Back to the Whitsundays

Returning to Airlie Beach for more time exploring the beautiful Whitsundays

It had only been a week since I wave goodbye to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays but I’d seen and done so much since, including visits to Townsville and Magnetic Island, Cairns and Tully Gorge National Park, it felt like a lifetime ago.

Yesterday, I had joined a flexi-tour traveling down Australia’s east coast from Cairns to Sydney with Loka Travel and had found myself one of just two passengers on the Tully leg of the trip.

Having survived a night of camping by Tully River, we were now on the train with our Loka guide heading south towards Proserpine, the stop for Airlie Beach. Along the way, we stopped at Townsville station where my Tully travel buddy hopped off to spend a few days on Magnetic Island. Having visited Townsville and Magnetic Island just days earlier, I was opting to continue on to spend 2 nights in Airlie Beach where despite my recent visit, there was more I wanted to see and do.

Racing across the waves with Ocean Rafting

At Townsville, we were joined by more Loka travellers who, having spent a few days on Magnetic Island, were now also heading to Airlie but I was disappointed to find the majority of them were departing on a multi-day sailing trip through the Whitsundays the next morning and no one else was signed up to the Ocean Rafting excursion I’d opted to book from the Loka website for the next day.

Despite the ‘small group’ aspect of the tour really not working out for me so far, I was hopeful that there would at least be other solo travellers on the tour the next day that I could hang out with!

It was a long journey on the train to Proserpine and once there, our guide helped us find the bus service to Airlie then check in at Base hostel. I’d opted to book a private en-suite room, feeling the last thing I’d need after a night camping would be a noisy hostel dorm but I was surprised to find I’d been allocated a large family room with double bed, bunks and small, basic kitchenette all to myself!

It was already late evening so after grabbing food from McDonalds, I had an early night to catch up on my sleep before the early start the next day.

Swimming with the fishes

The next morning, I made my way to Coral Sea Marina to check in for my Ocean Rafting tour. Despite the Camira sail boat taking us to Whitehaven Beach on my last trip to Airlie and the Whitsundays, it hadn’t taken us to Hill Inlet, part of the beach I really wanted to see so today I’d booked a tour which I knew included this stop.

At check in, I soon got talking to the few other solo travellers on the tour and we spent the day hanging out together on the boat and at Whitehaven.

A more professional Go Pro photo of a turtle!

In complete contrast to the sedate, relaxing day spent on Camira a week earlier, the Ocean Rafting tour was a lot more energetic as the boat raced across the waves, bouncing us around and leaving us hanging on tightly as we headed out past the Whitsunday Islands.

Like on the Camira sailing trip, we made a few stops before reaching Whitehaven to snorkel on the reef.

After only seeing one so far on my trip, I was really excited on the first stop to find us swimming alongside lots of huge turtles!

Arriving on Whitsunday Island to about to walk to Hill Inlet Overlook

Finally reaching Whitsunday Island just before lunch, we took a walk to Hill Inlet Lookout and it was definitely worth the wait. The view of the huge expanse of white silica sand and the turquoise ocean glistening in the sun before us was absolutely breath-taking.

From the overlook, we then followed the path down to the beach where a buffet lunch was waiting for us.

After lunch and some free time to enjoy the beach, we climbed back on board our Ocean Rafting boat to speed across the waves back to Airlie Beach.

Arriving back mid-afternoon, I spent a bit more time hanging out with the other solo travellers from the Ocean Rafting trip shopping, sat out by Airlie Lagoon and then grabbing a pizza for dinner.

That evening, I went out to the hostel bar. My Loka guide had messaged to say a north-bound Loka group was passing through Airlie so we all went for drinks and karaoke!

On a kayak tour looking for turtles

After a late night out, I was up early again the next morning for a turtle-spotting kayak tour. I had seen the activity advertised while I was in Airlie Beach a week earlier but it had been fully booked then so I’d booked well in advance to be able to do it this time around.

After checking out and storing my luggage, I was picked up from the hostel by the kayak company and dropped at Shute Harbour where I was paired up with another participant, decked out in safety gear and given a quick lesson in paddling.

Then we climbed into our kayaks to begin our adventure.

We hadn’t gone far before we saw our first turtle bobbing up to the surface and swimming past us.

Kayaking back to Airlie Beach

As we continued to kayak out towards an island we were going to dock at, we passed a few more turtles. Eventually reaching the island, we pulled our kayaks ashore and hiked the short distance to a cabin where we had drinks and biscuits. After, we were given some free time on the beach with snorkel gear provided if we wanted to swim.

Back in our kayaks, we paddled back to Airlie Beach, excited to see yet more turtles swimming near the surface along the way.

Looking back at Airlie Beach from Bicentennial Walkway, and below, views along the walkway

It had been a fun but tiring morning. I still had a few hours before we were departing Airlie Beach that evening so after grabbing lunch from a cafe, I decided to take a walk along the Bicentennial Walkway. The pathway runs along the seafront past some of Airlie’s harbours, beaches and parks and I followed it as far as the Whitsunday Shopping Centre at Cannonvale.

After a quick look around, I returned to Airlie Beach and spent some time relaxing by the lagoon before retrieving my luggage from the hostel and going to meet my Loka guide ready to continue my journey southbound.

I had loved returning to Airlie Beach and getting to do some of the things I’d not had time to fit in on my last visit but now I was looking forward to visiting somewhere new – Emu Park.

A Tully Rainforest Adventure

I’d now been in Australia a few weeks. My trip had been broken down into three parts: New Year in Sydney with some of my best friends; two weeks with one of my Trek America travel buddies travelling to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, Townsville/Magnetic Island and Cairns; and now I was about to begin the third leg, a (kinda) solo adventure, travelling back down Australia’s East Coast all the way back to Sydney.

Visiting Tully Gorge National Park

Rather than book myself onto a small-group escorted tour like I had on my previous solo-travel adventures to the USA, this time I had opted to go somewhere between escorted and completely solo backpacking with a “flexi-tour”. I chose to book with Loka Travel – part of the New Zealand Stray Travel company – as they seemed to offer a good compromise between fully escorted tours and doing it completely by myself.

They operated for small groups rather than the coach loads of rival Oz Experience, so I’d have people to travel with, using a mixture of trains and their own minibuses for transport with each leg accompanied by a tour guide. Unlike on a fully escorted tour, travellers aren’t tied down to a set itinerary but can stay on for extra days at any stop then hop onto the next tour passing through and their was a dedicated, easy-to-access booking site to reserve hostel rooms, experiences or spots on the next train/bus either in advance or as you go. As I knew I had to be back in Sydney by a certain date to make a flight, I mapped out my route in advance and pre-booked all my travel and accommodation.

The first leg of my tour would be from Cairns to Tully where the company offered an exclusive Rainforest Experience. We’d be travelling to Tully by train from Cairns station.

After meeting my guide, I was eager to find out who else I’d be travelling with only to find out that there was just one other passenger on this leg of the trip with me! I know the website said small groups but that wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind. I was told that after spending New Year in Sydney, a lot of travellers were heading north to Cairns rather than travelling in the opposite direction like I was.

It didn’t spoil our fun though. Arriving in Tully late morning, we were met by our Indigineous rainforest guide and taken to a local supermarket to pick up supplies for the evening’s BBQ meal and breakfast tomorrow before we headed to Tully Gorge National Park where we’d be setting up camp for the evening. Not being a huge fan of camping, I was glad this was a one-night experience but I tried to throw myself into it as much as possible!

That afternoon, we were taken down to Tully River where we told we would get to ‘play’ in the water. This turned out to mean body-rafting through white water rapids and, much to my initial horror, wading out to waterfalls and sliding down them, plunging into the water at the bottom like they were giant water slides! We were obviously given all the necessary safety gear – life jackets and safety-helmets – and our rainforest guide acted as lifeguard while our Loka guide demonstrated how to manoeuvre through the rapids and, despite my initial reservations, I absolutely loved the experience and had a really fun afternoon.

