Bonnie's folks were in the city last week to visit their recently graduated daughter (Bon walked in the SF State ceremony last spring but finished her Video Production classes at UTS), but last weekend they decided to rent a car and drive the 11 or so hours up to the Gold Coast (an hour south of Brisbane) for a few days of sunshine and relaxation in Surfer's Paradise. Guess who they invited to tag along? Yours truly. Score!
Since Friday was the last night we had to spend with those students heading home (namely my friend Brian, who was going back to New York for good to finish uni, and Matt, my friend from England who went home for the holidays), most of us were out at Purple Sneakers (my favorite indie club not far from UTS) having a blast for a good portion of the night. While this made getting up to leave at 7 a.m. the next morning a bit of a challenge, it was totally worth it to spend one last night partying with those I've become close to over the past few months. Unfortunately, this also meant that I slept through most of the drive - similar to when I took the Greyhound down from Brisbane at the end of spring break. Oh well, I woke up in time to see the famous "Big Banana" in Coffs Harbour (an area known for its banana plantations) and other bits of the lovely landscape.
Upon our arrival at the hotel, we dropped off our bags at the room (which overlooked the ocean. Mmmm) and headed across the street to find dinner, ending up at this great (albeit slow) restaurant next to the harbor called Saks. Ordering a couple bottles of wine, the four of us spent the next couple hours talking about everything from Sydney to family backgrounds and careers you can have with a masters' degree in Geography (which Bonnie's dad has from SF State.) Since we were pretty drained from the drive, we turned in early that night and fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves. Ahhhh.
The next morning (Sunday), Mr. and Mrs. Smith woke up early and headed to the comfy lounge chairs by the pool while Bon and I slept in (sort of, til 8:30) and then went to breakfast at this adorable little cafe across the street. That first day was pretty chill: reading our books in the sun, breaking every so often to jump in the pool/ocean, pick up a sandwich across the street, or order a drink from the poolside bar (because I can do that now!) That night, deciding to venture down the beach and check out the nightlife further into Surfer's, Bonnie and I walked into the first bar we found: a classy-looking place called the Southport Yacht Club. Ordering glasses of white wine, we walked out to the balcony and checked out the sunset, listening to the two-guy live band playing Sister Hazel covers and noticing that, with the exception of the table of cute guys near the stage, we were the youngest people there. Fortunately, the guys noticed this too, and promptly invited us to come join their table.
Funny enough, we ended up spending several more hours with these guys, sharing pitchers (or "jugs") of Hahn's beer and enjoying their stories about life in the Gold Coast. Later into the night, we were joined by my friend Liam, a guy I'd met last semester while he'd been studying at SF State (he commutes from the GC to the Univ. of Queensland in Brisbane, where he's originally from). That night, I think I started to understand why they call it Surfer's Paradise: there are a LOT of men! During this time, the bars and the streets were also packed with "schoolies": groups of 18-year-olds fresh out of high school on what we'd call their "senior trip." (I learned later that each state - Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland at least - have a designated week to send students on their schoolie trip.) Since we were there during the same time, we were known as "toolies." Charming.
On Monday, I decided to retrace my steps and find a different cafe to enjoy a cup of coffee with the morning paper while the Smiths went to breakfast. Today the weather was a bit overcast, but the air was still warm, so I took my time walking along the beach, relishing the feel of warm sand under my feet and the cold salt water swirling around my ankles as I chatted on the phone with my SF friend Beth about what I'd missed over Thanksgiving break. All I had to do was hold the phone out towards the ocean so she could hear the crashing waves, and all my jealousy over her pumpkin pie making was washed away.
That day, our last before we were due to drive back the next morning, was also pretty low key: a little sunbathing, a dip in the pool, then off to shop across the harbor at the Southport stores. When Bonnie's parents left to search for a pizzeria for dinner, we headed back towards the hotel side of the harbor to meet up with Liam for a few drinks, then some of the guys from the previous night. While chatting over our schooners, I realized something: I was not ready to leave the Gold Coast yet. Over spring break, we'd run out of time to explore Surfer's when we'd been in Brisbane (because of my academic schedule, we had to endure that infamous 17 hours bus ride straight back to Sydney), and I hadn't done much more than read and sunbathe over the past couple days. I shared this with Liam, and we came up with a brilliant solution: since I didn't have to be back in Sydney for anything until Saturday (the all-Aussie music festival, Homebake, which I'll write about later), I could stay with him for a few days. He'd have to work during the day, but said he'd give me his keys so I could come and go as I please, then we could hang out at night. Um, a free place to stay near the beach with someone I could talk to about traveling? Sold!
A quick phone call home and an explanation to Bonnie's dad the next morning sealed the deal, so I hugged Bonnie goodbye and waved as their car pulled away from the hotel, my bags stacked next to me and a dopey grin plastered across my face. For a moment, I wondered if I was crazy: had I just screwed myself over, letting my ride and the comfort of parental security drive away? I looked out at the ocean, up at the beautiful clear sky, and decided I'd just made the best possible decision. Storing my bags at the hotel, I headed off to treat my spontaneous self to waffles.
