Australia - the first frontier

Maroochydore Travel Blog

 › entry 10 of 11 › view all entries
And so - after 6 months of Asia - the highs, the lows, the curries, the tummies, the hassle, the sheer magic - I have arrived in 'Sunny' Australia. A fresh start, a new beginning - utterly exciting and terrifying at the same time.
It was with a sad farewell I left Bangkok on a typical humid and sticky evening - having been preened, trimmed, pained and massaged to within an inch of my life - i was revived and human again. I was joined all the way to Sydney by the lovely Miss Lucia, who I met, very fortunately, on my way to Koh Chang. She would be my guardian angel for my fgirst few days in Sydney - and she started by one of the best presents of all - the infamous Lonely Planet!
We landed very early in the morning to a very chilly Sydney - I had forgotten all about that kind of weather. Stepping off the plane to see a low blanket of light grey cloud, feeling that freshness and damp air, took me back home - I felt like I was home. Boarding the, ridiculously overpriced, train to Central Station, I was so excited to see my friend too - Jo, a childhood friend who had moved to Sydney in January. I made my way up to our dorm in the Wake Up! hostel, the find her hungover, half asleep, peering at me through eyes that spoke of a very good night out. Having excitedly woken her up, dragged her out of bed, we were ready to hit Sydney - and what better way to start than with the Coggee-Bondi walk. I couldn't think of a better way to start! The sun made an appearance as we took the 3 hour casual stroll along the rugged, unforgiving and beautiful headlands. From Mackenzie Cove to Bronte, Tamarara through to the enticing golden sands of Bondi Beach itself. Only the hardcore surfers, old folks in their swimming caps and all-in-ones and squealing kids were taking to the cold blue waters. It was so inviting - all the way along the coast is so amazing - the water a shade of blue-green I've never seen before, clean with water foam dancing on the surface. I couldn't imagine that just the day before I was sipping whiskey on the Koh San Road.
Jo and I strolled the streets of Sydney - taking in the main drag of Pitt Street and George Street - past Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Surry Hills, Liverpool Street, the Queen Victoria Building - I felt right at home. A night out in a proper pub in Surry Hills that night reaffirmed how much I liked this place already (despite the crazy price tag that came with it…)
Jo headed back for a short stay back home a few days later and I was to move into my temporary new home with Natasha - an old friend of my sister's who had been living and working here for nearly 2 years with her boyfriend Chris - Detroit Techno DJ extraordinaire. I couldn't have been more lucky too - a beautiful apartment overlooking to waters of Neutral Bay and a sneaky peek of the Harbour Bridge too. I indulged in baths, endless cups of tea, watching the entire first series of The Wire and having a 'home' again - not living from my backpack. It was bliss. Tash is an avid yogi and I joined her in the local school to try and get back into pushing my body into awkward positions in a hot room room full of very fit Aussies - ouch - 'it's called yoga practice, not yoga perfect' is what I keep telling myself!
I was fortunate to be in Sydney at the time of the Biennale Festival - a bi-annual arts festival that holds events all across the city. I spent the best part of 3 solid days trying to see it all, travelling from The Domain with the Gallery of New South Wales, to the impressive Museum of Contemporary Art that looms over Circular Quay, to Cockatoo Island for the main attraction. The island was used originally during World War 2 as a repair facility for ships and has since been derelict, machinery all still in place. It's an art exhibit in itself, but add a vast array of international artist in video, animation, sculpture and painting and it's its own entity - totally amazing, I happily whiled away 3 hours there, it was one of the best art exhibits I'v ever seen. Other highlights of the city included the Botanical Gardens, Pyrmount Fish Market, New Town vintage shops, Surry Hills wine bars and cupcakes, and the coffee - everywhere. One fond a bizarre memory was standing on the steps of the Opera House for the beautiful sunset over the Harbour Bridge (that can only take me back to my uni days in Newcastle), and as the light faded to an explosion of colour in the sky, the local habitants of the Botanical Gardens came out for a look around…. bats. These aren't just like any normal bats, these bats were the size of cats - cats with wings, hundreds of them. It was like a scene from Batman - so surreal. There I was thinking that in the evenings there were some noisy birds in the trees - turns out there were these guys. I've never seen so many swarming in the sky at once, just bizarre.
One of the best things about traveling is meeting people from all over the world and hoping one day to cross paths again. Adam is a crazy Aussie I met in my first month in Chennai, India and then randomly bumped into him again on the streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Now I was in his home town and was lucky to have a friendly face (another one) to show me around too… I didn't, however, expect him to take me to the Northern Beaches for a swim in the middle of a storm though - but he did, gleefully pulling out a spare wetsuit and saying "I brought you a steamer!!". Thanks Mr Hart. Lust for life springs to mind. He showed me some of his local haunts, took me to watch the sunset at Macquaries Point and generally been a legend since I arrived.
Catherine, the Belgian I met on my treacherous journey from Vietnam to Laos, had continued her project on essential oils and it had brought her to Sydney too. We had some lovely catch-ups, wine and walking around town together - so nice to see another familiar face in a new city.


