The Last Post

I write this having been back in the cold, wet and windy UK for a couple of weeks. This has given me time to adjust to what is, quite frankly, a far more mundane existence. It has also given me time to reflect on my trip.

My trip has been an amazing experience and I have many memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Pretty much everything I have done on the trip has been fantastic but there have been two real highlights that stand out.

The first is the 6 days I spent on the South Island of New Zealand. I loved the wonderful scenery and doing some amazing things including whale watching, a heli-hike onto Franz Josef Glacier and jet boating.

Whale watching at Kaikoura

Whale watching at Kaikoura

image

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Hiking on Franz Josef Glacier

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

The second highlight was the week in India touring the “Golden Triangle” with G Adventures. I loved travelling through such a vibrant country seeing some amazing sights, experiencing the culture and eating some absolutely fabulous food.

image

Jaipur

Jaipur

Palace of the Winds

Palace of the Winds

Trying to make a puri

Trying to make a puri

Amber Fort

Amber Fort

I have seen some amazing sights Including:-

Uluru

image

The Taj Mahal

image

Sydney Harbour

image image

The cricket obviously didn’t go according to plan. I watched every one of England’s losses to Australia and became increasingly resigned to the entirely predictable nature of these defeats. Disappointing as the cricket was it gave me a base to explore the great cities of Australia. I was part of the world record attendance for a test match at the MCG on Boxing Day.

image

Some stats!! My trip took me away from home for 79 nights. I travelled in 5 countries – Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, India and the United Arab Emirates. I went on 17 flights and travelled with 8 different airlines. I stayed in 20 different hotels. So making all these flights certainly means I have had an impact on the environment. All the air miles equate to 4.85 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The driving I did in New Zealand, 1095 kilometres, added a further 0.26 tonnes of CO2 emissions. I am investigating what I can do to offset this.

Best airline – QANTAS. I flew with them more than any other airline. Great service delivered by “real people” not the archetypal young “trolley dolly” you find elsewhere.

Best airport – Dubai. Space age. Roomy. Waterfalls!

Worst airport – Goa International Airport. Dirty toilets and rowing cleaners. Make sure you scan your luggage first! I also had issues at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport with baggage coming off the wrong carousel and lengthy queues for biosecurity checks.

Favourite hotel – The Point, Brisbane. Great service and a room with a fantastic view. Well located for the Gabba and the free boat service into central Brisbane. I also had fantastic service and food at the Resort Terra Paraiso in Goa. Excellent towel and pillow art by housekeeping!

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

View from my room at The Point, Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

Free city hopper boat service in Brisbane

image

Housekeeping art at Resort Terra Paraiso, Goa

Worst hotel – Great Southern Hotel, Sydney. Room very dated and felt claustrophobic

Favourite cricket stadium – Sydney Cricket Ground. Blends futuristic new stands with well preserved old pavilions.

image

Worst cricket stadium – The WACA, Perth. Little shade and needs urgent redevelopment.

image

So would I do it again??? The trip has been very much a once in a lifetime opportunity. It has cost a pretty penny and I now need to start earning again. 11 weeks away is a long time and there were times particularly around Christmas and New Year when I was really starting to miss family. Keeping in touch through instant messaging, email, FaceTime and Facebook has been invaluable. When you can talk to somebody and see them on screen the world does not seem such a big place.  I have loved experiencing the different countries and cultures and a much better climate. So yes I would definitely do a big trip again but not for as long.

Has the trip changed me??? Well I don’t feel any different. It may have given me a different perspective on a few things. The trip has definitely given me the desire to travel more and explore further some of the places I have been to.

A successful trip can only take place with help from others. I have had great support from friends and family. They seemed to think my trip was a much bigger deal than I thought myself and showed this with a great send off before I went away. I was worried about my house being left empty for an extended period of time. Thanks to Mum and Dad and my next door neighbours Kathryn and Steve for keeping an eye on it for me whilst I was away. My house remained totally intact whilst I was away but ironically suffered storm damage within a week of my return!

A big thank you to my travel agents, Round the World Experts, and in particular Nigel Wright for turning my dreams into reality.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog. I have enjoyed writing it and it is something I can always look back on. The blog seems to have generated quite a lot of interest – It has had over 4300 views and over 100 comments.

