Right said Fredericton

There were several reasons I wanted to stop off in Fredericton during my trip across Canada; I’d initially wanted to stay in all ten provinces (although ultimately never made it to Newfoundland and Labrador), and also because Facebook often automatically tags posts made from Barnstaple as being in the North Devon which is a Fredericton suburb, rather than part of the English county. If I was going to stop off somewhere in New Brunswick, I might as well actually post something from there for the age old reason of just because I could.

I also intended to visit King’s Landing (no, not that King’s Landing) which is a historical settlement which recreated life in 1800s Canada and which I thought would be a great place to learn about Canada’s history. Unfortunately this hadn’t yet opened for the season, but in the end I ended up staying there as another friend from Australia is now living there and catching up with him was on my list of reasons to actually travel across Canada in the first place. The fact he actually lives in Devon was an added bonus.

SAM_4884Although the recent floods which Fredericton had suffered from had receded, the fact that my first evening there was still rather wet meant that the brief tour Dan and his girlfriend Amy had wanted to give me was cut short at Picaroons, the local brewery where they went to refill their reusable 64 fl.oz jugs which, much to my immature amusement, are called Growlers.

The next morning we toured the city properly however, with the added bonus of being able to cycle, and I even managed to navigate Canada’s Great Trail app enough to get the “Explorer” achievement award for exploring the trail in a second province. We stopped off for ice cream (although their favourite place had also not yet opened for the summer) by the banks of the mighty St. John river and enjoyed the serenity as Dan and Amy gave me an overview of exactly how high the floods had been, with detritus still visible in some places showing where it had been washed up.

SAM_4856For a better experience of nature in its own environment, we also went for a walk in he nearby Mactaquac Provincial Park. Although this was a great way to see some local scenery, including Eagles soaring above us, unfortunately the flies and mosquitoes reminded us that nature being a force of balance also includes enjoyment/annoyance as well.

Although Fredericton is not a big place and has few of the amenities on offer in a city even such as Halifax – most likely the reason someone joked I would be staying in “No-Funswick” – it is still a particular highlight of my visit based on another of its reputations, that of New Brunswick kitchen parties. Rather than being a specifically organised event these, I was told, were the impromptu gatherings which occured when friends and neighbours dropped in on each other and everyone congregates in the room with the most abundant food and drink.

Although I never experienced one of these for myself, even with such a short stay it was easy to see how these would occur. On my first day a couple of Dan’s friends were longboarding around the area and so popped into the kitchen for no other reason than to say hi and joined us on our trip to Mactaquac. More than just this, a neighbour also came over to introduce herself when seeing us in the front garden (Dan and his housemates hadn’t been living there that long, and I fully understood his explanation of why you wouldn’t want to spend anymore time than neccesary outside during the winter), called over another couple of neighbours who were walking past, and were even kind enough to give them some Tomato plant cuttings when they saw the work they had been doing to organise the lawn and growing beds.

Although his wasn’t the first I’d seen of Canadian hospitality on his trip, it did show that the reputation for being social and having such a sense of community wasn’t an exaggeration. From what I saw, that’s just daily life in New Brunswick.

All about the Bass

When planning my journey of Australia’s east coast I specifically chose to travel south for a number of reasons, the main one being that I would here during the summer. Australia is generally hotter than back home regardless of season, and I didn’t want to be confronted by heat squared; heading into the summer, AND towards the tropics.

Check out that Bass

Check out that Bass.

Another reason is that I also have a few family friends down in Victoria who I wanted to visit. Unlike my big trip to North America 10 years ago which I began by visiting friends, this time I wanted to jump in on my own first, and then meet them as part of my journey. And so it was that the end of my East coast road trip took me to Victoria’s Bass Coast.

I first met Ollie and Mike when they moved just around the corner from me about 15 years ago. Despite being young at the time, and they closer to the age of my parents, I still enjoyed spending time with them and hearing their exotic tales of life on the other side of the world. They also got on well with my parents, and would often tell tales of their British exploits together when introducing me to their own friends and family over here.

