Markets, Modern Art and Music

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Saturday Morning Gina and I headed out to the West End markets for brekkie. I love a good market, and despite the rain, the West End markets did not disappoint. Filled with food stalls and clothing shops and fresh produce, the most difficult thing about the markets was deciding WHAT to get!
In the end, we gorged ourselves on feta and spinach flatbreads and bought as much fresh fruit as we could carry for breakfast over the next couple days. The fresh fruit here in Australia is second to none! I have never had an avocado so delicious. The apricots are to die for and the mangos are exquisite! Not to mention, they’re usually cheaper than at home!
Once we’d bought the entire market out of fresh fruits, we made our way down to the Museum of Modern Art. The day was rainy, so we figured we could do some indoor touristy things for a change.
Museums aren’t usually my number one destination when I hit a city, but I actually had a blast in the weird and wacky Brisbane Modern Art Museum. The exhibition that was going on was spectacular. Strange taxidermy style collections of animals round a watering hole. Wolves flying through the air and dead trees that filled the entire length of the museum hallways.
There were some stupid things as well. Like a video of two brothers chewing gum set on loop. But for the most part we found everything fairly entertaining!
A room filled with Dr. Seuss-like white trees was one of our favourites. Made me feel like I was in a warm and fuzzy winter wonderland! We laughed and stumbled our way around for a couple hours until the sun popped out again.
Then we made our way back to Gina’s for a couple beers and to get ready for the evening.
The evening’s activities were pre-drinks at Nick’s place with the boys and then out to Ric’s pub in the Valley to watch Nick’s friend’s band Mar Haze play. Not only was the band incredible, and totally laid back in true Aussie style, it was even more fun to catch up with Nick again and relive our African tales.
As it happens when Gina and I go out however, the night became a later one than expected. With us jumping into a cab after a couple too many vodkas well past midnight. Just a precursor to our Australian Day celebrations that would be starting in T-minus 7 hours…

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Brisbane

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When I landed in Brisbane it was monsooning. Gina was incredible and left in the middle of work to get me from the airport.
“Oh my god!!!! You’re in Australia!!!” She screamed at me as I hopped in the car. After only knowing each other for three weeks in Africa, I knew Gina and I would meet again somewhere around the world. And sure enough, 8 months later, here I am in Brisbane with her!
We couldn’t even see out the windshield as we drove down the roads. The rain was bucketing down similar to my entire five days in Cairns.
“When did it start getting stormy here?” I asked
“Today” said Gina.
Obviously. I’ve been bringing the rain with me all around Australia it seems.
Unfortunately, my initial meet up with Gina was short lived. She had to go back to work, so instead of hanging around an empty house, she dropped me off at the train station where I attempted to find my way to the Oxley suburb to meet up with my friend Jess.
Two trains and a half hour later I found the station. I was lucky too. Some of the stations were closed due to flash flood warnings and the train bypassed them on the way through. Thankfully, Oxley wasn’t one of those.
A few minutes after I arrived at the station I saw Jess come over the hill towards me. Actually, I hardly recognized her. No rain jacket, no shoes, hair matted to her face from the rain… Jess was a sight for sore eyes.
“Oh my god!! Where is your coat?!” I asked
“Don’t have one!” She gave me a big wet hug. Jess and I used to work together back in Vancouver. She was on a working visa there, but after reapplying twice for a second visa, she was finally denied and sent back to Brisbane. That was only a few short months ago. Saying goodbye to her then was hard, but I already figured I’d make it to Australia in the New Year, so I’d make sure to spend some time with her.
We picked up some wine and food at the nearby woolworths. Jess made puddles all over the supermarket so we tried to move along quickly.
When we arrived back at her place we were drenched. Well, we figured, no better time to go for a swim!
So Jess and I, and her roommates Dave and Pepper hopped in the pool for a swim and a game of volleyball with their puppy Biscuit. Biscuit of course was the winner in the end.
That evening we spent catching up over good wine and good food. A classic Hilary and Jess evening. And in the morning, the rains had significantly slowed to a light shower.
That day we went to explore the city. I actually think Brisbane is a very pretty city. A mix of European style architecture with a tropical twist. The city center is not that large, and so we wandered up and down the streets, grabbing sushi to go for lunch and heading down to the botanical gardens where Jess pointed out all the weird bird species and I snuck up on a big bearded dragon.
From there we followed the Brisbane River back along the city’s edge until Jess had to go to work. I continued on, walking all across town to West End to meet Gina after work.
Although we had glorious plans to head out on the town that night, the two of us were much more easily convinced to order fish and chips and watch Jake Gyllenhal movies well into the night instead. A winning decision if I do say so myself, as the next couple of days were going to be big ones!

