A Travellerspoint blog

Spring Break Road Trip, Week 2

Hervey Bay, Fraser Island, and Brisbane

sunny 29 °C
View East Coast, Spring Break on Alykat's travel map.

And the break continues! The humidity level dropped as we ventured further south, but there were a lot more bugs in Queensland than NSW and I ended up being eaten alive - particularly while we were camping...

Monday, 29 September
We arrived in Hervey Bay at 6 a.m. and were met by the Fraser Roving hostel's van, painted in a subdued pink color (that was a joke - I was laughing at the poor guy who had to drive it through the town because he attracted quite a few stares!) The hostel was located on the main strip and was right across from the beach, so once we were assigned a room (a 10-bed share), we dropped off our stuff and Bonnie headed to the beach. Deciding to get a look around, I went for a walk and had a lovely morning to myself at a nearby cafe that served the BEST pancakes topped with about six different types of fruit. The street was similar to Shute Harbor Road in Airlie in that it featured most of the hostels, cafes, bars and a few touristy shops, so I walked back to Fraser Roving on the warm sand and settled myself in a lounge chair by the hostel's pool with a book and my iPod speaker.

Since Hervey Bay is one of the main gateways to Fraser Island (the biggest sand island in the world - I read there's more sand here than in Saudi Arabia), the hostel offers this cool deal: they put together groups of nine people, rent them a 4-wheel drive Land Crusier (that's hot pink, haha) equipped with tents and cooking gear, and send them off for a 3-day, self-guided tour of the island (they also give you a suggested itinerary and a map, so you're not left completely in the dark.) That night, we gathered for a briefing in the common area and met the rest of our group: two quiet guys from Norway (we called them Jay and Silent Bob), a pair of German girls (both named Katie), a sweet girl from Taiwan named Ling, and these two guys (another Paul, who's from London, and Shane from Ireland) who had met while traveling another part of Australia a few months back. We got our instructions for the following morning, then B and I set off to grab drinks with Paul and Shane.

Tuesday, 30 September
The morning dawned bright and sunny as we prepared to leave at 7:30. We were instructed to drive down the street to Woolworths, a grocery store, to figure out meals and pick up a few cases of beer (the guy who briefed us couldn't stress the importance of this enough: every activity he described on the island began with "So you pop open a beer and head to...." Silly Aussies.) We figured we'd just live on PB&J, steaks, chips and apples, then proceeded to Liquorland to load up on beverages before heading out to the barge (where we'd load our cruiser onto the boat with us) with loads of others doing the same thing through other hostels.

Shane was nominated to drive for the first day, so upon reaching the island, we piled into our inconspicuous car and powered down the road (again, it was all sand - there was literally not a paved road in sight.) Things were gravy for the first 10 minutes or so, then suddenly we hit a particularly big heap of sand and the back wheels stuck, stopping the flow of traffic behind us. We got out and tried to push the car free, but to no avail, so a few people got out of their cars and tried to help us push the car off to the side of the road (including a bad-tempered tour guide who kept swearing at Shane - hilarious.) Once we were safely off to the side, Paul hitched a ride to the nearby resort to call the hostel while we melted in the heat next to our heap of a cruiser.

After about 20 minutes, the heat and the small talk became unbearable and we decided to try and fix the problem. One of the girls put the car in gear and attempted to back out, and that's when we noticed the problem: one of the front wheels hadn't been locked, so the car wasn't running in 4 wheel drive. A quick turn of the knob solved the problem, so we piled back into the car and drove to the resort to wait for Paul, shaking our heads at the stupidity of our mistake.

While waiting for Paul, Bonnie, one of the Katies and I decided to check out Eulong Beach further down the road, taking goofy photos of each other in front of the sign before heading back to grab coffees and rejoin the group. Once we found Paul and sorted out our situation, we took off for Lake Waddy. The lake was a good 30 minute hike from the beach, but once we made it, the scenery was well worth it: one side featured lush forests, and the other was all sand dunes. We spent the rest of the afternoon here before heading back to the car and driving to a spot near Eli Creek, where we set up camp. Over steak sandwiches, we played drinking card games and talked together well into the night.

Wednesday, 1 October
The sun woke us up around 7 a.m., but because of the tide, we couldn't drive out of our campsite until 11. We had a leisurely breakfast of fruit and cornflakes before walking down the beach to check out Manoa, a shipwreck from WWI that had been caught in a storm en route to Japan in the 1930s. Pretty cool how it's still intact, albeit rusty and partially buried in the sand.

