Gap Year Travel Expert Sam Webster-Bell has just returned from travelling the fabled East Coast of Australia, one of the most popular backpacker destinations in the world. His epic 2-week adventure, from Cairns to Sydney, was with Top Deck Travel, a tour company which specialises in creating unforgettable trips for 18-30-somethings.
Along the way he experienced some incredible highlights, like diving on the Great Barrier Reef, exploring amazing Fraser Island in a 4×4 truck, and cruising around the stunning Whitsunday Islands.
I caught up with Sam to ask him a few questions about his trip.
Welcome back, Sam! Tell us about your first impressions of Australia…
I arrived in Cairns just before sunrise, and as I was getting off the plane all the birds were waking up and singing. I could hear kookaburras, parakeets and all this other exotic wildlife – it was like being in the middle of the rainforest. Cairns is in north Queensland and I found it quite rough and ready, cowboy-like in parts, actually quite like the Deep South of America. I thought it would be full of surfer dudes but that’s actually not the case until you get further south.
And how about your tour group and guide, what were they like?
Very cool people, lots of different ages and backgrounds. When Top Deck say these trips are for 18-30-somethings, they really do mean it. I expected most of the group to be from the UK but we had a complete mix from all over the world. There were people from Canada, Hungary, Switzerland and Iceland, to name a few. It was really nice to have such a diverse group.
Our guide was great, he was so knowledgeable about everything. You could ask him anything about the trip and he would know, whether it was Aboriginal Dreamtime stories which explained the landscape, or about plants or animals in whatever national park we were in.
What was your favourite part of the trip?
Definitely Fraser Island. It’s the biggest sand island in the world and we explored it in a 4×4 truck, it was all quite surreal. We drove down old logging tracks and then ridiculously fast down 75 Mile Beach, which is literally a beach and the highway of the island. We also took a 15 minute scenic flight over the island, taking off and landing on the beach. It was incredible. We went to Lake McKenzie and were given paddleboards to go out on.
Sounds amazing. Any other highlights?
Loads! Sailing in the Whitsundays was awesome. I was on a boat which held 28 people and a full crew. We got to help out with the sailing itself, so it was really hands on, and the two nights on board were a lot of fun – drinking games and all that, you name it. On one of the days we walked through a forest to get to Whitehaven Beach, one of the most famous in the world. I arrived at a viewing platform and just said: “Oh my god, I’m really here.” It was picture-postcard perfect.
Further south we were given free rein in Byron Bay, a really cool surfer town with an amazing beach, and soon after that we had the chance to surf ourselves with some lessons at a place called Crescent Head. Also, at one point we went inland, into the bush, and stayed at a cattle farm. As the sun set, I remember thinking we could have been in the African savannah. You could ride horses around, or take out motorbikes; there were emus and kangaroos everywhere, it was a real Outback experience.
Very cool. So what type of person is this trip best for?
I would say two types. The first is the person who is moving to Australia to work for a bit, but wants to do a bit of travelling first. For them this route would be perfect: they start in Cairns and get to see all the highlights of the East Coast, and then can find work in Sydney at the end of the trip. There were people on my trip who were doing exactly that.
The second type is the person who has quite a short amount of time, perhaps someone who can only take a certain amount of days off work. This would be perfect for them because it encompasses the whole East Coast in just over two weeks, which would be quite hard to do on your own.
Any special tips for someone thinking of doing this experience?
My main tip is to do with travel kit. Many people think that because they’re travelling, they need to have a backpack. But actually, if you’re just doing this trip and nothing else, you can make life a lot easier by taking a suitcase on wheels because most of the time your bag is just sitting at the bottom of the bus. The only time you move it is to and from your room.
Finally, what would you say to parents of people who are considering this trip?
The first thing I would say is that it is very safe. The accommodation is really good quality and the tour guide really looks after everyone. For example, if we went on a night out, he wouldn’t tag along but he would say to the older people to look after the younger ones, and to make sure the girls didn’t go off by themselves, that sort of thing. In the morning he would always be up and ready, and checking up on people. He was a protective person but not overly so, we still had our independence.
It is a perfect experience for someone travelling for the first time because everything is sorted out for you, leaving you to just enjoy yourself and have fun!
Photos: Sam Webster-Bell