I spent my extra day in Cairns heading up to Kuranda on the cheapo bus, one of the few towns I’d missed on my Atherton Tablelands loop. I had a few specific reasons for wanting to head up there, but it turned out to be rather disappointing. Basically a small touristy town with nothing but giftshops and eateries. The vaunted “markets” turned out to be 60% generic flea market/crafting stuff that you can see anywhere in Canada too and 40% “Australian souvenirs” probably churned out by the same Indonesian sweatshops as the souvenirs seen in the asian-y markets in Cairns or Sydney or wherever. The aboriginal art in the gallery type places was definitely much better, though most was well beyond my price range. I bought myself a small painting as a souvenir of the trip though, so it wasn’t all wasted. One of the parts that did live up to the billing was a meat pie I had from Annabel’s as recommended by a guy at the hostel. Absolutely delicious Steak, Egg, Bacon and Cheese pie inside melt in your mouth pastry, talk about a fantastic lunch for $4.50. Overall though it didn’t really feel worth my time to head up there and I actually only stayed a few hours, not waiting for the later bus like I’d originally planned. I can’t help but feel that if I was a bit disappointed after paying $10 round trip for my bus ride, the people who’d spent the $65 or more on the scenic railway probably felt worse. The scenery from the bus had been pretty, but not as good as my tour with the rental car previously. Once back in Cairns I used the net for a bit while people in Canada were still awake, then walked down to the esplanade and had a swim in the lagoon as the sun set. I had actually planned to go to see a movie at the mall near the hostel on the way back, but I’d completely forgotten it was Friday night. The teenaged hordes had descended so I headed to coles instead, grabbed the fixings for some pasta and headed back to the hostel with a bottle of wine.
The next morning it was time to repack everything nice and tightly for my first plane journey in a while, I haven’t bought much but as with any trip things seem to slowly start to take up more and more space. I think the effect is worse when you’re backpacking. I had purposely left a bit of souvenir space in my original packing though so eventually I got everything bundled up and ready to go. My flight wasn’t until 6 though so I still had some time to kill. I was so incredibly tempted to do another day’s diving trip actually but I figured it would be tempting fate to assume I’d be back exactly on schedule on a dive tour, since it would only leave me about 1:10 to get to the airport. Instead I just did a long walk around town, had an ice cream and lunch down on the esplanade, then came back to the hostel and sat in a lounge chair by the pool reading a book until my airport shuttle came. I managed to just sneak under the lower bag weight limit for Virgin Australia and boarding my plane around 6. I found it very interesting that (for this route at least) VA boards its planes from the front and rear. For a 737-700 they boarded the first 10 rows from the front door via a jetway, everyone in the back rows had to cross the tarmac and go up the stairs. Adding to the weirdness was the fact that at no point in the check in or boarding process was I required to show ID, something that seems to happen back home endlessly even for domestic flights.
Sydney was actually chilly. Even to my Winnipeg blood it felt a little cold after being in the tropics for weeks. Of course the Sydneysiders have been gradually dropping in temp so they have no excuse, yet I saw tons of people who were obviously locals wearing wool hats and wintery looking coats despite it still being +10 and just a bit breezy. I laughed more than a few times as I hopped the train into the city. While out the day before I’d used my bond rebate from the rental car and pre-booked the YHA harbour in Sydney for 4 nights after hearing how great it was. As those that have travelled with me know I memorize the basic layout of a city pretty quickly and it takes a long time for me to forget so I got to the hostel via train without consulting a map at all. I was definitely a little weary after lugging my bag up the stairs in The Rocks though. The hostel itself was very bizarre. You walk into a small ground floor alcove surrounded by glass. Through the glass is old stone and what looks like foundations, I’d been forewarned so I knew it was actually an archaeological dig site that the hostel sits over. The rooms on the ground floor are actually accessed via the first floor for both security and to keep the dig site fully accessible. It does make the hostel a bit cold at times though as the two wings are built around courtyards that are open to the dig site at the bottom. Most of the dig site is only fenced so the wind rushes in and upward, something that I imagine is great in the summer but causes a few goosebumps for people headed to breakfast now. Only the central area with kitchen, reception and internet kiosks is actually a contained building.
Once in the lobby I checked in, only half paying attention to what the girl was saying as I realized the guy next to me was being checked in to the same dorm. Being the sneaky bastard that I am I rushed her through the rest of her spiel and managed to get away from the desk first and sure enough, there was only one person in the room so there was a bottom bunk still in play. I snagged it about a minute before the other guy arrived none the wiser. Since I’ll be here a few days I actually unpacked a bit then went upstairs for the real reason I wanted to try this place out. It was about to close for the night out of respect for the neighbours, but I headed out onto the rooftop terrace for a quick sec regardless. Laid out before me was the Opera House, softly lit in white with the Harbour Bridge sparkling on my left. Can’t really beat that view for $40 a night.
The next morning I figured I’d do a proper beach tour since even though it was a bit chilly it was much sunnier than my last visit out to the beaches. I hopped the bus over to North Bondi and walked all the way south on the coast to Coogee. Along the way I sat and watched the waves for a bit at a few spots and even spent some time playing around with the tiny crabs crawling on the rocks south of Bronte. As before I’m jealous of these gorgeous beaches so close to the city center. With a bus (or ferry) ride equivalent to taking a ride from downtown to the U of M you have gorgeous wide open beaches with nice sand and decent to great surfing. As a result they’re mega packed during the summer of course, but even today the water was decent (though I didn’t do more than paddle my feet as swimming flags weren’t up at most beaches.)
It was Sunday afternoon here so there were still a fair number of people at the parks along the coast as well, including a number of kids sports leagues. I sat and watched a rugby game involving 12-ish year old players. That age makes for some interesting rugby as you see some kid break and absolutely acrobatic and amazing move to dodge three opposing players, get completely free to go for the try, then give in to pubescent awkwardness and trip over a blade of grass. Even at that age though it’s a rough game and I was surprised to see only 2 or 3 kids whose parents had made them wear the special school helmet things. I remain fairly mystified by Aussie Rules Football though as the one game I saw in progress ended 5 minutes after I got there. Once down in Coogee I treated myself to a nice Thai lunch then walked back along the same route, finally catching a bus back from Bondi and arriving back at Circular Quay as the sun was setting. After a quick shower and a not so quick nap, I didn’t feel like much for dinner and hadn’t been to the grocery store yet so I skipped on the quite pricey restaurants down in the rocks and just got a semi-healthy chicken wrap at Maccas. I’m told the pub next door to the hostel is nice though and has $10 steak Monday night so I might treat myself after my blue mountains tour tomorrow.
It’s obvious from my updates but the trip is definitely winding down. It’s been a fantastic trip that I’ll never forget and I’ll certainly be back to both Australia and New Zealand. Regardless I’m a little burnt out and looking forward to my own bed, seeing friends and giving my dogs a big hug as I recharge for the next trip. As I write this I’m sitting up on the rooftop terrace watching the ferries pull in and out next to the opera house. It’s still a bit on the cool side so I’m alone except for the occasional smoker. I think it’s time to head into the TV room or see if anyone’s playing a game of uno or something though as they’ll be locking the terrace soon and I don’t want them to not see me and leave me out here all night.