After near 2 weeks of enjoying the city and the delights of Tash's sofa, bath and straighteners, I had come up with a plan to fill the next few weeks - fruit picking. Not the best plan I hear you say - but a plan nonetheless. After much research, I was bound for Bundaberg, Queensland where tomatoes where waiting for me to pick them and it's rum to be drunk. So, I boarded the plane (flashpacking you may think, but cheaper and quicker than the bus and train!) and was on my way to the Sunshine Coast. I got talking to two lads next to me on the plane - and turns out we were all due for not only the same town, but the same backpackers and fruit picking too. Andrew and Darren, from Manchester, and I soon became good friends, realising we were in the same boat and, in accordance with the backpackers code, we stuck together. Good job. If I can offer any good advice to those who may be contemplating completing their visa extension work in Bundaberg - don't. Leave. Don't stop there. It was a long day getting to this town, having flown to Maroochydore, Sunshine Coast and caught a Greyhound the rest of the way - it was well past dark by the time we arrived. Everything seemed shut. The next day we checked into our working hostel in anticipation for the working week ahead, but first we had a day to explore the town. That took about 15 minutes. It's a small place, neat, tidy, with Target, Coles, MacDonalds, charity shops, endless hairdressers oddly (and just as many bad hair cuts), and bottle shops. It seems OK on first impressions and thought it a place doable for the next 5 weeks. The hostel was OK, not great by any means, staff with an air of hostility, strict rules and and general sense of gloom… it was decorated like a leisure centre. Thank goodness we were blessed with a fantastic bunch of fellow backpackers, all up for some fun amidst the hard work - they introduced me to Goon. For those unfamiliar with Goon (as I was until this moment) - is it a type of wine, I think, that is sold in 4 litre boxes, tastes like flat Lambrini, can cause black-outs and offers the worse type of hangover known to man - all for $10. Urgh. Once, never again to be repeated.
I began work on Oz Vaz Farm to pick tomatoes. An early start - seeing the sunrise over the mass expanse of fields, dewy rows of fresh tomatoes waiting to be plucked by our own fair hands. It was a long day, my handstands didn't know what had hit them, my back was crying and my mind was battling to stay sane - after one day. The next day - an even bigger test : zucchinis, or courgettes for those who speak English. I had heard nothing but bad stories about picking these things, and they are all true. What doesn't help, also, is having the contractors shouting and swearing at you all day. It was up there as one of the worst days of my life to date. Hated it, my body was in agony, I had had abuse hurled at me most of the day and I had made a grand total of $25. This was not good, something was going to have to change and soon. After much debate, we decided that it would be best to head somewhere to earn some decent money and nicer people to work for - we hoped, anyway. And so we booked the last 3 seats on a train back to Maroochydore where we had booked into another working hostel to pick strawberries. The look on our faces couldn't hide our joy of finally leaving that place - it'll go down as a black mark of my time and will hopefully fade to nothing in time - still, we met some really great people, so I am thankful for that - Sarah Jane, Catriona, Matt, Peter, Olivier, Matt, Travis, Daniele Bello, Ali and so many more, thanks!


