep. It was an exhausting day.


Was that likely to stop me doing something equally as exhausting the next day? No chance. 6:30am and I’m up again, armed with croissants, banana bread and sun cream I’m getting ready for the day ahead. Kuranda. It wouldn’t be fair to say that I was more excited for Kuranda than the Great Barrier Reef, but I think after having a whole day under water I was excited at the thought of doing something that looked amazing on land. I’d booked a journey to the village of Kuranda via the scenic railway, and a journey back via the skyrail (or to literally anyone else in the world – a cable car). To get to Freshwater train station, I was met outside the hostel by a coach and a friendly driver who gave me my ticket and itinerary for the day (at that point only consisting of the train and cable car with around 5 hours of free time). At the train station I browsed the museum and a cottage before heading to the cafe to get a coffee. I was drained and didn’t want to sleep on the train to miss the views I knew I was going to get. I was waiting to order then a voice next to me said “Matty?!” it was Chris. He was going to scuba dive that day but heard about my plans and decided actually, something different from under the water isn’t such a bad idea.

We were allocated different coaches so agreed to try to meet up later in Cairns again and boarded the train. A few minutes after the train had departed Freshwater, the conductor came into the coach I was in asking if anyone would like to move so they had a forward facing window seat. I had a rear facing seat staring at some people, so I asked if I could move and he took me from coach 5 to 3 where I got a whole bay to myself, so I spread out and jotted a few things down from the previous day so I could write this properly! I also noted down that the scenic railway has 15 tunnels along the line and at one point during construction eight tunnel faces were worked on at the same time to save time and then upon completion, the train lines were joined up. At a time predating survey equipment, as the prerecorded guide over the speakers said, it was an impressive achievement.

Including a stop off at Barron falls for a 10 minute tourist picture break, the journey took an hour and a half. Once in Kuranda, I made the decision to power walk to the other end of the village, refusing to get side tracked by all of the interesting looking shops on the way so that I can work my way back. At the other end was the heritage markets. I wandered around there before realising that actually, I had no idea what to do in Kuranda.

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flutter butter

All of my excitement was completely aimed at the journey both ways. So I did what I often do when I’m out and have to have a bit of a think of a relax. I found a cafe, bought an iced coffee and worked out what I’m doing. I looked at the top things to do in Kuranda and came to the decision that the butterfly sanctuary looked like the one to start with. On the back of the itinerary the bus driver had given me I had discounts for all sorts of things including the sanctuary. So I walked in and took in a tour of the sanctuary, which if I was more awake would probably have been really good. As it was I was asleep on my feet and had the attention span of a blunt pencil so just smiled and nodded at the woman who was clearly doing her best. After that it was time for lunch, I chose carefully from the cafes available and ended up making a horrific decision. The service was slow for average food but the staff were nice I suppose. It did give me time to think about my plan for the rest of my time in Kuranda, though.

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It was SO soft.

So I finished my lunch quickly and went back into the heritage markets to the Koala gardens. Queensland is the only state in Australia where it’s legal to hold a koala bear. As in, an actual real one. I’m all for being opportunistic so I made the incredibly rational decision to spend about $40/£20 on the entrance fee and the price of holding the koala which included a “free” picture and a “free” keyring. I’m not sure how it can be free if you’re paying to hold the bear but anyway, it was amazing and I could not stop smiling to myself after holding it. It was just so fluffy. I walked into shops afterwards and found myself touching some of the koala bear cuddly toys saying “it’s not as soft as a real one” and that just made me giddy. It was so soft. Thick layers of fluffiness with sharp claws. Each koala the koala gardens owned was only allowed to be held by visitors for a maximum of 30 minutes per day and they don’t wake any up to be held. They seemed to manage it very carefully which can only be a good thing really.

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Not a fish

Following that I ambled back along the main street of Kuranda, peeking into the souvenir shops and making my way towards the river. I got the 2:30pm riverboat cruise meeting lots of friendly tourists on the boat. We saw fish, turtles, butterflies, birds and crocodiles all completely wild. The guy taking the tour, Warren, gave us another massive stream of information and all I can remember is that there’s 1,160 different types of trees and some are older than others. Helpful, right? Following the river cruise I walked across to the skyrail terminal and headed back down. The skyrail journey itself takes anywhere between 30-40 minutes if you were to go from top to bottom. There are two stops along the way each with view points and information which takes that time up to about an hour and a half. I didn’t have time for that. I had time to do both stops, I was determined, but spent around an hour and 10 minutes coming down, and I had 10 minutes to spare when I got to the bottom. To try to explain how incredible the skyrail journey was… well, a picture speaks a thousand words.

Not bad. I had the cable car to myself. It was just me, the camera and the view. It was phenomenal.

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What’s left of my fringe is not that weird. It’s the light, I swear.

After showering, Chris, Carla and I had agreed to meet up for food at Fryday’s, where they were amazed that I finished the mound of a burger put in front of me. It had been a big day. We finished food and headed to get souvenirs from the Night Markets before saying goodbyes and heading back to our various accommodation. They were both leaving early the next day, and I had nothing planned for that next day whilst I was in Kuranda. Fortunately, I chose my hostel well. I went to reception and asked the lady, Tracy, on reception if she had any recommendations for a more relaxed day. She said I could do Fitzroy Island for a $75 return journey on a fast cat boat which seemed like a good option for a day trip, so I went for it and Tracy booked it for me.


So the next day, up at 6:30 again and jumped on a shuttle at 7:30 bound for the marina. I got on to the Fitzroy island boat, ticket in hand, and made the 45 minute journey cutting through the waves to the island. I wasn’t sure what to do on the island but we were given a sheet of blue A4 paper with activities on both sides as well as prices. There were a few walking paths available to do and I’d worn shoes with those in mind. After arriving at the island I went to sit and chill, get a feeling for the island and what’s on offer.

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Wild flutter butter

I then set off on a walk to the summit of the island. The path cut through the rainforest and quickly became like a scene you imagine from a book, as blue butterflies were stirred from my movements and fluttered  on ahead of me before settling in trees again. The walk was pretty tough. It was 28 or 29 degrees and although on the river cruise in Kuranda the guide had said it never gets above 23 degrees in the rainforest, I was pretty convinced he was wrong. The concoction of sweat and suncream stinging my eyes from walks like this has become an all too familiar feeling, but the views waiting for me at the Fitzroy Island summit were beyond worth it.

From the top, I walked across to the now disused lighthouse on the island. Which was… well, disused. From there I walked along the other path which I’d read was steeper than the summit path to get back to the resort area on the island where the dive shop, bar and cafe was situated. It was steeper but it was downhill mostly although not in a comfortable way.

See what I mean? It was a bit silly really. Anyway, after lunch I went for another walk through the rainforest to see more rainforest, which was sort of very green. After I got back down I changed into swim shorts and hired snorkelling gear and a ‘sting suit’. I was offered a sting suit or a wet suit, I asked what he recommended and he said that jellyfish and the like are still around as we’re just coming to the end of ‘stinger season’ so he’d probably go for the sting suit. So I went for that. I walked down the beach for a bit, aware that I was alone so if something went wrong I’d be a bit stuck, until I reached an area where others were snorkelling. I suited up and got in the water, unarmed with a camera this time. That was a shame.

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this is not a sea turtle

I was swimming along, head staring down at the reef below me looking at all of the colourful fish and the coral when suddenly I was aware of something moving that was much bigger than a fish… It was a sea turtle!! After snorkelling with Reef Experience I was a little downhearted that I hadn’t seen a sea turtle, it was the one animal I was really hoping I’d see and all of a sudden I was swimming above one. Because I was so close to the island the visibility in the water wasn’t great because of the sand being stirred up with the tide and it soon disappeared. So I turned back and found myself looking at some more fish on my left. I began to turn my head to the right and then got a bit of a fright and jumped a little underwater, there was another sea turtle on my right just sort of there swimming alongside me! It was amazing! I wanted to take a moment to try to take in what I’d just seen so emerged gracefully (I fell over three times taking the fins off) from the water and sat on the beach taking a selfie that I think really portrays the excitement I was feeling at the time from seeing two sea turtles in the space of maybe a whole minute. It was phenomenal.

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That odd looking big ball of light made pictures super difficult

So I sat and took this view in for a bit, headed into the water one more time and then took the gear back in preparation to get on the boat back to Cairns. I was exhausted but the whole day was worth it. As I had on the first night, I ate on the Esplanade on my final night – a pizza I’d sourced from the local Woolworth’s supermarket that they cooked for me in the Deli at a cost of $6.50/£3.25. I eventually got back to mine, started packing up and went to sleep mostly thinking of sea turtles.


Between checking out of the hostel and my airport shuttle I had some time to kill which I spent in an art gallery I’d been eyeing up in Cairns.

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This is an art

It was quite interesting. I’m about as into art as an aardvark is into chartered accountancy (I have not researched that), it doesn’t really mean so much to me most of the time, it’s usually just colours and lines that look pretty or perhaps more often than not; don’t look pretty. I went to the art gallery with time to kill and I ended up accidentally enjoying myself, I was in a good mood, I’d had a wonderful time in Cairns and to tell the truth I don’t think I wanted to leave. It was warm, it was beautiful and I was enjoying being on my own and talking to strangers.


