Securing a one year work visa Down Under can be as easy as filling out an online form in 15 minutes.
It always surprises me how many Americans don’t know about the working holiday visas down under. To be fair, I was one of those Americans too, until I took my first solo venture to Europe and made friends from a variety of different cultures. One of those friends happened to be British, and she told me about the working holiday visa she was planning on doing in Australia, and how she thought it applied to Americans too.
In an instant, the course of my life changed drastically.
Last week, to my excitement, I was nominated for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award by Amy ofGlobetrotter Guru!
How it works
The Sisterhood is a way to show appreciation of other female travel bloggers, and to connect and discover some awesome new voices in the travel blogosphere. If you’re nominated, after thanking your fellow blogger, you answer the questions they present to you. You then have the chance to nominate up to 10 other blogs and ask 10 of your own questions. Pretty cool, right?
My Questions from Amy:
1. What do you love most about Travel Blogging?
I love the freedom. Now that I’m freelancing full time, I can take off for a weekend of galavanting around the Pacific Northwest if I want. I also love sharing anecdotes and keeping friends, family, and readers up to date in the form of a story. I love to write, be free, and travel so it has turned out to be the perfect career for me so far.
2. What drawbacks are there to travel blogging that many people don’t realise?
There’s the cliche idea that travel bloggers don’t really work, they just get to go on vacation all the time, write a few articles, and take some pretty pictures. The truth is, I’ve never worked harder in my life for a job. The pay is pretty horrible and after my 20+ hours of freelancing I use most of my free time promoting my blog on social media, planning press trips, or constructing content – all of which I don’t get paid for.
Surprisingly enough, I really enjoy being a travel blogger. It’s a career that would be hard to give up, and one that requires a lot of passion to keep at it.
3. Tell me about a place have you visited with the most diverse Wildlife?
Australia is up there in terms of the diverse range of animals that can kill you, but I think my favorite animal diversity has to come from Costa Rica. Every time I would go on a hike in the forest I would come across some exotic species I had never seen up close before. And, of course, you can’t go wrong with sloths.
4. What was the most amazing Religious Site that you have ever visited?
Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and the Bayon Temple were all remarkable in Cambodia. Dragging myself out of bed in the dark morning to take a tuk-tuk to watch the sunrise over the temples was something I’m not soon to forget. Even with the hoards of tourists, there was something special and breathtaking about such ancient sites. My favorite would have to be the Bayon Temple with all of its many faces.
5. What is the best local drink you have ever had and where?
I’m going to have to keep it close to home, and say the first time I ever tried Sculpin IPA by Ballast Point when I was at college in San Diego, my craft beer world was changed.
6. What was the most amazing train journey you have ever been on and why?
To be honest I haven’t explored that much via train travel, because it tends to be more expensive than the bus in most place I’ve been. With that said, it’s hard to beat the train ride along the Southern California coast from San Diego through San Clemente and finishing in Los Angeles.
7. Tell me about the worst ‘travel scam’ or situation while travelling that you have experienced?
I’ve been fairly lucky (knock on wood) with avoiding travel scams, but there was one time in Thailand where the majority of my cash was stolen on an overnight bus while I was sleeping. Apparently, it happens all the time, especially on the buses to and from the Full Moon Party, so make sure to watch your belongings and sleep with your valuables.
8. What is your motivation behind your travel blog?
My love of travel, simple as that. I love sharing stories and perspectives with others, of course, but that’s only possible through the passion I’ve always had for discovering new cultures.
9. Where is the next place that you will visit and why?
Well, I’m touring the Pacific Northwest at the moment with my base set in Portland. I have a trip back home to California next week (and another road trip!), a trip to Montana, Idaho, and Washington in September, and I’m flying to Florida for the TBEX Conference at the end of October.
Outside of the States, my next country will most likely be Canada.
10. How can travel bloggers earn on money on the road to sustain their nomadic lifestyle?
I just started monetizing my travel blogging lifestyle so I’m still pretty new at this, but I lucked out with right away finding two stable freelance jobs that are providing me with a fairly decent part-time income at the moment.
I’m hoping in the near future to make money in more passive ways through my blog – selling photos, writing a mini-book or E-book, perhaps a few advertisements on my blog – so that I can spend more time actually writing and traveling and less time working.
In the past, I’ve always taken on a myriad of jobs to keep my travels funded, so there’s always bartending too!
I turn a quarter of a century old tomorrow. I’m in the Oregon countryside with my family and I’m just as happy as I was when I turned 21 in San Diego, 22 in Las Vegas, 23 in Melbourne, Australia, and 24 in Wellington, New Zealand.
Funny enough, this house in the country is actually where I first started this blog. I feel like I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, my immediate future is staring at me from around the corner. That future that determines so much of how my life will go.
25 sounded so old to my teenage and younger self. To my 24 year old self I still feel young, I’m at the cusp of many an exciting endeavor, I’m also in the dark of what the next year will entail.
I decided to not go straight into an intellectually stimulating (or probably more accurate, a mind numbingly) entry level job from my college graduation.
I’ve always been a worrier, someone who doubted and second guessed things. Then I took a chance and did something I always wanted to do: I moved abroad. I did it without an idea of what job I would find to keep me afloat, with which friends I would find a new perspective, with what inspiration I would find throughout the course of my two years away from home.
And in the end, it worked out just as it was meant to. As I’ve traveled up the coast of California and Oregon for the past two months, I’ve found how much I still appreciate and love my friends I knew from college, from past travels, and the new friends I’ve met through them.
How it feels like no time has passed at all. This initial veer off the idealized path has created a domino effect in my life. My passions come back to me, knock the breath out of me, I’m in love with so many things. But that’s always how I wanted to spend my life.
To me, it shows how genuinely happy I am going into this milestone birthday, how content and even excited I am with how my life is going even though I may not know exactly what I’m doing with it, or even what I’m doing tomorrow or the next day.
All I know is that music and writing have popped up time and time again through the years, and I don’t believe in coincidence.
I want to finish a master’s degree, I want to record an album and play at open mics or on the street just for the fun of it. I want to start a stellar record collection and become even broader with my music tastes. I want to write a book, to write full time for this blog. I want to become fluent in Spanish and travel to South America, go to Argentina and learn how to properly tango.
I want to take a cross country road trip with my boyfriend in our beat up van through the States and Canada. I want to settle down in Portland for awhile. I want to teach English in Japan, and live in London just to write for a summer. I want to go to concerts constantly, and festivals as much as my bank account allows.
I want to continually learn, to grow and find out how many ways I can enjoy life in the process.
In my (almost) 25 years I’ve earned my open water scuba certification, took culinary classes in Italy, traveled to 20 countries, completely started over in 4 different cities, received my bachelor’s degree in psychology, skydived over the middle of New Zealand, traveled on my own, volunteered at music festivals in Australia, fell in love with guitar, and lived.
I’ve dealt with loss, sadness, loneliness and self doubt. I’ve gone through the spectrum of emotions and come out on the other side with a sunnier disposition and an attitude that I can face anything I put my mind to.
I don’t see why I can’t do the rest of it as well, because all of those plans I mentioned before, I truly hope to one day do.
I’m finally figuring myself out: my confidence, what I love and what I don’t, what I want and what I’m willing to do to make sure my ambitions become reality.
25 is a year to not only get things done, but to enjoy it and embrace any fears or reluctances I may have. I can only imagine it’ll just get better as I get into my late 20s. So, here’s to a quarter of a century of living, and a quarter of a century to figure out where I really want to go is where I am in the present.
As Ben Howard once wrote, “Climb out. Out enough to see the curl of the world.” I’ve taken that to heart ever since.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world” – Mary Anne Radmacher
2013, to be sure, was a year to remember. I was constantly doing things and traveling, it was my first year of living abroad and everything was new and exciting.
2014 was a bit more sedated, focused on slow travel and settling down in one place for awhile.
2013 was lively and full of new experiences, but I felt burnt out towards the end of it, with so much traveling and the need to start over constantly in new places. 2014, although a nice change from the chaos of the previous year, was mainly a year of growth.
This year I finally realized how much I miss home and how ready I am to go back, at least for a little while. This year I had a lot of random misfortunes that made me find my humility again and realize that no matter how much you plan, you can never account for aspects that are simply out of your control.
This year I moved up to management in the bar world, worked full-time at one job instead of a couple of part-time jobs at the same time, and learned that I don’t function well with a high level of stress in the workplace.
