Archive for the ‘Sydney’ 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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I have been in airports a good number of times in my life, and every once in awhile, I’m sitting at my gate, maybe reading, listening to music or eavesdropping on the nearest conversation feeling all smug about how early I am when I see someone sprinting down the hall, trying to hold up their shoulder bag, maybe yelling at their girlfriend/husband/kids/etc. to hurry up as a voice echoes overhead “This is the final boarding call for flight BA 247 to Barcelona. Would all remaining passengers please make their way to Gate 15. Final boarding call for flight BA 247 to Barcelona.”


That was me. I was the idiot sprinting down the hall in Sydney airport, running to the front of the First Class check-in desks to beg the woman to let me get on the flight, getting stuck at security TWICE because I forgot to take out the nail scissors and bottle opener from my hand luggage, desperately searching the screens for my gate number which has already been taken off the screen because I’m so late, red-faced and panting as I get to the gate just before the staff members close the doors and getting all the haughty looks that I give out myself so often to that last guy who gets on the plane and can’t find a place for his bag overhead because it’s all full already. Yikes.

But I clearly did make the plane (just), and was on my way from Sydney to Ayers Rock. For whatever reason, I didn’t really pay attention at all to how long my flight was about to be, but when I realised that I would be getting a meal AND watching a film, it started to sink in how far I was really flying. And I wasn’t even going across the country; I was just getting to the middle.

I had a window seat and there were no clouds at all, so in between watching the film (The Invention of Lying, by the way, not a bad movie) I kept an eye on what we were flying over. Which was…nothing. Miles and miles and miles of red sand, bush, dry riverbanks, and nothing else. For the ENTIRE flight. I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s Down Under and in that book Bryson points out that “Australia is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile and climatically aggressive of all inhabited continents. (Only Antartica is more hostile to life.)” So that’s what I saw. Dry, flat, red land.

After a few hours, it was there. Ayers Rock (or more traditionally, Uluru) was passing by my window, and what seemed like a stone’s throw away (it’s actually 20 kilometres) was a tiny line of little white tents – Longitude 131, my new place of work. I first heard about “Longy” when I wrote the article linked earlier during my time at Black Tomato. It was quite another thing to really see this place from the sky.

I was met at the airport by Kristy, my restaurant supervisor, who drove me around Yulara (the resort-town) to help me get a grasp of where everything was. Yulara has less than 2,000 residents and almost nobody here is actually from the Northern Territory. The ‘town’ is essentially one ring road with one of everything you need. One Post Office, one petrol station, one bank, one small library, one supermarket and so on. The ground is nothing but bright red dirt that now colours most of my clothes, and the bushes that cover the land seem to thrive despite all the odds. In fact, a lot of the bushes around here are completely blackened from previous fires and yet they are green with new leaves. In the middle of the ring road is a hill that gives you a good 360 degree view of the place and the hundreds of miles of nothingness that is behind every building. You can also see Kata Tjuta and Uluru (usually just called ‘the Rock’ around here) which are everyday sights since they’re both only a few kilometres away. After all, the only reason this town even exists is because of these huge monoliths.

I have never been quite so literally in the middle of nowhere.

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I’ve worked abroad a few times. Just like most people who do it, I seek labour to help me fund the rest of my traveling – hostels, food, drink, transport, and everything else in between. It can add up to be a pretty big bill.

I’ve taught English, handed out flyers on the street and sold promotion packages. Soon (fingers crossed…) I’ll either be employed in a bar, or on a farm.

To work, officially, you need a work visa. But there are PLENTY of places who will overlook this small detail. In fact, of the three jobs abroad I have held up until now, only one required any proof that I was legally eligible to work. One. The others? They’ve decided to take the calculated risk, which of course means that you do too.


My Thai working visa was organised through a company called CIEE – the people who also found my teaching placement. I paid them a fee (which I found to be very reasonable) which covered all the costs of my visa, plus a great deal more, and it took away the headache of going through all the paperwork myself. Not bad. Because CIEE handled my paperwork, I don’t know much about obtaining a working visa for Thailand. What I understand is that you must first have a non-immigrant visa on your passport. Then to obtain a work permit, it seems that you must have a job lined up with an employer who will in effect ‘sponsor’ you and provide a contract with your job description and the dates that you will be employed.

