I am not a big believer in doing things half way; and when I left for Australia more than a year ago, my biggest goal was to make the most of my time there and take advantage of every opportunity. For me, one of my biggest goals was to travel, with the understanding I may never have the chance to be there again. Looking at the map below of all the places I have been in the last year, I feel as though I have done a amazing job of taking advantage, from backpacking the east coast of Australia, to wandering Hong Kong on a 12 hour layover, I feel as though I made the most of every minute I had. Before I left I made a list of things I wanted to do and see while away and I did it all and more.
What is even more important to me than crossing off things on my list however, is that for each of these trips I did with a variety of people from different walks of life. I know each one of these trips has memories that will last me longer probably than the information I was taking in classes and so that really is the most special part of my year.
List of my Travel Destinations
Sydney, Melbourne, Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Bali, Uluru, Cairns, Mission Beach, Townsville, Magnetic Island, Whitsundays, Noosaville, Brisbane, Maui and the Big Island (Hawaii, US), New Zealand (both North and South Islands), Adelaide and the Great Ocean Road, Perth, Hong Kong.
During my travels in Alice Springs my friends and I were able to experience the Festival in Light- Parrtjima. The festival is held once a year and allows visitors to listen to Aboriginal stories and view artwork which is brought to life under the night sky.
One particular story that has stayed with me is that of the caterpillars. At the festival three largely lit caterpillars were the centre of focus and we learned about the Yeperenye (Caterpillar) Dreamtime story. Aboriginal stories are based on animals and creatures whom created the land, making them sacred to aboriginal culture. The caterpillars are said to have been the main forces in the creation of Alice Springs, having risen from the ground and created the west MacDonnell Ranges, thus they are extremely sacred and symbolic.
The Festival in Light was incredibly interactive, allowing visitors to choose a new colour scheme for the light show on the mountainside which made the event even more memorable.
When I first arrived in Melbourne it was the middle of winter and much to my surprise it was actually cold. Luckily for me, the Queen Victoria Night Markets were offering hot and tasty food and drinks every Wednesday evening.
This became a weekly treat over the winter period as there were a vast amount of food stalls to choose from all offering really good home cooked meals. One of my favourites was the paella and kangaroo burger. As it was extremely hard to choose between the stalls each week I often remained with the safe but incredibly tasty decision of the Spanish stall.
We didn’t have to wait long for the Summer Night Market to offer more of our favourite cuisines and sangria in the summer months!
I have met some incredible people while on exchange from all walks of life which has not only enriched my friendship circle but also widened my cultural understanding. Melbourne University’s Exchange club (MUSEX) held numerous events during both semesters of my exchange to make it easier for likeminded exchange students to socialise and get to know one another. I met many of my friends through this society and similarly travelled across Australia and South East Asia with them. On our travels we met fellow travellers who joined us for part of our trips or enjoyed the days we had together.
Aside from exchange students, being in Australia I found the locals to be extremely welcoming and hospitable which is reassuring when you first arrive in a new country. The Aussie’s held up their relaxed and fun loving lifestyles with frequent BBQs and outdoor adventures.
Although I will be returning back to the UK soon, I will definitely keep in touch with friends i have made while on exchange and from my travels!
Every year in at the end of May, Sydney has a light festival called Vivid. For 3 weeks after dark, Sydney’s CBD and harbor buildings are illuminated by a colourful light show. The Opera house, Harbor bridge and botanical gardens are all lit up and there are interactive exhibitions throughout the city. What started in 2009 as a light efficiency display has now become a major tourism event for Sydney in the winter. I myself visited the harbor and took in the sights at 3 separate occasions, each time able to see something knew and pay witness to the massive crowds the lights attracted.
Aboriginal culture is an important aspect of Australian history and today’s culture. Nowhere did I get a greater sense of this than at Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock). This massive rock formation in the middle of the Australian outback is a very important and sacred place to the indigenous peoples. While I was these walked around the base of the rock with a tour guide and found that certain places of the rock where we were asked not to touch or take photographs of and also asked not to climb or walk on the rock. The tour guide also told us stories called dreamtime, these stories were children’s stories, they had lessons and very simple to understand. Other stories and lessons, we were not allowed to hear because, as non-aboriginal, we did not have the right to hear them. We saw ancient paintings on the walls of Uluru each which told a story, some of which we were able to hear and others which we were not allowed, and will never be allowed. We learned about the roles of men and women in aboriginal culture, and how there were different stories which were heard by both. As a woman you would never hear men’s dreamtime and visa versa. I found it very interesting and important to hear these stories and, more importantly, to get a basic understanding for this aspect of Australian culture which isn’t often talked about or seen in Sydney. Growing up in Canada, also having an aboriginal contingent and a similar history of oppression, I think it is very important that this information is shared and heard by all and visiting Uluru was one of my favourite trips while in Australia.
A large part of Australian culture is sport. Surfing, football, Aussie-rules football, cricket, tennis, rugby, dog racing – there is no sport that Australia is not interested in. However, one of the biggest events of the year is the Melbourne Cup, a three mile horse race which lasts only around 3 minutes but makes the entire country stop and watch. In Melbourne and parts of Victoria, the day is a public holiday, but in Sydney, it didn’t seem to stop people from dressing up to go to their local bar or restaurant for a full day of drinking and eating for the event. I, myself, heard about the event only a couple of days before and soon realized that all of my local restaurants were already completely booked for the day, so I spend the race watching with my flatmates on the TV. Similarly to Ascot, people get very dressed up, just even to watch in a pub and dress codes are strictly adhered to even hundreds of miles from the race itself. While my personal experience may not have been very extravagant and watching it on TV slightly anti-climatic, seeing the whole city get excited for the event was exciting enough for me.