I also realized that I’m not quite as ready as I thought I was to settle down right now. After finishing up my time in Sydney, and a jaunt up the East Coast of Australia at the start of this year, I moved to Wellington in April and have been living here ever since.
I was only able to take one trip since I’ve moved to New Zealand, and that trip to Taupo has been the highlight of my time here.
After jumping head first into the life of a traveler and expat, this year was a time of finding my footing again, a year to ground myself, and tackle whatever I could with what grace I had left to muster.
This year I fell in love. After leaving behind a bruised heart in San Diego, I wasn’t wanting anything of substance for a long time, by the time I arrived in New Zealand I had even convinced myself that I’m better off alone. I saw myself as a better person, friend, and more willing to step outside my comfort zone when I didn’t have anyone else to take into account besides myself.
Well, somehow I let my guard down along the way and now I find myself living with a boyfriend for the first time, and spending a lot of time with someone else.
It has truly been a year of growth. As someone who is most productive as a loner, it has been a process trying to find a balance in my life between my relationships that I hold dear and my passionate creativity that makes me who I am.
2014, you haven’t always been easy, but I’ve learned a lot from you.
Here’s my year in review:
January – Byron Bay, Sydney
January started out with a bang, ringing in the new year with my Canadian best friend, dancing to The Roots playing at Falls Fest in Byron Bay. It only seemed to get better from there with the amount of friends and new relationships I made in the month.
It was about the halfway mark for my time living in Sydney, not too close to the inevitable end date when my visa ended, but enough time under my belt to make me feel really comfortable and happy living in sunny Sydney.
Although I had to get used to humidity, it was almost perfect weather every day in Sydney, with the occasional summer lightning storm.
I took advantage of all the time off I could with taking a day trip to Manly, and an overnight trip a bit further up north in New South Wales, to see Newcastle and Terrigal.
I celebrated Australia Day for the first time, and really took the time to explore Aussie culture and the beautiful nature on hand in and around Sydney. I took advantage of the company when a couple of my friends from back home came to visit me in Sydney, and spent a day walking around the Blue Mountains with them.
“One aspect I’ve grown to love about Sydney is the amount of coastal and scenic walks at your disposal in various neighborhoods. The Bondi to Coogee walk is still a favorite activity of mine. Even though I’ve been here for three months, I still love going out there to write or just enjoy the views.” – Postcard from Manly Scenic Walk
February – Sydney
In February I delved even more into finding the best hiking trails and historical treasures on my days off. This included going to the creepy Cockatoo Island, which used to be a convict prison, and learning more about the rich convict history in Australia. I also spent a day checking out the gorgeous Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park a little ways from the city, and got lost while bushwalking in The Royal National Park.
“I’m ready for a slightly slower pace and a smaller city to while away my days for the time being. I think it’s easier in a big city to lose the essence of why we’re here to begin with, to enjoy life in the simple yet beautiful ways, withholding judgement as to what that means for some and what it could mean for others.” – Adventures in NSW: Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park
March – Sydney, East Coast Australia
My last month in Sydney was a bittersweet one. On one hand I knew I didn’t want to stay in Sydney longterm, but I also wasn’t quite ready to leave yet either.
I found myself wrapping up a romance that was harder to say goodbye to than I thought it would be. I went to my first show at the Sydney Opera House, seeing Yo La Tengo on one of my last nights in the city, and I found it to be the perfect way to say goodbye to my life in Sydney.
I took off on my own after settling down in Sydney for the last 5 months, and bussed up the East Coast of Australia, all the way up to Cairns. I couchsurfed, stayed in hostels, and tried to sleep on overnight buses as best I could.
I fulfilled my lifelong dream of scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, I was able to hold a koala and feed a kangaroo, and I tried crocodile, emu, and barracuda for the first time at a traditional Aussie barbie for my last night in the country.
I left Australia not really knowing what to expect in New Zealand, and not thinking I would spend more than a couple months in the Kiwi capital of Wellington.
“I know I’m not ready to settle. I’m inspired or not inspired by so many things pulling me in every direction. I think I can be happy everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It’s the delusions of choice my generation and nationality has given to me. It’s the fate of a Gemini and the indecisive spirt I’ve always relied on. I get flashes of the past more often these days, wondering if there’s meaning behind it or if it’s simply the necessary romantics of the road.” – Random musings over an iced lemon croissant
April – Wellington
My first month in New Zealand was filled with trying to start over and get everything sorted for my new life in Kiwi land. I found a job at a craft beer bar my first week in the city, and it only took me a few weeks more to find a cozy little house in the suburb of Newtown to move into.
I made a good few friends from the hostel I was staying at for my first month, and that was how I first explored all there was to see around Wellington: the waterfront, the cable car and lookout, the botanical gardens, and the first glimpse at my spot in Welly, Mt. Vic.
The biggest transition for me to get used to was the weather. Coming from a summer in Sydney, it was quite a change when I didn’t see sunlight for the first week and a half I was in Welly, and even then I only had about 2 nice days of weather to enjoy out of my whole first month I was there.
“Luckily, with the amount of times I have started over in new places this year, I have it down to an art on how to settle into a new city right away. The weather is much much colder than what I’m used to in Australia, I don’t think I’ve even had to wear pants in the last 6 months, but they have Tim Tams here so I think I’ll be just fine.” – My first 36 hours in Wellington
May – Wellington
I used the month of May to settle more into my new life in Wellington, and my new job at The Bruhaus. I went through management training and received my duty manager’s certificate.
I turned 24 and had one of the better birthdays I’ve had abroad with a lot of new friends to spend it with.
I explored more of my own backyard, and realized with glee just how many hiking trails and beautiful vistas there are to find around the outskirts of Wellington. I went to a lot of bays and beaches around the city, which I think was due to me starting to become genuinely homesick for the beaches back home in California.
“I’m a fan of simple aspects that happen every day, I call them daily doses of beauty. In my 23rd year, one of my favorite things was to watch the sunset and/or sunrise in every new place I traveled. Each one containing the same structure, but holding a unique awesomeness that never seemed to fade even with how many I witnessed last year.” – Take a moment to enjoy it
June – Wellington
This month was all about work, I stepped up and dived into management head on, there was a noticeable increase in stressful days at the bar. It was also the start of winter, so the weather had grown cold and blustery real quick. Luckily I had recently bought myself a onesie, so I used the weather as an excuse to curl up and read a lot of good books throughout the month.
I grew closer to my coworkers, and said goodbye to some that were going their own way. I became used to my life in Wellington, I had my own room, a full-time job, and even a guitar and ukulele to keep me happy when I wasn’t working.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter where you decide to go in New Zealand, you will be rewarded with awesome views and stunning scenery. I’m partial to coastal views especially because of where I grew up, so I’ve recently been drawn to day trips that usually have the word “bay” in them. Luckily with Wellington’s location, you’re spoiled for choice.” – A journey from bay to bay
July – Wellington
July was a month of not a whole lot, to be completely honest. It was the middle of winter now, and I was still saving up like crazy for my travels in the summer.
I celebrated 4th of July for the 3rd time abroad, and decked out the whole bar with American paraphernalia, and I was pleasantly surprised to find my coworkers just as into dressing up as I was. It was also a coworkers birthday on July 5th, so we had quite the epic night.
Even though the weather wasn’t great, I used my time to explore more of the Wellington region, and went to craft beer classes for funsies. I got together a group of friends and we checked out the quirky mini-golf and paintball industrial playground that is Carlucci Land.
“That homesickness creeps in sometimes, especially on cold nights like tonight. I think back to those warm San Diego nights, exploring beautiful beaches and eating burritos under the moonlight, swinging on a playground, laughing, trying to pick out constellations on our smartphones, and unaware of where a year and a half later would lead me, and where my heart would be.” – Walkabout: Oriental Bay edition
August – Wellington, Taupo
August was a turning point for my time in New Zealand. On the 1st, me and a group of other coworkers and friends went to a Katchafire concert at a local venue. During the concert, my coworker leaned over and decided to kiss me, and really, the rest was history from there.
My coworker’s name of course was Kendall, my best friend in New Zealand at the time, and a guy who would become my boyfriend in October. That was the start to our romance, and one that has been the highlight to my time abroad.
August was also the first time I was able to get out of Wellington properly. Me, Kendall, and another coworker, Mats, decided to take a weekend trip to Taupo, and it ended up being a great time in the little mountain town up north.
