The Travel Blog That Wasn’t – Australia part 3 (January 2011)

2011 got off to a good start, and I didn’t have much of a hangover whenever I got up on New Year’s Day.  I almost left out of my last post that at the very end of December, I met up with a Twitter-friend from LA who was in town for the month and when to the Marina & The Diamonds concert.  It reminded me of how much I love live music, and love exploring new (to me) artists.  I already had a ticket to the Matthew Barber concert the next week, and this show solidified that reminder.  Sadly, I spent most of the rest of the year saying to myself “I should really go see a random concert again” and rarely ever did!

January was spent almost entirely in exploring and travelling. I recently caught up on some bookkeeping and realised I earned literally zero revenue in January 2011.  It was worth it.

Soon after the new year, I spent a day visiting Josh at his parents’ place up in the Central Coast, a nice break from the hustle & bustle of the city.  I also finally made trips to Bondi and Manly beaches, both of which I’d been to before (when I visited in 2009) but for some reason hadn’t gone to since returning to Sydney.  And as mentioned, I went to the Matthew Barber concert, where I met a fellow Canadian (Marni) who had been in Australia for a while.  We totally hit it off (after she very kindly insisted that I stop being a loner with my nose buried in my mobile while waiting for the show to start and talk to her and her friends) and when I was actually back in Sydney for longer than a week we got to hang out again while we were both in town.  The venue, as an aside, was called Raval and was actually a really great space — very intimate venue, with vintage leather furniture for watching the show, it felt like watching a concert in your living room.  I wish I’d gone back – I kept saying I would, and never did.  I also got another visit or two with Michael (from LA) in before I headed out to travel again and he headed home.

Anyway, my first destination in the new year was Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.  Adelaide is the punchline to a lot of Australian jokes, but I never figured out why.  I really, really, liked Adelaide – it took my heart.  I immediately loved its architecture – the city seems to have developed slowly over the years, so it has the best of every era.  Everything from colonial to Victorian to Art Deco and modern skyscraper – and they all seem to have been built with design in mind.  Of course, I like buildings that are stark, and bright, which is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I was thrilled.

Bank of SA buildingAdelaide Arcade

And then there was the tram! Modern, sleek, with grassed-over tracks, and free through most of the CBD! I have a thing for light rail, so when I saw this roll by I was just thrilled!
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I really spent most of my time in Adelaide just wandering the city, around Rundle Mall and the various other CBD streets, along with the obligatory museum and art gallery visits.  I recall the museum’s distinctive feature being a gallery full of artifacts from tribal Pacific islanders, including far more human heads than I was expecting to see.  I also paid a visit to the somewhat-overrated Migration Museum, and the pleasant botanic gardens.  But really, I was just loving being out in the city and the people! Such a joy.
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In the middle of my visit, I was booked on a two-day tour to Kangaroo Island… for some reason I decided to keep my room in my budget hotel in Adelaide (the dodgiest accommodation I’ve ever stayed in — getting into one’s room in the evening involved walking through the owner’s bedroom) on the trip, but can’t figure out why I did that.  Anyway, Kangaroo Island (just off the South coast of South Australia) was one of the biggest highlights of my time in Australia.

It’s a long two days.  The tour leaves Adelaide first thing in the morning on coach buses (along with numerous other tours) for the ferry, which takes you over to the island itself where you meet up with your actual tour.  Our tour was run by a local (most of the tours there are), who also happened to be a farmer on the island.  They cram a lot into the tour, but in those two days we saw a sheep-shearing demonstration, visited a eucalyptus farm, saw Australian sea lions lying in large groups on a beach, New Zealand fur seals on rocks near the coast, koalas in a few different spots, pelicans, an echidna hiding on the side of the road, and of course countless kangaroos and wallabies.  The accommodation we had for the one night we were on the island was a very modern bunkhouse on a private lot in the middle of the island, and there were kangaroos everywhere you looked.  I went for a bike ride with one of the bikes they offered and was reminded of how long it had been since I’d been on one!  The trip also included various beach stops, a visit to Remarkable Rocks (which actually live up to their name), and a stop for sandboarding on a large sand dune (a lot of fun, except for the climbing back up the dune part… and the sand in everything you have on at the end!)  Kangaroo Island is, in my view, one of the most underrated destinations in Australia and absolutely worth a visit.
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The whole time I was on the island, we were hearing bits and pieces of news about the floods in Queensland.  By this time, there were bushfires in Western Australia, floods in Queensland and Victoria, and apparently plagues of locusts in South Australia, though I never saw any.  I had a trip scheduled to Brisbane and the Gold Coast (the plan was to fly into Brisbane, take the train to the Gold Coast, and fly back to Sydney from the Gold Coast) less than a week later.  Once I got back to Adelaide, I was able to actually assess the situation – and realised that trip was not going to happen as planned.  Brisbane was flooded.  Not just a little wet, but full on flooded.  And there was a cyclone on the way to make things much, much, worse.  Fortunately, Hotels.com.au had a 100% refund policy, and JetStar was offering full refunds or flight changes, so I just had them change my flight to take me direct to the Gold Coast for the day I was planning to be there anyway, and I deferred the trip to Brisbane indefinitely.