Around 11, we headed back to the campsite to pack up our tents and follow a troupe of other self-guided tours to Indian Head, a cliff that offers spectacular views of the island. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to check out these "champagne pools" further down the beach (which were probably Fraser's version of a lagoon, since you can't swim in the tiger shark-infested waters here either), so we headed back to Eli Creek and played around in the water for a while.

That night, while enjoying a dinner of sausages and burgers with our beer, we were greeted by a group of travelers from another campsite: a couple Aussies (including one who had just applied to study at SF State on exchange - super random) and their friends who'd just arrived from Bordeaux, France (and who were drinking BOXED wine, because they figured any wine they found in Australia would suck in comparison to what they were used to. Sacre bleu.) They joined us for a couple drinking games before heading back to their campsite.

At this point most people had gone to bed, and just as we were cleaning up from dinner, we saw a dingo! Dingoes are wild dogs that look like cute domestic house pets, but because people have treated them as such, they're not afraid of humans and have become quite aggressive. The dingo barked and growled at us, running around our campsite before growing bored and scampering off down the beach.

Thursday, 2 October
The sun woke us up early again, so we decided to take advantage and head out to our last destination, Lake McKenzie. At this point we were all pretty dirty and unshowered, so the freshwater lake was a welcomed final stop! I was reminded of Lake Tahoe while I was swimming around, except that the water temperature was considerably warmer.... We spent a few hours here before loading back into the cruiser and heading towards the barge, getting stuck in the sand AGAIN on our way back. Classic.

We arrived back at Fraser Roving around 4 p.m., giving us plenty of time to shower and rest up before the all-you-can-eat Mexican dinner provided by the hostel. Since we were due to leave that night for Brisbane, Bonnie and I settled into the common room with Shane and Paul to watch a (really stupid, unrecommended) Wayne brothers comedy called White Chicks until our cab arrived.

Friday, 3 October
At this point I'm getting pretty good at sleeping on the Greyhound, so when we pulled into the Brisbane bus station, I was feeling relatively refreshed. We stashed our stuff in luggage lockers at the station, grabbed the biggest coffees we could find, and set off to explore "Australia's sunniest capital city" (true to its name, it was a beautiful day.) Since today was really the only day we had to tour around, we decided to buy tickets for the hop on/ hop off City Sights bus that drove all over the city. This was the best decision we could have made, because it allowed us to cover a lot of ground that morning: we passed City Hall, the Riverside Centre (houses the stock exchange), hopped off to explore the Roma St Parkland (16 hectares of gardens and ponds), and Suncorp Stadium (the heart of Queensland rugby league) before driving up Mount Coot-tha for the most stunning views of Brisbane and the surrounding areas. At the base of Coot-tha, we visited the Botanic Gardens and just got lost in the diverse foliage, photographing just about every tree and flower in this beautiful park. We missed the first bus out, so we stuck around and walked through the planetarium before making our way to the South Bank for lunch and shopping.

South Bank was this quaint little square full of restaurants, gelato stops, a lagoon (since Brisbane is set on a river, not the ocean), and this fantastic craft fair full of handmade jewelry, sundresses, summer scarves (the guy gave me a discount because he liked the way I retied the scarf on his mannequin, haha) and...wine! We made friends with Rob, a sixtysomething marketing director from Queensland's Mason winery who hooked us up with a bunch of tastings. Each wine was so light and refreshing, perfect for summer nights, so B and I each bought a couple bottles before catching a ferry back to the Greyhound station.

We arrived back at the bus station just in time to meet up with my flatmate Awa, who'd spent her break at home in Byron Bay (a couple hours south) and whose friends we were going to stay with in Brisbane. Our SF friend Artie also happened to get in touch with us just in time, so he joined us at Awa's friends' place! That night, the four of us took a train to Fortitude Valley and grabbed dinner before venturing to a few bars in search of a bar that served James Squire beer on tap, per Artie's request (we were unsuccessful, but we did grab drinks at Bowery Bar, which someone said was rated Australia's #1 bar!)

Saturday, 4 October
Thanks to Awa's connections in the music industry (aka, a friend of hers was performing), we spent today at a music festival called Parklife. Festivals, which are the #1 summer activity in Australia, are a sight to see: attire-wise, anything goes as long as it's fluorescent (and/or skimpy, as far as girls are concerned.) The festival took place at the City Botanic Gardens (not the ones we had previously visited) between four stages featuring the finest performers and DJs in electro/techno/dance music: Soulwax, Van She, Neon Neon, Diplo, Peaches, Snob Scrilla (a.k.a Awa's friend Sean, who's actually from San Jose! Personally, I thought his show was one of the best.), Blacklicious (Bay Area rapper), Goldfrapp, and so many others. This kind of music isn't usually my scene, but my music taste has expanded loads since I came to Australia (plus the fact that we got in free and had VIP bracelets didn't hurt!)