We hiked the Tongariro Crossing in the snow with ice axes and crampons, bathed in natural hot springs, and I jumped out of a plane – did I mention, Taupo is considered the skydiving capital of the world? Needless to say, it was a ridiculously good trip, and a weekend that is still one of my favorites of all time in New Zealand.
The rest of the month was filled up with attending festivals and conventions around Wellington, including the craft beer convention called Beervana, and the stellar Lux: Festival of Lights.
“In almost a year and a half now, I’ve been blessed with witnessing some of the best street art around this side of the world. I don’t know what it is about cities in the Southern Hemisphere, but there are so many that produce intriguing and talented street artists.” – A look at Taupo through street art
September – Wellington
September was when some of my luck began to change. I severely injured my achilles heel during night adventuring at Mt. Vic with a few of the guys, and it’s an injury that would give me pain and cost me quite a bit of money for the next few months.
I spent a decent amount of time off work because of my injury, and that’s when I started putting more energy into this blog, and realized that it’s an endeavor I’d like to monetize eventually.
At the start of October, Kendall and I decided to take our romance to a relationship, and we spent a hell of a lot of time together, simply happy in each other’s company.
Halloween was one of the best I’ve had in years. I somehow managed to convince everyone at work to dress up in 1920s bartender zombie wear and makeup that scared more than a few customers.
Kendall and I also went to a concert later that night, decked out in our zombie get-ups, and we were hilariously the only ones in the building dressed up for Halloween since it’s not so big of a holiday over here, but hey, at least we got a shout out from the band.
We also endured gale force winds on a daily basis as per usual for Wellington, and I realized that I’ll probably never get used to that much wind in my life.
In November I bought the first car I’ve every owned for my upcoming travels around New Zealand at the end of December and the start of January. Within two weeks, that car was totaled by a drunk driver, and I’m still currently in the long process of waiting to be reimbursed for her reckless decision.
In the short life span of that car, I managed to take a day trip to Cape Palliser to test out my skills of driving on the opposite side of the road, and to see a beautiful place that can only be accessed by car.
I entered into a beer tasting competition (can you sense a theme here with craft beer?) with a few other friends, and we made it to the top 5 in the competition, and even won a free imperial pint glass for having the best name: “I thought this was a wine tasting…”
I celebrated Guy Fawkes Day for the first time, a holiday I didn’t even know about until I moved to New Zealand. For the festivities, I witnessed some of the best fireworks I’ve seen in long time, and had some classy drinks with new and old friends over a good view of the harbor.
I also put on a proper American Thanksgiving for all of my Kiwi friends and made them personalized pumpkin pies and turkey & cranberry sandwiches.
I went back to exploring more of the Wellington coastline with walking out to the Red Rocks Reserve and getting up close and personal with some male fur seals.
“I love this area of the Wellington coastline, looking out towards the South Island, it always promises grand views and many bays, no matter what the weather may do that day. It’s also a coastal walk that’s loved by locals and travelers alike, so I’m happy I was finally able to tick it off the list” – Red Rocks and Seals, Oh My!
December – Wellington, Coromandel Peninsula, Rotorua
December has basically been a whole lot of getting ready for summer travels around New Zealand. I managed to squeeze together enough money to buy another car, and my friend from back home is about to get on a plane to come visit me. Everything is finally coming together and I couldn’t be more ecstatic.
I celebrated my first Kiwi Christmas, and actually had a great holiday with the people I was able to share it with.
For the remainder of December, I’ll be making the long drive up to the Coromandel Peninsula to check out the famous Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach, and driving through Rotorua and Hobbiton on my way back to Wellington for New Year’s Eve.
I’ll be ringing in the New Year in Wellington, and immediately from the 1st of January will be on the road for a couple of weeks. I’d say it’s a good vibe for 2015 if I’m starting out with travel from the beginning.
“And it’s important to note that I’m still incredibly grateful that my life has lead me here. For the friends I’ve made, the relationships I’ve created, and the new culture I’ve grown fond of, I don’t regret moving here for a moment.” – Walkabout: Paraparmumu Edition
I don’t have any idea what type of year 2015 will be, but I already have a lot of exciting plans for the upcoming year so I’ll take that as a good sign.
So far for 2015, January will be filled with a South Island road trip with one of my best friends from home, February will consist of the remaining travels I have around New Zealand’s North Island, and March will be my last month in the South Pacific.
From March I’ll be traveling to Hawaii, California, and Oregon on an epic West Coast road trip that will end with living in Portland, Oregon for a little while.
I’ll be posting my goals for the upcoming year in a follow up post, but let’s just say I think I’m well set-up for a good 2015, and a return to my adventurous tendencies.
Although on one hand I’m not a fan of large swarms of people, or trying to stand my ground against an unforgiving crowd, there’s also something about ideas being presented or performed in a public space that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Festivals spike my own inspiration, and remind me why I still love living in cities and why the human mind is still very much something to celebrate.
Sydney, Australia was grand for festivals when I lived there, I timed it right in arriving at the cusp of summer, and I had a great season of going to the Noodle Night Markets, Sculpture by the Sea, Tropfest (the biggest short film festival in the world), individual suburb festivals, and even the epic Sydney Festival in Hyde Park at the height of summer, which also had installations to be found all over the city.
I adore art, music, food, and creativity. Festivals generally consist of most of those things, so I guess it’s not really surprising after all, that those aspects override the negatives.
I was happy with the fact that even though I arrived in New Zealand at the cusp of winter, festivals seemed to be just as big of a deal in Wellington as they were in the major city of Sydney.
There has been a festival on the waterfront almost every other weekend since I arrived, anything from a Japanese Festival, to Beervana, to Wellington on a Plate, and World of WearableArt, to even an Oktoberfest most recently where people were found roaming the streets in Bavarian costumes of every sort after it was over.
The most recent festivities I went to was for Guy Fawkes Day (a holiday I embarrassingly didn’t even know existed until I lived in New Zealand), which included an epic 20 minute fireworks show that would make any 4th of July fanatic drool in envy. It seems there’s always something to celebrate in Wellington.
One of my favorite festivals came at the end of winter, called Lux: Wellington Night Lights Festival. Yes, it’s as cool as it sounds, and even better than some of the others I mentioned, it was free!
Now, I like fairy lights as much as the next guitar-playing-candle-lighting-meditating-yogi, but I had never actually experienced a light festival before. Sadly, I missed the Vivid Sydney Festival by a couple of months, but as soon as I heard about Lux, a couple of nights before it ended, I knew I had to go or I’d regret not seeing the city lit up so pretty with my own eyes.
Lux was basically a big treasure hunt throughout the city at nighttime. There were 26 installations in total, and they were anywhere from the most obvious of places, to down the corners of dark alleyways, sometimes they were even above you and you had to look up in order to see what everyone was pointing at.
Some installations were scientific, some were musical, some were trippy, some were underwater, some were kid friendly (scream as loud as you can and the lights will change colors – probably the worst idea with kids involved), and some were just plain pretty.
Wellington laid out along the waterfront is already a very pretty city at night, the Lux Festival took the city up a notch higher, and put on display just how beautiful a place a city can be.
One of my favorite installations had to be nZwarm, a group of underwater lights meant to simulate luminous sea creatures such as bioluminescent algae or maybe even a touch of Aurora Borealis. You could even make subtle changes to the light patterns through your smartphone, a good example of how interactive the whole festival was.
Another favorite was the Potion Forest, an Avatar-esque installation that consisted of glowing potions of different colors hanging from tree branches, and meant to be a solace and a place of peace in the middle of the city.
Lastly, I enjoyed the grandeur of The Chandelierinstallation. Located in a grungy little back alleyway, The Chandelier was a hanging geometric glowing chandelier that added a bit of light, class and contrast to the dumpsters and graffiti surrounding it.
For a list and description of all the installations on display click here.
In addition to 26 installations, there were also two hubs on either ends of the light trail where food trucks and entertainment was to be found. At one, near the Te Papa museum, there was an awesome lady decked out in black, covered with hanging fluorescent lights, and dancing around with the crowd to the tune of her own beat.
Although, music festivals will always have my heart, there’s no need to pick and choose when it comes to cities like Wellington, which are filled with festivals and events constantly.
Lux was like no other festival I’ve attended before, and it made me want to find other light festivals to go to around the world – by the way, any recommendations are much appreciated! Shouldn’t every city have some sort of light festival? I mean, even Alicia Keys once said that big lights will inspire you. I think she was right on point.
