The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Tag: Australia (page 1 of 7)

The Beaches of Cambodia

For many, Cambodia = Temples.

And you wouldn’t be wrong, with the Angkor compound stretching for miles around the northern city of Siem Reap. But spend a little time in the south, and you come to the coastline of Cambodia.

This area is a hidden gem for budget and off-the-beaten-path travelers. Without the hype surrounding much of the Thai coastal areas and islands, Cambodia dishes up pristine beaches for fractional prices.

Unfortunately for me, the whole thing was a bit of a flop. 

At least storm clouds make pretty sunsets

At least storm clouds make pretty sunsets

I didn’t have a plan when I arrived in Sihanoukville after a 10-hour bus journey from Siem Reap. I had spent most of the night in a surprisingly comfortable sleeper bus. That is, it was comfortable until the ‘co-pilot’ decided that the aisle directly next to my bottom-bunk sleeper space was where we was going to rest of the duration, his hand casually brushing me every once in a while until I finally smacked at him.

I had heard glowing reviews of Otres Beach, so I hopped on a motorbike, jetted over there, and started my now-customary slog to each of the guesthouses to see who would give me the best deal.

I had heard that I should check out Koh Rong or the more relaxed Koh Rong Samloem, or at least find my way to one of the islands off the shore at some point while down here. But not long after my arrival, the clouds rolled in and a rain shower began!

Thus far into my travels, I’d had luck with the weather. I was chasing the end of high season as I made my way east, and this was intentionally done so I had negotiation power for accommodation. It had finally bitten me in ass: I was at the first beach I’d seen in weeks, and it looked like rain. Since my visa to Vietnam needed to be processed in Sihanoukville, I was stuck here for at least a couple of days while it was processed.

So, I decided to just relax. I caught up on a lot of writing. I made friends with Mern, the bartender at the guesthouse I was staying at, and defended myself against the playful advances of middle-aged Psykhe, the Greek manager of the place.

Rain-washed beach

Rain-washed beach

The day before my departure, it looked like the rain would finally stop. So I booked myself onto an island hopper tour that allowed me some social interaction and an exploration of Kaoh Russei, Kaoh Chanloh, Koh Ta Kiev. On Koh Ta Kiev we discovered a treehouse absinthe distillery run by an American guy who had a Keith Richards/Jack Sparrow thing going on, but the majority of the trip was forgettable.

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Trying to leave the beaches is what proved to be the struggle. I had booked a van transfer to Kampot for the afternoon, so I could go to Sihanoukville and collect my passport with my new Vietnamese visa. However, the travel agent who had booked the van service had (mistakenly?) put me on the morning van, and now he was gone for Khmer New Year with the $8 USD I had paid him for the booking. I started to fear that I would be stuck in Otres or Sihanoukville, and I was really starting to get cabin fever.

A quick consult of the Lonely Planet reminded me about share taxis in Cambodia – people who drive their private cars and sell half-seats to people who wish to travel from one place to the next. So my tuk tuk driver started toward the bus station, where these could be found. I was a stressed-out, harried wreck, having just had strong words with the woman who operated the van service in the hopes that I could convince her to give me a space on the bus.

But before we’d even reached the bus station, my tuk tuk driver abruptly pulled to the side, having heard something shouted in Khmer that I would never have understood. It was a man offering rides to Kampot and Kep! After an attempt at negotiation, I parted with $20 USD so I could leave immediately, thus purchasing the last two seats in the car (which ended up being just the whole back left seat of his four-door sedan).

After a squishy (but blessedly fast) ride, I was in the center of Kampot, ready for the next adventure.

What I Learned:

  1. Confirm travel arrangements, especially if they’ve changed. I was supposed to have my passport back earlier, but the Vietnam Embassy pushed back it’s availability, so I had to push back my van departure time. The change was clearly not confirmed!
  2. Pay attention to the weather reports. If it hadn’t been for the visa situation, I probably would have simply moved on to the next spot after a day or two of rain. But if I had paid a little more attention, I could have maybe skipped the beaches entirely and made my way to Rabbit Island, which I unfortunately had to skip!
  3. Educate yourself on all (legitimate) ways to travel. If I hadn’t known about share taxis, I’d have been stuck in Sihanoukville or have had to pay $60 USD for a taxi to the next town (which was so not going to happen). The best way to think in your feet is to arm yourself with knowledge!

