There’s a worrying thing developing here – as I’m writing about places I visited a few weeks ago (ok, months) I’m realising that, already, I miss them! Just thinking back to the bright lights, sunshine and party of Sydney makes me want to go back (if only to catch a bus to Melbourne, a city I sadly missed out). Perhaps the fact that I’m now well and truly into the New Zealand autumn and it’s raining outside, is also bringing a longing for sun!
Anyway, back to the plot. I was really looking forward to my first journey onboard the Greyhound bus. Pretty sad I know, but having watched one too many movies, the image of the sprinting greyhound logo has a kind of mystical ’other world’ quality to it for me.
At the end of my last blog I casually mention the fact that ‘I made a note of a couple of hostels in Newcastle and headed in to Sydney to catch the bus’. This is probably not a bad thing to do if, say, you’re arriving into your destination at 9.20am – but 9.20pm? Yeah, it’s pretty bad!
I wandered the streets for a while and noticed very quickly that, the abundance of hostels I’d experienced in Sydney was clearly not replicated in a town such as Newcastle. Fortunately, I’d made a note of a couple of hostels and the street names. I found a taxi rank and got directions from a cabbie – is this the height of cheek or common sense? He directed me on what was only a short 5 minute walk so he wouldn’t have made much money out of me anyway! I found the YHA and they literally had one bed left! Result. The guy said someone had called but didn’t actually reserve it so, seeing as I was standing in front of him I could have it. BUT, it was only for one night as they were fully booked the next night. Well, at that moment, that’s all I needed in my world.
Next day, I walked down to Backpackers By The Beach (one of only 2 other hostels in town!) and they had bed in a dorm of 8. I booked in for two nights then headed back up to the YHA to have a play on the piano I’d clocked. Turns out it was royally out of tune, but I had a little blast nonetheless!
After some beach time during the day, (no swimming due to poisonous blue bottle jelly fish in the water!) I hit Newcastle town to find some nightlife and ended up in a bar called Great Northern Hotel where I found some live music. I’m so used to going out on my own now, but back then it still felt really weird. It’s such a fun thing though, you never know what’s gonna happen (if anything!). On this occasion, I got talking to some locals which resulted in me being invited into a private party in an adjoining bar for some guy who was leaving for 2 years in Scotland! They ran out of music at one point and my ipod came off the subs bench to keep the party going, very random. Turned out to be a great night, with a final fling down on the beach!
I woke up the next morning with a slight headache and checked my emails. A time bomb I’d left, ticking away at home, had gone off. This is gonna seem pretty cryptic to most but that’s just the way it is. It wasn’t an unexpected turn of events, but still it hit me pretty hard. I spiralled into a real state of sadness and just kind of wandered off aimlessly towards the town. I sat on a bench and tried to collect my thoughts. I must have sat there for maybe an hour as the world just passed me by. Eventually, I decided this was doing no good whatsoever. I dragged my lame ass back to the hostel, grabbed my bag, bought some lunch and headed off on a coastal walk.
The scenery was fantastic and the weather, even better! It was really hot and, once I’d reached the top of a seemingly endless hill, I took a break on a bench overlooking the sea for some lunch.
As I sat there enjoying the view, and giving myself the faintest slap on the back for having ‘man’d up a bit’ a car pulled up behind me. It seemed to have the noisiest, rattle-iest engine known to man. My serene contemplation was smashed. I heard the door slam, yet the engine was still offending my ears. Then came the question “is there any surf out there?”. I turned around to meet ‘Angel Alex’. I don’t know much about this girl other than her name is Alex, she is an awesome surfer and has a tattoo that says ‘Follow your heart‘. She goes to a church near Bondi beach in Sydney and, for some reason, she had decided to take a ride out to Newcastle (around 120km’s) that day to catch some waves. She sat down next to me on the bench and I offered her some of my crisps (Burger Rings!), which happened to be her favourite. She asked if she could join me and then, thankfully, turned off the engine! We sat and had some lunch, after which she asked me what I was doing (which was nothing much!) and invited me to join her for a surf. She even had a spare wetsuit and board. Even writing this down, I’m starting to wonder if it actually happened but I have a picture of her and also, she wrote in my journal so I’m confident this was not a psychotic episode triggered by emotion and the searing Australian sun!