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Margaret River Camping

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The next couple days in Perth were a blur of awesome. More BBQ’s, movie evenings with the roomies, long days spent in the surf, and a day long concert on the beach with Kiwi band Fat Freddy’s Drop. Perth was quickly becoming a new favourite!
Then came Monday, and Kelsi, Dan, Glen and I decided to road trip to Margaret River for some camping. We hopped in the car with breakfast and a latte and started the drive by 8am.
The coastline in Western Australia is reminiscent of our road trip through South Africa… Aka: spectacular. The surf is incredible, the whole place is lined with well kept vineyards, and Kangaroos can be spotted under trees along the way! (Although the only one I saw was dead on the side of the road…) we stopped at a few viewing points on our way down, and a quick dip and some Sunshine in Gas Bay. The waves in the area are much more suited to surfing than swimming, but it was nonetheless entertaining to see Dan and Glen getting nailed by the surf and rolling to shore.
From Gas Bay we went into the little town of Margaret River for some lunch and camping essentials (three bags of buns, a roll of toilet paper, ice, 60 beers and some atrocious white trash outfits from the thrift shop… We were really going all out).
We were just minutes away from camp and could already taste the icy Emu beers we were going to have, when we blew a tire. Great.
We pulled over on the side of the road, and sure enough, the back left tire was completely flat. So we piled out and had to remove ALL our camping gear from the trunk to reach the spare tire. Took us about 20 minutes to change the tire, and make sure the cooler was full to the brim with ice and bevvies! Then we carried on our way.
The campsite cost $10 per person and was to be paid in cash at the reception. Pick your campsite. Then go pay. That was the routine.
So we drove around the corner, picked a nice spot, well away from everyone else, and Kelsi and I collected the cash. The problem was, when we arrived, signs pointed to the campsite being an alcohol free zone. With 60 beers in the cooler, this clearly wasn’t our plan.
“You girls go pay. Play the foreign card, smile, and no one will think to check on us if we keep it down”
Okay! So Kelsi and I piled in the car are started driving back to reception.
The place was a maze of dirt roads…
“Is this the way we came in?” Asked Kelsi.
“I have no idea. I don’t recognize this at all. Take a right over there”
We drove round the corner and ended up on the other side of our chosen campsite.
“Oh look! There’s the boys! Dammit, we went in a circle. I’m gunna honk at them” I reached over and gave a beep on the horn. Dan and Glen looked up, confused at why we were on the other side now, and waved.
“Guess that wasn’t right” said Kels “I’m gunna take a left up here and see if we can swing back that direction. We passed some family campers, and a couple other RV’s along the way. Then I looked up and giggled.
“Look! There’s the boys again! I’m gunna honk!” I reached over and beeped the horn again.
“Oh my god!” Exclaimed Kelsi. “Did we go around AGAIN?!” We drove out and turned a couple corners. We went through three different sections of the park before coming around a familiar bend.
“This looks right! I remember this!” I said. “Oh no wait… Oh no… There’s the BOYS again!” I started laughing and beeped the horn a third time.
They looked up incredulously at us. Seriously? What are you girls doing?!
We passed the boys four more times. I was in fits of laughter. I couldn’t handle it, and I couldn’t refrain from honking the horn each time, much to the chagrin of Kelsi, who tried to stealth by a couple times.
We finally found another car and asked them the way out… We were two turns from our campsite to reception. I just about died laughing.
“You mean we only had to take two rights and we were there?!?”said Kels, also dying of laughter.
We rolled up to reception and found it closed. There was a sign: “please put your money in an envelope and a ranger will come by your campsite to pick it up”
I fell to the ground in giggles. We’d been driving for at least 20 minutes, back and forth in front of the boys what felt like 100 times, and we didn’t actually have to go anywhere!
We piled back in the car. Okay. Two turns and we should be there!
But the paths were all one way streets, and it wasn’t as easy as it looked. All of a sudden we pulled round a bend.
“Look! The boys again!” *beep*
They just threw their arms in the air at us. They were already a couple beers deep and fully dressed in their white trash outfits. How did we mess this up so much!
“You know what sucks?” I said
“What?” Said Kels
“We did this before… This is a loop. Which means the only way back is to pass them again.”
“No! NO!!” Screamed Kelsi between breathless giggles “omg, this is ridiculous!”
Sure enough, 2 minutes later I reached over and beeped the horn.
“Hey guys!!” I yelled out the window.
A couple more minutes and we were back on the proper side of our campground where we could park. I stumbled out of the car laughing… We hadn’t even had a drink and we were already this ridiculous.
“WHAT are you girls DOING?!”
We couldn’t even answer.
“Just hand us a beer”
And so the festivities began…
We dressed up in jean cut offs and plaid vests. We looked good!
We forgot playing cards, so instead used two dice to play drinking games. We played a version of Kings Cup with two dice, designating the dice numbers 2 through 12 as a challenge instead of ace through king. Seemed like a genius idea… Until we realized the game never ends. With cards, it’s 52 cards and the game is over. With dice: you just keep playing… Forever.
So we played a combination of kings and wizard sticks (where you tape each beer can to the bottom of the next until your wizard stick (or beer spear in Canada) is taller than your head. We played until Dan, at over 6 feet, won the game and the night became so dark we couldn’t see anymore.
We then found a field to watch the billions of starts in the sky. We were so far away from civilization, that the constellations were spectacular!
And then, after way too big of a day, we called it a night. Margaret River White Trash Camping: Check!