Finishing the blog helps me put the trip “to bed” and allows me to focus on the next phase of my life which starts with the search to generate an income.

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

My first ever camel ride in the Dubai Desert

My Last 48 Hours in Sydney

So with the cricket finishing 2 days early this gave me an opportunity for extra sightseeing.

On the first spare day I fancied time at the beach but to begin with went to Darling Harbour for a spot of breakfast at one of the harbour front restaurants. This also gave me the opportunity to check out some of the boats moored there including the worlds largest operational steam ferry “South Steyne”. It used to operate as the Manly Ferry. There is also a full replica of Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour at Darling Harbour as part of the maritime museum.

South Steyne

South Steyne

Replica of HMS Endeavour

Replica of HMS Endeavour

The famous Sydney beach is Bondi but another beach, Coogee, had been recommended to me. I travelled there by bus. The journey takes around half an hour and takes you past the Sydney Cricket Ground and through the suburb of Randwick. On the way through Randwick I spotted a racecourse, the University of New South Wales and Sydney Children’s Hospital.

It was an absolutely glorious summers day with cloudless skies and a temperature in the high 20’s. On arrival at Coogee I headed to get a view of the beach. It’s a belter! Wide golden sands and crashing waves. Like other Aussie sea side resorts the early settlers tried to replicate what they were familiar with from England. So Coogee had at one time a pier, a tram, separate baths for gentlemen and ladies and a Palace Aquarium which featured a whole host of different entertainments. One thing quite different which you won’t find in Blackpool was a shark net. Now the only visible sign of these remaining that I could see was the Palace Aquarium which has now been redeveloped as the Beach Palace Hotel. The pier and shark net have long since been claimed by the sea.

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach facing South

Coogee Beach facing South

The Coogee Bay Hotel sits just across the road from the beach. I had been told that it has the biggest bar in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m not sure about that but it does have the biggest beer garden in Sydney and certainly the biggest I have ever seen! The website says it has 7 bars and a 1,750 capacity venue where bands such as INXS and the Foo Fighters have played. Well I think I missed some of these bars and the venue but as well as the beer garden bar I saw a beach bar and a sports bar. The sports bar area in particular was massive and included an area for gambling on horses and greyhounds. There was also a separate “VIP lounge”. The “VIP lounge” is something I had not noticed in any other part of Australia so I am guessing it only applies in New South Wales. I was rather excited to discover that my hotel in Sydney had a VIP lounge and wondered who the VIP’s may be that frequented it. Kylie and Danni Minogue?  Shane Warne? Tony Abbott? On further investigation after checking into the Great Southern Hotel I rather disappointingly discovered that a VIP lounge is actually a room full of fruit machines. Every pub and hotel in Sydney seems to have one and suggests that this part of a Australia has a real gambling culture. So anyway back to the Coogee Bay hotel. I settled into the beach bar and enjoyed a Chaucer golden ale and a fish and chip lunch. Having done further research into the Coogee Bay Hotel for writing this blog I found a story from 2008 entitled the “Coogee Bay Hotel poo scandal”. I won’t go into the gory details here but google it and you can see what it’s about. Suffice to say had I read that before going to Coogee I am not sure I would have chosen to eat at the Coogee Bay Hotel…. The fish and chips were fine though.

Coogee Bay Hotel

Coogee Bay Hotel

Beer garden at Coogee Bay hotel

Beer garden at Coogee Bay hotel

I decided to walk off lunch and headed north on the coastal path and passed through Gordon’s Bay before stopping for a sunbathe and paddle at Clovelly Beach.

Gordon's Bay

Gordon’s Bay

Clovelly Beach

Clovelly Beach

On day 2 I spent some time on chores ahead of the next leg of my journey. Laundry, haircut and a bit of shopping. With that out of the way I headed for one last time to Sydney Harbour. This time I went a slightly different route which took in the Queen Victoria building which has been lovingly restored to include shopping and eating places. A bit like the Victoria Quarter in Leeds. I also visited briefly the St Mary’s (Catholic) Cathedral before heading for the mightily impressive Royal Botanical Gardens which stretch right down to the Opera House. Earlier that day the Aussie cricket team had been at the Opera House celebrating the 5 nil whitewash but thankfully by the time I arrived they were long gone.

