The land of the rising sun

First sight of Japan

First sight of Japan

Clock up number 47, if I have my maths right. I’ve finally made it to Japan!

I ended up having to get the bus to Cairns Airport as the weather was so bad. It’s not a long walk (around 1½ hours) but in torrential rain it just wasn’t happening. Thankfully this meant I got there to be at the front of the check-in queue before the hordes of homebound Japanese tourists appeared.

I blew my remaining phone credit calling Marina at home. Despite being a call to the UK I got a staggering 50 minutes from the chaff left over from my last payment. Mobiles are far cheaper in Oz.

The flight to Tokyo Narita Airport was pleasant enough. I slept for 2-3 hours and finished the book I was reading (Mayday by Nelson DeMille and Thomas Block – amusingly enough about an air disaster), then spent the rest of the time leafing through my Lonely Planet and talking to the Aussie guy next to me. He was flying to Japan to spend time off work with his wife, who’s Japanese. He was a very useful resource for Tokyo-related information.

Immigration was quick and painless with my lack of accommodation address brushed over quickly when I said I was going to sort something at tourist information. I had looked into booking something the day before, but the only places I could find were “book my email, reply in 48 hours” which was no use.

One thing to note: the Tourist Information Counter at Narita Airport closes at 8pm. I got there just as they were packing up, so they handed me a couple of sheets with a list of accommodation details on. I had to make my own phone calls, so I needed change. It’s only 10 Yen for a minute on the payphones, but you can also use 100 Yen coins. However, as far as I could tell, there’s no way of cancelling a call and making another using your remaining credit if you use the 100s. This makes it very expensive to ring around hostels and hotels… Phone cards are the way to go but I couldn’t find anywhere selling one.

The first place I called was the cheapest, but I only got an answering machine. In Japanese. Arse. The second was much better. Taka from the Fuji Backpackers answered and told me to get to Narita train station from where he’d collect me.

I paid 250 Yen for a ticket to Narita, hopped aboard one of the frequent trains and soon enough was in Taka’s car. The hostel’s lovely. Quite small, comfy beds, communal kitchen with TV, DVD, microwave and free wi-fi. Breakfast is also included (a KL-esque tea and toast), but the shower is 100 Yen for 10 minutes!

My plan is to to this and some nearby neighbourhoods tomorrow. The cherry blossom is still on the trees in Narita (it’s vanished in downtown Tokyo) so I’ll get some good photos of that, and I’m not too far from the two train stations. I will have a chat with Taka-san in the morning and see what he recommends.

Welcome to Japan!

Welcome to Japan!

On Saturday I will meet with Noriko, one of the girls on my tour bus in Tasmania all that time ago. She has offered to show me around for the day. I am also supposed to meet with a Couchsurfer – Misa – in the evening to stay at her flat. I will try to work this out so that I can stay there, yet leave my luggage at the hostel. I would not bother, but it’s not cheap to stay here. One night CouchSurfing will a) be a great experience in this country and b) save me over £20.

From what the other guests here have told me, leaving my luggage and collecting it on the way to the airport on Sunday morning will not be a problem. Their praise of the hostel owner has been very high indeed!

Otherwise, I’ve not seen a lot as I arrived in the dark. The first view over the wing of the plane as we passed the coastline was simply beautiful. Forests and mountains with chains of electric light sparkling in the darkness. Lovely.

The thing about vending machines doesn’t seem to be a stereotype, either. You can barely walk 10m without passing at least one. And the Japanese are as polite and helpful as they’re made out to be. Always with a smile and a nod. They do tend to give foreigners a little bit of a berth, though. Whether from politeness, shyness or some small amount of xenophobia only they could say but one example was on the train from the landing area to the main terminal at the airport.

The Aussie I’d been speaking to and myself made it onto the train. It was busy but by no means packed. Passing Japanese preferred to wedge themselves into the two doors on either side than cram in next to the gaijin blocking one doorway. This is strange only in that they have no issues with squishing themselves together like very friendly sardines in the trains running at rush hour.

I think I’ll like it hear. The only downsides is it’ll be an incredibly short stay and it’s incredibly expensive. Damn the collapsed British economy – everything’s twice the price of 2-3 years ago.