Farewell Sydney

Goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

My departure is bittersweet, like the time I’ve spent with you. Drastic highs and the lowest lows. My throat caught by both beauty and despair, in merciless succession.

I’ve lost a lot while I’ve been with you, Sydney. You brought me despair-filled train rides over tin and terra cotta rooftops in the weak winter morning light. Aching homesickness alone in my beach apartment, having everything I thought I ever wanted and drowning in a sea of tears. You took the bulk of my entitlement and tore it from my white-knuckled grasp. You looked at what I thought I’d become, and stoically pushed me in the opposite direction. I flailed and I fought, and you impassively looked on through my laughter and tears and did what you were always going to do, anyway.

You’ve given me a lot too. You’ve helped me redefine success, and gave me the courage to look at things differently than I always had. You brought me dear friends and the love of my life. You introduced me to the gentlest and toughest people I have ever known, and I have spent the better part of three years trying to reconcile that paradox. You gave me sunsets unlike any I’ve ever seen, a violent hug of color embracing the dark line of the horizon. Like all the colors in world had to cling close to the dusky shape of the west, as though they couldn’t survive without that dark relief to define them.

You taught me that no color is as bright as the one that stands closest to the darkness. And you took me away from everything that came easy and thrust me toward the black. You forced me to make a stand, to say that there surely must be something beyond my wildest dreams. You didn’t let me settle, Sydney, so I won’t.

Instead I will leave my pride and my plans on your golden sandy beaches, in your aquamarine seas, mixed in with the red dust at your heart. I will float my fear over the terraced houses and art-deco apartment blocks, and leave a huge piece of my heart in your wide and welcoming harbour. And while I might think you’re mourning the loss of me, you’re probably just racking your brain, trying to remember my name.

So goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

The Whitsunday Islands

I stood in crystal-clear, ankle-deep water, stunned into reverent silence by a vivid rainbow stretching across the sky and reflecting on the green water. I had been following the path of a giant sea turtle that had been sunning itself just a few feet from where I had waded into the water when the rainbow distracted me.

“Dolphins!” came a cry.

I wheeled to my left to see half a dozen dorsal fins cresting out of the water about 20 feet away.

“Is this even real?!?” I shouted ecstatically.

The Whitsundays had welcomed us with quite the show.

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We had boated out to a place called Langford Reef, just across from the posh Hayman Island and only 30 minutes from the Airlie Beach marina. We were testing the sea-worthiness of our boat for a two-day adventure that was due to start the next day, and snorkeling at the reef was the way we decided to test it.

The reef itself was alive with color – chartreuse and lavender and vivid green, with striped, spotted and sparkling fish darting throughout the coral. But when we decided to relax on the spit of sand that stretched out behind the reef, we were treated to a turtle, dolphin and rainbow show.

The following day dawned brilliant and warm (well, chokingly, tropically hot is probably a better word), and back to the Marina we went to start wending our way through a few of the 74 islands of the Whitsundays.

Once out on the water, the overwhelming humidity was washed away by the wind that whipped past us and the warm salty spray that occasionally made its way over the side of the boat.

Our first stop was a sheltered bay that was home to several dozen sea turtles. Once we’d cut the motor and started drifting, their little heads kept surfacing around us every 30 seconds or so. Occasionally they would dive, and their whole shell would surface for a moment before they disappeared into the depths with little more than a bubble to show they were there.

After that we went toward Whitehaven Beach, which at low tide was mostly above water. We dropped anchor on the large spit of squeaky-white sand that jutted out, marveling at the formations that the water had made in the pure silica sand. Having gotten sunburned enough for one day, we decided to head toward our accommodation for the evening on Long Island, which was still a good distance away. We stopped to top up our fuel and were treated with the sighting of a pod of porpoises.

