Alice! Who the…

I just arrived in Alice Springs to my first full-on, smelly backpackers hostel, and a dorm room. I’ve held out a pretty long time without going for this kind of set-up, but Australia is just a tad more expensive than everywhere else I’ve been so far, so it’s necessary. The subtle aroma of cheesy socks drifts down the corridors and towels capable of standing up on their own hang from every available bar or hook. It still costs three times the price of a half-way decent private ensuite room in Vietnam, but I’ll try and get over it.

The West Coast wasn’t feasible in the end, very expensive, so I’ve opted instead for a tour starting at Alice Springs (to see Uluru, a.k.a Ayers Rock), then flying across to Cairns to work down the East Coast on the Greyhound bus. I only booked the tour yesterday and I’m already here. After three days around Uluru (including sleeping in the desert), it’s on to Cairns and two days in Cape Tribulation, back to Cairns for some surf ‘n’ partying (well, that’s what the brochures say), Airlie Beach, a three-day sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands, a jeep safari on Fraser Island, Brisbane, Byron Bay and back to Sydney. Phew. In my previous entry I might have mentioned not being interested in the East Coast – gulp, words eaten.

Sydney was mainly great because Prue and Anna, old mates I met six years ago when they were backpacking around England, have really been looking after me – they’re absolute stars and will get the red carpet treatment next time they come to my place. I’ve been staying in the up-and-coming and somewhat trendy area of Newtown, a little like Northcote Road in Clapham but bigger, less stuck-up, and with no haughty people in rugby shirts. No idea why I compared Newtown to Northcote Road then.

After a week in Sydney I’ve seen all manner of creatures, furry and aquatic, after seeing Taronga Zoo, the brilliant Featherdale Wildlife Park, and Sydney Aquarium. I’ve got masses of pictures to upload but this Internet cafe doesn’t let you do anything more complicated than blogging and e-mailing, so they’ll have to wait. As well as all the animals, highlights included a tour of Sydney Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Arts, the premier of a David Mamet play, a walk around the coast to Bondi Beach, and a night out in Manly at the Steyne Hotel, a sort of complex of about six pubs and bars all linked by a raucous and friendly open air yard. Sydney feels like a giant playground.