The Groovy Grape

As I saw out my time in St Kilda I frequently found myself counting pennies.  Without a job I was living on my credit card.  The question I found myself asking was pretty simple.  Did I have enough for one last blow out adventure?  The big trip I wanted to do before leaving the country was to see Uluru (Ayers Rock).  However, to do so would involve a fair amount spent, which would mean serious budgeting for my last weeks both in Melbourne and Sydney, let along Singapore!

Late one night I decided I might only have this opportunity once.  The next day I found myself in Peter Pans on Grey Street (handily opposite my hostel) booking a trip with Groovy Grape.  This would take me from Adelaide in South Australia to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, taking in Coober Pedy and the Red Centre.  It covered just about all the things on my “must see” list.

After booking, I lived on noodles and tuna fish for the next couple of weeks until I would leave on an overnight bus to Adelaide.  Arriving late morning I checked into the hostel and then spent the afternoon exploring the city.  As always, I headed for the Botanic Gardens first … I think Botanic Gardens in the Southern Hemisphere are just amazing.

After a quiet night (I had a dorm room to myself!) I met up with the crew and we headed to Coober Pedy, an opal mining town where we spent a couple of nights.  A strange place, and as one of the girls said, “just like the town from Tremor’s”.

After that (and a change of groups) we began our trip further North to take in Uluru, Kata-Tjuta and Kings Canyon (I’ll post about those separately).   It was such a fun trip and group.  We slept outside under the stars, swam in freezing cold swimming pools, ate amazing burgers, played stupid games every time the bus stopped and saw sunrise after sunset, after sunrise, after sunset … and even a singing dingo!

The week long trip finished in Alice Springs where we enjoyed a blow out meal at Bojangles Saloon.  The following day I woke up, already missing my new friends.  Next up was a flight back to Sydney via Melbourne where once again, I’d be visiting The Manly Trap for a final 2 weeks of surfing and beach side living.

The trip neared an end.


Fraser Island

It had reached early September and the Queensland days were becoming warmer.  It had been a tough few months at work and I was becoming increasingly concerned that I wasn’t actually travelling any more.  Aside from a few weekend trips to Surfers or Australia Zoo it had been months since I’d explored a new place.  With my tight budget the options were limited, but I knew before I left Queensland that a trip to both Fraser Island and the Whitsundays were essential.  If I didn’t do both of those things at the least I’d consider myself as having failed.

I was given a couple of weeks off and so headed to Peter Pans travel and booked a trip taking in both of these things.  As it would have it, I’d never actually return to the job … but I think I covered that in the last post.

First up was a long bus ride to Rainbow Beach from Brisbane.  I’d spend a couple of nights here, then 2 nights camping on Fraser Island, then a final night back in Rainbow before heading up to The Whitsundays.

There isn’t an awful lot going on at Rainbow Beach.  I spent those days wondering up and down the beach.  I also visited the Carlo Sandblow for sunset, which the hostel recommended shouldn’t be missed.

Then … Fraser Island.

We were split into groups  and allocated a Landcruiser with a map and all the recommended sights listed.  The weather was a bit “interesting” … big storms threatened our chances of even being allowed to go, but in the end we made it!

It was a bit strange, I should have felt lonely on this trip but I was so excited to be moving again that I felt ecstatic the entire time.  Our group consisted of 3 English guys travelling together, 3 Swedish girls travelling together, another solo English guy, a solo German girl and a solo German guy.  It should have worked well, but of course … the 2 groups of 3 paired off quickly.  The German girl knew the other English guy from a previous trip .. and they got together leaving just me and the other German chap.  He had zero interest in communicating with anyone … so I just pretty much sat on my own talking to myself for 3 days.  Nevermind!

Fraser Island is beautiful.  We saw dolphins, sting rays and whales from Indian Head.  Breakfast on an empty beach is something I’ll never forget.  We got stuck in the sand and had to dig ourselves out.  The Maheno shipwreck at sunset was spectacular.  The famous Lake Mckenzie was stunning (and cold) but my personal favourite was Lake Wabby.  Swimming in the cool green water in a rain storm was a personal highlight.

I enjoyed those few days .. but the best was yet to come …


Fear and Loathing in Brisvegas

This next installment has taken a little while.  In the now, I’ve had to find a new place to live and let’s not even talk about my working life.  Let’s just say I’ve had plenty of other things on my mind! This next post was always going to be a tricky one to put together (read time consuming).  I was in Brisbane for the best part of 6 months.  That’s a lot of photos and things to think about.

