Australia Road Trip, Brisbane to Sydney, 27th November to 2nd December 2013

Another missing Tumblr blog from here, my Aussie road trip between the first and second Tests of the 2013/2014 Ashes, all as written then…

A perhaps timely break from cricket in between Brisbane’s first (challenging to watch) Test and Adelaide’s upcoming second Test saw me spend the time driving down the Pacific Coast between Brisbane and Sydney, stopping in four different locations while en route, and it’s fair to say that the places I stayed were all indeed fairly different: Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour and Newcastle. A good trip overall anyway and great to be behind the wheels of a motor again even if it took me a day to realise I could hook the car up to my iPhone via Bluetooth, meaning that I did have to listen to some terrible Australian radio while travelling to the Gold Coast; more on that right at the bottom of this entry.

Gold Coast

Sun, sea, surfers and skyscrapers: Gold Coast

Up first was two nights on the Gold Coast, only about an hour’s drive south of Brisbane; unless you miss the correct turning and drive about 15 miles too far south and realise you have crossed a state border into New South Wales and need to head back north into Queensland. Still, I was enjoying the drive and this was my only road trip error, not bad with no sat nav either. The Gold Coast is a long stretch of different neighbourhoods and I was staying in its main central hub, Surfers Paradise (just the place for me I’m sure those who know me will agree). Now one thing that I was distantly aware of, but became increasingly apparent upon arrival was the Australian phenomenon of “Schoolies Week”, which I think is a bit like Spring Break in the USA, from which my main knowledge is an episode of The Simpsons. Anyway, Schoolies Week apparently lasts for a month(?) and happens at the end of the school year, when everyone leaving school decamps to various holiday hotspots for a week of debauchery, with two of the most popular locations being Surfers Paradise and Byron Bay. Hmm, bad timing there – what about us English gentlemen navigating our way around Australia and the Ashes? And I also know I wasn’t alone in heading to the Gold Coast as the two blokes I sat next to during the Brisbane Test were also heading down, plus some friends of friends etc. Of course, I don’t mind a bit of drunken high-jinks myself, but not really when it involves people who weren’t born when you personally left school.

All that said, there was much to enjoy while at/on/in (the) Gold Coast – which I’m still not sure is classified as a city, region or something completely different, with enquiries with locals not providing any clarity (generally “yes, mate” as an answer to any question). Still, GC hosts the Commonwealth Games in 2018, so perhaps we’ll find out then. It’s certainly a bit different to 2014’s host city of Glasgow, but I digress. Back to Gold Coast – the beaches are indeed beautiful with a great cooling breeze that was welcome after the humidity of Brisbane, and the place feels a bit like Miami; without Miami’s Art Deco buildings but it is a fair bit more relaxed. As for the nightlife, I spent the first night in Surfers Paradise itself and it did feel a bit like being back in Essex, with youths stumbling around in what I think the scientific term for is “a right old state”. I spent a lot of time that evening also reading an entertaining new book about The KLF (by John Higgs), which talks in particular about their situationist and Discordian influences, plus their connections to JFK’s assassin and Doctor Who (and this in the week of the 50th anniversary of both), which lent a nice extra bizarre tinge to the evening.

The next night, I ventured down to a place called Broadbeach, a pleasurable 2 mile stroll down the beach from Surfers Paradise. From asking around, this seemed a better bet with a likely “more mature” crowd, although compared to Surfers’, this is not saying much. The decision to go was made easier when I found out that as well as the standard bars/restaurants, there was also a supposed Vegas style casino called Jupiter. And not just that, this was connected to the main drag by a monorail. A monorail! Now we’re talking, pretty much my favourite mode of transport. So, imagine my disappointment when the monorail was out of action, thus necessitating a 10 minute walk to the casino itself. Thankfully, well worth it – had a great night there and after playing blackjack for three or four hours with some good chat at the tables, I came out dead level, which always make you feel like a winner.

$100 bill

Australia takes Movember far too far. To add to Mitchell Johnson destroying England’s batting, look at this bloke on a $100 bill. Hard to take this seriously and I’m still scared to use it since I received this at a Gold Coast casino

Next up was Byron Bay, about another hour’s drive south of Gold Coast – and another Schoolies Week destination, but not as totally overrun with the blighters fortunately. Byron Bay has a reputation as the hippie/new age capital of Australia, so I therefore of course approached with caution. And yes, there is plenty of that nonsense around in the centre (think Camden’s Stables Market or pretty much any market in Camden actually), but also a good smattering of decent pub-cum-clubs and restaurants. I was there on the Friday and Saturday nights so good timing and hooked up with a group of locals on the Friday (on the verge of hippiedom but just about acceptable) and then some people down from the Gold Coast on the Saturday. Good fun crawling around the various venues, including one that is playing host to a favourite Aussie band of mine called Pond, who play there in mid December, about 2 weeks too late though as far as I’m concerned.