Interior of Queen Victoria building

Interior of Queen Victoria building

St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral

Royal Botanical Gardens

Royal Botanical Gardens

After getting more photos of the opera house and harbour bridge I headed for the Rocks area. This part of Sydney, which as it turned out where I had been to see the fireworks on New Years Eve, is the oldest part of Sydney and has recently been transformed into bars, restaurants and shops.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

image

The Rocks

The Rocks

So my time in Sydney and Australia had come to an end. I can’t believe it’s now 7 weeks since I arrived in Brisbane. My time in Australia has been fantastic and Sydney has been a fitting end to it. But now it’s time to move on. Next destination Thailand!

Trip to the Blue Mountains

I was very much looking forward to the Blue Mountains trip and as it was being run by AAT Kings who had delivered an excellent 3 days in the Red Centre earlier in my trip I was expecting it to be high quality.

After being picked up by the tour bus at 7.30am we headed west out of Sydney on the Parramatta road and then joined the M4 motorway. We made a stop at the Featherdale wildlife park for an hour. The tour had been billed as “Blue mountains and Australian wildlife” so this was the wildlife part of the day… Having already seen koala, kangaroo, wombats and tasmanian devils back in Brisbane I looked for new species. It was a whistlestop tour as we only had an hour but in that time I saw little penguins, red necked pademelon, echidna and a crocodile. There was also the quokka which I had seen earlier in my trip at Rottnest Island.

Little penguin

Little penguin

Red necked pademelon

Red necked pademelon

Echidna

Echidna

A croc

A croc

After leaving the zoo, we headed to the Blue Mountains via the great western highway. We were travelling across the same route that the early settlers used when first crossing the blue mountains. They had to begin with found the mountains impenetrable but this seemed to suit some of those in charge of the early settlement as it meant it was difficult for the convicts to escape through the mountains! These days it is easy to cross the mountains. There is an excellent dual carriageway most of the way and this runs parallel to a railway line.

Having heard back in October about serious fires in the Blue Mountains which had destroyed 230 homes I was expecting this to be visible at some point during the tour but the mountains looked pristine.

We stopped for lunch in the pretty garden village of Leura.

Leura

Leura

After lunch we headed to nearby Katoomba to an attraction called Scenic World. It was a kind of theme park. There were 4 main attractions. A scenic railway at a 52 degree incline – the steepest passenger train in the world! A scenic skyway – the highest cable car in Australia. A scenic cableway – Australia’s biggest cable car. Finally a scenic walkway to stroll through the rainforest. It did feel a little tacky having “rides” that you queued to go on. I was given a wristband. Anyway putting any Blackpool pleasure beach thoughts to one side I went for it. I descended into the forest in the cable car. This lasted but a few seconds. I then had a very pleasant stroll through the rainforest before getting the train. This was a little scary – you basically were facing down into the forest whilst the train went upwards. At one point it felt like I was going to be thrown onto the row of people in front! But it was a short trip – a minute at most.

The view from the cable car

The view from the cable car

Australia's biggest cable car

Australia’s biggest cable car

Walkway through the rainforest

Walkway through the rainforest

The scenic railway

The scenic railway

View from inside the railway carriage

View from inside the railway carriage

We had an excellent coach driver, Chris, really funny and very knowledgeable. But rather bizarrely when we got back on the bus he suggested heading straight back to Sydney to visit the Olympic Park rather than going to Echo Point where you get a fantastic view of the most famous landmark in the Blue Mountains – the Three Sisters. This was over-ruled and we had a short photo stop at Echo Point. Anyway, in case you were wondering the Blue Mountains are so named because of the colour of the vapour that comes off the Eucalyptus trees.

The bluey tinged blue mountains

The bluey tinged blue mountains

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

The Blue Mountains are very pretty but perhaps I am spoilt with the scenery that I saw in New Zealand as they didn’t really wow me.

We headed back into Sydney and Chris got his wish by driving us past the Olympic stadium and other sporting facilities from when they had the Olympics here in 2000.

The Olympic stadium

The Olympic stadium

The real highlight of the day was a boat trip along the Paramatta river from Olympic park and back into Sydney with a stop at Darling Harbour and then under the harbour bridge to Circular Quay. Even though it was raining the views of the shoreline and the different parts of the estuary were stunning. I stood in the top deck snapping away although my camera battery chose to die just before going under the harbour bridge!