Have you ever been to a light festival? What type of festivals do you enjoying going to?
In case you missed it, the Atlas Heart now has a Facebook Page!
I’ll be posting most of my travel related updates, blog posts, and worldy tips on this page, as well as some really random things (i.e. ukulele sessions in beautiful corners of the world, and even some postcard giveaways!). Feel free to check it out, like it, or just say hi here. Have a great week <3
I apologize in advance, this is going to be one of those long-winded posts, however, I wanted to give my first travelversary the time it deserves, so here it goes.
It’s funny, Australia was never at the top of my list of destinations I wanted to visit pronto. To be completely honest, it was always a place I wanted to see someday, but there was never anything that stuck out to me about the land down under.
That all changed when I traveled through Europe. In addition to just starting to get a taste for my endless wanderlust, I met countless Aussies through backpacking all over the continent. I was intrigued by the Aussie mindset of travel as such a big part of one’s life, of gap years, and the normality of traveling the world at any age.
It was a stark difference from the mindset I was inundated with growing up in the States.
This cultural difference and appreciation of the more worldly things in life convinced me that I needed to visit Australia soon.
Although inspired after my initial European adventures, once I arrived home, I soon fell back into the swing of things. Immersing myself even more in my sorority, getting excited about my new classes, rekindling a relationship I put on hold when I left the country. The passion I felt initially for Australia slowly began to fade away and it became less urgent, it became a trip to take someday when it was more convenient.
I became closest with two women in particular in my European travels, an English and an Aussie girl. We remained in contact even when we all made it back to our individual home countries, and that’s when my inspiration was sparked once again. My English friend casually mentioned that she would be backpacking through Southeast Asia in a year and a half after spending some time in Australia.
I immediately asked if she would be keen for a travel buddy and volunteered myself to be that companion to see Southeast Asia with her. She gladly accepted, and we started planning every now and then about what our trip would consist of. I realized during this planning that what I really wanted was something more than just a two month trip in Asia, I was after a bigger challenge.
When I did more research and found out how easy it is to get a working holiday visa in Australia, I knew now was the time to make a huge leap and do something I always said I would do in my life, move abroad for a solid amount of time.
I initially planned to move to Australia for just 5 months, and then backpack through Southeast Asia and head home in the Fall. Well, I still haven’t come home, and by the time I do, it will have been almost two years since I left.
It was a hard thing to accept, that this was really what I wanted to do with my life. I had a wonderful life built up in San Diego: I had just graduated from a top-notch university, I had a supportive and close-knit group of friends, and a boyfriend I loved very much. But in between the lines, there were flaws in that perfect picture, and I knew if I didn’t leave, at least for a little while, I would find myself unhappy in due time.
So, I booked a one-way ticket, watched my relationship disintegrate as the pressure of the departure date crept closer, and found comfort in my undoubtedly supportive friends and family, who encouraged me to do what I wanted, even if they maybe didn’t understand it themselves.
And when I finally arrived and started traveling around the unique and hauntingly beautiful landscape of Australia, I realized I never should have underestimated it.
I made avideoof my year abroad when I first left Australia, as I couldn’t put into words at the time what that year meant to me. I think I’m finally ready to try and put into words the highest highlights and some very disappointing lows, the many ways I fell in love, grew as a human being, and finally realized what it means to be completely free.
Here’s a recap of my first year abroad, a year I cherish and hold dear for how much it opened up my perspective and confidence in the world.
Bleary eyed and tired from the long haul flight from Los Angeles, I stumbled off the plane, quickly made it through customs, and hopped in a Taxi to find my new place for the next couple of months.
I lucked out in finding a sublet through a friend of a friend of a friend before I left. This 3rd degree friend was traveling to the States for a couple of months just when I was landing in Australia, and she was looking for someone to rent out her room in Port Melbourne. The timing worked out perfectly.
I lived with two Aussie dudes who were into music, house parties, and watching The Voice Australia almost every night. They were good blokes and we got along well. It was a great set-up for what I needed right when I arrived.
I met up with the Aussie girl I knew from my European travels, and who was based in Melbourne, for coffee or drinks at least once a week. And, I had the luck of having a pseudo big brother of sorts. My actual big brother back home had a good friend permanently living in Melbourne with his Kiwi partner. They ended up being my family away from home, inviting me to dinner parties and introducing me to their groups of friends.
My pseudo big brother, Eric, made my transition abroad so much easier. I am so grateful that I had him there my first week to show me the ins and outs of the tram system, how to open an Aussie bank account, the best places to find cheap and delicious food, and to answer any of my other million and one questions about the differences in culture.
After my two months was up, I still had another two months in Melbourne before Asia, so I found another sublet on the other side of town in Carlton North. I fell in love, not only with the coffee shop vibe and tree-lined neighborhood of Carlton, but with my new little apartment that had the best sunrise view in town, and found myself grateful for how well I got along with my housemate.
This is when I really started feeling like a local. I had my daily coffee shop, my neighborhood for local gigs, my weekly habits. I knew where to find the best street art around Melbourne, where to go on a rainy day, and how to get anywhere in the city via tram.
The people – The amount of open-minded people I met my first few months in Australia, they really helped make the transition abroad seamless.
The culture – Immersing myself in the ridiculous amount of culture to be found in Melbourne, and realizing how many free museums there are around the city. Score.
Walking around the city any day – And realizing my love of street art.
Dating –Finding the fun in dating again. After a two year relationship, I wasn’t planning on dating anytime soon when I got to Australia, but somehow in the short span of four or so months, I ended up going on a multitude of dates with all different types of nationalities. It was a great way to see the touristy attractions around Melbourne, and enjoy good company at the same time.
The coffee – I didn’t really know what a good latte was until l I arrived in Melbourne.
Footy– Going to my first footy game with a local, and getting into footy mania while I was living there. I even bought my own pair of Carlton Blues socks. Yes, I’m that cool.
Being surrounded by creativity – Melbourne is one of the most art forward and creative cities I’ve ever been to. There’s live music to be seen any night of the week, street artists can be found in any odd spot painting a new mural, and there’s an overall appreciation of the arts.
A visit from a best friend – Having my best friend from back home visit me my last couple weeks in Melbourne, and showing her the life I had created for myself abroad. This was the only person to visit me from home during my whole time abroad. Major props.
Finding my job at Deja Vu Bar – It was my saving grace in the casual job market that can be hell in Australia. It didn’t take long for my coworkers to become some of my best friends in Melbourne.
Craft beer – Learning about Australian beer for the first time, and immersing myself in the craft beer culture down under.
Rooftop bars – Melbourne is hip like that.
Trying meat pies for the first time – I know I’ll miss these HEAPS when I go home.
Casual employment in hospitality (bars/cafes/restaurants) can be a complete horror in Australia. With the exception of Deja Vu Bar, I had never been treated worse by employers than I was when I was working in Melbourne. Not only is it hard to find full-time work, but if you’re a “casual” worker you can be dropped by your employer with no forewarning or reason.
I never realized how good I had it working at the jobs I did back home. People may give Americans a hard time about their health care system, but when it comes to the work force, the States is better at protecting an employee from unfair treatment by an employer, no matter if they’re part-time, full-time, or a casual worker. This was something I constantly struggled with, the cold side of casual employment.
I was screwed over twice by two separate employers that both put me into a dire financial situation, it was to the point of feeling like they didn’t actually see me as a human being, and it was a major negative I took away from my time in Australia.
The logic board on my MacBook Pro failed when I was half way through my time in Melbourne. As a travel blogger, you can imagine this created a bit of a freak out at the time. I had nowhere near the money I thought I would have saved for Asia at this point, and now I had the additional expense of buying a new computer on top of it.
I remember calling my mom, on the verge of tears, asking her if there was anyway I could borrow some money or else I would need to buy an emergency plane ticket home. She graciously gave me what I needed, and I was still able to go travel Asia, but it was never something I wanted to have to do, asking my parents to bail me out of a hard financial situation.
Being constantly worried about money
Due to the above two disappointments I was almost always worried about money and my lack of savings. Australia is an expensive place, and I was exhausted working two jobs and trying to still have a social life with new friends.
I also had two months of unemployment backpacking through Asia to think about, and I knew towards the end of my time in Melbourne that I would want to come back to Australia instead of going home. Clearly, it all worked out in the end, but at the time I had no idea how things were going to turn out.