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As we neared Palm Bay, our eyes widened. It looked like a deserted island paradise – a beautiful golden beach dotted with little huts and palm trees and… not much else. It had once been a resort that had been abandoned by the swish franchise that had built it, but since the huts were privately owned, they decided to leave it with a skeleton staff and have it be self-catered accommodation. Thus, it had all of the trappings of a 5-star resort (swimming pool, lobby, beachfront veranda, free use of kayaks, huge dining room) but none of the money-sucking aspects of such a resort (pricy bar and restaurant, staff to tip, etc.).  Within minutes my sister and I were both saying how much we needed to bring our entire family back to this place.

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Our ‘room’ was a two bedroom beachfront hut with a kitchenette and amazing front porch. We sat on the porch with glasses of wine and ooh-ed and ahh-ed over a stunning and broody sunset before we went to the BBQs to cook dinner. Rather than have a late night, we opted to get up early to watch the sun rise on the other side of the island, a short 10 minute walk from where we were staying.

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After watching the sun rise, we hopped back on the boat to catch Whitehaven Beach at a higher tide, which was a spectacular sight.

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A little more snorkeling at the reefs off the islands (with a couple of visiting turtles!) and were Airlie bound again, a little worn out but thoroughly enamored with the Whitsunday Islands.

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That Time I Stayed with a Stranger

What happens when you decide to avail yourself of the hospitality of a complete stranger? AMAZING things.

Years ago, I heard of a website called CouchSurfing. I thought it was a really cool idea – you get to meet people from all over the world, make some friends, have a place to crash next time you travel to Europe or wherever. Reviews and social media connections meant you could vet the people who wanted to stay with you or host you and make sure they weren’t axe murderers. I promptly signed up, and made all my roommates do the same (however, they weren’t as keen on the whole hosting idea that I was).

Fast forward 5 years, and as I prepped for my travels I decided to rustle up the old CS profile, partially to help keep costs low-ish, but mostly to meet people in the places I plan to travel and get the ‘inside scoop’. I hosted a couple of people at my place in Sydney (all AWESOME ladies) to work up the good karma, and some January I was ready to be a ‘surfer.’

So when we decided to head up to Airlie Beach, we looked around on CouchSurfing to see if there was anyone who seemed like they’d be able to show us around. We found a guy I’ll call “T”, someone with an overwhelming amount of positive reviews from a lot of people who had stayed with him. I sent a request, thinking maybe we’d get the inside scoop on good bars or restaurants.

What we got was probably worthy of being called: The best CouchSurfing experience anyone has ever had, ever.

T happens to be an avid boatsman of all sorts, and has ready access to a number of marine vehicles. Because he had a few days off from work, he decided we should all go on a two-day private tour of the islands of the Whitsundays. After a day out at Langford Reef to ‘warm the boat up’ (more on that later), we departed on day two for a full tour of the islands, an overnight at a magical place called Palm Bay on Long Island (more on that later too), and an afternoon at Whitehaven Beach before we returned to Airlie for the rest of our stay.

I know what you’re thinking: ‘OK, nothing in life is free. What’s the catch? Clearly he was angling for a way into one of your pants.’

I know, I thought it too at first. I mean, this level of generosity just doesn’t exist. Right?

Wrong.

Our host was a 100% perfect gentleman, never tried anything, never even hinted at anything untoward. And I think he just really enjoyed seeing his homeland (which is STUNNING) through new eyes every once in a while, and exploring with people who he would never otherwise have met. Of course, we cooked dinner for him and his flatmate every night we were at their house, and left them with several parting gifts since we not only saved on accommodation, but also saved the hundreds of dollars that a three-day private boat charter would have cost as well.

I’m not saying every experience will be this way, but I do have to say that I had a little bit of my faith in the goodness of humanity restored by the utterly selfless experience I had with a complete stranger in Airlie Beach.

If you’re interested in Couchsurfing, this travel blogger has a pretty good set of criteria he uses when looking CouchSurfing hosts. As a woman, I usually also require a mix of male and female reviews (only girls is a little suspect), more than 10 positive reviews and no negative reviews, and verification. 

Til Next time, xoxo!

Trekking the Outback

I lurched forward at an impossible angle, leaning back as far as I could and clinging to the metal bar in front of me, desperately trying to keep myself from lurching into the red dust below. With another jerky movement, everything evened out again, and I was successfully astride a standing camel.