Stunning waterside properties

Stunning waterside properties

imageimage

Heading towards Darling Harbour

Heading towards Darling Harbour

image

Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour

New Years Eve in Sydney

I was booked on the midday flight from Melbourne to Sydney and was at the airport in plenty of time. The automated Qantas check in system at the airport give gave me the option of boarding either the 11am or 11.30am flights instead! Get in! So I ended up boarding the 11am flight. Just before the flight boarded I saw Aussie off-spinner Nathan Lyon clad in his international tracksuit carrying a baby. Perhaps I was flying with the Australian cricket team? As I was boarding and walking through business class I saw Lyon again and Ryan Harris sat with their WAGs. A tall dark haired guy in a track suit got out of my way as I walked past. I turned round and saw the unmistakeable moustached face of Mitchell Johnson. I attempted to give him a hard stare in the style of the stares he gives our batsmen. I’m not sure if the whole team was on the flight. I just saw those 3 and also Darren “Boof” Lehman in arrivals in Sydney.

On the flight I was pleasantly surprised with the scenery with most of the flight seemingly over mountains with many lakes. Were we crossing the Blue Mountains? As the plane descended we were rewarded with clear views of the harbour bridge and opera house and the stunning natural harbour.

Later, having checked in to the hotel I headed out to get my bearings and suss out my plan for viewing the New Years Eve fireworks. I am staying on George Street, in Chinatown, and around ten minutes from Darling Harbour. I headed there first. The harbour was busy with people enjoying the New Year’s Eve sunshine. I was aware that at 3pm there were already people getting in position for the fireworks that night!

The New Year's Eve stage in place at Darling Harbour

The New Year’s Eve stage in place at Darling Harbour

From Darling Harbour I headed in the direction of Circular Quay. I headed past a huge construction project that is underway at the top end of Darling Harbour in an area called Barangaroo. This redevelopment will lead to further hotels, office space (including skyscrapers), residential, retail and leisure facilities within Sydney’s central business district. So next time I visit Sydney it will look noticeably different.

I stopped for a coffee at Walsh Bay and got my first glimpse of the harbour bridge. I saw huge crowds already in position for the fireworks on the other side of the bridge. I walked round to circular quay and got an excellent view of the opera house. It was already getting very busy some eight hours before midnight. I needed a plan!

The Harbour Bridge viewed from Walsh Bay

The Harbour Bridge viewed from Walsh Bay

The crowds in place for the fireworks 8 hours in advance!

The crowds in place for the fireworks 8 hours in advance!

image

I walked along George Street for around half an hour before I reached my hotel. I turned on the tv in my room and learnt that there were to be fireworks earlier in the evening at around 9pm and that they would be at Darling Harbour as well as around the harbour bridge.

So I headed out again at 7.30 and went to Darling Harbour. As dusk approached the crowds swelled. There was a stage set up in the harbour and the entertainment included Chinese dragons and fire dancers. The crowds included lots of families and kids and the ethnic mix was highly oriental reflecting the part of the city I was in. At 9pm the fireworks started and were fantastic. Definitely better than Denby Dale Cricket Club Bonfire Night fire works! I did however feel that this firework display was a mere starter for the main course to come.

Crowds gathering at Darling harbour

Crowds gathering at Darling harbour

imageimageimageimage

I headed to the Barmy Army New Years Eve party at the Paragon Hotel. I spent an enjoyable couple of hours or so there. They had a Coldplay tribute band playing and in between breaks there was Barmy Army song singing led by Billy the Trumpeter.

At 11.45 I headed out of the Paragon to look for a vantage point. Police had stopped any more people getting into the Circular Quay viewing area. So I headed with others at some speed to a road that was up above close to the harbour bridge. I was in position by midnight and saw some fantastic fireworks. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a great position. In cricketing terms I had a view from square leg rather than from behind the bowlers arm. This meant that I didn’t see the fireworks going off at the opera house and for those on the bridge I had a side on rather than front on view. Oh and I also had a street light in the way!

It was a great experience and after the fireworks had finished, after about 10 minutes, I walked down George Street with the massive crowds.

The crowds heading down Geroge St after the fireworks

The crowds heading down George St after the fireworks

I enclose here some of my best photos and some I found online. I am sure you will be able to tell which is which!

image image image image image image image image