Names of places in Australia are a lot more interesting than we’ve been able to illustrate so far, as we head from Blacktown to the Blue Mountains. There is a predominance (particularly in the cities) of place names from England, as well as names of the explorers, invaders and colonialists who took over the country, disgustingly discriminated against the Aboriginals, and then took away the original Aboriginal names for things. This discrimination still exists throughout Australia, and seems to have been even worse than the treatment of the First Nations peoples at the hands of the Canadian government. It’s hard to know how deep this goes as a tourist here, but there does seem to have been a resurgence or reclaiming of the original Aboriginal place names (the most well-known being Uluru, which only became the official name again in 2002). This means that you find the terribly unoriginal names, as well as some great names from the different Aboriginal languages (there are at least 27 language families) of the local areas: Maroochydore, Drik Drik, Balla Balla, Wagga Wagga, Mudgee, Werribee, Jimboomba, Kanahooka, Kurri Kurri and Yandanooka to name just a few. These names are very, very old and very important to Aboriginal culture as they are tied in to the Songlines and stories. If you knew the place names and how they connected, you could walk the whole country connecting these songlines. It’s fascinating stuff and I think Canada could learn a lot from both New Zealand when it comes to the Maori names of places and the direction that Australia has gone in terms of changing back colonial names to their ancient ones.
The Blue Mountains are a range of mountains in the land inhabited by the Darug and Gundungurra peoples, but now mostly tourists and white people. I couldn’t find what the original name was for them, but they now have the name Blue Mountains because of the blue tinge they have when you look at them from a distance. This is because they are covered in eucalyptus trees which give off a blue-ish vapour. Driving around this area is spectacular and was a huge relief from the suburbs west of Sydney that just seemed to go on forever.
There are a number of nice little towns on the way to the Three Sisters lookout point in Katoomba, but it was always a huge shock to get out of the car from the air conditioning and be met with the dry, dense heat in the heart of the Australian summer. Temperatures were around 28-40 degrees the whole time we were there, and it was only when we were up in the mountains that we had a little bit of relief in the form of a thunder storm. The timing was perfect. We had gotten out of the car, walked to the Three Sisters lookout point, taken some good photos, and then a downpour complete with the thunder and lightening ensued. It was pretty epic and very refreshing indeed.
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It cleared up pretty quickly, and we decide to do a bit of a hike to see the Katoomba waterfall. We had been driving a lot and it was nice to stretch our legs. The rain had also driven out most of the tourists so we had a bit of respite from them too.
That night we found our first really nice, legitimately free campsite. We would end up not spending any money at all on camping in Australia, except for one night when it was only $8/person. Australia is an excellent place to free camp (and you don’t even have to be stealth about it!) There are plenty of condoned sites with bathrooms and sometimes even fresh water that campers use all over the place. With a handy app called Campermate, we had no trouble finding spots. This particular night in the mountains, we found a lovely spot next to a very black river we did not swim in, even if it was very tempting (the crocodile from Featherdale Wildlife Park was still lingering in my mind), but we did get to see what I think was a possum climbing in the tree pretty much right above our van. That was a bit freaky, but kind of cool in hindsight!
From the Blue Mountains, we headed to the coast but took a route recommended by one of the visitor centre volunteers that headed up to Newcastle along back roads instead of through Sydney on the highway. We were both very happy that we took this route because there was charming scenery throughout: lots of green fields, shaded tropical-feeling avenues, farmland, and wineries to enjoy looking at.
By the next day, we had hit Newcastle and had our very first beach experience and swim in Australia. We had been told the beaches in Australia were the best in the world, so our expectations were high. We have also been to a lot of very beautiful beaches in our respective lifetimes, so I wasn’t expecting much. But really: our two week trip in Australia was ALL about beautiful beaches. We perfected the art of beach hunting, wave jumping and shade-finding on the east coast beaches we enjoyed and turned the trip into a drive-from-one beach-to the-next-until-we-make-it-to-Brisbane kind of trip. It was incredible.
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So, there’s a bit of a taste for the glorious beaches we got to enjoy through our photos, and I would really recommend doing what we did if you ever go to Australia yourself, only want to spend a couple of weeks there, and want to save as much money as you can: rent a camper van, don’t pay for campsites, make all your food, and enjoy as much beach time as you possibly can. It would’ve been more rewarding to bike the coast, granted, but it was a pretty cushy little set-up we ended up having and we loved it.
It took us about a week with beach stops along the way between Sydney and Brisbane. We found some great beaches. Of particular note were: Nelson Bay, Diamond Beach, Coffs Harbour, Nambucca Heads, Emerald Beach, Coolangatta, Gold Coast, and Byron Bay. Even if the towns could be overly-touristed (i.e. Byron Bay), the beaches were still stunning and never really crowded because they were so large.
In the Gold Coast (which is actually the name of the city, not the coastal region), we decided to treat ourselves (and I found a 50% off deal) to some parasailing! I had never really regretted not doing anything too extreme in New Zealand because it just seemed both too far out of our budget-range, but also too far out of my comfort range. The zorbing was a special treat and just the right amount of scary and safe, so I thought parasailing might be a good balance between those two as well. Turns out it was not scary at all, but very peaceful and beautiful…AND we saw dolphins:
Next post: Brisbane to the Great Barrier Reef!
Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.