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Perth

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I know that Australia is a large country, and I understand that Perth is almost as far as you can get from Cairns, but I was still a little shocked at how long it took for me to go from one city to the other. With a quick stop over in Brisbane, the trip took NINE hours! Just a few short days earlier I was happy to know my long trips were over with… But in nine hours I can fly from Vancouver to London!!
Luckily, compared to any trip I took in South America, nine hours was nothing. Plus, there was no way I was coming all the way to Australia and not seeing Kelsi. So off to Perth I went!
Kelsi was lovely, and came to pick me up for the airport at half past midnight.
“OH MY GOD, YOU’RE ACTUALLY HERE!!!” She screamed as she stumbled out of the car to hug me “Seriously, part of me thought you were joking and this was all an elaborate joke. Then I’d arrive at the airport in the middle of the night and you wouldn’t actually be here!!”
I laughed. I’m glad I was actually in Perth, but man that would have been a hilarious joke. With flight numbers, and loads of people saying goodbye on Facebook, that would have been a pretty elaborate prank.
Our first morning, Kelsi picked up her friend Dan and the two of them took me on a tour of Perth. To be completely honest, they were terrible tour guides. I hope to god they never try to start their own Perth Tours company. We were lost 75% of the time and the two bickered like a married couple 100% of the time. But dammit were they entertaining! Even if the coolest thing I saw in the city was an interpretive statue of what might be a large cactus, I did spend a whole lot of time in fits of laughter. So instead of touring, we stopped at Hillary’s for a pint. Hillary’s is a beautiful little marina with a beach and lots of caf├ęs and upscale restaurants. The place is clearly a popular place for boat to moor, and the water is a gorgeous, endless, deep blue.
After catching up over a pint of cider, we headed back towards town. We checked out the city view from Kings Park, went for lunch by the water, and ended up in Freemantle at the Norfolk.
Freemantle, or Freo, is where Kels lives. The Norfolk is the pub where she and what seemed like everyone else I met in Perth works. An adorable stone walled pub, right in the heart of Freo. Freemantle is a much more laid back suburb of Perth. The small town center has a main drag full of pubs and restaurants running along to the beach. I instantly fell in love.
After meeting Kelsi’s work mates (who had apparently already heard about me, and who constantly referred to me as Canadian Kelsi) we drove down to Dog beach to meet up with Kelsi’s roommate Mel, and her pup Boss.
When playtime at the beach was over we worked our way over to Reno’s place for my first, at home, Aussie BBQ. Chicken, steak, sausages, garlic bread and salads… I was in heaven. In fact, my mouth is watering as I remember eating the meal. Reno did a fabulous job on the BBQ while Kelsi made salads and I smashed bottles of beer on the ground (after forgetting that the box had a hole in the bottom of it…) I’m so helpful.
When bellies were full we worked our way back to the Norfolk for another pint.
I wasn’t even used to the time change in Cairns before I flew to Perth and had to adjust to another 2 hour conversion. I was dead on my feet by the time we reached home and I fell into bed. A successful and fun-filled first day in Perth, that’s for sure!

