Awesome Australia: Six Months Of Amazing Adventures

After six months in Australia we have left this incredible country for the tropical delights of Fiji, and it’s time to reflect on our experience. Rather than a rehash of our itinerary we thought we’d run through some of the things that delighted us, some which left us slightly bemused and others that are just plain interesting. They are in no particular order and we aren’t telling you which fall into those three categories.  However, we should say that the verdict on Oz is overwhelmingly positive. This is a truly great country that has so much to offer.

Superb Sydney

We’ve been salties on this trip, sticking to the coastline starting in Perth and wandering down to Margaret River and Albany in WA, before hopping across to Adelaide. From there we traversed the coastline east and north all the way up to Cape Tribulation with just a couple of gaps. We haven’t seen any of the interior, Northern Territories, Alice Springs or Uluru, all of which will have to remain on the “to do” list, and gives us a great excuse to return – which we definitely will.

Twelve Apostles


We’ve seen a lot of beaches in the past twelve months. Many of the places we visited in South East Asia are held up as “must-see” or bucket list destinations for any self-respecting traveller who loves the feel of sand between their toes. But let’s be absolutely clear about this – they don’t hold a candle to the beaches we have visited all over Australia.

Eagle Bay W.A

We aren’t talking the headline grabbers like Bondi, Manly, Glenelg or Noosa either. It’s the unheralded ones you discover that overwhelm you with their beauty: pristine water; next to no one on them; not a scrap of litter; and not a hotel or avenue of sun-beds and loungers in sight. Archetypical Aussie heaven.


House and Pet Sitting

We will never be able to thank our friends Deano and Leesa enough for putting us onto the idea of house and pet sitting our way around Australia. It completely changed our thinking on how to traverse the country and in doing so opened up a new way of travelling and experiencing Australia. Living like a local in a neighbourhood, saving oodles of money on accommodation and being able to self-cater, spending time with some absolutely gorgeous animals and meeting wonderful people whose homes and pets we had the pleasure to take care of.

Xena in Cairns

We ended up doing sits from Fremantle to Cairns, with Adelaide, Hobart, Brisbane, and Maryborough in between.

Max at Freo

We started off with mad Max, the crazy and lovable nine month old Kelpie, and finished with Xena, a gentle giant Great Dane. But our favourite two were sheepdog Harley in Adelaide – our morning walks on the glorious Grange beach were the perfect way to start each day.

Harley on Grange Beach, Adelaide

…and Sprocket a weimerarner from Nudgee Beach, Brisbane. A swimming marvel who rang a bell with her nose when she wanted to go outside. She was our pacesetter as we ran around Boondall Wetlands and caught the running bug.

Sprocket on the Boondall Wetlands Walkway, Nudgee Beach, Brisbane

We only had one cat to look after – Leo in Maryborough, who was so easy to care for that we really felt we should be working harder.

Leo in Maryborough

There seems to be a very strong house / pet sit culture in Australia and with really slick, simple to use websites it took us just a week between registering our details and landing our first sit.

Sprocket – sunset at Cleveland Point

Wonderful Wildlife

It doesn’t matter how often you see a kangaroo, you never get bored of them. Even over five months into a trip we got excited spotting one lounging on a lawn on Daydream Island in the Whitsundays.

Margaret River Roo’s

Inevitably they are the poster boys/girls of the wildlife, with the Koala probably coming a close second. These gorgeous creatures are starting to become threatened and an Australia without Koala’s would be unthinkable. They were flourishing on Raymond Island though and we delighted in seeing so many of them amongst the Eucalyptus trees.

Raymond Island Koala

We saw few snakes and spiders – just enough to remind us that they are around, but not enough to have us nervously watching our every step. The two surprises for us were wombats – they are HUGE balls of furry gorgeousness….

Wombat at Mount Cradle

Less lovely, and something you certainly wouldn’t want to try cuddling, are cassowaries. But they are magnificent creatures, who along with the crocodiles of northern Queensland seem to maintain a modern-day link with a pre-historic past. Just don’t go too close to either of these!

Cassowary wandering into someone’s Mission Beach garden

Dolphins, devils, dingoes, wallabies, pademelons, penguins, pelicans, possums (heard, not seen), monitor lizards, wild pigs…the list of weird, wonderful Aussie critters goes on and on.

