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Archive for the ‘Canberra’ Category

After almost five months in Australia, having sneakily avoided winter, I’m settling back into London life. When I think about my most recent travel adventure, I suppose I was able to see quite a lot of Australia, but really, I didn’t see half of it. This is one big country. I passed through five of Australia’s eight states and territories, saw cities, the ocean and the outback and I left thousands of miles uncovered. But what I did see, I’ll never forget.

I loved wandering through Darling Harbour or taking the ferry to Manly Beach in Sydney, exploring the great cafés and night spots in Melbourne, and hitting some of the fantastic museums in Canberra.

In the Northern Territory, I got a taste of what I’ve always imagined to be ‘real’ Australia (not that the cities are any less real) in the Outback. I walked around Ayers Rock and ran under its waterfalls after the rain, trekked through the Valley of the Winds in Kata Tjuta, and hiked around the rim of Kings Canyon. I drove past herds of wild camels, slowly backed away from a Western Brown Snake (one of the deadliest in the world), and evicted various lethal spiders that had found their way indoors.

On the coast, I got to see some music legends at the Byron Bay Bluesfest before heading up to the Whitsundays for a spot of sailing among these beautiful islands. I walked across pure white sand on Whitehaven Beach, and went snorkeling around the most amazing reef I’ve ever seen. The Great Barrier Reef isn’t world famous for nothing after all.

And finally I got to explore the famous Fraser Island – the largest sand island in the world, with its stunning freshwater lakes and abundant dingo population.

My list of Australian memories could go on, but the list of things I still want to see is even longer. It is almost impossible to really convey how fantastically huge and diverse this country is. I’m glad I got to see what I did, and I can’t wait for my chance to see more. The plane ride has never been more worthwhile.

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As I’m sure often happens with travel writers who are on the move, I have, for a few days, neglected this blog and have received plenty of comments, E-mails, and other messages of concern. My only excuse is that I became quite unstable (in regards to my location, not my mental health…), so first, my apologies.

I’m actually very eager to begin telling you about my current situation – living and working in Yulara: a ‘town’ (I don’t know what else to call it…a settlement? A village? A random group of buildings set in one of the most unlikely and uninhabitable places on Earth?) in Australia’s Northern Territory that exists for only one reason: Ayers Rock.

But first: a catchup. There’s a lot to fit in. I’ll try to keep it short.

The last time I wrote, I described the hard life on the coast of Australia. After that grueling weekend, I spent about two weeks in Canberra. Thanks to my lovely network of £10 Poms, I was able to sleep on a surprisingly comfortable Australian swag in my friend Toby’s living room.

My first full day in Canberra also happened to be Australia Day.* After a good day of celebrations, I spent my time learning a bit more about Australian history and listening to some groovy tunes.

I was actually the third £10 Pom to grace Toby’s floor, and a few days after my arrival, another one, Tom, arrived for a one-night visit from Sydney.

After Tom, the Brits kept coming. Chris, Kerri and Kat (who spent just a bit more than £10 to fly Down Under) arrived in their camper van after exploring Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road. I count Chris among my STA connections thanks to Cam and the lovely people at STA Travelbuzz.

During Tom’s visit, and again during the camper van crew’s stay, I visited Canberra’s War Memorial Museum and went to the top of Mount Ainslie. There was also a brief drive-by sighting of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The ‘tent’ part of that should be a clue –this embassy is actually a tent city of activists who have been living outside Canberra’s old Parliament building more or less constantly since the early seventies. Not a recognised embassy at all, it is a group campaigning for the rights of Australia’s indigenous population. While they are not, of course, fighting the same issues, it reminded me of the campers that live outside London’s Parliament. I suppose hanging out directly on the path of every politician’s morning commute is a pretty effective reminder.

I was really impressed with the War Museum, which is surprisingly enormous. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was more or less oblivious to Australia’s involvement in any wars past or present, despite their participation in just about every major war I’ve learnt about in school, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries. Their perspective is very interesting; especially when it comes to the First World War. From what I saw at the museum, it seems the central most important event during WWI, to Australians, is the battle at Gallipoli. This was Australia’s first ever serious conflict. Were it not for my dad sending me the film ‘Gallipoli starring a very young Mel Gibson a few months ago, I would have walked into that room completely clueless. The battle brings up a few sore points in Australian history and at times I actually felt rather uncomfortable as a British person in the room. Luckily I left my Union Jack at home…

Next was Mount Ainslie for a birds eye view of Canberra. The city was built after Melbourne and Sydney couldn’t agree on which of them should be the nation’s capital, so somebody had the bright idea of building another city in the middle of nowhere. From the mount you can clearly see the perfect triangle that makes up the Parliamentary Triangle, leading down from the Parliament building across the manmade lake to the CBD, past the War Museum, to the Defence precinct and back across the lake to Parliament again.**

After all this guidebook following, I managed to spend one evening enjoying some jerk chicken and cold beer listening to my new Canberra friends DJ at a local café/art space/bar where I also acquired some funky retro heels. Who said backpacking was all about practicality?. Then on my last night in Canberra, Toby, his housemates and I found our way to a conference room at the Rex Hotel to see the launch of a band named Cousin Alice, after Alice – the person whose home I relaxed in during the tough weekend I’ve mentioned before. Alice described the band as ‘kind of a funky jazz and soul band’ so I’ll go with that. All I know is that they performed a very smooth version of Rihanna’s ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ that actually made the lyrics sound good during an evening of the kind of music everyone loves to sway to. Not a bad way to end my time in the ACT.

Phew. There we go. Next stop: the Northern Territory.

*To see my article about Australia Day, head to Go Girl Magazine and check out my post published on February 1.

**Check out Chris’ blog about our day in Canberra for some more good writing.

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A day in the life…

Spending this past weekend on the beaches outside of Canberra with four Australians was a lesson on how the average Aussie spends his/her summer days. It’s a grueling routine. I shall provide an approximate outline so that you see what I’ve had to go through these past few days.

Wake up early (between eight and nine, or later if your Aussie is more relaxed…), have a cup of coffee.

Collect your thoughts and throw on some ‘swimmers’ (or bathing suit, swimsuit, bikini, or your own preferred term).

Walk down your back garden to the beach either empty handed, or with a kayak, body board or surf board. At this point you’re fully expected to jump right into the ocean. Australia is famous for surfing for a reason – I haven’t seen many (or any?) beaches in Australia yet that didn’t have waves that tower over my head. Also – Oz is surrounded by very large oceans and isn’t all that far away from a very large and icy continent, so the water? Freezing. On Sunday I was told ‘the water was great’ just before my entire body turned numb during my ten minute dip. So, I suppose all I’m saying is, be sure you’re comfortable with you ability to hold your breath as you kick for the surface before you get further than knee deep. You get used to diving into the icy water as quickly as possible, otherwise you look like a scaredy-cat and nobody wants that.

Walk back from the beach, take an outdoor shower, dress and turn on the barbeque. Bacon, eggs, toast, whatever takes your fancy.

Eat.

Sit around relaxing, preferably with a cold beer in hand.

In a few hours, turn the barbeque back on. Homemade burgers, sausages, some amazing grilled veggies, again the ingredients can be flexible.

Drink cold beer and cheap wine late into the night, perhaps walk back to the beach for a bonfire.

Sleep.

Repeat.

Phew, I think I need to lie down.

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