In Thailand, my English teaching job was very official. I filled in any number of forms, got a fancy stamp in my passport, got a whole new booklet (my work permit) that looked a lot like another passport and signed a document every month when I received my salary.

We never came across any real problems, and I received my salary in cash which made things a lot simpler. The only hiccup was that my original contract ended on the last day of school. Of course it would; why not, right? The problem? Once my contract was over, I was no loner authorised to stay in the country and would have to either leave, or at least do a quick hop over the border to get a new entry visa as a tourist. The issue: it would mean missing the last week of school to get to the border and back. Luckily, we were able to have our contracts extended as long as the other teachers and I promised not to demand a salary for the extra month which, in theory, we could probably have done.

After teaching, and a couple of months of traveling through Laos and Cambodia, I was back in Thailand and looking for ways to save my dwindling pile of money. Now, of course, I had no valid work permit and nor did my traveling friend. So what did we do? We landed on Koh Phi Phi and quickly became one of the many travelers you see there handing out flyers for the various bars, advertising free buckets (of alcohol), free barbeques, Thai boxing, and any number of incentives to drive traffic. We were paid in cash at the end of each night, no questions asked. The problem is, the island had a slight run-in with the law and, as a result, the police (usually bribed to look the other way) took our photos and shut the bars down early. Luckily that was the worst that happened. I still got paid.

In theory, you are taking the risk of getting in trouble if you do this. But in my own experience and from what I’ve seen, the benefit outweighs the risk. It’s more often the company (i.e. the bar that hired me) that deal with the problems. The police know that you’re going to be gone soon anyway. Spending time getting you in trouble is rarely worthwhile for them.


Now I’m spending time in Australia, and again looking for ways to support myself and enable my traveling.

Before I arrived here, I obtained a Working Holiday Visa which was incredibly easy. Australia does all of their visas online, which means no need to send your passport anywhere. All I did was apply online, make a quick appointment at the doctors for a chest x-ray, and presto – a visa confirmation in my Gmail inbox. Simple as that.

Unlike the Thai visa, I didn’t have to have a job lined up for me. The Working Holiday Visa allows you to seek any kind of work after you have entered the country for up to six months at a time. Much easier.

When I first came here back in May, I stopped in Byron Bay for about a week. While I didn’t work there, I became good friends with quite a few people who did. Everyone I met worked in the hostel where I had a bed – Aquarius Backpackers. I don’t think that their work required a Working Holiday Visa, although most of them had one and often held a second job in bars and offices in the town. I would strongly recommend looking for hostel work to anyone traveling around Oz. It doesn’t require much work (at Aquarius, it was two hours a day) and your pay is in the form of free accommodation. It’s perfect if you’re running low on money and looking for ways to ease the pain. With free accommodation, you’re saving anywhere from $20 – $40/night. That’s pretty good if you ask me!

For the last month in Sydney I worked for Redhot PR, selling promotional packages for Sydney’s top hair salons on the street, in shopping centres, on the beach. Just about anywhere. The pros: they also promote bars and big events, which meant free club entry, and free tickets to things like the Space Ibiza party I went to on New Years Day. They also sent me to Melbourne for a week to work, paying for my flight and accommodation. Plus, every Friday they provided drinks and a small party in the office before we headed out for the night. They certainly piled on the added bonuses.

The cons: technically we were not allowed to sell inside shopping centres, the airport, or anywhere else, which meant spending the day dodging security guards and occasionally getting kicked out. There was no hourly wage, which meant all of my income was commission based. This could be seen as a good thing, as it meant your potential salary is completely unlimited. The difficulty is, if you’re having a rough day, you’re not on your game – you come home with nothing. A lot of people are fantastic at this job. Myself – I had a great start, but I quickly got worn down and eventually it became impossible for me to stay. You’ll find, in Sydney at least, that there are a LOT of jobs like this. My advice – give it a go, and try to stick it out for one week. If, by then, you don’t see the potential, at least you tried, but a week should be enough time for you to see whether you have what it takes.

