So I'm now in Australia, which is as far round the world as it is really possible to go from my home in England. It also marks my first time into the Southern Hemisphere (the water draining in the opposite direction is really not that remarkable or noticeable) and my return - to my relief - to a predominantly English speaking country. There are lots of little novelties to enjoy about being here, aside from the English language alone. For one thing I can drink from the tap again without fear of some kind of sickness or death, there are no tuk tuks or mototaxis, or people trying to pester me into buying gimmicky crap.
On the downside however, Australia is pretty expensive. Not just by South East Asian standards - which I knew was always going to be hard to adjust back to expensive western prices - but even by English standards on some items. Also as with much of the rest of the world, the keyboards don't have the pound key!
So my first port of call was to Cairns in the northernmost tip of Queensland. My early explorations of this town were a little limited as I took a while to recover from the rather long trip from Bangkok to Sydney, and then switching to the domestic flight to Cairns. I didn't have a walk around the until the evening, and my first impressions were it's a bit spooky, especially by night. It's really quiet. It feels a bit like a ghost-town walking around the place. There are a few tourists around and maybe a couple of drunk aborigines. Of course it's hard to judge a place on first impressions alone. What I have learned about Australia, in the short time I've been here, is that the people are amongst some of the friendliest and chilled out I have ever met. When you go into shops, you don't meet the dour scowling kind of shop attendants who are affronted by being asked to do their job, that we have in England. Instead you are met with pleasant cheerful and chatty people, who genuinely want to help you. It's quite infectious.
What has been amusing however has been some of the names of things here in Australia. First of all flip-flops are called 'thongs'. For most English people, being told to remove your thongs, or to be told 'I can see your wearing thongs' could lead to all sorts of misunderstandings, due to the underwear connotations the word carries back home. Also there are strangely named shops. There are a lot of places named after crazy people (so far I've spotted a Crazy Clarks, and a Crazy Johns), and I have also spotted a place called 'Mr Meats' and another called 'King of Knives' (also leading to several jokes about what is really called a knife, as is the Australian custom thanks to Crocodile Dundee). One thing is for sure, Australians like formalities in their shop names.
Shopping has also proven interesting, as there is a type of cheese called 'Coon' which if sold in the UK could result in severe racial tensions, and possibly a revival of 'Till Death do us Part,' and I don't think we want that now do we. Also I noticed a type of drink called 'Sars'. Funny really. As I always thought it was quite unpleasant strain of flu, but they can't seem to get enough of it here, given that they're paying for the privilege to own it and there are several brands available in the shops.
As for activities in Cairns, it wouldn't have been right to come this far north and not see the Great Barrier Reef. For this I did some snorkeling for the day out on a quiet part of the reef with a day trip boat. It turned out to be really amazing. It really is swimming with life, and even that which isn't swimming is pretty lively too. The range of colours to be seen down there are varied also, much more so than the stuff I saw in Thailand. What unnerved me a little at first was the abundance of jellyfish in the water, being the coward that I am. However, these ones were harmless thankfully - in fact you could pick them up without receiving a sting - and added a bit of ambiance to the experience. There were also some reef sharks swimming around for a bit, and a resident large fish nicknamed 'Darth Vader' and was named so for being "big, dark and evil looking." Basically he was a local bully of the other fish, chasing them away when food was thrown into the water. Annoyingly also I didn't find Nemo. Despite the popularity of the film he's a slippery character, and I think the fame has driven him underground. Still I'm not satisfied! And Nemo had better hope that I don't find him, or else something bad may happen!
I also spent a day at pictureseque Karunda village, which is in the rainforest covered hills just north of Cairns. For this I took the aptly named "Karunda Scenic Railway" up the hill, and to be fair it did what it said on the tin. It went to Karunda, it was scenic, and it was a railway. That's one thing you can appreciate about Australians, they call things as they see them. Once up in Karunda itself, I went to the Koala Gardens up there, mainly as I felt it was now time to do the touristy thing, and gawk and point at Australian wildlife. And gawk and point I did. I saw the usual: Koalas, Kangaroos - which I got to feed - Wombats and lizards et al. One observation about Koalas I have to make is they seem (maybe due to them being nocturnal, and requiring most of their energy whilst awake to digest the highly toxic eucalypt leaves they eat)permentantly hungover. After bothering the slumbering marsupials, I headed back to Cairns using the Sky Rail (Another truiumph of the Australians unfussy approach to naming things) which was a gondola ride down the hills. This was amazing as I got to see the forest canopy from above and also a long sweeping view of Cairns and the sugar cane fields surrounding it, all the way to the sea. Seriously if you come to Cairns don't give this a miss.
Next stop is going to be Brisbane, where I hope to explore a bit of the Gold Coast etc. Surprisingly I didn't see that many cane toads up here in north Queensland (which is related to the name of this blog, if you don't know what I mean watch the episode of The Simpsons 'Bart vs Australia').