I spent a week with them and they showed me the sights of their local area, somewhere not generally visited by backpackers due to being off the main tourist trail. This was a welcome change and allowed me to experience a slice of life in ‘actual’ Australia; whereas I had spent weeks meeting almost exclusively other travellers, now everyone I met actually came from the country I came to see.

It was also nice to spend time in some spectacular places and not have to share them with too many other people. In addition to this Mike had previously worked for Parks Victoria and was very knowledgable about the area. This meant I had the best of both worlds of being shown round by both a friend and tour guide.

Disused Lime Kilns. Or what's left of them.

A disused Lime Kiln. Or what’s left of it.

We went on several hikes, the first along the George Bass Coastal Walk. We drove to the Punch Bowl and walked the first section together, which included some great coastal views, people ignoring the no fishing signs on the rocks (as well as the don’t go on to the rocks signs in general), and a rather unique pink and triangular house that despite being architecturally impressive, stuck out like a sore thumb. I then continued along the trail on my own, taking in the scenery of the hills, beaches, and cliffs, and making sure the proper Aussie hat that Mike very kindly gave me didn’t blow off in the wind. Another similar trip took us to the aptly named Walkerville where we ambled along what remains of the Lime Kilns, and we also went for a bike ride along the Bass Coast Rail Trail.

I have to admit I was somewhat surprised at the presence of a rail trail in Australia. Although I have walked on the similar Tarka Trail back in Devon, I had mistakenly figured that the western history of Australia didn’t go far back enough to cover the building and dismantling of the railway lines. The Bass region had previously relied on railways to transport the materials being dug from the mines however, which were no longer operational and now only open to visitors on day trips.

Better than a mole digging up your lawn.

Better than a mole digging up your lawn.

One of the biggest highlights however, like the rest of my trip, was the wildlife. In Mike and Ollie’s garden alone I was lucky enough to see an Echidna, Wallabies, Wedge Tailed Eagles, and Possoms living their nests. Driving around we also saw a mob of Kangaroos, although unfortunately the only Wombats I saw were dead at the side of the road, but you can’t have everything.

In true Australian style I also got bitten during my time here, but luckily it wasn’t the magnificent Huntsman spotted by the front door. Bull Ants aren’t that bad, and it’s not like I hadn’t been shown/warned about them beforehand; really it was my own fault for walking through the grass barefoot.

Coffing it up!

In many ways Coffs Harbour is not unlike other places I’ve visited along Australia’s east coast; it has a marina, several beaches, and a botanical gardens, for example. Despite this sharing the same amenities however, it still manages to stand out; with so much to do in the town itself and local area, but without being too big, it is very much a Goldilocks town. When you have to walk 15 minutes to the nearest supermarket, there’s something especially nice about only seeing one traffic lighted pedestrian crossing, especially when it’s quiet enough to ignore it, and just cross regardless. Allowing backpackers to make the most of this was the hostel I stayed at, Aussitel.

What Coffs Harbour has to offer.

What Coffs Harbour has to offer.

Apart from the several beaches, there is also a meandering creek running through the town, and as such it us great for those wishing to try their hand at various watersports. Not only does Aussitel lend out snorkels, surfboards, paddleboards, kayaks, and even canoes, it does so for free! As any backpacker knows, free isn’t always easy to come by, many hostels will generally charge for wifi, and so with all this on offer I tried to make the most of it. Especially as group activities were organised twice a day.

Thanks to this generosity, it was here I had my first experience of surfing in Australia, and my first in general for what has to be about 15 years; I once tried in Woolacombe, but only managed to get as far as kneeling on the board a couple of times. Here in Coffs Harbour, taking part in the true Australian past time, in the Pacific Ocean itself, I managed it just the once. I won’t try to excuse myself, but will say that my hair is now substantially longer, and despite being tied back as securely as I could manage, still got in the way a bit more than previously. How others can surf when you have to wipe it from your eyes every time a wave has gone by is beyond me, and I can only assume that to passionate surfers long hair is a badge of honour. You get to show off what you can do despite the handicap of it falling in your face all the time.

