overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
Pic of the week: (previous - fav video clip)
Pic of the week
Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Written by Martin Pitwood. Uploaded 19 November 2006.

Australia, Country 26, Diary entry 17th-30th October 2006, Total distance in Australia: 13337km

Group photo at Fresh cafeAfter escaping the Brisbane traffic it wasn't long before I arrived at Holly's place and met both James, her boyfriend, and Charlie, who is apparently a "chiwoodle", the name for a Chihuahua/poodle crossbreed designer dog. To my delight Holly had prepared a meal for my arrival (so she hadn't forgotten me then!) and some wine was consumed, aided by the fact that she had arranged to take the following day off work so she could show me around, which was fantastic as places are always different when seen from the local perspective. Palm Beach itself is a very quiet residential area with little to offer the tourist, but as a place to live it's beautiful. It has a wide perfect golden sandy beach which extends all the way along this stretch of coast from Surfers Paradise down to Coolangatta. Giving me a day off from the driving Holly drove me along the coast towards Kirra Beach and Coolangatta where we stopped for coffee. Although Australia's cafe capital is supposed to be Melbourne, it seems the Gold Coast is a close second because there were plenty of cafes clustered along the beach road looking out to the sea. We obviously had a lot of catching up to do so we made our coffees last quite a long time before heading off to Currumbin and stopping at some rock pools on the way out to Mount Cougal on the edges of the Springbrook National Park where we took a short walk and watched some kids sliding down a natural water slide and narrowly missing some rocky walls before dropping into a pool at the bottom, despite the really quite scary warning signs detailing the personal stories of people who had been paralysed by jumping or diving off the rocks there. Though the weather was quite pleasant enough I was still acclimatising to temperate climates after spending so long in the tropics. Sliding down the water slide was off the agenda for me. Nothing to do with cowardice, oh no.

Indy Cars, Surfers ParadiseThe next couple of days I made use of the creature comforts of Holly and James's house including very comfortable sofa, explored the local area a little including the local libraries to try to plan my onward travel a little and tried not to trash the place too much. I had a good opportunity, when not being pestered by the ever-energetic Charlie, to relax a little before the weekend when we had plans... the Lexmark Indy 300 race was coming to town.

Years ago I used to be quite a fan of Formula 1 racing so I was quite interested in going to the American equivalent. The Indy racing series is American in origin but more and more races are being held outside America. One of the races each year has been held on the streets of Surfers Paradise since the early 1990s and I was quite keen to go and have a look. Holly had never been either so she came with me, but neither of us really follows the series so we decided to go on the Saturday to get the atmosphere, see the qualifying and letch at the bikini girls (for me anyway) rather than race day on the Sunday.

Holly and friends at IndyWe managed to find a parking spot on one of the side streets a few blocks away from the centre of Surfers Paradise and walked from there to just the other side of the centre to the entrance to the circuit. As we entered the Indy cars were on the circuit for a practice session and it was soon very clear that we had made a big mistake in not bringing our earplugs as the high-pitched scream of the engines echoed around all the tall buildings, Surfers Paradise being a concrete jungle of high-rise hotel and apartment buildings. Many of the balconies and even the rooftops were occupied by groups of spectators some with banners and some with topless girls serving them their beers. 10am was a little early for public nudity I thought, anything after midday is fine, but maybe I'm just a prude. We walked around the circuit and found some good vantage points to watch the action, mostly off the track rather than on. I was of course concentrating on the sights such as the navy helicopters flying around between the skyscrapers and the F1-11 jet screaming past and doing a dump-and-burn to produce a huge long flame as it climbed into the sky. Holly seemed to spend more time looking at the other punters and remarking on how she'd never before seen so many "bogans" - the Aussie word for pikeys - and they all sprung to life when the massively pimped up Jack Daniels ute (pick-up truck) took to the track with roaring engine that shook the ground and started squealing and smoking its tyres. If only it had been a Bundaberg ute I wouldn't be able to think of anything more stereotypically Australian. It's a pick-up truck for god's sake!

Helicopter dodging the skyscrapersWe watched the other attractions - the Indy qualifying and some of the local V8 races - and as we were starting to think it would soon be time to leave the weather agreed with us and suddenly turned very nasty, not just wet but also quite cold for which we were totally unprepared. I had a long sleeve shirt and Holly had an umbrella, so I stole that and left her in a nearby bar and made my way back to her car - no point both of us getting cold and wet. Extracting her car from the tiny parking spot between the bins on a nearby side street was fairly easy since I'm used to a much bigger vehicle with no rear visibility, but come the first junction I nearly went through the windscreen - her car stops the moment you push the brake pedal, not six weeks later like mine does! Getting used to changing gear manually again was a bit weird too, so I drove very slowly back to the bar and gladly handed the keys over to let her take over the driving. I'd prefer to relearn "normal car" driving some other time without an audience.

