Tag: Australia

15 years ago today…

In high school, I was in a special program and one of the classes was an economics class.  I was an absolutely dreadful econ student, but the teacher, Mr. Zinn, was really cool.  So cool, in fact, that as an alternative to all the Europe trips students could take “where you just go visit a bunch of churches” (not that there’s anything wrong with that), he was putting together a trip to Australia and New Zealand, as he had done before.  Originally, we were supposed to go in 2000, but no one would be quite ready to go in that timeframe, and plus there was the whole Sydney Olympics thing happening around the time we planned to go.  So we decided the trip would take place in July 2001.  Two students from a previous trip decided to go; and of course, my parents decided they needed to chaperone and my uncle and a friend of the family ended up joining as well.  Due to alphabetical order of last names, I was fortunately seated next to the cute guy on our trip (bonus:  he had a bag of fun size Twix bars for the flight).

On July 11, 2001, we left for our trip.  Just getting to Australia was a little more challenging than we’d anticipated; we stopped in Fiji for fuel and spent an hour circling Sydney.  After an hour, our pilot gave up and flew us to Melbourne, a city we weren’t even scheduled to visit.  No one had gotten enough sleep to be useful and yet we set out to explore the city where we’d gotten a bonus night.  I was so tired, I announced my intention to go to bed, at which point my parents insisted that that was silly and I needed to go out. I think the thing I remember most about that evening is nearly nodding off numerous times while sitting down to watch the cheesy tourist-bait movie they showed in the tower, but I’m still glad my parents had the sense to get me out of the hotel.

Uncle Ken and I in the Great Barrier Reef
My uncle and I in the Great Barrier Reef.

We spent a couple of days in Cairns, which is in a rainforest and serves as a sort of gateway to the unparalleled beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, before heading to Sydney.  I remember snippets of our time there:  The bus tour around the city to see Olympic sites, Bondi, Manly, going to the fancy jewelry store to learn about opals and buy the best ones in town, freezing as the wind blew off the water as we waited for our Opera House tour to begin, our cheeky tour guide Megan, going to the Blue Mountains despite feeling awful, going to Planet Hollywood for dinner with most of the rest of my classmates, everyone buying Australian-made cowboy hats (yeah, I have no idea why that happened).  But needless to say, the city had a hold on me. Afterward, I would tell anyone who would listen that I wanted to live there one day–if only it weren’t so far away…

me and Sydney Opera House in background 7.17.01 crop

We spent time in Auckland and Rotorua, New Zealand, where we did home stays for a night, took boats through glow worm caves and saw locals perform a haka.  Yes, the country is exactly as green and hilly and gorgeous as all the movies show it to be.  (Go see Taika Waititi’s fun and wonderful Hunt for the Wilderpeople in theaters now–there are some knockout shots.)

So how did this trip change my life?  It showed me what travel can do to you–make you obsessed with places you’ve been, where you see things both natural and man-made that you could never have imagined and you can engage with a different way of life.  And yes, I still miss Sydney (Hobart too) and want to go back even though there are so, so many places I haven’t been yet, entire continents that I haven’t even touched.  It’ll happen, one day.

me on BridgeClimb 12.25.13

How has travel changed your life?  How do you want it to?

Tuesday I got back from two days in Uluru (Ayers Rock).  In my two previous trips to Australia, I hadn’t managed to get there, so third time’s a charm, right?  It is lovely in an oddly endearing way with its scrub and desolation, beautiful in a unique and very different way to a place like Sydney, whose beauty is based on its architecture, harbor and shoreline (and maybe the people).  It’s also hot, as you would expect a desert to be in summer.  But really the star of the trip–or stars, rather–were Kata-Tjuta, or the Olgas, a rock formation whose Aboriginal name means “many heads” due to its multiple domed rocks. 

I got to Ayers Rock on Sunday afternoon and spent most of that time determining what tours to take and what to try and see.  I knew that I hadn’t given myself enough time to explore the area much, but I also didn’t relish the thought of being in a hostel in the middle of a desert for too long (don’t get me started on the hostel).  There isn’t much else to see in the immediate area of Ayers Rock; the nearest city, Alice Springs, is around four hours away.  Another national park, Kings Canyon, is three hours away.  So really, Uluru-Kata-Tjuta National Park is very isolated.  There’s nothing else out that way, so you’re going there just to see a bunch of giant rocks.  I booked a couple of tours, including an astronomy tour to take place that evening–if you’re going to be out in the middle of the desert, you may as well try to see some stars, right?  Not far from my hostel dorm, there was a lookout over Uluru and I went to check it out around sunset.  I had heard that Uluru changed colors in the light, which makes sense.  But throughout sunset, I thought it looked largely the same and I was left less than impressed.  However, the sun was setting right by Kata-Tjuta, and it was glorious.  Possibly the best sunset I’ve ever seen.  The cloud cover made for a great sunset, but the astronomy tour was cancelled that evening and I was rescheduled for the next night.

My tour Monday afternoon wound its way through the national park, spending time in the Olgas and admiring Ayers Rock from afar.  The temperature outside was roughly 100F on the ground, but during our short hike in Kata-Tjuta between Mt. Olga and another rock whose name I can’t remember, our guide advised us that it would be even hotter since the rocks would radiate the heat and the sun would be bearing down on us.  (Why do they do such tours in the middle of the afternoon, anyway?)  The hike itself was decent, aside from the insects (it’s not Australia’s spiders you need to be concerned about—it’s the number of flies), but the journey was a bit more interesting than the destination.  A lot of the area is closed due to Aboriginal cultural significance, and some areas are off-limits when it’s really hot, as was the case with the Valley of the Winds (which a fellow tourist said was far better than the hike we’d done).  After our hike, we drove around to a lookout to see Uluru at sunset while drinking wine.  I was a bit too busy with the latter and making friends with a fellow solo American female traveller to take any pictures, but I can tell you that the sunset there wasn’t that spectacular.  At sunset, it really is Kata-Tjuta that you should see.

Needless to say, I was sweaty and disgusting from all the hiking that afternoon, so my new friend let me take a shower in her hotel room.  She even gave me a bag full of fruit, some milk and a bunch of tea bags before sending me on my way to the astronomy tour.  I felt this tour was more informative and interesting than the one I took at the Sydney Observatory several weeks ago, and much smaller as well.  We didn’t see nearly as many stars as I’d hoped, as the nearly-full moon was so bright it was casting shadows.

Tuesday was uneventful since my flight was in the middle of the day, but as always, I was glad to come back to Sydney.

I look forward to my next trip to the Hunter Valley (read:  wine country) the weekend after Christmas.  Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

From DC to Sydney, Part 1

Music and travel are two of my “great loves,” you might say, and sometimes they coincide in my life, such as when I went to Asheville, NC to see Lykke Li or Denver to see New Order, or even how this blog’s name (and former name) both came from songs.  But I had never really had a “life revelation” while listening to music until I listened to the Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs in March 2011–the day that someone I loved moved away.  The revelation I had was this:  I had things I needed to do with my life before I settled down with anyone…things like moving to Australia.

I fell in love with Australia when I was there at the age of 16.  My high school economics teacher had put together a trip to Australia and New Zealand to counter all the trips to Europe, trips he termed “boring” because all you would see were churches.  I was on board, as were my parents, my uncle, and a friend of the family.  Originally, the trip was to occur in the summer of 2000, but with the Olympics happening in Sydney, we decided to push our trip back a year, also allowing ourselves more time to get money in order for the trip.

Our group got to Australia and we discovered how warm and funny the people there are.  I definitely appreciated their dry wit.  There was something about Sydney that really appealed to me though, even though I couldn’t articulate exactly what it was.  (I am a sucker for cities by the water, with the exception of my own hometown…)

After that trip, pretty much whenever Australia came up in conversation, I mentioned how much I would love to live in Sydney…if only it weren’t so far from home.  For someone who has only ever lived in one state, that’s a big commitment.  (I’m still kicking myself for not studying abroad in college.)

My college had an unusual feature called “JTerm,” which allowed students to take one or two classes or maybe get an internship during the month of January.  Many of the classes traveled abroad.  And so I found myself in Australia again in January 2007 for the “Chemistry of Winemaking” class, whereby I was lucky enough to get college credit for learning about and drinking lots of wine (that was the only way I was ever going to get a decent grade in a chemistry class).  We were in Sydney just to be there for a few days; the only scheduled events we had were in Adelaide and Melbourne.  I was so glad to be back in Sydney, and while I enjoyed Adelaide (and was even lucky enough to spend my birthday there),  for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to really like Melbourne…the surest sign I was a would-be Sydneysider, considering how the two cities have a huge rivalry.

In the past couple of years, I had given some small amount of thought to the idea of moving to Australia, but never seriously considered it.  In April of this year, I decided that if I was ever going to move to Australia, now was the time.  I finally applied and was almost immediately approved for a Working Holiday visa.  The Working Holiday visa is good for people 18-30 years of age and allows them to work, study, and have fun in Australia.  Now that I’m 28, I have very little time to waste.  In retrospect, I wish I’d gone in the second half of 2011 before I gave myself a chance to be irresponsible with some of the money I’d so diligently saved over the previous four years.  The exchange rate was more favorable then as well–now each of my American dollars will be worth a few cents less when exchanged for Australian dollars.  (As much as I wish Australia well, I do wish their dollar would fall just a couple cents more so that the exchange would be just a tad more equitable.)

But I can only keep looking forward.  I know I have a lot more research and work to do before I get to Sydney, but it’s a good goal to work toward.