One of my favourite things about being in Charleville was the incredible, enveloping darkness that I noticed from the very first moment I pulled up in town. Living in Darwin CBD, I never really experienced the darkness of the outback, I was always surrounded by streetlights and only ever really noticed the darkness when I went running alone at night. But nothing compares to standing out in the street in Charleville alone after dark, there are barely any streetlights and you can't even see your hand in front of your face. I've never experienced a darkness like it. It's unnerving at first, and then you start to adapt, you get used to walking the same paths without any lights, you start to make out familiar shapes. One of my favourite times to be outside was when I would arrive home late, either from a friend's house or the pub, and I would hop out of the car at my place. As they pulled away I would always stop for a second to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, then I would look up at a sight that would always take my breath away. The stars here are the brightest, the clearest, and the easily the most beautiful I have ever seen. I cursed the fact that I didn't have a good enough camera to capture their beauty on several occasions, but was certain that even the best cameras in the world would not do justice to the sight.I was lucky enough to have a great friend - one of many - while I was in town, someone who kept me sane on more than one occasion and made me feel so welcome from the beginning. He loved the stars and had his own telescope, so we went out a few times while I was in town and parked up in a field in the middle of nowhere to get away from the lights and take a closer look. Those nights spent lying in the back of a truck watching as one arm of the Milky Way moved across the night sky were easily my favourite time in the town. Spending nights losing count of all the shooting stars we spotted and zooming in on different constellations - those are the moments I know I'll remember the most from my time in Charleville. Even better, it was great to be with someone who knew about the stars and could tell me about them. I remember the first time we went out and I managed to capture the amazing picture of the moon through the telescope - I couldn't believe how beautiful it looked that night and I'm glad I appreciated it then because another time when we went out at the full moon it was so bright it outshone so many of the stars in the night sky.While I was in Charleville, what was probably one of the most random coincidences I have ever experienced happened. An English friend I met while in Thailand and travelled with through Laos suddenly showed up in town. It turned out the solar power company he worked for sent him all over the country, he had just been in New South Wales the previous week and now he had turned up in my tiny outback town! I couldn't have been more surprised to suddenly hear from him, especially when he dropped the bombshell that he was in town with his friend and colleague, JP. It came at a perfect time - the halfway point through my three months and I was struggling to stay sane in this town. Seeing Paul and getting to catch up with a fellow backpacker was just the tonic I needed to show me why I was here doing this three months - so I could spend another year with people like him. Of course, we had to celebrate being reunited and how better than with steaks and wine?! We had a fantastic weekend together catching up, we went swimming at the river and even squeezed in a visit to the town's Cosmos Centre and Observatory.The three of us went along on our final night together ready for a night of stargazing - we weren't disappointed. After we were shown a short movie about the observatory and how it was created, we headed straight out to a specially-built building with a retractable roof. It was very impressive and obviously had a lot invested into the creation of such a structure, especially considering it was housing several telescopes worth millions. The guides were fantastic - they talked to us throughout, answering any questions and telling us all about what we were seeing and lots of other information that helped us to understand the scale of what we were seeing. We focused on the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius HR 2491 which is also known as the Dog Star, before taking a look at The Great Orion Nebula in the sword of Orion, both beautiful and completely different to look at. We also took a look at open cluster M41, a binary star system called Almaak with orange and blue stars, before finishing with the second largest globular cluster in the night sky - Tuncana 47. Now this won't mean much to most of you - but I can tell you it was a pretty spectacular collection of stars and a real range. They were beautiful. The only thing I was a bit disappointed by was at that point all the planets were below the horizon so we didn't get to see any, sadly they only started to appear as I left so I missed them completely. But to be honest, the stars were just that stunning that I wasn't really that bothered. If you happen to find yourself passing through Charleville, I would definitely recommend a visit to the Observatory - it's truly out of this world.
Where is the best place you've stargazed? Have you randomly bumped into a travelling friend in the middle of nowhere?