After returning home for some food and to get changed we went out for a big night on the town in Surfers Paradise - there were four of us: me, Holly, James and Holly's friend Chole, plus about a million other people. Chole managed to get us into one bar which normally has a $20 cover charge (good work!) and we had a few drinks in there, but it was a little louder than the kind of place I normally like to go and it seemed James agreed. We tried the Irish bar over the road but that had blaring techno music as well... presumably this was a special for the Indy weekend but anyway we decided to call it a night and head home.

Holly and James at Burleigh HeadsOn Sunday at James's suggestion we took a drive up to Burleigh Heads and took a walk along a path through the rainforest covering the headland and back along a stretch of the beach before a drink at a cafe on the beach - a beautiful walk but it was still a little windy and overcast, but that didn't stop the hardcore from trying all they could to top un their suntans on the beach. Holly suspected they were all on holiday from Melbourne and this was good weather for them.

Charlie the ChiwoodleMy remaining two days in Palm Beach were spent on the internet and in the local travel agencies and libraries researching options for getting home. For various reasons I had decided that I would not be doing the final country on the route, New Zealand, and my personal target had instead become to drive to Sydney and get a photo of me and the car in front of the Sydney Opera House. I was therefore faced with two major tasks, one to get me home and the other to get the car home. The car shipping would have to wait until Sydney from where I could make local calls, but since I'd have to leave Australia on or before my visa expiry on 12th December and that being peak season for air travel, I'd have to book soon to be sure of getting a seat. After much research on the web about possible stop-overs for a few days on the way home, in the end a little local travel agency in Palm Beach trumped everything I'd found online and I walked out with a freshly minted ticket taking me home via just a few days each in Tahiti and California before depositing me at Heathrow on 19th December. My mummy was very happy to hear she'd have me home for Christmas, and invitations to drinks, dinners and parties are now being accepted :)

Finally I said goodbye to Holly, James and Charlie the hyperactive chiwoodle and departed from Palm Beach to head further south, with a week left before I had to arrive in Sydney there were a few places I wanted to stop at along the coast. The first, only about an hour away, was Byron Bay.

The beach at Byron BayDespite all the hype which would suggest that Byron Bay is populated by hordes of smelly hippies, it's actually a really nice place. The town itself has an open-air cafe culture selling overpriced lattes and croissants completely at odds with the non-capitalist principles they allegedly espouse, and though there are a lot of people around it maintains a quiet friendly air. Add to that that the beach is superb, and it's no wonder that Byron Bay is high on the list of places to visit of every traveller to the east coast of Australia. The wind was still strong so there were no surfers out but between gusts I made my way along the beach to the Cape Byron National Park where the path follows the rocky headland up and down, past the most easterly point of Australia to a lighthouse perched on the top of the hill from where the views along the big wide beaches to the north and south are impressive indeed. With the wind not dropping as evening arrived I elected not to risk the tent and instead chose to stay at a backpacker place just behind Belongil Beach and within 15 minutes of checking in was fast asleep in a hammock with a barely started book on my chest. What a fine way to spend an evening.

Lighthouse at Cape ByronWanting to do a little more exploring of deserted beaches I got up the next morning and headed on to the little-known Bundjalung National Park where there are several park-administered campsites. The first I arrived at was nearly full and really not what I was looking for, but the helpful staff at the park office directed me to the area at Black Rocks, a 15km drive up the beach. Though Black Rocks is accessible via about 50km of tarmac followed by 20km of dirt road (2wd passable) the beach way is much more fun as well as shorter, and though it was softer than what I'd done further north I managed to get through without messing around with tyre pressures, which was lucky as the wind was pretty ferocious here and I really didn't want to get out of the car on the beach and get sand-blasted. The campsite was deserted apart from two guys bravely trying to light a fire in one of the fire circles, and I drove well away from them and found the only few trees tall enough to provide my tent with a little shelter from the wind. I made sandwiches as a late lunch and set the tent up just in time for the heavens to open, so with a good book I retreated to the tent. It was around 4pm, I fell fast asleep and woke, well-rested, at 11pm... I thought that I'd then be awake for the rest of the night, but a couple of hours later after another few chapters I felt tired enough to go back to sleep and awoke again in the morning. I had no idea I had been so behind on my sleep but after this night and the one before I felt very refreshed. Lucky, as I didn't have too much time to hang around as the beach driving would be more and more difficult as the tide got higher so I packed the tent down and drove off before stopping down the road to have breakfast.