As a line of camels with human cargo began plodding forward, I was told that my glorious steed was named Bonnie, and that she was getting on in years but had been one of their best racing camels. I gave her a pat and whispered, “Let’s keep it below a trot today, okay Bon Bon?” Bonnie silently chewed her assent.

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Our girl, Bonnie

Behind me, a very large camel named Jack thrust his face dangerously close to my knee. Having been warned that he was a ‘proud camel’ and not to be overly affectionate, I tentatively scratched behind his ears. He impassively looked on, like this was the most boring thing in the world.

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This is Jack

And then we were off – trekking through the bright red sand as the sun slowly lowered itself toward the western horizon. Riding a camel was a surprisingly comfortable experience. Having learned to horseback ride as a child I expected the same necessity to squeeze/kick to get the animal going, but really our stirrups were just there for comfort. Once the lead camel started going, they all went. No sore legs after this trip!

We slowly slumped our way towards the border of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and were awarded with a phenomenal view of the sun setting behind Kata Tjuta and reflecting off of Uluru.

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We stopped for a short photo shoot (Bonnie out-posed us), and Jack thrust his head toward my knee again, baring his very sizable teeth and making me shrink away from him (well, as much as you shrink away with your leg pinned onto a 200-pound animal). I said a silent prayer that he wouldn’t take a fist-sized chunk out of my leg for daring to pet his proud head, and the guide laughed and said he was probably just barfing up his cud so he had something to chew. Charming.

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Glamour shots with Bon Bon

After about an hour and a half of trekking through the lands bordering the national park, we were treated to a couple of glasses of champagne and some ‘bush tucker’ snacks. My sister and I cheersed to another successful tick on the bucket list, gave Bonnie a farewell pat, and hurried back to our beds.

What: Camel to Sunset Tour
Website: http://ulurucameltours.com.au/ 
Cost: $125 per person
Booking Tips: If you’re in Uluru for a couple of days, call and book directly and ask how many are scheduled to be on the tour for the evenings you will be there, so you can potentially get a smaller group. If you want to splash out, you can trek via camel to the Sounds of Silence dinner too!

Uluru

Uluru is where all the veins of Australia open onto the earth, pouring its rich red blood into the soil. Where the pain, joy, determination, and conflict of thousands of years have soaked into the ground and left it brilliant with all of the crimson emotions: anger, passion, love, rage. Drive down a weathered two-lane highway and into an otherworldly landscape of silvery-sage, lacy leaves clinging in desperate wisps to burnt-black branches and trunks, grounded in earth a vermilion shade that borders unnatural, and a pale blue sky that looks as though it had to be stretched over twice the distance it was meant to, only thinly covering the heavens and ready to split at a moments notice.

Uluru is a place where history is dreamtime, and it seems as if this part of the world has never woken up from the dream, and keeps spinning natural wonders that are as strange as they are awe-inspiring. A rock that looks incongruously soft, like a pillow for the gods, beckons on the horizon. The sky is dotted with cottony clouds, billowing up and flat on the bottom, as if even the heavens dare not get too close to this sacred earthen altar. Approach this sandstone mesa in a sea of red sand, and you soon find that its complexities outweigh even its awesomeness. Curious patterns carved by nature throw shapes and shadows that spark the imagination and many a myth. Heat presses down from above and even more insistently up from the ground, pinning you into a desert trance somewhere between reality and someplace you’ve never been before.

Watch the rock as the sun sets, and see a wild array of color on the low end of the color spectrum that only nature could create. As the sun sinks out of sight over a stretch of land as unending as the sea, Uluru settles into dark shadow on a purple horizon, ringed by the atmosphere, keeping its secrets for another day.

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The Great Ocean Road

“I’m freezing” I hissed at my sister, trying to avoid being overheard by the throngs of camera-wielding tourists nearby.

“So am I,” she whispered back, and wrapped the towel that had become a makeshift shawl tighter around her shoulders.

Our first experience with the state of Victoria had been a wild one, with hail, thunder, lightning, and buckets of rain as our greeting party. After a wet and chilly 24 hours in Melbourne, we were now nearing the end of Day 1 of our Great Ocean Road trip, gazing out at the famous Twelve Apostles standing like sentinels against a churning grey sea.

