After over 1000km and more than 12 hours of driving over the course of a few days we finally arrived in Sydney. In England a drive of that length would take you up, across the border and into the Scottish highlands. Here in Oz though the scale is a little different and that drive barely made a dent in our overall progress up to Cairns.
But there we were, in Sydney. Ready for a few days spent staying with friends and seeing what Sydney had to offer. It was really nice to see some friendly faces from home, it was the first time in six months we'd seen anyone we knew. We chatted lots over the few days we were there, in between heading out to see Sydney.
The biggest attraction in Sydney is the Opera House, both in size and reputation, but to be honest we were both a little underwhelmed by it. It's certainly architecturally interesting but meh, once you've seen it you've seen it and you can get just as good of a view of it in a good photo!
It was interesting to see another Western city though and see how different it was to Melbourne. Where Melbourne reminded us of South Bank and other cool parts of London, Sydney was very much like the business parts of London with business people in suits outnumbering people with a normal sense of self importance. We walked around in circles a lot on our first day exploring Sydney but spent most of our time in the Botanic Gardens near the Opera House people and bird watching.
On our second night our friends suggested going out in the evening, I wondered who would babysit their kids but then it dawned on me that we would be doing that while they went out! Luckily the kids were already asleep and didn't wake up, but every noise was carefully listened to in the hope it wouldn't be a waking child that we would have to be responsible for!
Our second full day in Sydney saw us walk along the coast from Bondi beach to Coogee beach, while the 6km or so between the two might not sound like much the 30º+ heat made it more tiring than the distance would suggest. Bondi beach is Instafamous, but it's no more special than any of the other miles of beach around the coasts of Australia and they don't even let you play ball games!
We treated ourselves to halloumi burgers at Tamarama beach, a tiny little cove en route to Coogee. [Oh my goodness it was delicious, and I had to immediately text a photo to my halloumi loving friend at home! — Nikki] While eating our delicious halloumi burgers we witnessed a super awkward social interaction between a group of English girls and two German guys; a confused waitress brought over a cake for someone's birthday to the German guys who then said it was for the English girls, but the English girls didn't ask for it leaving the waitress standing there with a cake that no-one wanted until the girls eventually said they'd take it. Then two minutes later they decided that actually it wasn't theirs, which is when the German guys piped up and were like "it's a gift for you" cue slightly nervous laughter from the girls and a confused thank you. Meanwhile everyone around has also been watching and listening and I felt I was not alone in my cringing. Oh, flirting – at least I think it was an attempt at flirting, though not all that successful.
Anyway, after that people watching saga we continued on to Coogee, eventually reaching it and plonking down to wait for our friends to arrive and meet us for dinner. Our wait was not improved by a bird pooing on me, or by us getting cold enough that we had to put our beach towel over us – I thought we were in Australia! [Although, when our friends and their kids turned up we soon warmed up chasing them around the beach and had a lovely dinner and ice cream together! It turned out to be a lovely evening. — Nikki]
Saturday, our final full day, was when we met Keren. Nikki needed some new trainers after hers got wrecked while we were volunteering with Archelon and some new shorts so we headed to Westfield (yep, the same as the ones in London) for a bit of shopping because we can't get enough of shopping centres on this trip /s ("/s" meaning sarcasm). We looked around for a bit and I left Nikki to try one more shoe shop while I headed to a technology shop to look at phone holders and walked back to find her in Athlete's Foot being enthusiastically helped by Keren – who was very interesed in our travels and asked if we were Instafamous, which much to her disappointment our answer was no, not at all.
We spent our final afternoon getting the ferry from Circular Quay (the main harbour area) to an area called Manly. We sat on the beach for a while and watched one, then another person get engulfed by seagulls chasing food dropped onto the beach by clumsy fish & chip eaters. The first guy took it well, it wasn't until the seagulls were about a foot away that he finally opened his eyes and took out his headphones to find a swarm of pecking birds around him while a crowd of amused onlookers watched and he managed to stay calm and casually waft the birds away while acknowledging that he was the entertainment for about twenty people. The second person, well, they behaved more like you'd expect when being dive bombed by hungry seagulls; they shrieked and flapped much like the birds they were trying to battle away. When they realised they were the centre of attention their face stiffened and everyone but one person realised they weren't in the mood. Just one guy continued to literally point and laugh, when everyone else had the social grace to stop he continued, loudly.
We soon went and got our own fish & chips, but were much more careful to keep all our chips and had to continuously fend off overzealous seagulls. We also got rained on again. While we waited for the ferry back to Circular Quay we got ice cream from Gelatissimo in the ferry terminal and sat outside people watching. [We just can't get enough of good ice cream on our travels! - Nikki] This time the social faux pas was a woman wearing a dress so short and floaty that it blew up in the wind while she was walking along the pier to get to her party boat – which would presumably be quite windy!
We left our friends in Sydney the next day and drove another five hours up the coast to Nambucca Heads, where Nikki had booked an Airbnb place with a guy called John. John has a very unflattering photo on his Airbnb profile and to be honest it makes him look like a bit of a thug. So we were a little worried about how our stay with him would turn out but as soon as we arrived and he opened the door it was obvious he was much nicer in person – which was a relief!
