Australia Wrap-Up

tower of central station
Central Sydney in the morning.

This will be my last Australia post. I think I have finally covered nearly all the things I wanted to say. There are just a few loose ends that I will sum up here.

The main takeaway is that you should definitely go to Australia. I felt like I stepped into a parallel universe where everything was the same; and yet just a bit off. It’s not like England were even the recent immigrants and decidedly English.

It’s actually shockingly like the US (in that they lack an established culture), while somehow simultaneously being nothing at all like anywhere else on Earth. I know that sounds crazy, but when you get there, you will see.

The big highlights to note from the trip are:

AUD
The bills are plastic and feature the Queen of England, and the coins are heavy and weigh you down. Still, very neat. I love foreign money.

1. Stay at YHA hostels if you are by yourself and on a budget. They are mostly wonderful, and extremely affordable. Make sure to buy through their website, and look into package deals (sometimes they run a special on a set amount of days like: 10 days for $200.)

I stayed at the YHA in Bondi Beach, Railway Station Sydney, and the one in Cairns. All were good, with the usual hostel bothers (sharing a room with a stranger) and the usual perks (kitchen to cook in and knowledgeable staff.)

Coastal Walk
Bronte Beach on the coastal walk trail.

2. Snorkeling and diving on the reef will be warm, but if you go around Manly Beach or other popular locations around Sydney (or anywhere south of Sydney); get a wet-suit. It was freezing in the middle of summer (January.)

On a side note, it was totally worth it. I hadn’t been in a cold-water environment since middle school, and the kelp dancing in the waves was magical. So were the groupers.

Blue Mountains
Kangaroos hopping away from us in a National Park.

3. Go to the Blue Mountains, but maybe not with a tour (so you can hike around at your own pace.) I am sorry to say that I can’t recommend the company I took a tour with, though maybe you’d have better luck?

However, I do recommend the Blue Mountains. The land is wide and open like Northern Arizona, and it has the same stark and empty beauty.

rainforest
Sweating up a storm in the rain forest.

4. If you’re going to Cairns for a reef tour, it’s worth it to go to the tourist town rain forest for a day. I got great pictures in Kuranda.

If you like shopping, they have oodles of that. I am not a shopping person, so we went to the butterfly garden and the wildlife park, and ate at a restaurant. The whole thing was really very nice.

We took the Skyrail up, and the train back. I definitely recommend that. Someone here in Guam told me to take a bus up to Kuranda, but if I had, I would have missed some of the best things I saw on the trip! Don’t settle for a bus. Take the Skyrail and the train. Getting there really is half the fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Angel Fish with dead coral behind it on the Great Barrier Reef.

5. I did the live-aboard through Cairns Dive Center and stayed on a boat called The Kangaroo Explorer. It was the most affordable option, but the staff was amazing and the chef was top-notch. Seriously, he blew me away with the food. I had a great time! I cannot recommend these guys enough for kindness, fun, and really creating the best experience they could for all the passengers.

However, the impression I got was that tourists only ever get to see the parts of the reef that are the most damaged, and this is both good (for the reef) and bad (for you.) So… take from that what you will. But I see better turtles and coral in Guam on a Tuesday.

Bondi Beach stop
Big Bus Tour, Sydney.

6. The Big Bus Tour was good. I mean, it’s better to see stuff by just taking the regular trains, because it is cheaper and you don’t feel rushed. However, I didn’t do it to see the sights. I did it to listen to the commentary and enjoy a day of sitting down (after all the walking as a tourist, and then all the running at full speed in the Blue Mountains.) For what I wanted it for, The Big Bus Tour was perfect.

If you, too, need a day of rest; give it a shot. You can do the central Sydney area and the Bondi Beach area all for $50 for the day. Sit on top (wearing a hat and sunscreen) for good pictures, or sit below in the AC and just watch the stuff go by.

As an aside, I have also done this tour in Paris and London. Both were good. Honestly, the Big Bus Tour was the only place I picked up those fun tourist facts (like how the guy who built Oxford Street was paid in rum because that was Australia’s first currency.) The locals don’t like to repeat that stuff over and over so they just stop telling people, but the recorded voice on the Big Bus Tour will say it over and over.

me on hill
In the Chinese Garden in Sydney.

Final Thoughts:

Most of the places I spent money on tourist stuff were great and I have almost no regrets on that score. As for the people, they were fabulous. I found Australians to be kind, well-intentioned, and welcoming. People gave me directions and helped me book trips and purchase things with ease as long as I stuck to the tourist spots.

Now, a few of the pubs I went to refused to try my (US) card and asked for cash. They were off the beaten track, and I imagine they don’t see many Americans (only 30% of us even have passports.) So, I don’t think that was too unreasonable.

Actually, I was surprised how few Americans I ran into. With the exception of the reef tour, I didn’t actually meet any at all. Unfortunately, that did not save me from having to think about Trump. Every Australian I met had a go at me for Trump. Seriously, all of them teased me about living in a country run by a madman.