The pretentiousness of the city
The one disappointing aspect I found about Melbourne was the “hipster” attitude I found around the city. Although I loved the art and creativity to be found, it also came with a pretentious side that made outsiders feel unwelcome at times.
The 18-year-old drinking age
Not to be ageist, but there’s a 21-and-over drinking age for a reason back home, and I quite like it. I don’t think 18-year-olds in bars is something I’ll ever get used to. I can’t tell you how many times I came across drunk-off-their-face young-uns puking in public, yelling at each other from across the road, breaking glass, running out into the street in front of moving traffic, and hitting taxis with their fists or purses in a drunken stupor as to why they didn’t get picked up.
I’m not saying the 18-year-olds around America don’t partake in that kind of behavior as well, but it’s not quite as noticed to the public eye, because most underage drinking happens at house parties or at home. Australia also has a very different drinking culture than the States though, so that is something to keep in mind.
My savings were’t too good during this time. Despite working more than one job, moving abroad is always going to be more expensive than you first think, and I don’t think I quite realized just how much more expensive Australia is compared to the States.
My computer failing was a big chunk of my savings out the window, but thanks to my mom, I got it up to just enough again before I left for Asia. Even still, Asia was much more of a tight budget than I originally imagined it would be, and I had to adjust to my lack of funds as best I could.
I didn’t travel the amount I wanted to with my lack of funds and working two jobs, but I managed to take a few day trips away when I could, these were my favorite trips and the travel posts to go with them.
The waterfront at night – Melbourne is a very pretty city lit up at night. Don’t miss out on having a drink on the waterfront under the reflections of the big city lights, or above them at one of the many rooftop bars.
Southeast Asia was whirlwind two months. It was the first time I started traveling with another person again after being a solo traveler for awhile, and it was also the first time I traveled to multiple developing countries since my backpacking trip in 2008 to Costa Rica.
Although traveling with one of my closest friends from Europe, we both realized how hard it is to travel in a pair after getting used to solo travel, and therefore had a few struggles along the way.
I became used to long bus rides where I had no comfort, definitely no leg room, and usually no room to breathe. I became used to sweltering humidity and the stark differences between countries even when just a few feet over the next border.
I also became used to the kindness and cheekiness of smiling locals, especially in the faces of the Khmer people in Cambodia. I became used to US$0.75 beer in Thailand, and a meal of the most delicious bowl of steaming Phở in Vietnam for the equivalent for US$1.
I loved Asia. With its vibrancy, colorfulness, and unique cultures. It was so much different than the States or Australia, and I only wish I had more time to explore each individual country. I’m already convinced that I’ll be back soon, both to revisit some of the countries I loved, and to take on some new cultures as well. China, Japan, and the Philippines are high on my list of what to see next.
It was my own fault for traveling to some of the most touristy spots in Bali, but I was less than impressed by the lascivious taxi drivers and hawkers, and the complete lack of respect found along the popular beaches and unknowing tourist traps I walked into.
Getting groped in Kuala Lumpur
It was my first time traveling to a Muslim country, so I made sure to dress accordingly in more conservative wear. Unfortunately, I still managed to get groped by a passing motorcyclist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was not fun, not fun at all.
The uncomfortable bus rides
I don’t know if I’d classify this as a disappointment as I knew pretty much what to expect with Asian cross-country bus rides, but still, they were the bane of my long-legged existence. Every bus we traveled on was different, and you never knew what to expect until you stepped on.
The worst one by far was a 10-hour bus in Cambodia, where we didn’t have seats, just a tiny compartment to lay down and share with another person. I had to curl up into a ball to be able to fit inside the compartment with my travel partner, and it was one of the only times I’ve felt extremely claustrophobic in my life.
Having my money stolen on a bus to the Thai islands
On my way to the southern Thai islands for the Full Moon Party I had money stolen from my wallet on an overnight bus. We were warned ahead of time about the notorious bus thieves that are found on the overnight buses in Thailand, so I knew to watch my stuff.
I don’t sleep on buses, so I didn’t think it would be that hard to prevent a thief from stealing from me. However, we made the mistake of putting our bags on the floor at our feet, thinking they were safe because they were covered by our blankets. Even though I was wide awake, a thief was able to take my wallet out and steal almost all of my cash.
On the next overnight bus I was on, I actually caught a thief in action stealing from my neighbor and woke him up to tell him to check his wallet as the thief ran into the darkness at the back of the bus.
If there’s any advice I can give, it’s to watch your belongings on buses in Thailand, thieving is a huge problem and plight of many tourists, especially those traveling to and from the islands for the Full Moon Party.
Not working obviously meant no income during this period, but I was still astounded with how affordable it is to travel Asia. Especially compared to Australian prices, traveling two months in Asia was the equivalent of a few weeks up the East Coast of Australia.
I still had to be careful with how I spent my money with the financial troubles I had in Melbourne before I left. I hardly went out drinking most nights, I chose to save my money for big ticket items instead, like the Full Moon Party and getting my PADI certification. I saved on the hangovers so I could still partake in early tours and walks around the city I happened to be in that day.
I realized during my time in Asia that I had changed my travel style a lot from my 21 year-old party days in Florence, Italy, where I would go out every single night to a new discoteca and sleep until noon the next day. That kind of travel, or lack thereof, didn’t appeal to me as much anymore.
Buying visas in each individual country, apart from a couple countries that didn’t require one, was probably one of the more expensive spends.
We hit 6 countries in total: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. I wanted to see as much as possible in Asia during this trip to get an overview of where I’d want to go back to, but I think I finally came to the conclusion once and for all how partial I am to slow travel and taking my time in places.
All my preconceptions were challenged once I started traveling Asia. The countries I thought would be my favorites, Indonesia and Thailand, ended up only making me weary and disillusioned (note: I believe this is due to the areas we visited in these two countries, and when I go back I’d want to do it differently).
Instead, Cambodia and Vietnam moved in to take my favorite spots in Southeast Asia.
I wasn’t expecting to like Sydney. It’s probably due to the bias I heard time and time again against Sydney from Melbournites, and although I wanted to see the Opera House, I too thought it would just be a vapid city with looks, but no culture.
I wasn’t expecting to like Sydney, but I fell in love with Sydney. It is one of the prettiest cities I’ve been to and it’s a city that has the added benefit of being surrounded by beautiful beaches. I didn’t realized how much I missed a big city beach culture (à la San Diego), until I started living in Sydney again and started smelling the salty sea air.
In terms of vapidness, there were a high number of bleach blonde, plastic surgery types compared to Melbourne, but probably the same amount you’d find around Los Angeles. I even saw a woman carrying her lap dog in a doggy backpack once, because she didn’t want his feet to get dirty. Um, what?
But there was still a vividness and culture beneath the beauty that was seen in the many festivals I went to or heard about throughout the summer. There’s always something going on in Sydney, and it’s really hard to find yourself bored, in fact, you’d have to try pretty hard.
Sydney, dare I say, was probably my favorite 5 months out of my year abroad.
Being in Sydney for the summer
After shivering through a cold Melbourne winter and sweating through two months of humidity in Asia, Sydney was a perfect place to settle down for the summer.
Most days were absolutely perfect in terms of weather, and there was always a festival or event going on every weekend in different parts of the city. I spent so many of my days off hiking or going to the beach because the weather was just too damn good. A Sydney summer was just what I needed to end my time in Australia.
My job at the Local Taphouse and Cookie Cafe
I lucked out in finding a job at the Local Taphouse my first full day in Sydney. Between the staff, the type of bar it was and the clientele, and my job as a bartender, it became one of my favorite places to work of all time, It was also a great place to learn even more about Aussie craft beer – it was even voted the number one craft beer bar in all of Australia at one point.
I also had a job at an adorable cookie cafe in the artsy neighborhood of Newtown. It’s where I spent every Saturday morning and where I devoured some of the best cookies of my life. And I’ve tried a lot of cookies, believe me.
Volunteering at multiple music festivals
I’ve thought on and off about going into music event planning for festivals, and last summer I was actually able to see a start to that dream come true. I went to three separate festivals, which all had very different vibes and experiences. It made my summer in Sydney that much better, and all the friends and memories I met from those musical days I’m not soon to forget.
If you want to check out my experiences via my festival series go ahead and click onPart I, Part II, andPart III.
New Year’s Eve
Mainly because I went with my best friend in Sydney, camped in beautiful Byron Bay for a week, and saw some amazing live music at the Falls Fest. It was by far my favorite New Year’s Eve to date, and there are so many good memories I brought back from it.