We had been optimistic when we packed – it was the middle of summer in Australia after all. Sydney had given us warm humidity and sunny skies, why would Victoria be any different? Because she’s moody, that’s why. They say that in Melbourne you can experience all four seasons in a day. Well, we only got one, and that was winter. And the tank tops and shorts in our backpacks meant that we had nothing to ward off the chill or the drizzle.

We had been enthusiastic when we’d started off, eagerly pulling off the road at every brown sign that mentioned some point of interest: a quick view of Point Roadknight Beach, a nearby lighthouse, a few roadside turnoffs to snap some photos. We stopped for lunch at a bustling Apollo Bay after inching through Lorne, which was jam-packed thanks to a big ocean swim and festival that was taking place. It was after Apollo Bay that the air decided to cool about 10 degrees and the drizzle picked up. After that, we weighed up those brown signs very seriously, debating whether or not it would be worth getting out of our cozy car.

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I pulled on my leggings, the only pair of long pants I had with me, and gave Beth a long-sleeved denim shirt that was supposed to be a cute bikini cover, but had quickly become a necessity. We turned off at Great Otway National Park, a place known for it’s wild koalas, and were treated to an up-close and personal mama and baby koala show after about 7 minutes of driving through the thick gum trees. I immediately forgot about the temperature as myself and a dozen other delighted tourists snapped photos and shot video. As we continued on, koalas seemed to be on every limb, a grey-brown lump at the end of the branches. Some were sleeping, some were eating, all were thoroughly unconcerned about the cars pulled off the road and the humans snapping photos of them from below.

As we got closer to the coast in Great Otway, we came across a forest of trees that looked like something out of a Harry Potter movie. Every single branch had been stripped bare, and ghostly pale trunks and branches reached for the sky like damned souls desperate to escape Hades. With the mist and the clouds, it looked like the perfect spot to shoot a horror movie.

About 40 minutes later, we were shivering at the end of the walkway to see the Twelve Apostles. As if the weather knew were nearing the end of the first day’s journey, it had whipped up into a froth of (what felt like) subzero winds that invaded our poor excuses for chilly weather wear. We took our obligatory photos and hurried back to the car, feeling like bad tourists that we hadn’t stayed to soak in the beauty for an appropriately long time, though that would have been difficult with the amount of jostling and shouting that was happening at the crowded viewpoint.

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We did an overnight in a co-ed dorm in Port Campbell, which smelled like serious man-breath by morning thanks to the lack of a fan and the amount of men in the room. However, we were heartened by a forecast that included sunshine. After heading 10 minutes south to see the London Bridge, which is a sandstone formation in the sea that looks like (you guessed it), a bridge, we decided it was time to head back to north to catch our evening flight.

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As we went north, the clouds slowly dissipated and the mercury started to climb from frigid to bearable. When the sun came out the sea exploded from moody grey into a kaleidoscope of greens and blues, and we started to really understand what all the fuss was about with this drive. We made a few stop offs to catch the things we had missed on the way down, like a hike to an underwhelming waterfall and another so-so lunch at Apollo Bay, but the highlight was a visit to a small animal reserve where we were able to get up close and personal with kangaroos, wallabies, deer, dingoes, and many other animals. The dingoes surprised me both with their friendliness and their overwhelming desire to crawl to the highest point in your body – we were covered in muddy paw prints by the end of our visit with them, but we didn’t mind in the slightest.

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After all was said and done, we decided that the stormy weather hadn’t been the worst thing in the world – it was nice to see the rich red sandstone contrasted against a tempestuous sea instead of a serene green one that is always featured in the tourist brochures. But we did learn a valuable lesson for our future travels – never leave home without a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt!

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Til next time, xoxoxo

The Wizardess

The Road to Melbourne: Day 2

Day Two dawned beautifully – sun shining and a perfect breeze to keep the temperature from overpowering us. We were really getting into the true countryside now – farther south than I’d ever ventured before. And the payoff was spectacular: wildflowers accompanied the road without a break, and the rolling hills seemed to stretch out in unending waves in every direction. Our first stop was a small town called Mogo for a quick bite and some coffee at a quaint roadside cafe.

