4WD Road Trip!

Matt and I flew into Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. We stayed in Darwin for one night before heading to pick up our rental car first thing the next morning. Many of the National Parks we were planning on stopping at had tracks that required 4WD vehicles with low and high range gearboxes, capable of water crossings and rough terrain. So we went with a Toyota Troopy that was equipped with a kitchenette and pop-up sleeping space. After signing our life away and getting groceries for the week, we headed to our first stop of the road trip–Kakadu National Park, nearly 300km Southeast of Darwin. Our first true stop was at a secret water hole recommended by a park ranger. It was very serene but also a little eerie, as it was our first time seeing the crocodile territory warning signs and we were the only humans in sight–aka the only crocodile food in sight.

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We continued further into Kakadu and decided to spend the night at Gunlom campground. This decision meant going on the first 4WD track of the trip! We dove right in and drove down 37km of pretty rough dirt track before arriving at the campground.

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The next morning we got off to an early start and hiked up Gunlom Falls to the famous rock pools at the top. We made it to the top around 7am, at which time it is beautifully lit and almost empty! We spent close to 5 hours up there exploring all the different rock pools and soaking in the beautiful view.

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In the afternoon we headed even further into Kakadu to visit Nourlangie, one of the famous Aboroginal Australian art sites in the park. It was pretty impressive to see artwork that is millions and millions of years old.

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The next day we decided to go on a four-hour cruise of Katherine Gorge that had been highly recommended to us by a friend of Matt’s dad and it didn’t take long for us to see why. The cruise took us through three different breathtaking “gorges” of the thirteen that make up Katherine Gorge, situated in Nitmiluk National Park. We had the opportunity to enjoy an hour and a half of swimming split between two different stops.

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After the cruise we set out for our next stop heading west, Gregory National Park. Luckily Matt got tired 40kms out of Katherine so we decided to call it a night and plan for an early getaway. It was not until the next morning that we realized we had driven 40kms the wrong highway towards Ayers Rock! We counted our lucky stars we hadn’t made it our planned 150kms and debated over how much blame I should accept given my role as the navigator–most would argue all, but I am fighting it to the death. It was also at this point that we realized we had a flat! After teaching me all about and performing the tire change, we were finally underway to our original destination.

We stopped  at Gregory National Walk for a bushwalk around the beautiful red rock landscape. The unique part of Gregory’s landscape is that amongst these sheer cliff faces, palm trees are grow as far as the eye can see.

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We made our way further West and stopped to camp at Keep River National Park, just before the border of Western Australia. We got there just as the sun was setting but got up bright and early the next day to complete a walk along the escarpment. The walk was stunning and the scenery was very similar to the iconic Bungle Bungle Range that is just a couple hours south. The Bungle Bungles were a part of our original itinerary before we realized it just wouldn’t be feasible time-wise; this walk definitely made up for it though! On our way out of the park Matt gave me my first ever manual driving lesson on the quiet dirt track. I was obviously a natural given my fabulous driving track record and didn’t stall the car until the very end of the road…at which point it was clear Matt should get back behind the wheel before getting on the highway. The highways in this area of Australia are quite different to the rest of the country; the speed limit is 130km/hr and the roads are mostly empty. However, two aspects of driving in the area that we were not fond of were fuel prices and road trains. We filled up for $1.95! And that’s diesel…we also spoke to people that told us they had filled up for $2.50 in more remote sections of the Gibb River Road. Secondly, every third vehicle you encountered on the highway was a road train–a transport truck like vehicle with four to five train-like cars, aka these vehicle  are the length of four transport trucks lined up back to back. They travel slowly relative to the speed limits and passing them can be a little scary given the size of their blind spot.

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We continued West after that to our next stop–El Questro Wildnerness Park. El Questro is the most easterly part of the famous Gibb River Road. Because of its location and proximity to Kununurra–a relatively sizeable town in that neck of the woods of roughly 5,000 people–El Questro is one of the most accessible spots for tourists that want a taste of the Gibb River Road to make day trips too. The area has been commercialized (but not too much) in a way that provides guests everything they need to have the luxe level of their choice. They have a wide variety of accommodations options that range from camping to $5000 2-night all-inclusive packages that include exclusive access to the on-site hot springs for the entire afternoon. On our first afternoon we visited my favourite gorge of the trip–Emma Gorge! The water was extremely chilly but you literally can’t go to a place like this and not swim!

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We went on to check out El Questro Gorge after that and encountered our first river crossing! We had seen warning signs for the crossing and anticipated 10m area of water at the max, after all we were in dry season (thank god!). We could not have been more wrong, our first crossing was close to 40m long in water that came over my knees. The protocol with 4WDing is to walk the crossing before driving it. We did this and then also were able to see another vehicle complete the crossing without any problems which made us much more confident. Shortly after, we conquered the crossing without any issues–so fun!