Next on my list is either bar work or farm work, so we’ll see how it goes!

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On Thursday morning I became one of the 1.5 million people to ring in 2010 in Sydney, Australia. One of the first places in the world to enter the new decade. Pretty cool.

At about 11 in the morning, I headed out with a backpack full of good food and cheap wine to meet up with everyone at Thornton Park in Balmain East. It was the perfect spot – not too big, and apparently not too well known, so our group had plenty of room to spread out our blankets, pump up the iPod speakers and get comfortable for our last day of 2009 with a perfect view of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge.

If you read my Christmas post, you know that the weather here hasn’t been exactly cooperative lately. Christmas day was cold and rainy, then the 27th – 30th were gorgeous, sunny and perfect. Dcember 31st, New Years Eve…..overcast with showers. Of course. Just to put the icing on my weather nightmare cake – I STILL managed to get sunburnt and am now sporting some pretty fabulous burn lines.

I can’t even tell you what we did to pass the time all day except eat, drink and take a few naps. The high point of the entertainment was a few of the boys choosing to strip down to their boxers and jump off the ferry port into the harbour water below. Unfortunately they chose a time when a large ferry was on its way. I’ve never seen a ferry reverse so quickly as this one did, but I’m happy it did and there were no casualties. Good job boys.

Nine o’clock rolled around and round one of fireworks exploded over the bridge. Apparently there was some controversy about the timing of the fireworks for fear of them overshadowing the Auckland fireworks, but they certainly saved the big show for midnight. It was really incredible, although it’s hard to describe fireworks in words and make them sound like more than just a few flashes of colour, but the show I saw was definitely more than that. I’m afraid I’ve had trouble uploading photos, but they are all to come soon, so I’ll keep you updated!

The next day, thanks to my promotions job, I had a free VIP pass to the Space Ibiza party in Sydney to dance and party with the likes of Sam Sparro and Pete Tong. Not bad. Good new year indeed.

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Meet Marianne, a 10-pound Pom

15 DEC 09 @ 08:50PM BY ALEX WARD

Marianne Mcphee - Now living in Lane Cove

Marianne Mcphee - Now living in Lane Cove

MARIANNE McPhee camped for two days outside a London travel agency to win the chance to become a 10-pound Pom.

The agency offered 150 British travellers with working holiday visas the 10 tickets to Australia as part of its 30th birthday celebrations.

Ms Mcphee, 23, now living in Lane Cove, determinedly queued outside the STA office near London’s Victoria Station to get one of the highly sought-after Qantas tickets.

“Camping on the streets of London was an experience” said Ms McPhee of sleeping in a tent.

“I still can’t really believe it has happened. I just bought a flight to Australia for 10!”

The term 10-pound Pom was given to British immigrants who travelled to Australia between the 1940s and ‘70s under an assisted-passage scheme. More than one million people journeyed to Australia this way.

An avid traveller, Ms McPhee plans to work in Sydney over the summer before exploring and working in other parts of the country.

Tourism Australia UK and Europe general manager Rodney Harrex said the promotion was to raise awareness of the working holiday visa among young Brits at a time when increasing numbers were looking to travel Down Under.  – By Alex Ward

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Christmas Day on Bondi Beach. I’m thinking of a blazing summer sun, white sand, Father Christmas surfing the waves, and plenty of food and drink. Or not…

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean it can’t be cold, grey and rainy. Apparently.

Christmas Eve we were full of big plans. Collecting our money together for a Christmas feast, packing towels and sun block into our bags and donning our swim suits under our clothes. We celebrated the night before Christmas with a little party and a late night swim in the apartment building’s basement pool, which turned into me racing Christian in Butterfly across the pool (I still have perfect form even if I’m not the fastest thank you very much!) before a sing along of all the cheesiest songs we could think of. After all, what’s Christmas without a sing-song!

Then it arrived! Christmas morning! I woke up to the beautiful….grey, cold, wet and windy Sydney?! Okay, not exactly what I expected. But it’s not every day you’re in Australia for Christmas, so we weren’t going to let a little weather deter us. After all, it was pretty much like every day of my life in the UK. We’re used to this kind of stuff.