Back at the camp, we took a walk along a calmer section of the Tully River before returning to have a traditionally prepared BBQ meal, our chicken cooked in leaves from the rainforest. We spent the next few hours chatting and amusing ourselves with card games until it was dark enough for the final activity of the day – going on a snake hunt.

Like with the body-rafting earlier, my initial reaction to finding out what we were doing was along the lines of “We’re doing what?!” but apparently, our Indigenous guide was an expert at finding and handling wild snakes so I went along with it.

I can’t say I was disappointed though when we failed to see a single snake on our drive. It was worth the drive at least to see the beautiful star-filled sky as we pulled over on a bridge across the Tully River for one last attempt to spot a snake before returning to camp to bed down in our tents for the night.

Surviving a night in the tent without seeing a single spider or any other scary minibeast, we were up at the crack of dawn for a fry up breakfast before being led into the rainforest by our Indigenous guide for an interpretive walk.

Our guide explained to us the importance of the rainforest to the Indigenous peoples and how each parts of the trees and plants that grow there are traditionally used in Indigenous culture. It was a really interesting way to finish off our rainforest experience in Tully.

After our walk, it was time to pack up camp and load up the van as we were transported back to Tully station to await a train to our next destination. For me, this would be another visit to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays just a week on from my last stay there and I couldn’t wait to go back!

A few days in Cairns

Spending 3 days in Cairns

Having spent New Year in Sydney, I’d travelled north to Queensland to met a friend, spending time in Airlie Beach to explore the Whitsunday Islands then hopping on the Greyhound to Townsville. After a few days exploring Townsville, including a visit to the nearby Magnetic Island, we were back on the Greyhound, travelling north again, this time to the city of Cairns.

About to leave Townsville for Cairns, and below, on the way to Green Island.

After a few nights in a hotel in Townsville, we were back to hostels in Cairns, staying in a private en suite room at the Cairns Central YHA. The hostel was located opposite a shopping mall and just a short walk from the seafront so we spent the afternoon familiarising ourselves with the city, wandering down to the seafront, past the famous Cairns lagoon and shopping.

Above and below, arriving on Green Island

The next day was going to be our last day together on the trip as my friend was flying back to the UK and I would be continuing my trip, travelling south back to Sydney alone before flying to New Zealand to begin a tour of its North Island. We wanted to do something fun for the last day and had decided on a morning trip to Green Island for a spot of snorkelling followed by an afternoon at Cairns Aqua Park to tackle its giant inflatable obstacle course.

So the next morning, we were up early to walk down to the marina and catch a boat over to Green Island. We had caught the early crossing to give us plenty of snorkelling time on the island but were disappointed to find that the snorkel hire hut didn’t open to coincide with the boat’s arrivals meaning we had to waste the first 45 minutes hanging around waiting for the shutters to go up!

It was worth the wait though as once we’d hired our snorkel gear and stinger suits, we made our way to a small cove where we’d bee told we’d have a good chance of seeing turtles and within seconds of starting to snorkel, a turtle did indeed appear!

Above, spotting turtle, and below, enjoying Green Island.

We’d been hoping to see one all trip but on all our snorkeling or kayaking adventures so far had let disappointed so we were ecstatic to finally get the chance to swim along side one on our final day!

After the excitement of seeing the turtle, we spent a bit longer snorkelling in that area before making our way to a more popular beach for a bit more swimming and sunbathing before catching an early afternoon boat back across to Cairns.

After briefly going back to the hostel for a quick change and lunch, we caught a taxi to Cairns Aqua Park, just outside of the city.

At Cairns Aqua Park

The park offers awake-boarding pool with artificial waves along with an inflatable obstacle course in a large lake. After grabbing life-jackets and listening to a safety talk – during which we checked there were no crocs in the area! – we were left to attempt the obstacles ourselves, a task a lot more difficult than it looked!!

The obstacle course was a lot of fun but way more tiring than we expected. Once our time slot was up, we got a taxi back to the YHA and after freshening up, walked back into town to find somewhere to eat out for our last evening together.

First stop on the Atherton Tablelands Tour

With my friend catching an very early flight out of Cairns the next day, I awoke alone in our hostel room. Upon arriving at the hostel a few days earlier, I had made use of their in-house booking services to arrange an Atherton Tablelands small-group excursion for my day alone in Cairns so after a pancake breakfast, I waited outside for the minibus to turn up.

I always worry on these tours that I’ll be the only solo traveller but with the company aiming itself at backpackers, there were plenty of us and we had a great day all hanging out together.

Lake Barrine

The tour took us out to the rainforest where we took a short walk to see the famous Cathedral Fig Tree. This was followed by a quick photo stop at Lake Barrine before we drove out to Crater Lake.

Here, we had the chance to take a walk along the lakeside trail and take a swim in the lake before a buffet lunch.

Beautiful Crater Lake and, below, at Milla Milla Falls

After lunch we drove to Milla Milla Falls, the waterfall famous from the Peter Andre music video, where we spent some time swimming out to the waterfall and sunbathing on the shore before our penultimate stop at Dinner Falls. The last stop of the day was at the tour company’s hostel accommodation for it’s 2 and 3-day tours where we were provided with afternoon tea before heading back to Cairns.

Back at the hostel, I began packing for the next leg of my trip only for my suitcase to break.

At Dinner Falls, and below, spending the morning at Cairns Lagoon

I had passed the Cairn’s night market a few days before so decided to take a walk down in hope I could pick up a cheap case to tide me over for the rest of the trip. The busy market was definitely worth a look around with arrange of stalls selling a variety of souvenirs and other items. I found what I was looking for and dragged the case back to the hostel, stopping off to grab a pizza for dinner on the way back.

The next day, would be my final day in Cairns. I spent the morning down at Cairns Lagoon, an experience way more positive than my experience at Airlie Lagoon. The site was a lot more attractively laid out than Airlie’s lagoon, the water seemed cleaner and its temperature was a lot better.

That afternoon I had booked a white water rafting session with Raging Thunder Adventure Company out at Barron River.

Above, off to white water raft, and below, rafting on Barron River

I was picked up in a minibus along with other groups from the hostel and taken out to the company’s headquarters where we were given a safety briefing, given our safety equipment and put into groups of 6 for our rafts. As many of those taking part that afternoon had come as part of escorted tour groups like Contiki, as one of the few solo travellers, I was added to a group of five to make up the numbers.

Despite not knowing anyone else in my tour group, I had an amazing time rafting down the river. I had rafted once before, in Wyoming on my Trek America tour, and loved it then but this was way more intense and exciting with us even being asked at one point to leave the boat and body-raft through some white water.

Exhausted, I returned to the hostel that evening for a quiet night in ready to begin a new solo travel adventure early the next day.

Townsville and Magnetic Island

Our 3-night Townsville itinerary

On the Greyhound to Townsville, and below, exploring Townsville

I was a couple of weeks into a 5 week trip to Australia’s East coast and after spending New Year in Sydney, I had since spent 5 nights based in Airlie Beach to explore the Whitsunday Islands. Now we were sat on a Greyhound bus, early on a Sunday morning, making our way up the coast to Townsville. The Queensland town would be our base for the next 3 nights and we planned to spend the afternoon we arrived in the local area, then a day visiting a nearby animal sanctuary and one day visiting Magnetic Island.

We had high hopes for Townsville after reading about it being an up and coming, bustling place to visit so after checking into our hotel, we headed straight back out to see what the town had to offer.

Sculptures along Townsville seafront

We were immediately struck by how quiet it was everywhere. It was Sunday and some of the stores seemed to be closed, others about to close for the afternoon so we walked down to the seafront. Here too, there were very few people about. Passing the marina, we then followed the path alongside the waterfront passing a few sculptures dotted along the front, a large children’s play area and outdoor pool, and a small beach.

We were hoping to find somewhere to eat at but instead had to settle for an ice cream from a truck near the beach.