I had another full day in Adelaide once I got back from Kangaroo Island, and then I headed back to Sydney.  In the end, gaining an extra day or two in Sydney was good — I was exhausted from a great trip in South Australia, and had originally only planned a day or so in between (which included one night where I had tickets to see Owen Pallett at Sydney Festival – somehow I saw more Canadians perform in Australia than Australians!), so I had time to rest, do laundry, and get caught up.

I still made the trip to the Gold Coast.  Remarkably, despite being less than 100km away from Brisbane and the devastation that was going on there, everything in the Gold Coast was proceeding as normal — there was no evidence of anything being amiss whatsoever, and the floods really only came up when the news was on.

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I liked the Gold Coast… but only a little bit.  It’s a really big tourist destination, and it shows… the main suburb there is called “Surfers Paradise,” and the main attraction of the area is obviously the beach.  Interestingly, while the beach is stunning, and has amazing weather year-round, it’s not a very good place for surfing.  Despite that, I did the “when in Rome” thing and booked on a surfing lesson, which I really enjoyed but the rip was far too strong for it to be all that great.  I also learned that I have virtually no pectoral muscles!  I was sore for weeks after!

I don’t have much to say about the Gold Coast really – I tried to relax while I was there and remember that that’s what there is to do there — take it easy — but I really struggled with just relaxing.  I don’t know why – I got really restless.  I did the tourist things while I was there to occupy some of the time — a trip up to the top of Q1, a visit to Infinity, and lots of eating — but grew weary.  Thankfully, I didn’t spent much time there, and the weekend that I had there was still enjoyable.  The only description I can come up with for the area is Las Vegas meets Niagara Falls, with a beach and much more unsustainable development.  I remember commenting at one point that it might be nice, when it’s finished — virtually everything was under construction, and there were massive new towers going up all over.  And I didn’t even get to the amusement parks!

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I got back to Sydney just in time for Australia Day.  Australia Day puts every Canada Day event I’ve ever experienced (combined!) to shame.  I blocked the day off in my calendar so I could go out and see what there was to see, but didn’t expect to find so much!  The day started with a 21-gun salute off Mrs Macquarie’s Point, which I stumbled across on my way to the Ferrython (a race of the Sydney Ferries), which I never ended up making it to.  I got through the gardens and into the city, to discover that a vast number of CBD streets were closed to traffic for the day.  In the place of the angry commuters and hurried shoppers were classic cars and buses, and innumerable people waving little Australian flags (I still have mine, which was handed to me by a little Asian lady who had a big stack of them).

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I arrived in Hyde Park just in time for a citizenship ceremony.  There were Canadians amongst those being given citizenship.  This was probably one of the first times I ever gave real consideration to staying in Australia longer, and I immediately decided that if I were to stay on a more permanent basis that I would work towards gaining citizenship.  It was also the first time I’d heard the Australian national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, while in the country.  It’s a really, really, long anthem, and apparently I only heard about 2/3rds of it as some of the verses are traditionally left out.  It’s nice, though!

This ceremony was also a really pleasant reminder of something I’d been made aware of at the Australian Museum of Democracy in Canberra: Sydney was, at the time, represented at all levels by women.  The ceremony was officiated by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, and several of the at-large city councillors in Sydney were also women.  Anomalously, she’s also the State MP.  The state government was represented by Premier Kristina Kenneally (who was soon delivered a severe loss in the state election in March), and the federal government was represented by Tanya Plibersek, MP (who serves in the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard).  At the time I left Toronto, all these equivalents were men: City Councillor Kyle Rae, Mayor David Miller, MPP Glen Murray, Premier Dalton McGuinty, MP Bob Rae, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  It was refreshing to see women in these roles and to have it be perfectly normal.

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Anyways, back to Australia Day.  Since the NSW Parliament obviously wasn’t sitting for the day, it was having a big open house where you could go in and explore its chambers and rooms for free.  I wandered through there for a while, and then wandered up to Circular Quay where I discovered a viewing platform in the OPT I hadn’t know about before.  I spent much of the rest of the day just wandering amongst the crowds of people, and eventually met up with a Twitter friend, Damien, for the first time.  Interestingly, we met through a mutual Twitter follow from Canada who had been in town while I was on the Gold Coast, and I’ve still never met!  We hung out for a while, had dinner, and took in the fireworks at Darling Harbour before calling it a night.  It was really a remarkable day and a glimpse into the pride Australians have for their country.

The camera could not do justice to the beauty of tonight's fog.

I headed to Perth at the end of January, but I’ll save that for the next entry!

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2 responses to this post.

  1. My wife and I went on a luxury holiday to Australia last year during Austrlia’s summer in January. We chose to visit all the major cities Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide. We were both very impressed with everywhere we went in Australia and the experiences that we had, but my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Adelaide, and thought it was the nicest city that we visited during out time in Australia. If we could only go back to one place in Australia it would be Adelaide. Thank you for sharing a great post, the pictures remind me of our amazing Australian adventure.

    Reply

  2. […] The Travel Blog That Wasn’t – Australia part 3 (January 2011) […]

    Reply

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