Pelican’s on The Coorong

We aren’t twitchers, but you can’t fail to be impressed by the colourful birdlife that routinely fly by – although there were a few times we could have strangled one or two with their early morning alarm calls.

Unidentified Bird on Hamilton Island

Gawd Bless You Ma’am!

For reasons we can’t understand the country still has the British Monarchy as Head of State and the Governor General. Guys/girls, when are you going to cut the apron-strings? You are a proud, fantastic, independent nation tens of thousands of miles from the UK,  you are even in a different hemisphere for God’s sake! And let’s be honest, we are a bit crap right now!

A Climate To Die For

It seems to be stating the bleeding obvious that the weather in Oz is wonderful, but it really is worth repeating. During the summer you can feel the warmth right through to your bones – as Poms there’s no better feeling than gently cooking on a day in mid-December. After S/E Asia it was a wonderful dry heat rather than oppressive humidity, although reaching Cairns quickly reminded us of what living in a tropical climate is like.

Magnificent Maggie Isle

And with a bit of careful planning as Autumn sets in in the south and temperatures start to dip towards a shocking 20 degrees… can start to head north to maintain that year round summer feel. Not that it was wall to wall sunshine. Melbourne gave us a bit of everything, Sydney got a bit soggy, and we saw snow in Tassie!


Well…. what can you expect from the nation that has given us Neighbours, Home and Away, and The Sullivans. The fare is pretty meagre and is very UK content focussed. You know things are dire when you are looking forward to watching an episode of “Call the Midwife”. ABC seemed to be the only channel offering any in depth current affairs / political analysis. Having said that when we got more into the sticks i.e. Queensland, there were some toe-curlingly hilarious adverts on local TV channels where the marketing budget must have stretched into literally tens of dollars. This is when the Netflix subscription really pays off.

The Outdoor Life

With the the climate comes a culture that is all about the outdoor life – especially the beach and the sea, and a lot of the Aussies we saw make the most of it.

Melbourne Kite-Surfing

It’s fantastic seeing so many people from the very young to the very old swimming, surfing, sailing, kayaking….giving off this great vibe of healthy physical activity.

Boating on Mandurah

One of the most charming examples of this was watching a large group of young school-children being taught to surf on the beach at Lorne – what a fabulous classroom! We  are so envious of weather that breeds such an active and fun-filled lifestyle, and we loved our time messing about on the water, a particular highlight was sailing a mini-catamaran on the Swan River in Perth.

Catamaran on the Swan

….and our paddle-boarding has come on leaps and bounds – entirely the wrong description for an activity that mostly involves standing still!

Up the creek with a paddle…and a dog

The novelty of being able to enjoy open-air cinemas is something we will never tire of or fail to appreciate. Watching great films curled up under the stars with a beer in hand remains a treasured memory.

Melbourne Rooftop Cinema

Pubs (not)

Aussie pubs, with a couple of honourable exceptions we experienced in Sydney, just aren’t proper pubs – not in the way we know and love them in the UK. More often than not they are part bookies, part hotel, with too many screens showing too many Aussie Rules Football games. Odd.

Terrific Tasmania

Although we said we wouldn’t list the places we went, an honourable mention must go to this wonderful diverse island. From the moment we drove out of the airport at Lonnie we felt a different atmosphere. Tassie has it all, scenery, wildlife, history, and culture including one of the very best art galleries in the world.

A MOMA Moment

Understandably many travellers with limited time head to Melbourne, Sydney, and the Great Barrier Reef, so Tassie remains a bit off the beaten track. But during our visit we sensed that real efforts are being made to draw more visitors to this corner of Australia and it really is worth the effort of spending at least a week, but preferably longer here.

Cuddle at Cradle

Anger is an Energy 

It’s fascinating to see the struggle the country is having on the future of coal mining. An industry that flies in the face of a climate change movement that is getting louder and more youthful; but employs so many people, particularly in rural areas where there appears to be no Plan B for communities that would probably die without it. Ask any two Aussies about their views on the proposed Adani mining project and you would probably get four opinions. It feels as though the time has come to make a real leap to sustainable and clean energy,  but at the moment that step seems to risk political suicide. Our abiding memory on climate change was experiencing 48 degrees in Adelaide: interesting for about five seconds, after that it was not fun.