Walking back towards the centre, we passed the Museum of Tropical Queensland. With very little else open and feeling we’d already see a lot of the town, we decided to go in and spent the next hour looking around. The museum had some natural history exhibits and some exhibits on the history of the region and was an interesting way to spend a bit of time.

After our visit to the museum, we crossed George Roberts Bridge across Ross Creek into South Townsville, still hoping to find somewhere to eat. Finding everywhere closed or deadly quiet, we instead settled for ice cream before walking back to our hotel, spending the evening doing laundry and ordering in Dominos!

For our first full day in Townsville, we had made plans to visit Billabong Sanctuary just outside of the main town. We’d bought a ticket which included a return journey in a minibus, the driver picking us up just across the road from our hotel that morning.

At Billabong Sanctuary

I’d visited animal sanctuaries on my previous visit to Australia and getting to hang out with the kangaroos and wallabies had always been a highlight of any trip so I was excited for the day. We expected to spend the morning there and maybe be back in Townsville mid-afternoon to explore a bit more and see if it was any more alive on a Monday but our visit to the sanctuary took actually took all day and when the last minibus left a bit before the sanctuary closed, we wished we could stay a while longer!

Hugging a wombat

The sanctuary wasn’t any bigger than those I had visited in other parts of Australia but rather than leaving visitors to look around at their own pace, it offered the option of a program of animal meet and greets throughout the day. We attended most of these timetabled events which included feeding huge cassowary birds, cuddling a wombat, holding various reptiles, a talk about the crocodiles as we watched them being fed by the brave keepers and a turtle race.

Feeding a turtle

The reason we didn’t want to leave at the time of the last bus back was because it clashed with a meet and greet session with the dingoes which we would have loved to do! But we really loved that there was so much to do and there were plenty of kangaroos and wallabies to hang out with between the scheduled events!

It was worth visiting Townsville just to go to Billabong Sanctuary!

Back in Townsville, realising that there wasn’t a great deal to do for the evening, we found a local cinema and made plans to go to an evening movie screening. We again struggled to find somewhere to eat, eventually making do with a hotel restaurant just across the road which offered a cheap 2-course menu and making it in to the cinema right before the film started!

Feeding a resident bird

The next day, we were down at Townsville marina early to catch the ferry across to Magnetic Island. Arriving on the island, we made use of the local bus service there, buying a day ticket and hopping on to reach Horseshoe Bay. We’d done some research on what Magnetic Island has to offer but hadn’t made any definite plans on how we would spend our day there.

Seeing the Bungalow Bay Koala Village as we got off the bus and having enjoyed our time with the animals at Billabong Sanctuary the day before, we decided to visit the sanctuary.

Inside, we were given a talk on some of the animals housed there and given the opportunity to interact with them, feeding some of the birds, stroking a koala and holding some of the weird and wonderful reptiles and other Australian creatures (I don’t recommend holding a spiky echidna!!). While we would probably have enjoyed this more having not had similar experiences at Billabong Sanctuary the day before, it was still a fun way to spend an hour.

Above, and below, beautiful Horseshoe Bay

From the koala village, we walked the short distance downhill to the stunning Horseshoe Bay. Here, we hoped to find some water-based activities to do before having some lunch. Seeing pedalos lined up on the shore we enquired about hiring one only to be told they were for children only.

Having kayaked in Airlie Beach just a few days earlier, we didn’t want to hire one of these again and weren’t brave enough to try the jet-skis so instead we decided to just go for a dip in the ocean to cool off. This was cut short when, not having stinger suits to protect us,we saw a jellyfish and couldn’t get out of the water quick enough!

At Alma Bay

Drying ourselves off, we went for lunch at one of the cafes lining the beach before catching the bus along to the pretty cove of Alma Bay then walking along to the nearby Geoffrey Bay, a long sweeping bay part of the Marine National Park Zone.

With time rapidly passing us by, we caught the bus further around the island to Picnic Bay. Here, we grabbed drinks and ice cream from a bar overlooking the beach before catching the bus back to the ferry terminal and returning to Townsville.

Ending our day on Magnetic Island at Picnic Bay

We’d enjoyed our day on Magnetic Island but as pretty as all the beaches were, they had all started to blend into one and we did wish we’d spent more time planning our day, maybe doing some of the many walks the island has to offer or hiring snorkeling gear.

Back in Townsville, rather than another inevitably unsuccessful search for somewhere to eat, we made do with the McDonalds near our hotel.

Then it was time to pack and have an early night ready for a dawn start to catch the Greyhound to our next destination, Cairns.

The Whitsundays

After spending New Year in Sydney, I was now on a road trip up the coast of tropical Queensland to Cairns.

Having arrived in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays a few days earlier, we had spent the last few days exploring the local area and now planned on using Airlie as our base for getting out into the Whitsunday Islands themselves.

We had pre-booked a package ticket giving us access to 3 days worth of excursions – a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, a one day island-hopping ticket to use at our own leisure and a full day sailing trip through the Whitsundays on a catamaran – and had booked to do them on consecutive days in that order.

Spotting a clown fish on the reef

So today, we were up early to walk down to the Port of Airlie, home of Cruise Whitsundays. Here, we checked in and boarded a Cruise Whitsundays boat which would be dropping passengers off at Hamilton Island before continuing on to Knuckle Reef pontoon docked at the Great Barrier Reef. The boat ride itself was thrilling, speeding through the ocean past all the Whitsundays Islands.

Once at the pontoon, we had the day to spend at leisure – snorkelling the reef, viewing the reef from the underwater observatory, taking a ride out on the semi-submersible for a guided commentary on the reef or just enjoying the sunshine from the deck. A buffet style lunch was also included.

There were some optional extras such as Go Pro hire and scuba diving sessions and we had decided to book the guided snorkel safari. On the boat out to the reef, we were talked through the procedures for this and told where to meet and at what time once on board the pontoon – it would take place right after we arrived so we’d then have the rest of the day to explore ourselves.

Looking out from the pontoon

After arriving at the pontoon, we were supplied with snorkelling equipment and ‘stinger suits’ – a thin full body suit to protect us from any jellyfish in the water then went to meet our guide for the snorkel safari. There was just a small group of us on the safari and we were taken out to look at sections of the coral while our guide explained a bit about what we were seeing and some of the fish that lived there.

We also got to meet Wanda, the areas resident Maori Wrasse, a huge but very friendly fish!

On the snorkel safari, and throughout the day, Cruise Whitsundays team members took photos of us and the reef which we later had the option of purchasing.

After our snorkel safari, it was time for lunch – a selection of cold meats, salad, bread and pasta which we could help ourselves too. We then took a trip out on the semi-submarine before spending the rest of the day snorkelling at our leisure. In the blink of an eye, the day was over and it was time to board the boat back to Airlie Beach.

On Hamilton Island

The next day, we were back at the Port of Airlie and the Cruise Whitsundays terminus once again. Today we would be using our Island-hopping ticket starting with a boat trip out to Hamilton Island. We planned to spend the morning there and a couple of hours to explore before we had our scenic flight over the Whitsundays booked.

After that, we planned to hop on a boat over to Daydream Island where we would spend the afternoon before returning to Airlie Beach.

Arriving on Hamilton Island, we began exploring finding our way to Catseye Beach. From here, we walked along to the village then up to One Tree Hill where we enjoyed the beautiful views from its lookout.

Wandering back down to the village, we then made our way to the airfield to check in for our Hamilton Air scenic flight.

On board a small aircraft for a scenic flight over the Whitsundays, and below, views from the flight

Boarding a small aircraft with just 2 other couples, we were very excited but the flight exceeded even our expectations. It was perfect weather with mainly blue skies and just a few small clouds as we soared above the many Whitsunday Islands and out across the Great Barrier Reef.

Highlights included seeing Heart Reef, where the coral has naturally formed into a heart shape, and flying over Hill Inlet, an amazing stretch of white silica sand and crystal clear waters. The flight was definitely worth every penny!