After leaving Byron Bay I arrived in Brisbane.  I’d found a backpackers called Cloud 9.  Although I’d become accustomed to dorms, this was something else as I found myself in a room of 15 other people! Still, it was cheap and the beds were super comfortable (at least they were until the bed bugs started biting).

The plan was I’d give myself no more than 2 weeks to find a job.  If I failed, I would have to move on to a farm and do some fruit picking.  I truly was low on money.  On the first day I took myself to the buildings rooftop area with my phone and the hostels jobs folder.  I started to make calls and quickly secured 2 interviews for the following day.

The first was at an agency.  I made a grand impression by arriving an hour early.  Thanks for the warning on the time difference between NSW and Queensland! Although the interview went well, I didn’t actually hear from them again.  I later heard this was something they were notorious for – they just wanted names on the book.

The second was at a marketing agency called ‘IVD’.  It seemed to me all I had to do was show up to be offered the job.  I would start the very next week.  We were told it was a customer services related role and definitely not door to door sales.  Guess what it turned out to be? I went for it.  I had no other offers in the pipeline and I was anxious to do something.

Integrity (and) Values Direct (IVD) was a company straight out of Melbourne.  The electricity industry in Queensland had just been deregulated and it was prime territory for the energy retailers to move in.  Our job was simple, on a daily basis a team would head out in a van taking 1 or 2 streets per person in a neighbourhood.   We’d knock doors from 10am – 6pm (though we’d work until closer to 7pm) and we’d try to get people to sign to the supplier we were representing; Queensland Electricity.  For the customers it was pretty much a no brainer – it saved them 7% on their bills and was the best deal available. We were paid 100% commission-  25$ a sale.  I later learned of the pyramid structure at IVD – that the management were all taking additional money on top of each and every sale.

It was hugely fun at first.  High pressure, but a game.  We had great energy.  We worked and played together.  Sales flew in and we all made money. Some of us a small fortune. (I was never great at this kind of selling, but I got by).  A bunch of us ended up taking a house together (which got me out of the bedbug ridden hostel I’d been sleeping in). We really were having the best of times.

Then things changed at work.  The product changed – we no longer had the best on the market.  Competition from other companies intensified.  We no longer had easy sales – we were instead expected to break people’s contracts when we encountered them.  I began to loathe it – we weren’t doing a favour to people any more and saving them money – instead, it was just the opposite.  I couldn’t bring myself to make sales in those circumstances and my numbers dramatically dropped.  I barely earned enough each week to sleep and eat. I wasn’t the only one struggling with sales either.

In early September I decided to take a break, remember why I’d come to Australia in the first place and took a few weeks out to head up to Fraser Island and The Whitsundays. In that time major changes happened.  The company restructured and relocated to its Melbourne home, taking with it the best sales reps.  I came home from my trip to a near empty house.  It was no longer the same.  I couldn’t stay any longer, so I packed my bags and got on an plane to Melbourne.  I wouldn’t work again in Australia.

I loved Brisbane.  I loved the first 3-4 months of my working life there.  I loved the people I met, they became extended family.  I grew to hate the job – how can you do something that compromised your morals and who you are as a person?

I hope one day I can go back and see it again. I still think of it as home.

From the vast number of photos I took over those 6 months I’ve picked 50 as an overview of my time:


A Magical Mystery Tour

Following on from my last post; I would stay in Byron for a few days before heading onward to Brisbane in the search for work.

After the first nights antics on the town, most of us packed our bags and headed onward in different directions.  This left me, another James and Lisa, on our own.  We decided to spend the day exploring Byron.  Sadly the surf was rubbish, but we went swimming in the sea and then took the long and famous walk up to the lighthouse and Australia’s most Eastern point for sunset.  Lisa left later that night leaving me and James to discover our shared love of 90’s punk rock and guitars over a couple of beers.

The following day James also left, which meant I was alone once again.  I was staying at The Arts Factory (later featured in the Inbetweeners 2 movie), which although quite a cool spot, I didn’t find particularly conducive to making new friends. I had one trip I wanted to do before leaving town, which was to take the bus out to Nimbin.  I’d seen some cool photos friends had taken and I wanted to see it myself.