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That inevitably led to exploring the nearby craft and furniture shop that was packed full of incredible handmade items. We marveled at side tables carved out of solid wood and coffee tables from appropriated farm equipment. Though we desperately wished we could bring everything home, we continued on. Until I nearly careened Big Al off the road when we saw a big barn with “Bodalla Dairy Shed” on the tin roof. If you know me at all, you know my unhealthy obsession with anything dairy-related, but especially cheese.

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We wandered through the shed (okay, I made a mad dash from the van that I’d haphazardly parked up the road), sampling cheeses made with indigenous Australian plants like saltbush and bush sage. Each taste was a creamy explosion of amazingness and flavor, none like the last. This one was savory and salty, this one had a serious spicy kick, this one was earthy. We promptly purchased three of our favorites for an appetizer later that night, claiming there was no way to choose just one.

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After touring the unique little country shops in Bodalla for a bit, it was back to Big Al to continue the journey. Hunger struck when we were near a town called Tathra, so we stopped off at a cliffside cafe for a sandwich and an incredible view of the far south coast of New South Wales. After that, there was no stopping til Victoria.

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Victoria welcomed us to the state with a wild storm, tossing hail, lightning, and a driving rain that reduced visibility to nearly zero as we crossed the mountains at the state border. After a harrowing 45 minutes navigating the storm and the mountains, we made it out the other side into a dripping, sodden caravan park near Lakes Entrance. Our ideas of visiting the beach were dashed, but we set up camp, ate most of our cheese, cooked some burgers and shared another bottle of wine, ready to get into the city the following day to celebrate Beth’s birthday.

And thus the day ended in the direct opposite manner from which it began, soggy and worn out, like a switch was flipped when we passed into Victoria and she promised us that we were going to have to earn our time in this great state.

Big Al and the Road to Melbourne: Day 1

Over the course of my time in Sydney, I’ve made an effort to get out to the more rural parts of my state of residence. It was during one of my weekend jaunts that I found my favorite place in the country – the south coast of New South Wales.

Head south from Wollongong and you enter into a wonderland of cute coastal towns and the most beautiful farmland you will ever come across in your life. Wide fields and rolling hills punctuated by barns, farmhouses, wildflowers and groups of dairy cows or sheep, a wide expanse of blue sky dotted by cottony clouds; it’s my idea of heaven on earth. When Beth mentioned wanting to see Melbourne at some point during our time in Australia, I knew the only way we could get there was to drive through this glorious place.

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In my research phase for this trip, I had come across a few blog posts about car and campervan/RV relocation. This is where a rental company has too many cars in one city, and too many reservations in another. So they offer ridiculous deals to anyone willing to take one of these vehicles from one city to another, usually in a pretty short space of time. Because I knew we didn’t have time to spend a week getting from one place to another, this suited our travel plans perfectly.

I signed up for alerts departing from Sydney, and a couple of days before we planned to leave for Melbourne, the perfect opportunity came up: transfer a campervan from Sydney to Melbourne in 2 nights and 3 days, at the steep price of $5 per day plus the cost of gas. And this was how Big Al came into our life.

It wasn’t easy – at first we were assigned the smallest campervan they had, which turned out to be a manual transmission vehicle. I had learned once how to drive a stick shift, and promptly forgot since every car I’d ever owned was automatic. The nice German guy who had processed our paperwork casually pointed to the gearshift and said, “And it’s manual,” to which I gasped and immediately lost all color out of my face. He said I had two choices: Try to remember how to drive a manual, or cancel the deal. I opted for the first option, not ready to give up on my campervan dreams. It couldn’t be that hard, right?

And that’s how Beth and I ended up jerking, stalling, pealing out, and cursing our way through a giant circle throught Mascot in Sydney’s south. We jerkily made our way back to the rental center, defeated and looking up bus and train timetables as a plan B.

That’s when our German friend came over to us and said, “Actually, there may be another car, but it’s the biggest one we have.” My face lit up and I said, “But it’s an automatic?” He nodded and I nearly shouted, “That’s fine! That’s totally fine! I can drive it!”

Enter: Big Al. A beastly 9-foot-tall, 20-foot-long, 6-person-sleeping home on wheels, replete with sound system, air conditioning, and fully functioning bathroom and kitchen. UPGRADE!