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The Great Barrier Reef

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My day trip to the Great Barrier Reef had finally arrived. Snorkeling the reef has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. It was strange to wake up in the morning and realize I would be ticking off another item in only a few short hours.
I headed to the docks at 7:30 to start my tour. The group I went with was called Passions, and they have a beautiful, 80 person Catamaran that stops at two different diving and snorkeling sites during the day. I was ecstatic!
It was pouring in Cairns that morning. Big surprise. But I’d be in the water anyways, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I hopped on the boat, had some coffee and a muffin and sat down to fill out my forms. I met an old English guy and a couple guys from Switzerland and joined them at the table. One of the Swiss guys had some sea sickness pills and offered them around.
“You might want these” he said to us.
Oh my god was he right. We started off and immediately you could feel the waves. It wasn’t five minutes into the trip that people were hurling off the back half of the boat in agony. Not exactly the fantastic day trip they had in mind…
But as the waves continued, the rains stopped. The sun came out, the clouds dissipated, and for the first time I really felt like it was summer in Australia!
I moved outside where I met Simon, the skipper of the boat. We sat and chatted, as he tried to convince me to come diving with him instead of snorkeling.
“C’mon, I promise I’ll hold your hand the entire time!”
I would love to go diving. But my already tight budget simply wouldn’t allow it. The day trip itself was $160, and to dive was an additional $70. When I booked the tour at the hostel I asked the staff what they thought.
“Diving is amazing!” They said “One of the greatest experiences ever! But where you’re going the reef is shallow, you’ll probably see more things snorkeling”
Cheaper and the chance to see more? Sounds perfect. I let Simon down easy…
“Sorry, you’ll have to hold someone else’s hand for the day. I just can’t afford it!”
It took 2 hours to get to our first dive site. We were just off the coast of a small, sandy island in the middle of nowhere. The sun was shining and the water was an incredible turquoise.
We got our stinger suits on, lined up for flippers and masks and headed in to the water. The stinger suits were worth every penny of the $8 they cost for the day. Not only was it stinger season in Cairns, but the suits protected against the sun as well. Something much needed for my winter skin.
The whole way up the coast to Cape Trib I’d been told about the stingers in the water. During this time, right as the rains start in the summer season, the waters fill up with deadly jellyfish. If you’re going to swim off the beach, there better be stinger nets up. Unfortunately, the most deadly of the stingers, the Irukandji, is so small, it’s almost invisible while swimming. The size of one’s pinky finger nail, the Irukandji sting causes excruciating pain… It also can fit through stinger nets.
These stingers are of course a little less common way out on the reef. Nonetheless, I wore a suit, and so did 90% of the people I was with.
All suited up, I leaped into the water. The second I got under water I ran into two huge purple jellyfish. I jumped back a little, not sure if they stung or not, and not quite trusting the ultra thin suit I was wearing. Turns out, they were moon jellies, and totally harmless… Which is a good thing, because I literally bumped in to about 200 of them over the course of the day.
The reef was stunning. As is to be expected from the Great Barrier Reef. But I was glad to find out that it did not disappoint. Huge angel fish, clown fish, parrot fish, and thousands of other species I could never name. The coral was huge and endless over the white sand. It’s difficult to explain, but I was overwhelmed everywhere I looked!
Maybe it was the tour, or the day, but the best thing about the trip was how alone I was. No crowds, or bumping into other swimmers, it was just me, the reef, and hundreds of damn moon jellies (Which, even when I found out they were harmless, were still a little scary to bump in to).
Part way through my first snorkeling stop I spied a massive sea turtle just cruising through the coral. I popped up out of the water to tell others to come see, but found myself alone. So I just casually followed him around for the next ten minutes or so, until he swam away from the reef and out into the sea. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a sea turtle that close before, and certainly not for that long! The turtle was very unphased at being so close to a human, and just kept swimming at a leisurely pace the whole time.
After an hour and a half we came back to the boat. It was only 15 minutes or so to our next stop, but we had a big buffet lunch before continuing on.
The next snorkeling drop off was equally as amazing. But at this stop, we saw a massive parrot fish. I had hardly dropped into the water when I first spotted it. The thing was huge. Probably close to 4 feet long! It was a little too low on the reef for me, but the divers below me were so close they could reach out and touch it. The fish hung out with them for quite a while, letting the group feed and play with it. The second stop we had about 45 minutes to check out the area. Still, I could have spent hours.
When all was over and done with we started our trek back. Normally, the catamaran sails back to Cairns, but with the weather in town, we had to motor. It was a much calmer, 2 hour trek home (thank god). We arrived back in the pouring rain at 5:15. Cairns had apparently seen no sunshine all day. Great day to choose a trip to the reef!!