I booked onto what looked like an ace trip … it would taken in the town, waterfalls and scenic lookouts.  The morning of the tour arrived and with it, a distraught driver.  His mum had just been taken seriously ill into hospital and he would have to cancel.  The Arts Factory immediately booked me onto another trip – ‘Jim’s Alternative Tours’.  This trip was packed with people from the hostel – it seems they wanted to stock up on something …

Walking into Nimbin museum a pretty blonde girl asked me if I wanted to purchase some cookies.  $15 for 3 of them.  I said OK, and she warned me not to eat all at once.  I went outside and ate 1/2 of one immediately.  30 minutes later, I figured I should probably eat the other half.  We then got back on the bus … and I felt fine.  So I ate another 1/2.

We drove out to Paul Recher’s house.  Some kind of hippy heaven in the midst of the forest. He seemed a nice guy, slightly out there, but a friendly chap who seemed happy to show us where he lived.  We shared a smoke overlooking the late at the back of property.  And this is where things became a little hazy.

He took us on a walk though the gardens/forest … and I quickly found myself at the rear of the line.  I became paranoid that I would become lost … and the plants … the plants were moving, dancing and talking to me.  Somehow I made it back.  We drove out to Minyon Falls and I was tripping.  The crazed looks from the rest of the crew meant I wasn’t the only one.  We drove back to Byron with Pink Floyd playing loudly as the soundtrack. I felt greener and greener. This video I found on You Tube (filmed just a few days before I did it) sums it up perfectly.

Getting back to the hostel I went straight to bed, avoiding all people and barricading myself in the dorm.  I slept for a few hours and woke up with the worst munchies.  Walking into Byron I ordered the hugest cheeseburger and fries that I could find.  Then ate it all in a cave on the beach because I thought a nearby girl wanted to steal it!

I will never, *ever again eat a cookie from Nimbin!

* Apart from the following day when Liam and I shared the final cookie on our reunion.  Lunch was entertaining …


Waves of the East Coast

The time had finally come to leave Manly.  The past 3 months had taken their toll on my bank account (read empty!) and now I needed to find some work, otherwise I’d be heading home much earlier than originally planned.

I realised Manly, especially as Summer was drawing to a close, wasn’t the place I wanted to stay.  It was time for something fresh and that new place was Brisbane. I hoped opportunities for work would be more plentiful.  But how to get there?  I decided the funnest thing to do would be to make the trip north last a couple of weeks, get in some surfing and take in a couple of tourist hot spots along the way.

One of the guys (Russell) from the hostel had just come back from a trip north doing exactly that – a week just to the south of Byron Bay on a surfing camp.  He’d returned to Manly at the end, but I decided that I’d use them to get to Byron and then head on further on my own from there.  I had just about enough money left to book the trip.

On hearing the plans, one of my best friends from the hostel (Liam) asked to join me.  He’d shortly be heading back to the UK and wanted one final hurrah.  And so it was, one late February Monday morning we found ourselves on the ferry to Sydney about to embark upon our first surf camp experience.

Surfari’s turned out to be a really fun and well organised tour.  Leaving Sydney we headed North to our surf camp based in the Crescent Head region.  An area with an abundance of waves, and lots of options for all levels of surfer with a variety of breaks to suit differing conditions.

For the next few days we’d get up at dawn, head to the beach for a session, chill in the afternoon, play bowls, explore and then get in for another few hours in the late afternoon. Evenings were spent with home cooked food, a couple of beers and listening to the surf camp guys play guitar and sing us songs.  The waves at the beginning of the week were tricky, but we lucked out for the final few days culminating in some fun point break waves and the final dawn session in challenging overhead surf (the biggest I’ve ever paddled out in).  We had a photographer for the past couple of days, but she only grabbed 2 frames of me.  They’re the only photos that have ever been taken of me surfing to this very day … and in 2017, they’re far too low resolution to post here!

At the end of the trip we landed in Byron and spent the night partying away.  Two of the guys couldn’t afford the hostel, so ended up hiding their backpacks in a tree whilst we danced on the tables in Cheeky Monkey’s!

The next day we sadly started to break up.  Liam and some girls he’d met headed to another retreat for a few days.  Most of the crew headed either to Brisbane to catch flights, or back to Sydney.  Just me, Lisa and James were left in Byron.  In the end I stayed in Byron for another couple of days after even they left (next blog to come, with a quick reunion with Liam …) and then headed up on to Brisy on my own.

The Blue Mountains

Aside from seeing the New Year in at Sydney Harbour I only really had one other touristy desire whilst I was in the Sydney area.  That one thing was to visit The Blue Mountains.

In typical fashion though, it turned out to be a bit of a last minute rush … I delayed it right until the week before I was due to commence my Surfari heading North! Nevertheless, once I’d found an ideal (and cheap!) trip I relaxed.  All I had to do was turn up now.