Once back on land, we returned to the Hamilton Island Cruise Whitsundays terminal and caught the next boat over to Daydream Island.

Arriving just after 2pm, it was past our lunchtime and we were pretty hungry but we struggled to find somewhere to eat.

Daydream Island

The kiosks at the main resort stopped serving its hot snacks of pizza slices and burgers at 2 so we’d just missed out. We eventually found a restaurant open further along the island near its Mermaid sculptures and ended up paying slightly more than we’d have liked for a sit down pizza meal!

A kangaroo wandering through Daydream Island, and below, exploring the island

After lunch, we walked down to Mermaid Beach to get photos with the three mermaid sculptures then spent the rest of the afternoon following some of the island’s trails past its resort hotels, along the coast,through rainforest and out to some of its small bays before catching the boat back to Airlie Beach.

Above, and below, sailing on Camira

For our final day in the Whitsundays, we had booked a full-day sailing adventure on Camira, a distinctive purple catamaran. Unfortunately, we had awoken to overcast skies and while it was still warm, it took the shine off cruising past all the Whitsunday Islands a bit.

A quick stop for some snorkling

After sailing out past some of the Whitsunday islands, the boat docked for a while to give us the chance to get out into the water and snorkel. We were provided with stinger suits and snorkeling equipment and it was fun to get out on the reef again and snorkel.

Whitehaven Beach

Back on board, we had a delicious barbecue lunch provided as we cruised to our next stop, Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. We were hoping we’d dock by Hill Inlet which we’d seen from our scenic flight the previous day but instead we were dropped at the other end of the beach and warned not to go off in search of Hill Inlet as it was too far a trek and we’d not make it back in time.

Overcast weather on Whitehaven Beach, and below, more photos from our day on Camira

The overcast weather had not cleared so it wasn’t really sunbathing weather. The boat crew had brought various beach games and equipment ashore so instead we grabbed buckets and spades and amused ourselves building sandcastles out of the white silica sand before cooling off with a dip in the ocean.

Then it was back aboard Camira for a leisurely sail back to the Port of Airlie, the clouds starting to break up a bit as we neared our destination.

While we enjoyed our day sailing on Camira, it was our least favourite excursion of the week although this was possibly due to the weather not being quite as nice – everything looks better in the sunshine and unfortunately that was mainly missing from our day.

Back in Airlie, we walked back to our Magnums hostel accommodation grabbing some snacks on the way.

Exhausted from a busy week, we began to pack up our things as we had a very early start the next day to catch the Greyhound bus up the coast to Townsville at the crack of dawn. I’d loved my time in the Whitsundays. I’d be passing through again on the way back to Sydney just a few weeks later and I couldn’t wait to return!

Airlie Beach

The gateway to the Whitsundays

Arriving into Airlie, and below, Magnums Backpackers Resort

After flying to Australia towards the end of the Christmas period and spending a once-in-a-lifetime New Year’s Eve in Sydney, I was waving goodbye to the group of friends I had arrived in Australia with to begin the second part of my 7-week adventure – 2 weeks travelling up the East coast of Australia from Airlie Beach to Cairns. I’d be meeting up with a friend from one of my Trek America adventures, who also just happened to be in Australia over New Year, and we’d be beginning our adventure together with 5 nights based in Airlie Beach from where we could explore the Whitsundays.

While I had never been to this part of Australia before, my friend had backpacked here as a gap year student years earlier and was keen to return, hoping to party less and appreciate it more this time around.

Our private hostel room

Despite both being in our mid-30s, we had decided to go with mainly budget accommodation for the 2 weeks in order to splash out on the excursions instead. We had opted for hostel accommodation – private rooms rather than dorms, at least -in Airlie and Cairns, breaking this up with 3 nights in a budget hotel in Townsville.

For our 6 nights at Airlie Beach, we’d be staying at Magnums Backpackers resort situated right in the town centre and within walking distance of the main marina.

Walking down to the seafront at Airlie Beach

We arrived into the area at Hamilton Airport on one of the Whitsunday Islands, my friend flying in from Brisbane and myself from Sydney, and then boarded a pre-booked boat, with our luggage checked on board, to the Port of Airlie. From here, we caught the local bus the short, but uphill, distance into town and quickly found Magnums not far from where we were dropped.

Airlie seafront, and below, Airlie Lagoon

The resort was set out around what felt like a tropical rainforest with tall trees and tropical plants growing all around the hut-like accommodation. Our upstairs room was like a box with a bunk bed in the middle, a small TV mounted on the wall and a small fridge in the corner but for the time we were planning on spending in there, it was fine.

There was a communal shower and toilet block just along the landing so we didn’t have far to to go at least. Wifi was not available in the room but could be picked up in a nearby communal outdoor seating area in the grounds – although we found the surrounding plants and trees, along with the humidity, made the area a haven for insects so even smothered in bug repellent, we had to limit the time we spent there!

Coral Sea Marina

Arriving late afternoon, we settled into our room then walked down to the seafront following the path along the front and out to Airlie Lagoon, a large outdoor pool. We’d taken our towels and swimwear with us and decided to cool off with a dip but were disappointed to find the water was heated too much to cool us down. This, coupled with the onset of evening bringing out the mosquitos, meant we didn’t stay long!

An evening stroll past the marina

After popping back to the hostel to change, we were now pretty hungry so wandered along the main street in Airlie trying to decide between the many bars and restaurants offering cheap food to backpackers and eventually settling on a filling bowl of pasta at Mangrove Jacks.

After eating – and making use of the free wifi! – we stopped off at the Woolworths store next to the hostel to pick up some snacks and supplies for the next few days before returning to our room for an early night.

Bicentennial Walkway

Before setting off on our Australian adventure, we had booked a multi-adventure ticket including a variety of excursions for our time in Airlie Beach – a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef, a day of island hopping and a day sailing around the Whitsundays with a stop off at the famous Whitehaven Beach.

We had 4 full days in the area and had planned to keep the first day as bit of a relaxation day in and and around Airlie Beach. We’d talked about including some time at Airlie Lagoon in this but having been unimpressed on our visit the previous afternoon, we were now unsure how to fill our day.

On Shingley Beach

There were plenty of excursions and activities in the area being offered by various ticket agencies along the front, including kayaking trips out to see turtles and scenic flights, but it was too short notice to book for that day.

The scenic flights over the Whitsundays sounded especially appealing, so as it was fully booked for that day, we decided to book one leaving from Hamilton Island a couple of days later when we would be visiting there.

Scenic flight booked, we headed back towards Airlie Lagoon picking up Bicentennial Walkway, the path that winds its way along the seafront. We followed the path West past Coral Sea Marina and along to Shingley Beach. Here, we found a company offering kayak and paddle board rentals so we decided this would be a fun way to spend some of the day.

Kayaking out to a shipwreck

Hiring a 2-man kayak, we managed to paddle out against the current to the shipwreck we could see in the distance. We kept our eyes open for sea turtles along the way but unfortunately didn’t spot any. Feeling a sense of accomplishment reaching the wreck, we circled it a few times using our old skool waterproof single-use camera to snap a few pictures before paddling back to shore.

Walking back to a cafe we’d seen along the seafront for lunch, we then returned to Shingley Beach later that afternoon to give paddle boarding a go. Neither if us had tried Stand Up Paddle boarding before and we were both convinced we’d be hopeless at it and spend most of the time falling off into the water but after a quick lesson on the beach, we were delighted to find it wasn’t anywhere near as hard as it looked to clamber to an upright position on the board and stay there!

Paddleboarders at Shingley Beach

After a couple of laps of the small bay, we were actually a bit bored and ended up handing our boards back well before our full hour was up!

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the town and shopping for souvenirs before dinner at the extremely busy Hog’s Breath Cafe that evening.