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That night we enjoyed awesome live music at the park bar during happy hour–the perfect way to finish off a busy day. We got up early to check out the hot springs, as they are only open from 7am-12pm for peasants like us who can’t afford $5k 2-night stays. I’ve visited a few hot springs in Western Canada and one in New Zealand but these were by far the most true to the name “natural hot spring”, as they were virtually unaltered by humans other than the path! The springs were the perfect temperature; if only I could start every day with a dip in hot springs!

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Our departure from El Questro marked the turn around point in the trip and we had to motor. That afternoon we put in over 500kms on the highway to get back to Katherine. The next morning we hit the jackpot again with a visit to the Katherine Hot Springs which turned out to be a super lovely spot as well and we had a huge pool to ourselves. On the way to Litchfield National Park, we made a pit stop at Edith Falls–a great swimming hole 40kms North of Katherine.

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We had a quick dip and were on our way to Litchfield. On our way into the park we stopped to snap a pic with the termite mounds we had seen scattered along the highway our whole trip. We had to capture the scale of these things!

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We had a great last night camping at Florence Falls in the heart of the park. Litchfield was filled with tons of beautiful waterfalls so it was hard for us to decide which ones to stop at on our way back to Darwin the next morning but a family camping beside us recommended Wangi Falls. We had a nice swim at Wangi Falls before we making our way back to the car rental drop-off!

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Something interesting we noticed was that most of the people we met and ran into throughout the trip were Australians, rather than foreigners. Moreover, I would rate this area of the country as Australia’s number one hidden gem–uniquely Australian natural beauty at its finest. However, the trip was certainly just a teaser for the area and we both left with certainty that we would be back to explore the rest of the area!

 

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Perth

Zoe and I arrived in Perth late Saturday night for one of our last big adventures before the end of the semester *tear tear*. We had arrangements to stay with Zoe’s friend Nat from Queen’s who is currently on exchange at UWA. On Sunday morning we headed to the nearby suburb Fremantle to visit the weekend market. The market was full of souvenirs, arts and crafts, and of course the best part of the market scene—amazing food. It was a stage 5 treat yourself day and we sampled both the chocolate covered strawberries and homemade cookies. Oh and did I mention that was breakfast? For lunch Nat told us we would head to the Little Creatures Brewery and restaurant—an Australian micro-brewery founded in Fremantle. Coincidentally, we had actually visited the company’s other restaurant location while in Melbourne and I had purchased a 6 pack of their bright ale the week prior so it was cool to see where it all began. After eating lunch we headed next door to the brewery for a complimentary beer tasting! The bright ale and amber ale were my personal favs for sure.

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We spent Monday exploring Perth’s largest park and CBD. We had tried eating at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant downtown the night before but were faced with two-hour wait times. We decided lunchtime would be our best opportunity to minimize wait time and try out the acclaimed restaurant and it was worth every minute of our twenty-minute wait.

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On Tuesday morning we headed back to Fremantle to go on a tour of Fremantle Prison. The prison was used to house convicts from the UK in its early years while they built the prison and served in other various labour positions. These convicts were serving sentences for things like stealing a loaf of bread to feed their family. Eventually the prison was handed over to the colonial government and converted into one of Western Australia’s only maximum-security prisons, housing some of Australia’s worst criminals. The prison was closed in 1991 as it had begun to garner a bad reputation. Living conditions in the prison were pretty horrendous for late twentieth century—there was no plumbing in cells, which meant prisoners had to do their business in buckets that permanently resided in the cell. In addition, there was 200 escapes over the course of the prison’s history which led people to question it’s status as a “maximum security” prison.

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On Wednesday we made our way to Perth’s most central beach—Cottesloe Beach. We enjoyed a really nice lunch overlooking the water and then made our way to the beach to relax and read for a bit. On our way we bumped into the national Chinese and Australian basketball teams doing some sort of press conference for their upcoming exhibition game. I couldn’t help but ask to get a picture to capture their height!

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On Thursday we were up bright and early to catch the ferry to Rottnest Island—just 30 minutes by boat from Perth mainland. Upon arrival at Rottnest we rented a tandem bike and snorkel gear before setting out to explore the island. It was a bit of a rough start on the tandem bike and we were both wondering if we would need to exchange it for two separate bikes. But we switched spots and eventually got the hang of it and it was so much fun! This first day we biked a loop that covered the Southern part of the island. The island is absolutely beautiful and the landscape is similar to that of the Greek islands or Croatia—lots of limestone, beautiful beaches, and blue blue water. We made lots of stops over the course of the day at various bays, beaches, a WWII Bunkie, and to snorkel a shipwreck! There have been 12 shipwrecks in the island’s history and the one we snorkeled was a ship called Shark. It was extremely cool but also rather eerie to swim around the sunken vessel. Multiply that by 25 when I encountered a school of fish that were each the size of my lower body.

