“OUR LIFE’S BETTER THAN YOUR HOLIDAY”
I wasn’t sure whether I had landed in a 1950s American Diner or in a scene from the creative imagination of ‘Futurama’! Set across the Brisbane River, divided in two, Brisbane city boasts both the shiny new of a high-rise sky line and sub-tropical suburbia. Houses are intertwined with flora and fauna that you would imagine belong to a desert island. The weather too belonged to the “lost” half of my imagination. Stepping off the plane into 25C degree heat at 6:30 am was overwhelming as was, for the most part, my trip 1000 kilometres down the East coast of Australia. Determined not to plan and to allow the holiday to take its own path led to some of the best times I have ever had.
Starting in Brisbane I was introduced to the pleasant nature of everyday Australian living. Chilling out in New Farm Park watching the grandest of Fruit Bats fly majestically overhead, this was only day one and the exoticism failed to cease for the whole two weeks!
The one most noticeable feature was that of the general attitude of Australians. Being greeted on every bus and in every shop with a “G’day mate, how’s it going?” was such a treat. Since being back in the Smoke I have made a poignant promise to myself to put forth my appreciation of the conductor of the 106 with enthusiasm. Much to my dismay, from behind his bullet-proof cage, I have not received, so far, much more than a grunt in response.
Dreary London blues aside, Brisbane has far more than just the good-natured greetings to offer. A wide variety of areas, much like many city suburbs I would imagine, are up for exploration. Just as London has its east-west divide so does Brisbane. Paddington, home to the antiquities of old, is positioned at the top of a hill that in the height of summer I would not envy anyone having to climb. Again, quiet suburbia springs to mind, although, despite an English name, it seemed as far away from home as it really was. The Valley, being home to those ‘dirty pretty things’ that I could imagine in Shoreditch, could be referred to as a hipster. This is the best watering hole for the high time of youth ..... housing a selection of pubs and clubs that for the most part I didn’t sample, save one called ‘The Bowry’. This was a 1920s-esque speak-easy cocktail bar with suited waiters and it emphasised the Australians' love of mixing old and new, displaying the odd juxtaposition of time between modernity and tradition that seemed to be a running theme throughout.
The South Bank is home to the cultural centre, where the museum of modern art ‘MOMA’ is a breeding ground for aspiring artists, photographers and sculptors. Alongside the river again it also features a botanical garden and a fake beach. Just like the Paris Plage the south bank offers up the seaside to the city dweller.... although at the time it was highly recommended that I refrain from taking a dip. My pale English rose complexion wouldn’t have been able to handle getting quite that bare in the glare of the overwhelming sun!
Seemingly, as with all spaces in Oz, you are able to make your way to any number of outdoor activities from bush walking to surfing. Not at a stone's throw I might add, but to everyone I met driving for four hours to sit on a beach for one hour seemed nothing out of the ordinary. Our first venture out of Brisbane was to Springbrooke National Park, where a precarious drive up a winding cliff edge left my legs shaking and my heart pumping. Worth the anxiety at the end was a breathtaking view of my first taste of exactly how extensive Australia really is. That and the ever so curious creatures set on having even the smallest sip of my coffee. A waterfall and no spiders later and I had made it through my first ‘off the beaten track’ experiences. If you ever go you’ll understand me when I say “Look out”.
On the return to Brisbane we indulged in one highly recommended ‘Yatalla Pie’ a town outside of the city whose sole purpose seems to be to produce these rather delicious pastries. As with most things you’ll find Australia boasts the BIG everything .. The Big Avocado, The Big Banana, The Big Pineapple.....and a BIG pie it was too.
Moving on from Brisbane we took the Pacific Highway south in our 1.2 Hyundai Getz, driving 927 kilometers to Sydney and the end of our trip. Stop one was Byron Bay. After five days of chilling out in Brisbane this was our chance to get silly although so breathtaking was the scenery, I couldn’t help but take seriously my immediate longing to remain in this place for as long as possible. Arriving late afternoon we headed straight for the beach - “Clarkes Beach”- one of many set side to side along the bay. It was one of the most breathtaking places I have ever seen. Time stood still for a moment or two while the white powder sand and turquoise sea spoke to me, urging me to stay a while. That and the fine form of the Australian surfers.... taunting me with their ripped golden glow!
