The prospect of being a tourist again in my home country was an interesting one. I’d been away just over two years without setting foot on Australian soil and through careful planning had put together a slightly hectic itinerary to make the most of three weeks in Australia by covering Sydney, Perth and the entire East Coast of Queensland from Brisbane Cairns. Alas, travelling light wasn’t an option as in order to minimize flight expenses the decision was made that my girlfriend and I would pack all our belongings in Boston, ship as much as possible ahead for our eventual arrival in Ireland and take the rest with us on our travels around Australia. Furthermore, belongings from an old suitcase left in Sydney and boxes consisting of over two decades of who knows what in Townsville would be sifted through and added to our already over-packed bags.
Packing and re-packing of course occurred the morning of our departure but finally our bags were sealed and managed to come in just under the baggage allowance. The Boston to New York flight was a standard affair, the 5+ hour layover in New York with plans to check out Manhattan one last time however were scrapped after we were unable to check in our bags early. After a last-minute VISA over-sight (who would’ve thought foreigners needed to pre-register for a standard travel VISA in Australia . . . surely such inconveniences are reserved only for countries in Asia!), our bags were finally checked in, security was cleared and the mammoth New York to Los Angeles to Sydney flight began.
Anyone who’s done such a long-haul knows what happens next. Eating, watching movies, sleeping and repeat. Alas, the lay-over in Los Angeles, while not long, disrupted that cycle and necessitated our evacuation of the plane WITH carry-on luggage, only to return again into exactly the same seats. Minor grumbling over lay-overs aside, we finally landing in Sydney Monday morning (nothing to declare of course), taxing to the house of the first of many friends who’s hospitality we would be taking advantage of. On arrival, I cruelly denied my girlfriend the option of immediate sleep and instead insisted on doing what any Australian ex-pat would do after arriving home. No, not beer . . . I wasn’t THAT desperate for a bitter on tap. I of course found the nearest coffee shop (thankfully our first port of call was the suburb of Newtown) and inhaled a Flat White.
From my observations, Sydney hadn’t changed, not one bit. Manly, Bondi and Balmoral beaches were all exactly the same, the same buses ran between Lane Cove and the city, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House were identical, surely something significant must have been updated in the last 2 years? Alas, the status quo remained. Friends were much as they were, former work colleagues had slightly nicer suits and different employers, Queensland continued to win the State of Origin. The only difference I could really make out was an increase in the Thursday Happy Hour drinks prices at the Wynyard Hotel and a trial of free wi-fi at the Circular Quay train station.
Therefore, Sydney proceeded with a standard line-up of drinks, reunions and checking off of the main tourist attractions. Before I knew it our allotted time was up and we were off to Perth. Now Perth certainly wouldn’t be on my must-visit list of Australian cities but as my girlfriend’s two younger brothers resided there, it certainly necessitated a trip. Compared to Sydney, Perth certainly had changed. I’d only been there once before on a weekend trip, but the inner-city sky-line barely resembled the destination I had visited many years earlier. With the freedom of a loaned car (i.e. a nosy work Ute rather), we managed to explore some of Perth’s attractions I’d previously missed including King’s Park, the Swan Valley and Fremantle.
As on my previous visit Perth impressed me and there was certainly no shortage of sites, bars and beaches to enjoy. Alas, after several nights of boozing our stint on the West Coast came to an end as we hopped on another flight to head back to the more populous side of Australia, this time to Brisbane, capital of my home state of Queensland. Perth had several of my girlfriend’s family to visit (including an adorable Great-Aunt), though Brisbane had significantly more of mine. The number had expanded since I’d been away with the sprouting of three new additions in the last year – two nieces and a nephew. We all caught-up at a local community day (the name of which community now escapes me) to hear my Brother Dave’s band play some tunes and to allow me to distribute some gifts hastily acquired at Niagara Falls the previous month (I opted to go with Canadian stuffed toy animals).
My mum also came down for the visit and we headed out for a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to view the full range of Australian wild-life on offer. I’d never been there despite living in Brisbane for almost two years and the array of creatures on display was excellent and included a large array of birds, kangaroos, snakes and of course bucket loads of Koalas. Kangaroo feeding resulted, as did a sheep shearing demonstration, though alas no crocodiles were on show. Thankfully a subsequent to my other brother Will’s humble abode rectified this situation as we were treated to a full viewing and handling of his collection of snakes, lizards and baby crocodile – Cuddles.
At this point I could relax, content that a true Australian experience had been delivered due to the fact that my girlfriend had petted my brother’s pet crocodile that he kept under his house. Relaxing for too much longer however was not really feasible as once again the demands of our itinerary dictated the next stage of our journey – a road trip from Brisbane to Cairns, a journey of over 1700km (that’s over 1000 miles for the backwards folks reading still on imperial).
I’d done Townsville to Brisbane a couple times, usually when almost broke in my mate’s shitty non-air-conditioned Toyota Corolla when only half of those in the car had a valid driver’s license. I swore I’d never do it again, yet due to wanting to hit Townsville, Rockhampton and Brisbane in the space of a week, a car journey seemed liked the best option. Spacing out the trip helped too, the first stop was up to the Maryborough for a quick catch-up with an old high-school friend and a view of the sunset from Hervey Bay. Next was Rockhampton to visit my sister and her newest creation Izel where I proved that I was able (barely) to handle holding a 3 month old baby without too much trouble.
After a lunch-stop in Mackay to see some more high-school friends, next was Townsville for a night with my mum (also visiting my 20+ year old cockatiel Georgie) necessitating a late-night visit to The Brewery for a few pints of the excellent locally brewed Ned’s Red, a morning visit to the Townsville Aquarium and a very quick tour down The Strand. Finally after one last day of driving, (with significant delays due to road-works), we arrived in Cairns marking the end of our road-trip and the opportunity to put up our feet for a couple nights. In Cairns I finally made it into the ocean (it was Winter after all and the oceans further south were a bit too nippy for my liking) and headed up to Port Douglas for one last magnificent sunset, a catch up with yet another high-school mate and an outdoor picnic dinner and movie.
All that was left was the rental car return, one last night in Sydney and thus concluded my three week whirl-wind trip of Australia. If there’s one thing the trip gave me a further appreciation for it was the fact that especially in a country like Australia, it’s always impossible to fit everything in. A day trip to the Blue Mountains in Sydney was scrapped, as were plans to hit-up Margaret River south of Perth. Brisbane certainly felt rushed, I’ve still never gotten to the XXXX Brewery and the Gold Coast didn’t even get a look in on this trip. The Whitsundays were passed without time even for a glance out the window in a rush to reach Townsville and a snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef was replaced with a wander through the Rainforest instead. In the end though, it was catching up with Family and Friends that was on top of our agenda and in that regard, we certainly achieved our objective.