We'd arrived near dinner time and were both pretty hungry and so we went in search of Woolworths, the nearest supermarket, and despite Nikki's passive-aggressive doubts over my path-finding ability across the park between John's house and Woolies we found it easily. We bought our supplies and stomped back up the hill to John's. We cooked while John's TV did it's best to deafen us as he watched some weird, almost satirical, consumer advice programs on apparently the highest volume setting known to man – with subtitles.
After dinner we were treated to a Planet Earth style spectacle as a massive group of giant bats called flying foxes swarmed outside ready to go off and feed. It took us a while to decide that they were actually bats because they were so big and our limited sightings of bats previously had all been of small bats. These things were easily approaching a one meter wingspan with a big body to match and there were hundreds, if not thousands, swirling around outside making the already darkening sky even blacker.
Nambucca Heads turned out to be a little gem of a find for a stopover. We spent just two nights with John but could have easily spent one or two more. Between the amazing bats and the gorgeous coastline which we spent our second day exploring we were really glad to have stayed there. It was also our first taste of TV in six months, though we didn't watch much at all. It also became apparent here that while we spoke the same language as the people on the TV we have very different ways of talking, this continued to be a theme throughout the rest of our trip up the coast.
If at this point you're thinking we must be super organised to plan a road trip up the whole East Cost of Australia you'd be mostly wrong. All we had planned when we turned up to Australia was that we need to be in Brisbane by the 29th of February. We then decided that we wanted to make the most of it and booked a flight down from Cairns back to Brisbane for the 27th. That gave us about a month to drive up the coast, past Brisbane and up to Cairns. Planning the almost 3000km roadtrip consisted of looking at the total distance and the number of days we had and then booking places in between that would give a reasonable drive time each day.
That's how we ended up in Nambucca Heads and that's how we found ourselves in Brunswick Heads after that. These aren't places you're likely to find in guidebooks or top places to visit lists but we were super happy to stay in both places. Our host in Brunswick Heads was a German woman called Lara, who is now Nikki's new idol. [True that, move over Kate Middleton! — Nikki] She had an incredibly stylish and simple home, she made dresses and turned up to meet us on a vintage bike having just been for a swim in the river – Lara oozed cool.
Once again we went out in search of food having arrived somewhere new and got sidetracked by exploring the small town. We could see what drew Lara here, the vibe was super relaxed and there was a river, beaches and an unfair share of cutesy cafés/shops/bakeries dotted around town. I went out in the evening to take some sunset photos and enjoyed being out in the cool of the evening just being, watching the sun set and people watching.
As if we haven't already spent enough time on the beach on this trip we spent some more time getting sandy on our second day in Brun (the local shortening of Brunswick Heads). We swam in the cool water and fended off birds that lurked in the undergrowth at the back of the beach. We both watched a group of girls arrive at the beach, have conversations we couldn't hear and make group decisions about where to go we couldn't understand. I felt like it should have had David Attenborough narrating, explaining that science doesn't yet understand the dynamics of groups of teenage girls.
We popped back to Lara's to have lunch and then headed out to find a waterfall a short drive away. We turned up at Killen Falls not expecting much given our previous waterfall experience in Australia (there was no water) but were pleasantly surprised to find a gorgeous fall in full flow. A short walk from the car park leads you through what feels like rainforest to the top of the fall where a platform gives you a good view down and over the edge. Backtrack a little and another less trodden path eventually leads you down to the bottom a little way away from the fall, the path then snakes along the edge of the river and reveals the fall itself gradually out of the tree cover.
Nikki wasn't particularly fussed by it, having seen more impressive falls in Iceland but I was left awed by it. I'd not seen such a textbook waterfall before, tall, wide and with a nice free fall. I spent some time just watching it before getting my camera out and taking a few images.
While there weren't too many people around (it was quieter than expected) I decided that I wanted to come back the next day earlier in the morning to try and get some photos free from other people. We left the waterfall after a couple of hours and headed back up to the car to eat lunch in the car park and saw a ridiculous number of Jucy campervans, it was like the Matrix was broken. We'd booked one the night before for our month in New Zealand and now we were seeing them everywhere.
We saw even more when we pulled into the car park in Byron Bay, like Bondi, is another Instafamous place and while it's got a good selection of shops and a nice beach it doesn't have anything else over any of the other beaches along the coast and to be honest we both preferred Brun.
Our early morning trip to Killen Falls the next day turned into a mid morning trip to Killen Falls and there were plenty of people already there by the time we picked our way along the river to the base of the falls. We couldn't be too disappointed though, as a bad day visiting waterfalls is still a pretty good day. We repeated the pattern of the previous day by heading back to Byron and saw even more Jucy vans. We had some time to kill before we could check into our next Airbnb so we decided to walk the roughly 4km up to the lighthouse, mostly along the road but for some of it we detoured up through the woods on the headland the lighthouse sits on. As you'd expect there were amazing views up by the lighthouse and you could see pristine beach stretching out either side of you, until the horizon. We found a bench and ate last night's dinner out of our trusty yogurt pots again.
We eventually made it back to the car and were grateful to be out of the heat and in the cooling air conditioning of our trusty Hyundai Elantra. From Byron Bay we drove back up past Brun and headed further north towards the Gold Coast.