Back in 2004, I found myself in the fortunate position to be able to go to Australia. Initially, it looked like I’d be going with my cousins, and then, after various discussions, the trip morphed, until my mother and father were also coming along. My brother couldn’t make it; I believe he was at university at the time, he’d get to go a few years later.
I was able to book off more or less a whole month from work, and I am glad I did. To fully appreciate Australia, you need time. You also need to factor in time to travel once there, because Australia is a bloody big country! However, a few months before I was due to head out there, I met my wife-to-be, fell in love, and then had to put up with being apart for a month. Maybe my absence made the heart grow fonder?!
After spending 22 hours on a plane, my heart ached for land. The first leg from London to Malaysia was ok, but with less than an hour to stretch our legs (due to the initial flight being delayed), I found myself feeling a bit fed up with being stuck in the air, not able to really move around. I will say that the food was quite decent (long-haul flights clearly do things different, and Air Malaysia had some good grub), and there were entertainment systems onboard, but there are only so many times you can watch the same movie, or listen to the same music, before you start to go stir-crazy. Eventually we reached the west coast of Australia, but our flight was heading for the east coast, which was still several hours away!
Eventually we landed, and upon arriving at a rather lovely hotel in Sydney, my first order of business was sleep! I was knackered. I didn’t sleep on the plane (I just can’t), so after more than 24 hours of being awake, I couldn’t face any first-day activities. I more or less collapsed onto the bed!
After that, we had a pretty busy itinerary. Among the offers Sydney had for our brood, we had the climbing of Sydney Harbour Bridge (the bridge itself is a remarkable piece of engineering, and quite an impressive sight). Well, I say climb, we went up a series of stairs, and we did end up in open air on more than one occasion, as we ascended. Everyone was tethered to the railing, but even so, there were points when you were very high up, which granted you a spectacular, if faintly terrifying, view of the city. Interesting fact: The bridge is twice as high as the famous opera house.
I recall visiting some sort of natural history… not museum, but some of nature… place. I remember it because there were lots of insects in exhibits, and I made my cousin jump out of her skin by pretending there was a spider nearby. There was also some general exploration of the city, but we weren’t in Sydney for long. You see, the trip to Australia was for a purpose, namely the wedding of one of my cousins to her Australian partner. They’d already had a wedding in England, for the bride’s family and friends, and now we’d do it again in Australia. We journeyed north, to Newcastle (ironically, I have yet to spend any time in England’s Newcastle, despite it being much closer to me), where we would spend a fair chunk of our time. I think it was here that we went to a local waterpark, and let me tell you that Australians do waterparks properly. This place was absolutely fantastic. There were also a few meals out, some outdoor bowls, and a fair bit of alcohol! The wedding in Australia was every bit as enjoyable and memorable as the one in England!
Throughout all of this, I would try to make time to call my girlfriend. This wasn’t straight-forward, due to the time zone difference, but we managed to exchange a few conversations. Our relationship was in that rather giddy early phase where you’re very much falling for each other, so being apart for a month was quite emotional for me. In fact, listening to some music on the flights we wound up taking (more on that in a mo) made my heart swell.
Whilst in Australia, I flew in a small, 17-seater aircraft. This was my first experience of such a small plane, which began with a flight from Newcastle to Sydney (where we’d catch another flight). As we stood at the small airfield, I looked at one particular plane, and wondered if it might be ours. My Dad told me ‘I hope not’, with a smile on his face. I looked again, to realise this plane had no wings! Naturally we flew on a different plane! The experience of a small plane was quite enjoyable, and the flight was brief.
I forget where we immediately went to next. This was almost 19 years ago, so precise memories are a little fuzzy! I do know that at one point we ended up having a very nice outdoor barbecue (in Australia they make provisions for this, they have banks of coin-operated electric barbecues for public use), and we also went wine-tasting (aaaaaah!). I also remember that we drove down a beach that was legally a highway, and we took a ferry to explore Fraser Island (a small location to the north of Brisbane). Fraser Island is home to some beautiful landscapes, and if I recall correctly, is a source of tea tree oil. The more I think, the more I suspect the beach highway was on Fraser Island. This little place had some beautiful little natural pools, and curious little turtles floated around within them.
I’m pretty sure it was coming back from here that I witnessed one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.
I encountered one unpleasantry, namely a side-effect of flying on a small plane. The second time we had cause to do so, I had a cold, and flying with a cold left me with the strange feeling of a muffled ear for the last leg of the holiday. This got corrected by the flight home (it seemed to pop as a result).
The trip was a wonderful, beautiful experience, and I would love to repeat it some day, though it’s unlikely. It’s expensive (even more so now than it was then), and the flights are gruelling. Alas, I doubt there will be a high speed, cheap train service between the UK and Australia any time soon!