We noticed a strong awareness and celebration of the history and legacy of indigenous people, especially on the east coast. More controversially the growing number of people protesting Australia Day which they rename Invasion Day was interesting to witness on 26th January. With the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival due to be marked in 2020 expect to see more acrimonious demonstrations and divisions on this increasingly contentious view of history.

Town Planning / Architecture

A strange mix. Sadly a lot of the smaller towns and main streets comprise of low rise, unimpressive, bland development with no character. Big, garish signage dominate the streets with no thought to appearance or aesthetic appeal. One characterless settlement just merged into the next. The big cities – especially Adelaide – did offer some lovely respite from the uniformity, with its impressive Victorian city centre.


Melbourne also has a wonderfully atmospheric centre and grid system, that is really attractive with stylish arcades and impressive buildings.

Flinders St Station

On a smaller scale Fremantle is full of historic buildings that have been conserved and act as a lovely contrast to the modernity of Perth.

Freo CBD – gorgeous buildings and buzzing

Maryborough was also exceptional but unlike bustling Freo suffers from too many vacant retail units in its CBD.

Maryborough CBD – gorgeous buildings but on life support

Of course there are architectural gems that stand out, with Sydney’s combination of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Harbour and Botanical Gardens combining to create one of the iconic urban settings of the country, and indeed the world.

Sydney Harbour and Opera House

Stunning Scenery

Brutal rugged landscapes, windswept isolated coastline, towering volcanic mountains, sumptuous valleys, gushing rivers and waterfalls, dense pre-historic forests, vibrant coral-reefs, mysterious mangroves, inexplicable sand islands, incredible lakes,….do you get the picture?

Dunalley Beach, Tassie

Yes, it is an enormous country so you would expect a fair share of wonder, but that doesn’t make it any less incredible. The variety is astonishing…and we didn’t even get to the interior!

The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains

We don’t have the vocabulary to do the scenery anything like the justice it deserves and we hope the pictures we have posted in our blogs go some way to communicating the awe we regularly experienced as we traversed the country.

Blue Lake, Mount Gambier


We had the bad / good fortune to watch the 2019 Australian Election campaign unfold. As Brits we accept the we are currently sitting in the most fragile and brittle of glasshouses and throwing stones at politics elsewhere is really inappropriate. However, the Aussie Election campaign was shocking for its negative campaigning, especially by the Coalition who only seemed to have one policy – tax cuts benefitting the wealthy. Other than that it was full on negativity about the opposition expansive (probably too expansive) policy agenda. All of which was enthusiastically regurgitated and exaggerated by the Murdoch dominated media.  Worse still are the emerging right wing populists who seem to find succour in Queensland. Katter, Hanson and Palmer all represent the horrible face of politics in Australia. You have to pity the Australian public who have to put up with compulsory voting every three years: a shockingly short Parliamentary term. How does anything get done…..yes, I think we all know the answer to that question.

Where did you get that hat, where did you get that hat?!

Bob is big on immigration. He represents the Kennedy constituency in Queensland which is slightly bigger in area than Spain (!) and has a registered electorate of 107,000 people (that isn’t a mis-print – yes 107k). It really sounds overrun to us Bob – can’t swing a cat without hitting an immigrant. Our experience of Kennedy was that there are more banana trees and sugar canes than people. Pauline meanwhile runs with the deeply profound strap line “I’ve got the guts to say what you’re thinking“.  I think that probably tells you all you need to know about the modestly named Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

The People

As a huge cricket fan I have had quite a fixed view about Australians…which are not entirely complementary. I have to confess to experiencing unreserved schadenfreude during the ball tampering scandal and the sight of Steve Smith blubbing on TV. Despite these deep rooted prejudices shaped by the likes of Waugh, Warne and Warner, we have to admit the Australians are an incredibly warm and sociable bunch. Friendly welcomes were received wherever we went. Genuine sympathy was offered when the subject of Brexit came up, with Aussies sharing our bewilderment at the self-mutilation of our homeland. We suspect there was some element of relief as well, with the UK drawing unwanted limelight away from the political fratricide soap opera in Canberra. The parkrunning people of Maryborough should get a special mention for their enthusiasm and general loveliness – great ambassadors for their wonderful city.