I may be back in Melbourne now, but it feels like it’s nearly over. This is it. I have lived out here for 7 months. I technically won’t make it to 8 because three weeks into June, I’m going off gallivanting around the south island of New Zealand for 12 days before having just one full final day in Australia. Then I’m going home. Week one of those three weeks in June is pretty much already behind us all. It’s Friday. Weeks two and three my mind will be (perhaps not so) firmly on exams in both weeks then at the end of number three I’m off for another adventure. You see, this is it. It’s exciting and quite sad too actually. I don’t want it to come to an end because as you can see, it’s been quite the adventure and I’ve learnt quite a lot out here about so many things. Having said that, I’m so excited to be at home and if I’m honest although I’ve been counting down the days until I see my family again, until I see Mags again, until I see Connor and Sean and all you other lovely folks again, I’m starting to realise how close it all is and after so long of wanting time to hurry up, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing if it slowed down just a little bit. I’ve still got places to go, things to do and people to meet. Cairns has given me a new lease of life almost and it’s refreshed me a little.

And with that new lease of life, this month promises to be incredible regardless of exams. I may still have two more blog posts left in me yet, but most likely not until I’m home because you know, no one wants to read 4000 words about three exams.


If you read this far then I’m afraid you win nothing but my sincere appreciation, I wrote this thing over two days and it’s greatly appreciated when I know that it’s been worth it, so thank you!

The Bliss of Hostility

The Bliss of Hostility

I am now officially over 6 months through an 8 month stay in Australia. Where did that go?! I’m currently in the train of thought that I don’t want to leave but I want to go home. I know that may be a little hard to follow but I’ll go into that later, it makes sense in my head! I’ve just come to the end of academic week 8 in Deakin’s trimester 1, meaning that I have just 3 weeks of classes left in Australia, then there’s a week long study break before the two week exam period. Then there’s two weeks until I go home and I’m making big plans for that little gap there and gaps in between, all to be confirmed in the incredibly near future (maybe tomorrow)!

Enough of looking forward though, let’s look at where I’ve been, what I’ve done and what on Earth I mean by that rather magnificent looking title. An individual at some point in time once said that practice makes perfect. Little bit of knowledge here, that phrase actually goes back to the 1550’s and 60’s when it was “use makes perfect” although the exact saying “practice makes perfect” is attributed to an American bloke named John Adams who wrote it in his diary in 1761 as a young lawyer following his first victories against juries in courts of law. In a poll ran by the NSPCC in 2014, the saying came out on top in a survey of 2,000 Brits when asked what the most influential saying of their childhood was. So next time we’re all thinking about how badly we’re doing something for the first time, we can all thank that American lawyer for the inevitable words of encouragement spoken by literally anyone else around us who don’t think we should give up just yet.

I was curious about where that saying came from so decided to look it up and thought I might as well share it. Anyway…

As I was saying, practice makes perfect and if you look closely at the titles of my blog posts whilst I’ve been away, I think we can all agree that “The Bliss of Hostility”, “The Triumph of Spontaneity” and “The Elation of Distance” are all cracking titles in comparison with “Singapore Surprise” and “Edible Culture“. EDIBLE CULTURE?! So in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that practice does appear to make perfect after all. Am I getting better at writing rubbish, waffling introductions or am I getting worse at writing good introductions? Who knows? I’ll talk about what I did now. Promise.


I WENT TO DARWIN!!

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I (kind of) drew a map!!

To give you some sort of an idea of how far away Darwin is from Melbourne, the red line is as the crow flies which is 1,960.380 miles. The blue line is the route you would take to drive there, which is 2,332.081 miles. That would take you 40 hours non stop (38 without traffic although having been to Adelaide I can only say that that says quite a lot about Melbourne traffic). This probably goes without saying, but we flew to Darwin. That took 4 hours 25 minutes. To give you more ideas, a flight from Manchester of a similar length could land you in Poland, Italy, Greece, Morocco, all of the Canary Islands, probably Cyprus with a tailwind, Turkey and maybe a bit of Portugal. Flying that distance, you could fly from Land’s End to John o’Groats and back again and still have time to land wherever 22 miles South West (ish) of Glasgow is (and that’s the story of how I learnt that there’s a place called Moscow 22 miles South West (ish) of Glasgow in Scotland). Also, apparently it’s 1,339 miles from London to Kiev, Ukraine but I got that from a website with an article entitled “can spontaneous human combustion really occur?” I’ll save you the read because it was a bit mind numbing. According to the article, it’s rare and advised that people remain a safe distance away from flammable items to reduce the possibility of spontaneous combustion. I’d argue that if you’re near a flammable item and you begin to catch fire that seems a little more on the stupid side than the spontaneous side. As for London to Kiev, it’s 1,327 miles as the crow flies, 1,492 miles via the A2 in South England, 1,518 miles avoiding toll roads via the E373/M07 in Poland or 1,552 miles via Germany’s A4. The morale of the story here is not to trust world atlas websites with articles about spontaneous combustion and either fly or don’t take the A4 if you’re travelling to Kiev. This is all incredibly educational so far, isn’t it? You can’t say that I don’t research these things.


So after a day of waiting around on Friday 22nd April, we finally headed out in the evening and got food on the way to the airport at a Mexican restaurant we’ve been eyeing up a while from the tram which turned out to be not that great. We got back on the tram to continue our journey to be told that the tram was faulty and a replacement was waiting at the depot and we’d have to switch. Perhaps not the greatest start. An hour or two later and suddenly we’ve got a delayed flight getting in to Darwin at gone 3am. Also, I was ill. I’d been ill for 2-3 weeks with basically a cold and a nasty headache that had affected everything from sleep to balance to ability to look at light. So I stocked up on drugs at the airport. Also Maltesers.

When we did arrive in Darwin, we got a taxi straight to the hostel rated as the best in Darwin and walked into our shared room. Six beds, with three strangers. Three beds were taken so you’d think that the three available were ours. It was 3am so the room was pitch black but there was a laptop and various pieces of paper in what I would be forgiven for thinking was my bed. We started to head off to sleep and I stirred 20 minutes or so later as a guy with a European accent stood over me and using slightly different words exclaimed “what the fudge”. I lay still and for the first time in 10-15 years pretended that I was still asleep. He walked out, then I was aware that the guy on the bunk above me left and someone came back in. 10 minutes later the door open and closed and I didn’t think anything of it until the morning. The guy with said European accent (he turned out to be from Berlin, of course he was German!) spoke to me in the morning and said I was sleeping in his bed, whilst attempting to avoid the plot of Goldilocks completely, I said that in that case someone was sleeping in my bed. Turned out someone had got into our room (the door didn’t lock unless you pushed it shut) and saw four free beds so started to have a snooze in mine. The German guy whose bed I was sleeping in walked in late after working at a bar, saw all of the beds taken so went to get security (not that it was a rough area but all the hostels had bouncers) then decided against it as security would get us all up, so he came back and in that time the guy had gone, so the German took my bed. The door opening and closing later was the intruder checking to see if the bed was free or not. Things weren’t looking too good at this point but hey, we were somewhere new, different and exciting so we weren’t thinking about that. It was an interesting start to our time in Darwin.

We knew Darwin was going to be environmentally hostile. It’s essentially in the Australian outback, or as close to it as you would like to get. There’s little in Darwin itself. So little in fact that I don’t have a single picture taken in or of Darwin. There was one street with the majority of the major attractions with the major attractions being bars, restaurants, hostels and a supermarket. The reason to visit Darwin was not for Darwin, it was to see some of the Northern Territory. To do that properly, really you need a hire car.

I went with my American flatmate Rachel and her friend from her home university also studying at Deakin, Caroline. I can’t drive. Rachel and Caroline can, but in Australia to hire a car from a car rental company you need to be 21 years old. I’m 21. Rachel and Caroline are 20. So that’s why we ended up driving this thing. This particular camper rental company had the minimum age at which you could hire a car set at 18 years old. That black thing on the roof is a cover to what is essentially a fold out tent which sits on the roof of the Toyota Corolla. For some reason people stared as we drove past. We walked past a lady in a car park who had lost her car and she said to us “I always forget where I put it” to which Rachel replied “well we haven’t had any trouble with ours yet” as we headed over to a pink car with yellow spots. It was a statement but believe it or not it was practical. The company renting them out has come under attack from various sources over recent years for their distracting nature and some of the slogans on their vehicles which some take offence to. Although perhaps more aimed towards those with a darker humour sometimes, we loved our little bright thing and found the colour incredibly practical for car park spotting. We picked the car up at around 9am on the Saturday and took it for a spin to woolworths and then Subway to get food, copious amounts of water and snacks for the next few days. We’d decided to head out to Kakadu National Park which was around a two hour drive, and once we were there we each had to purchase a park pass. We did that and got a park booklet with maps and ideas of things to do from a park guide. We were keen to do hikes in the area over the few days we had there and headed out to to a small hike around 30 minutes long. It was a steep, largely unmarked path with various disconcerting rustling noises coming from the bushes either side of us and the distinct smell of burning wildfires in the air in 35 degree heat.