Sunday, 5 October
Our last day in Brisbane. We had intended on going to the Australia Zoo (affectionately called the Crikey Zoo, since Steve Irwin used to run it. Tear), but decided to just take it easy. The four of us, along with Awa's friend Brittany, ventured back to Fortitude Valley to check out a craft fair and have lunch before the girls went back to the house to sleep and Artie and I left to walk around the neighborhood. We ended up settling at a picnic table with a couple bottles of beer (Melbourne Bitter for him and James Squire Golden Ale - so tasty, you gotta try it - for me) and some free music magazines, soaking up the last of the day's sunshine.

That night, Awa left for the airport (smart girl, flying back to Sydney) while Artie, Bonnie and I took a train back to the Greyhound station and boarded the 7 p.m. bus.

Monday, 6 October
Seventeen hours later, I was awakened by the driver's chirpy voice as he welcomed us to Sydney. I peered out the window excitedly as we drove across the Harbour Bridge, past the Opera House and the familiar city skyline, feeling as though I'd actually arrived home. It was back to reality!

See photos:
http://bubbles21.myphotoalbum.com/view_album.php?set_albumName=album02

Posted by Alykat 19:39 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Spring Break Road Trip, Week 1

cairns, mission beach, and airlie beach

sunny 30 °C
View East Coast, Spring Break on Alykat's travel map.

Wow.

I'm sitting here thinking about the past two weeks, and I'm in shock: I just traveled over 2,730 kilometers (approximately 1,695 miles) - from northern Queensland to mid-New South Wales - with a minimal itinerary and a bus pass, and I SURVIVED. I even managed to make it back in time to do a few loads of laundry and catch up on sleep before class on Tuesday!

The trip was action-packed and quite eventful, as expected, and I learned more about myself and my travel capabilities in that time than I have in the past three months.

The day-to-day breakdown of the first week was as follows...

Monday 22 September
Bonnie and I arrived at the Cairns Airport at about 10:30 a.m. after three hours of sleep (her) and reading Cleo magazine cover to cover (me). As we landed, I looked out the window at the familiar sight of palm trees and beach bungalows - wait, did we just arrive in Honolulu? Stepping out of the plane into the 90 degree heat and humidity, I was convinced: I was in Hawaii. Sweet!

We grabbed our bags (for Bonnie, a sensible backpacker's pack; for me, the biggest suitcase I was allowed to bring on the plane) and headed out to meet the van that would take us to our hostel. The driver, a Canadian guy who looked identical to my uncle Dave, told us about the area as we drove down streets lined with beach houses to the Calypso Backpackers Hostel, a turquoise and yellow building hidden by palm trees. The hostel was totally cute: there was a nice pool and a bar/restaurant in the backyard, a big kitchen, friendly people at the reception desk, and a kind of reggae-hippie theme throughout. We shared our room, a 6-bed female dorm painted hot pink, with two girls from Canada (who would be best described as valley girls, judging by the conversations they held in the room.)

We left to pick up some groceries and explore the town, which was pretty small but full of yummy restaurants and a few pubs, plus the touristy discount shops where every item features a kangaroo or the Australian flag. What's funny about Cairns is, although it's a beachy-looking town, you can't actually swim in the ocean because the area is frequently visited by saltwater crocodiles. Instead, they set up these "lagoons," which are essentially large in-ground pools surrounded by short grass and palm trees. Kinda lame, but we grabbed pina coladas and relaxed on the grass for the rest of the afternoon.

That night, Bonnie and I decided to be social, so we went out to a club with three cute, well-traveled English guys from our hostel. We chatted about our travels while sipping our schooners of Tooheys (the beer of New South Wales - personally, I think it takes like dishwater) until loud cheers erupted on the other side of the club and we saw a group of guys dancing and stripteasing atop a picnic table; apparently we were just in time for the Mr. and Mrs. Backpacker contest. Ah, spring break.

Tuesday, 23 September
Waking up at 6:30 a.m. was a bit tough after last night, but it was well worth it because today we were going to go SCUBA DIVING AT THE GREAT BARRIER REEF!! We arrived at the dock just in time to board the Tusa T5, a decent-size, two story boat that would take us to a spot on the reef two hours east of the coast of Cairns (somewhere near Green Island, but I'm not entirely sure what the area was called.) Bonnie and I had signed up for two dives (you could either take an intro scuba course, enabling you to go down 10 meters with an instructor, or snorkel; snorkeling just wasn't going to cut it), so we sat with a handful of others and learned how to breathe through the mask, pop our ears as we descended towards the ocean floor, and how to empty water from our masks while we were submerged. By the time the instructor finished his course, I was already hooked on scuba diving.

