I fell absolutely fell in love with Australia. I’m not sure if it was the amazing people, the casual culture, or the fact that I was able to miss ALL of the dismal winter season in the U.S., but Australia will forever hold a special place in my heart. When almost every sentence ended with “no worries mate” or “sweet as,” in that cute accent of theirs, can you blame me? If I had it my way I’d have taken an Aussie home as a souvenir! Unfortunately, the stores didn’t sell people, but they did sell scrumptious treats I’ll never forget called Tim-Tams. This, my friends, is the journey I made from Sydney to Cairns and back in 6 weeks, and all of the unforgettable people I met and experiences I had along the way. Buckle up.
This was my dream trip, but it became a reality through personal tragedy. In 2010, I was faced with one of the most detrimental situations of my life when my father passed away from ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). I was lost and needed guidance, spiritual rejuvenation, and a way to keep my mind busy. My father never had the opportunity to travel abroad, but urged me to relish in my wanderlust spirit, so when he passed away I swore that I would honor his word and continue traveling. 6 months later, I quit my job, put all of my things in storage, and booked a one way ticket to Australia for the trip of a lifetime. I hope that my story will motivate you to take your own quest into the unknown. If you think about it, what do you really have to lose?
Sydney reminded me of the vibrant and bustling city streets of New York; a thriving metropolis complete with high rise buildings, non-stop entertainment, a vast array of eclectic food options, (including the delicious Kangaroo burger), and an overall fast-paced lifestyle. The significant difference is the Australian laid back attitude that is pervasive throughout the country.
When I arrived in Sydney, I stayed at the Maze hostel, which I’d recommend only if you’re used to staying in hostels because well, let’s face it; it takes a different breed of person to stay in a hostel. At the ripe age of 29, rooming with a group of three 19 year old males, I knew that my stay would be nothing short of interesting. Although I was deliriously sleep-deprived and jet-lagged, I visited the Sydney Opera House that evening and it was well worth the wait. The Opera House, with its impressive architectural design, is one of the busiest performing arts centers in the world. It is considered one of the most famous landmarks in Australia, along with the Harbour Bridge, and after one glance I understood why they’re both so awe-inspiring.
That evening I returned to my hostel to find one of the Swedish youngins hanging his head over the top bunk bed. It appears he had passed out that way and I didn’t want to bother him so I just tried to steer clear and navigate to my bottom bunk. On my quest to reach the bed, I stepped in something I can only describe as a wet squishy feeling. And then it hit me. I just stepped in this kid’s vomit. Disgusting! Remember earlier when I mentioned it takes a special breed of person to stay in a hostel? This would be why. Oh well, I guess now I know what I’m in for.
I was beginning to need a real conversation with a quality person, so I started talking to this Swedish girl in the bathroom. We hit it off and decided we should be travel buddies from that point on. The next thing you know we were hitting bars, eating, and taking transit to Bondi Beach together. This is one of the best things about hostels – you might have to dodge some vom, but it’s also a great way to meet people, make new friends, and find travel buddies.
Bondi Beach, for the most part, is just a big gorgeous beach scattered with bronzed-bodied Australians gods and goddesses sunbathing and other pale tourists trying to get their surf and sun exposure. No big deal. We had a great time gallivanting around there and taking photos.
There is so much to explore and capture in Sydney I could have easily spent more than 6 days there, but my conquest was just beginning. It was time to take a plane north to hit Cairns and do something I’d longed to do my entire life: Scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef! As soon as I stepped out of the airport at Cairns, I knew it was my kind of city. The perfectly humid tropical climate, significantly smaller population than Sydney, palm trees, and friendlier people were to my liking. I had made arrangements before I left to stay at the Gilligan’s Island hostel, which was an adventure in itself.
Gilligan’s Island included free meals and a vast array of entertainment included a night of bikini clad women from various countries facing off in jello wrestling matches, and a night of what Australians refer to as “Bogan Bingo.” Bogan is basically slang in Australia for redneck or hillbilly and is basically just MUCH more entertaining Bingo. There is a live DJ the entire evening, and people who get Bingos go up on stage to spin a wheel where they either win a prize or have to do something embarrassing like air guitar. It’s so wildly amusing I am not sure how it hasn’t been adopted in the states yet!
I went on a tour in Cairns called Uncle Brian’s Fun, Falls, and Forest tour that I would highly recommend to anyone with an outgoing nature seeking a unique adventure. Shy people need not apply! Hopping aboard “Gus the Wonder Bus” I was immediately welcomed by an extremely friendly staff who encouraged me to meet my new friends (strangers) that would be going on the trip with me. You wave to just about everyone that you encounter, sing songs and play games together almost the entire trip, and are even given an historic lesson about Cairns while splashing around in waterfalls you find along the way. It was certainly a highlight of my Cairns visit and I had a blast!