We were hoping the views would be worth it and whilst partially obscured by the foliage around us, what we could see from the viewing platform was stunning. After that we headed towards another small hike, which turned out to be a lot smaller than we thought but also very picturesque and worth putting up with the flies who didn’t seem to give much consideration for personal space, which is fair enough I suppose because they are in fact flies and therefore have no understanding of the concept of personal space.

Following our little walk, time was actually pushing on so we decided to head back, not wanting to be in an Australian national park in such a hostile environment at night. After food and about 3 pints of water we went back to the hostel to relax and eventually sleep. The next day we drove the 1 hour 30 minute drive to Litchfield National Park with swimwear in bags. Once we’d finally arrived at the first site we were aiming for, we utilised the changing facilities to do change into swimwear and do a short walk down towards one of the pools in the park. There were several designated swimming areas as well as some areas which were very clearly not for swimming, as the Northern Territory is Australia’s home to crocodiles and in actual fact on the next day we were in the same area at the same time as a teenager who had a crocodile break into his tent and decide that it quite fancied some human foot for lunch. So that was interesting. But other than the usual snakes and spiders that we felt the need to constantly be vigilant over, it was perfectly safe.

The day was largely spent doing short walks to sit around and float around and generally relax and cool down in some of the pools. The temperature only got as low as around 29 at night, the rest of the time it was mid to high 30’s. We were lucky it was Autumn really. The journey back was exciting. There was one junction which had a sign pointing left for Darwin via either Kakadu or Litchfield (can’t remember) or right towards Darwin via Berry Springs. We chose right because we’d taken the left road before. The right turn was about 12 miles shorter  and turned out to be probably the worst decision that we made. After 40 minutes of driving we turned a corner to find that what we would conventionally describe as a ‘road’ had just sort of been replaced by a wide stretch of gravel. We were thinking perhaps after that corner it would put us onto a road but no… It dropped down and rose back up to another corner with brown, murky standing water at the bottom of the dip with no indication of how deep it was with a low, pink Toyota Corolla with a tent on the roof. A few decisions weren’t looking too good at this point and another 30-40 minutes later when we were still on a wide stretch of gravel with an American driver who was used to tarmac and wasn’t a particular fan of roads with many corners particularly with a car where it could be argued hasn’t particularly been adapted with its handling capabilities in mind, things weren’t looking too good. After about an hour of gravel we found a road. An actual real one. It had lines down the middle and fewer 4×4 drivers were passing us laughing. So that was nice.

We headed to check out Darwin’s beach which to our surprise was completely empty except for some Indigenous people and another 3 or 4 people walking the length of the beach with a bin bag each cleaning it up. We waded into the sea a little where the water was almost too comfortably warm and only continued to get warmer. A very odd feeling. We were expecting sunset markets in the area but they just sort of didn’t happen, so we went back to the hostel to shower and brush up and head out to get food and later on; cocktails.

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A fishbowl of… Stuff.

The bathrooms in the hostel didn’t have air conditioning. Until Darwin, I had never used a shower without touching the hot water setting, but in Darwin there was no need. The water didn’t really get cold in Darwin, you were lucky if it made it down to lukewarm. For food we headed to an Irish bar called ‘Shenanigans’ which was… Atmospheric. It was around 5/6pm and filled with drunk Brits on holidays. We’d found all of them. It was amazing. We walked down the road after food and when I said “cocktails” I did mean just the one… But it was a fishbowl and turned out to contain more alcohol than we perhaps anticipated. We got some rest ready to check out the next morning ahead of our final day, put all of our stuff into the car and set off aiming for Katherine which was over three hours away. We visited Nitmiluk National Park where we did one of the filthiest hikes I have ever done. It was 35 degrees, I had one shirt that hadn’t stuck to me with sweat which in my wisdom I had decided to save for the flight back, because of the heat the sweat was forcing the freshly applied suncream into my eyes, I’d bought a large bottle of water which was finished pretty swiftly and there was literally nothing comfortable about the situation.

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Aussie’s LOVE stairs

The walk started out pretty well, nice and flat but these things never tend to be easy and soon enough it got a bit silly. Very silly, actually. Stairs leading on to rocks with few obvious spots for your feet to go. Stairs with handrails that disappear at seemingly crucial parts of a staircase as it merges into an odd shaped rock. Very, very silly indeed and I would highly recommend it. It was entirely worth it as we reached the top looking out over a phenomenal view. We headed down, bumped into some Germans (they’re everywhere, why are they always German?!) and once we got to the bottom, I purchased an ice cream and ate it in the minute or two it took us to get from the visitor centre to our car. Getting brain freeze from the ice cream was actually one of the most comfortable experiences I had felt in Darwin and the surrounding area, as the heat was incredibly hostile, but the views Darwin and everywhere else offered were blissful.


Culturally, Darwin was most like Adelaide in terms of places that I’ve been to before but I stress the similarities are only cultural. In terms of environment and landscape, I haven’t seen anything like Darwin. We drove by in the mornings seeing charred, smouldering remains of trees along the side of the road, when we drove back later in the evening it wasn’t unusual to see small flames burning in place of the little amount of smoke that was there earlier. The amount of security at first seemed strange, bouncers at every bar, restaurant and even hostel was odd at first but it became apparent why. Darwin is home to a large Indigenous community and the hostile attitudes between the Indigenous and white people, particularly white tourists was very apparent. The night we had the cocktail, it was an outdoor bar and I was watching passers by with interest. Watching the bouncers talk and chat willingly with white people but if an Indigenous person stopped to look on into the bar the bouncer would immediately usher them away rudely, as if they weren’t people and they were almost some kind of animal that could become a nuisance. Sort of how people try to get rid of seagulls… It was incredibly strange. There were balloons outside attached to a drinks offers board and often as an Indigenous person walked past, they would pop them out of apparent spite or as an act of Indigenous resistance to Western culture. As they did so they laughed loudly, if there was a group of them they would all laugh loudly as if they were really getting a huge kick out of resisting against any form of Western culture. It’s obvious that here it will take a long time for two cultures to coexist, if coexisting is even possible at all. Attitudes within white culture in Darwin seem so deeply ingrained against Indigenous people whilst attitudes in Indigenous culture appear to run deep with pure hatred of white people. It is deeply saddening and troubling that as a species we struggle to treat those with cultural differences with respect, even in the 21st century. It’s unfortunate that that is one of the most prominent feelings I left Darwin with  – the feeling that we should all just be better. As a species perhaps we are the closest we have ever been to treating each other with respect but I suppose in truth we’re still so far away.

In terms of landscape however, Darwin was such an incredible sight and I really am glad that I went. I suppose after all of that it’s good to experience different cultures and different cultural attitudes too. To see what Northern Territory had to offer was just amazing and the smell of small fires lit in the summer on Welsh farms will now only remind me of the beauty of this beautifully hostile Australian territory. The final place we visited displayed the beauty of the natural environment of Northern Territory in all its glory.

We had found another pool type area at the end of a short hike where we explored, dangled our legs in the water and just relaxed and chatted a while. It was a lovely spot. Afterwards we drove over three hours back into Darwin, narrowly avoided a car crash (it was fine), got take away Nando’s and ended up with the same taxi driver who took us to the hostel from the airport to take us from the camper rental place back to the airport.We were hours early but really there was nothing to be done in Darwin. We’d done it, we were all exhausted (particularly our wonderful driver) and we were ready to head back to Melbourne. Shame the flight was around 3am.

We touched down in Melbourne at 7am. I had laundry in by 8:30am. I went through the day with no nap and had the most wonderful lie in the next day.


Since Darwin, I’ve spent a lot of my time back down on planet Earth doing assignments. Nothing too exciting there really but I’m starting to think about home a lot and perhaps more to the point, the time I have available between now and when I go home and what to do with it. I’m currently in the process of organising a trip to the South island of New Zealand with the intention to return to Melbourne a couple of days before I fly home. I’m also tentatively considering a trip up to Cairns to take in the Great Barrier Reef but I’m going to leave that until I have a particular essay submitted because between you and me, it’s going to be a bit of a pain. I’m not an expert in Chinese history but in 2,000 words I need to try my best to convince somebody else that I am. So that should be fun.


As if it wasn’t blindingly obvious, I really am having such a wonderful time out here and I absolutely do not want to leave. On the other hand, I would simply love to be at home and to be around all of the people who I miss the most. This time in eight weeks I am on a plane possibly on the Singapore – Munich leg of my journey and when you consider that I have just 3 weeks of lectures left, a 1 week break (potentially partially spent in Cairns), a 2 week exam period leading into around 12 days in New Zealand which leaves me with just 1 full day in Melbourne.

If you don’t quite think there’s enough to look forward to there, it’s okay, I’m always finding more and I’ll tell you all about it next time!


Goodness me. These are getting longer, aren’t they?