I talked to some of the staff members and took in the beautiful morning on the water as we sped towards the reef...and then I was hit with a bout of motion sickness. I was confined to a bench with several cups of water for a good portion of the ride over, while other people threw up into little bags all around me. Not the best way to start the day.

Fortunately, once we anchored at the reef and pulled on our wetsuits and air tanks, I started to feel better. Bonnie and I went down for our first dive with an instructor named Shai, a very patient guy who'd been my biggest helper while I'd been forcing myself not to get sick earlier. He took us two and another woman to the side of the boat to practice using our scuba gear and breathing just under the surface of the water. I popped in the mouthpiece, exhaled to clear the excess saltwater, and ducked my head under. What I saw was beautiful: through the clear blue-green water, tiny fish swam between the large pieces of bright coral under my flippers. Smiling to myself, I took a breath - and freaked out. Wait a second, I thought, I'm no mermaid, how am I supposed to breathe into this tiny thing all the way down there?! I quickly surfaced, my heart pounding as I communicated my concerns to Shai. He only laughed and made me try again, over and over, until I could resurface without spluttering and convince myself I wasn't going to pass out on the ocean floor. Once we passed his test, the four of us linked arms and descended into the depths of the Pacific.

I'm glad Bonnie and I brought an underwater camera with us that day, because I cannot do the beauty of what I saw justice just by blogging about it. Once I mastered the breathing technique, the ocean floor became the most peaceful place I'd ever been: sea plants floated lazily as clown fish and yellow-faced angel fish swam idly over the sand, and coral in all the colors of the rainbow stood out next to large boulder-like pieces covered in tiny sea life. (Obviously I didn't study the actual names of anything I was going to see.) We posed for photos next to various bits of coral, but mostly we just kicked our flippers in unison and observed the relaxing scene below us.

By the second dive, I was having the time of my life, chasing fish and performing underwater backstroke for the enjoyment of Bonnie and Shai (the other woman didn't join us the second time around.) We all started snapping silly photos of each other and of the turtle who came to greet us as we swam slowly towards the surface, relishing our last few moments of oxygen and underwater bliss.

On the way back, we struck up a conversation about how Americans don't travel enough with a gal who'd just graduated from San Jose State and a nice man from South Africa, then spent the rest of the ride sleeping in the sun.

Wednesday, 24 September
After unsuccessfully trying to book seats on the 9 a.m. Greyhound, we scheduled ourselves for the 1 p.m. bus and went our separate ways: Bonnie to the lagoon for some last minute tanning, and me to grab a coffee and walk around the part of town we hadn't explored. We met back up just before one and proceeded to the waiting bus, loading our bags into the storage compartment before settling into our seats with our books. Success! In just nine hours, we'd be in Airlie Beach to relax at our friend Paul's beach house, which he'd rented for the week.

Or so we thought.

After two hours on the road, we reached Mission Beach, the first stop on the Greyhound map. A few passengers began unloading their bags while others climbed aboard, so Bonnie and I decided to get off and grab coffees from the store across the parking lot. We we gone for about three minutes (we actually timed it), but when we walked back outside, the bus was nowhere to be found. Confused, we ran over to a group of backpackers sitting at the bus stop, who informed us that the bus had just left a minute ago. Let me repeat that: THE BUS HAD JUST LEFT US. Our luggage was still on board, but fortunately we'd been smart enough to take our purses with us, so we both still had our iPods, cameras, and cell phones. Bonnie dialed Greyhound and arranged for our luggage to be dropped off at a stop called Townsville (four hours away) and reserved two seats on the next morning's 9 a.m. bus, while I hyperventilated and emailed Paul to let him know we'd be a day late.

Fortunately, the Absolute Backpackers hostel we decided to stay at took pity on us: the sweet woman at the reception desk gave us free towels and our own two-bed room. Deciding to make the best of it, we checked out the beach just a few minutes' walk down the road, which was actually quite nice, and grabbed a frozen pizza and a bottle of sauvingnon blanc for dinner. That night, we joined a group of people from the hostel at a bar down the road and recounted our story over several glasses of champagne provided by the bar owner (for no apparent reason, it was free.) Ironically, the folks we met in Mission Beach ended up being the ones we kept running into at other hostels further down the coast!