Maryborough Park Runners!

Fantastic service is the norm and we were especially blessed by the people we met at the AirBnB’s we stayed at and the house sits. Nothing was too much trouble, folks were always keen to share ideas on where to go, what to see and genuinely wanted us to see their country in the best possible light. It was all rather heartwarming. Of course all of the above will become a distant memory the moment the first ball in The Ashes is bowled this summer and I start foaming at the mouth at the sight of Smith and Warner.

Optus Stadium, Perth


Thankfully we jettisoned our original plan to see the country from a van. Discovering house-sitting quickly put paid to that idea. When not sitting we AirBnB’d our way around Australia. With only two exceptions the quality and vfm was outstanding.

Our AirBnB View – Mallacoota

We met friendly hosts who went above and beyond in making our stays comfortable. Generally we stay in self-contained AirBnB’s, but where we stayed in the same home as hosts we found that many had such large places that we were as good as in our own place with en-suite facilities. A special mention must go to Lorna in Robe….a perfect AirBnB host and home. Being treated to wine and chocolates on arrival was rather special.

AirBnB Cabin on Raymond Island

Thank you Australia, you have been one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.

Next Up: Tropical Paradise in Fiji

The Sapphire Coast Road Trip To Sydney

We will come right out and say it: we preferred the East Coast Highway road trip between Melbourne and Sydney to the Great Ocean Road…..and we loved that drive. Maybe we started with lower expectations for the route between Melbourne and Sydney and were delighted with what we discovered; but on reflection there is more to it than that. The route took us through a series of gorgeous towns and villages, through stunning forests, beside pristine beaches and serene lakes all before the driving highlight of the section south of Sydney.

Given time constraints we didn’t head south east of Melbourne to Philip Island and Wilson’s Promontory, instead heading for the Gippsland Lakes area and our first stop on Raymond Island. We have to confess that when we booked our accommodation here we didn’t realise that it really was an Island (the clue was in the name), so it came as something of a surprise to pull up in Paynesville and find we had to take a ferry across the water to finish the first leg of our journey.

Koala Kottages Raymond Island

Awaiting us was a fabulous rustic AirBnB cabin, with the aroma of fresh bread inside and eucalyptus trees outside it was the perfect start to this leg of our trip. Raymond Island has beautiful waters but it’s famed for its prodigious Koala community who clearly enjoy the protection and isolation the Island provides. A Koala sat lazily in the tree above our home, and a short walk took us to the area they love to hang out in, snoozing on high and low branches affording us fantastic views of these gorgeous creatures.


As we wandered from one tree to the next checking the Koala’s out, we came across one who had decided to make a rare forage onto the ground…where there is food they will follow. This gave us the wonderful opportunity to have some close up (but not too close – they have fearsome claws) time with a Koala who seemed delightfully oblivious to our presence.



Onward and eastward we made a stop at Lakes Entrance the next morning to admire another gorgeous beach where crowds of sun-seekers (only about 10 – 15 people but we’ve discovered this constitutes a crowd on Aussie beaches) had made their way to yet another unspoilt sandy beach and a sea that was too good to miss!

Sea entrance at Lakes Entrance

The driving here continues to be sheer pleasure, quiet roads, with forests to your left and glimpses of sandy beaches and lagoons to your right. Passing famous names such as the Snowy River National Park, and more improbable/unpronounceable ones: Croajingolong National Park, on our way to what would be our final stop in Victoria, Mallacoota. Here we were greeted by a marvellous panorama from the balcony of our AirBnB:


A curiosity of many of the lakes and lagoons in this area are the sandbars that have built up to prevent the lakes escape into the sea, which in turn is causing the water to back up and flood low lying areas. Ironically, what is needed is a good downpour to flush the water over and through the sandbars to release the dammed (should that be damned?!) water. It must be one of the rare cases where rain is needed to reduce flood waters. Apparently one night a clandestine group of “tourists” tried taking on Mother Nature by digging a trench through a sandbar to release the water, but to no effect. Quite why tourists would do this isn’t clear, but we suspected they were the patsy.

