fter three great weeks on a farm in Albury and in the beautiful Victoria High Country, we set out to discover another piece of Australia. We book a train to the famous beach town Byron Bay, but starting from Sydney our train is cancelled due to heavy rainfall and is replaced by a bus. After a lot of miscommunication and confusion about who has to be dropped of where and which roads are impassable etc., the bus driver decides on dropping each and every one of us off at their final destination. Pretty convenient. During the nighttime drive, the bus driver has to resolve a further problem as a local hillbilly is bent on being as annoying as she can. A crying baby situation turns ugly and its Indian-Australian parents even get called “curry munchers” among other things. Something we have noticed in Australia is that there is quite a bit of racism here but that nobody wants to acknowledge its existence.
In the end we arrive in the middle of the night in Byron Bay, much earlier than expected. Luckily people don’t usually lock their doors here at night. That way we can get into the B&B’s lobby straight away and sleep a bit on the couch. After having an embarrassing breakfast (we manage to set of the fire alarm thanks to an overeager toaster), a shower and a change of clothes, we cycle towards Byron Bay’s centre. The famous surfing & alternative lifestyle paradise about which lots of fellow travellers wax poetic, where everything goes and everybody is a free spirit and an altruist… We don’t really fall in love with it though. It does have beautiful beaches, impressive surfers in tight wetsuits, beautiful and overly cool people and magnificent sunsets, but if you thought this sounds like the place to drink a bottle of wine on the beach, think again. This could lead to a fine of 200 $ and there is a snitching line that people actually use. Most other fun beach activities seem to be equally forbidden… We drink a plastic cup of wine to that and feel the disapproval of some of those “free spirits”.
We first visit the Byron Bay market where Indian trinkets, reggae gear, organic, raw and paleo food, hippie music, New Age mumbo jumbo and bare feet walking is all the rage. All this alternative lifestyle stuff, limb entangling yoga, karma treatments, detox, homeopathic medecine, rainbow flags, and meat-substitutes, make us want to run to the nearest Mac Donalds. To us it just looks like everybody is trying to be as skinny, cool and good looking as possible, and just covering for their selfish motives with “healthy lifestyle” and “save the planet” lingo which allows them to wag their fingers at everybody else. However, as most “non-conformists” these days, they all seem to want to talk, act and dress like all the other non-conformists. One of the funnier things is that most of these organic new age people climb, on their bare feet of course, in huge gas guzzling pick-up trucks and SUV’s. Apparently they have already done more than their share for mother nature. Top it off with some surprisingly right wing opinions and a good dose of uptightness and this place might well be the hypocrisy capital of Australia.
You might have noticed that we weren’t all that keen on the local vibe. However, we have planned to hang around, because we have another housesit in the neighbourhood. We don’t really know what to expect because due to Australia’s lousy phone- and internet connections we haven’t been able to meet the owners yet. As that worked out great last time (read more about that here), we decide to be trusting and still go for it. The location is just near a magnificent 13 km long beach, backed by a tidal river and surrounded by beautiful jungle, but sadly the location turns out to be the only positive point to the housesit. We end up in a house that is really too dirty for words and two dogs that are completely neglected. We give the sweet little dogs a bath and a bit of a make-over after which they are in much better shape. The situation inside the house, however, is beyond repair.
The homeowners jump into their SUV almost immediately after we arrive, quickly telling us that there are no working locks on any of the doors, that we just have to trow all the laundry they left on a pile, and that they will be home a few days later than agreed upon. So far for our first wedding anniversary plans after the housesit.
We soon find out why they were in such a rush to leave. The house is just downright dirty and, without exaggerating, clearly hasn’t been cleaned in years. Black layers of dirt coat all the window sills, dead insects are strewn all over, literally hundreds of spiders inhabit the massive layers of webs on the ceilings, the pots and pans are covered in layers of sooth as if they have been stored in a steel factory’s chimney, roaches skittle around in the kitchen, and most windows are so covered in dirt and spider webs that you can no longer see through them. There are even whole colonies of ants moving along the walls. Not to mention the bedroom and the sheets… For the first time in our lives we are too disgusted to sleep on the bed as provided and go straight out to buy new sheets and covers. And that requires a pretty impressive level of gore if you know we have slept in bare-bones budget accommodation all over the world. But what makes it really unbearable is the noxious fungus on the walls. There are limits….