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Cape Tribulation

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The rains stopped just long enough for a stroll along Cape Trib beach. The beach was gorgeous, and being stinger season, it was completely deserted as well. Cape tribulation is the only place in Australia where the jungle meets the ocean. Here, the Daintree Rainforest spills out into the sand and right into the sea, making for some pretty spectacular scenery.
I walked up and down the beach for close to an hour, taking photos and walking in the surf. Unfortunately, the skies soon opened up again and it was time to go home.
The lodge I was staying in was just feet from the beach in the middle of the jungle. The place was fairly empty… Except for the spiders.
Every 10 feet along the path I ran into another spider on steroids. Massive orb spiders the size of my face hung in webs along the side of the little road to my room. Great. The one bug that I have a huge issue with. Why would I choose Australia as my travel destination when I hate spiders?!
After hearing close to 100 tales of killer spiders from George on my way to Cape Trib, I was slightly unnerved when I was left alone in the jungle with all sorts of crazy insects.
I had a room to myself, with my own bathroom, and was ridiculously over cautious about bugs for the first few hours. I turned on the light of the bathroom and stood carefully at the doorway, peeking in. I looked up at the ceiling, behind the door, under the toilet seat, in the shower curtain. I felt like a ninja sweeping my way across the bathroom looking for tiny enemies. In the end, I deemed the place safe… Until I found the hundreds of tiny ants crawling all over the toilet paper roll. C’est la vie, time to head to the bar.
I spent the evening in the only communal place in the lodge: the restaurant/bar. Food prices were outrageous, with the cheapest meal going for about $25. I was glad I brought some makeshift sandwiches from Coles. So instead of eating I had a beer, read my book and watched the torrential downpour of rain. Monsoon season… Shoulda known.
Still being ridiculously jet lagged,
I was impressed that I made it to 9:00 before finally heading to bed. Of course, not before ninja-ing around my room for bugs first.
The next morning was more of the same. Rain. Rain. Rain. So much rain I couldn’t believe there was still water in the sky. I had planned on going hiking, but the forecast said otherwise, so I had a much needed lazy morning before my bus at 1:00.
Peter came and picked me up at 1:00 and took me and 10 others on a tour back to Cairns. Peter was just
As ridiculous as my previous two guides and had even more jokes to tell along the way.
We stopped off for some homemade ice cream at this local shop in the middle of nowhere. Every day they make their own ice cream from fruits grown in the area. Each day there are four flavours and you must get a bowl with all four types. Sounds like an excellent plan to me!
The four flavours of the day were passion fruit, jackfruit, soursop and wattle seed. All of them were incredible! I had tried jackfruit in Zanzibar and loved it! A sort of mix between a banana and a pineapple, it was one of the stranger fruits I have ever tried. But soursop and wattle seed were new to me! The soursop tasted like a lemony sherbet, and the wattle seed tasted exactly like coffee! Go figure!
From the ice cream shop we carried on to Mossman Gorge.
Despite the rains, Mossman was gorgeous! With a huge, raging river winding it’s way through lush green jungle, it was a great spot for photos. But the skies opened up again and so we cut our trip short and headed back to the van.
On our final leg to Cairns we drove through the town of Port Douglas. Otherwise known as the gateway to the reef for the filthy rich. This is the place where celebrities and politicians and the rich and famous come when they want to see the Barrier Reef. Peter said it was a rare day if you didn’t see a celebrity walking down the main drag of Port. We drove up and down, trying to celebrity spot, but the rains apparently kept all the famous people away.
If you had the money however, Port Douglas would be THE place to be. It’s beautiful and well kept and clearly a favorite destination for weddings. Having said that, the place is outrageously overpriced. Peter had said that a friend of his was told to leave and shop at Walmart next time because she ONLY spent $400 on a pair of sandals! He had thought it was much more acceptable to spend $2000… Pocket change, really.
After Port we finally made it back to Cairns. A long day on the road in the pouring rain! I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow as I climbed into bed…

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