One other good thing about Byron Bay was that architecturally, it looked like the “old Australia” familiar to us 80s children from Castlemaine XXXX adverts and The Flying Doctors, whereas the Gold Coast for example could be anywhere in the world. This left me with the overall impression of a Wild West town taken over by various laidback hippies – I don’t think they would put up much of a fight should Clint Eastwood or John Wayne ride into town to reclaim their territory. My last act in Byron Bay was to visit their Sunday market upon the recommendation of my motel. Yes, pretty much what I was expecting although even more esoteric than that. For example, there were 3 stalls selling just spoons (sample stall name: “Dark Side Of The Spoon”), although one of these was just selling left handed spoons; not run by Ned Flanders as far as I could see. So overall, a good time in Byron Bay, with two nights there just about right I would say.

Byron Bay

S’cuse me mate, a schooner of XXXX please. The Great Northern in Byron Bay, soon to play host to Pond – plus Helmet and The Melvins. Grunge apparently not dead here then

That meant two more destinations left, both of which were primarily picked due to their location down the coast rather than any greater desires to visit there. First up was Coffs Harbour, about 4 hours south of Byron Bay. The day before I went there, this fairly sleepy coastal town was in the national news due to a 19 year old being eaten by a shark off a beach about 2 miles north, not that I was planning to visit the beach here anyway. Nice enough old town, with more “proper Aussie buildings” if a bit dull, which was a welcome relief after a few busy nights. After dinner, just relaxed and watched that night’s ARIA Awards (Aussie version of the Brits) – good to see Tame Impala recognised, winning Best Album and Best Band awards on the night.

Final stop on the road trip was Newcastle, another 4 or 5 hours down the Coast (and about 2 hours north of Sydney). Newcastle is a sizeable place, with a population of half a million, and is an old industrial city. It reminded me most of Baltimore actually, in that the harbour area is being regenerated with hotels/restaurants/museums with a bit of a push for tourists, away from other run down parts of town – although Newcastle is not deprived in the same way as the corners of B’more, far from it. After a quick wander around the old town part in the afternoon, I spent the evening by the harbour side; although not a word I like to use, “nice” is the descriptive term that comes to mind, not particuarly exciting but certainly very pleasant. I did also have arguably my best meal so far there, with a skirt cut of Wagyu steak from a gastropub type place right on the water, very reasonably priced too, compared to the cost of most stuff out here due to the weakness of sterling.

Next morning was a two hour drive to Sydney airport to catch a flight to Adelaide and I’m writing this missive on said flight. So, I have now seen a bit of Sydney, or rather been underneath a bit of Sydney as I went under a series of tunnels through the city to get to the airport: impressive stuff and I do like a tunnel, but it will be good to see the city itself next month, hopefully with the Ashes itself at least in the balance. So, road trip all over and a good mixture of places to see Australia outside the major cities. That’s all over now, with back to back Tests up now in Adelaide and Perth. Time to remain optimistic, with hopefully a good performance and more importantly a good result from England at the Adelaide Oval.

Australian Stereotypes Confirmed no.2: They like rock music but some are not so keen on the English. As I mentioned above, I needed to listen to some Aussie radio for a bit one day and landed on a “classic rock” station called Triple M, who were gloating about the Australia Test victory (fair enough) but also slagging off the England team as “whinging Poms”. Due to this, the station was refusing to play any English music all day, which I’m sure was of great concern to Andy Flower and Alastair Cook. It did result in a pretty funny phone call in however, after they had played “Voodoo Chile” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience…
Caller: “Mate, I thought you weren’t going to play any Pommie music today”.
DJ: “Mate, yes, that’s right”.
C: “Well mate, you played some earlier – Jimi Hendrix”.
DJ: “Mate, Hendrix isn’t a Pom, he’s from America”.
C: “You sure sport, I’m sure he’s a Pom?”
DJ: “I’ll just check it out on the internet, hold on mate… Yes, he’s a Yank – from Seattle in Washington state, sport”.
C: “Alright mate, sorry, glad to hear it”.
Of course, nobody thought to point out that two thirds of the Jimi Hendrix Experience are actually English: Noel Redding on bass and the important, much under-rated drumming of Mitch Mitchell…

One thought on “Australia Road Trip, Brisbane to Sydney, 27th November to 2nd December 2013

  1. Pingback: My Ashes diaries from Australia: 2013/14 | No Longer Teenage Fan Club

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