At least ATMs that accept foreign cards are slightly more prevalent than they have been in the past. There’s one in the 7-Eleven down the road from the hostel and I gather a lot of CitiBanks will take them, too.

Oh, and if your mobile phone‘s not 3G-enabled, then don’t expect it to work in Japan. At least this is what I’ve read and I can’t get onto a network here. I did see a couple of American tourists with new phones on my flight who had received calls so I know that some non-Japanese phones must work. I assume it’s down to how new they are.

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The world gets smaller

Rainy but nice

Rainy but nice

After meeting my first hostel-owner now driving tour buses across Kakadu, I was surprised to see a familiar face outside my hostel in Cairns when I arrived this morning. None other than Heath, the man who instructed me through my Open Water PADI course over two years ago!

We got talking and he’s still with the Dutch girl he copped off with at the post-course party. He’s travelled Europe and is looking at settling outside of Cairns. Good on him and great to see him again.

As promised, fella, once I have some solid ground under me there’s a spare bed you’re welcome to use.

Otherwise, an uneventful flight back to Cairns. I slept for about 90 minutes on it in a surpisingly comfortable front-row seat. Once we landed, I decided to walk in the light rain into the town centre. I’d been plodding for about 20 minutes, and wasn’t too far from the junction with the main road when a guy (I think a park ranger or something, going by his uniform) stopped and insisted on giving me a lift close to my hostel. Thank you!

I managed to locate a bookshop which did 10% off Lonely Planets and already charged less for them than the larger stores. $41 for the Japan edition is still above the UK cover price, but only by a smidgen. The larger book stores are charging as much as $56 which is franlky ridiculous.

So I’m sat outside McD’s (surprise) running down my battery before heading to the hostel for a snack and maybe a movie or some book reading. An early start in the morning for a last mail check (no free internet at Cairns airport) and then onto my Tokyo flight.

My main concern is I have no accommodation booked in Tokyo and I couldn’t find anything online. This is going to be a challenge when I arrive.

Also… due to some issues at home, my stay in Japan will amount to three days. I’ve had to book a flight back to the UK on Sunday. I may or may not be flying back to Japan a while later. I don’t know yet. I’ll see what I can see in the Japanese capital in the short time I’m there and hope I get the chance to catch some more of the country later in the month – although there’s no guarantee.

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Cairns to Darwin – Day 1

Pretty view

Pretty view

I walked up to Apollo’s office early doors to collect the camper van. After filling in a gazillion bits of paperwork and watching a DVD on its operation, I was handed the keys and sent on my way. There were various provisos: I couldn’t take it off unsealed road except to get to campsites and the like; I had 2950km allotted for free; $750 fuel allowance. This restricted the route I wanted to take slightly, but hey-ho. At $1 per day I wasn’t going to complain.

The van I was relocating turned out to be a 3l Toyota Hilux with a small house stapled to the back of it. The inside had basic furnishings and the roof was raised and lowered for camping to give more headroom. Nice enough. I checked everything was OK and set off into town.

First stop was Woolies to get some food, then I tried to find somewhere to get a cable to connect my MP3 player to the van stereo. A simple 2-ended stereo jack lead was going to cost me $20 in the places I found them so I decided not to bother and just listen with my headphones instead.

As I headed back to the van after my third stop, I suddenly realised my head was a day out. I thought it was Sunday and therefore free parking all over Cairns. But it wasn’t. It was Monday. And if I hadn’t paid, I risked a ticket. Oops. Fortunately, nothing awaited my return so I got away with it. I don’t think parking wardens care about “honest mistakes”.

Nothing to do with beans

Nothing to do with beans

And so the journey began. With the fridge and food box laden, I headed south as far as Ingham then tweaked west along one of the lesser-used roads. Rather than driving all the way south back to Townsville, I thought I’d go for variety.

My first rest stop was at Crawford’s Lookout, over the Johnstone River. I hopped out here to enjoy the view and decided to walk down the 1.7km trail to the next viewpoint. Around 100m in I encountered my first ever wild snake. Thankfully he/she wasn’t that wild, and slithered off into the undergrowth when I stomped nearby. I have no idea what kind of snake it was – just black and about a metre long.

