Our traveling foursome touched down to a friendly welcome by Alli’s local friend Leon who greeted us with an impressively constructed pickup sign and a free ride from the airport into Melbourne. Once in a quiet neighborhood, we each tried our hand at driving a car on the other side of the road. This was a first for me – it was odd to say the least. After some cheap pizza, gelato, and meeting Alli’s Aussie boyfriend Josh, we settled in for our
first low-key evening in the comfort of a home.
The next day we set out energized and excited to explore the trendy “second city” of Australia. We found Melbourne to have a lot of character – which we gladly met with a lot of shopping! After really splurging on some much-needed Aussie fashion, we walked the many alleys of Melbourne – a staple of the city. The alleys are more like works of art, each colorfully painted with both amateur and professional graffiti-style work. The walls are a
symphony of rainbows which embody this eclectic city – they wind all throughout the city and lead to new streets with hidden cafes and boutiques. I couldn’t get enough! We spent the day exploring these bustling alleyways, making our way to the city center and famous square – home to the Finder’s Street Station and river walk where we took in the views of the unique skyline dotted with edifices both old and new.
We slugged down some crisp pear cider beers on the river, ate at
the chic restaurant where Alli worked, and spontaneously decided to take advantage of a deal at a training beauty salon – getting our hair done for just twenty bucks a piece. Score!
Brooke, Meg, and I left undoubtedly jealous of Alli’s perfectly curled tresses.
The drinking festivities began early with a get together at
Alli’s house where Americans joined Aussies in a traditional pre-game party complete with card games and chugging contests. We wearily tasted the Australian staple “Vegemite” to our surprising delight, then hit the streets for some local hotspots. Most memorable was a hidden club in an alleyway which used to be an insane asylum. Good times. We went bar hopping, made our way through Chinatown, and ended the night at a London-style pub.
The following day we rallied to explore more of this vivacious metropolis. After indulging at a Pancake Parlor and watching some live street performers, we ventured a bit outside the city to one of the weekend markets, where among the maxi dresses and wax candles we were suddenly met with a deathly hailstorm. The tin roofs of the market shook as the clouds chucked golf ball-sized hail at to the earth. Water rushed through the ground causing mini rivers standing as obstacles in our way to find Alli and Josh who we, of course, had lost. Among the chaos and frenzied shop owners, we managed to score a few free candles out of the ordeal– and ultimately found our lost twosome after about an hour of absurdity. Now there’s an adventure…
After drying off back at the house, we enjoyed pregame party number two with new Aussie pals Leon, Ned, Ben, Alex, and Nick, and Josh. Our last night in Australia was spent bar hopping, watching a live band, and downing greasy fast food in the middle of the night. The next rainy morning we took the train around town for the last time and I tried a traditional Australian meat pie before packing up and heading to the airport.
We said our goodbyes to Alli and nearly missed our flight to Sydney which would have meant no USA for us. Thank goodness Meg had her running shoes on as she sprinted to the foreign terminal to beg for a last-minute flight change – which the airline graciously granted after seeing her distraught American frown. We cozily settled in for our 20-plus hour flight to Chicago, exhausted from our jam-packed journey. It had been the trip of a lifetime indeed. Maybe someday I will return to this world away from home, but for now, “Good day, Mate”.
For Photos from Australia, visit the Photos Page or click here!
Spotting the aqua blue water from the plane window made it real… I was heading to paradise. Brooke, Meg, Alli and I landed safely at the tiny airport in the middle of the rainforest. We grabbed our luggage off a rusty cart before cabbing it in the rain to Airlie Beach about an hour away, taking
in views of green shrubbery and rainclouds hovering above volcanic mountains along the way. Upon arrival at the hostel, we didn’t know if we had entered a backpackers’ haven or summer camp. Rows of colorfully painted log cabins wound through the jungle – ours tucked deep into the trees boasting about eight bunks. We quickly met some international friends sharing our bungalow and headed off (after a much-needed shower) to explore the tiny beach town.
Airlie Beach is basically a resting point for backpackers about to sail the tropics and dive the famed Great Barrier Reef. It has all the essentials – lagoons and pools at which to chill during the day, restaurants and cheap bars, and some gorgeous views of the ocean. We explored, swam, laid out, met some friends, and booked our three day sailing trip which would commence the next day. We enjoyed some surprisingly yummy Chinese food at a
rooftop restaurant, followed by some surprisingly disgusting wine spoiled by the sun. That night, many pitchers of Snakebites later, (delicious red mix of lager
and cider), we were teaching foreigners drinking games parked on a picnic bench in a packed backpacker bar. The night concluded at a club Mama Africa where we
sipped fruity cocktails and showed off our moves on the zebra-striped dance floor.