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Beth and I were excited to get on the road, and driving Big Al wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought once I got the hang of it.

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We headed south through the National Park, with a quick stop off to marvel at the view of Wollongong and beyond from the Mt. Keira lookout point.

From there, we jetted straight to Hyams Beach to see the turquoise water and to sink our toes into the fine white sand and take a little break from driving.

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On the way, we called around to a few caravan parks to see who had a space for us and Big Al. Because school was on holidays, most of the state-run camping options were fully booked and not bothering to even answer the phone, especially around the uber-popular Jervis Bay area. So we looked a little further south and found a place called Mollymook Beach, which had a site that could accomodate all of us for a night. After help from our neighbor backing Big Al into our space, Beth and I set up camp. As we were prepping dinner, I noticed the door to the camper swinging, and a little girl of about 4 poked her head into the van with a shy smile. And that was how we made friends with little Uma. For the rest of our night there, we had a 3-foot tall shadow following us around, asking us questions and drawing us pictures to decorate Big Al with.

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After some quality time with the friendly families around the park and a bottle of wine, it was off to bed. A king sized bed over the driving cab for me, and a queen bed at the back of the camper for Beth. We said a sad goodbye to Uma the next morning, early enough so we could make some distance while still stopping off where we wanted to stop.

It had been a long and busy day, but even that didn’t prepare us for what was next…

Cockatoo Island Glamping

I sat in the middle of Sydney Harbour with a chilled glass of white wine in my hand and a plate of gourmet meat and cheese on a table between me and my sister. ‘If this is camping,’ I thought to myself, ‘I could camp every day for the rest of my life!’

Sydney had graced us with a glorious day when my sister and I got up and made our way to Circular Quay to take a short ferry to Cockatoo Island. Part of my Sydney bucket list had been to do the ‘glamping’ on offer from the Sydney Parks and Recreation service on the island. You show up with some food, and they take care of the rest.

After we had checked in, we found our way to our tent, if you can call it that. It felt like a much more permanent and sturdy structure than the tents of camping trips past, usually precariously set up in the dark. It was roomy enough for me to stand up straight in the middle, and was already set up with two twin cots, two lounge chairs for the front porch (yes, it had a porch), and a cooler that doubled as a bedside table. We unzipped windows and doors to let in the breeze, gave the cots a comfort test (they passed with flying colors), and set out to explore the island.

My previous experience with Cockatoo Island had only been a couple of day trips to the Island Bar for day drinking adventures with friends. I didn’t realize that the island had a rich history of it’s own. It’s the funny thing about being an expat instead of a traveller – you tend to miss out on the local history, usually because you aren’t always actively seeking it out in your day to day life. So we learned about the shipbuilding history of the island, the role it played in WWII, and snuck in a beer from the bar made out of a converted Airstream trailer.

In true glamping form, Beth and I had visited the gourmet grocery near my house and picked up cheese and charcuterie fit for a queen as our meal for dinner. Cockatoo Island forbids bringing booze onto the island (though you probably could get away with it if it isn’t a busy weekend), but they do sell it for a pretty hefty price at the bar/kiosk near the information center. We picked up a bottle of white and a bottle of red, cracked it open and began to hoe into the cheese and meat, much to the delight of fellow glampers who passed by and made friendly conversation about what a posh spread we’d organized for ourselves.

After a shower in what have to be the nicest public showers I’ve ever experienced on a campground, Beth and I tucked ourselved into our comfortable cots and drifted off with the sound of the Harbour on the rocks a few feet from our tent lullabying us to sleep.

My advice: If you plan a trip to Sydney in the summer, make sure you book at least one or two nights glamping on Cockatoo Island – it is probably the most unique way to experience the city and it will cost you less than most hotels! Beth and I didn’t want to leave the next day, but our road trip to Melbourne was beckoning.

 

Details:

Website: http://www.cockatooisland.gov.au/stay/glamping
Cost: $150/night for twin share oceanfront glamping
Booking advice: Book at least 6 weeks in advance in order to secure your dates, and aim for weeknights vs. weekends. If you will be in Sydney over a holiday, book 4 – 6 months in advance, possibly 12 if your heart is set on a New Year’s Eve date. It’s VERY popular!

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