At this point, I almost need one of those signs from Spongebob so I can fast forward through my absences to catch you guys up to now. It feels like the last month has gone by in less than a blink of the eye. I’ve finished the semester, taken my exams, said many goodbyes, and been to Australia and back. I’ll talk about my New Zealand thoughts in a later post–this one I’d like to dedicate to the land down under. It would be silly if I flew all this way and didn’t take the hop over to Australia at least once. So about halfway through the semester, we bought our tickets on an Air New Zealand sale.
This was a trip that involved little to no pre-planning, simply due to the fact that each of us spent more time studying than communicating. The only thing we had planned was the cities: Melbourne, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, and Sydney. We had twelve days to see what we could see in between them. We didn’t get a chance to see the Outback–I am a little disappointed–but looking back it was probably best, so I can come back and see it how I want to. (In a world where dreams come true, I would imitate the movie Tracks, which you all should watch if you haven’t).
First leg of the trip was Melbourne. We flew out at 6:00 AM, which made getting an Uber at four in the morning rather stressful. Exhausted and hungry, we arrived before check in to our Airbnb so we stored our bags and got breakfast the first chance we got (we were all a little hangry). Typical of any moment when all you want to do it relax, when it was time to check in to the Airbnb, the lock holding the key would not open. We sat on the street on a throne of bags and waited for someone to come help us. Someone finally came to help us, and we napped.
Slightly recovered, we began our march that would continue over the course of four days. I have never done so much walking as we did in Melbourne. We saw the city in the self tour style. We marched through the vast markets (more like massive, never ending malls, rather than crafty markets), numerous laneways hiding bustling cafes and stretches of vibrant graffiti, and buildings rich in culture, old and new.
The first day without jetlag was spent roaming stalls of fresh fruit and veggies, savoring the smell of summer in the middle of winter at the Queen Victoria Market, and then heading to the museum, yet another engrossing and well done exhibition. I especially liked this museum for its giant herd of taxidermy; they were old specimen from previous collections and the presentation simply allowed one to stand and marvel at the many shapes and sizes of the animal kingdom.
We stayed at the museum for a fair portion of the day, wandering out only in search of food (and for me, a brew). Which I found at the Crafty Squire, a brewery that also led us to discovered the bewildering game of footy (Australian football). We tried valiantly to understand the rules (Was it more like rugby? Like soccer? Lacrosse?) but failed to become enlightened. The baffling sport would follow us throughout Australia.
Melbourne itself was truly a city made for hipsters. I loved it.
Our first breakfast involved water poured from Erlenmeyer flasks and my desert that night involved caramel poured from a syringe. Coffee shops flanked every corner and alleyways (called laneways) were lined with art installations from murals to picture frames and cafes that come close to eating on the streets of Europe. Truly a hipster’s paradise, and I saw enough Instagram ‘photoshoots’ to prove it.
I personally love the laneways; they felt like little treasure chests waiting to be opened each time we wandered down the narrow streets. Some definitely encouraged the crowds
(Hosier Lane, for one, with its street art smeared over every inch of brick) while others were more subtle (like Presgrave place, literally tucked around a corner and hiding a bar for only those who search for it).
The buildings we saw were also something to marvel at. The Queen Victoria library was the most beautiful library I’d ever seen and when we toured Parliament we discovered that the gold on the ceilings was real. And of course, the cathedrals were more gems dotting the urban landscape. Melbourne had a strong European feel to it, but enough character than it was its own city.
After a few days in Melbourne, we hopped on a plane to Brisbane. Hopped may be an exaggeration of our speed, as we had 6-months worth of luggage and none of us were especially light packers. However, after this venture, I am never bringing more than one large bag. My arms are still sore from my creative distribution of weight. So I guess we should say we stumbled on a plane and then onto a bus to Sunshine Coast.
Sunshine Coast was just what we all needed: warm weather and a beach in a vacation town. However, our first full day was spent not at the beach, but the zoo. And not just any zoo. The Australia Zoo, aka Steve Irwin’s zoo. Never in my life have I felt that sad to be at a zoo. The front gate had a strip of images of the Irwin family and Steve’s face is all over the zoo. I can’t explain why I repeatedly felt twinges of sadness. After all these years I suppose still think that it’s unfair that a person as passionate and full of life as Steve passed away when the world would have been so much better with him in it. Honestly, I think without people like Steve Irwin, not very many people would give a damn about wildlife, something I hold near and dear to my heart. Maybe that’s why one of my stronger childhood memories is reading about his passing in the newspaper while sitting at my grandparent’s dining table–that feeling hasn’t really changed. So the zoo was a very bittersweet experience–especially since we caught a glimpse of Robert Irwin (his son). If you haven’t watched his Jimmy Fallon interviews, you really should. He is almost a copy of his father. It’s incredible.
I finally got to see the croc shows in real life and we got to pet and feed kangaroos, so despite its bittersweet qualities, the zoo was a worthwhile experience.
The next day, we had no plans but the beach. We bided our time there in the best possible way: reading and soaking up the sun. To our pleasant surprise, the holiday park we were staying at was having some kind of food truck event when we got back. The donuts we got were the perfect motivation to repack our suitcases.