Liam didn't get off work until after 5, so I spent the day hanging by the beach, bopping around the Australia Fair shopping center, and then going to the cinema to see Australia. I'd heard mixed reviews about the movie (particularly from non-Australians) and I thought the script had been peppered with more Aussie witticisms than were necessary ("crikey!," which I never hear people say here, and Hugh's reference to the dingo who ate a woman's baby - that's a true story, actually), but I can honestly say I loved it: Nicole Kidman played a perfect stuffy English woman who had no idea what she'd gotten herself into with Faraway Downs, Hugh Jackman was every bit as gruff and sexy as my mother had promised (haha), and I completely adored Nullah, the little Aboriginal boy who gave the movie a much deeper meaning. After taking that class about Aboriginal representation in the media last semester, I was curious to see how Baz Luhrmann portrayed his characters, Australia's history, and the Stolen Generation. Seems like he did a pretty fair job.
That night, I met up with one of the guys from the yacht club, an aspiring teacher named Lachlan. Since he had a car, he took me further into Surfer's to see the beaches at Burleigh Heads and Coolangatta (he said many music artists often stop at the Coolangatta Hotel between shows in Brisbane and the Gold Coast or Sydney.) With the city lights reflecting off the water, the view from the rocks was pretty impressive.
On Wednesday, I spent the day at the Currumbin Wildlife Sactuary. Finally, I was going to see some kangaroos!! The bus ride took forever, but when I walked up one of the paths and saw half a dozen sweet little koalas dozing in a tree just a few feet from me, my heart melted. I must have stood there for 10 minutes just watching them squirm in their sleep before moving on to check out the other animals.
The Gold Coast features a few animal sanctuaries, but I chose Currumbin for a specific reason: they let you pet the kangaroos. My earliest childhood memory is of doing just this in North Sydney around age four, and I've been dying to relive that memory ever since. Walking into the paddock was surreal: all around me, groups of kangaroos - at least 30 of them, all different sizes - laid in the sun, rooted for food in the grass, or hopped slowly over to the little kids eager to reach out and touch their soft hair. I took out my camera and started snapping away, wondering if I could sneak out a baby 'roo without anyone noticing....
After the kangaroos, I visited the bird sanctuary, the fresh and saltwater crocodiles, the snakes (which was creepy; I pretty much ran through that dark exhibit) and the dingoes (who looked much more like cute, docile pet dogs when they weren't running around your campsite on Fraser Island!) On my way home, I wandered through the streets near Liam's apartment, checking out the upscale boutiques and classy restaurants that lined Tedder Avenue.
Since Liam didn't have to work on Thursday, we woke up early and headed down to Byron Bay, a hippie beach town just an hour south of Surfer's (and home to my flatmate Awa and friend Anja.) Awa's always telling me to come visit and I've been dying to see Byron since before spring break (when I slept through it...), so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. What I saw was this: palm-tree lined streets, bungalow-style houses, streets lined with yummy cafes and beachwear retailers, and a long stretch of beaches. Awesome doesn't even cover it - it was love at first sight.
After stopping to get coffee (causing Liam to laugh at my "Yank" ways - since when do only Americans drink coffee?!), we drove up to the lighthouse located on what he called the most eastern point in Australia. Sweet! The lighthouse decks featured fantastic views of the surrounding beaches and headlands, so we decided to go check out a few of them. We drove down and stopped at White Beach, King Beach, Wategos (or something like that) and The Pass, stopping to have a swim at a couple of them (the water being much warmer here than in Sydney) before heading back to town to chow down on OZ kebabs (essentially a Turkish wrap filled with vegetables, meat, various sauces and in this case, eggs). Delicious. Kebabs are all the rage in Australia, particularly after a night out (no Dennys here!) After lunch, Liam went to go read on the beach and I went shopping, popping into the swimsuit shops and Aboriginal art galleries. If even possible, I found the Byron locals to be even more friendly than the typical Aussie.
I was sad to leave the following morning, but even more disappointed when my flight home was delayed. By the time I finally boarded the plane and settled into my seat, preparing to dive into my book (Scar Tissue, a biography about Red Hot Chili Peppers' frontman Anthony Kiedis - quite an intriguing read), I was joined by two loud guys in their late 20s who appeared to be friends with the 15 or so other loud twentysomethings filling the back of the plane. Fantastic, I thought, so much for the peaceful flight. The guys introduced themselves as Nick (who promptly whipped out a camera phone and began showing me photos of his adorable 3 month old son) and Nathan. They explained they were from Red Frog, an organization that sent them out to the bars and clubs in the Gold Coast to keep an eye on the schoolies and ensure they stayed out of trouble each night. They were headed back to Sydney to start preparing for the Christmas Spectacular their Newtown church was putting on the following weekend.
Okay, so they were kinda cool.
We spent the next hour doing card tricks and playing mind games (remind me to teach you "The Love Game" and "Snaps"), swapping tales about our trips and discussing the best places to get coffee in Sydney. By the time we landed, I had scored a ticket to their Christmas Spectacular production and a ride home from the airport (oh, and a free lunch - Nick and our driver James were hardcore craving kebabs from this Lebanese cafe they visit often.)
It was the perfect way to end an exceedingly random week of fun.
See photos: http://bubbles21.myphotoalbum.com/albums.php