We headed to a beach called Hunters and got in the water. The wet suit was a shorty and the board had no leash. The waves were pretty blown out and the blue bottle warning sign was up. But, I had a blast! Eventually we gave up on the whole surfing thing and just messed about in the white water. When the guy next to me got stung by a blue bottle, I decided that was my cue to lay on the beach and dry off. After the surf we took a short drive back towards town and stopped for some food. The waiter recommended the Kingfish that had been caught locally that day. It has to be the most delicious fish I ever ate! It was soooo good. Alex invited me back to Sydney with her but I didn’t want to back track. I thanked ’Angel Alex’ for everything she did that day (she even paid for the meal and wouldn’t take a penny from me!) and let her get on her way as I walked back to my hostel. She drove past me towards the highway, slowed the car and threw a bag of lollies (sweets!) for me, beeped her horn and drove off. I swear, it was like something from a movie!!!
Back at the hostel I met Ross, his girlfriend Jakki (both Englanders) and Dimitri (Belgianite). We shared a few drinks in the common area during which I was continually ribbed for being a ’flashpacker’. The only grounds for this abuse was the fact that, up until this point, I hadn’t actually used a hostel kitchen! (In all honesty, I didn’t even know they HAD these kind of facilities until I arrived in Newcastle. It turns out there was a whole other area of my hostel back in Sydney that I hadn’t even discovered!) I’d been eating out the whole time. Not as grand as it might sound, but I was yet to experience a true backpacker’s life of noodles and pasta (I‘m well versed now, no fear!). Ross, on the other hand, had an iPhone with FULL internet access at his disposal – YUPPY!
The following day I had sorted myself out and, full of beans, caught the free bus to the Blackbutt Nature Reserve. I had an awesome time hanging with the locals including kangaroos, koalas and wallabies. Seeing these guys at such close proximity only made me more determined to witness them in the wild in their natural habitat. The highlight was having an actual cuddle with an actual koala, even if it met queuing up with all the kids and their actual parents!
Following the stick I received the previous night, I decided it was perhaps time I started to cater for myself. If only to give the budget some respite as Australia was really dining out on my sterling. I ventured into the local supermarket and bought. . . . . Super Noodles!! Well, it’s a start. I also got some stuff for lunch, real showboating! I am pleased to report that the noodles were a resounding success. I expertly boiled the kettle and poured the water in to the marker line. Mamma would be proud! The evening was rounded off with a viewing of Anchorman then a dip in the ocean baths at around midnight with Ross and co, as you do. Not as daft as it might sound though as we discovered two female natives also taking a dip that night, having been out for a jog!
Next stop was Port Macquarie. Ross and Jakki were on the same bus and we’d also booked into the same hostel to continue the party! Yeah, I booked the hostel this time. No more chancing it during the high season, especially having witnessed someone sleeping with backpack in a bus stop that morning! (My mind did wonder if he was the guy who called the YHA that day but didn’t book?!!) We met up with a cute English girl on the bus, Belinda, who also happened to be booked in to the same hostel – Ozzie Pozzie. As soon as we arrived, the place felt like home. It was nice to have friends around from before, which also helped in making more friends. Soon, we had pretty much the whole hostel chatting which resulted in a damn fine party that night! I think I will stay in touch with people I met here for a long time. There’s one couple in particular, Paul and Joanne, who I should have no excuse in losing touch with – they’re from Corby! Can you believe it? My Dad always says “you can go anywhere in the world and meet people from Corby”. I remember feeling pretty stunned when we bumped into some people from Corby during a holiday to Spain, just walking down the street! But this time, I’m halfway round the world. It was pretty incredible.