We arrived in Nambour early afternoon after an amazing train journey - with its TVs, space, check-in luggage service, half decent food and did I say space? Lovely, AND still cheaper than the Greyhound - top tip. Maroochy is a short bus journey away, right on the coast with soft white sands, white tipped waves and sunshine - aptly named, the Sunshine Coast. Sun Coast Backpackers is a shabby but appealing building set off the main road, 2 streets from the beach, run by Peter and Denise. Instantly inviting, the slightly tired abode is liveable and home for the next 4 and a half weeks. We had a day to explore this town - the exact same place we were just a week ago on our way north. There's alot more on offer in this seaside resort and immediately felt more lively, interesting and with the beach at the end of the road, I couldn't complain. Peter had already set us up with work the following day - strawberries it was. I had heard bad things about these too - namely from Ian who was all too eager to tell me of the pain and lack of renumeration… ah. And yet there I was - 7 am, in a field with rows of these little berries of pain as far as the eye can see. Oh well. There were about 120 people there too - from all over the world, all walks of life, there for visa extensions and money - all together in a field in the middle of Maroochydore. Needless to say there is much banter and laughter every day - which makes up for the lack of ipods being allowed and distinct lack of any decent radio stations. The first day is OK - trying to figure out how it's supposed to be done, trying to remember 100 names. Day two is as if you've been hit by a train, your body hurts in places that you don't think should, day three is even worst - working onto of the existing two days damage, but at least there's light at the end of the tunnel - 2 days off to try and stop walking like John Wayne. There was much merriment that evening in celebration of completing our first stint on the farm. Two days off… that is unless you're woken at 5.30 in the morning asking to help out at the local passionfruit farm. It was a struggle, but far more enjoyable - big rolling hills in beautiful countryside, taking a walk, picking up the ripe fruit that had fallen on the floor. I walked down the wide grassy lanes, feet wet with dew, sun peeping over the vines, listening to Chaka Khan - I actually was enjoying myself.
A final day off to recover allowed me to explore the beach path down to the next town - Mooloolaba, an up market version of Maroochy with expensive pizzerias on the beach and wine bars, very nice. The rest of the time was mostly spent horizontal, trying to recover those weary bones. And then it began again - and again, the cycle of work and recovery. There is little room for much else other than visits to the local Coles and BWS (Beer Wine Spirits) for sustenance. The blessing is the location of the hostel near the beach - and a frequent dip in the cool waters after work is a massive bonus - a beautiful spot that somehow makes you forget the pain and struggles of the day, if only for half an hour. I have taken up practicing yoga everyday too - as pain management more than anything and it really helps - another top tip - that, and deep heat - lots of it.
And so life ticks on like this and has for nearly 4 weeks now and before long I shall be heading back to Sydney to see some very special visitors.

As for my time living and working in Maroochydore, highlights include 'Smokos' (breaks) at work, meeting sooo many people from all over the world, swimming at dusk, the countryside - a cross between California and Wales and totally beautiful, being able to drink an actual pint in a pub, the beach, driving again, Japanese people, laid back way of life, bonfire parties on the beach, French people, BBQ's, cheesecake, slower pace, the beach (did I say that?) and the sunshine. Not so bad. 1 week to go - may the picking and parties continue. Thanks to those who've made it so much more enjoyable too - Ayumi, Stefano, Pierre, Vincent and Lyndsey, Gip, Paul, Jules, Julien, Etienne, Olivier and Vicky, Hoya, Noel, James 'Geordie Jeans', Mark, Charlotte, Danny, Luke, Ben, Gemma, Koko, Wooka, Reymo, Amil and Haichal, Chris and Yuki and everyone else, happy memories.

Sydney here I come… again, till next time
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photo by: theonionlady