It happens every December in the world of international teaching. The last grades are plugged in the grade book, students and their parents are consoled about the grades earned, and teachers flock in droves to the airports. Many of them look to head back to their homes so they can spend the holidays with their loved ones. Others look to escape the confines of the country hey are living to go visit one that they have never been to before. For me, it was a little bit more.
I looked to escape the cold winter of east Asia, and breathe fresher air. I looked for a place with a sunny clime with people open to the idea of waving a hearty hello and not hide themselves in their heavy coats and shawls. It was time to cross over the equator to once again find summer. This years Winter Break adventure led me to the palm trees of Australia.
Actually I was surprised when I came across palm trees out there. It was not what I was expecting. In fact, I really didn’t know what to expect from the adventure. All my knowledge of the country came from 1980s movie in which somebody was being taken out of the outback to find themselves in New York City or strange apocalyptic sci-fi adventures involving the quest for gas out in the dessert. It didn’t involve beaches and European architecture.
In fact, what surprised me even more was the warm and friendly people that I found there. This was a country originally started so the British could ship their unwanted criminals somewhere far, far away. This included a very eclectic group of people. There was a woman who after her husband was hung, she carted his body back to her restaurant to display it in the front window as a sort of advertisement. There was a gang who decided the best way to protect themselves from a police onslaught was to forge their own medieval armor and used it to deflect bullets. These were the people that started this great nation. So what happened to turn them all into the nicest and friendliest people on earth? How did the harsh environment, the unwelcoming locals, and the original intent turn into something completely different?
It might have had something to do with the phrase repeated by many of the Aussies we encountered, “No worries, mate.” The phrase is almost a philosophy of life to them, and by adhering to this rule you can’t help but to become subjected to the laid-back attitude of the country and just go with the flow of the people around you. It made for one of the best vacation experiences I have ever had.
I started my trip on the southern edge of Australia in the city of Melbourne. It was rewarding to the see the green of summer dancing before my eyes. It made me forget about the craziness of the holiday season taking place in the northern part of the world. Of course there were still small reminders that it was still in progress. Banners hung in outdoor shopping malls with pictures of candy canes and toy soldiers wishing everybody a Merry Christmas, but somehow they seemed out of place. But I chose to take the Australian approach to it, and not worry about it.
Instead, I took the free city tram all over the downtown area and enjoyed the holiday season in style. I strolled through the city streets basking in the happy chatter being bantered about by various languages from the people enjoying their time in the place. I ate wonderful food and appreciated great art. One of my favorite moments came from when I was able to sit in Federation Square, sipping a coffee while watching a free showing of Elf on the big outdoor screen. Once again, it felt a little out of place but it was still a great way to spend an afternoon.
Melbourne is a great city with great architecture blending the classical styles of Europe with modern designs to buildings and bridges. It gives the city a feeling all its own and it is one of those places that will be a great place to go back to years from now because it is still growing. There are many pockets of the city still in development and will have a surprising new vibe the next time I visit.
The roads through Australia are great as well because they do not always lead to another big city. There are many places along the coast which surprisingly are not shown in the movies from this country. Its stunning landscape would look great on film, instead of the desolate interior usually portrayed.
This coastline also comes with some amazing stretches of beaches. The water is welcoming and warm, the sand is soft, and these beaches could rival some of the greatest resort countries in the world. They are a huge draw to some of the top surfers because the waves that crash into them are the perfect example what a wave should look like. One of the best places to see this coast is along the Great Ocean Road that ends in the town of Port Campbell. This is another place in Australia where the landscape is in constant flux. The massive waves are constantly crashing into the seaside cliffs and pulling them into the ocean. There are a group of rocky pillars formed because of this action called the Twelve Apostles. The funny thing is there are only nine of these structures in the area. There used to be twelve but the seas washed three of them away. But don’t worry, the way thing are working a new three will form probably within our lifetimes.
From there we drove past Melbourne to travel across the eastern coast of the country. It is one of the more touristy parts of Australia because in this small section of the land there are more beaches than anywhere else in the country. At least this is what I was told by a nice lady in the town of Colburra, one of the small havens along the stretch of highway that reaps the benefits of this small little fact.
It was one of the three towns that we stayed in on my trip up the coast, the other two being Lake’s Entrance and Eden. It made the trip up to Sydney more relaxing instead of trying to squeeze the voyage into one day. The car rides were only a couple of hours in length and when I arrived in town I got to enjoy the comforts of the beach as the heat of summer started to sink in.
The only thing that I would change about this part of my voyage is when I did it. The three towns basically covered the days of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. These are three big holidays in Australia, and just like in the United States, many people would rather spend these days with their families rather than working in restaurants or grocery stores. Because of this, food became scarce, and a little planning was in order to make sure that I had enough to eat. Christmas dinner might have been the weakest I have ever experienced as I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but there were some pluses for taking this part of the trip during these days.