Even Ratty would be jealous.

Even Ratty would be jealous.

Not that being unsuccessful spoilt my fun you understand, I still thoroughly enjoyed the attempt, although the kayak through the gently flowing creek was definitely more leisurely. Snorkeling was also great fun, although didn’t have the best visibility, but jumping from the jetty was also a must do, and somehow I managed to win at ten-pin bowling as well. While I didn’t get to try paddleboarding (yet), I still think it’s fair to say that my accommodation at Aussitel was certainly the best value for money.

The activities I took part in courtesy of the hostel also meant I didn’t get to try as many of the others on offer, such as 4×4 jungle trekking, horse riding, and even flying lessons (because what backpacker has a big enough budget for that?), but did get to see a decent amount of the towns more specialised tourist spots.

Obviously there were windmills

Obviously there were windmills

These included a converted WWII bunker which now housed a small cartoon gallery, and when I visited it also had a display of local nature photography. Just on the edges of the town there is also a small model dutch village simply called Holland Down Under, which is also on the way to the most unique attraction possibly anywhere, The Big Banana.

Following in the Aussie tradition of giving things well suited names (like the lizard with a blue tongue which is called the blue tongued lizard), the Big Banana is just as it sounds.

Does exactly what it says on the ... well, banana.

Does exactly what it says on the … well, banana.

Accompanying the most yellow of Australia’s big things, this particular tourist attraction also includes an ice skating rink, a toboggan run, and laser quest arena, as well as a tour of a banana plantation. Despite the amenities on offer, I was content to take a few photos, and just enjoy a nice banana crepe for lunch.

Served with banana ice cream of course.

Paradise finds

More so even than Brisbane, my trip to Surfers Paradise is one defined by coincidence. The place itself is pretty much what I had expected, long beach, lots of bars, and is too cool for the correct use of apostrophes, but it was what (and who) I found there that caught me by surprise.

Not quite palm trees, but still highly walkalong-able.

When checking out of my hotel in Brisbane I was told/warned that it would be the beginning of Schoolies week. As far as I can make out the closest comparison would be American spring break: young people on a break from school heading to a warm beach in order to drink, party, and whatever those go hand in hand with. There isn’t really a British equivalent as we don’t have the weather for it, but a Butlins adult weekend comes close. Basically it was my initial fears of Australia being full of 18 year olds on their gap years, but also worse. As far as busy weekends go, waiting an hour to cross the road isn’t actually that bad.

As such I stayed out of their way for the most part, and after getting some food in the town/city centre I went on a quick safari but was back at the hostel earlier than I would normally leave for a night out. I got a quick glimpse of what it was like, busy, loud, and was happy to leave it at that. While sat outside an Irish bar I also someone getting a ticket from the police for drinking in a public area. I don’t think he was a schoolie, he wasn’t wearing a lanyard and the amount of obvious tattoos he was sporting would be somewhat obvious on someone still at school, but he was still most likely the best part of ten years younger than me. Not one to laugh (intentionally) at other people’s misfortune, my merriment came from the adults wearing orange “Schoolies Official” T-shirts who got out their phones and were taking pictures of the whole thing.

Back at the hostel away from the hoards I had unknowingly booked to be in the same place at the same time as however, I was staying with another even bigger coincedence.

When you meet other backpackers, conversations often start with the simple question of “where are you from”, and will continue until you find the closest common ground. It’s not often that close as the answer is almost invariably “Germany”, but I have met people like myself who name Bristol as the nearest big place people will have heard of. There have also been one or two from Devon, even closer to home, and also where I once lived for a year, but this is about it.

Here however, I met someone who also shared a connection to the smallest of small Devon villages. In fact it’s so small it doesn’t even have a pub, and despite the fact that Icarus is hardly a name you hear everyday anyway, sharing a bunk bed this far away from home with someone who knows your ex-girlfriend’s parents by name isn’t something you experience everyday.

Keep trying Germany, but I don’t think you’ll break that record.