I headed to Bondi Beach which was noticeably less packed than predicted thanks to that chilly wind. We gathered under one of the few wooden pavilions and huddled together to enjoy our Christmas feast. At least the weather couldn’t stop us eating good food. Roast chicken, smoked salmon, pasta salads and plenty of wine. Yummm…  I felt like a real flashpacker at that point, even if I was freezing with my towel wrapped around me for warmth.

A few people decided to grab tickets for Sunburnt Christmas – the ‘official’ Bondi Christmas party. I did without, although the shelter of the pavilion did look appealing…  Apparently our food was a lot better than theirs anyway, so I feel pretty good about my decision.

So in general – Christmas was fun, although not exactly what I pictured. This is my second Christmas away from home. Last year I was in Thailand, this year Australia. Next year… who knows! Perhaps I’ll make it back to the family, although there’s no telling what continent they’ll be on come next year either, so you’ll just have to keep reading!

Now it’s that strange time in between Christmas and New Years when not much makes sense. I posted this last year, but it’s still my favourite skit about this strange week from Michael McIntyre. And finally, thanks to everyone who sent Christmas cards from around the world to me here in Sydney. It means a lot to know you guys are still thinking of me, and please know I’m thinking of you too! I promise, postcards are slowly but surely on their way. There’s a very long list of you, so patience please!

I have high hopes for my Sydney New Years Eve and New Years Day, so watch this space for the story of what should be an epic welcome to the new decade!

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There are a lot of great things about Sydney. Great nightlife, busy streets, and all that comes with it. But of course you can’t really talk about Sydney without mentioning the beaches. I’d say three of the most famous beaches are the three I’ve visited over the last week: Bondi, Coogee and Manly.

Last week I hit Bondi Beach with a few friends to spend some time on Sydney’s most famous strip of sand. It’s not huge, especially after you see Manly, but it’s big enough and it’s PACKED mostly with the likes of us, i.e. backpackers, and surfing aficionados, i.e. not us… The surf is KILLER. There’s probably some cool surfer dude term for that, but I wouldn’t know…ahhh one day. I did attempt swimming for about three minutes. I went out until the water hit my thighs (so you know, ten feet from shore) before the waves were already creeping up and over my head, sucking me under. I’m a strong enough swimmer to handle that, but my bikini is not, and after a couple of minutes I decided that was enough indecent exposure and headed back to shore. Not to self: buy more secure bathing suits…

Craig did rent a surf board and gave it a go, but I think after a handful of near death experiences the board was kindly returned to its shop. I think we all need lessons…

I’ll most likely be headed back to Bondi Beach on Christmas day so you’ll hear more about it soon.

Coogee Beach was a brief visit for a free barbeque with Oz Party Bus! I took a walk around the beach talking about the greatness of the Oz Party Christmas Eve Cruise and their bi-weekly party bus that rides around a few of Sydney’s bars each Thursday and Saturday. I found a lot of Aussies on Coogee. Okay, sounds crazy – Australians on an Australian beach?! What?! But honestly, after Bondi Backpacker Heaven, it was actually strange coming across so many locals.

Beach number three: Manly. My favourite beach. Maybe because it’s on the north side of Sydney (the side I also live on) or maybe because it really is the nicest. It’s a little confusing because there are rather small unimpressive beaches next to Manly Wharf but walk through town and you find a large, soft sand beach. Bigger than Coogee and Bondi and in a nicer part of town. The waves here are much more manageable, the atmosphere is more catered towards families, and you don’t trip over beer bottles and cigarette butts on your way to the water’s edge. Not that Bondi or Manly are unpleasant – I promise they’re still fun. In fact, Bondi is the best beach for accessibility the the centre of Sydney, and for social events as it is where you’ll find most of the working holidayers around here. But for chilled out afternoon lying on the sand. Manly is the way to go.

My next stop is Melbourne for a few days!

Update: I am working! At the moment I have some promotions work which means I get to walk the streets, let myself into random office buildings, and walk around the shops all day, and on top of it all they send me on business trips to Melbourne! Not bad. I’ll be spending a lot of the time working, but I’ll do what I can to explore the city and report back.

Until then, Happy Holidays!

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