The view from what turned out to be the emergency helicopter landing pad was quite impressive. I could have walked down to the river itself, but I didn’t feel that I had the time. Instead I walked back to the van and drove further down the road to a picnic spot where I used the free stove they provided to make myself some soup for lunch.

High up

High up

Following the windy road to Normanton – which I aimed to reach before sleeping – I passed an enormous amount of nice countryside. It was lush to start with but as I progressed west, the greenery gave way to scraggy dry bush. Windy Hill was the last green place I stopped – an area with 20 wind turbines which proclaims itself happy to serve the community. Rather than the usual case in the UK where these things are built and then ignored by everyone except the people who complain that they make too much noise and spoil the view. Deal with it – it’s clean energy and they’re better than burning coal. Oh, and they don’t make much noise. I was stood 20m from one and it was quieter than a ceiling fan.



I passed briefly through Ravenshoe – Queensland’s Highest Town at 920m above sea level – and them just ploughed on until I finally reached Normanton, the “Home of the Gulflander” (one of the main train routes in Oz). It was closed. The town, that is. All of it. I was hoping to find a bar where I could share a drink with the locals before sleeping, but it wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, I parked up on a verge, extended my roof and went to sleep. No point in paying for a caravan park even though there was at least one nearby.

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Townsville to Cairns

One big issue with Townsville – the public buses run fairly small routes and virtually none run at all on a Sunday. This means I had a hell of a walk out to the edge of town towards the highway and Cairns.

An hour took me to a McDonald’s a few kilometres out where I stopped for breakfast and internet access. Around half an hour later a very attractive young lady accompanied by her son (about 8 years old, I’d guess) stopped and drove me out of town to a petrol station. Certainly not the demographic you expect to be picking up hitchhikers and I’m very glad they did so!

Within twenty minutes, a minibus pulled up and two guys and a young girl from the Pacific Islands ushered me on board. They’d just been to a funeral in Townsville and were heading north of Cairns. They shared drinks with me as there was no aircon (other than the open windows) and they dropped me off on the Esplanade at around 3:15. If I’d caught the bus, I’d have been on the road for less than half an hour at that point.

I checked two hostels before I settled on the Esplanade Backpackers (I think one of the Nomad chain) as it was only $15 for the night, including free dinner at the Rhino Bar downtown.

McDonalds was required for free-wifi, and despite buying a meal I was harassed by the manager after some time to pack up and move out. The restaurant was near-empty, nobody was waiting for a seat and the internet policy online states that the time limit is only as long as your laptop battery lasts.

Had they been busy I’d have fully understood, but it just seemed like someone taking their own personal “20 minutes” rule at face value. This is for all customers, not just internet use. So even if the place is dead and you’re enjoying a massive meal and spending a fortune you’re only allowed a short time to eat it. I’ve seen this branch during the busy season and at that point, I’d agree – you need to shuffle people around. But right now, Cairns is dead. All they’ve succeeded in doing is annoying someone who’d not going to pay for food next time. I’ll just sit outside and leach.

Whinge over. I sat on the grass over the road and listened to two very talented musicians play some incredibly relaxing cover versions and ploughed through a couple more chapters of my book. It’s pushing 7pm now, from which time the free dinner is served, so I’m about to pack up and head over to The Rhino.

Hopefully, I’ll get this post online before I leave. Either way, I won’t be online until I get into Darwin – at least I doubt it. I’m hoping to take a route which is very unlikely to take me past a McD’s!

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The Great Hitch is over!

I am now sat in McDonald’s in Cairns as it has free wifi. They’ve had a lot of business out of me in Oz since they rolled this out across every branch.

However, the reason I’m posting is that I’ve finished hitching all the way from Adelaide to Cairns (with brief uses of public transport and a hop out to Mt Isa – not a hitchable journey). And I think that’s pretty darn impressive. I had a heck of a walk out of Townsville this morning until I was picked up by a very pretty 30-something and her young son, then shortly after by a family originally from the Pacific Islands. They dropped me right on the Esplanade in Cairns, about 100m from the hostel I checked into.

£15 for the night, hot shower and a free dinner at 7:00. Awesome.

Tomorrow begins the long trek by campervan to Darwin so I’ll be off the radar until then. They don’t have many McD‘s in the Outback.

[I have some more posts to backdate, but I’ll get these up once I reach Darwin]

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