The triumph of spontaneity

The triumph of spontaneity

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what April has done to me or what I’m doing differently that’s having any sort of impact on this but all of a sudden I can write titles. I mean, “The triumph of spontaneity” this time, “The elation of distance” last time?! Pretty short, a little elusive and mysterious with some incredibly satisfying words in them too. What more could you want?! Except for (probably) 2000 words of remarkably average text trying to make rubbish stories sound like the most exciting thing that has ever happened to a person ever (I don’t think anyone’s realised how much I actually just sit here and talk about how much I like food). So if you want to read about some stuff I put in my mouth and can’t really explain in any more detail than “hey that was good” and want to hear about some spontaneous things that I’ve done and other things that I’m going to be doing VERY VERY soon then you should absolutely read on. You’ve got this far, you really might as well.


BUT before I can get on to all of that I’ve got a couple of things to mention. A few days ago I was a little bored/wasn’t doing an essay I should have been doing and started playing around with my blog! So on my homepage (this probably doesn’t work if you’re not on a computer of some sort so your iPads and phones are pretty useless here. The 21st century is a very confusing place. They can do everything except something I told it to do but anyway, this is not a passive aggressive rant about technology.) I used to have pictures of various places that I’ve been alternating as the cover picture across that top bar, but I’ve been living in Australia nearly SIX MONTHS now so decided my study abroad blog based in Australia should feature some Australian pictures. So every picture you see up there (on the home page only, that’s outboundandaround.worpress.com) is a picture that I have taken whilst out here in Australia. Or someone else has taken it if I’m in it. You get the point.

I know what you’re thinking, does it get any more exciting than that?! And the answer is YES!!!! OF COURSE IT DOES!!!! I tried to be clever and set up a public iCalendar feed so naturally there are massive teething problems in that it only works some of the time. But on the left of my homepage you can (sometimes) see upcoming things that I have planned and I’ve put in some essay deadlines so you know why this thing may or may not have gone quiet depending on how organised I am. Also, it’s coming up to the part of my year abroad with the most potential time to travel – the end. Because you know, as if the Great Ocean Road and Sydney twice, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Phillip Island, Melbourne, The Grampians, Blue Mountains and Singapore wasn’t quite enough. Soon I’ll be getting free time which I’m hoping to travel in to secret, magical undisclosed locations (I haven’t decided yet and it depends on when exams are which is released a week on Tuesday). So that calendar is there for me to add in destinations of various places and events that I’ll be going to. It may not be used that much but it was oddly satisfying to set up.


Three paragraphs later and lady-blokes and gentle-blokes (a bit of cultural enrichment for you there) we’ve done it. We’ve reached the start of the blog. Where we go from here not even I know just yet. I believe it’s customary with these sorts of things to pick up from where I left off. So last time, I was trying to not be incredibly dramatic because all of a sudden Mags and I were in different continents. Again. Immediately afterwards I struggled a little and just tried to get on with doing the basic things first. Going to bed at a good time, getting up at a good time, eating well, not snacking unnecessarily, washing, shaving, keeping my room tidy and clean and everything else will follow. I was trying but quite frankly I was having a miserable time. I got out to play futsal a few times because exercise and fresh air is good but really I still felt awful.

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It’s okay, we had validated tickets

I have a friend in Canberra, Hannah, who is American and on her year abroad. She wanted to visit Melbourne at some point so it was a good opportunity to meet up. Mags left on the Sunday, Hannah arrived on the following Wednesday and then left the Monday afterwards. We stayed around the city and as I’ve done a lot of what we did before I won’t go into too much detail other than say we visited a lot of the laneways and arcades – found a genuine magic shop I didn’t know existed and I do not mean the rabbit out of a hat sort of magic, I mean witchcraft, potions, spirits, demons and the like. Not something I’d say that I’m accustomed to but it was intriguing nonetheless. We visited the Shrine of Remembrance after it had shut so sat on the steps and had a good chat for an hour or two which was lovely.

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No I didn’t have my camera

We visited Melbourne Zoo which as it happens is (in my humble opinion) nowhere near as good as Chester Zoo. The animals just did not seem happy there and it just made me feel sad more than anything really. Also, the illusive snow leopard was so illusive that it was gone. Whilst Hannah was here though we visited what has become my favourite lane/street in the whole of Melbourne. Degraves Street. A pedestrianised street flanked with cafe’s on either side, some cute clothes shops and a very popular doughnut shop which one day I will queue up for and purchase one of the phenomenal looking doughnuts. We stopped to eat at a cafe on Degraves Street where I had an iced coffee and my first lasagne in months, which was wonderful. Those places are yet to let me down. We had a Domino’s pizza night with some of my flat as well as a cinema trip out to see Batman Vs Superman with my flat. The film was okay but it took a while to get going. All in all it was a good evening and the company was wonderful. It was good to have Hannah around for a few days to distract myself from the lack of Mags although it didn’t really get easier until recently. After Hannah left I found a whole shopping centre that I had no idea existed so I had a bit of an explore before heading back home.


Then it was a case of getting back into the swing of lectures. I failed miserably but that’s okay, sometimes you need time to adjust to any change so as long as you catch up, you’re okay. This week I’m going to get back into it as I’m feeling significantly better. I’ve been feeling significantly better since Saturday but I still have to talk about Tuesday!


After not a great day I already had tickets booked to accompany my flatmate Rachel and two of her friends who I hadn’t met yet to go and see some more of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. It was $15 for a ticket to see four comedians on what is known as “tight arse Tuesday”. Lovely. So we paid up and went along to watch two British comedians, a Greek and a Canadian. All of whom were wonderful to watch and it was just a really good night out in good company which is obviously important. Fast forward to Saturday now because as far as I can recall nothing much really happened after that but Saturday was the one to look forward to.

The Melbourne Night Colour Run. After purchasing some cheap clothes I was likely never going to wear again (a $4 white shirt, $2 pairs of socks and $6 running shorts which for the record were reduced from $12. Outfit for £6. Bargain.) we (myself, Rachel and her friend Caroline) turned up to pick up our packs of colour run stuff – our race number, colour run shirt, headtorch and fake, glow in the dark tattoos. We lined up at the start where everyone was split, runners down the right side, walkers, ravers, skippers, hoppers and dancers down the left. We chose the left side to gain the full experience. We went through the start and followed the path laid out around Flemington Racecourse, offering views across to the city skyline and Docklands. Every so often we’d had a paint station where volunteers lined the route with bottles of powdered paint which they aim low to try to avoid eyes.

I got it in my mouth, in my eyes and at one point I definitely snorted it but it was a lot of fun and in all of the UV light, everyone looked fantastic. The atmosphere was electric, there was so much happiness in one place and it seemed to grow and grow. After our little walk we bought nachos and that was a very important thing to include. Following that we headed over to where the party was and we danced a little, then took in the atmosphere and grabbed some pictures. Immediately after the run we were handed a pouch of the paint to throw wherever we pleased so in the midst of the party we threw it in the air above ourselves and covered each other all over again. We headed to the tram, were given ponchos to protect the trams and then it rained but we had ponchos anyway so WHO CARES?! It was a great time.


On Sunday I headed into the city to meet up with my friends Sara and Colleen who I’ve barely seen this trimester but love them both anyway. It was good to have a catch up there and within minutes of seeing Colleen I knew it was my day. I’d woken up in a great mood and they say it’s lucky to be pooped on by a bird but as we were sat at Federation Square catching up and a seagull flew over relieving itself inches above us for it to land literally centimetres in front of us on the floor, I think that’s luckier. Should have bought a lottery ticket. We went to Degraves street (I really like it there, okay?) and visited one of the cafes I hadn’t yet been to. I ordered muesli with caramelised oranges, natural yoghurt and iced coffee and it was sublime. Absolutely lovely stuff, with a friendly waiter bloke who even did a bit of a dance for us! Afterwards we just enjoyed the sun and had a bit of a sit around and general laze about on some grass near the MCG. That was after the married couple juggling banana chunks between each other using their mouths on stage at Fed Square as part of the comedy festival (it was disgusting) and walking past Elmo from Sesame Street playing the bagpipes.


In Melbourne, nothing seems to catch me out anymore. When I was waiting for the tram home I saw a bloke dressed as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Melbourne is such a lively, vibrant place and to have nearly lived here for six months is wonderful. I love this city and all of its quirks and you come to somewhere as amazing and incredible as this and you think that you could never miss a place as grotty and miserable as Wrexham in winter. Then you get thinking about just how grotty and miserable Wrexham is in the winter and it might be grotty and miserable but it’s home, and it’ll be good to be back, but I’m not there yet. There’s still so much out here for me to do and to enjoy and I’m determined to get as much out of it as I can. That starts on Friday. As you can see from my little calendar thing on my home page, on Friday I’m travelling to Darwin! It’s going to be the furthest North that I’ve been in Australia and most likely the most Northern point I’ll travel to in Australia. It’s going to be hot, sweaty and beautiful and I’ll have lots to write about very soon!

Also more pictures. I was a little short of those here.

Thanks for reading, I promise I’ll write the next one better. I was dipping into an essay with this one. I got bored.

The elation of distance

The elation of distance

Who am I to predict the future, but I think this could equally be the most fun and the most painful update for me personally to write so far. The past two weeks have been incredible and I’m going to try and take you through the emotional spectrum that the past two weeks have brought along with them. Buckle up because this is… Crazy. Also yes, this is going to be disgracefully cute at times. I warned you. This is also very picture-heavy so if there’s anything you can’t quite make out, clicking on the picture will make it bigger for you!