My first day in the town turned out to be an interesting one, the whole town had turned out for the Charleville Cup, a horse racing championship that took place on the same day as the Melbourne Cup. It gave me a real taste of life in the outback as I had the opportunity to meet pretty much the whole town and to see everyone dressed up to the nines. Coming from rural England, it was interesting to see the huge similarities and contrasts between that and rural Australia. Thinking back now, I was very lucky to arrive in time for the event because most of the people I met that day turned out to be some of the best friends I have made in the town. I'm so glad that I did meet them straight away because I think otherwise I could have had a bit of a lonely time in the town and might have struggled to meet as many people. I was amazed to meet a whole gang of English girls but it was great to hear some familiar accents among all the broad Queensland drawls, definitely comforting to know that there were some people who understood how nuts it is for an English girl to find herself living and working in the outback like this. The day was filled with horse-racing, fashion shows, betting and drinking, and was a great welcome to the town, I think better than any day I have been here, that one really summed up what my life would be like for the next three months.I'll be honest and say it took a few weeks to really adapt to the slower pace of life in Charleville after the last few months in Darwin, it took me a little while to realise there would be a lot more empty time spent here. Instead of spending my nights dancing my heart out and partying, I would exchange for a life of lazy mornings spent sleeping in, afternoon workouts at the gym followed by quiet nights in front of the TV. It was a shock to the system and to start with I couldn't cope with how bored I was, it seemed such a waste of time to relax but once I got over the shock I realised it was exactly what my body needed. I started to really enjoy having a break and pushing myself at the gym to get healthy and fit again - I'm probably now in the best shape I have been since travelling because I've been determined to get fit. I've taken the time to do other things I enjoy like cooking in a real kitchen, instead of a pathetic hostel offering, I've been reading and lazing by the pool. I've still missed a lot about my old life but knowing it was just for a short time gave me the motivation to make the most of it instead of fighting against it.Don't think for a second that means there is nothing to do in Charleville - it's just different. One of our favourite things to do was to get out of the town and head to the Ward, a part of the Warrego River where you can swim. On weekends you'll go there and often see groups who take boats and jet skis up there - I never thought I'd be seeing people riding jet skis in the outback that's for sure! It's lovely and I remember the first time I went up there, we stayed floating around in the muddy water at sunset, chatting away while I watched kangaroos hopping up the banks of the river while horses drank further downstream. I went several times after that and one friend even made me jump off the bridge - I lost my sunglasses but totally worth it! For some it might be a muddy river with huge fish that jump out of the water, but for me it was a taste of the real Australia - a side that even many Australian haven't seen for themselves. I got to see how these people had grown up and to experience, if only for a little while, how they live. That's what travelling is all about, experiencing other cultures, other ways of living, and throwing yourself in the deep end to experience it for yourself.Don't worry, I wasn't totally sober and devoid of nights out for the last three months, we still went out every weekend for drinks at the pub or parties at the Bowls Club or one of the houses in town. There was something going on most weekends if you knew the right people and luckily I did, it meant I always had something to look forward to each week and that the weekends flew by! The nightlife may not have been particularly buzzing, but there was a good crowd to have a few drinks with and laugh a lot with each time so we had plenty of fun. I did also get to experience some pretty entertaining nights including a Bachelor and Bachelorette Auction to raise money for a sports team - everyone was hilariously drunk and bidding on the brave would who had got up on stage. There were also great parties over Christmas including the annual Boxing Day party which had a huge turnout and was a great night filled with dancing and lots of drinking games. And of course, just a week ago I was celebrating Australia Day with a barbecue, pool party and drinks with friends - so I'd say I've done pretty well over the last few months.
Have you spent time in the outback? Where did you find yourself? How was your experience?