Then another early night in preparation for an early start the next day. After a fun day in Airlie, we were now very excited for 3 days of excursions and getting out on the water around the Whitsunday Islands, starting with a trip to the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow…

New Year Celebrations in Sydney, Australia

Walking in The Rocks – first glimpse of Sydney Harbour Bridge

When my friends announced plans to fly to Australia to see the New Year in in style, I couldn’t resist joining them. Here’s how we got on spending 6 days in Sydney over New Year.

Having decided to extend my trip to a 7-week, mainly solo travelling adventure in Australia and New Zealand, I was on a bit more of a budget than my friends who were spending 2 weeks split across Sydney and Melbourne so rather than joining them on their outbound flights from the UK to Sydney with Emirates, I opted for significantly cheaper return flights with Air China. I had flown solo to Australia before so this side of it didn’t bother me and my flight was due to arrive into Sydney within an hour of my friends arriving.

The only downside really was a 5 hour stop in Beijing on the outbound flight and an 8 hour layover there on the inbound flight but I figured it was worth it for the £500 saving!

Sydney Opera House across the harbour

As it turned out, by the time I had got through security (and a rather scary experience where I was repeatedly shouted out in Chinese, unsure of what was going on, only to have a portable phone charger yanked out of my hand luggage and thrown into a bin!), grabbed some food (I had brought a small amount of Chinese Yen with me purely for this reason) and had a nap on the airport benches, the 5 hours had flown by and it was time to board my Sydney bound flight. I even ended up landing in Australia slightly ahead of my friends after their Emirates flight was delayed in Dubai!

A busy Circular Quay

After our early morning airport reunion at Sydney International arrivals, the 5 of us hopped into a ‘maxi taxi’ to set off for our city centre accommodation. Normally, I’d use public transport from the airport but as there was a group of us, a taxi worked out around the same price.

With accommodation prices being sky high over the Christmas and New Year period (we had left the UK on December 28th and arrived in Sydney on December 29th), we had decided to split our stay between 2 places, one that was cheaper over New Year, one that was cheaper in the days after.

For New Year itself, we would be taking up 2 studio apartment rooms at the Mantra 2 Bond Street for 5 nights. The hotel was in an extremely convenient location being walking distance from Sydney Harbour which is, of course, at the centre of the New Year celebrations each year. The apartments had full kitchens allowing us to keep spending down by eating in for the most part.

Crowd enjoying the sunshine outside the Opera Bar

Arriving so early meant our rooms were not yet available but the staff went out of their way to get one of the rooms ready as soon as possible so we could use that to freshen up in. Once we’d done that, we decided the best way to get over the jetlag would be to get out into the city. It was a beautiful, warm summer’s day so we walked towards The Rocks area of the harbour and found a pub to sit out and grab some food at – my first of many chicken parmas of the trip!

Then we strolled around The Rocks area and walked around Circular Quay towards the iconic Opera House and its Opera Bar – the site of the New Year’s Eve party we had booked to attend a few days later! The area was busier than I had ever seen it on previous visits to the city but we managed to find a gap on the sea wall benches to sit and relax for a while until it reached check in time back at our hotel.

Once checked in, we walked to the local Coles supermarket to grab some essentials for our stay before having lazy evening and an early night catching up on lost sleep.

View from the Manly Ferry
Christmas Tree in Manly

Our first full day in Sydney, and New Year’s Eve’s Eve, was another gloriously sunny and hot day. After breakfast we made some sandwiches for lunch and walked to Circular Quay to catch the ferry to Manly Harbour. The ferry ride was a really enjoyable experience in itself, offering beautiful views of Sydney Harbour with its bridge and opera house and also views of the city skyline. Once in Manly, we strolled down the busy Corsa, stopping to take photos with the huge Christmas tree still standing proud, and found our way to the main beach.

Manly Corso

The day was mainly spent sunbathing and relaxing. Being someone who can’t sit still for long, I took a walk with one of the others along the sea front towards the lido at the far end of the beach.

Coastal walk from Manly

Later, after we all cooled off a bit in the ocean, I took a solo walk in the opposite direction along the coast path. Passing an area signposted as Cabbage Tree Bay, I met a few water dragons basking in the sunshine along the way and eventually came to a small but busy cove before turning back and heading back to meet my friends.

Catching the ferry back at sunset

Leaving the beach early evening, we sat out at one of the restaurants on the Corso for a fish and chip supper before catching the ferry back to Sydney Harbour.

We timed this perfectly to see the sunset, reaching Sydney as night fell and the city lit up.

View from the hotel rooftop and below, at Sydney Wildlife Park

Still not completely over the jet lag and knowing we had a busy day and late night the following day, we spent another evening in at the hotel, making use of the hot tub and pool on the hotel roof!

The next day was New Year’s Eve. After a lazy morning, my friends were planning on spending most of the day getting ready for our big night out.

At the New Year’s Eve party at the Opera Bar

Not being one for spending ages getting dressed up or indulging in pre-party drinking, instead, I met up with a friend who happened to be in the city and we took a walk to Darling Harbour and visited Sydney Wildlife Park. The wildlife park was a bit disappointing as, maybe because of the heat, many of the animals were not out and we didn’t see a single kangaroo our whole visit!

Getting back to the hotel early afternoon, I quickly got ready for the evening and we made our way to the Opera Bar party.

Taking our position along the sea wall at the Opera Bar party

We had done a lot of research into where to watch the evening’s celebrations from. There were many places to go to watch for free – in parks, for example, but here, drinking was either not allowed or you couldn’t take in your own alcohol so my friends worried about long queues at vendors.

A perfect view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Opera Bar

We considered a boat party out on the harbour but read some reviews that it could be difficult to get a good place on the boat to see the bridge and watch the light and firework displays.

Our research threw up nothing but good reviews for the Opera Bar party so we settled on this, buying tickets well in advance on the day they went on sale in September.

Enjoying the party

The theme for the party was ‘Long Hot Summer’. Our tickets gave us entry into the cordoned off grounds of the Opera House where there would be included entertainment and snacks, drinks would be at our own expense. We arrived early with the intention of grabbing a good place to watch the fireworks from and we found the perfect spot right on the sea wall settling in there for the evening.

Looking towards the city at dusk

From here we could take it in turns to go and get drinks or nibbles and the entertainment – stilt walkers, jugglers and dancers in various costumes came to us as they made there way through the party.

Party time at the Opera Bar

The atmosphere was great and they had let enough people in to make it feel like a real party atmosphere without it ever getting rowdy or feeling too packed.

From our space, we were able to perch on the sea wall to watch the jet boat displays in the harbour or get up and dance in front of it to the tunes being played by the party DJ later into the evening.

One of the boats in the light parade

At 9 o’clock we got a taste of what was to come as the countdown began to the ‘family fireworks’ – a pre-New Year display aimed at those who wouldn’t be staying up for the main event – and this was followed by a parade of boats lit up in bright white lights, sailing around the harbour before docking for their passengers to watch the midnight celebrations.

An impressive firework display to welcome in the New Year

Midnight itself was an emotional experience. Having seen the Sydney celebrations so many times on new reports back home in the UK over the years, it was a surreal experience actually being there with a group of my best friends seeing the New Year in and we all shed a few tears of happy emotion as we toasted the New Year in and watched the spectacular pyrotechnics on Sydney Harbour Bridge and the accompanying dizzying firework display.

Ready to toast the New Year

Following that, the party continued into the early hours as the DJ cranked up the music and we finally left our spot for the evening to hit the dancefloor.

The post-midnight disco

With the music becoming a bit too ‘dancey’ for my tastes after the singalong commercial pop preceding it, and with late nights never being something I particularly cope well with, I retired well before 2am, making my way back to the hotel by myself through the throngs of revellers still out on Sydney’s streets, my friends lasting another hour or so longer! It had certainly been a night we wouldn’t forget in a hurry, a once in a lifetime experience and worth every penny.

The day after the night before! Taking a stroll back to Circular Quay

Feeling surprisingly fresh the next morning, we awoke late, made breakfast and, with it being another perfect summer’s day, made plans to walk through the Botanic Gardens for a chill out day. As we walked through Circular Quay towards the Opera House, we spotted the jetboats touting for customers along the harbour and decided it might be a fun New Year’s Day activity so we booked a spur of the moment trip out for later that afternoon.