So… I’ll start at the beginning (I like to be different). My girlfriend, Mags, came to spend two weeks with me here in Australia allowing me to be her own personal (awful) tour guide and to be fair, we only got a little bit lost a few times and horrendously lost once. Maybe twice. Probably twice.

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This is still so surreal that I actually don’t know how to caption this

As I was watching a live map of her plane edging closer to Melbourne, I was heading towards Melbourne International Airport to welcome her with open arms – a scene played over countless times in my head from the moment I knew she was coming. It went a bit differently. Melbourne’s international terminal is notoriously awful with getting baggage from an aircraft to a carousel in a reasonable amount of time. So Mags had found WiFi before even getting her bag and we were messaging each other. I was checking on a reply and then all of a sudden looked up to check the faces coming through the door, looked back down at my phone before looking up to see Mags just sort of…. THERE?! ACTUALLY PHYSICALLY THERE?! Magic stuff. Anyway, we got a bus where she was trying to get her head around the fact that she was in China and now she’s in Australia sat next to me and for some reason it felt so normal. Nothing felt out of place.

 

It didn’t take long for her to leave her mark either. After catching a bus, we caught a tram. After thinking all day I need to warn her about how abrupt these things start and stop I did of course forget to mention that part. So on her first tram as it started to move, she fell backwards, I got an arm behind her back to try and stop her doing any damage to herself but in doing so I clenched my fist trying to grab her and snapped my MyKi into two pieces. It didn’t cost me anything but time out of our journey and gave me a funny anecdote to put in a blog, so everyone wins. Also I got a shiny new MyKi card!

With that, onto day one.2016-03-20 18.51.53 HDR We took the tram into the city to take in a multicultural festival which was taking place at Federation Square. There was music and a lot of stalls but in truth I don’t think it quite lived up to expectations. So we looked around Federation Square itself for a bit and then headed to AAMI Park to watch ‘Not Bolton Wanderers’ (Melbourne Victory) play against Newcastle Jets (not United) in the A-League. It was Mags’ first ever football game and luckily for me she absolutely loved it! In the summer I hope to show her what real disappointment is like and take her to watch Bolton, but back to the game. It finished 1-1 and I saw my first ever Melbourne Victory goal from open play and it only took 6 games. SIX GAMES!!! Anyway, after 90 minutes of explaining what’s going on and why the fans are inexplicably angered by a whistle we went to a lovely fish and chip restaurant where we both ate shark. A night of first’s for Mags and already plenty to talk about!


 

The next day was more about exploring Melbourne.

I did what any good boyfriend would do on his girlfriend’s first few days in a foreign country in a new continent and took her down some strange looking alleys to look at some technically illegal painting on some bricks. I know, I’m a romantic. We went down Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane and Croft Alley. After that I took her to some of Melbourne’s arcades (which I haven’t really spoken about before or even pictured before) so the arcades are not dark rooms with arcade games. Melbourne’s arcades are sort of Victorian style arcades filled with cake shops, tea rooms, chocolate shops and perfume shops. On Flinder’s street, there is a lane with cafe’s on either side which lead to an arcade. We went to one of the cafe’s for an iced coffee (I really wanted an iced coffee that day) and after missing out at two, it really was third time lucky as they came out in a weird mug jar thing with ice cream on top. Perfect. A proper iced coffee which hit the spot beautifully. We jumped on a tram to Docklands next. After a walk around such a lovely area with highlights naturally including a selfie with a statue of Dame Edna (which I didn’t know was there) we ended up going to play glow in the dark mini golf (what else would a young couple such as ourselves go and do?!) I know you’re all desperate for details here so it was an 18 hole course and Mags started strong with two or three consecutive hole’s in one. She destroyed me on the first 9 holes but being the competitive, determined, driven individual that I am, I wasn’t about to sit back and allow that. Long story short I beat her by only a few points… Goals…. Whatever they’re called. We had a stroll back towards the tram stop looking at menus for restaurants before settling on one called ‘Cargo’. We were told to wait whilst they just set up a table, then were promptly sat down at a window seat over looking Melbourne’s Docklands area, the water, the big bridge which does have a name but I can’t be bothered looking for it and the sunset in the background. It was perfect. We ate and made the most of the spot by sharing another drink together and just chatting. From that moment it felt like we were in for a pretty special time together.


 

Mags loves the sea.

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Brighton Beach

Fortunate then that Melbourne is a coastal city as I got to spend a day taking her to beaches. We have a name for a day such as that. In this particular case, it was called ‘Tuesday’. Her face when we got to the beach was a picture and seeing her so happy was wonderful for me. We spent a lot of the day on and around the beach. We got ice cream and eventually headed over to St. Kilda to catch sunset along the beach and the pier before going to potentially see penguins. We saw one penguin and got very cold so went home early, we had a big day the next day. Wednesday. Great Ocean Road. A once in a lifetime trip that I was doing for the second time (this year abroad lark is very trying sometimes). We fuelled up on coffee and picked up our hire car – an automatic Suzuki Swift that grew on Mags over the few days we had it.

 

 

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Great Ocean Road route in its entirety

We stayed one night at Apollo Bay after roughly a 3 hour drive down the coast at a YHA hostel which was everything we needed. Clean, friendly and in the location we needed to break up the journey. We set off the next morning heading straight for Cape Otway lighthouse which was only 20-30 minutes away.

We took in all of the sights the oldest working lighthouse in Australia had to offer before driving back to get onto the Great Ocean Road stopping several times where we saw around 10 koala bears just sort of there. Being fluffy and cute and aw. Look at them. You just want to grab one and forget that it’s a bear and cuddle it and give it a name and feed it copious amounts of leaves. Anyway…

We headed on to Port Campbell stopping many times to stop at viewpoints such as the Twelve Apostles which was just incredible. A breathtaking sight. We reached Port Campbell and stayed at a Best Western. Upon arrival, we were told by the receptionist that because I had booked with her new booking button on their website, she’d given us a free upgrade to a spa room! Which I didn’t think to get a picture of because we were hungry! We went out and walked around Port Campbell, bought necessities we were short of such as take away pizza and chocolate and then headed back, sat on the sofa and watched the Australian rules football on the TV. That was confusing. Neither of us knew the rules. They kicked the ball, they tackled like rugby, they threw the ball, they punched the ball, they punched each other and it was all very confusing but thoroughly entertaining. We checked out the next morning and continued along the Great Ocean Road, setting midday as our cut off point – anything we hadn’t seen by then we wouldn’t see at all. We’d turn back towards Melbourne.

Fortunately we’d seen most viewpoints along the Great Ocean Road by 11:30am so we turned back using faster, straighter, quieter roads. Suzuki Swift’s are not made for off roading but some of the roads I ended up forcing Mags to drive down in a car more suited to toy mats was a little interesting at times. We hit a point where we were both flagging a little and needed a break. We stumbled across a lovely little town called Inverleigh where we utilised the facilities and found a cute cafe which was selling iced coffee. We got one each to take out and as we walked out the door taking the first sip there was a very satisfied “ahhh” noise that we both made in unison. Safe to say that hit the spot and freshened us both up ready to get back into Melbourne, where soon enough we were faced with this thing:THAT right turn.png WHO DESIGNED THAT?! So the silver straight lines crossing over in the middle of the grid are tram lines. On the right, where the lines start to run into a different shade of grey – that’s a tram station, there was one to the left too. We’re travelling from the bottom green arrow and need to turn right. The way to do this is waiting for the green light on Elizabeth street, pulling in to the lane with the white arrow (where the red arrow is), stop there for the red light on La Trobe street and then turn into La Trobe street avoiding the La Trobe street right turn lane, the oncoming trams (which we had from both sides of La Trobe street) and the steady flow of traffic from La Trobe street going straight on. So that was fun. Or at least I think it was… Hard to tell with your eyes closed. We got rid of the car in one piece and headed back to mine to drop stuff off, have a quick change around and then do something I’ve wanted to do for years. We got a tram back into the city, headed for the Victoria Hotel where we had tickets to see Tim Vine live. One of my favourite comedians and one who Mags quite likes too! After the stress of city driving hours earlier this was just what we needed, he gave us a good laugh and a great evening. He’s still in Melbourne for the 30th International Comedy Festival here along with many other big acts playing across the city. After that we went to Federation Square to get food before heading home. After an exhausting few days we had a bit of a rest on the Saturday before heading into the city as I had a surprise planned! I’d booked tickets to take Mags up to the top of Curtin House in the middle of the city of Melbourne to watch Zoolander 2 at the open air rooftop cinema.

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Yes Mags does wear a halo

It rained but we had a great time up there. The film was good, the atmosphere was great and we had good food up there too, and cider! As it was raining we were given free ponchos and a free blanket too. So that was nice. It didn’t rain the whole time, only a little at the start, so it all worked out okay in the end. We stayed up there a little while after the film to have another drink at the rooftop bar just to relax and enjoy the atmosphere and the view  before heading home.

