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 …

 

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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*

Sydney & The Hunter Valley

I’ve been in a reflective mood recently.  For fun, I decided back in January that I’d start posting a “Throwback Thursday” image on Instagram every week of my travels back in 2007/2008 in Australia.  This mini project has finally given me the kick I need to share the images and stories I took at that time.  If you happen to follow my Flickr account you’ll see I’ve been uploading like mad over the past few weeks and months. The intention is to now also run with a flurry of posts here – 2 a month – until I’m up to date.

Each picture tells a story though and viewing them brings back memories and feelings, some of which I had long forgotten.  In November it’ll be 10 years since I left England. 10 whole years. A decade.  I’m so aware of time slipping through my fingertips … and beginning to feel my age.

When I left the hometown village I didn’t realise that it would never be quite the same again. My friends are now mostly married with children, the people I met on my travels are very much the same.  As for me, I’m just stuttering along not knowing quite where I’m going or what to do next.

I guess that’s what has made me so reflective.  I genuinely believed that going away would change me for the better, that somehow I would have an epiphany and life would be mapped out and straightforward ever more.  How wrong I was.

~ ~ ~

Sydney November 2007

After a whirlwind stop in Bangkok we touched down in Sydney airport.  We’d heard tales of people being stuck at passport control for hours, but for us immigration was a breeze and we waltzed through.  The first few days were spent adjusting to the time difference and acclimatising ourselves in the city.  Days consisted of exploration and nights of beer drinking. We had a jet boat tour of Sydney harbour and I took a course in hospitality skills so that I’d be qualified to do bar work there (this didn’t come in helpful , once!). This was an exciting time. I still remember my first sight of Sydney Opera House.  I was seeing something with my own eyes I’d previously only dreamed of.  For a small time country boy this was some occasion. The first week was over before I knew it.

Fractures were beginning to appear however and I wasn’t feeling as happy in myself as I should have been.  I felt increasingly lonely and was struggling to form a bond with the people I’d travelled over with.

We then (still as a group) headed to The Hunter Valley for a wine tasting tour and few days out of the city.  I realised at this point that as much as I liked the people I’d flown over with, that I was going to have to find my own way from here on.  We were too different and this eventually culminated in a bit of an alcohol fuelled argument with one of the others.  Nevertheless, in those few days I met a couple of new people who I got on with brilliantly and who lifted my spirits considerably (Mark and Alice).  Though sadly I would only see Alice again once more when back in Sydney, Mark and I remained close and I even got to visit him in Melbourne nearly a year later.

When we returned from The Hunter Valley I knew my future wasn’t in Sydney itself.  I needed to get out and find some blue juice therapy.  I didn’t go far though.  I found what I needed just over the water in Manly.  That’s where I will pick up in the next blog post.

People often ask if you’re a Sydney or Melbourne person;  I will always pick Sydney, I did love it, but it’s a city of contrast for me.  Of excitement and discovery, yet of loneliness and unhappiness entwined.

Amie Boulton

Back in October of 2015 I was invited to take part in a last minute shoot in Torquay with the amazing Amie Boulton and fellow photographer, Eleanor Stobbart.

It was a murky, freezing cold day and at this stage I was pretty new to portrait photography.  I wasn’t holding out much hope for getting decent images, but figured it’d be a great opportunity to learn from two people I admired.  Both Eleanor and Amie are super friendly and easy going and within 5 minutes of sitting down with our pre-shoot coffees we were laughing away and I knew we’d have a great day.

First location was Torquay Pier, which is a really cool structure.  On such a cold day out of season, it was really quiet so we could shoot away without any distractions.  For our second location we spotted some lobster pots around the harbour.  These easily turned into my favourite images of the day.  The colour and textures here were unreal.  The final location was a little rocky cove we found around the back of Living Coast.  We shot here until it got dark and poor Amie was shaking.  That was followed up by some good old fish and chips in order to refuel and warm up!

Here’s a bunch of my images from the shoot.  Amie is amazing and if you’re looking for a stunning fashion model then I highly recommend her.

PS.  Big thanks to Steven Chapman for his reflector bouncing skills!

Land of Smiles

Here it is, the final of my posts from 2015’s trip to Thailand.  Expect some posts from 2016’s trip in a few months time, but I think it’s likely I’m going to move off travelling for a while and post the results of the portrait shoots I’ve also been working on.

Phuket … Patong especially, is a place that I think I’ve fallen in love with.  It’s brash and loud and a tourist hot spot. Why would I like it so much when there’s so many other beautiful places in Thailand?  Well, I don’t especially subscribe to the backpacker ideology – in fact, I find it often far too self indulgent.  If you’ve ever seen ‘The Inbetweeners 2’ you’ll have an idea what I’m talking about.  Instead, Patong despite it’s tackiness and obvious tourist traps I find to be somewhat honest – it is what it is and it doesn’t try to hide it. I understand why some people hate it, but not me.

Patong Beach, although busy is still very beautiful and there’s enough space on it to find your own spot.  The water is warm and inviting.  My favourite spot at sunset was to walk North to Kalim Beach.  A rocky cove about 5-10 minutes from Patong main beach.  Just perfect for long exposures at dusk.

At night there’s an abundance of restaurants.  I preferred to stay away from the big ones on the ocean front and stick to the smaller local ones hidden away on side Soi’s.  Beautiful food for an incredible price (and what’s more, I went back after 12 months and I was recognised like an old friend – you can’t put a price on that!).

After that, there’s as many bars as you could wish for to drink in and places to dance and bands to listen too.  Every night, a couple of beers and some guitar driven rock music.  It was great.

Thailand is indeed, a Land of Smiles.

Phang Nga Bay

The final trip of my week in Phuket was to head out to Phang Nga Bay.  The reason?  I was desperate to see James Bond Island.  It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area, but having been such a huge James Bond fan back in my early years I knew I had to go there.

I got a pretty good deal on a package trip (booked on the roadside in Patong).  I was incredibly fortunate to make the tour though – a mistake my end meant I’d got my days mixed up and it was only drunkenly fooling around at about 3am the night before that I realised my mistake!

The first stop on our trip was at Suwankuha Temple (Monkey Temple).  I’ll be honest … I found this a bit boring.  I suppose I was pretty templed out still from the amazing Bangkok and Chiang Mai.  A good chance to grab a coffee however. After this we boarded longtail boats and started heading out into Phang Nga Bay.  From a small river, this quickly becomes an awe dropping sight with turquoise sea and beautiful islands aplenty.

First stop was for lunch at Ko Panyee, which is a Muslim floating fishing village.  Lunch was good.  Not an awful lot of time to explore sadly – lots of touristy fare shops.  Apparently they have a floating football pitch – but I missed that. Next up was James Bond Island.  It’s absolutely beautiful, tiny … and completely crowded with tourists!  Oh, it must be fantastic to hire a private boat and be there for sunrise or sunset … the middle of the day is still wonderful, just busy!

Second stop was at Talu Island for some sea kayaking.  This was really relaxing and I wish I’d had my Sunco to hand to take some shots and grab some video footage.  The ones I did grab were from the boat as we were leaving.  The kayaks actually take you into the interior of the island (under the limestone cliffs) where it’s eerily quiet and peaceful.  I loved it.

After this I had just a couple of days left in Patong and then would begin the long journey home (via a couple of mad days in Pattaya which there is no chance of me blogging about!).

There’s only one more post from this 2015 trip to come, which will be a few words about my time in Patong.  Possibly one of my most favourite places on Earth!

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