Thursday, 25 September
This day was pretty uneventful: we boarded the Greyhound at 9 a.m. with a few fellow Absolute backpackers (still wearing the same clothes as yesterday, of course) and watched Little Miss Sunshine on the way to Townsville. We only stopped there for a 30 minute break, but I wish we could've stayed longer - the town was bustling with activity and seemed like a fun place to explore. If this trip taught me one thing, it was that two weeks is not enough time to cover this much ground.

We took another break once we reached Bowen, but for some reason the driver decided to park at a gas station in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE so we weren't able to take in any of the beauty of this little beach town (I later read about it and discovered that scenes from the upcoming Nicole Kidman/Hugh Jackman movie Australia were filmed here. Damn!) Bonnie and I sat near the bus and chatted with a German girl named Andrea with the coolest back story: she'd found an ad in her local paper from a family in Sydney offering three months' free accommodation and unlimited travel time in exchange for child care services, so here she was!

We finally arrived in Airlie Beach at six that night and were greeted with the most gorgeous sunset - and Paul! We grabbed a taxi to drop off our luggage at the beach house - a tiny, one-room abode with a basic kitchen, dining table, queen size bed and two bunk beds crammed inside. Still, it was charming. We walked down Shute Harbour Road (the main, or really the only, road that goes through the downtown) and grabbed dinner, then hit up a couple bars further down the street. The busiest bars were connected to hostels, so lo and behold, we ended up running into some of our Mission Beach friends! The jokes made about our bus misadventure were endless.

Friday, 26 September
Another early morning, but this time Bonnie, Paul and I boarded a boat and cruised through the Whitsundays: a stunning archipelago of 74 Hawaii-like islands near the base of the Great Barrier Reef. The weather was on the cloudy side, but our spirits were high as we arrived at Daydream Island, the first of three islands we were scheduled to visit. We only had an hour to walk around the island, but that wasn't a problem because the whole island was essentially a resort and everything was closed. So, we just took silly photos in front of some mermaid statues and climbed back aboard the boat to head out to destination number two, Hamilton Island.

Since we had an extra half hour to explore Hamilton, the three of us rented a "buggy" (oh what the hell, it was a golf cart) and set off to find a beach and a cocktail bar. We drove around for a bit to check out the scenery and the pricey beach bungalows before settling ourselves on a quiet beach, Bloody Marys in hand, staring across the water at the other islands. Pure bliss.

Our final stop was to Whitsunday Island, the biggest of the bunch with the world's most photographed beach: Whitehaven, where the sand is fine as dust and literally just as white. It was absolutely breathtaking, but once the wind picked up, heaps of that fine sand ended up in our beach bags and coated our bodies like sugar. I'll have to return and go snorkeling, as I hear it's fantastic in that area.

By the time we returned to Airlie Beach our energy had been sun-drained, but we headed out to grab a beer in celebration of Paul's birthday the next day.

Saturday, 27 September & Sunday, 28 September
Paul left in the a.m. to catch a flight back to Sydney, but Bonnie and I decided we wanted to stay in Airlie an extra day, so we moved our stuff to a bohemian-style hostel down the road. While Bonnie and Andrea met up to go hiking through Conway National Park, I took advantage of the free time by catching a few more hours of sleep, walking around the town, getting a pedicure, and reading magazines on the beach (which was next to another lagoon, even though people were jetskiing in the ocean, so I assume there weren't any crocs lurking....) After the action-packed week I'd just had, it felt great to just relax and soak up the sun.

To view photos, see below!
http://bubbles21.myphotoalbum.com/view_album.php?set_albumName=album01&utm_source=share&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=album

Posted by Alykat 07:59 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Mid-Semester Reflection

and celebrating the sun's arrival over sydney!

sunny 26 °C

First of all, I'd like to point out that I'm writing this outside in the Geegal courtyard, at a picnic table, in the shade of the trees, and it's about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I just remembered why I came to Sydney... :)

I've been an Aussie uni student for eight weeks now and so far, I'm happy with my decision to study abroad here. Sydney life is much more relaxed than what I'm used to, so it's been a bit of an adjustment. In SF, I was used to balancing work, classes, interviews for journalism assignments, Alpha Phi, the occasional internship, family gatherings and outings with friends; here, I have only three classes, a once-a-week internship and no job (yet, hopefully), so the amount of free time I have has been a foreign concept. Still, I'm enjoying it!

