Thursday, October 4, 2012

74 Islands in the Sun

I've been putting off this post because I know it's going to be a long one. It's finally time to share my holiday adventure to the mainland. Please excuse my cliche remarks.

It started August 30th, a Thursday, when I finished my early morning Life Drawing class and commenced packing my bags to leave that night. I wasn't really sure what was in store for that week ahead, only that it would be one epic trip. While I was packing, I realized that I was going to be in a new place almost every night. I started to get 5-year-old excited and the 20 minute walk to my friends' share house seemed like my stairway to heaven. I had the pleasure of taking this journey with three other Americans, Chelsey, Paige, and Alexander, along with a lovely German, Sarah. (Side note, it's always good to bring a German backpacking, especially a business major.)

We got to Hobart's tiny little airport and bombarded the place with our excitement. It didn't even matter that our flight to Sydney was a little late, as long as we were headed to a warm place with heaps of people. The flight was really fast, and soon enough we were finding our way to our first Australian hostel,  Asylum, in King's Cross. None of us were quite sure where King's Cross was, or what it would be like. We had only heard that it was the best night life district in Sydney. So basically, we followed the girls with 6 inch heals and no clothes. After an awkward train ride seated across from a few Kiwis commenting on how naturally related the 5 of us looked, we emerged in King's Cross searching for Asylum. It was conveniently situated down a dark ally, right around the corner from the bottle-shop. As we hesitantly walked up the steps to what seemed like another night club, Sarah sweet talked our way inside with more Germans, a trend that would follow her throughout the trip. Needless to say, we immediately made friends and had a fun night, making the next morning full of tourist stops a bit of a challenge. After walking for about one block, I forgot about my pounding headache, realized I was in a beautiful city for only one day, and let the fun begin.

The group on the way to Darling Harbour
So happy !

Getting so close to the Opera House!
The walk we took to the Opera House through the botanical gardens was fantastic. It was such a nice day, with the sun shining and a cool breeze. As we approached the tall steps to the Opera House I thought there was no way the building could get better looking. But when we got up close the sun was shining on the curved tile facade, illuminating the spheric architectural features. We weren't able to go inside of the Opera House, I guess I'll have to save that one for a later date. It was still mesmerizing from the outside.
The sun's reflection was almost blinding

After our site seeing ventures, we were all getting a bit tired. Chelsey and I decided to give napping in the grass a go. I only caught a few minutes of sleep amongst the city sounds and didgeridoo music in the background, but I am proud to add such an awesome spot to my napography list. When we got back to the hostel we picked up a delicious pepperoni and mushie pizza, and prepared ourselves for the next stop in our trip-- Hamilton Island. The next flight was an early one, but it didn't bother me at all knowing I would be stepping off the plane onto a warm island near the barrier reef. I sat next to a former Whitsunday islander on the plane, who's genuinely excited facial expression as we prepared for landing gave me high hopes for this part of the trip.

Treasure Island?

The gang at the lagoon
There are 74 islands in the Whitsundays. We touched down on Hamilton Island around noon, greeted by warm sunny weather. I didn't want to leave the island so soon, but we had to catch a ferry to Able Point Marina and find our hostel in Airlie Beach. We checked into Beaches Backpackers, were welcomed into our hall by a huge spider, and immediately found a travel agent to help us book our activities. We had 3 days in Airlie, the most time in one place for the entire trip. After finding the package of cruises that best suited us, we wanted to get to know the town a little bit. It's not very big -- the downtown area is only a few blocks long full of tourist shops, bars, and internet cafes. What it lacked in size, though, it made up for in adventure. Our first night out on the town was a blast. We started at the Beaches bar and met some really nice locals throughout the night. My favorite memory is probably the moment we ran into an Aussie who recognized our American accents and got us all belting out "God Bless the USA".

Reef World!
Bright and early the next morning we got on a boat that would take us through the cluster of islands and to the outer reef. Cruise Whitsundays has a boat island set up out there called "Reef World", where you can snorkel, dive, water slide, or just hang in the sun. It was a long, choppy journey to Reef World; heaps of passengers were getting sick to their stomach. I'm proud to say I avoided motion sickness the whole time. I found sitting on the top deck not only gave you more fresh air and stability, but incredible views of the ocean. I've never seen water as bright blue as it is around the reef. It's a really fascinating sight. It only got better once we finally stopped moving and were able to hang out on Reef World. Snorkeling was one of the most fulfilling experiences I've had here. There was such a strong current that day, which made swimming around an exciting challenge. The fish were just as colorful as I expected, and the reef more textured than I could have imagined. The ride back to the islands was bittersweet -- I was excited to go out on the town again that night, but sad that this experience I've been dreaming about was already over!

A lovely crew member took this of me on the way back =]

Map of our sailing adventure,
we finished by looping back around
The next day would bring just as much pleasure, though. We were up early again, this time boarding a sailboat named "Camira". It was a perfect day the sail through the islands -- plenty of wind and sun. We were greeted by a quirky crew, who did an awesome job of making sure we all made the most out of the sailing trip. We got to see heaps of whales resting on the surface of the water, sometimes in the pair of mother and calf. The main destination of the sailing trip was Whitehaven beach -- the most notable beach of all the islands. I've never been to such a perfect beach. Seeing as it is on an island, it wasn't crowded. The sand is the type that makes funny noises when you walk on it. There is a national park with wild animals and fauna. Most importantly, the water is calm and warm since it is protected from the current by the reef. Swimming and simply floating in that water was paradise.