 

Now we come to the next day. One of my favourite memories not just of the past fortnight but one of the best times of my life. We went to Melbourne Museum in the day and that was all very civilised and very lovely, then we visited a very average looking pub which serves the best pub food in Melbourne – The Napier Hotel.

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Kangaroo Fillets at the Napier Hotel

Large on character, atmosphere, food quality and portion size it’s a wonderful place to go to eat. So we ate and we ate so much that walking was a challenge, so what would be better than to go to a gig where dancing was pretty much inevitable? We went to the Corner Hotel on Swan Street in the heart of Melbourne to watch a band called Nahko and Medicine for the People play to a sold out venue. Mags and I only got together in the summer (the European one) and at the time I’d just discovered this band and I was quite liking them. I listened to them most times when I was travelling to go and see her. She told me around November or December that Nahko were playing one show (I think) in Melbourne during the two week period that she was here, too coincidental an opportunity to pass up on. We got tickets and had something solid to look forward to for three or four months and when it finally came around it didn’t disappoint. The band themselves are Hawaiian and are made up of a drummer, an electric violinist, a trumpeter, lead singer and guitarist, acoustic guitarist and electric guitarist. Also most of them sing. They spread the message of promoting environmental care through some very enjoyable music. Their warm up act was an Indigenous Australian acoustic guitarist who also sang in an Indigenous Australian language. As Nahko sometimes switched to sing in Hawaiian, we heard music in three languages that night and loved them all. At one point the drummer and the lead singer stood up on stage together to duet, they alternated and the drummer could SING?! They sang songs which are currently in the charts in their own style, one of which Mags and I had heard a lot of and were loving together over the past week or so before the gig so that was a little surreal too. The whole night was amazing. Everyone was loving it, the crowd and the band. It was a great place to be and if the opportunity arose to watch them again I’d jump at the chance. There was a trumpet solo and an electric violin solo too. There was so much talent and energy on the stage – it truly was a wonderful place to be.


The next day we planned to go to Phillip Island. We had a car booked – a manual Hyundai i20. Long story short, we didn’t go to Phillip Island, Mags hates everything related to Hyundai, the police were only involved once, no one crashed and everything was okay in the end. We went to an art museum, the Shrine of Remembrance, watched a load of films, ate cookies, chocolate and ice cream and I cooked bolognese using dinosaur pasta. So it still turned out to be a good day and the next day we were travelling to SYDNEY?!

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On the plane!

So we packed, got up early the next day and off we went. Sydney is a one and a half hour flight which we spent hyper, hungry and moaned about the free food Virgin Australia provided us with – a cheese roll with lettuce and pickle. I don’t even like pickle. It was a disaster. But the flight was good and we checked into our lovely, well positioned hostel at around 3pm. We went to Darling Harbour for a bit of a walk and then headed to the Hard Rock Cafe for food. I visited Mags in Germany (where she’s doing her year abroad) before I came out to Australia and we visited a Hard Rock Cafe in Heidelberg. It was awful. I mean truly horrendous. But we had so much fun there because it was so diabolically horrific. So we wanted to go to a good one and we weren’t disappointed. We couldn’t decide on a burger so each got one the other wanted, cut them in half and had half a burger each. We can be very diplomatic sometimes. We decided to walk the meal off and ended up walking around towards Syndey Opera House. We were thinking that at any moment the Harbour Bridge was going to jump out at us and as we turned a corner, it appeared. Mags was going quiet, in awe that this is it, this is Sydney, this is Australia, she’s actually there and I’m actually there too. We approached the Harbour Bridge, getting closer to a path running underneath it alongside Sydney Harbour and we both knew that at some point we’d get a first proper glimpse at the Opera House.

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As dramatic on the outside as its performances on the inside
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Opera House selfie on the first night!

We turned the corner under the bridge and there it was, lit up dramatically against the night sky. Mags jumped with excitement and as we looked on at it suddenly the sky to the right of it was filled with fireworks. It was perfect. So perfect that neither of us managed to picture it before it was all over, but it was perfect and entirely accidental. Mags was pretty much silent from this point until the next day in shock of the moment, it was all a little surreal. We walked up to and around the Opera House before getting a train home. The next day we explored Sydney, I revisited some of the spots I went to with my parents – Milson’s Point, The Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon, we did a tour of the Opera House and even ate at the top of the tower and we loved every minute! On our last day we went to Paddy’s market and Bondi Beach – appealing to Mags’ love of the sea on one of the world’s most iconic beaches. We did spend a day in Sydney very differently to how I spent it with my family. We went on a two hour train journey to the Blue Mountains. Usually with incredible natural areas of outstanding beauty you have to work for the view. When we got off the train, we caught a bus which took us to a tourist information centre, where we got off and stared straight out at this:

Not bad? By this point we’re getting quite good at being speechless.The green below is all rainforest. Not being satisfied with this and how easy it was to get to, we decided to go to the Giant Stairway which with the wonderful benefit of hindsight probably should have been a bit of a warning for what was to come really. 400 steps later and we see a sort of sign (scratch marks in the floor at a viewpoint) saying “half way”. Another 400 steps later and we’re at the bottom in the rainforest. To our great surprise it’s a view of trees. Who’d have thought, eh?2016-03-31 13.57.47 One of us was happier with our descent than the other. So we decided not to take the safe bet in going back up the way we’d come because the 800 steps we’d just done were a little tricky. So instead we followed a sign which pointed in the vague direction of Leura forest. This walk tested our entirely unsuitable footwork and took us up (and down) at least another 1000 steps over some waterfalls and around some cliffs. It was an adventure but it was absolutely beautiful.

As we neared the end of our escapade to Leura to find the train station, we saw a sign saying “track in poor condition, experienced walkers only”. It was a bit late really. The track was certainly in poor condition and we certainly are not experienced walkers but it was an adventure and Bondi Beach the next day was thoroughly appreciated for a rest.

We got the plane home to reach my flat at 1am due to a delayed flight, then showered as we hadn’t really since Bondi Beach earlier that day so got to bed at 2am. The next day was spent watching films and eating awful food including a beans on toast tea.

That was the last day.

Next was a 5:45am start to get to the airport in time for her to go. She cried whilst I tried to hold it together to help her out and then she went through to security and I left her walking back through the airport and burst out into tears too. As you can see, they were two incredible weeks and we experienced a lot together. We had a great time and leaving hurt. Now she’s back in Germany and we’re both trying to recover and pull ourselves together to get on with it again. We still have some time left on our own incredible journey of the year abroad, some more amazing places to go with new, exciting opportunities. For the moment it’s a case of taking it one day at a time to work out how on Earth we managed this before but it’ll be okay. Last time was 5 months without seeing each other. This is ONLY 3. It could be worse. The elation of distance at Melbourne Airport International Arrivals was wonderful. The pain of international departures will remain for now. Charles Dickens said that the “pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again” and right now that joy is all that has spurred me on to write this – a thousand words longer than usual yet not one of them comes close to describing how incredible the past two weeks of my life have been.


If you stuck with this until the end you probably deserve a medal but since they’re kind of tricky to source and postage for medals would be expensive the best I can do is say a big thank you, not doing this for the good of my health you know and I drew maps and stuff! Vaguely accurately!! So thank you for reading and hopefully I’ll provide a little update for you all soon!

 

 

 

A little catch up

A little catch up

This is a little bit like going to your favourite cosy cafe somewhere to have a nice warm beverage on a cold, rainy day and just enjoying the company and the atmosphere. Except I’m in Melbourne and you’re sat staring at a screen somewhere. So really it’s nothing like that at all… But the premise is the same. When you go to a cafe it often isn’t THAT long since you’ve seen the person but just long enough to tell them about this one thing that happened to that bloke who knows a bloke two Saturdays ago at a shop you went to once. This update is exactly like that, but with more blokes.

It’s been around two weeks since I last posted after my parents and brother left to go back home. I found myself adapting pretty quickly back to the life of an exchange student here at Deakin but with some big changes to how I left it. I returned to find some odd, unfamiliar female things occupying half of the rooms in the flat who turn out to be not so much unfamiliar and more like people than things but still fairly odd I suppose (love you all). My flat now is great, everyone is really social and it feels pretty comfortable and there’s just generally a good atmosphere around the place. I could get used to living around people like this, so that’s always good. Between settling down with my new flatmates and getting to know them there has been the small matter of attending classes.