Then we walked past the scene of last night’s party at the Opera House and followed the path around into Sydney’s Botanic Garden, sauntering along the sea wall path until we reached Macquarie Point.

Not a bad place to sit and eat our lunch!

Here, we found the perfect spot to sit, overlooking the water’s edge with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the distance. After eating our picnic lunch, we relaxed in the sunshine until it was time to make our way back to the harbour to check in for our jetboat ride.

Our jetboat awaits…

Despite being a bit of a spur of the moment decision to ride, the jetboat was one of the best parts of our trip and made for a great start to the new year!

We got absolutely soaked as we cruised through the harbour, spinning through crazy turns, nosediving into the water, the boat feeling like it was going to overturn each time.

Soaked to the skin!

It was exhilarating, hilarious fun and a great way to cool down on such a hot day.

Soaked to the skin, we returned to our hotel abandoning our plans to go back out later and instead stayed in taking to the hotel’s rooftop pool and hot tub to once again toast the new year.

View over Palm Beach from the lighthouse

The following day, we caught the bus out of the city to Sydney’s North Beach area, visiting Palm Beach, otherwise known as Summer Bay in Australian soap opera Home and Away.

The lighthouse at Palm Beach

The show wasn’t currently filming but we took a walk up to the lighthouse for beautiful views of the peninsula location then spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach. Just before we left, warning signs had to be put up to prevent people swimming or surfing as there’d been a shark sighting off the coast! We had dinner at the golf club across the road before catching the bus back to Sydney.

No swimming following a shark sighting

The view from our World Tower apartment

We were checking out of our hotel the next day, moving to the World Tower apartments near Darling Harbour for our last 2 nights in the city. A couple of our group had been up early to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb so after meeting them at the Harbour Bridge, we went to retrieve our luggage and move to our new accommodation.

Torrential rain as we arrive at Bondi and, below, walking from Bondi to Bronte

I had stayed at World Tower on a previous visit and been very impressed with its apartments. It was no different this time and our mouths were all open as we took in our huge, 76th floor plush apartment space with breathtaking views over the city. Unfortunately, the weather had started to take a turn for the worse and rain clouds were moving in.

While some of the group decided to abandon our plan to go to Bondi Beach that afternoon and instead enjoy our new apartment, a few of us decided to go anyway – and we arrived to a torrential downpour!

Above and below, off to hit the bars of Darling Harbour

We headed to the nearest bar and once the rain had eased off a bit, I decided to take a walk along the coastal path to neighbouring Bronte Beach. It was a really beautiful walk despite the overcast weather with lots of dramatic coastal scenery along the way. The skies started to clear slightly as I walked back to Bondi and I found my friends waiting for me sunbathing on the beach.

Darling Harbour lit up at night and below, walking to the Sydney observatory and across Sydney Harbour Bridge

Back in Sydney, we finally made it on a night out deciding on a visit to Darling Harbour where we had drinks in some of the bars overlooking the harbour, ending up in a nice cocktail bar.

A deserted Luna Park in the rain

My last day in the city was spent getting caught in torrential downpours walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Luna Park and catching the ferry back to Circular Quay. The weather dried up in the evening allowing us to head back to Darling Harbour for more drinks out before I set off on the rest of my trip the next day.

Back at our World Tower apartment, heavy rain obscuring the view

It had been a fantastic experience spending the week over New Year in Sydney and I’d advise anyone who ever has the opportunity to spend New Year’s Eve celebrating in Sydney at least once in their lifetime.

Sydney

One of my favourite cities to visit in Australia; so what are my tips for what to do and see in Sydney?

Sydney Harbour

Looking across to Sydney Opera House

Pretty much the first place I always head to on a visit to Sydney is Circular Quay, the area surrounding Sydney’s famous harbour. From here, you can walk to its famous Opera House on the one side of the Harbour or around to The Rocks area by the Harbour Bridge on the other side of the harbour.

The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

On the Opera House side, the sea wall doubles as a seating area where you can relax in the Sydney sunshine taking in the stunning views or grab a drink at the Opera Bar sitting out at one of its tables overlooking the harbour watching the local ferries roll in and out and the occasional huge ship dock across at the Sydney Cruise Terminal.

A busy Opera House Bar

Circular Quay and The Rocks area are full of a variety of cafes, bars and restaurants although they are mainly in the more expensive price range due to their location but if you can afford it, its a great place to sit and watch the World go by.

Taking a ride on the Sydney Jet Boat

Its also the place to go to catch one of the many commuter ferries or to take a cruise on Sydney harbour. We took an exhilarating ride on the Sydney Jet Boat which is great fun if you don’t mind getting drenched!

Sydney Opera House

Touring the Opera House

While I have never seen a performance at the Opera House, no visit to Sydney is complete without a photo outside the iconic building. On my first visit to the city, I took a guided tour of the building to learn more about the building’s design. While the tour was quite short, it was really interesting to go inside the building to see and hear about where the performances take place.

The Opera House ‘sails’

Outside the building is the Opera Bar where you can get a drink and enjoy the views of the Opera House and across the harbour. If you are lucky enough to ever spend New Year’s Eve in the city then a highly recommend the Opera Bar’s new Year’s Eve Party right in the thick of the action!

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The harbour bridge dominates the views around Circular Quay and there’s a multitude of places to get the perfect photo of the structure. But it’s also possible to get a lot closer to the bridge. Cruises sailing both past and under the bridge can be booked leaving from both Circular Quay and Darling Harbour. I taken ferries heading back into Sydney at dusk to see the bridge under the red glow of the sky as the sun sets behind it.

Walking across Sydney Harbour Bridge

To get closer still, it’s free for pedestrians to walk across the bridge. I took a route through The Rocks area and up to the Sydney Observatory before crossing the bridge to Milsons Point and visiting Luna Park, a small amusement park on the Northern shore of Sydney Harbour before catching the ferry back to Circular Quay from Milsons Point ferry terminal. There are some great views of Sydney Harbour looking across to the Opera House from the Bridge but unfortunately, for safety reasons there’s a mesh fence up along the walkway stopping you from really taking a photo in front of this view. It is possible to hold the lens of your camera against a gap in the fence to take photos of the view though.

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and have the money to splash out, the most exciting way to see the bridge is from the top of it. On my first trip to the city, I took part in a Sydney Harbour Bridge climb in which small groups of people are taken on a guided walk up to the highest point of the bridge.

At the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge on the bridge climb experience

We were given a special suit to wear and equipped with all the gear we’d need to attach ourselves safely to the bridge and move along it before being give a quick training session on a practise ‘bridge’ inside the bridge climb terminus before setting out on our adventure. The hardest part was climbing the vertical ladders onto the bridge but after this it was more like a walk up a hill than a climb and was a lot easier than I expected it to be.

As you’re not allowed to take your own cameras, our guide took pictures of us when we reached the top and we were provided with the group picture for free on our return. Copies of individual photos taken were available to purchase upon our return to the centre after our climb. This was a really fantastic experience and I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Sydney!

As part of our Bridge climb experience, we were given free tickets to visit the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout. As the name suggests, this allowed us to enter the Pylon on the south side of the bridge where a small museum is located detailing how the iconic bridge was built. After looking around the museum, we made our way to a viewing deck on top of the pylon which offered stunning views across Sydney Harbour and – unlike during our bridge climb – allowed us to take our own photos of and with the view. You don’t have to have participated in a bridge climb to access the Pylon Lookout, anyone can buy a ticket and visit.

Darling Harbour

Spotting Dugong at the Sydney Aquarium

The other well-known harbour in Sydney is Darling Harbour. Darling Harbour is home to a range of tourist attractions including Sydney Aquarium and Sydney Wildlife Park, the Chinese Garden of Friendship and the World’s largest IMAX screen.