The next morning Meg, Brooke and I, still not quite used to the time difference, woke at 7am and decided to go for a walk along the beach. We
were disappointed by some heavy rain, and prayed to the Aussie gods that this go away before our sailboat departed the harbor. Alli met up with us for some indulgence in a calorie-packed breakfast before some pool time/packing up for our trip and stocking up on cheap beer. 60 beers and some hard liquor should do the trick
right? Little did we know we’d have to take the shoelace express all the way to the harbor on the other side of town. (Lugging the many cases of beer in the hot sun is not my fondest memory of Airlie Beach.) There were no complaints,
however, as the sun had finally made its entrance – and at the perfect time.
Satisfying our inner wanderlust, we anxiously boarded our 83-foot vessel dubbed “The British Defender” where we would live the next few days. We and about 25 other backpackers from around the globe would embark on this sailing trip around the eighty-plus Whitsunday Islands. We made new friends from Ireland, England, France, Sweden, Scotland, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and more… and made particularly close ties with UK mates Tom,
Ryan, and Neil who would keep us laughing the whole trip. The crew of three wasted no time leaving the harbor and setting sail towards, for me, the unknown. Our eclectic gang was instructed to sit port side, feet dangling off
the edge just inches from the blue water as we glided through the waves and passed gorgeous island after island. The jutting islands were endless… I could look at that view forever. We celebrated with some cold beers and even got a chance to help by raising the main sail and directed the schooner. After a few hours and about 50 photos, the sun began to drop and the sky began to change accordingly as though it were a choreographed performance. Our crew nestled
itself amidst a cove of picturesque islands and dropped anchor for the night. That evening under the stars is one I will never forget. We took turns playing our I-Pods and dancing to songs from everyone’s countries, and stayed up drinking and partying until our sleepy eyes forced us in the cabin to our pint-sized beds.
Waking the next morning to a sunrise on the Great Barrier Reef was definitively my favorite moment in Australia. I brushed my teeth with a water bottle and washed it down with a coffee. We were all peacefully euphoric
as we ate our gourmet breakfasts, (all of our delicious meals were cooked in the cabin by crew member, the fabulous Lou), and freed the anchor to explore some
beaches. First we sailed to the famed Whitehaven Beach, home of secluded white sand beach and amazing views. It is rated one of the top beaches in the world, and for good reason. Our crew were the only people on the beach that day, which made it feel like we were the only people in the world – in our very own slice of paradise. We took some of my all-time favorite photos, explored the long beach, and swam in the shallow blue waters in our embarrassing yet buoyant full-body wetsuits, (to protect from jellyfish season).
After a few hours and a short dingy ride back to the British Defender, we set sail for a scenic cove boasting lively coral home to thousands
of colorful fish… making it a perfect place to snorkel. Snorkel we did – and I couldn’t get enough! I followed around a giant Maori-head fish (named “Elvis”) that was honestly larger than the size of my body… and found myself venturing further and further from the crowd – in a moment of pure serenity in this amazing underwater world. I peeked my head up once to get my bearings and noted two things: 1) I was the only person still in the water; 2) my sailboat was much tinier than I had remembered. Shit. Thank goodness my crew didn’t forget me, so I paddled my way back to the boat to the laughs of my sun-bathing friends.
Another tasty dinner, impressive sunset, and drunken party night later, we sailed back towards land mid-day much to our dismay. After seriously considering quitting our jobs in America and becoming professional beach bums, we reluctantly bid adieu to our crew and had a last ocean side supper with our three English shipmates. Though we were less-than-thrilled to be leaving the
tropics, our trip was not over.
We headed to the airport to fly south into Queensland, home of the exciting city… Melbourne.
I had been counting down the days for months. It was the most expensive thing I had ever bought ($1,350.00 round trip flight) and the farthest I would ever have traveled from my hometown. In February of 2010, it was time for one of my greatest adventures yet… Australia! My friend Alli had moved there for a year starting that August, the ‘free bird’ she is, which gave pals Meghan, Brooke, and I the perfect excuse to loosen the purse straps and embark on the trip of a lifetime. Four best friends exploring the Land Down Under? We couldn’t wait. So we left snowy Chicago one early morning in February to board our first flight which would travel 5 hours to San Francisco, then another 15 hours to our destination across the globe. One panicked moment of confusion with the visas and an easy flight to California later, we were half-awake at 1am sprinting
through the massive airport terminals of the San Francisco airport… trying desperately to catch our pricey flight, the wheels eager to take off. About a mile of sprinting later, we made our flight by just minutes. Sigh. Water, please?
