Click the dots on the map above to view pictures I have taken in these locations.
It’s difficult to describe my experience in Australia in just one page. After spending a college semester there, I had had so many exciting experiences, met many great friends, and first started traveling solo. Australia is a fascinating country with an almost endless amount of unique things to do.
Before going into deeper details, here are a few of the things you must do in Australia:
- Great Barrier Reef – scuba dive or snorkel. Seeing the vast amount of wildlife is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done.
- If you’re a sports fan, go to an Australian rules football match in Melbourne. The sport isn’t too well-known worldwide, but it’s exciting enough to keep the average person on the edge of their seat.
- Explore Tasmania. I’d never seen so much wildlife without being in a zoo. Perfect place for camping and hiking. The Wineglass Bay hike is still one of the best I’ve ever done, finished with white beaches and watching dolphins swim.
- Visit the Whitehaven Beach. Located in the Whitsunday Islands, Whitehaven is the rare beach set completely in its natural setting with no buildings around. The water looks and feels like bath water, and the sand is the whitest and finest you’ll ever find.
- Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles – Seeing the rock formations of the Twelve Apostles makes you wonder how they could ever be formed that way.
- And finally, the obvious pick of Sydney with its Opera House and Harbour Bridge. View one of the world’s most famous buildings.
I studied at the University of Newcaslte, about 95 miles (158 km) north of Sydney. Newcastle is well known for its beaches and, more specifically, it’s enormous waves. These are the kinds of waves that will throw you around until you find yourself in the middle of a rip (as I know from experience). Newcastle doesn’t have a lot to offer a traveler, but it was cool to spend four months living there.
Flying in Australia was an experience I’ve never had anywhere else. Not only did Jetstar have absolutely incredible deals (I once bought a round trip ticket from Newcastle to Brisbane for $50 USD), but not once was my ID checked when flying within Australia. I was able to print my ticket, go through security, and get on the plane without showing my ID once. This was even in 2009, much longer after US airline security was tightened. I am not sure if this still happens in Australia, but you can imagine how shocked I was at the time.
Sydney is Australia’s largest city and has many areas worth checking out. The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge area is a must. You even take a tour to climb up the towering Harbour Bridge, if you’re into that sort of thing. The Royal Botanical Gardens are worth walking through and provide spectacular views of both the Opera House and Habour Bridge.
For one entire afternoon, I decided to start out at Bondi Beach and walk along the paved path winding around several beaches. It’s a heavily traveled path, but it provides great views out into the ocean and lets you see just how good some of the surfers are. Darling Habour is a nice place to spend an evening if you want to eat out, see a movie, visit the aquarium, or just people watch.
After a long weekend in Melbourne, I had a new favorite city. The city’s architecture felt like Europe but with an Australian accent. Small back streets lead to quaint cafes with baristas welcoming you with a friendly “G’day”. Abstract art is spread throughout the city to the point where you don’t even recognize it. And the Aussie Rules Football league keeps all sports fans busy.
Aussie Rules Football is a sport I had never heard of until I went to Australia. I happened to see it on TV a few times while living in Newcastle, and I was intrigued. It’s a combination of rugby, soccer, and basketball, as crazy as that sounds. It’s too complicated to explain here, so look you can learn more here. Essentially, the whole match is a wild scramble for the ball which is either being kicked up punched, as the players try to kick it through the upright posts.
I knew I had to go to a match while in Melbourne, being the Aussie Rule Football capital and all. I ended up at a match between St. Kilda and Western at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. I knew nothing about either team, but I was at the edge of my seat the entire match. The players are extremely athletic. It’s just plain fun to watch. Anyone who is a sports fan must watch a match in Melbourne!
While in Melbourne, I had one of those traveler moments when you realize why you travel. I was looking to tour the Great Ocean Road, a winding route along the ocean going west of Melbourne. A month earlier, I met a Canadian on a tour in New Zealand who happened to be studying in Melbourne. He told me about a friend driving the Great Ocean Road that weekend, as well as camping and seeing the Twelve Apostles. Of course this was something I couldn’t refuse. With the Australian driver and three Taiwanese, we made the trip along the curvy road with views of the vast ocean. We camped within 500 meters of the ocean, the first time I ever went to sleep hearing the crashing of waves. We awoke early the next morning to catch the sun rise over the Twelve Apostles. These are standalone limestone rock stacks that were formed from erosion over many years. Impressive in itself, but even better at sunrise as the sky quickly changes colors from black to yellow.
Tasmania is widely known for the famous Tasmanian devil, which are becoming more and more rare. But Tasmania has much more to offer than just its carnivorous marsupial. Many flights fly from mainland Australia to Hobart, a humble city in the southwest part of the island. Because we came for the nature, my friends and I rented a car in Hobart to find our way around the island.
To this day, some of my most memorable hiking was done in Tasmania, specifically in Freycinet National Park. The main hike in Freycinet is to the top of a lookout point with stunning views of Wineglass Bay, which gets its name from the “stem” shape the land makes along the water. From the lookout, it’s possible to hike down to the beaches on Wineglass Bay, where we saw both wild wallabies and dolphins. The contrast of the colors are absolutely incredible. From the dark blue deep ocean waters, to the shallow turquoise water, to the blinding white sandy beach, light blue sky, and the green that is made up of forestry. It’s a place where you’ll want to sit and stare for hours, and you probably will after you arrive.
A very unique experience I had in Australia was living in a campervan for two weeks. Flying up to Cairns, a friend and I rented the campervan (think minivan that can fold into a bed in the back seat) and drove along the coast down to Brisbane. Along the way, we slept in the van along the road, in rest areas, or in parking lots. We cooked most of our meals from the propane stove built into the back of the van. We showered in campgrounds, public showers, and wherever else we could find fresh water. All we were missing was the Volkswagon symbol on the van. Renting this van was an awesome way to travel. We had the freedom to drive where we wanted, and we were able to avoid the cost of hostels. Some of the best times were cooking with ridiculous views or waking up to a sunrise over the ocean. Many people actually purchase campervans in Australia or New Zealand and tour the entire country in this way. After doing this for two weeks, traveling in a campervan longer term has been in the back of my mind.
The highlight of this route from north to south was Whitehaven Beach on the Whitsunday Island, accessible from Airlie Beach. Although the several of the surrounding islands are filled with fancy hotels, expensive restaurants, and golf carts, Whitehaven Beach is serene and natural. The beach flaunts fine pure white sand, crystal clear water, and stretches as far as the eye can see. Just beautiful pristine beach. It’s been rated as one of the world’s most best beaches, and I fully agree with that!
There are still many parts of Australia that I haven’t explored. The country’s sheer size makes visiting a challenge. However, simply picking out the main spots and then going with the flow in-between is the best way to travel!
Links to Blogs:
- Beginning of the Australian Experience
- Dolphins, cockroaches, and spiders…oh my
- Settled Down
- Start of Week 2
- Soccer, Surfing, and Wine Tasting
- Blue Mountains Journey
- Tasmania – Your Natural State
- Australian hospitality and the Australian language
- Cairns to Brisbane
- Another End