Kate has asthma and for the first time ever can’t stand to be in the house as she just can’t breathe normally. Looking for a remedy isn’t simple because in these parts it is hard to find anything else than homeopathic and natural healing stuff. We prefer our medicine to be real. We tried to solve the situation by buying cleaning gear and cleaning the house twice. But after the second round of cleaning we find out that this kind of accumulated dirt, dust, grime and fungus is just impossible to clear away without a complete home make-over. We toy with the idea of just putting up a tent in the backyard so we could keep on taking care of the dogs without Kate’s health getting any worse, but decide that this would be all too crazy. So we contact the home-owners, tell them about the health problems Kate experiences and luckily they manage to find a solution transferring the housesitting duties to friends of theirs. We learn the hard way that housesitting can really turn out badly as well. Next time we will ask more questions and make sure we have talked face-to-face to the home-owners at least once on skype so that we know what to expect.
The week that we are stuck there, we try to make the most of it. Every morning we go out to walk and play with the dogs on the idyllic beach and then we head for the nearby village of Brunswick Heads. There we write blogs, select photos and eat delicious fish and chips every night. It ends up being a few nice days. A bit of optimism and fish and chips make up for a lot. When life gives you (organic) lemons, make lemonade.
After our first bad housesitting experience, we move on to the next destination. But as we have received worrying news from back home, we don’t really know what to do. We decide to stay close to an airport, just in case. While we wait for further news, we visit Brisbane, have a look at the excellent Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and walk through the riverside parks. We decide Brisbane is a very likeable place, but a bit expensive for us to hang around in. As we find a super cheap campervan deal, we decide to rent one to have a cheap place to stay and to discover the area around Brisbane. That way we can always drive straight to the airport if need be.
What follows is a few odd days of waiting, worrying and not knowing what to do. However, we try to make the most of it and decide to head for the most southerly point of acces to the Great Barrier Reef. However, the question is, will we go scuba diving? That would mean we wouldn’t be reachable for a day and afterwards we would be banned from flying for about 24 hours. We end up driving past the coast, camping along the way on some magnificent spots, cooking one-pan meals on our little gas fire, grilling fresh shrimp on a public BBQ and sleeping under the starry skies thanks to the glass roof of our JUCY Toyota Previa. Who said cheap and luxurious don’t go well together?
We do some exploring in the Great Sandy National Park (on the other side of the expensive Fraser Island) with its white beaches, huge sand dunes and deeply blue waters. There we suddenly spot a cute little blue crab. Maarten tries to catch it, but it immediately disappears into the sand. While we wait for it to reappear, we hear the sound of fizzy water all around us, pssst pssst pssst. Suddenly the sand starts to move and hundreds of small blue crabs crawl out of their hiding places. They start moving in great legions towards the edge of the water and when we get closer, their pace quickens. One big mass of running crabs, but as soon as we get too close they disappear into the sands again.
We walk on dunes, enjoy some great views, and eat some epic ice cream at Massimo in Noosa Heads. Thursday we plan on going to the Great Barrier Reef’s Lady Musgrave Island, but the weather turns sour and it looks like it won’t happen.
At the same time we get the news that the situation at home is looking critical and decide to head straight for Brisbane airport. We book our flights on a roadside MacDonalds’ wifi that same evening, clear out the van and repack our bags. By the next day at noon we are already on an airplane towards Belgium. As we hadn’t showered for days, we wash our hair in the airport toilets during a layover in Bangkok and clean up a bit. That is how glamorous our life can be. Saturday morning we arrive home after almost 28 hours in transit and not having slept at all. We are just in time to say our goodbyes and spend the following weeks at home to be with our family.
Life is just too short. Don’t wait for later, because later may never come…
Meanwhile we are back on the road and are currently travelling in Brazil, enjoying life right now.
To have a look at our last set of Australia pictures, click here.