As the sun set we headed to The Rails, a bar highly recommended by friends. Our tour guides introducing us to how to party Byron Style. Live music was blaring over the dancers set to enjoy their night. I can imagine that the guys there really know how to let it all go! Still held back by my Stiff Upper Lip I failed to dance! The overspill crowd from a blues and roots festival, a yearly happening, hyped up what one can only describe as a festival of smiles and carefree antics. Paradise, had I found it? Jealous of their situation I was determined to go back and have a little bit of paradise for myself. Even the houses and flats had their own portion of desert island about them, back gardens with carpet pythons and the most luxurious of lush plants and all the colours enhanced even more by that unwavering sun. The never-ending influx of tourists seems to be its only down side. I was lucky enough to have a more intimate experience through friends who showed us how to really enjoy this glorious town. Among my favourite places was the Bay Leaf Cafe, the preparation of your coffee an art form and the serving of it a truly friendly experience.
I’ll never forget my favourite quote of the holiday sitting outside the Bay Leaf, “Our life’s better than your holiday” and to all intents and purposes I really believe this is true!
I have never been so sad to leave a place. Having spent only two days there I am determined to go back and revel in its wonder a little more and for a while longer. I cried so hard as we drove away from my paradise lost.
Continuing down the Pacific Highway we stopped off in numerous towns and cities including Coffs Harbour, Port Mcquarie and Newcastle. It was a funny feeling driving through these seemingly isolated towns. The feeling of the vast expanse of space between each place and the feeling of Byron being further and further behind me filled me for a while with dread. There was no way I could get back there and I was bitter after a flat tyre in Coffs left a bad taste in my mouth, until we landed safely in the Blue Mountains and the distinct reflection of Northern Exposure. Although Canada this was not. Again 1920s and 30s art deco style influences in the buildings, backed up with country and western vibes. The Blue Mountains felt even more time-warped than anywhere else. A small, sleepy town just outside of Sydney, there is no influence of the city here! The Blue Mountains themselves, so called as they actually gleam blue, were breathtaking. A never-ending landscape of rolling hills covered in lush green and high skies filled my eyes from side to side, endless in their horizon, demonstrating just how extensive Australia really is.
Having been introduced to the steepest railway in the world going down a cliff edge, setting foot back on solid ground at Echo Point was comforting, the vast expanse safely dropping in front of me from behind the protection of cliff side railings. Rather disappointingly, we didn’t manage to hear our echoes although from a distance we could hear others. Our YouTube moment never came. Ah well ....next time!
The last three days of the trip which were spent in Sydney flew by. After having taken back the Getz and free from the never-ending highway, Sydney was a chance once more to Chill! Located just around the corner from Bondai Beach, Sydney again demonstrated to me the wonders of ‘Futurama’ and ‘Lost’ .... although a city in every way it, like Brisbane, still boasts the beauty of nature at every twist and turn.
Day one was spent drinking coffee in the Surrey Hills, a beautiful collection of what I could only describe as a slightly different take on the Edwardian town house..... a little bit of colonialisation with again an American twist. Coffee as always taken in its most serious sense. The second day was spent at Taronga Zoo where rather disappointingly I saw the majority of the wild life seen during our holiday ..... other than this I saw no Big anything with relation to the rather wonderful dangerous wildlife. Day three was spent wishing I had another three months in which to revel in what is now my favourite place in the world.
At the end of our two weeks, or rather 16 days and over that 1000 kilometers I managed to leave my jacket in Brisbane, lose my soul in Byron Bay and lose my mind between Coff’s Harbour and Newcastle. I left my eyes wandering over the beauty of the Blue Mountains and left my heart in Sydney. I have every intention of going back to reclaim my lost possessions and I’m sure I’ll lose them all over again given half the chance.