The girls on Whitehaven!

View from the bow of Camira
We only stayed on Whitehaven beach for a couple hours before we got back on Camira and kept sailing. Our next stop was a cove where we could snorkel again. I chose to skip this time, I figured it couldn't beat snorkeling on the reef. Instead, I caught some zzz's in the sun on the boat. Those two Whitsunday adventure days were very tiring, but worth every minute. I feel like I've really gotten a taste for the Australian life on the water, and it's a good one.

We decided to take it easy our last day in Airlie beach. It was another beautiful day, so we just hung out at the lagoon almost all day in the sun. After getting our daily meal at the Beaches bar, we went out only to say goodbye to some of the locals we met. In preparation for a day full of driving starting early in the morning, we went home and repacked our bags. We were about half way done with the trip, but already seen so much! I couldn't wait to get on the road.

Pretty much the view I got the whole drive

Cute set up in the chapel of the cave
We started the road trip off strong, with high hopes of making it from Airlie beach to Hervey bay within a day (the locals laughed at us). We didn't realize how much construction/traffic there would be in between. It was still an enjoyable ride, not that there was much to see besides open fields and signs reminding drivers to stay awake. On the way down we took a detour to the Capricorn Caves. Luckily we caught the last tour of the day and got to see the cave's chapel. It's one cave among the group that has been set up like a chapel, where heaps of people choose to get married. At first I was like, uh, who wants to get married in a cave? But after we listened to "Hallelujah" and heard the amazing natural acoustics, I was convinced. Our guide told us that the acoustics of the cave are even comparable, if not better, than the Sydney Opera House's. A wedding there would actually be pretty adorable, all quaint and intimate.

Looking down on Sunshine Beach
The caves were a really nice break from driving. Then we were back on the road for a few hours to Hervey Bay. In the morning we had a lovely breakfast on the beach, but didn't stay for too long. Next stop was Noosa Heads, only a few hours away. When we made it to Noosa we checked into Dolphins Backpackers, a relaxed feel-good hostel painted in bright pink and decorated with Buddha statues and hammocks. We immediately went out to see what Noosa had to offer, first checking out Sunshine Beach right down the road. It was another beautiful sunny day, and the beach was something out of a postcard. We made our way past the dogs running in the sand to the National Park situated right along the beach. It was already fairly late in the day so we didn't take on any long tracks. I wasn't expecting anything spectacular out of our walk. But as we got farther up the hill I realized it was going to be a good one. All of a sudden we stepped out of the forest to a view of spectacular cliffs. We were hoping if we went a little farther we would be lead to them. Turns out the trail went past those cliffs to even better ones, where we could stand right on the edge. With the sun going down behind us, the waves hitting the rocks was both invigorating and relaxing. A bit farther was another beach, with rocks lined up all along the shore. It was something I thought I would only ever see on a desktop background. I could have stayed there all night.

Favorite spot from the whole trip

A bit farther from the above scene

Waves and sun and sand
The next morning I was motivated enough to wake myself and two others up at 5:30 to catch the sunrise on the beach. I was nervous when it was already light out and a bit hazy by the time we got to the beach. But sure enough, the orange sun started to peak up behind the horizon and the three of us had a lovely moment on the beach. After going back to the hostel for a short nap, I decided to give driving on the wrong side of the road a go as we headed to Australia Zoo. I started off really nervous, and almost got into an accident within the first 5 minutes, but once we got onto the sunshine coast I was happy to be on the left side of the road.

Sleepy momma Koala
Australia Zoo (Home of the Crocodile Hunter) was a lot of fun. We saw it all, from koalas and kangaroos to elephants and crocodiles. We even checked out the crocoseum for the Wildlife Warriors show, but I was  a little disappointed in the croc show. They did have extremely well trained birds fly in and out though, which was impressive. After treking through the massive zoo, we were able to enter the wildlife hospital where wild animals, mostly koalas, get taken care of.

Such a beautiful cat!
Pretty giraffes =]
One of the many memorials for Steve Irwin
Sick Koala :(

Brisbane Casino
Then we were off to Surfer's Paradise, on the Gold Coast. I was expecting a small beach town like Airlie Beach, so I was a little surprised by the tall buildings and city lights when we got in. It's more of a party city than I thought. Unfortunately we were all too exhausted from the zoo to go out on the town while we were there, but I've heard it's a really good time. In the morning we had time to relax on the beach, which was great. I tried to soak up as much sun as I could, I knew I would be missing it as soon as I got back to Tassie. After some souvenir shopping, we were headed to our last stop of the trip, Brisbane. We knew a couple friends from UTas who are from there, and we had planned to meet up with them. We also planned to not sleep much before our early morning flight back to Hobart. It was a really fun night, but not what I expected. I guess I'm still getting used to the clubbing lifestyle here in Australia. The girls are done up head to toe, with a minimum of 5 inch heels. The lines are crazy long, and every club had a cover charge. So, Chelsey Sarah and I ended up in the casino, which was not what I expected either. It definitely was not as exciting as Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods. But after some chips and a few awkward pictures on my disposable camera, we were having fun. And that's how we ended the trip!

The sign of a successful road trip!

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