Fun fact: Australia is pretty much the same size as the US.
Fun fact dos: Australia (and New Zealand) are in the southern hemisphere, which means their seasons are opposite to the US and Europe.
I actually knew all of this prior to deciding to go to Australia as I, you know, passed primary school; I just completely disregarded it when making plans to go there for five weeks and split the time between Australia and New Zealand in late summer. Or, well, I thought it was going to be late summer-like and forgot it was going to be early spring in Australia and more late winter-like in New Zealand.
To be fair, two-and-a-half weeks were enough time to explore New Zealand. It’s just not enough time to explore a country the size of the US. But seeing as how I had forgotten my primary school lessons, this means when I first started planning my trip, I decided to go to Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne (have a friend who lives there), Coober Pedy, Uluru/Ayer’s Rock, and Darwin.
This is the equivalent of going from Florida to Maine to Louisiana to Texas to St. Louis to Detroit.
Clearly, I needed to scale back. In the end, I ended up going to Sydney, Cairns (for the Great Barrier Reef), and Melbourne (with side trips to Phillip Island and the Grampians). I’ll have to go back to get to the center (and to Melbourne, but more on that in two weeks). I also only packed summer clothes, throwing in a couple pair of jeans at the last minute.
Anyway! On to what I actually did! I left Sunday August 20 out of Birmingham, England through Dubai, to Sydney at 2:30pm. 23 hours later, I landed at 10:30pm Monday night. Oh, time zones. As I’ve said previously, I hate flying, but I actually was able to sleep on the plane for a couple hours in between watching loads of movies, enough to get me from the airport to Jackaroo Hostel without falling over. Jackaroo was a pretty nice hostel to base myself in, right next to the Kings Cross station and with decent bathrooms. I shared with a couple students/workers; it’s pretty easy to get a yearlong young adult work visa for Australia, even for Americans, so everywhere you go, there’s tons of people in their early-mid 20s, and I can still usually pass for 24 or 25, so I tend to fit in.
Unfortunately, the walls were pretty thin, and the first night, there were drunk people loitering in the halls from 2-3 and 4-5 and then others getting up at 6 for work. And then there was the room next door, and to this day, I’m not sure if it was the trains running past or the people making the squeaking noise (I’m choosing to ignore that the train doesn’t run at 3am). The area was decent enough, lots of restaurants, a grocery store, obvs close to public transportation. If you’re into bars, clubs, gay bars, drag, etc., it’s the right area. I was exhausted and fighting jet lag and asleep by 10pm every night.
Tuesday, I took a long roundabout walk through Sydney to get to the Harbour, passing the Opera House and using their super-nice bathrooms. During this walk, the one thing I really remember about Sydney became strikingly clear to me: everyone in Sydney is really fit and runs all the time. I have no pictures because that would have been awkward, but other than tourists, 99% of the people I passed, even people on the STREET, not just in the park, were running or in running gear.
Obviously, Sydney is not a city I can ever live in.
My Melbourne friend had suggested I take the local ferry to Manly Beach to get a harbour tour without paying for one of the actual tour companies; it was a good idea, but I was a little too tired and dozed off on the way there and back. Manly was gorgeous though – exactly what I needed to relax. I bought a SIM card so I could go online and call people and sat on the beach for a bit, but it was cold, so I instead searched for a grocery store to buy water. Found ice cream. I pretty much ate ice cream every day this trip, which might not have been the best for my waistline, but it tasted delicious, and I was on holiday?
As I usually do in bigger towns where I don’t really know anyone, I took the City Sightseeing bus tour (on Wednesday); this particular one also went out to Bondi Beach, so I figured it was a pretty good deal. You learn a bit of history, learn how to get around the city, and see things you didn’t know existed; it’s touristy, but it’s always been money well-spent. The bus goes through town and to the Harbourside complex where I spent some time; it’s the more ritzy area of Sydney, but – and I must confess – I was looking for the Hard Rock Café. This makes me out to sound like the typical American tourist who only eats at familiar places, but I own it, man: I like their food. I like their drinks. I wanted something familiar after several months of nothing familiar. Also, I collect the t-shirts and wear them all the time, much to the chagrin of everyone I know.
Then it was off to Bondi Beach! I was super excited because it’s like, the famous beach everyone knows and even Paris Hilton (is she still relevant?) went there whilst in Sydney, etc. It wasn’t as thrilling as expected because, as I said before, it’s still spring, and there weren’t very many people out because it was about 65 degrees; I had ice cream and looked in shops before getting back on the bus, which was supposed to take me right back to Kings Cross on its loop. HOWEVER, they stopped at the harbour instead of continuing on and basically told me I wasn’t allowed to get on the next bus because they were all through – even though, according to bus signage, they had another 20 minutes before the last bus was even supposed to start and, according to their leaflet, 2 hours and 20 minutes. I actually emailed a complaint, which I hardly ever do, and ended up getting two free tickets for any bus tour worldwide, woo! Came in useful in Glasgow later on, that’s for sure.