At this point I was getting a bit tired of the Greyhoud buses (despite their decent wifi), so picking up my last Jucy car of study abroad was a relief. The car (we called her Sasha) somehow managed to fit all of our bags and ourselves, which was quite the feat.
This was the part we were playing by ear–a whole stretch of coastline between us and Sydney and many options. The first day we ended up at Byron Bay, which I definitely wish we had more time at. It was your quintessential surf town. You could tell who the tourists were and you could also tell who came there to surf and stay awhile. There were so many shops I could have stopped in and so many cafes and beautiful weather. If I come back to Australia, I am certainly going to stop here. It would be as good of an excuse as any to finally learn how to surf.
In the morning, we walked to the lighthouse along the coastline and got another satisfying breakfast. I am also definitely going to miss flat whites–they became my go to coffee order, but I haven’t seen their names in coffee shops in the states (correct me if I’m wrong, I would be thrilled!). And they aren’t lattes, because both are found on the menu.
And speaking of food, I finally got a fish taco in Byron Bay. It’s been a while! However, this fish taco wasn’t my favorite. It was a bit too fishy and the lack of sauce left me a little disappointed. 5/10. It also wasn’t beer battered like every other fish taco I’ve had below the equator, which I’m still deciding if it’s good or bad.
We headed out to our halfway point the next day, which we decided would be Port Macquarie. Another lovely beach town that we did not have enough time to explore. That’s why, while my friends were still sleeping, I went on a run (my ankle has improved!). Running is a shortcut for exploration. It’s a fast and relatively easy way to find all the neat little places in a town. In this case these were beaches, each one as appealing as the last with the glint of the early light transforming the shores in the golden casing of morning. I ran past a sign that told me to beware of snakes (I ran very fast) and followed some steps up to a look out. I saw more beaches than my friends ever did and had a coffee from a cafe on the beach. I’ve come to realize a contradiction in my life, because as much as I love lazy mornings, I also don’t like to waste them when there’s a whole world waiting. The world shows itself in a different way when the sun is still low, it’s peaceful and a quiet memory of the night. For a moment, everything is extraordinary. Staying in my pajamas an extra hour denies me this. So when I am in a new place, I have the urge to get up and do, to wipe the sleep from my eyes to absorb all that I can and let the world amaze me with the simplicity of a golden moment woven as a sparkling thread through the day. This is why I like running; it gets me up and out and into that light. That’s why I was a bit miserable when my ankle decided to betray me.
After my friends woke up, we stopped by a koala hospital to get one last glimpse of the adorable fellows.
Last but not least, we made it to Sydney. One would have though Australia would have been a captivating drive, but honestly, the roads were lined with Eucalyptus 95% of the time. Not much to look at, except the occasional koala bridge crossing the road.
Our Airbnb was tucked into a neighborhood with some New Orleans-style charm but still relatively close to a few bars around Sydney. Of course, the bar/restaurant we picked was American themed. I was sorely tempted to order a Sierra Nevada.. but I held out.
The next day, we took a free walking tour of Sydney and honestly, we should have done the same in Melbourne. We learned a lot about Sydney’s history and its sights all in one afternoon. And of course, ended at the opera house. Jokes about Finding Nemo were made. After our tour, we simply walked. Well almost. We got an Uber to a part of town our guide recommended, where us being us, we stopped in numerous book stores on our quest for Mexican food (where I indeed got another fish taco).
This taco was excellent, with a nice creamy sauce and the crunch of cucumbers as toppings, I was pleased with the switch up from traditional. The fish was well fried but also juicy. The margarita pair was excellent. 8.5/10.
The next day, we opted for our third mode of travel: ferry! We went over to Manly beach for breakfast, had some killer scrambled eggs, and walked along the beach in a day of vibrant sun. I could have stayed longer there too (I think there is a reoccurring theme here).
No trip to Sydney would be complete without a trip to Bondi Beach. And doughnuts. And doughnuts on the beach. When we got acai bowls to try and imitate some semblance of health, I almost felt like I was back in California. The coastal walk had me missing my side of the Pacific. However, I don’t think there’s a cemetery in California that quite compares to the cemetery we walked through.
We complete about 3/4 of the coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee beach before a group consensus occurred to catch the next bus and explore more of downtown Sydney and shop a bit before we had to repack our suitcase for the long haul. Again, we found ourselves in a bookstore and I broke down and bought a book (one can only hold out so long).
And just like that, Australia came to an end. I’ve skimmed over much of it because as I type this, I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight home (oh man). I did fly back to New Zealand for a few days because I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye, but I’ll talk about that in a bit. Australia treated us well, as a conclusion to studying abroad. As I sit here and type this, I cannot believe how fast time has gone and how so much has happened between now and February. I am so grateful for all of it, but I will save my deep words for my final study abroad post. By the time those of you who know me read this, I will probably be on a plane or back on U.S soil. So I’ll see you all soon!
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
P.S. – I also have to give a shout-out to this beer that nearly every bar tender recommended to me… and it was really good. Definitely unique.