The Blue Mountains Australia

Day 17 of our adventure, fifteen of us are still together as a fairly large and happy group. We all set off for a two night stay at the YHA hostel in the town of Katoomba beside the Blue Mountains. Keen to explore we were told by the receptionist to hold off the walking until the following morning as it was due to rain.

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Instead we opted for a takeaway and a quiet night in a local bar which a few of the lads had came across. However with it being Sunday we hadn’t realised how early they would close and ended up only managing a quick drink. Unfortunately the locals seemed deterred by our presence and weren’t overly friendly.

Katoomba in general seemed like a pretty strange town, the locals ranged from quirky, chill hippy to somewhat deranged. The streets were lined with shops full of knick knacks that nobody had any need for and the majority of residents sported fairly strange haircuts. The town definitely gave off the strange vibe and seemed a perfect setting for a horror movie set.

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We woke early and after a quick discussion with the receptionist we had a map and a five hour trek through the Blue Mountains planned. For those more keen and with a larger budget there were plenty of companies around who offered activities such as canoeing and abseiling or longer more advanced hikes.

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We were happy with a long walk that offered great views and wasn’t too demanding. Having said that after descending the 900 step stairway we realised our mistake in the fact that we would once again have to ascend. If you aren’t overly athletic you might want to skip it but really the views make the effort worth it.

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We managed to see some beautiful waterfalls and having descended a small gorge we chilled in a rock pool for a while. At least until one of the girls spotted what looked like leeches and we made a quick get away out of there. They were probably harmless, maybe.

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On our way back we visited echo point where there was a beautiful view that went on for miles. The disappointing thing is that you could have the most advanced camera in the world but you won’t be able to fully capture it. My pictures just don’t do it justice, it is a sight that needs to be seen with your own eyes.

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That evening we had a BBQ at the hostel and enjoyed a relaxing evening in the TV room. Each YHA offers excellent facilities and members get 10% off. Slightly more expensive than other places but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

A great few days at the Blue Mountains and if you are in Australia it is definitely a must see. Small groups are probably best to trek around with and take plenty of time so you can get the full experience. Bring water and a pack lunch, you’ll need it.

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Surf Camp Australia

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Setting off for surf camp on Monday 9th February everyone was really excited to get out of the city for a while, but I think only a few of us knew what to truly expect. This wasn’t going to be five days spent relaxing or sightseeing. Surfing is an intense and difficult sport and not for the faint hearted.

When we arrived at camp we were greeted with rain, not ideal. Ushered down to the cabins around surf camp we were lead into the communal area and given a quick induction by the energetic Shayno of surf camp.

All the staff were extremely helpful, laid back and determined to ensure we all had a great time. We were separated into two groups and given a delicious lunch then given our wet suits and eagerly set off for the beach.

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Once again separated into smaller groups of around 14/15, each group had two instructors who would be helping us throughout our time at camp. Our group had Poppy from the UK and Jonny from Australia. An all girls group, a few of us were disappointed not to have had Sammy D taking us, if you ever go you will soon work out why.

Our first lesson although tough was a small prelude to what was in store. Everyone got off to a good albeit wobbly start but overall seemed to be enjoying themselves. As a group we were glad it was all girls as there was no competition or need to try and impress a group of guys; which meant we were relaxed and could go at our own pace.

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Arriving back at camp we were all quite tired and couldn’t have been happier when dinner was served. I’ll say one thing for surf camp, they sure know how to cook. You won’t leave hungry, which is ideal for backpackers who have been living off rubbish for weeks.

With a ten pm curfew for the campsite there wasn’t much extensive drinking, a few beers and bed was the best option after a tiring day. For those wanting to continue to party there was a seven mile beach waiting for them a five minute walk away.

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Every morning at camp we donned our wetsuits and headed for the beach bright and early following breakfast. Returning for a much anticipated lunch we would have about and hour and a half break and go back for our second lesson of the day. We would return once again for another lovely meal and a few beers then bed.

After heavy partying in Sydney it was nice to once again have a routine. When we arrived on camp we were disappointed by the lack of wifi but throughout the next few days it was nice to see everyone without their phones in their hands. Upon reflection we spend far to much time relying on technology to communicate and cure our boredom. At Surf Camp we spent our time playing giant jenga and cards. It was a welcome change.

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Nobody made every surf lesson and some people just weren’t cut out for the physicality and patience required for learning to surf. As a firm believer of the term ‘persistence is key’ I made the majority of the lessons apart from one. On Wednesday I skipped the afternoon surf because I had badly burnt my hands in the sun the previous day. So I spent my afternoon cowering in the shade with a bottle of after sun and a beer in hand.

So for anyone interested in surfing, I would wholly recommend Surf Camp Australia. A great deal with your accommodation and delicious filling meals included with your surf lessons, you don’t get much better than that. Throw in the awesome friendly staff and you have got yourself a bargain.