I went to see the Dark Knight Rises that night – had no access to theaters really on my DTS – and went back to Bondi beach the next day, Thursday, to have a proper beach day. Unfortunately, it was wicked windy, and my nice afternoon at the beach turned into a free microderm abrasion. It was okay though: the area around the beach was just as fascinating, aided by the ferocious-looking skies. I’m a sucker for rocks and water and rock formations and anything that could look anything like a post-apocalyptic setting.
Friday, I flew to Cairns. On domestic flights within Australia, there’s no carry-on regulations concerning liquids, which I found hilarious because Australia and the US have such opposite regulations; we can’t carry shampoo bottles on a plane, but we can carry guns in our cars… Anyway, in addition to the shampoo bottles and toothpaste on my flight, there was a kid who was wearing board shirts, brought no carry-on baggage, and had checked only a surfboard. You know, as you do.
Immediately, Cairns was like a breath of fresh air. I hadn’t packed appropriately at all for this trip, so to finally be able to wear the shorts I’d packed, use the Birks that took up a ton of room, and not carry a jacket around was brilliant. I fell in love with Cairns the second we landed actually. The airport had showers in the baggage claim restrooms! I don’t know how many long-haul flights they get where people would want to take a shower, but maybe they were for surfers? Either way, it was awesome.
And then I go outside, and you can hear the ocean and see it but then there’s palm trees and oh, wait! Mountains with rainforests! BLISS.
My hostel was not bliss. I was in a six-bed share with two girls who were working in Cairns, one who was traveling/working/drinking, and one who had three days left in town before she went to Turkey for a Masters program. One of the working girls (ha! no) went to bed at 9. Others went to bed at 12. Others came in drunk at 3. There was a refrigerator in the room, food everywhere, only one plug; oh, and it was ensuite, so five girls sharing one toilet and shower in a tropical location, ergh. The room was in the front near the night gate, and whenever drunk people couldn’t remember the combo and banged on the gate for someone to let them in, I woke up. Repeatedly. Every night. But it was cheap.
And we did get a free dinner in town? And you could upgrade the dinner for 5-8 dollars, so it was actually a really good deal, if at times somewhat cafeteria-like. I’m sure the place used to be a respectable pub, but they had long wooden tables with benches that you shared with whomever was nearby, and when it’s mostly 20-25-year-olds on holiday just looking for alcohol and to hook up, oi, it got to be a bit much. I’m painting a wide brush there, but it was often like how frat parties are portrayed on television.
But Cairns? Cairns was lovely. I spent the first couple days walking around or sitting poolside, trying to get a tan, and went to a local beach on the Monday. The esplanade area was amazing. There were public outdoor sculptures all along, including a grass couch. Family-sized tables with outdoor grills were conveniently placed throughout, and there was a gigantic outdoor pool, just like there. On the esplanade. Where anyone could access it whenever. It’s seriously one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been in. So many restaurants. So many ice cream shops. I’d spend hours just sitting, eating ice cream and people-watching. Had an hour-long conversation with a guy who thinks Henry VIII and his wives are the reincarnation of Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and, I believe, he added John the Baptist in there. He was totally serious.
Tuesday, Tuesday was the day I’d been waiting for: the Great Barrier Reef.
Choosing the tour operator was a bit of a hassle; at one point, I had ten tabs open in Firefox, and I nearly created a spreadsheet with amenities and costs before blindly choosing one of the low-cost ones. To be frank, I didn’t have a lot of money. I wasn’t gonna scuba dive ‘cause I don’t know how, and I didn’t want the anxiety of trying to learn how while in one of the prettiest areas of the world. I went with Passions of Paradise and bugged my two roommates who were either divemasters or the concierge on different boats (but on holiday-ish here) for tips.
It was brilliant. It was incredible. It was nothing like anything I’d seen before. I SWAM WITH SHARKS. And there were all sorts of fishes and I saw whales and dolphins and even maybe a turtle.
Not much could top that. Ever.
The next day, I went up into the rainforest to Kuranda, and it was… raining and a bit miserable but still quite pretty. You could take the train up and a gondola down, which is what I did, or vice versa. The train told a bit of the history of the area, and we went through a bunch of tunnels, all of which I took pictures of. I sat next to a couple who had saved for a decade for this three-month long holiday, scuba-diving all over the south Pacific. I can’t even imagine that; it must have been absolutely brilliant! On the gondola on the way down, I sat with non-English speakers, a couple women my age, and then two elderly couples just on a short break holiday. They were my favorite because they had clearly all known each other for years, if not decades, and kept teasing each other.
Friday, I flew from Cairns to Melbourne, which I’ll tell you all about in two weeks. Until then, random pictures!
Disclaimer: All photographs unless otherwise noted are mine. Additionally, all persons that appear in photographs have only given permission for their likeness to be used in this specific instance. Any other use of the photographs or likenesses is a violation of copyright and right to privacy.