I’ve just set out on my first long trip in several years. I’m travelling around Australia on a working holiday visa with two friends from university, for round about a year. I’ll be regularly updating the travel diary, as well as posting tips and advice on how to travel cheaply and avoid whatever pitfalls we fall into!
Turns out, jet lag is a real thing.
I’ve never experienced it properly before. At least, I’ve always been well able to just shrug it off and carry on. But somehow, Australia made it impossible to do that.
Maybe it’s the way you skip forward so suddenly, missing out on a whole section of your life and not having a chance to catch up with it. Or maybe it’s the way the aeroplane-powers-that-be decide on a completely arbitrary schedule of night and day: artificial sunrise at 8 in the evening or breakfast served at 2.30am – anything goes!
But anyway, two days later and we just about recovered enough to do more than stare blankly into space, zombie-like, and wait for an acceptable time to go to bed. We even managed to speak to people other than each other by the end of the second day!
The past few days have been a bit of a learning curve. Phea has now learned that I am not the person to entrust with items such as keys and booking confirmations (I usually have put them somewhere safe, but faffing always ensues when she asks me whether I’ve got them and I have no recollection of ever being given them). I have learnt that there are apparently at least three different types of facial cleanser that you can get, and no Australian retailer seems to sell the right sort. Phea is also gradually coming to terms with the fact that taking two showers a day is probably not feasible while backpacking, and we are both coming to accept that being hot, sticky and a little bit disgusting is just going to be our general state of being during our time here.
The excitement of hearing Australian accents was acute at first, but has somewhat worn off now. I still think the Aussie accent makes everything sound more interesting. I could have listened to the couple behind us on the plane talk about seatbelts and snoring for hours. Luckily, though, I have now managed to kick the habit of whispering to Phea ‘Oh my god, they’re Australian!!’ every time we hear someone speak – which I am sure she is probably grateful for.
We only stayed in Cairns for a couple of days initially, before heading north to Port Douglas to explore. It’s nice enough in Cairns, but there is a reason that its tagline is ‘gateway to the Great Barrier Reef’: there’s not a lot going on in the town itself. Except for drinking.
Drinking aside, the lagoon was probably our favourite spot in the city. A glorified saltwater swimming pool, it’s a great place to chill out and have a paddle or sunbathe of an afternoon. However, I have to say it has seemed less appealing since an Aussie in Port Douglas suggested that ‘that place is just full of kiddie wee and condoms’. I’m not sure that’s quite an accurate picture, though. And anyway, it’s all we’ve got since learning on arrival that there would be no seaside swimming here – apparently it’s a favourite hangout of our elusive friends, the crocodiles.
Luckily Port Douglas had more than enough beautiful beach to make up for the lack thereof in Cairns. Four miles of it, to be exact. We found our way to Four Mile Beach on our first day in Port Douglas and it was like we’d finally got what we signed up for. Beach, sea, and palm trees, lined up along the horizon, a view straight out of a travel brochure. And then, somewhat marring the idyllic atmosphere, the obligatory ‘crocodiles have been sighted here recently’ warning sign.
To us, Port Douglas was like a beachy version of Durham. Small and quiet, but with a thriving community of long-term backpackers, it is weirdly reminiscent of the student-local divide in our university city. You can’t go on a night out without seeing loads of people you know – and everything shuts by 2am. We had the best two days there, though (well, we did quite like Durham), and were shown around properly by my friend Meg and the extended long-term backpacker community.
If we hadn’t already booked our Greyhound ticket, and if we weren’t going to be travelling as a three for the next eight weeks, I genuinely believe that Phea and I would have been totally sold on campervan life and might have bought one this very week. Seeing the set up Meg had in her caravan park, and the close-knit community that had built up in the couple of months she’d been there, just made me want to pack my life into a camper and live out the hippie dream for the next year.
Even still, we might do that later on…
I think that until we’d been to Port Douglas, we hadn’t quite understood the full picture of the working holiday visa life. Backpacking and long-term travel completely permeate the pattern of life here. A percentage of the work force in pretty much any tourism-related job will be backpackers looking for a way to earn some extra cash. The people checking us in to our hostels are backpackers, the bar staff serving us drinks are backpackers, the waiters and waitresses are backpackers, the cleaning staff at fancy hotels and the shop assistants and even some of the hairdressers are backpackers. Of course, there are some jobs filled by locals, but it’s really unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before.
It’s been awesome to be introduced to this through Meg and her friends – and it’s made us really excited for the part of the trip where we get to make our own life in our own little pocket of Oz. We can only hope it will be as halcyon as the set up in Port Douglas, or we might just have to go back there…
Our last day in Port Douglas was spent meandering around the Sunday market (you see, it really is my dream place!), gazing out at the view from Anzac park with barely suppressed glee, and going on a brief road trip to Mossman Gorge with a friend of Meg’s. The same (incredibly generous) friend later gave us a lift back to Cairns, and we all said goodbye – hardly believing that the days had gone so quickly, and simultaneously baffled that we’ve still only been in Australia since Wednesday.
This confusion is only compounded by the fact that compared to a lot of other countries, some of what we’ve experienced so far could really be a version of England – a record-breakingly hot, crocodile-infested England. It’s comforting and a bit unnerving at the same time. But then, I’m sure this idea will be shaken once we see some coral and some rainforest.
Annie arrives tomorrow, which we are very excited about, so I’ll soon be reporting on far more exciting things than jet lag and the weather. How English I am.
Watch out Great Barrier Reef!
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