It has now been two weeks since I began my journey home from Australia in a whirlwind of ice cream overdoses, rapidly fading tan lines and echidna withdrawal symptoms.
The travel gods must have been looking over me as miraculously my photos have been saved from my phone. I am no longer limited to the selfies that I posted online in varying degrees of shame with a dodgy filter to disguise the sweat. So I am celebrating with a belated blog about my favourite parts of the trip. This is to compensate for the often awkward and irrelevant stories I shared while I was travelling. It is long, hence the Hobbit title, so feel free to leave and come back.
Yes, I am still unemployed. Yes, this is more important right now.
Brief synopsis: on top of Adelaide Fringe, I spent just over a month exploring some of Australia’s East Coast. This was in the February/March period so the weather didn’t really go under 20 degrees and at its hottest was almost 45. As a strawberry-blonde, with skin so pale it gives my boyfriend migraines, this meant getting stopped frequently by strangers who take it upon themselves to check you’ve applied enough sun cream. And that’s where the fun begins…
Here are my personal highlights and fondest memories! Hope you enjoy.
1) Phillip Island, Victoria
If you, like me, love animals so much it hurts, this the kind of place that leaves you so indescribably happy it needs its own soundtrack. Feeding kangaroos, seeing pelicans in the wild and its stunning beaches alone made it the highlight of my trip.
The unmissable attraction, though, is its penguin parade; every day hundreds of tourists gather at dusk to see Australia’s native “little penguins” make their hazardous journey across the beach to the safety of the nature reserve. Cameras are banned so you are left only with your own memories and the compulsion to tell everyone you know to put it on their bucket list.
Melbourne is too cool for school. It’s vibrant, it has heaps of character, the food is great, vintage is everywhere, the weather is shambolic and of all the cities I visited it had the most to offer in terms of culture. If you’re interested in the history of the country, the Melbourne Museum, Melbourne Gaol, AMCI, National Gallery, Southbank Centre and State Library all have something different to offer. I gave the Eureka Tower a miss because I’m convinced I would have fallen off it and the Melbourne Star has nothing on the London Eye, namely because Melbourne’s beauty lies in its character rather than its iconic buildings. Sushi is so cheap I practically turned into a California roll, and you could spend days exploring the laneways, or barbecuing on the Yarra river, watching the sun set over the skyline.
Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens are so spectacular you feel very small wandering around them trying not to fall in one of the ponds. I could spend all day every day basking in their sunny (or rainy) glory.
Where Melbourne has character, Sydney has beauty. Staying in Darling Harbour I was lucky enough to be able to explore the city on foot, constantly in awe of its postcard glamour. Circular Quay, whether it’s pottering around The Rocks, having a drink at the Opera Bar, gazing at the cruise ships, or sitting on the hills watching the view from afar, is incomparable in its beauty. A day at the Australian Museum was well-spent, with a beautiful, informative, and very personal exhibition on Aboriginal history, ending with tea and cake on the rooftop cafe. Healthy-living is a big deal in Sydney so one should try to like spinach juices.
4) The Blue Mountains, New South Wales
On multiple recommendations from friends I took a two-hour train to Katoomba. The train is a total bargain, offering spectacular views en route, or the chance to curl up and sleep if the early-rise is catching up with you. The waterfalls, birdsong and green-blue horizon is nothing short of heavenly.
I spent hours exploring peacefully (when I wasn’t almost falling off a cliff), all the while coming to the realisation that with the sun setting my only real chance to get home in the light was by taking the steepest railway in the world back up to the top. With the knowledge that coal miners experienced a far more dangerous version in their time, I swallowed my fear of heights and took the ride, ending my day feeling like my life had changed forever.
5) Sydney Beaches.
Manly and I have a love/hate relationship because it’s where my phone died so I spent as much time crying there as I did loving life. Catching the ferry (single-handedly providing some of the best views of the city) to its breathtaking beaches, happy-hour ice cream, gorgeous clifftop walks and beginners surf gives you a taste of the peace and happiness that accompanies Australian life.
The people are also lovely – I was offered a free surfboard for the day despite being a loser. The only taint on a perfect day was getting flashed by an ageing surfer but at least I can say I’ve seen it all now.
When I visited Bondi, the weather ended up being ridiculously windy and for my own safety and dignity I only walked the cliffs as far as Bronte.
It was still staggeringly beautiful though, a reminder of how limitless our world can feel and what a small part we play in it.
6) Adelaide Zoo, Semaphore and Hahndorf
Adelaide Zoo, set in the depths of the Botanic Gardens, is getting a mention because it’s the only zoo in the southern hemisphere to host two giant pandas. The giant tortoises, sea lions and giraffes against a backdrop of palm trees are also picture perfect. If you are in the vicinity I implore you to support it; they struggle to bring in revenue from tourists in comparison to Australia’s other zoos and are so deserving for their efforts in conservation and breeding.
Semaphore happened when my friend and I took a day away from the fringe and went to explore Port Adelaide. On arrival we discovered it’s South Australia’s equivalent to Portsmouth. Spying a sign for a beach half an hour away we took our chances in the hope it would brighten up our day. This is what we discovered at the end of the road (no filter):
It was paradise. Minus the jellyfish heads.
I also fell in love with Hahndorf on my day off, a little German colonial town in the bush, with free fudge, chocolate, cheese and wine tastings, a unique Aboriginal art gallery, and an incredible history.
7) All the ice cream
For anyone who has been following this blog, you’ll know I am obsessed. So to round up this epic, here are my two favourites:
Messina: you’ll find one in every city and its pride of place at the top of every gelato chart is undeniable, Messina wins on flavour and vibe. My recommendations: apple pie and banana split.
Dairy Bell: a vintage, suburban ice cream factory in Murrumbeena that runs a tiny cafe on the side, selling tubs, scoops, milkshakes and sundaes of fresh, creamy goodness at ridiculously good value. This is my new boyfriend:
A “supercone”, filled with rocky road ice cream, marshmallows, caramel, chocolate sauce and honeycomb, covered in melted chocolate and nuts. I would fly back tomorrow to have one.
If you made it to the end, well done. You can sleep now.