Another morning another beach stop – this one at the appropriately named Eden after we had crossed the border into New South Wales.

Beach at Eden, NSW

In stark contrast to Eden we’d been told to check out the rugged coast at Bermagui, and in particular its “Blue Pool”. On arriving in Bermagui, it seemed like a nice town but being Sunday appeared to be closed. The main action was the tail end of a Dog Show (sorry) and the only restaurant we could find open was run by an Austrian who after a bit of cajoling came up with a few veggie options for us for lunch.  Feeling slightly deflated by Bermagui we got directions and found the Blue Pool – a remarkable sight.


With a bit of ingenuity and engineering in the 1930’s a rocky section of the coast was enclosed to create a natural salt water pool where waves crash over rocks into the pool to give you the sensation that you are swimming in the sea. Added to this, the floor and sides are uneven and undulating natural rock, covered in sea creatures, barnacles and the like making it a great spot for snorkelling.

Tilba Tilba (so good they named it twice) looked like a quaint Sussex village with old craft shops lining its only street. The shops have retained old fashioned frontages that point you to a very different era and there must have been a time when it was full of life.


Unfortunately Tilba Tilba has a Sunday Sunday kinda feel to it and a number of stores are up for sale adding to the sense that its best days are well and truly in the past.


We rolled into Narooma quite late so it wasn’t until the next day that we got to admire its lakes, craggy seafront including “Australia Rocks” and the seals that adorn a breakwater, which in turn shields a lovely beach and another morning swim.

Australia Rock….. sans Tassie

From Narooma we headed up to our final stop before Sydney, Vincentia in Jervis Bay, famed for its soft white sandy beaches. It certainly delivers on this boast and we enjoyed crashing out on the beach at 5.00pm with the temperature still in the 80’s. So many idyllic beaches, so few people – it’s a wonderful cocktail that we will miss terribly when we leave Australia.

Greenfield Beach, Jervis Bay

The final run toward Sydney takes you through a strange mix of mundane development and Grand Pacific Drive that is every good as the best driving stretches of the Great Ocean Road. We caught this stretch on a day that gradually got greyer until drizzle set in to spoil what would have been great views – a shame but we had seen enough of this coast run to compare it favourably to its country cousin down in Victoria.

The curse of road trips and the heart-warming places we visited, is leaving them too soon. Much as we’d like to sign up to the nomadic spirit of the lyric “I never seen a sight that didn’t look better looking back” it’s simply not possible when you stumble upon these communities where life seems so simple, healthy and friendly.  ps – top marks if you can name that song without google!


Our arrival in Sydney saw a real downturn in the weather, with cloud and drizzly rain setting in. Unlike Melbourne it didn’t clear up quickly, so our first impressions of the City were not as bright as we would have hoped. Our mood wasn’t improved when we arrived at our AirBnB which was grim – only the second time we’ve been really disappointed with a booking. Note to self: when a host describes their home as “bohemian” with “vintage” fixtures/fittings/cutlery etc expect to find a bit of a squalid dump! As we were in Sydney for a week we decided to abandon ship and at incredibly short notice secured a lovely alternative apartment close to the Harbour at McMahon’s Point. This turned out to be a wonderful spot as it was a five minute walk to the ferry and we spent the week travelling around the city using ferries as you would a bus – definitely the best and most picturesque way to see Sydney.

The Opera House from Kirribilli

We had toyed with the idea of doing the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, but with the weather putting us off we visited the museum and viewing points that are housed in the south east pylon, a much cheaper and less stressful way of getting close up with the Bridge and learning about its history and construction.

A View From a Bridge….of a Bridge

Close to the Bridge we stumbled on a conserved set of terraces in The Rocks area which provide a time capsule of how colonial settlers and former convicts made their homes in what became a particularly rough docks area of the City. Following a bout of the plague many of the homes were demolished but this small terrace was saved, it even overcome the voracious appetite of developers seeking to cash in on the gentrification of the neighbourhood. It’s an excellent tour around the buildings providing a glimpse into the lives and generations who lived cheek by jowl with the Harbour and must have watched in awe when the bridge was constructed.