The first week if I’m completely honest felt like a waste of getting up earlier than strictly necessary in order to learn how to use a website I managed to work out on my own last trimester and to understand what the term ‘population’ means. This is not an exaggeration. So that was basically my first week of class, working out how to get around places I already knew. It was like a passer by had walked into your house and wanted to give you a tour. I understand why this was necessary, I’m not disputing that as I study two first year units. I’m disputing the decision I made to go. So far from classes I have a stand out favourite. The unit name is People’s of the World and it’s under the subject umbrella of anthropology. As someone who studies history with archaeology at university, perhaps this does not come as such a surprise. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, anthropology is the study of humans. Everything to do with humans. It isn’t the study of individuals (so it isn’t going to help you work out why so and so does such and such) it is rather the study of societies and civilisations. Every aspect of them. I’ve just survived week two and so far I think the most interesting, most intense thing we’ve looked at is the notion that humans don’t exist. There is scientific evidence to support the idea that rather than humans existing as we think they do and as everyone has just sort of bumbled along in life assuming that something like that is fixed and certain; the idea of humans existing is wrong. Completely false. We live in an environment, but are we ourselves environments occupying environments? An environment is something made up of many many different microbes occupied by different species. Somebody, somewhere was bored enough to count (I’m pretty sure a scientist sat with a microscope, his mate Darren, some beers and an abacus) and over 10’000 species occupy a ‘human’, and we are certainly made up of so many different microbes…. So what in the world are we? Then there was another small question of does reality exist? Did reality exist before these weird environments we refer to as ‘humans’ came along and played around with everything? Obviously the world was there, that hasn’t changed. But with no concept of ‘reality’ before humans, how could it have existed? After pondering this and many other questions, like yours at this moment, my head began going in circles. I’m not a scientific person (if you’re reading this and you’re mildly more scientifically inclined than I, this is probably blindingly obvious) but regardless of the accuracy of my summaries of these questions, I found it to be incredible interesting. So that’s my favourite class. The others are okay but thus far none have peaked my interest anywhere near as much as anthropology, which was perhaps to be expected. Fortunate really, as I only changed to the anthropology unit from another unit about the history of the Middle East a few weeks ago due to a class.

That’s the academic side of life taken care of for a couple of weeks. The first week was spent around the flat, I didn’t really have anyone to get out and do things with but I’ve taken steps to try to correct that. When my parents were here I missed O’ week, which is the Australian equivalent to freshers week, so although I did miss out on making friends then, I would not have had it any other way. There are always opportunities to make friends. I’ve joined the Deakin University Study Abroad Club (DUSAC) and on the facebook page I can see posts from other exchange and international students most days where they’re asking if anyone would like to go and join them in doing something that they’re doing, so I’m looking to join in fairly soon. I also recently emailed the Deakin futsal club (futsal is like football/soccer but played on a smaller court, with smaller goals, with smaller teams, where the ball is allowed to be bounced off the walls – so basically indoor football, or outdoor with a walled court) with regards to joining them soon. I’ve played futsal on the outdoor court opposite the residence building here a lot in the past couple of weeks, meeting people from Australia, America, Japan and also Middle Eastern countries such as Kuwait (and may I add commanding their respect instantly with some outstanding goals if I do say so myself) and it’s really inspired me to get involved with Deakin’s futsal club.

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Moomba Festival 2016 either side of Melbourne’s Yarra River

I know I know, it’s about time there was a picture. Last weekend I went to Moomba Festival right in the heart of Melbourne with my flatmates Stan and Kenny, who from this moment forth shall be known as THE BOYS. All in capitals. Not because they’re important, but because capitals are the only way I can get vaguely close to how loud and irritating they actually are in reality. THE BOYS are great, it’s one of those relationships (this is the part with more blokes than that one bloke that I vaguely referred to in the introduction). Moomba Festival is an annual celebration of Labour Day. I had no idea what Labour Day was but from a quick Google search just now I can tell you with confidence that Labour Day originates from the eight hour day movement, which advocates eight hours work, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest. Interestingly (or perhaps not) it’s held on different days for different states – something I did actually know. What better way to celebrate this than to hold an international water skiing competition on a river straight through the middle of what was basically an oversized funfair, with rides, prizes and everyone’s favourite terribly unhealthy foods? In the picture above behind the speed boat you can just make out a water skier, to the right of where the wake begins to fade you can just make out a thing in the water – that’s a ramp. The skiers would move from one side of the river to the other behind the boat at speed and then fly up the ramp and the height of their jump was recorded. THE BOYS and I happened to walk alongside that ramp on the river bank just as a British water skier hit it and set the record for the day. Other events were also held on the river, such as birdman rally. A competition split into two categories – competitive and fun. Competitive birdman consisted of people trying out home made contraptions and seeing how far they could fly in the air after jumping off a ramp. The fun category was aimed at the best looking, funniest entry and, well…. Here’s a video. It’s best to see for yourselves really.

I didn’t see that part. There were also parades at various times around the city. I didn’t see those either. But it was good to get out of the flat with some good company in THE BOYS and we had a good time out, which is all we wanted to do.

There is one final thing really that I’ve done which was exciting for me.

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AAMI Park pre-kick off

I went to AAMI Park to witness my first Asian Champions League match between “Not Bolton Wanderers” (Melbourne Victory) and “That team from South Korea I played a season with on FIFA once” (Suwon Bluewings) with the anticipation filling the air and a bumper crowd screaming with passion for such a game of high importance (7,000 people turned up to a stadium with a capacity of 30,000) we took our (someone else’s with a better view) seats and stared for an hour and a half at some solid South Korean defence work mixed with an incapable Melbourne Victory attacking line which of course resulted in a thrilling 0-0 draw. From the five matches I have seen Melbourne Victory play, I have still not seen a goal from open play. On the one hand I want to get a Melbourne Victory shirt. On the other hand, I don’t want to spend $100 on a shirt of a team I haven’t yet seen score a goal that isn’t a free kick or a penalty. Unless it’s Bolton but that is very different. I promise.

Tomorrow night I’m returning to AAMI Park to watch Melbourne Victory Vs Newcastle Jets, but I’m not returning with THE BOYS. By the time I have released this post into the wilderness of the internet, I will either be at the airport waiting for my girlfriend, Mags, to arrive or I will be on my way back home with her. It’s now been over five months since we last saw each other so of course tomorrow night I’m taking her to a football match. What more could a girl want to conclude her first full day in a city she’s heard so much about but seen very little of for herself? Mags is here for a couple of weeks before she heads back and my next update probably won’t feature so much of the academic side of life. If you’re the type that despises all couples everywhere, you might want to avoid the next update. I’m going to assume that there could be one or two pictures depicting two people being happy, some pictures of rocks and water and even some architecture. With two people being happy in front of it. All of it. It’s going to be horrible and I can’t wait!

I wasn’t going to write so much in this update but I suppose that’s what happens when you get knee deep in existential anthropological issues.

Thanks for reading, I look forward to providing the next instalment and I PROMISE there will be more pictures!

P.S If there are any errors in this, please accept my sincerest apologies as quite frankly I really could not be bothered proof reading today.

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list…

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list…

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls please take a seat, strap yourselves in tight and remember to keep your head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes) inside this whirlwind of a blog update at all times. I haven’t yet figured out how but I am about to talk you, the very lucky reader, through a whole month of my life including incredibly questionable revision techniques, travels in not one, not two but THREE different Australian states, visits to some of the most iconic places people around the world associate with Australia and overly detailed discussion about food all intelligently broken up with pictures (which you can click to enlarge) to please your eyes and to trick your brains into thinking there isn’t THAT much to read.

Now that I’ve appealed to roughly a fifth of my readers (thanks, mum) and put pressure on myself to actually explain all of the aforementioned (I could just delete the ones I don’t do, maybe I did?) let’s begin.

February was an incredible month. I must apologise for not updating at all during February but as I said in my last post, I simply did not have the time or the access necessary to provide an update. Going into this one I do feel like I have so much more to cover than ever before and hey, I don’t have a word limit here, I could just keep going but I know nobody wants to be faced with a wall of text. So, here’s a picture:

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Taken from the Shrine of Remembrance

On the off-chance you haven’t yet worked it out, this is me with the Melbourne skyline in the background. I’m going to begin this post (three paragraphs later) with a reminder that I am going into my second trimester here at Deakin University in Melbourne on an International Experience Placement from Bangor University in North Wales. This month I finished the first of those two trimesters, meaning that I am now half way through my incredible journey. At the beginning of this month I had two exams to sit and with the requirements given to me being what I would describe as “exceedingly achievable” my motivation was not at its highest. I had four units/modules which I was studying and two of those did not have exams and I knew I’d already done well in them and achieved the exceedingly achievable. Having received results, I can relatively exclusively reveal that I achieved 84% and 76% in those two units – Australian studies and Capitalism respectively. I scored 71% and 65% in criminology and media relations – both of which involved exams. I would tell you what grades they are but as the Australian grading system makes sense to roughly three people there’s really no point, but I’m very pleased with those. Especially when considering how much meaningful revision actually went into them. Criminology was okay in terms of preparation but the type of exam was really throwing me. I’m used to writing essays in exams, two or three per paper and that’s the exam. That’s the nature of history and archaeology. So to suddenly have to write ten definitions, 5 short answers followed by 2 essays all in 2 hours was something of a challenge to me but one that I clearly rose to. Media relations was a completely different story. Eighty multiple questions followed by two short answer questions… So of course I worked out I needed to get 23 multiple choice questions right to pass the unit and once I worked that out that was the rest of my dwindling motivation gone. I read some conclusion chapters from a text book that was one edition earlier than the recommended text book then proceeded to revise social networking by talking to my friends on the internet. As Einstein said, “Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.” and who am I to argue with Einstein? And he must have been right because I passed fairly comfortably in the end.

I can’t say I particularly recommend this approach. After all, everyone learns differently…

The end of trimester three does unfortunately mean that my lovely lovely German friends (and even some of the British ones) have returned home.