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It has definitely given me the surfing bug and although I nose dived more times than I actually caught a wave, it won’t be long until I’m back in the water again. Thanks Surf Camp!

The grass is greener on the other side.

Following a three day stopover in Hong Kong. The rest of the Bunac group and I arrived in Sydney around 12 noon and were met by a Work n Holiday representative who ushered us on to the bus to the YHA Sydney Central hostel. We were all a little tired but mostly excited to finally be in Australia. After we checked in we found our rooms, which were excellent, and got ourselves settled.

We decided to go for a walk around and found Darling Harbour where we went and had our first drink together in Australia and basked in the heat. Happy enough to relax for a few days we had soon slipped into holiday mode. That evening we visited Scubar, partially because it was beside the hostel and we’re really lazy but also because it was meant to be good on a Monday night. They didn’t lie, we all had a great night although we were there quite early. We managed to get a seat and a few drinks before the bar became chaotic and packed. We also experienced ‘crab racing’ for the first time, where a bowl of crabs are released on a stage and you can pay for a crab, if it wins you get a prize. A little unorthodox compared to a night out in Belfast but this is Australia after all, they always were a little crazy.

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The next day we had to be in the lobby for 9am for our Work n Holiday induction. We were lead down the road to George street where we spent most of the day having presentations. Not the ideal start to holiday mode but it was informative and necessary. A man spoke about camper vans and how easy they are for travelling around the country and answered any questions we might have. We then had a presentation about sun safety and Surf Camp, in the end 15 of us signed up for Surf Camp for the following Monday where we would learn to surf for five days, stay on camp and receive all our meals. It also meant we would have accommodation and time to think about our next steps when we arrived back in Sydney after surfing at the rural seven mile beach which was two hours away. Patrick from Work n Holiday then went through our options for employment. A long day but an informative one, handed our SIM cards and given appointments for the bank we were pretty much set free in Sydney.

We once again went out that night and experienced what Sydney had to offer. The people are all really friendly but you would be hard pressed to find an Australian amongst them. Like any major city, Sydney is occupied by people travelling and foreigners who have settled in the city centre.

Wednesday was my bank appointment so I set off in search of the branch setting up my account. When I got there I quickly realised that my account hadn’t been set up for me and I would have to wait for my card. Not ideal considering I would be at surf camp the following week when my card would arrive. Even worse was I soon discovered that I couldn’t transfer money from my home account as they had given me the wrong information. Moral of the story is; banks are liars, so do your research.

That afternoon a few of us walked towards the harbour to do some sight seeing. We seen the notorious Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House which is a must if you have arrived in sunny Australia and want to rub it in the faces of your nearest and dearest when it’s snowing back home.

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After some drinks by the harbour we strolled back through Hyde Park and seen the Botanical Gardens where we lay in the sun for a while and came to terms with the fact that we were actually here.

The next day we visited Manly beach, catching the Ferry at Circular Quay you can see great views of the harbour and the Opera House on the way. Manly beach was beautiful and a lot quieter than the tourist hub of Bondi. With plenty of waves it would perfect for surfers. There are also plenty of shops and cafes to keep everyone happy. That night we went to the club Ivy, which was hyped up as a huge night to go out. With a roof top bar and pool and different floors of music the club was packed. As someone who prefers live music and room to breathe it wasn’t really my scene, a great night for hardcore partiers though.

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After a solid week of early mornings and late nights I spent Friday in bed and got some well earned rest. The rest of the group set off for Bondi and soaked up the rays. Bed was probably the best place for me, Irish skin and all.

I finally made a visit to Bondi on the Saturday in a blistering 29 degree heat. Wearing a shirt and hiding under a towel, factor 50 sun cream applied and I was ready to fry. A very busy beach you need to be prepared to climb over countless bodies in order to reach the water. Please note ladies should wear a well fitting bikini to avoid flashing the whole beach when you are hit by an extra large wave. I’m speaking from experience. If you want to enjoy the scenery take the coastal walk to Coogee. With some breathtaking views and a more remote experience it is definitely worth the lengthy walk.

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Sunday was our last day in Sydney before Surf Camp and before we separated from those who didn’t fancy surfing. A few of us visited the top of Sydney Tower which is a must if you want perfect views of the city.

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Our last evening together was spent at the rooftop pool in the YHA hostel. With a BBQ, a few beers/goon, and a great view you couldn’t have asked for much better. We all reflected that it was strange we had all only spent ten days together, it felt a lot longer.

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All in all I think we made the most of our first week in Australia and we have all been lucky enough to have found some great friends. One pitfall of Sydney is the price so if your planning a long stay be prepared to make a dent in your savings especially if you enjoy a good night out. But overall I’ve throughly enjoyed my time here. Apparently the grass is actually greener on the other side. Now, on to surf camp..

