First published 16/3/2012
Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast
We arrived into Brisbane early in the morning, so had lots of time to kill before heading to Surfers Paradise, where our accommodation was booked. Mark had made the comment that our journey was a little bit like the Royal family visiting the colonies after marrying, which I found very amusing. We didn’t quite get the same red carpet welcome though. And can you believe it, that even with 33 tender years behind me, it was the very first time I had been to the Southern Hemisphere! It’s very weird, everyone stands on their heads, and water goes down the plughole the wrong way.
We decided to head into the city centre and have a look around. The first thing I thought when we landed was how orderly and clean everything was, and how sunny and warm. Also, that everyone was very friendly and helpful. I’ll admit I have a phobia of Ozzies; obviously not the ones that I know, who are lovely, but the country as a whole makes me think of arrogance, competitiveness to a ridiculous degree, sexism and not very good senses of humour. It’s always easy to form an opinion of somewhere having never been there of course. I hope I demonstrate in this chapter that, bar one obvious inclusion to my original opinion you will read about shortly, I really enjoyed the people and the country.
The architecture in the city centre reminded me of old US films, the type in a sepia colour with reporters running madly around offices smoking. There are some very beautiful old buildings. But on the whole I found the city quite sterile. It’s probably because it was a Monday morning, so everyone was at work. But I couldn’t really see any life to it, and the more modern architecture wasn’t very creative, more functional. I guess that’s the case in most modern cities. There is a man-made beach though, which is very strange. There’s sand, there’s, well, almost sea, there are lots of people sunbathing and swimming, but there’s no surf. It’s like a big swimming pool, but made to be more fun. We sat and passed a couple of hours there in the sunshine watching everyone splashing around. I couldn’t help thinking that if you don’t like the beach then you would go to a pool to avoid the sand, and if you do like the beach then surely you would go to an actual beach with all the benefits it brings. I couldn’t really understand the thinking behind this kind of hybrid. But Mark pointed out that it’s a safe beach for kids, without the risk of them being swept out to sea. I told him off – surely no self-respecting Kiwi would stick up for the Ozzies?
We grabbed some lunch then headed out to Surfers to find our accommodation. With it officially being our honeymoon we had treated ourselves to a self-catering apartment two blocks away from the beach with a balcony and view, and it certainly delivered, as did the owner who was very funny. He greeted us by telling us that we had probably saved him loads of money, as we had dragged him away from making lots of bids on eBay, unbeknown to his wife who had, quite irresponsibly I felt, left him in charge. This more than made up for the taxi driver we had, who had told me that Australians didn’t like “you poms”, had asked “What’s little brother saying?” when Mark talked about the Rugby World Cup, talked a lot about Gallipoli (yes, not Britain’s finest hour, but not technically my fault), and generally went out of his way to make us feel really welcome. I realised not to pay any attention to his opinion, because when I asked him whether he had travelled much, he said “Yes I have, in Australia, because when you’re born in the best country in the world, why would you want to go anywhere else.” Oh dear.
We planned to do nothing for the next day except chill on the beach and take a walk to the local mall to but some food to cook. But the day dawned not so bright and really quite breezy. So we comforted ourselves with Nandos chicken. Not the most exotic food we’ve had admittedly. It brightened up in the afternoon and we played a bit of frisbee on the beach before braving the Coral Sea and being unceremoniously dunked by many an exciting wave. It’s not called Surfers Paradise for nothing after all. I had about a kilogram of sand in my swimsuit when we left.
We weren’t right in Surfers, we were a little further down the coast at Broadbeach, which was really lovely, and a bit quieter. Everything is like a new built town, with everything built to suit the locals living there. This is a great concept, but completely alien to me. There are lots of little man made canals for all the boats that everyone owns. The new town I picture in the UK is Milton Keynes, and it has no soul to it whatsoever. The town and community centre revolves around a large shopping mall, and that’s pretty much it. But in Australia I admire the way that people have decided what they want their quality of life to be and have set about making it. So many more established countries just put up with what they’ve got.
I did get the impression that it’s a little bit of a nanny state, probably more so than the UK. People told me that you can’t get served in bars if you’re drunk. It’s very strict on non-smoking; you can’t smoke inside any public place, or within 4 metres of an entrance to a public place, and you can’t smoke on beaches. But realistically these are things that encourage a healthier lifestyle, which can only be positive.
We hired a car and headed up to the Sunshine Coast on our last day in Surfers, to go and visit Gemma! Very strange that she was in the same area as us at the same time. She was working in the daytime so we headed to Noosa Bay, which is very beautiful, and has a quaint little town to wander around, as well as a fantastic beach. Again we weren’t massively lucky with the weather, but there was a bar on the beach that we could repair to whenever a shower came over. And we could enjoy the tamer surf in the bay. We kept getting stalked by a lot of seagulls, but managed to keep all our food.
Then we headed to impossible to pronounce Mooloolaba to meet Gemma for dinner and drinks. We got a bottle of wine for our wedding present which was most welcome! And I think because of that I can’t remember what we ate. Probably steak or some kind of meat. By the time we got to Mooloolaba it was pouring with rain and pretty bloody cold. So all this crap about Australia having better weather than the UK blah blah blah, is absolute rubbish. Although, once again, we appeared to have decided to go there when they were having their worst summer in 17 years, or something. I bet they say that every year when they have yet another s*** summer. It was great to gossip with Gemma as if we were back home though, tell her all about the wedding and the travels so far, and hear about everything happening back in Blighty. I miss friends and normal stuff like that so much!
We had a not too tearful goodbye; Gemma isn’t really that emotional, which worked well when we lived together, me being an emotional wreck the majority of the time. And we headed back to Surfers to pack and get ready to head to Sydney in the morning. We got back very late, and we since found out that Mark got a speeding ticket. Naughty boy!