On the list of Sydney must sees was a trip to Manly Beach, an enjoyable 30 minutes on the ferry through some quite choppy waters to this lovely seaside setting. With the weather still overcast we didn’t get to swim, although it takes a lot more than a bit of cloud to put off the surfers.

Manly Surf

Instead we walked the bay and the local hills coming across an illiterate lizard….


and rather too many spiders…



…before the rain really set in and we scurried back to the bustling centre of Manly for tea and cake. Returning to Manly in the sun and making it to Bondi is a good excuse for a return trip to Sydney.

Marvellous as Melbourne is it doesn’t really have the “wow” factor of a truly iconic building. Whereas Sydney has two stunners – the Opera House and the Bridge – located in a third wonder, the Harbour. The Opera House is one of the defining landmarks of Australia, although in the flesh it was smaller than expected. This might be because of the truly magnificent structure that is the Sydney Harbour Bridge that dominates the skyline. From the neighbouring Botanical Gardens the view of the Opera House and the backdrop of the Bridge is something really quite special, as is the view from McMahon’s Point.

The view from our ferry stop at McMahon’s Point

In contrast to the metropolitan delights of Sydney, a two hour drive takes you to the Blue Mountains. Our day trip started well, on collecting our hire car a harassed man at the rental place told us he didn’t have our car but would upgrade us “great” we replied. Then he didn’t have the car he was upgrading us to, so he was going to double upgrade us – “fantastic” we said. Five minutes later we found ourselves sitting in a brand new sporty Mercedes number trying to work out how to start the car and work out where the hand break was. The only thing I recognised as I sat in the drivers seat was the steering wheel, with a bank of buttons, paddles and lights blinking at me expectantly. I swallowed my pride and nipped back to the counter to ask how to start the car! Soon we were off heading west, nervously making our way through the Sydney traffic probably using about 20% of the Mercs capabilities. “I wonder where the indicators are?” I said to Sam as I promptly turned on the windscreen wipers. I don’t suppose “slow and steady wins the race” is going to be used by Mercedes in their next advertising campaign, but that maxim got us to the Blue Mountains and back safely …more importantly the car was returned in one piece!


As for our destination, it offers one stunning view after another and with the weather changing constantly overhead, different shades, colours and atmospheres. The early morning mist started to lift like a magicians grand reveal and the Mountains came into view, vast, rugged and yes, a hue of blue as the sun shines down.

There are walks and routes galore in the National Park area – you could easily spend a few days here – and at the centre in Katoomba cable car rides that takes you across vertiginous gorges….


…and a  funicular to the valley floor for a walk through rainforest and beside waterfalls



The Three Sisters serenely sit at this part of the Park, making it the focal point for visitors, especially day trippers. However, like so many National Parks in Australia it doesn’t take long to get off the beaten track if you make an effort and you can find a viewing point with next to nobody there.

Blue Mountain Panorama

Sam followed up on her success in getting “Lady In The Van” tickets in Melbourne by bagging a couple of tickets to a one-man John Lennon show in Sydney Opera House. The thought of seeing and more importantly hearing Lennon songs live in the Opera House thrilled us. It was a great show, especially hearing so many of his early solo songs that with the exception of “Imagine” rarely get played – Isolation, God, Working Class Hero, Mother – belted out with real Lennonesque fury and vulnerability. Tremendous and very moving. Surprisingly less impressive was the auditorium we were in which reminded us of The Hawth Theatre in Crawley……a rather unexpected and unpleasant memory.


As luck would have it Sam’s former boss Chris and his partner Julianne were in Sydney at the same time as us. Remarkably they were staying just a 20 minute walk up the road from us in North Sydney. It was great to meet up for a pint in a local pub before enjoying a lovely Thai meal and discussing the delights of Sydney and making the inevitable comparisons with Melbourne. Julianne summed it up nicely: “you go out with Sydney but marry Melbourne”.  I think the jury is still out for us, and it’s a wonderful thing to have the experience of visiting these two great cities. Both fabulous with a distinctly different feel to them – maybe that’s the ideal arrangement, switching favourites as the mood takes you.

Next Up: Brissie and a Dog Called Sprocket.