The flight itself was smooth and painless. Us three slept as though we were drugged, and when I caught my first glimpse of the Australian coast out the foggy window, my heart skipped a beat… we had arrived! We anxiously hauled our ridiculously over-sized suitcases to the train, exchanged our currency for the rainbow money the Aussies use, and stepped outside 45 minutes later to a sunny morning in the heart of Sydney. We could not contain our excitement when we saw the famed Sydney Bridge, standing tall in its glory signifying we had traveled to the other side of the world. We waited around with no cell service until finally we saw Alli running towards us… it had been months! Our obnoxious reunion ended after several minutes of screaming and jumping, and we bused it down to the legendary Bondi Beach where we would stay for the night.
We wasted no time in checking in to our dorm-style beach
bungalow, changing into swimsuits, and hitting the famous beach in epic weather. Bondi Beach seems to have two rules: 1) you cannot be any older than twenty-eight; 2) your swimsuit bottoms must be up your ass. We rented surfboards and posed as local trendy Aussies. My surfing was not as spectacular as I had
dreamed, (a bit scary in fact) – but I rode a few waves on my knee and stood up a couple of times. Good enough for me, so I guess my “Blue Crush” on Kate Bosworth in the splendid film was… ‘crushed’. Brooke unfortunately faired the worst. After mere moments in the salty ocean and one board-to-the-face later, she was back on land holding her lip together amidst gushing blood. (Let’s say it was a shark bite to add an excitement factor to this story). Alli played
nurse as she and Brooke found a local hospital for stiches while Meg and I laid out in the hot sun. We are such great friends…
Our newly tanned foursome later enjoyed the amazing rooftop views from our hostel, then showered up for a night downtown. We enjoyed a stylish dinner and burgers the size of our heads… then made our way to the streets.
Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by drunk teens and raging party goers –
crowded beyond belief amidst sparkles, rainbows, and nakedness. It was “Mardi Gras” that evening – which is the gay pride parade of Sydney – and we abidingly joined right in. We passed lines of people standing on milk cartons to watch the outrageous parade going on throughout the city – complete with S&M
shows and topless performers. We finally found a less festive bar dubbed ‘Mr. Pong’ where I brought some American talent rivaling locals in ping pong games. It wasn’t too much longer before our jet lag forced us back to the hostel for our first night of sleep in Australia.
We woke early the next morning to relocate to a second hostel in The Rocks area on the other side of town. I tried some traditional Aussie “brekkie” similar to that in London, (I noted many similarities between the UK
and Australia when there – due to obvious reasons), and got psyched for what I had been waiting for… the Sydney Bridge Climb! Call it a bit touristy or over-price, but I will vehemently disagree. We struggled with the idea of
forking over the big bucks to embark on the climb, but in the end are so pleased we experienced this moment of a lifetime. We succumbed to the undeniably dorky jumpsuits they made us wear, and were breathalyzed for high alcohol levels. Then we entered the practice gym where we rehearsed how to maneuver the contraption each of us sported on our belts which you drag along the bridge
railings the whole way up. After getting an A+ in training, we were off!
Each of us got headphones which our guide spoke in to most of the way up, telling the history of the bridge and city itself. Meanwhile, we would
follow each other through dark tunnels and up and down steep ladders just to reach the bridge entrance. We walked carefully up the MANY stairs on the top of the bridge, looking down at the cars zooming by beneath our feet. Besides our
little belts holding us on, we were completely exposed to the elements. Just us, the wind, and the beautiful cityscape. The final climb up the everlasting stairs was a surprisingly intense workout – and boy were we rewarded at the top. I will
always remember standing at the very peak of the bridge, proudly out of breath from the two hour trek, gazing out at the stunning metropolis and eminent Sydney Opera House below. The guide snapped some photos, gave us some time to take it all in, and dragged us away to begin our descent on wobbly legs.
We showered off the sweat at our nearby hostel to prepare for some sightseeing. A ferry ride down the river proved to be the best way to see the Sydney Opera House, Bridge, Luna Park, and views of the city. We ate at a trendy restaurant along the river – and then were disappointed (Brooke was particularly distraught) to see the Zoo had closed before letting us play with kangaroos and koalas. Bummer. We walked to the Opera House, the structure of which is so unique. The shapes of the roof, if all put together, would form a perfect sphere. We sipped cappuccinos and watched the sun set over the bridge we had conquered just hours before. After a memorable pregame on our hostel rooftop, we let loose and went bar-hopping. At World Bar, we took rounds of shots out of teapots– and we concluded the night dancing at a packed nightclub
to Australian tunes which would become famous in America months later.
We woke early the next morning to soak up the last of Sydney. We explored the business district and some city parks before parking on a bench with coffees and fruit in front of a pretty cathedral. There was no time to
waste as we made our way to the airport for our short flight north to Airlie Beach on the East coast. We couldn’t contain our excitement for what lay ahead; it was tropical time…
To see more pictures from Australia, go to the Photos Page or click here!