On one of my last days in Sydney, after feeling a bit melancholy one day, I decided to finally treat myself to a show at the famous Opera House in Sydney. It did not disappoint. I saw the band, Yo La Tengo, and had a wonderful and classy evening on my own listening to beautiful music. It was my way of saying goodbye to a place I had started to call home for the last few months.
I don’t think I had ever seen a live cockroach before I left California, actually, before I arrived in Sydney. Cockroaches are EVERYWHERE. You have been warned!
Besides being a lovely seaside city, Sydney has a major cockroach problem. I stayed in all different types of houses (when I was couchsurfing), and all different neighborhoods, and it didn’t matter. There were cockroaches, no matter if you lived in a nice house or a dump.
I mean, there were cockroaches that would scurry across the street on any given Saturday night while I was walking home. Seriously, there’s no hiding from them.
It was definitely something to get used to, but after finding 3 or 4 cockroaches in my room during the first month I moved in, I got pretty used to them as well, and disposed of them as best I could.
My living situation
As opposed to the awesome living situations I had in Melbourne, the one I had in Sydney was less than stellar. It was in a really good location (Double Bay) and cheap for Sydney. I was even able to afford having my own room, which I wasn’t expecting for pricey Sydney.
However, the building itself was so old, one of my Aussie friends commented on the fact that he wouldn’t be surprised if convicts still lived in the top floors. From the outside, hands down, it looked like a haunted house out of a horror movie.
Inside was only slightly better, but every night I would come home finding the kitchen counter littered with at least a few cockroaches. See, my house was even worse than the rest of Sydney with having a cockroach problem.
My housemates were nice enough, but mostly kept to themselves and didn’t come out of their rooms, the only exception being my one housemate, Ashleigh, who was actually incredibly friendly. It all went down hill when Ashleigh moved out and one of the guys in the house had one of his friends move in.
I’m fairly certain this new housemate would go into my room at night while I was at work and do god knows what, because I came home a few times with my door wide open and my light on. And I was almost certain he was a psychopath at one point, but it thankfully all turned out okay. Needless to say, I wasn’t sad to say goodbye to that place and move on to a better living situation.
The romantic side
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of Aussie guy friends who I get along with famously, and I don’t want to say I’d never date an Aussie guy again…but really, I don’t think I’d date an Aussie guy again.
Sydney was the first time I actually started dating Aussie blokes, and I don’t know what it is exactly, but me and Aussies, we don’t mix romantically. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, or simply my own personality, but let’s just say by the time I left Australia, I was very content to be doing my own thing.
I was paid so much better in Sydney than in Melbourne, and watched gleefully as my savings slowly started to build up again. Sydney is slightly more expensive than Melbourne, but honestly not by much.
Sydney was great for pay. If you worked past 11pm, you made extra. (Um, a bartenders dream). If you worked weekends, you made extra. If you worked Sundays, you’d make even more than you did on Saturday. If you worked public holidays, you basically just paid off a flight to Fiji.
The only reason I didn’t save more was because of the festivals I volunteered at throughout the summer. Not only did I lose money on those weekends I could’ve been working at the bar, but the cost of getting to the festivals which were quite far away, took a big chunk of my savings. They were definitely still worth it, and I was still able to travel up the East Coast for 3 weeks, and have a bit of a buffer saved up when I moved to New Zealand.
I don’t know if it was due to the good weather or the increase in wages, but I spent almost every day off to its fullest while I was in Sydney. I’d take day trips of all sorts, go hiking to a new lookout, or go on another one of the many coastal walks to be found around the city.
I was bummed I didn’t get to see more of Australia, it’s so big! But I know I’ll be back again someday to see all that I missed. Here are a few of my favorite travels from my time in Sydney and the blog posts to go with them:
Backpacking up the East Coast of Australia for 3 weeks at the end of my visa
My happy places in Sydney
The Bondi to Coogee walk – I seriously don’t know how a place can be so breathtakingly beautiful
Circular Quay – no matter how touristy it may be, it still takes my breath away when I’m standing in front of the Opera House and looking out at the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Newtown – the artsy, kind of hipster suburb of Sydney. They had the coolest cafes, op-shops, and street art.
There were a lot of ups and downs to my first year abroad as was to be expected. The year turned out better than I could’ve imagined, and made me believe even more whole heartedly in the philosophy that everything happens for a reason. There were so many times throughout the year where one thing different could’ve meant me coming home earlier than expected, but I’m so happy I was able to continue out my year and do it the way I wanted, for the most part.
My year abroad also opened up a lot of thought patterns on what I really want out of my life and how free I feel while I’m on the road. It made me seriously think about music event planning, but also about taking this blog to a new level and new perspectives.
Instead of satisfying my wanderlust, I’m afraid to say, it has only made me realize how easy it is to keep on traveling if I want to. And that’s a very dangerous realization.
Did I ever tell you how when I was 12, I once spent a good couple of hours writing down every single country in the world, and what order I would want to visit them in? I have a feeling my journey is just beginning.
I’ve been living in Wellington, New Zealand for the last 5 months or so, and I can’t help but be surprised at how very different my life is here from the life I led in Australia.
I finally bought a plane ticket home this week. I’ll be flying to Hawaii for a week at the end of March, and heading into San Diego, California after my tropical getaway. From San Diego, I’ll be attending my favorite Coachella music festival, and taking an epic road trip up the coast of California, and all the way through to Portland, Oregon.
From there, I’ll just have to see what happens, but there are a lot of travel plans on the horizon, which I look forward to sharing with all you lovely readers as soon as they become more concrete.
And of course, there will be plenty more travels around New Zealand before I leave.
As always, thank you from the bottom of my atlas heart for taking the time to read my blog. It means the world to me, literally.
Like most places I visited on my short trip up the East Coast of Australia, I only spent a couple days in Cairns (pronounced “cans”). It was my last stop before jumping on a plane to New Zealand, and heading into the unknown all over again.
It was my last couple of days in a country I had grown incredibly fond of in the last year. I was literally flying out the day my visa expired, and I was intent on making my last days in Australia count.
Here’s what I did in the tropical little city by the sea.
Stayed at Travellers Oasis Hostel
I hopped off the overnight bus from Airlie Beach, not having showered since before my dive trip, exhausted from no sleep and constant movement all night. When I arrived at Travellers Oasis in Cairns, I knew I had made a very good decision in choosing my hostel.
It ended up being my favorite hostel out of all the ones I stayed at throughout my time in Australia. It was clean, friendly, comfy, homey, and helpful. My room had its own deck, ample natural light, comfortable beds, and a group of female roommates I quickly became friends with, one who was even a fellow Californian and Mexican food lover like me.
It was one of those places that felt so much like home, and exactly what I needed at the end of my weary journeys in Australia.
When I arrived at the hostel, it was too early to check into my room and dive into a blissful sleep, so the woman at the front desk showed me to the lounge and thankfully the communal shower I could use as well. I rinsed off the salt water from the last few days, made myself some of the free coffee in the kitchen, and chilled out in the lounge until my room was ready.
I would highly, highly recommend staying in this hostel to anyone traveling to Cairns. I was even thinking of doing a post solely about how awesome the Travellers Oasis is because I loved my stay there so much.
Walked under the bat tree
There’s a big tree near the library in the CBD of Cairns, right around the corner from where the Greyhound lets you off. It’s full of flying foxes, also known as fruit bats.
One of the many weird things I found about Australia is the number of bats to be found all over the country. In Melbourne, I would see them flying overhead sometimes at dusk. Sydney had even more than Melbourne, and I would constantly meet them in the trees of Double Bay when I’d walk home from work.
Cairns was no different, besides the fact that you only really see them in this one tree. The bat tree (*cue the Batman theme song).
There aren’t too many main roads in Cairns, and this tree is located on THE main road from which I would usually walk to the waterfront. It’s a remarkable thing, walking under a tree swarming, and I mean swarming, with bats.
When I first walked under the tree, I was sleep deprived coming straight from the bus stop, and I didn’t notice the bats until I was right underneath the tree. It scared the living daylights out of me, and almost made me topple over with my much too heavy backpack.
By my last afternoon in Cairns, it was a daily ritual. A walk under the bat tree to say hello to the noisy bats trying to find a branch from which to hang, was a way of saying good morning to beautiful Cairns.
Shopped for souvenirs at the night market
My last stop in Cairns meant my last chance to pick up all the souvenirs for friends and family members back home, that I probably should’ve been collecting for the past year while living in Australia. Whoops.