The final East Coast trip I will write about was sadly a bit of a disappointment. We were kind of expecting it so it wasn't a big shock, but when we booked the trip we hadn't really known much about it. Cape Tribulation was sold to us as being a chance to get closer to nature and see the rainforest and national parks in all their glory, it was sold to us as a completely different experience to all other trips on the East Coast and not one to be missed. Well, I'm sorry to say it but I think it was one that could easily have been missed out on. I spent most of the day feeling like I was on a school trip being lectured with fact after fact instead of somewhere I could really experience. Don't get me wrong, I love visiting national parks and forests - I actually prefer that kind of trip a lot of the time, but I just didn't feel we really had an opportunity to get much farther than the footpath. Nothing felt very wild about the trip, it was all so safe and so controlled. The trip cost around $187 but I really don't think it was worth that - I would much rather have kept the money and used it to hire a car for the day to go with friends.
We started off early on a long drive out to World Heritage listed Mossman Gorge which was probably my favourite part of the day - I loved the setting, it was beautiful and great to start the day with a swim, even if the water was a bit cold! It was nice to have the chance to stretch our legs after the long drive, but sadly we were on a tight schedule and didn't stay there very long.just before we had headed down to the gorge we were welcomed to the visitor's centre by an Indigenous guide who told us about the history of the area and the Ku Ku Yulanji people who inhabit the region. It was really interesting to hear about the beliefs and the traditions of these people as I hadn't yet had much of an opportunity to learn much about the indigenous population other than those I had seen drunk in the streets. It was so lovely to be welcomed be someone who had grown up in the community from which these beliefs came. After we were finished at the gorge, we went down to the Daintree River where we were taken out on a cruise to spot crocodiles and any other wildlife along the banks. It was nice to see a different landscape for a bit, but I have to admit we were pretty bored on the boat, there were just a few things spotted - some birds and two tiny crocs that looked more like big lizards to me.After the cruise, we were off for a guided walk around the forest where our guide took the opportunity to teach us all about the different plants and the history of how they came to be in this place. He talked to us all about how the landscape emerged and how the ocean met the jungle causing mangroves - it was interesting but it did feel like I was in a lecture for university. Filled to the brim with knowledge, we headed to Cape Tribulation for lunch and to head down the boardwalk to see for ourselves where the coral reef met the rainforest. This was beautiful. And why? Because it was the wildest and most uncontrolled part of the day - we were allowed to walk down by ourselves to discover what lay at the end of the short walk and we had free time to walk around the beach and take photos. It was lovely to not be rushed and to have time to actually appreciate what I was seeing, plus it really was beautiful. The day finished with homemade ice cream and a stop at Alexandra Lookout - an amazing viewpoint from which you can see for miles. This spectacular viewpoint offers views right across the Daintree River estuary and beyond to Snapper Island and the Coral Sea. It was a lovely note to end the day on.
I'll be honest and say that I would never do this trip again, and I wouldn't recommend it to others. While there were good points, like getting the opportunity to learn a lot about Aboriginal culture and history, I did feel like the information could have been better delivered to feel less like a lecture. It was a long day where I felt I spent a lot of time wanting more from the trip - whether it was more excitement, more freedom or less lectures. Perhaps me and that type of trip just don't go well together, but I think if I were to return to the area I would definitely want to check out the Uncle Brian's Fun, Falls and Forest tour, which according to some friends of ours was a great day of swimming in waterfalls and exploring the rainforest. Much more what I had in mind when I booked the Cape Tribulation trip. It totally depends on what type of trip you prefer, but for me, I would have preferred not to spend nearly $200 on the Cape Tribulation trip - I just feel there are ways of giving an education tour without losing the interest of your audience, and ours was definitely lost. Plus there was a real lack of getting the group to bond - we were just left to our own devices which meant a lot of people kept to themselves and barely said a word all day. I much prefer the trips that get you all involved from the start all day long and who throw facts at you but interweave them with fun, conversation and stories.
Have you been on the Cape Tribulation trip - what did you think? Did you do Daintree and Cape Tribulation by yourself - how was your experience? What kind of trips do you prefer?