At many times, places with great beaches become crowded quickly, and I can’t blame people for flocking to these sandy retreats. It is the same thing I was doing on my vacation, escaping from the cold winter of Seoul. I just wanted to find a comfy place in the sand where I could lay down my towel for a little bit while enjoying the surf crash. Every once in awhile when I felt the need or things got too hot, I would rush into the water to cool off or to play with those waves. For a boy who grew up next to the mountains, it is always enjoyable to be given this experience. It helps to wash all of my worries away. Sometimes these crowds can bring stress to a place like this, but on the day of Christmas, I went out to one of the beaches. The same reason that people had closed down the stores and restaurants also kept them away from the beaches. Of course, a couple of stragglers came down, but it’s obvious from the above picture and the one below how much of the beach was mine as opposed to just a few days later.
But beaches aren’t the only thing Australia has to offer. Before I made way into Sydney, I veered to the west into the Blue Mountains. I was really excited to see these. Being in mountains has always made me feel at home. These were not the Rocky Mountains though.
Yes, technically they were mountains, but I would still place them into the realm of rolling hills. This does not mean that they still did not have majesty, making traveling up to them worth the trip. There were many times I would be strolling around and turn a corner to see crags jutting out of the ground in spectacular form. They were also covered in a green that could never be replicated in Colorado.
If you ventured even further into the mountains, they offered some of the most dramatic caves I have ever found anywhere in the world. They rival the famous caves of Carlsbad, New Mexico, offering spectacular rooms and startling structures.
The hiking and the spelunking made me feel like I was back in the Rocky Mountains except the nagging feeling that it was December and I should be skiing through the hills instead of hiking through the green beauty they offered. There were lakes and streams just begging for me to sit next to them and allow all of my worries to drift away.
But there was one worry I could never wash away. I had a very important place I needed to be on New Year’s Eve. It loomed large on my bucket list. I always wanted to be at one of the places that exploded in sheer celebration the moment the clock ticked down to one on that fateful night. It would give defined closure to the year, and even though I am a firm believer that nothing changes on New Year’s Day, this is the one year that I felt I needed to put things behind me. There were too many important deaths, too much ugliness from politics, and too much stress from work. Sydney was the place to go to have the definitive moment in time I was looking for.
There are advantages to this place as opposed to the typical ones in America. Not only does it have an iconic place to watch the changing of the year, but it is not freezing. You do not have to stand out in the cold waiting for the clock to strike midnight. There are party places set up all along the harbor with great viewing spots, so even though the crowds do come, you do not have to fight through them to find your place. They even serve drinks and food, and provide chair rentals so you can enjoy it in comfort.
There were a couple of things that made my visit to Sydney a little more stressful. Prices were absurd. The cheapest hotel room we could find during the week was $700, and a nice meal by the bay can run $100. But we had this covered as well. The University of Sydney is on summer break right now, and you can rent one of the dorm rooms for only $150 a night that comes with the typical school breakfast of beans, eggs, bacon, and most importantly coffee. It is located in a great neighborhood that is only a fifteen minute train ride from the bay, and it has some great bars and affordable restaurants that are more appealing to the more thrifty traveler. These great finds made what could have been a stressful part of the trip, worry free.
The time I spent in Sydney was fun and adventuresome. Besides watching the amazing fireworks, I was able to relax on Manly Beach, tour the Opera House, and climb the Harbour Bridge. Even though it was enjoyable, after a bit I got those itchy feet again and had to move further up the country to the Sunshine Coast. This part of Australia would be comparable to Florida. It took some adjustments for somebody from the Northern Hemisphere to think about driving north to warmer climes, but by the time I got there I didn’t care much about this down under way of thinking. I was just happy to find myself in the sunny town of Noosa.
This resort town on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef is a great draw for people all over the world. Many languages can be heard from the trails of the national park to the tourist filled beaches. The town also offers shopping for those rainy days, and a plethora of water activities to do from kayaking, surfing, boogey boarding, jet skiing, and just tooling around on a speed boat. It is the play area of the Australians, and even though we came out during the height of the tourist season, it was not enough to discourage us and ruin the fun we were able to have here.
As the clouds of reality started to filter back into my life reminding me of my responsibilities back in the land of winter, I was able to reflect back on my journey through the land down under. I came to the realization that the philosophy of the people there is one I should adopt. Yes, we will have moments where we are troubled by our cares and worries and we lose sight of how wonderful life can be. We need to brush those worries because they will eventually resolve themselves and we can go back to the life we love.
Bizarre moments will happen in our lives. Cows will eventually get stuck in trees (real name for this piece of art on the waterfront in Melbourne), and we will stare up at that cow and wonder how it has gotten this far. There are many Americans pondering that same perplexing thought right now. But eventually the tree will break, or the cow die, or we will take a picture of it to laugh at later and forget that it actually happened. The point is, don’t worry about it. It is what it is, and there are better things to concern yourself with.
When we find those other concerns things seemed to be in good hands. Everything will work out for the best if this is what you believe will happen, and the only way to allow this to happen is to not to fall into the hype of worries dragging you down. The best thing to do is to let the philosophy of the Australian take hold, and live by the principle of, “No worries, mate.”
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