Trump actually personally screwed me while I was in Australia as well. He shut down the government so that the value of the US dollar plummeted. The exchange rate (which is usually very favorable) dipped surprisingly close to 1:1. So, I guess I can’t escape US politics anywhere in the world, even down under.

edge of the world
From the Blue Mountain Tour.

Anyway, I would recommend the crap out of Australia if you were choosing a place to visit. I know the Maldives look attractive and Europe calls to everyone. I know Japan is top on all the anime-geeks lists. But, Australia has something about it that is magical, and I am really glad I took the time to go. You should, too.

And if you are worried about those stories you heard about Australia being dangerous, let me put that fear to bed right now. I saw nothing dangerous. Not one thing. Seriously, they say it’s dangerous, but it’s super tame in the cities, in the Blue Mountains, and even out on the reef.

I suppose you should take into account the fact that I grew up in Arizona (think: scorpions in your shoes, rattlesnakes with skin-rotting venom, Gila Monsters, and Tarantulas.) And, I guess, the fact that I live in Guam and am frequently harassed by Giant Beach Roaches and Huntsman Spiders here. But even so; I expected to see more dangerous stuff, and I really didn’t. I came back with a few black aunt bites, but that is all.

shirt in store
This map is full of lies. It’s actually quite safe in Australia.

Chinese Gardens

Chinese Garden
The Chinese Garden, with the city of Sydney in the background.

One of the best things in Sydney was sitting and resting by the pond at the Chinese Gardens.

Chinese Garden
A window looking out at the garden.

Granted, it’s a little odd to look at a serene garden and see skyscrapers in the background.

red window
A window in the tea house within the garden.

However, as long as you keep your eyes down and in the garden, it is really relaxing.

very pretty spot
Look out from the tea house at the pond and the viewing area across the water.

I particularly liked all the animals. None of them are in cages or technically considered part of the garden. They just visit and/or live there by choice.

Chinese Garden
An iguana in the Chinese Garden.

I saw iguanas, birds (including the much hated White Ibis,) turtles, and ducks.

Chinese Garden
A duck and a turtle in the pond.

Of course they do keep koi there, which is awesome.

Chinese Garden
Koi in the pond.

Anyway, it’s a peaceful place and there are lots of benches. I brought a book and some water, and i just hung out for awhile.

picnic spot
A viewing pavilion by the waterfall.

If you need a break, and you are tired of the hustle and bustle of being a tourist; this is the spot to visit.

me with waterfall
Me downstream from the waterfall.

 

Clovelly Bay

Clovelly Bay
Clovelly Bay, Sydney

As you know, I recently visited Australia. I already posted pictures of my snorkel adventures on the Great Barrier Reef, but I also snorkeled in Clovelly Bay, Sydney.

Clovelly Bay
Blue Grouper

It was freezing cold (to someone who lives on Guam) but I saw my first groupers outside of an aquarium, and that was magical.

Clovelly Bay
Green Grouper

I highly recommend that anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps and snorkel any of the Sydney stops from Manly Beach to Clovelly Bay to get a wet suit. I should have, but it was the middle of the summer in Australia and I thought it would be really hot.

Clovelly Bay
Cool plant life.

Turns out, that is not how Australia works. Water coming up from South America is cold year round. Now I know.

Clovelly Bay
Little Grey Fish

At any rate, it was my first time snorkeling or diving outside a tropical environment since childhood. Instead of coral, there are plants and something that looks an awful lot like moss.

Clovelly Bay
Sea Floor

That was quite different. Most of the fish were less colorful, which I expected. However, some were surprising colorful for living in cold water.

Clovelly Bay
Sea Snail

I hadn’t snorkeled in a cold environment since my trip to Catalina Bay in Middle School. I remember the huge kelp forests, and how the little orange Garibaldi fish and bright purple star fish really stuck out in the sea of greens. This felt very similar to that.

Clovelly Bay
Groupers

 

Australia


First, I am back home in Guam. We will be here until around August or September. Then we move to Oahu.

Now then:

I recently went on an Australian adventure. I will do a few detailed posts about the things I saw and did, but here is an overview of where I went.

First, I went to Bondi Beach and stayed in a hostel there. I did the coastal walk and snorkeled in Clovelly Bay with a woman from my Snorkel Travel Friends group. I explored the shops and sat and talked with people, and I had a great time.

Later, I moved to a hostel near central station in Sydney. I took the Big Bus Tour and got off to see all the major attractions like the Opera House and some of the old Cathedrals. Then I went on a Blue Mountains tour and met up with my friend Shari from Melbourne.

Finally, I met my friend Melissa and took a flight to Cairns. We went out to the Great Barrier Reef and snorkeled at several spots while living abroad a ship called The Kangaroo Explorer. After that, we went up to the town of Kurunda to see the rain forest.

My very last day was spent in Sydney watching the fireworks for Australia Day. Finally, I flew to Hawaii and then home to Guam.

Right now I am catching up on my sleep and sorting through photos, but soon I will share some of the better shots of the reef, and of my other adventures.