24 hours before I was due to leave, the offer came up to head into Sydney for an outing with a few of the Manly boys.  I hadn’t been over the water for a while and I had a hankering to see the city again … I figured it would be my last time for a good few months.  It was early afternoon and raining when we arrived, so we figured “let’s go to the pub”.  Being poor though, we ended up heading to Kings Cross for cheap backpacker beers.  Worst idea ever. All I’m gonna say here (the rest is unmentionable) is that we completely missed the last ferry home. Having lost the others at some point in the early hours (they were both fine, they found each other at Circular Quay!) I wound up paying $50 to a mercenary taxi driver to get home on my own. $50 dollars I could ill afford, but at this point, as I slowly sobered up I realised I had to be back in time. I crawled into my hostel bed around 6AM.  I had to be up by 7AM for my trip …

Somehow, I don’t know how, I made it to the pickup point in time.  I was still drunk and slept the entire bus journey.  The whole day is something of a blur if I’m honest … a bit like the weather we encountered.

The first lookout was a whiteout. I really hoped things would improve … I really wanted to see the picture postcard Three Sisters.  Fortunately for me, although not stunning weather, it improved and the rest of the day was a thoroughly pleasant experience.

I enjoyed The Blue Mountains.  I think if I could do it again, I’d stay there a couple of days and do some proper hiking.  The tour only scratched the surface of the opportunities there.

I’d also visit with a clear head …


The Manly Trap

I’ll apologise now.  This post has an awful lot of photographs.  You see, The Manly Trap was sprung and it had well and truly caught me.

Continuing on from the last post, I was feeling pretty low.  I didn’t know what to do next.  ‘Pretty low’ might be an understatement.  I missed my friends from home hugely and wondered if the greatest adventure of my life was just really a big mistake?

Trying to keep positive, I figured I wasn’t completely comfortable in the middle of Sydney and began to formulate a plan.  What I needed was some blue juice.  So … I’d head out to Manly for a couple of weeks, surf a bit and figure out what to do next.  But what actually happened next was that I’d end up staying in Manly for nearly 3 months and only leave when I ran out of money!

I’d had lunch with a friend (Jar-Marie) who I’d come to know as she’d been living in England with her ex-boyfriend (one of my best friends) for the previous year.  She was local to Manly and recommended I check out a backpackers hostel as a good place to crash – The Boardriders Backpackers. So, I packed my bags and found a bed.  I thought maybe I’d stay a few weeks, find a room in a house, get a part time job, stay until New Year and then head up the coast.

I found a small community of people though in the hostel … travellers who’d stepped off the plane in Sydney, headed over the water and had reached the same place I did and never left.  We called it “The Manly Trap”.

Manly is a beautiful little town about a 30 minute ferry ride from Sydney CBD.  It has bars, shops, restaurants, a good surfing beach and an abundance of coastal walks and smaller beaches close by.  It’s a party town, a holiday destination and perfect for the 20 somethings looking for fun.

Over the days, weeks and months I gradually grew into the group.  Some people left of course and new people joined, but a core crew of us always remained and we formed a close knit relationship. The photos displayed will give you a small idea, but it was a hugely fun time for me.  Days were spent surfing, hiking or simply relaxing on the beach and nights were spent watching movies or heading out to the bars on our infamous party nights.  Any thought of work flew out of the window.

When I eventually (and inevitably) ran out of money I figured I couldn’t stay any longer.  If I wasn’t careful, I’d never leave (unless it was to return home to England, tail between my legs).  One day in early February I packed my bags to head north to Brisbane.  A new city and new challenge was needed.  I didn’t find it easy though … saying goodbye to my new family and friends to once again head out alone was sad.  I was better prepared for the future though and felt far more capable.

In late October 2008, at the end of my time, I flew back into Sydney from Alice Springs.  I decided there was only one place I could spend my last days in the country and that was back at the Boardriders.  Although I was glad to be there again, it was different.  A few good friends remained; Rich, Danny, Mel and Mike …  they had never left and I wondered if they’d ever wanted to?  It wasn’t the same for me however – my time had passed.

Whilst there I slowly became aware of the new community at the hostel – different faces, but the same characters doing the same things that we’d all been doing 12 months previously. I recognised the friendships and dynamics on show and I wondered… you see…I knew now what was happening.  The Manly Trap had sprung; would any of them ever escape?

*The Sleazeriders will ride forever*

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