The next day I was ready to conquer scuba diving. Keep in mind when I say ready, I mean I was as equally frightened to the core as I was excited. I am a claustrophobic person that had barely mastered snorkeling on this visit. That being said, I booked my scuba diving expedition with one of many boats offering a scuba reef experience and I was ready to go!
In order to be able to scuba dive, instructors were required by law to give us an hour lesson on safety techniques and procedures that we’d be using throughout our dive. Every minute that passed seemed to make my heart beat faster. What was I getting myself into? Okay Bobbi, remember that a thumbs up hand signal means I want to come up out of the water, not that I’m ok. I can do this.
As I made my first attempt to dive under the water I immediately panicked and came back up. My guide, who I was linked arms with and who also had another person on his other arm, is puzzled and asks why. “I’m sorry I just panicked.” I said. We tried again and I successfully managed to stay under the water the entire time!
I’m so grateful that I did, but I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy. For every thought I had of how breathtaking the reef was, I had another thought of just trying to breathe! In retrospect though, it was an incredible experience that I’d do again in a heartbeat. I may not have abolished my claustrophobic fears, but I at least put them at bay for a while.
A few days was enough to discover what I wanted in Cairns, so my next day composed of heading south by bus to a place called Airlie beach. Airlie Beach had an even smaller population than Cairns, and was almost too small for my liking, but still a fun and chill place to wander around.
The main reason people go to Airlie Beach is to sail the Whitsunday Islands, and that was my first priority upon arrival! This was going to be my first time sailing, and I guess you could say I set the bar fairly high sailing theWhitsundays for the first time. The white sand beaches and unique colored turquoise water is mesmerizing and the islands of the Whitsundays are so remote feeling it’s unbelievable. Whitehaven beach in the Whitsundays is always rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world – and all of the Whitsundays is just spectacular I did quite as bit of hiking there and ended up staying on one island with a few travel buddies. It was so beautiful and peaceful there – and I could feel my father’s presence there. I knew he admired me for taking this trip and living my life.
After a few days in Airlie Beach, it was then time to depart for Hervey Bay, which is only famous because it is the main launching point for hostel travelers to get to Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and is known for ancient rain forests growing among the sand dunes, but the most interesting thing about Fraser is that everyone gets split into groups, you camp in a tent overnight, and you get to go four wheeling! It’s sort of like Survivor except for wussies.
The night before departing for Fraser, we are assigned to teams. I was the last person to join a 6 person team in which 5 Brits were already friends. This could have been very disastrous but they
adopted me into their pack and we carried on, buying food for our impending camping adventure. The next morning we awoke bright and early to saddle up for the big camping trip. Note: I would not say I’m an avid camper. I don’t HATE IT, but it’s certainly not my favorite thing to do in the world because I like my sleep. I’m not exactly sure what I was so excited about except it was with a bunch of foreign people I don’t know and I’m easily amused by new people. Upon arriving we discover 2 things: 1. We literally have nothing to sleep on except the pillow we brought and a tent. 2. The 4×4 vehicles had to be driven on the left hand side of the road. My first thoughtswere that this is this is REAL camping and that I was scared to drive this beast of a 4×4! It all ended up working out for the best though, and we made a campfire at night and played card and drinking games while discovering the wild dingos that populated Fraser Island. Dingos aren’t nearly as scary as you might think. In fact, they appear more skittish than anything.
After leaving Hervey Bay, I had to retrace my steps to Sydney so that I could get a cheaper flight home, but it was nearing Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney so I obviously had to stick around for that before my departure! I met up with one of my friends who I’d met at Fraser, and we managed to scrounge up some costumes and feather boas for the event. It was an absolute riot! We hunded down crates to stand on for the parade and dancing in the streets afterward all night long. I seem to recall an incident involving a random party we stumbled into and us eating a lot of brie cheese. Who needs to talk to people when you have brie?
Alas, my time in Oz was dwindling, and I was becoming incredibly sad. It was now time to go home and put the pieces of my life puzzle back together. The thought of getting a new place to live and finding a job again seemed so daunting and overwhelming. How would I go back to normal life after facing an ultimate fear, frolicking in paradise, and living in the moment? I did however, miss my friends and family back home and maybe, just maybe, a man that I’d left behind in the states who had wooed me with letters while I was in Oz. Nonetheless, I will forever cherish that moment in time and bask in the words “No worries” and “Sweet as” for eternity. It was time well spent, and I hope in writing this I evoked some kind of spark within you to conquer your own fears and take to the road!