Lucky for me, the Cairns night market was just the place to find cheap and trusted souvenirs. The Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne is still my all time favorite market, but the night market in Cairns was still pretty cool with its offerings of anything from on-the-spot massages to packs of cheeky clip on koalas dressed in a multitude of Aussie attire.
Went to a classic Aussie BBQ
The classic “Aussie barbie” offered through Travellers Oasis is a famous weekly tradition for the hostel. The night for the weekly barbecue landed on my last night in Cairns, and I was finally able to try some out there Aussie treats.
To participate, you sign up for the barbecue and pay $12 at the front desk. This includes a drink voucher for the popular Woolshed bar in town after the barbecue. The barbie is actually located at a sister hostel, Tropic Days, so there’s a free shuttle that takes you there and back on the night.
There are cheap drinks for sale ($2 beers) once you get to Tropic Days, or you can BYO. The feast includes kangaroo (which it seems I will never find tasty), emu, crocodile, and barracuda, as well as veggie options. There must have been close to 100 people at the barbecue, it was a great way to meet fellow travelers and try some Aussie delights in the process.
Drank at the Pier Bar and The Woolshed
My first night in Cairns, I tagged along with my new roommates and found myself at the Pier Bar on the esplanade. Two of my roommates had just arrived back from a dive trip, and Pier Bar was where they were meeting up with their dive crew again.
Pier Bar had a wide range of ages in terms of its clientele. Being a bit more upscale with its location and decor, I’d say there was more of a fun 30-something year old presence, but with a good sprinkle of the backpacker scene to be found as well.
There was plenty of dancing, tequila shots, and cheap pizza involved to make it a great first night out in Cairns.
My last night in Cairns, the night of the traditional Aussie barbie, a few of us went out to The Woolshed bar to use our drink vouchers from the feast. Most of the group was tired at this point, so it was just the other California girl and I who stayed up all night and had an epic time at The Woolshed.
It was my last night in Australia and I was keen to go out with a bang.
The Woolshed reminded me of a little place called Typhoon Saloon in San Diego, California. Part bar, part club, with plenty of room to get up on a table and dance the night away when you’ve had too many red bull vodkas. By the time midnight hit, the bar was filled to the brim.
A uni pub crawl soon came through the doors, and we were inundated with a bunch of drunk international students. I even randomly met a guy from Oregon when my Cali counterpart and I stole a sombrero off his head.
It was a cheesy, feel good night, filled with top 40 sing-a-longs, table dancing, sombrero wrangling, and a little taste of reminiscing about home with my new Californian friend.
It was a perfect night to end my time on the East Coast and a proper farewell to a year of surviving Australia. Most people at home thought I would’ve been stung by a jelly fish, eaten by a dingo, or bitten by a poisonous spider by now, or all of the above. So there was great cause to celebrate.
Relaxed around the waterfront
I loved spending my mornings walking to the waterfront, grabbing an ice cold smoothie along the way in the sweltering humidity found in Northern Queensland.
You’re not supposed to swim at the beach in Cairns due to crocodile attacks and box jelly fish, but there’s a man-made lagoon on the esplanade where all types of people convene and enjoy the sunshine. There was even a jazzercise fundraiser on one of the days I walked by. You never know what you’ll find along the Cairns waterfront.
Another cool aspect about the Cairns waterfront is that it’s educational as well. There are signs going down the length of the waterfront that lay out the history of Cairns, and the Aboriginal past that has had a major influence in the city’s roots.
I was surprised at how long the Cairns waterfront goes on for. There are plenty of benches, picnic tables, and sunny spots in the grass to have lunch, read a book, or simply people watch.
Other things to do in Cairns
1. Take a dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef
Cairns is the main and most popular gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. There are countless dive operators, and different styles of dive trips to choose from. If you’ve never been diving before, it’s also a popular place to get your scuba certification. I chose to dive the Great Barrier Reef via Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, but Cairns is also a very good base to see the reef.
2. Visit the Cairns Botanic Gardens
I’m a sucker for gardens, nature, and spots that have good sun. I didn’t have a chance to see the Cairns Botanic Gardens due to time constraints, but it sounded like a great place to spend an afternoon.
I love learning about local floral and fauna from a city’s botanic gardens, and tropical Cairns would not disappoint with the amount of native plants to be found around the area.
3. Learn about Aboriginal culture
Cairns is a great place to learn about Aboriginal culture, to appreciate the history and pay your respects to the struggles the Aborignal people have endured throughout history.
Unfortunately, as with most traditional cultural experiences that are used for profit, it’s hard to find an experience that is truly authentic and not overly touristy.
Tjapukai Cultural Park is a good place to start if you want to experience a bit of Aboriginal culture. You’ll be able to watch traditional performances of song and dance, partake in a boomerang throwing lesson, and check out the museum that includes artifacts that are thousands and thousands of years old.
4. Take a trip to the Daintree Rainforest
I’ve heard so many good things about the Daintree Rainforest, I was bummed I couldn’t fit it into my last days in Australia. Holding the title for the largest area of natural rainforest in Australia, there is much to be discovered at Daintree.
It’s a good 2 hours of driving if you wish to see the rainforest from Cairns, but there are plenty of tours to take you on a day trip or overnight stay to explore all that the huge tropical rainforest has to offer.
5. Be daring
Cairns, do I dare say, is the adventure capital of Australia.
White water rafting, bungy jumping, and skydiving are all popular tourist activities in this unsuspecting Queensland city.
Are you brave enough to take the plunge, get a little dirty, and face your fears? When’s the last time your tried something for the first time?
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with what I found in Cairns. I was expecting a tourist mecca with a lack of culture.
Instead, I found a place alive and full of an array of new experiences at my fingertips.
I left feeling sad I didn’t have the chance to spend more of my time in Cairns, it stole my heart a little bit, even with its dire humidity and screeching bats.
As I waited to board my plane the following day, I grabbed a coffee at the airport cafe. I mentioned to the barista that it was my last day in Australia and that I was a bit melancholy about that fact. The barista winked and gave me a free Tim Tam, saying, “you’ll be back before ya know it, mate”.
Airlie Beach lands on my top 5 list of most beautiful places I’ve see as of yet.
It’s commercialized because of the popular dive trips that leave from the port for The Whitsundays. There are a lot of backpackers, and it’s very much on the tourist trail.
If you can get past that, however, you’ll see the raw beauty that lurks beneath.
Always a fan of vivid colors and contrasts, the color of the water in Airlie Beach is what did it for me. I was on the Greyhound bus just coming over the ridge when I spotted the ocean. I had a moment where the breath was knocked out of me, it was that pretty.
I’ve been to tropical climates and beautiful beaches, but Airlie takes the prize for best aquamarine water hue. There should definitely be a prize for that. If you want to know my favorite color, it’s the one found in these pictures of the ocean.
My first day in Airlie, exhausted after an overnight bus, I sat on the grass overlooking the ocean and thanked nobody in particular that my travels had lets me to this radiant spot.
And even with Airlie’s touristy nature, I was surprised to find how much I liked and enjoyed the little Aussie town on the coast. There was a healthy smoothie place I frequented every morning, a second hand bookstore I bought some great finds from, a man-made lagoon I dipped my toes in on the humid days, and a refreshing walk along the coast that led me to a funky cafe where the locals hang out.
The only downside about Airlie, as is the case in Cairns, is that most people don’t swim in the ocean because there are too many box jellyfish. That’s why the lagoon is so well looked after and such a popular spot to relax by the water. The waters along the coast of tropical Queensland are a dangerous place during the months of October to May.
I really enjoyed the nightlife in Airlie as well. Being full of 20-something backpackers, it has a decent nightlife and a variety of cheap food & drink deals. Because it is such a small town, it’s not an over the top party vibe, and comes off as much more laid back. It’s normal to wear “thongs” as the Aussies call them (flip flops for you Americans) to clubs and bars. I enjoy that beachy style of nightlife.
I would even go so far as to say that Airlie was the only place on my East Coast travels where I felt completely relaxed and at peace. It’s a place that reminds you to slow down, take it easy, and enjoy the view. It’s a place that fits my description of paradise.
Have you ever been to Airlie Beach? What’s your favorite spot on the coast of Queensland?