First things first, I must mention how much I had missed my friend Lucy Conybear; I used to know her before she was married and had been whisked off to live in Sydney, and although we didn’t see each other all that often, we always had a great laugh. So we happily took her up on her and hubby Lee’s offer to put Mark and me up in their spare room. We spent the day wandering around downtown Sydney and seeing all the touristy places; Paddy’s Market, Chinatown, Darling Harbour, Sydney Harbour and The Opera House. The architecture in downtown reminded me of art deco buildings, and there was a bustle about the city, a mixture of tourists and locals, all in a hurry and all on their way somewhere very cool. After all, we were in Sydney. I was getting a little bit freaked out by now about hot Christmas. There were decorations and advertisements everywhere, and yet I still didn’t feel remotely Christmassy. It just felt wrong!
Later in the afternoon we headed to North Sydney to find the Conybears’ home. We went across Sydney Harbour Bridge on the train! This was very exciting. Lucy was there to welcome us in to their beautiful home. I had forgotten how bubbly, funny, friendly and generally fantastic she is, until we were made to feel completely at home within 5 minutes flat. Lucy had a prior engagement for Christmas drinks so we took a walk down to the waterfront and stood underneath Sydney Harbour Bridge, but this time looking across the harbour towards the Opera House. It was incredibly exciting to be standing under such an iconic structure. We followed this with probably the best fish and chips I have ever had, at a place up the road, and a couple of pints. Days don’t get much more perfect than that.
We tried to reason with Lucy and Bear (Lee’s nickname – because of his surname Conybear, not because he is big, brown, scary and furry) that the reason we didn’t get out of bed the next day until 1pm was because we were still on Singapore time. I think they bought it. They probably didn’t buy it. They probably just thought that we were irretrievably lazy. Anyway, once we got up we managed to head to Manly Beach on the ferry. Yes that’s right, Manly Beach. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed there or not, being more womanly than manly. Chortle. The ferry journey was beautiful, you pull out of Sydney Harbour, and you just look back at the scenery reflecting in the bay. And you watch all of the sailboats navigating their way around the hundreds of other sailboats and ferries. If you don’t like sailing it’s probably not the place for you.
I didn’t realise how large the suburb of Sydney was until this point. We were on the ferry for an hour, and all of the area up to Manly Beach is still part of Sydney. It’s a little peninsular which almost feels like an island, and it’s very small and very picturesque. It’s the kind of place I imagine I could retire too. But it’s also a very cool place to hang out on the beach. The freaky hot Christmas feeling continued as we walked up the main strip to the beach and saw a massive Christmas tree, followed by three lads walking along in speedos and Santa hats. It’s just not right! We sunned ourselves and swam around in the surf for a few hours, and it was most pleasant. We were lucky because this was the best day weather wise of our stay. We finished off with, yes you guessed it, a couple of pints, and burgers sitting on the harbour wall waiting for our return ferry. I think Lucy had prior engagements again that night (I decided not to take the hint that she just didn’t like us, and instead took her at her word), so we treated ourselves and Bear to some wine. I think. It’s a bit blurry, maybe we drank a bit too much.
Yet again we didn’t surface until late the next day, but it was OK, because Lucy was in a right old hung-over state, so we could take our time to get ready for going out with them both for the day. This was clearly going to be hair of the dog for Lucy and the sooner the better. We jumped a ferry to Sydney Harbour, and I was told we were going to The Rocks. Hmmm. I had thought that there may be something more exciting to do on a Sunday afternoon than geology. And thankfully I was correct. The Rocks is the original part of the Sydney settlement underneath a portion of the Harbour Bridge, and it’s been very well preserved. Imagine a small country town, low built, old fashioned buildings housing small boutiques, haberdashers, proper pubs, restaurants, basically like you’re back in the 1950s in the UK. It’s really beautiful, and it was like stepping back in time. There was a lovely market too selling all sorts of Australian wares and souvenirs.
We repaired to a nearby pub, and I was introduced for the first time to a chicken parmigiana for lunch. It’s basically a heart attack waiting to happen. It’s a piece of chicken pounded flat and used like the base of a pizza, covered in cheese and tomato sauce, and it’s bloody delicious. It’s also a great way to line the stomach for an afternoon of drinking, which we then proceeded to. There was live music at the bar by the Opera House, so we set ourselves up there for a few hours, then had a couple more by the ferry station, basically talked crap quite a lot, and had a great laugh, culminating in Bear trying to put us on the wrong ferry. But thankfully we found the right one. Back in North Sydney we had the most amazing Thai meal, at which I drank about three litres of water, partly because I had boozed myself out, and partly because I again managed to choose an innocuous looking salad, which was actually covered in chilli. However, once my mouth had stopped burning it was absolutely delicious. Then I think Mark and I tried to ply more wine on our hosts when we got home, forgetting (or rubbing in) that they had to work the next day and we did not, before we passed out. Again, days don’t get much better than that. By this time I liked Sydney a lot, and Lucy and Bear even more.
We had planned to go to the Blue Mountains the next day, but it was raining and we thought that the views would not be so good. So we sorted out some of our photos, went out for some lunch, and generally had a pretty chilled day. Then Lucy cooked us a fantastic seafood risotto for dinner. Yum. And then we were off to Melbourne the next day. Massive thanks goes to Lucy and Bear for their hospitality and so much fun. We hope we can return the favour one day when we’re living somewhere a bit more exotic than London that they would like to visit. We hopped on our flight to Melbourne to go and see some more family. I was also very keen to see for myself which is better: Sydney or Melbourne?