Darling Harbour at night

Darling Harbour is a great place to head for an evening out. It’s Cockle Bay Wharf area houses a variety of restaurants, and bars and clubs line both sides of the harbour.

Botanical Gardens

A bird on a palm tree and, above, exploring the Sydney Botanic Gardens

Lying to the rear of the Opera House, Sydney’s pretty Botanic Gardens are the perfect place for a stroll or to sit relaxing in the sunshine.

I like to follow the sea wall along the harbour to Mrs Macquaries Chair for great views and the perfect place to get a photo with both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the same shot!

Beaches and coastal walks

A surfer at Bondi and, above, visiting Bondi Beach

The most famous of Sydney’s beaches is, of course, Bondi Beach. Bondi is in a suburb of Sydney and I’ve always caught the public bus out of the city to get there and back.

Bondi Baths, an ocean swimming pool

Whenever I’ve been in the sunshine, the beach has been busy with tourists and locals sunbathing, surfing or soaking up the atmosphere but on my last visit, I arrived to torrential rain, finding the area unsurprisingly, almost deserted!

Not sunbathing weather and, below, views walking from Bondi to Bronte

As sunbathing wasn’t an option, I instead took the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk, following the coast path from next to the Bondi lido. It was a really pretty walk and if I had time, I would have continued to follow the path to the beach at Coogee, catching the bus back to Sydney city centre from there but instead, I turned around once I reached Bronte and returned to Bondi to meet my friends.

Walking from Manly to Shelly Beach

Manly Beach is another beach easily accessible from the city. We took the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, walking down its Corso, lined with shops and restaurants, to reach the main beach.

We spent a fun day sunbathing and swimming in the ocean but again, if, like me, you can’t stay in one place for long, you can take a coastal walk past the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve to Shelly Beach.

The lighthouse at Palm Beach

Fans of Australian soap Home & Away might want to head to Palm Beach in Sydney’s North Beach district. Palm Beach doubles as Summer Bay in the soap and is instantly recognisable to fans of the soap with its lighthouse and golden sands. The first time I visited, we took a guided tour of the North Beaches which had Palm Beach as its main stop and were lucky enough to find filming was going ahead that day.

Peninsula views from the lighthouse walk

The cast were more than happy to chat and take photos with fans between takes. Since then, I have returned taking a long bus ride out of Sydney to get there and while no filming was happening that day, I still had a great day walking up to the lighthouse for beautiful views across the peninsula before relaxing on the golden sands.

On my last visit to the city, upon the recommendation of a Sydney-sider friend, I took the ferry out to Watsons Bay.

The Gap at Watsons Bay

While the beaches there were not the best Sydney has to offer, I followed the South Head Heritage Trail, a pretty walking track that loops round past the Hornby Lighthouse and back.

From here, I walked up to The Gap viewing area on top to watch the ocean crashing into the rocks below the cliffs, continuing on along the coast to Macquarie Lighthouse. From Watsons Bay, I caught the bus back to the city, hopping off at Rose Bay for a stroll down to Rose Bay Beach.

Day trips out

Apart from heading to one of the many beaches, its possible to take a range of organised tours out of the city.

On a cable car across the Blue Mountains and, above, stopping to say hello to the wildlife at Featherdale

I took a fun day trip out to see the highlights of the the Blue Mountains. Leaving Sydney, we stopped off at Featherstone Wildlife Park to meet some friendly kangaroos and wallabies before driving through some of the pretty Blue Mountain villages and stopping off at some stunning viewpoints.

About to ride the World’s steepest railway and, below, beautiful views of the Blue Mountains

We spent the main part of the bay at the Scenic World attraction where we rode on the glass-bottomed scenic skyway, the World’s steepest railway and the scenic cable car for more beautiful views. Our tour stopped at Sydney’s Olympic Park on the way back before we took a sunset ferry ride back to Sydney.

Other tours you can take from Sydney include day trips to Jervis Bay and to Canberra, the country’s capital city, both of which I plan on doing on my next visit!

Getting Around

Walking is the best way to see Sydney!

While I’ve never stayed any further south than the Museum/Hyde Park area of the city, from here at least, Sydney is a pretty walkable city with both Circular Quay and Darling Harbour in easy reach. On one of my first visits to the city, I made use of the city’s hop on off bus but while the commentary was occasionally interesting, I didn’t feel that it took me to anywhere I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get to. I have also made use of the city’s efficient rail service with trains running regularly to Circular Quay from Central Station. From here you can connect to the city’s airport service too. Sydney Opal cards can be purchased from convenience stores and used on public transport including local rail services and the buses out to Bondi Beach. It’s even possible to venture out to the Blue Mountains on public transport rather than driving or using an organised tour if you are so inclined!

Sydney is definitely a great city to explore with plenty of things to see and do. Let me know if you’ve been by sharing your tips in the comments!

Find my other posts on Australia here!

Why does it always rain on me… in Brisbane?

How I made the most of my visits despite the weather

No sign of any blue skies – down on the South Bank of Brisbane
En route to Brisbane, realising that my second visit to the city will be similar to my first!

Brisbane, the largest city in Queensland and sandwiched between the Sunshine coast to the north and the Gold Coast to the south, famously receives an average of almost 300 days of sunshine a year. Yet typically, on both of my visits, one in early Autumn and one at the height of the Australian summer, I got to experience some of those 60 rare overcast, rainy days instead!

Brisbane River

The weather can really impact how I end up feeling about a place. I think the reason I don’t look back too fondly on my visit to Toronto, Canada was because it mainly rained while I was there and that’s what I always think of now when I’m asked about that city and it was the same with Brisbane after my first visit.

By the Nepal Peace Pagoda in Brisbane’s South Bank Parklands

But after my friends had visited and shared their photos of the sunshine drenched city and of themselves lazing on Streets Beach – the man made city beach and lagoon – I decided to give the city another chance and include a 2- night stop there while on a solo trip travelling down Australia’s east coast.

For most of my stay, it rained once again but I did decide I’d been too harsh on the city and rain or shine, it’s actually a great place to visit. So what is there to do in the River City?

The Wheel of Brisbane

On both of my visits to Brisbane, the first place I have headed each time has been the South Bank. A walk along the Brisbane River, with its views of the city skyline, is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. We took a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane to get a better look over the city.

Following the path along the South Bank will lead to the South Bank Parklands and the aforementioned Streets Beach. On both of my visits, it hasn’t really been the weather for staying very long but on a hot, sunny day, it would be the perfect place to relax and cool off.

Koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

On my first visit to Brisbane, we made plans to get out of the city on our 2 full days there, spending one day visiting the nearby Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and the other taking a trip out to the Gold Coast and Springbrook Rainforest.

An emu wandering through the grounds of Lone Pine.

We organised our own visit to the koala sanctuary using a local bus to get there. We had planned on getting a boat back to the city but changed our minds when the rain started to come down pretty heavy. The sanctuary itself was definitely worth a visit with plenty of land to explore and mingle with a range of Australian critters.

No matter how many times I visit Australia, getting to hang out with kangaroos, wallabies and emus never gets old!

Sculpture in Brisbane City

With a few hours to spare late afternoon, we took a walk in Brisbane city centre for some shopping before strolling back to the river, this time, the North side where the Brisbane Botanic Gardens lie.

Story Bridge

We walked as far as a Story Bridge view point. Like Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is possible to do a guided bridge climb of Story Bridge. We stopped to see if we could see any groups climbing across then continued back towards the city, the gardens looking a bit sorry for themselves in the continuing rainfall.

A rainy day at the beach in Surfers Paradise

For our Gold Coast and Rainforest day trip, we used a company offering small group organised tours. We were picked up by minibus from a prearranged meeting point in Brisbane city and driven out to Surfers Paradise, a city of skyscrapers, shops, clubs, bars and tourist attractions lying on a seemingly never ending stretch of a golden, sandy beach.