The classes here are structured very differently compared to SF State. The humanities courses consist of two major assignments and a final paper, wrapping up at the end of October, while my business class has weekly assignments, a major paper, and a final exam in mid-November. It certainly puts a lot of pressure on the big assignments! My online journalism class is a bit different than I was expecting: it's pretty much centered around creating a blog site, crafting two well-researched blogs per week, and ending with a final 1,400 word feature story. It's been fascinating to learn about the medium and I've gained a whole new respect for it, and as a bonus, I've found that I reflect more deeply on my experiences when I write about them. What a concept.

My Aboriginal representation class has been very eye-opening, showing me a whole new side to Australian history that I probably wouldn't have been nearly as aware of had I not taken the class. The case studies we've read, movies we've watched, and class presentations we've listened to have made me realize how unfairly Indigenous Australians have been portrayed and how, even under current government regulations, their situation has not improved much. For my final paper, I'm thinking about writing about the Stolen Generation - the period during which white settlers kidnapped Aboriginal children from their families and set them up in Christian camps in order to "purify" the race and instill white values within them. (The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, publicly apologized to all Aboriginal families for this earlier this year.)

My international business class has been great, but I just spent a week writing a 3,200 word paper about importing water-saving bathroom technology into Japan from my hypothetical Australian company, citing the political risks and business opportunities available there, and creating a four-year financial forecast. It was fascinating to learn about Japan's water conservation policies and the country in general. Consider this passage from my paper: "Statistics in 2007 show that 91.5 percent of households are equipped with a flushing toilet, and 95.8 percent have a bath or shower. Toilets alone account for 28 percent of household water use, but by using a water-efficient toilet, a family of four can save the equivalent of a bathtub of water every two days, totaling approximately $115 per year." (I know you're intrigued.) Fascinating as it was, putting the paper together took forever and I'm more ready than ever for some solid beach time.

I'm officially on spring break for the next two weeks and am heading to Cairns on Monday for some Great Barrier Reef snorkeling and (careful) sunbathing, then we're working our way down the coast towards Brisbane/the Gold Coast, Byron Bay, and back down to Sydney. Bonnie and I have booked some places to stay, researched the sightseeing opportunities available, and just need to throw our bikinis and sunscreen in our suitcases and hit the road!

You know me - I'll bring back stories.

Posted by Alykat 20:43 Archived in Australia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Happy Spring!

soooo two and a half weeks later...

sunny 17 °C

Wow, haven't written anything for a while - sorry about that! No wonder this feels a little ancient...

It's finally spring in Australia and that means two important things: WARM SUN (so far we've been lucky) and...SPRING BREAK!! I know I know, most American universities are gearing up for the start of the fall semester and I'm already planning my break. Suckers. Anyway, I have two weeks off in late Sept/early Oct for break, so after throwing around ideas and looking at lots of student trip packages, I decided I wanted to spend my break traveling the eastern coast and especially hit up the Great Barrier Reef. Bonnie was thinking the same thing, so last week we finally sat down with our computers and booked a flight to Cairns, then bought a Greyhound bus pass from Cairns to Sydney. Basically, we're going to fly to Cairns early on in the break, spend a few days there, then bus it down to Airlie Beach (two hours south; a gorgeous area and the central place for people to access the reef) to stay with Paul in the BEACH HOUSE he rented for the week. We'll have the whole first week to snorkel around the reef, chill on the beach, sail around the Whitsundays (74 breathtaking islands near the reef), and enjoy the nightlife. I may never leave.

We have the beach house until the 27th (Saturday), so when Paul heads back to Sydney, Bonnie and I will board the bus and head down the coast. There are 15 stops between Airlie Beach and Sydney, but we're thinking about stopping to check out Noosa (ritzy resorts and nice beaches), Hervey Bay/Fraser's Island (biggest sand island in the world!), Brisbane/the Gold Coast and Surfer's Paradise (a guy I met in SF last semester actually lives there and he's been giving us ideas on where to go), then down to Byron Bay (great surfing), possibly hit some other surf spots, then on to Sydney! We're being pretty spontaneous about this trip, but I think that'll make it all the more memorable. Gear up for the stories and photo albums to follow (I'm considering setting up a Flickr account or something.)

In early August, I purchased a concert ticket to Homebake, a music festival featuring Australian artists (The Vines, Sneaky Sound System, Crowded House, The Potbelleez, etc.) that's held at The Domain (a big field near the Royal Botanical Gardens) in December. The fact that I even got a ticket was amazing: the concert sold out in a record-breaking TEN MINUTES. Since then, I've been raiding my friends' computers for local music. Awa knows a lot about the Aussie music scene and Paul's been brushing up on his knowledge as well, so between them I've learned a lot about the Homebake artists and about other festivals coming this summer (soooo excited!) My friend James hooked me up with a ton of albums and random singles he thought I'd like last week, and Matt's collection gave me even more Aussie tunes (Faker, The Wombats) with a few English and American artists (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Strokes) thrown in as well. Let's just say I'm getting a musical education here. :)

Last weekend, Geegal hosted the inFusion festival, where several students prepared dishes from their native countries, participated in a cook-off and a photo competition, danced, sang, etc. It was cool to see so many nations represented and try all their food, most of which was delicious. I didn't contribute anything American (what would I have brought, hot dogs and hamburgers? Haha), but I did help my friend Dylan prepare his appetizer (essentially white bread with cream cheese, bacon and a girkin - sounds weird, but it's actually not bad) and I tasted his cook-off entry: kangaroo meat pie (very tasty; he received an Honorable Mention). Janett, Kevin and I decided to walk off our huge lunch afterwards, so we headed up to Victoria Park and walked around the University of Sydney. This place looks like an American ivy league university, or a spread-out version of Hogwarts - either way, it's absolutely beautiful. That night, we celebrated Matt and Anja's 20th birthdays with a big party in Geegal before heading out to a club/bar called Jackson's on George St. It was fun to get dressed up and party with so many of my friends in one place, but man were we tired the next day!

This past weekend was pretty epic: on Friday, Bonnie and I ventured out to Bondi Beach for Artie's birthday party (Artie is a fellow SF State student who lives in a sweet house five minutes from the beach - with seven flatmates.) It was a costume party, so we went as retro/70s girls, which basically consisted of Bonnie wearing red American Apparel pants, a leather jacket and a scarf wrapped around her head, and me wearing a flowy yellow hippie-ish dress with boots and a couple bright scarves. No one believed we had dressed up at all, but it was still a lot of fun. I was able to meet tons of new people and score an invite to a Bondi BBQ - yes!

On Saturday, Bonnie, Artie and I went to Biennale, a free contemporary art festival on Cockatoo Island (which reminded me a lot of Alcatraz - probably because it used to be a prison.) There were chalk portraits, films, papier-mache looking sea creatures suspended from the ceiling (god I'm deep...) and this one display that featured a bunch of boat sails draped around the room (we spent a long time in that room). Some of the art was really strange and accompanied by creepy music, but we had a blast walking through the galleries and taking our own "artsy" photos of each other. I encourage you to check out the website: http://www.bos2008.com/app/biennale

I've also had class, but there's nothing worth mentioning about that. We're still blogging in Online Journalism, discussing Aboriginal representation in movies and literature (actually, that's pretty interesting to talk about, but not in class), and I'm gaining a better understanding about international business (despite the fact that I had to call my dad to help me with a homework assignment last week!) My professors are decent, but everything's just so darn laid back! I have three big assignments in each class (little weekly ones in business) and THAT'S IT. I'm not used to having so much free time...

For the most part, I'm adjusting to the "no worries" lifestyle. I admit, it gets frustrating when I can't find a store that sells q-tips (a random challenge) or don't know how to recharge my phone with more minutes, but in the end I realize it's all a learning experience. I know I can get through all the necessary adjustments and learn to live here comfortably.

Even though I'm older than a lot of my friends in Geegal (some are in their early 20s, but a lot are 19-20), I feel WAY younger in terms of cultural experience. I have friends who have traveled or studied abroad (as high school students) all over Europe, Asia, Africa, and friends who speak multiple languages fluently. It makes me realize how sheltered I've felt living in the US, where I haven't even visited three quarters of the states and haven't been in many situations where I've needed to speak in anything but English. Granted, it's much easier in Europe to hop from country to country, but I still wish I had a few more stamps in my passport. In due time!

Posted by Alykat 00:01 Archived in Australia Tagged events Comments (1)

Rugby/Anthropology/Music

a busy week in review

sunny 20 °C

I spent the last week participating in all sorts of activities; some very Aussie, and others that only the international students cared to do. The easiest way to talk about everything is to simply recap my week, so here we go!

SUNDAY: Went to my first ever rugby game!! My friend Charlie gets free tickets from work, so he took Matt, Nizam, Bonnie, Mo (a new German friend) and I to the Parramatta Eels v. Sydney Roosters game. I'm still surprised how much I enjoyed it considering I'm not a big American football fan, but the way it's played is fascinating. It's much more fast-paced than football (they don't stop the clock every time there's a tackle or the ball changes possession, so you know the game is only going to last 80 minutes) and more nerve-wracking because the players don't wear ANY helmets or protective gear. I've watched a few games over at Bonnie's (because Matt and Charlie live there too and they're really into it) so I understood most of the plays, but luckily Matt sat next to me and answered all my questions. The game was close, but because the Roosters' last "try" (touchdown) didn't count, the Eels took the win 28-24.

MONDAY: Today I battled the morning train commute and started my internship at Eventful Management, a company who plans annual conferences for big corporate companies (similar to what my cousin Tara does). The conferences usually center around different aspects of the SAP-technology program and how to best utilize it within the company, but they also address "hot topics" within the office and provide opportunities for businesses to network with each other. To be honest, I arrived thinking I was going to be planning some company's Christmas party on a yacht in Sydney Harbour (to which I'd be invited, of course) but instead I spent my first day writing birthday cards for conference-goers (EM is all about the personal touches - so cute) and arranging accommodation for the upcoming conference in October. On my lunch break, I walked around the neighborhood - cute shops and small beachy houses with a killer view of the harbour (the office is in McMahons Point in North Sydney, just over the Harbour Bridge. Awesome location.)

TUESDAY: Went to Manly. See previous post for extensive details.

WEDNESDAY: Had class from 2-5 (nothing noteworthy happened before then) and then attended the screening of an Aboriginal film called "This Is Our Country Too" with Mo. The 80-minute film was a documentary shot in Alice Springs (in the country, towards the outback), Darwin and the Northern Territory (NT), detailing the lives of the Aboriginal people (Australia's first inhabitants wayyy before the English settlers; they make up 5% or so of the country's total population) who live there. The footage was incredible - the dispossession (small tin shacks for 16 people, kitchens with no walls, and whole families crammed into one bedroom), the government regulations (signs banning liquor and pornography in Aboriginal camps, and half of the support money they receive comes in the form of vouchers they can only spend at two grocery stores or Kmart) and the discrimination they face (a lot of the information non-indigenous Australians receive about Aborigines comes from the media, who often portray them as helpless drunks.) Probably the most cogent interview was with a two-time Vietnam war vet named Geoff Shaw (at this point, I was so moved by the film I grabbed a little notebook from my purse and started jotting down notes and quotes - hello, dorky journo student): "The quarantine law gives me the shits - I can't even do what I want in my own country. I can't even have a beer." It was shocking to see that this is happening in a country as progressive and friendly as Australia, but it's not the case with all Aboriginal people: many live and work in the cities too. I'm glad to be taking a class about Aboriginal people and their representation this semester so I can learn more about it.

On a lighter note, a group of us went out to a pub near campus for the UTS European Society's kickoff party that night and had a great time meeting all sorts of new people!

THURSDAY: Before my business tutorial, I met up with my friend Aimee at a coffee shop. Aimee is a UTS journalism student who studied at SF State last fall and was in my Magazine Writing class, so we had a grand time comparing the journo departments and cities over our flat whites. Similar to the response I've gotten from other Sydneysiders, Aimee loooved SF and wants to go back after she graduates in December (ahhhh!) She also told me about some fabulous magazine internships she's pursued and that I should try for in Sydney, so there's my next project!

FRIDAY: Hung out with Anja and discovered a hidden grocery store under the Broadway Shopping Centre. Not particularly noteworthy, but it was fun! That night, my SF friend Paul and I went out and joined a pub crawl around Surry Hills, an artsy neighborhood that's been likened to the Haight in SF.

SATURDAY: Went to Matt's soccer game (he plays for UTS) and finally saw the Kuring-gai campus (there's only about 500 students there studying sports management, business, nursing, etc. It's far removed from North Sydney and looks like it's set in a jungle.) The uni sports here are very different from the US: practices aren't mandatory (or at least Matt doesn't go, and he's a starter), the referees are players from the reserve teams (I think it's like the JV team), and the players aren't all UTS students (some are, but others are graduates with families, and one guy apparently goes to the Univ. of Sydney!) I'm not sure this is the case with all sports (my other friend plays volleyball for UTS and practices every day...) but it still seems way less competitive than American uni sports. Anyway, UTS lost 2-1, but Matt played great.

That night, I met up with fellow San Franciscans Bonnie and Paul to talk about American politics (haha) before heading out to the Ladyhawke/Van She concert! The music was cool - a techno/electronic dance-type I didn't really listen to in the states - and there were DJs spinning between sets. The crowd was pretty chill and everyone was dancing, so the atmosphere made it even better. Afterwards, we headed to the Wallaby Bar in Darling Harbour to meet up with our friends...at 2 a.m. Sydney has certainly turned me into a night owl!

Aaaand now that it's Sunday, I'm going to dive head first into my essay.

Posted by Alykat 00:52 Archived in Australia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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