The next stop was supposed to be South West Rocks, to do a dive which Wayne at FreeFlow Divers in East Timor had raved about - Fish Rock Cave. Unfortunately the miserable weather was following me and I decided that no matter what the sea conditions were like, I didn't want to stop and have a miserable rainy dive. OK so I've turned into a fair-weather diver maybe after being spoiled in the tropics, and I know you get wet underwater anyway, but it just wasn't my idea of a good time. I drove on to Port Macquarie which is supposed to be a nice pretty place. I couldn't see what the fuss was about at all, but perhaps the gloomy weather dampened my enthusiasm a bit, but it was mid-afternoon and the next place worth stopping was still a long way down the road so I stayed the night - this time in a backpacker place to escape the rain.

Seal RocksIt was Friday night and the rain was holding off so with some of the other people staying at the hostel we went out to experience the Port Macquarie nightlife. Well, it was a little different to Surfers Paradise, that was for sure! The Port Macquarie Hotel was the venue of choice and had the layout of a hotel, rather than a pub, in that one room contained the disco, a different room housed the bar and there was a foyer in between. The whole atmosphere of the venue was that of a wedding reception except for the music being much worse, but as a people-watching venue it was hard to beat. All the girls were dressed up in their flouncy summer dresses (in most cases straining at the seams) and the guys dressed down in T-shirt and jeans meaning I fitted in perfectly. Many of the guys had a very direct approach with the ladies involving, basically, grabbing them, and one particular fat sweaty guy in a red T-shirt, having crashed and burned with every girl on the dance floor, disappeared for a few minutes and reappeared in a blue T-shirt meaning he could start all over again, the girls not recognising him. Genius! The beer made things tolerable but still I flaked out early - I guess the previous night's 14 hours sleep hadn't been enough after all.

The following morning after turning my nose up at possibly what was the most expensive internet cafe in Australia, I took a very nice walk along a boardwalk through the mangrove forests fringing a small inlet. Despite being right in the middle of town, I only saw two other people the whole time and otherwise had the whole place to myself and a few invisible koalas. I walked back to the car and drove further south along a scenic coastal road through the twin towns of Toncurry and Forster and along the side of some coastal lakes to the hamlet of Seal Rocks. Going against the convention of the wildlife abandoning the area once it's been named after them (I think that only works underwater, like Shark Bay, Manta Ray Point etc.) there are supposed to be large colonies of fur seals on the rocks but unfortunately it's very hard to see them. The rocks themselves are the other side of a small channel so at high tide it's not possible to cross. The beach and headland were very beautiful and I spent a while watching a fisherman fighting with something that was obviously very large and strong, only for the line to break and it to all come to nothing.

Uluru (Ayers Rock) - not the real oneI then pushed on to Port Stephens, stopping only very briefly at a service station done up with fibreglass to look like Uluru (Ayers Rock) - classy, and camped at a small campsite and backpacker place called Melaleuca Surfside Backpackers in Anna Bay. With a leafy garden with wild koalas in the trees and beautiful beach just five minutes walk away it was a perfect place to relax for a couple of nights before the bright lights of Sydney. One of the other guests suggested a banquet where we all cook whatever we were going to cook but all share everything, which had all the ingredients to be a total disaster but worked rather well, I learned a great new drinking game from some of the Germans and had fun watching five Taiwanese girls get totally drunk on three bottles of beer - between them - and spent the next day doing laptop things and a bit of time on the beach. Far too cold for swimming, and for everyone else except those with wetsuits and surfboards, plus one rather crazy German girl who seemed to have no sense whatsoever.

Stopping only in Newcastle to use the internet and grab some food, I drove the final leg of the trip to Sydney and checked into a backpacker place in that hotbed of salubriousness Kings Cross and had a spare day to reacquaint myself with the city a little prior to the arrival of my final co-pilot from home Anthony - yes, he of the rude comments left under so many of my previous diary entries. I apologise in advance for what might appear in the next instalment as he will be guest-writing it...

All content copyright overland-underwater.com - please do not use without permission.

Comment from Jude
Looking forward to seeing you and hearing more about your travels! Dave will be thrilled to have a drinking buddy again and I'm sure you can introduce Ewan to the pub. Give us a ring when you are free!
20 Nov 2006 @ 16:38:40