This was without a doubt one of my favourite trips of the whole East Coast, sitting happily alongside Fraser Island in my memories it was one of the most unexpectedly awesome trips I have done since travelling. Why? Well, when we booked it, we were just so excited about Fraser Island, Whitsundays and all the rest that the white water rafting trip kind of fell to the back of our minds, especially since we wouldn't be doing it until the end of our travels. The backpacker/travel agent who booked our trip for us raved about the trip after she had booked it for her and a friend, she really recommended the Xtreme trip. I was naturally cynical because I figured she was mainly just trying to sell us a trip, but when else would I get a chance to try Xtreme white water rafting? It made the final cut of our plan and off we went for four weeks of fun on the East Coast, but when we reached Cairns we were getting a bit bored of trips. Not so much the trips, but the 'organised fun' with these groups when we wold have preferred to be with the friends we had already made. It sounds a bit negative, but we'd had four weeks of intensive travel-party-trip-party-repeat and we were exhausted. Plus we went on two trips in Cairns alongside this one and they were both let-downs; our Great Barrier Reef trip as you read about in my previous post, and the upcoming Cape Tribulation.I was still really excited for the trip, and a little bit nervous, but my expectations were definitely lowered after the other two. Possibly a good thing, I love when that happens and you end up having an even more amazing time because you're not expecting as much.
We had been booked in with Raging Thunder Xtreme Tully Rafting for the day - sounds epic doesn't it? The trip is priced at $225, but again our price went down as part of booking a larger package. This included pick up from the hostel, a full day raft adventure plus all equipment, you can go from Cairns or Mission Beach, lunch, small groups of six and only about four boats, and lots of other adventures along the way like swimming through rapids, cliff jumping and raft surfing. The guys who ran the trip were brilliant, they were so much fun and really got us all enthused for what we were about to do - each group took it in turns to face along parts of the river and take on tricky areas while the others watched how they would handle it and who would fall in first. The whole day is set against the magnificent backdrop of the Tully River - and trust me, you couldn't feel further from the East Coast. We were lucky and the weather was perfect, just warm enough to dry you off after fall in the water, but cool enough that we weren't getting burnt to a crisp.I won't talk too much about what you do throughout the day because I loved that I had no idea what was coming next around each corner, but I will say this: without a shadow of a doubt, you should choose to do the Xtreme Tully Rafting. Unless you happen to be a really weak swimmer, you will want to experience this. It is scary in places but only because it gives you a chance to conquer fears of jumping from high places, swimming in rushing water and the like, while in as safe an environment as possible. The guides are great at giving advice and talking you through every step, but they also won't let you wuss out or take the easy route. I had done some cliff diving and rapid swimming back in Vietnam but after I injured myself doing it, it did make me a little nervous. But I was more than game for this, you couldn't hold me back from throwing myself off the highest points, diving into the rapid water and sliding around in the raft with the rest of my group. We had a great group and some hilarious moments including one when our guide played a trick on one of the guys and tipped the boat so it flooded on his side - we were all in hysterics while he was screaming in panic.
My favourite part? It had to be when we would go through the large sections where we had to all work together to navigate through the rocks jutting out across the water. It was brilliant fun and we all felt awesome after making it through first time on most of them - although there was a funny one were we all got stuck on a rock and had to climb off the boat to get it free. We made some good friends on the trip and had the best day - we went straight back to the hostel and raved about it to all of our friends who actually booked on to it the following week and said it was amazing! After trying white water rafting for the first time, I can say I am definitely going to be doing that again - it's such a fun adventure day out, a great adrenalin rush and a fantastic workout - we were exhausted after a day on the river. Plus it's so nice to see a different landscape to all those beaches, seeing mountains and river was just so refreshing. It was nice to be reminded that there is something in Queensland other than ocean and dust! Top tips for this trip: wear shorts not just swimwear and don't worry about a camera, you don't have a chance to take photos and they'll do it for you.
Have you been white water rafting? Where did you go and would you recommend it? Have you done this trip - what did you think? What was your favourite East Coast adventure?