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Germans departure means less of this

This leaves me with a grand total of five friends in the Southern Hemisphere at present but I see this as an exciting opportunity to throw myself out there at opportunities once again to meet some more people. It was sad saying goodbyes particularly to Sarah, Julia and Ben for who knows how long? But I know I’ll likely see them again and I have so many wonderful memories with them.

I know that those of you who have been following my adventure out here and keeping up with me elsewhere or keeping up with my family will know that the past 780 words have been not at all what you’re looking for. Which is why I put it at the start. As many of you know, my parents and my little brother came over to visit me and it was an incredibly enjoyable three weeks and I know we all had a wonderful time. I could write a lot about our time over the past few weeks but…. Actually, no. I’m going to write a lot. “How was your time away?” “It was really nice thanks” doesn’t quite cut it with our trip, I think it deserves more than that.

So, at risk of déjà vu and maybe 6 and a bit paragraphs later, I’m going to start at the beginning. Melbourne. The most liveable city in the world. Much of what we did I’ve already done and already written about – we did Phillip Island, travelled on trams with ease around the city, went to a free outdoor concert performed by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, they did a walking tour and visited Melbourne Museum whilst I sat an exam, we visited the Shrine of Remembrance, Federation Square, Docklands, Fitzroy and St. Kilda amongst other places. The city of Melbourne and it’s nearby areas treated us well. If you want to know more about Melbourne, my other posts will go into more detail. Whilst they were here we did things I hadn’t done before here such as do a tour of the MCG and a tour of Parliament House. Parliament House was made much more interesting by the tour guide who was so full of life and knowledge it almost felt as though the walls of the building itself were talking to us about the past events which had taken place and what they’re used for.

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‘Bogan Burger’ at The Napier Hotel, Fitzroy.

I apologise for the lighting in this picture but you get the idea. I did promise overly detailed discussion about food and there’s a picture of food here so here comes the discussion. This burger was not food, it was art. This masterpiece consisted of two steak fillets, two rashers of bacon, a fried egg, beetroot, cheese, pineapple, hashbrown and a potato cake sandwiched between two floury bread buns served with thick potato wedges and some salad. If you look at the size of the plate and try and mentally compare that to my head that gives you a vague idea of just how big that thing was. I ate most of it, finished the beer and could walk at a normal pace the next day. From memory, Dad had a kangaroo fillet and mum and Simon both went for paella. I think. Magnificent food.

We flew from Melbourne up to Sydney in the state of New South Wales where we visited some of the most iconic sites in Australia.

We took a tour of the Sydney Opera House, we walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, we spent hours at Bondi beach taking a beating from nature as she hit us with wave after wave letting us bob around in the water with many others, we caught a firework display at Darling Harbour where ‘Love month’ was being celebrated, we saw stunning sunsets, we visited Paddy’s market where they had everything from authentic kangaroo testicle bottle openers to massage parlours, we travelled on buses, trains and ferries, Simon tried to eat an ice cream (he get it up his nose, over both hands and pretty much everywhere in between) and we even had a meal up the Sydney Sky Tower. That was posh. The Napier Hotel was better and it’s put dad off towers in a non grumpy way because he’s given grump up for lent.

For just £250 per person (ish) you can climb one of the Sydney Harbour Bridge arches but why do that when you can walk along the path and then simply walk up about 200 steps up a pylon for around $10 per person to get the same views and save a few hours? Top travel tip there.

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View from the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon

The Sydney Opera House tour was good. The Opera House is a result of a competition to design it. The bloke who won the thing (I think he was Danish) had no idea how to physically construct it and a lot of time was taken once he’d won the competition to work out how to build the thing but it was still built quicker than Pontio. Pontio isn’t even pointy. Less glamorously than the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge was constructed by the same company from Middlesbrough who constructed the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle – Dorman Long. I have now ran out of facts I know from the top of my head that are relevant. The other iconic spot we visited in Sydney – Bondi beach, was just wonderful. The sand was perfect and the water was just the right temperature when we went. Sort of like when you’ve been in the bath a while and you feel the water start to go cold but it still feels nice…. Okay so it was nothing like that. But it was nice. After a cooling break from the hot weather in the sea we walked along the coast before getting across to Bronte beach. The water there was different to Bondi in that it was relentless. Big, strong, powerful waves hitting every maybe 15 seconds or less, leaving you tired and clinging onto your shorts for fear of a potentially embarrassing malfunction. Public transport in Sydney was pretty easy to use. Ferries were included in Sydney’s public transport system and like Melbourne’s MyKi system, Sydney uses Opal to be used on trams (not as good as Melbourne’s trams), buses, certain ferries and trains. There was something exciting about catching a ferry which was part of a public transport network and the ferries helped us get out to Watson’s Bay for the sunset behind the Sydney skyline as well as to some other beaches.

Apparently fireworks in Sydney are quite frequent, and when we were there there happened to be a display one night at Darling Harbour as part of the ‘Love month’ celebrations which were largely taking place at the harbour. Earlier in our visit we had visited Darling Harbour to find a huge buzz around the place with boat races on the harbour. We went to the tourist information centre nearby to find a Welshman working there making him the second Welsh person I have met whilst out here in Australia.

Next up was Adelaide. We flew from Sydney over to Adelaide which took around 2 hours. We picked up our luggage and Konstantinos the taxi driver took us to the hotel. We actually found it a little difficult to find things to do in Adelaide so ended up visiting the South Australian Museum which was incredibly interesting. The museum held artefacts about settlement, the aboriginal way of life and other lifestyles and cultures from other islands such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea. After that we struggled. We looked around some shops and walked along the river. The Fringe Festival was in Adelaide though and the buskers lining the streets were often people who were performing at the festival at a later date trying to draw in a larger audience and work for some extra money. We listened and watched to a few of these performers but one Canadian lady stood out. We’d found ourselves a comedy show in the middle of a closed road and everyone who watched cried from laughing, it was great fun.

We made a short walk from there to look at the Adelaide Fringe Illuminations which looked great and each display on each building had a different theme. They were displayed onto a couple of museums and the university, too.

We picked up a hire car in Adelaide and drove across to Kangaroo Island which quite simply, was stunning.

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View from Prospect Hill, Kangaroo Island

The island itself was beautiful and we saw wild kangaroos, wallabies, koala bears and various species of seal. It was amazing.

We had a couple of days there taking in all of the sights the whole time being followed by a tour bus and a grumpy elderly couple. Kangaroo Island was incredible – we all agreed it was a particular highlight of the time we all had together and it’s somewhere I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to visit had my family not decided to come and spend time here, so I feel very lucky indeed for that reason.

We left Kangaroo Island to go and spend a night in Victor Harbour where we simply got food and Simon and I had a swim in the hotel with the pool, jacuzzi and sauna all to ourselves which was lovely. We left Victor Harbour the next day to drive down to Mount Gambier. There were some amazing salt flats on the way which used to be lakes so they were interesting but that was the only interesting thing of note. Literally the only thing. Unless you’re particularly interested in fields, straight roads and have a hatred of all civilisation everywhere ever. If that’s the case then Victor Harbour to Mount Gambier is the drive for you! The next day we drove from Mount Gambier to Port Fairy after seeing the Blue Lake and a Sinkhole garden at Mount Gambier. The Blue Lake was a lake that was blue. The Sinkhole garden was a garden situated at the base of a sinkhole. Hope I’m not wasting anyone’s time here. From Port Fairy we drove down to Apollo Bay. This was the exciting part and the whole point of all of this driving.

The Great Ocean Road. It was a stunning drive taking in iconic rock formations such as The Twelve Apostles (or at least the seven that remain due to erosion breaking up the others), The Arch, The Razorback, London Bridge, Thunder Cave and that other one…. The name of which escapes me. I have been looking forward to doing the Great Ocean Road for so long and it really did not disappoint and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have finally gone. From Port Fairy we continued along the Great Ocean Road taking in some of these sights before spending the night at Apollo Bay and travelling back to Melbourne.

I had missed the city of Melbourne whilst travelling around. It’s such a lively city it’s hard not to. To get food that evening in Melbourne we walked down two streets and came across a silent disco walking tour, a wonderful atmosphere around Chinatown with the Chinese lanterns lit up, a fitness instructor up on a stage with a crowd of passers by joining in her routine and being encouraged to bump bottoms with the person next to them as well as a salsa dancing class on Federation Square amongst buskers oozing talent along the way. As we walked back I couldn’t help but think that as much as I’m going to miss my family, I’m not ready to leave this wonderful city just yet. Saying goodbyes wasn’t enjoyable but there’s plenty to look forward to. I find it amazing that although I’ve done so much I’ve still only covered that small corner of Australia. How much more of that map I can cover remains to be seen!

I’m hoping to update this blog one more time this month and then my girlfriend is here and we’re heading up to Sydney for a few days in the time she’s in this part of the world. It’s currently 26 degrees in my room and my family have just returned home to -1. I think I’ll stay here for a bit until Britain decides to warm up a bit, that seems like the sensible thing to do.

I’ll be writing again here soon, thanks for reading!