Gold Coast view from the Skypoint Observation Deck in Surfers Paradise, and below, exploring Surfers Paradise

We were given a couple of hours of free time in the city and, as it wasn’t really the weather for spending that time lounging on the beach or swimming in the ocean, instead, I went exploring in the town and then caught the lift up to the Skypoint observation deck in one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers. The views up and down the coast from the top were stunning, especially as the weather started to clear up a bit. By the time I got down again, the sun had come out a bit so I spent the last few minutes of our visit on the beach.

Viewpoint at Springbrook Rainforest and below, a heavy downpour while hiking
through the rainforest.

After leaving Surfers Paradise, we were taken to the nearby Springbrook Rainforest. As we got there, it once again started to pour down but as we were hiking through a rainforest, this only added to the experience.

View of the South Bank crossing Victoria Bridge

On my return trip to Brisbane a few years later, I was hoping for some sunshine, especially as I would be arriving on Australia Day and my hostel were running an afternoon rooftop BBQ.

Another gloomy day at Streets Beach on my return trip to the city

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. The BBQ was rained off so I spent the taking a walk down to the South Bank before a spot of shopping in the city.

A busy South Bank on Australia Day despite the earlier weather

Luckily the weather had dried up when I returned to the South Bank in time for the evening’s Australia Day firework display.

View of Brisbane City in the distance from New Farm Park

I had been hoping to spend a full day in the city taking a bike tour in the morning and hiking up to Mount Coot-Tha Summit Lookout in the afternoon. Unfortunately, when I went to book the bike tour, it turned out it wasn’t running on that particular day so instead, I took a boat down the Brisbane River to New Farm Park.

Taking a stroll through New Farm Park

The park itself is nothing special but it was nice to take the boat along the river and once there, I took a walk along the riverside path and had a look around the old tram power station there, now interestingly converted into a theatre and art space called Brisbane Powerhouse. The park also offered good views of the Brisbane skyline in the distance.

Disappointed at the Brisbane weather on the boat back to the city centre

With the rain getting heavier and heavier, I didn’t stay too long and was soon under cover back on the boat to the city.

Dinosaurs outside the Queensland Museum

From the South Bank, I took a umbrella covered walk into Brisbane’s trendy West End district, sheltering in a cafe while grabbing some lunch then, with no sign of the weather letting up, decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring some of Brisbane’s free museums.

Above and below, contemporary art at GoMA and Queensland Art Gallery

I started with the Queensland Museum situated just off the South Bank with its exhibits on the state’s past then continued to the nearby Gallery of Modern Art, or GoMA, and Queensland Art Gallery where I found more contemporary art.

The oldest building in Brisbane – the Old Windmill

On the way back to the hostel, I took a detour past the Old Windmill, the oldest building in Brisbane. While not quite the day I had in mind, I enjoyed my dose of culture in Brisbane city and it was the perfect way to spend a rainy day in the city by myself.

Gloomy weather over Australia Zoo

The following day, I took a trip north from Brisbane to Australia Zoo. I had looked into a variety of ways of getting there without a car and decided that using the Greyhound bus service would be the most convenient. I booked a ticket that included my return travel and a ticket into the zoo and just had to be at the bus station on time in the morning then back outside the zoo at the end of the day in time for the departure back to Brisbane.

The zoo was definitely worth the visit and despite visiting alone and the overcast and often drizzly weather, I had a great day.

Despite the unfortunate weather, I definitely came away from my second trip to the city with a newfound appreciation for it. Not only is there plenty to see and do in the city itself, its a convenient gateway for trips out towards the Sunshine coast in the north and the Gold Coast in the south.

I hope to return one day and maybe this time the sun will finally shine on me in Brisbane.

4 days in Perth, WA

Waiting to board our flight to Australia

The most isolated city in Australia and often more expensive for Australian’s to get to than destinations in Asia and the South Pacific Islands but being the closest Australian city to the UK, it is often the cheapest place for Britons to fly to in Australia. Deciding to make it our first stop on a 2-week trip to the country, we had just 4 nights in the city. So what was there to do?

Down by Elizabeth Quay

Arriving early afternoon on our first day, we were jetlagged from the long flight and didn’t feel like doing any real sight-seeing. After checking into our pretty central Travelodge hotel, we made the effort to take the short walk to the main shopping area of the city to get our bearings a bit and grab a bite to eat at the first cafe we came to before walking back via a quick stop at a supermarket to stock up on a few essentials.

Perth CBD
On the Hop On/Off Bus

After a long overdue extended sleep, we were awake bright and early for our first full day in the city. We wandered down to Elizabeth Quay at Perth’s waterfront and decided to use the hop on/off tourist bus to see as much of the city as we could. We bought a combination bus ticket which included entrance to the Swan Bell Tower and the ferry to Fremantle then jumped onto the first bus of the day and set off.

The bus took us out towards Perth’s zoo, its stadium and a huge casino complex before returning to the CBD and stopping back at Elizabeth Quay for an extended break. We used that time to go up the Swan Bell Tower which offered views across the city and luckily, we’d conveniently timed our visit to coincide with the bells ringing out!

In Kings Park & Botanical Gardens
Tree top walk in Kings Park

Back on the bus, we headed to the huge Kings Park and Botanic Gardens and spent the afternoon wandering through its grounds. The park’s treetop walk was a real highlight and there were beautiful views of the CBD area from many points around the park.

Back on the bus again, we were taken back into the CBD where we hopped off one last time for some late afternoon shopping in the city before walking back down to the river front for some pub grub and drinks in the evening.

For day 2 of our stay in Perth, we had booked a day trip to the Pinnacles Desert with Grayline Tours. Up early to board our coach, the first stop of the day was at Caversham Animal Sanctuary where we got to hang out with the kangaroos, wombats and koalas – always a fun way to spend an hour in Australia!

Cervantes

Then it was back on the coach to make our way to the fishing town of Cervantes where we toured a lobster farm – not something I particularly enjoyed , I wanted to set all the poor lobsters free – and had our provided picnic lunch overlooking the Indian Ocean, finding a bit of time to wander down to it’s white sand beach before it was time to depart.

The long coach journey then continued with our bus driver keeping us entertained by telling us stories and singing us traditional Australian songs until we finally reached the Pinnacles Desert.

The Pinnacles

The Pinnacles, part of Namburg National Park, are quite a bizarre sight. Thousands of pillars of limestone rising out of a bed of orange sand! Our guide led us around, pointing out some of the formations which had been named as they seemingly resemble people or animals and telling us some of the Indigenous stories about the area. We were then given free time to wander around ourselves which we chose to spend taking photos of each other popping out behind the stones!

Lancelin Dunes

Our final stop of the day was at the impressive white sand dunes of Lancelin. Here, we were provided with a wooden sand board and took it in turns to clamber to the top of the huge dunes – a task way more difficult and tiring than it looked but worth it for the views – and sand board down. Then we boarded a 4×4 vehicle for a fun ride across the dunes.

It was a long drive back to Perth and most of us slept on the coach but it had been a fun day and a good way to see a bit more of Western Australia than the city of Perth itself.

On the boat to Fremantle

On our final full day in Perth, we walked back to Elizabeth Quay and boarded a ferry down Swan River to the town of Fremantle. The boat ride itself was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and we even saw dolphins swim alongside the boat. Once there, we spent a bit of time exploring the town before having fish and chips on the sea front. Instead of catching the boat back to Perth, we opted to catch a train to Cottesloe. Cottlesloe Station is just a short walk from its beautiful beach and we spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine from the golden sands and taking a dip in the Indian Ocean before catching the train back to Perth that evening.

Nearing Fremantle

We didn’t have much time in the city the next day as we had to make our way to the airport to catch a flight to Uluru so we took another walk down to Elizabeth Quay to walk along the riverfront then made our way back into the CBD for some last minute shopping. We had enjoyed our stay in the city of Perth and had ticked off most of the things on our to do list but we both wished we had one more day there so we could have visited the nearby Rottnest Island. Just another reason to return one day…

Watch my adventures in Perth here: