First of all, sorry for not being able to post for a while! I’ve been without decent wifi for two weeks now… so here’s my first days in Australia!
It was really weird leaving New Zealand and my group of friends that I had just made to head straight to Australia and start all over again, but I was also extremely happy my time abroad wasn’t over yet (yes I’m spoiled). So I waited in anticipation outside the Brisbane airport baggage claim to meet everyone after spending the night in a motel in the city and start a whole new adventure. It was odd meeting that many people all over again, but it helped distract me from the fact that I already missed New Zealand and all the great friends I made there. This Australia program will be 5 weeks long and we’ll be travelling all over the continent (woohooooo more time in a plane) from everywhere like Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef! Unlike the New Zealand program, this trip is through a non-UF program called the Education Abroad Network. I will be studying Wildlife Conservation with a group of 30 students from all over the world like Canada, Mexico, China, and all kinds of US universities.
After 2 hours of bus driving and socializing, we got off and unpacked at our hostel in Byron Bay, by far one of the most charming places I’ve ever visited. Everyone in the town is dressed all boho-chic or just barefoot with dreadlocks and are extremely friendly. I could definitely see myself living there one day, everyone is so relaxed and it was such a perfect little beach town!
I was pleasantly surprised that our first day of the program included a hike on the nearby trail up to the lighthouse along the coast! It was a beautiful walk along the beach and then quite the climb up to the top, but it was so incredibly worth it. Byron Bay is the eastern most point of the continent so humpback whales could be seen off the coast along their migration route! We spotted 5 whales, some dolphins, and even a wallaby on the side of the cliff?! That’s the kind of stuff I live for. Instead of going back down to the hostel to chill before our orientation lecture began, I found 2 other students who wanted to stay until sunset and it was the best decision I have ever made. We sunbathed in the grass and got to know eachother which was cool because both were from Canada, and one had recently moved there from the UK so I got to listen to all of my favorite accents with a wonderful view (YAY). Along the way back down the trail, we stopped at an overlook and decided to go off the beaten path despite the incoming tide because hey, it’s all about the photo opportunities right? So we went rock climbing and therefore made it the best first night in Australia possible.
At our hostel, there was a huge outdoor patio for socializing and I had a lot of fun just meeting all of the other travelers staying there. Everyone I met were from all kinds of different places from Germany to China to Canada and all had their own background and story they seemed to love sharing. Lots of them had come to the area for the surf community and ended up staying for months instead of a week long vacation, now working as tour guides or management staff and getting accommodation for free! (Watch out mom and dad… they told me all the tricks about how to turn vacations into permanent residency). Although New Zealand kiwis are extremely sweet and generous, Australians seem to be a lot more outgoing and talkative so far, which is cool!
Saturday morning was filled with excitement as we started our kayaking excursion in some questionable weather. The wind was whipping and the waves were huge along the coast, plus we were told that great white sharks were common in the area, making a relaxing kayaking trip turn into quite the adventure! My kayak partner and I were so incredibly close to flipping our kayak as we paddled full speed ahead onto the beach and a wave big enough to surf on came up behind us and put us parallel with the coast. We were literally teetering on the top of a surf wave…. But we somehow made it out alive!
Sunday was the day of our rainforest walk 2 hours out of Byron Bay near Mount Warning. We put on all of our chilly hiking gear for a rainy day and started our trek through rainforest even older than the Amazon! Hard to believe it, but Australia’s Outback used to be an expanse of giant rainforest and our hike was through one of the remaining spots. We stopped for lunch in a little village called Nimbin on the way back, which turned out to be a lot like what I imagine a hippie commune would be like. It was quite the cultural experience. The locals were on every street corner offering illegal substances which we politely refused but it was funny to see a part of Australia I was not expecting! Later that night we gathered up a group of us to go explore the town and ended up at a restaurant/ bar with a local singer. Although the place was filled with elderly people, we decided to join in with the Motown jams and dance our hearts out.
Monday morning we had class again before being set free to go souvenir shopping and beach relaxing. A group of friends and I went out to lay in the sand while the boys decided to go swimming in the freezing water. It was nice to just sit in the sand and watch all of the locals living their lucky lives as surfers.
Tuesday we had class again and learned a lot about Australian aboriginal culture as well as wildlife and land management. After making lunch, we walked right outside of town for a hike through Arakwal National Park and to another beautiful beach and then to lunch. Being a beach bum, I went back to the beach with a couple others for our last night and did some stargazing.
Headed to Kakadu National Park in the Top End tomorrow, so far Australia rocks!