The journey begins.

So just over two weeks ago I set out on my travels to head to Australia with a short three day stopover in Hong Kong. I’ll tell you one thing, there is nothing more valuable than this experience.

Around September time I decided that I’d had enough of Belfast and that it was time to do what I have always wanted to do, and that’s travel. After a quick google search online I contacted the travel agent BUNAC who specialise in working holidays for young adults who want to travel and make some money abroad. For me it sounded ideal because not only did they offer some excellent packages but they also had the option of a group flight so you wouldn’t have to travel alone. I would highly recommend this option if you would like to go travelling but are stuck for someone to go with. My package included the flight, a three day stopover in Hong Kong and a week in the YHA Sydney Central hostel upon arrival in Australia. My fellow travellers all opted for the same package which meant I had plenty of time to get to know them and make friends with likeminded people.

On January 29th I set off for Heathrow airport to begin my journey, I won’t lie, it’s a pretty nerve wrecking thing leaving home knowing its for a such a long period of time, and although it’s early days yet I think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Around twenty three people aged between 18 and 30 met at Heathrow airport and embarked on an eleven and a half hour flight to Hong Kong together. We arrived at around 7am, completely exhausted but determined not to succumb to jet leg. We met our tour guide Lynor at the airport who lead us to the bus that brought us to our hotel in Kowloon. Lynor was very good at her job, was extremely informative and entertaining and insisted that we visit The Big Buddha in Hong Kong via the cable cars up the mountain. So as a large group of exhausted bewildered young people, off we went.

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It was definitely worth the visit, albeit a little odd to be sightseeing with a group of complete strangers but it gave everyone a bit of time to size each other up and talk to everyone. The views at the top of the steps were fantastic although it was quite a misty day in Hong Kong and they lacked a little sunshine.

We returned to our hotel exhausted but determined to beat the jet lag. The girls all decided to have dinner together while the lads occupied the bar. We set off I search of an authentic Chinese dining experience only to come across Subway and Pizza Hut. We eventually found a busy Chinese restaurant and sat down for our meal. I settled for a safe option in Beef Curry only to be disappointed when produced with chunks of fatty meat in a hot curry sauce. Authentic or not, I’ve had better Chinese meals. It also quickly became apparent that the part of town we were in wasn’t used to foreigners as for the large part of the meal, and the trip, we were stared at by locals who seemed stunned by our presence.

What was also quickly established was that I may have a drinking problem as the majority of the girls decided that they were off to bed for some well earned rest, I went off in search of the inebriated boys to see if they wanted to experience the Hong Kong nightlife. When I found them I was delighted to discover that a small handful of girls had been thinking the same thing so we set off for the harbour.

The first bar we came across was an Irish bar called Delaney’s, trust me the irony is not lost on me. It seemed that I’d travelled half way round the world from Ireland to sit in an Irish bar with a group of English people. What made things worse was that the cast of The River Dance had also decided to visit Delaney’s that night, I felt like I was at home. For anyone visiting Hong Kong you need a fairly small budget. BUNAC suggested changing around £100-£150 into Hong Kong dollars but if you are anything like our group i would suggest that you bring slightly more if you fancy a drink as the alcohol can be fairly expensive in some places.

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The following day after a long lie in, we met our guide again and visited Victoria Peak to take some photos of the Hong Kong skyline. Again there was a slight most over the city and although the brows were breathtaking a clear day would have made them better.

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We then visited Aberdeen fishing village and took a ride on a Sampan boat around the harbour. The sharp contrast of wealth in the city was evident in the water with the harbour surrounded by sleek skyscrapers and occupied by extravagant yachts. In contrast humble fishing boats/ houses had docked beside them which was an interesting and somewhat sobering thought.

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That evening we were promised an authentic Cantonese meal, we were lead into a room that looked like it was set up for a wedding reception and handed a pair of chopsticks, which was hilarious. We were served a range of dishes which included goose, chicken, fried rice and fish, which were tasty but it was all a little odd. The staff were clearly disgusted by our lack of skill where chopsticks were concerned. It was a nice meal but il stick to my Chinese takeaways from now one. It wasn’t exactly what any of us had in mind. That evening we all went out as a group, I would tell you how it went but I can’t really remember. Awkward!

The next morning I wasn’t the only one nursing a sore head which was made worse by the knowledge that we were catching a nine hour flight to Sydney that night and had a full day of sightseeing ahead of us. We packed our bags and set off to the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lin Gardens. Although they were nice to see I don’t think a group of hungover young adults managed to fully appreciate them.

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We then set off for the airport and a nine hour flight to Sydney. Hong Kong was a great city and I’m glad I got to visit however it isn’t a city I would quickly rush back to. It may have been the part we stayed in or the fact that we were all a group of strangers attempting to get to know one another but I don’t think we managed to experience everything Hong Kong had to offer.