I am honoured to once again share with you another experience of a lifetime here in Australia. Last week we had a study week with no classes and no finals. Since my first final isn’t until the 14th of this month and because the U.S. dollar is doing so well, I took a trip over to the east coast. My first stop was Sydney.
After a very early morning flight, I caught a train to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”). My friend from high school is studying abroad in Sydney, and I was headed to meet up with her. She told me to get off at Circular Quay and proceed to wharf #3 to take a ferry across the harbour to Manly beach, where her school is located.
I proceeded to follow these directions rather robotically, as if I was just going through the motions. However, as I descended the stairs from the train station, the grandeur of the famous sights in Sydney stopped me dead in my tracks. While only seconds ago I was blindly following directions in mundane public transport, I was now standing near the centre of Sydney Harbor staring at the enormous Harbour Bridge off to my left and the notorious Sydney Opera house off to my right. I had to pinch myself in half-disbelief that I was actually in Sydney!
I met up with my friend, Deborah, at the ferry terminal, and we walked around the quaint beach town while also taking a stroll down the very popular Manly beach. After some amazing ice cream and catching up on former classmates, we embarked on the first of many climbs up a huge hill to her school, which looks like a castle but is actually a former palace where priests lived.
That evening a group of Indigenous Australians put on a performance and made the students an Australian meal complete with Kangaroo meat.
The following day, we were up early to take the ferry into Sydney, where we went to a popular restaurant called Pancakes on the Rocks. I highly recommend this restaurant to anybody visiting Sydney. After we were loaded up on sugar, we went through some Saturday markets and viewed everything from glass-blowing performances to American license plates and racing wooden kangaroos.
Though I enjoyed the markets, I was ready to move on and continue to conquer the city, so we proceeded to walk over the Harbour Bridge. Next, we walked through the city past countless retail stores, old government buildings, and large skyscrapers to the Sydney Tower.
We took the elevator to the top, where we had a view across the whole city. I didn’t realize how much of Sydney was surrounded by water. Additionally, I saw just how big the city is. Compared to Perth, Sydney is an enormous city that is very developed with sprawling suburbs and countless high-rises. This does not mitigate its beauty, but it was striking to compare the size of the city after spending the whole semester in Perth. I was also able to see the Olympic stadiums from the top of the tower.
Later that evening, Deborah’s study aboard group had a dinner cruise around the Sydney harbour. We dressed up in semi-formal attire and spent the evening cruising up and down the harbour while enjoying the food and meeting new people.
Sunday, we travelled to the famous Bondi Beach and walked around before following the boardwalk and viewing countless sculptures and modern art exhibits, which were part of a show that was going on.
We then walked around the gorgeous botanical gardens, and we were so exhausted from being on our feet since the early morning that we took a nap in the park. That evening we met up with some more friends and went to a concert by a world-renowned worship band called Hillsong United. Hillsong is a well-known mega church in Sydney, and it was celebrating its 25th anniversary. The band performed from a barge in Darling Harbour (about a 20-minute walk from Circular Quay) and ended the night with an amazing fireworks show.
Monday, I was ready to slow things down a bit, and I had seen pretty much everything I wanted to in Sydney. Therefore, I decided to stay around Manly, and that was a great decision. To start the day, I went on a truly delightful run up along the beach, which led up to some cliffs, and then proceeded up to Northhead, which is an old military establishment. It ranks as one of my top five runs ever (I decided to make a list during the run).
The rest of the day was a beach day. Deborah had class, but another one of her friends came and joined me for the day. We went surfing for a majority of the day and then played beach volleyball, where we got beat fairly badly (I was the weakest link, and with only two players, there’s not much room for error). However, the two guys we played against were really nice and took time to teach me different techniques and things. That evening, we enjoyed a delicious meal at a quaint Italian restaurant.
The following morning, I said goodbye and had another early morning flight up north to Cairns, which is the town known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. This also marked my first truly solo adventure.
Upon my arrival, I immediately delayered as I encountered the tropical climate, stifling heat, and extreme humidity. I walked around town for a bit, and I honestly found myself a little underwhelmed with the city. It was fairly “resorty,” but it didn’t have a beach. It looked out onto the ocean, but there was more of a swamp in the immediate vicinity.
However, there was a great community pool right on the edge of the water and in the center of town. I had a few hours to kill before I boarded a boat for a three-night adventure out on the reef. By the second hour, I was twiddling my thumbs and second-guessing my decision to come alone. However, that feeling did not last for long and I embarked on the boat around 4:30 that afternoon.
This dive trip was one of the best experiences of my life. The boat had 27 passengers, and after a few dive briefings we “steamed” through the night, and in the morning we arrived at our first of 10 dive sites. However, I am not a certified diver (the only one on the boat who wasn’t. oops.) so I only went diving three times and I snorkelled about five times. However, the times I snorkelled were just about as good as the diving, and the times I dove were simply unexplainably amazing.
Steve’s Bommie was the name of my favourite place. It was a pinnacle of coral reef, and from above the water you could only see a lighter-colored circle just under the water. Once we were under the water, the story changed completely. Countless fish of all shapes, sizes, and colors swam all around us. Never before have I seen such variety in designs of fish, and never have I seen such vibrant colors!
The few pictures that I took do not even capture 1/1000th of the sheer beauty and colourful creations under the water. Once again, I was pinching myself as I tried to take everything in. When recounting the trip to my good friend, I told her that if I could go anywhere in the world this second, it would be underwater somewhere on the Great Barrier Reef!
My very first dive of the trip was at a place called Cod Hole. Here, we formed a circle while kneeling on the sand underwater and proceeded to feed these giant cod. They swam all around us and were in our faces, and we got to touch them and everything. It was so cool.
I enjoyed getting to know the people onboard the boat. We spent a lot of time together and told many stories. There were people from Germany, the UK, Sweden, Japan, Spain, New York, Indiana, and a few other places. Though I was the youngest one there, everybody was very welcoming and engaging. One man was a professional butler. It was very interesting to talk with him and his wife about their experiences in that field. I also got to know another wonderfully nice young couple who were originally from the UK and now live and work in New York. The husband was even gracious enough to give me a brief tutorial in regards to a few questions I had on finance.
At the end of the trip, I also had no place to go for eight hours before my flight, and they invited me back to their hotel for the afternoon. I am continuing blessed and thankful for the kindness and friendliness of strangers. On the trip, I also discovered that there is also quite an underground cult following of serious divers. After experiencing these dive sites, I now understand why. Once again, I can’t recommend the Great Barrier Reef enough. Simply awe-inspiring and amazing.
Well, this has been a very long blog entry, and I appreciate your patience in reading it (assuming I haven’t bored you to tears and you are still reading at this point).
We have less than two weeks left, and it’s time for me to hit the books hard over these remaining days to finish strong.
Take care and God Bless,