After an epic four weeks of travelling up the East Coast - taking in the stunning sights of Fraser Island, Whitsundays, Magnetic Island, traipsing through the national park in Noosa and kayaking across Byron Bay, we were more than ready for the final stop on our tour. Cairns is one that everyone talks about and we were excited to see what it would have to offer - if our previous stops were anything to go by it was going to be pretty amazing! More than anything, we were looking forward to the huge reunion we would have with all of our friends we had met along the way - with countless more stops along the East Coast route, we'd lost some friends to places like 1770 and Mission Beach, but we were all due to arrive in Cairns during the same week. When you've got a huge week like this planned, it's important to have a good hostel ready and waiting for you, and in Cairns there's only one that people talk about - Gilligan's! Owned by Base Backpackers, the super-hostel is a multi-level hostel with rooms ranging from four to ten bed, each boasting en suite facilities with a kitchen on every level. To say it was one of the best and most impressive hostels I have stayed in was an understatement - the nightlife was great, the location was perfect being right in the middle of Cairns, it was the cleanest hostel I have ever stayed in and there were loads of deals for those staying there including free backpacker dinners when you bought a drink each evening. We had booked in for four nights, but already planned for stay for at least a week.As soon as we arrived the reunions started, we bumped into some friends we had met down in Airlie Beach and Noosa and went for drinks and dinner. That first night there saw us joining upon the fun and games downstairs as the staff had us all playing Bogan Bingo - a hilarious game we ended up playing over a few different nights. The next few days were spent exploring Cairns - we checked out the lagoon and spent a few days sunbathing and barbecuing down there with friends, we headed out in the evenings for drinks and ended up partying in the Woolshed - another place you simply have to go. It was a blur of fun, goon and complete exhaustion - every night we partied and every day we spent the whole thing out in the sun. Between this we had trips planned including The Great Barrier Reef, Cape Tribulation and White Water Rafting Xtreme - more on these in my upcoming posts. So we were fully booked with plans and on top of this we had to find time to hang out with everyone before we all parted ways as some people flew home, others to New Zealand and others to the other side of Australia.Cairns was a great little place, as soon as you arrived it felt like you were on holiday as you could tell most of the people walking the streets were. It was full of shops, bars, restaurants and more, and the lagoon was packed with sunbathers every single day. I could understand how some people could love it and end up staying to work, but personally it wasn't somewhere I could have stayed longer - I was happy to stay for 10 days of fun with friends but that was what kept me there for so long, not the place. I found myself very aware that it was a holiday town and that people were constantly passing through - that the backpacker culture there was so transient it was less of a culture and more of a business. But that was fine with me, I had no plans to stay longer than we did and I didn't want to work in Cairns, it was just a perfect end to our East Coast trip. So where did we spend our nights? In true backpacker style, we followed the cheap drinks and food which took us to our own balcony, to Gilligan's bar, the Woolshed and Irish bar, and for one night we ended up in a bar around the corner after being offered unlimited drinks and pizza for $20 or $30 on a Sunday night. Best advice for saving money, trawl the streets and keep your eyes open for deals - these girls just passed us some leaflets as we crossed the street for that one and it was a great night!Another really great night we had in Cairns was actually one when we were bored one night and decided to go out for a drink and a walk. We were walking when we heard a load of fireworks going off and spotted the shower of stars beyond some trees, we headed over and saw that they must have been part of an event that was ongoing at the cruise terminal - naturally the journalist in me wanted to know what was going on and walked straight over. Despite it being a private and ticketed event, we waited until the doormen were distracted then snuck in to find a really lovely party going on. It was celebrating an Aboriginal art exhibition opening and how better than to do that with music, champagne, fireworks and food? We ended up checking out the exhibit which featured pieces worth tens of thousands, hobnobbed with the other guests and enjoyed some fancy foods and fine wine. It was a bit of a treat considering we had been living off scraps for the last week. It was a really refreshing change to be around that kind of event and some of the pieces of art were amazing - we ended up having a really interesting night and it was totally different to what we had been up to every other night. I love when you stumble across things like that.
Have you been to Cairns - what did you think? What was your favourite bar in town? Have you crashed any exciting events?