The Gold Coast is popular with “schoolies” as they’re called in Australia, also known as the 18 year old high school crowd. It’s also a popular place for Kiwis, surprisingly enough, it’s one of the top destinations for Kiwis when they’re traveling to Oz. Of course, it’s also a mecca for surfers, business folk, amusement park aficionados, and people who simply love living in beautiful climates.
To be honest, compared with the rest of Australia, I wasn’t all that impressed with the Gold Coast, and therefore didn’t spend much time there. I much preferred the laid back nature of the Sunshine Coast to the party atmosphere and big skyscraper vibe of Surfers Paradise, in particular.
There’s a reason the young school crowd travels to Surfers Paradise for holidays once they’re of age, it’s a great place to go if you want to go clubbing, drink all night, and have a good time.
Even though I wasn’t the biggest fan, to be fair, I don’t think Surfers Paradise is given the credit it deserves. Yes, it has towering skyscrapers that tend to put shadows on the beach, and a drinking culture that takes away from the other attributes the city has to offer, but it’s also a stunningly beautiful place on the coast of Australia.
I only spent one night in Surfers Paradise, but that one night I experienced one of the best sunsets I’ve had throughout my travels.
I mean, those clouds though. Pure joy.
Another cool thing about Surfers Paradise is the night market that takes over the promenade. There are a variety of stalls to choose from, and you’ll basically find whatever your heart desires, from souvenirs, to tasty food, to other services such as a classy massage on the waterfront, or even getting a replica of your hand in wax.
Surfers wasn’t my favorite place, but still worth a stop over on travels up or down the East Coast. It’s a great place to experience Aussie nightlife, or have a relaxing time on the beach. It’s a chance to catch an awesome sunset, which is never a waste in my view.
Have you been to Surfers Paradise? The Gold Coast?
When I initially planned my travels up the East Coast of Australia, I didn’t put that much thought into Fraser Island. All I knew was that it’s the largest sand island in the world, and you can find dingoes on the island. Those two facts alone sold me, but nothing would prepare me for the gem I would find, and how much I would love spending a day on one of the prettiest islands Australia has to offer.
When I say it’s the largest sand island, I mean it’s literally made up of sand that has been accumulating for 750,000 years on a volcanic base that acts as a natural sand catcher. The unique thing about Fraser Island is that even though it’s made of sand, plants and fauna still grow on the island due to a certain type of special fungi in the sediment.
I went with the Fraser Experience 1 day tour, which ended up working out quite well being that it landed on the one sunny day we had out of the whole week. It would’ve been great to stay overnight, but with how bad the weather was for most days, I’m glad I saved my money, and enjoyed the island at its finest during a break from the rain.
I left from the tiny town of Hervey Bay, although Rainbow beach has also become quite popular with backpackers who want to see the heritage-listed Fraser Island.
The only way to see the island is by 4WD car/van/bus, either driving one yourself, or going on a guided tour like I did. The Fraser Experience tour I chose was relatively small, and the tour guide was very much a history buff and highly knowledgable, having gone to the island so many times in his life.
He was also a humorous and lighthearted guide, and also slightly (read: very) deaf, so there were some pretty hilarious moments throughout the tour when words were lost in translation. I also met an incredibly friendly Danish couple, Sarah and Peter, who I hung around with for most of the day, learning a lot about Danish culture from them in the process and becoming quite envious of the well set-up education system in Denmark.
Even in the 4WD van, the ride around the island was so bumpy, because there are no paved roads, everything is made of sand, creating an awesome off-roading experience.
The tour cost AUS$185 and included such sites as the original and very old central station rainforest, the beautiful Lake McKenzie, the 75 mile beach, Eli Creek, the Coloured Sands, and the Maheno Shipwreck. My favorites from those highlights were taking a dip in the breathtaking Lake McKenzie, driving for ages down the 75 mile beach (and seeing a dingo!), and walking around the daunting Maheno Shipwreck and learning the story behind it.
Here’s a little recap of my day on Fraser Island.
Central Station Rainforest
Central Station is the place to start out your Fraser Island adventures if you’re keen to learn about the history behind the island and the unique flora and fauna to be found around the area.
The station used to be the epicenter of logging when the island was a huge part of the of forestry industry. We took a short hike through the rainforest and along the creek, seeing kookaburras, eels, and countless other exotic plants and animals along the way. It was so peaceful, and a great way to start the long day ahead of us.
By far the best spot of the day, and the second stop on our Fraser Island tour. Lake McKenzie is one of those places where you unassumingly walk down a dirt path and suddenly you stop as you come around the corner, blown away with what you’ve found hidden away on the other side of the bush. Granted there were tons of other tourists there at the time, so maybe not exactly hidden, but regardless it was the prettiest Lake I’ve ever been to, even with all of the people.
The water was the perfect see through aquamarine color, the temperature and weather was phenomenal that day, and hanging out with the new Danish friends I met, everything fell into place to make me pretty damn happy with how the day was turning out. Peter brought a good quality snorkel with him, so we all took turns exploring the beautiful lake underwater, and reveling in how good the fine sand and water felt.
The last call for heading back to the van came all too soon, and we reluctantly headed back to the car park to see what else the island had in store for us.
Before we reached the 75 mile beach, we ate lunch at the top of a lookout that showcased the beautiful layout of the island and the rippling ocean in the distance.
75 Mile Beach
As you can probably guess from the name, this is an epically long beach. I’d never driven on a beach before, but it was heaps fun. Speeding up, rolling down the windows, the waves chasing after our tires, and the group all smushed together in the 4WD van having a ball.
There are scenic flights that take off and land on the beach, so we saw a couple of those as well, and I saw my first wild dingo in Australia! I realized I was quickly checking off all the must-sees I had left as my time in Australia dwindled.
Towards the end of the 75 mile beach is where you find the remnants of the Maheno Shipwreck.
The Maheno Shipwreck is a haunting relic from the past, washed up and left on the beach for years. There have been some groups that have tried to get rid of the shipwreck on the beach as they say it’s an eyesore for local residents, and dangerous if someone was foolish enough to climb on it.
I’m glad the removal hasn’t been approved yet, and is very unlikely to be approved with the draw it has for tourism on the island. It is an amazing sight to see, still so well preserved and put together, I’d never seen a shipwreck up close like that before. I still want to go scuba diving around a shipwreck at some point in my travels, but I’d say this was just as cool seeing it above sea level
The Maheno, built in 1904 in Scotland, means “island” in Maori, the native language of New Zealand. The Maheno had a long history before it was shipwrecked off Fraser Island. It was the world’s first ever turbine driven steamer, it made countless trans-atlantic crossings, and was even a hospital ship during WWI. The Maheno changed hands from its construction in Scotland for a New Zealand shipping company, to a Sydney shipping company, to finally a Japanese company at the end of its use.
It was when the ship was going to sail to Japan in 1935, that it was hit by a freak cyclone, and shipwrecked off the coast of Fraser Island. The crazy thing about the shipwreck is that multiple levels of the ship are still buried beneath the sand, what you see on the surface is only the tip of the iceberg, if you will.
Because of the unpredictable nature of the weather along the coast of Fraser Island, there have been numerous shipwrecks throughout the years, and some people even go so far as to say the water around the island is cursed. The SS Maheno is by far the most famous of these shipwrecks.
With glee, I thought about the ferry journey I still had to look forward to later that day.
The Coloured Sands
Also known as the pinnacles, the coloured sands are another one of Fraser Islands many natural wonders. The coloured sands are multicoloured cliffs that have formed over the years into the shape of pinnacles. Apparently they’re best seen in the morning when the light perfectly hits the face of the cliffs, and produces a kaleidoscope of different colors.
We arrived in the late afternoon, so the coloured sands were less than enthralling, but from pictures I’ve seen, I’d say it’s worth going to see them at the right time to get their full effect.
Eli Creek, the largest freshwater stream on Fraser Island, was the last stop of the day, and a great place to relax and take in all we had seen on the magical island.
A popular activity at Eli Creek is to walk the length of the creek from one end to the other, ending at the swimming hole. You start at the far end of the creek where there are slippery and mossy steps down to the cold water. The ground isn’t completely level on the creek bed, so sometimes you have to wade, walk or even swim at some parts, but it was a refreshing way to cool off from the hot Aussie day.
My Danish friends and I watched the sunset on the ferry ride back to Hervey Bay, and made plans to meet up for dinner later that night. It was another ridiculously good day on the East Coast of Australia, and I was quite content in that moment for all the unique and varied experiences I found on the island that day.
Have you ever been to Fraser Island? What’s your favorite island off the coast of Australia?