There were some real characters at that hostel, including one American who claimed to be the son of Tim Allen. We had no reason to doubt him, until a couple of days after when Inspector Joanne Forbes of Corby did some Google research and outed this guy as a fraud!! Also, a special blog mention for ‘Dangerous Double Decks’ Dave the Gooner. He was your typical ‘been there done that, better than you’ type of guy. I helped shut him down a bit by kicking his ass at ping pong (one tale of his was he’d beaten the no.3 seed from the UK who was out in Aus, does that make me no.1 then?? Haha!). He was also some kind of ‘MC’, although not the hammer type. During the ‘hostel party’ he turned on some beats and started to MC over the top. To be fair to the guy, he was pretty good but everyone was making that noise you make when you’re trying to stifle a laugh – he didn’t notice cause he was ‘in the zone’. What a ledg’!
Over the next few days we played the tourist part quite well, taking in the Koala Hospital where they care for injured and sick Koalas from across Queensland and a bike ride along the Port Macquarie costal track. The bike ride didn’t last as long as we thought it might, lets just say Belinda and bikes didn’t mix.
With some time to kill after the shortened bike ride I ‘almost’ had a tattoo done! I think I will get one (I know what I want and where) but once it’s done I can’t go in the water for at least 2 weeks. In which case, Australia in the summer is NOT the place to have it done. Somehow, the failed tattoo attempt ended up in a successful back waxing event!! What is it with the holiday brain? Anyway, it hurt like HELL getting it done but I feel better on the beach now and slightly less ape like (although the chest wig survived)! I shall spare you the pictures, just in case you’re killing some moments on your lunch break!
During this lot, my mate Tommo arrived (you might remember from the cricket match?) and joined us for some party! He was ‘flashpacking’ around in a rented camper so was very welcome as head chauffeur for the gang!
We rounded off Port Macquarie with a ride out in some kayaks to try and find dolphins. It was a failed mission, but we had some fun riding the waves in the kayaks (during which I lost my flip-flops overboard!). I’d have LOVED to have seen some dolphins but as the saying goes, you can’t have your kayak and eat it – or something.
Word on the street was that some bad weather was due up north, exactly the direction we were heading. Brisbane was already suffering from flooding and Queensland in general seemed to be getting worse, not better. Most of the gang decided to abort their Aussie east coast mission. Ross and Jakki headed off to NZ, whilst Belinda flew off to meet up with friends in Tasmania. Paul and Joanne braved it though, in proper Corby tradition, as did I! It was really sad when they all left, but that’s another part of travel that I’ve gotten used to. They come, and they go. The good ones will stay in touch.
Next day I was bound for Coffs Harbour (fnarr! fnarr!). I had booked into a hostel called Hooey Mooey. I figured, I’d had such a good time at Ozzie Pozzie, that if it rhymes then I’m in! It turns out Hooey Mooey, is slang for Hotel Motel and Australian for ‘this place sucks‘. The place really DID suck. At this point, it was the worst hostel I had stayed in. It was a Motel style place, really like the ones you see in American films. It reminded me of ‘My Name is Earl’! Anyway, the pub joined on to the motel was gearing up for a serious party that night for the ‘kids’. You know, the 18-21 year old lot. I think I got old that night. Seriously, the bass was so intense that the windows of my room rattled constantly. Practically impossible to sleep. The next night was no better as my neighbours preferred sitting outside my room instead of theirs after they got back from the club.
Coffs Harbour itself was really nice but I think a mixture of the shit hostel, and being back on my own again after such a good time with friends all meant I didn’t really enjoy my time there. I had a really nice time just relaxing on the beach the first day, and there was a really cool farmers market the next day. It was nice chatting to the locals about all their stuff, although my sum total purchase was. . . . a banana!!! Haha, very nice though.
It wasn’t a hard decision to move on from Coffs. Notwithstanding the fact that the next destination was Byron Bay! I checked the Greyhound website and found I had two options, 6.25am or 5.20pm. The early option was a bit ‘ouch’ and the later one wouldn’t get me there until after 9pm. I did what any self respecting, hardened decision maker would do. I tossed a coin. Fate had a little chuckle and turned up 6.25am. I duly obliged, booked my pass and also a couple of nights in a funky looking hippy hostel called The Arts Factory. I set my alarm and hit my bunk. We continue. . . . .