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You can see the top of the shipwreck sticking out of the water below!

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At the end of our cycling day we checked in to our very own little cabin and soon after we had a visit from a potential third bunkmate. This guy is known as a quokka–a marsupial native to Rottnest Island. Rottnest is one of the only places in the world where quokkas can be found living in a natural habitat (there are a few other very small colonies in WA). The island was actually named after the quokkas; when Europeans discovered the island they thought the quokkas were giant rats and thus named the island after “rotte nest”–the dutch phrase for rats nest. In reality, the quokkas are a super cute little animal that has become pretty accustomed to humans given the touristy nature of Rottnest. “Ralph” as we named our pet quokka spent about half an hour meandering around our cabin before he made away with one of Zoe’s granola bars from her backpack.

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We enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the beach with a few beverages!

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Friday was another full day of cycling, this time around the northern half of the island. We biked the entire northern coast and then returned to our favourite beach of the day–Ricey Beach–to relax and do some reading before we had to return the books. The scenery was equally beautiful on this half of the island and the roads are practically empty. We found ourselves passing by other bikers once every half hour on average I would guess and no cars are allowed on the island other than the shuttle buses which is amazing! Rottnest really is a great destination for people of all ages looking for a relaxing but active getaway. Zoe and I both agreed we would be ferry seasons pass holders if we ever lived in Perth. The island is all controlled by a state authority so they have done a great job of keeping big commercial developments out, by prohibiting private land ownership, and conserving the natural environment. There is a small village with a few places to eat and buy necessities (liquor store of course) and a modest area of accommodations but aside from that the rest of the island is open roads and the great outdoors.

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All in all, a great week in WA with Rottnest Island being the highlight hands down!

Brisbane Livin’

This post is long overdue but hey, better late than never. Since returning from my extended mid-sem break I have been staying put (relatively speaking of course) around Brisbane and surrounding area a bit more.

On my first weekend back in town Elai came up to visit from Canberra! On Friday I showed her around Brisbane CBD and we went for a great Mediterranean dinner at a restaurant in trendy New Farm. On Saturday Elai went to a free Crossfit class at one of the gyms in my area and then we headed towards the Gold Coast for my rugby game. At night we had dinner on Caxton St. in Paddington–another hip suburb packed with restaurants and shops–before coming back to my house to host a surprise birthday party for my friend Zoe. On Sunday we headed up to the Sunshine Coast for an overnight stay in Noosa; I absolutely loved Noosa the first time that I visited so I was keen to go back and show Em my favourite beach town in Queensland! We chilled out on the beach, went for beautiful walks down the beach and around the headland, had a yummy tapas meal for dinner, and had a look around the cute shops in the morning before heading back to brissie. It was so awesome to see Em one last time in Oz; the next time we see each other will likely be on the pitch when our club teams play against each other this summer!tumblr_n58vehRVFR1tnwboio5_1280

 

The following week was a catch-up week for school and such but of course I still squeezed in some activities. On the Friday I climbed Mount Warning–the tallest peak in my area and the first place to see the sunrise in Australia. The track was approximately 9kms return and took nearly four hours but the view was totally worth it! The way up was fairly moderate for the majority of the track until the last 400m, at which point it was more of a free form rock climb with a chain to help you. Needless to say it was great training for my family’s Mt Kilimanjaro trip at Christmas time!IMG_7768

 

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Saturday I had rugby as per usual. Our team has been playing really well lately and we came out with a big win against the second placed team in our league. We were in third prior to that game, so the win put us into second in the league. It is going to be cool for me to watch the World Cup this year considering how many players I will know on the Canadian team. Two girls on my team here in Brisbane have been named to the Australian squad so that will also be super fun for me to watch! The teams are actually set to play each other and New Zealand in a test match in a couple weeks on a tour to New Zealand–I’m really looking forward to watching those games and seeing the results.

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That Sunday we went to the Customs House in Brisbane for High Tea to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The venue was absolutely beautiful–a really old building with a great outdoor patio where we sat with a great view of the Story Bridge. This was my first high tea experience and certainly not my last. Great food and an excuse to dress up–count me in every single time.

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On Wednesday of this past week I went to Dracula’s in Surfers Paradise. Dracula’s is a vampire-themed cabaret show and dinner. All staff, including servers, are in full vampire make-up and stay in character all night. The show was super entertaining and the food and drinks were also quite tasty. The show went quite late so we decided to stay the night in Surfers and enjoy the beautiful morning the next day!

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On Friday Matt and I headed up to Bribie Island for the afternoon. Bribie Island has a number of inhabitants and normal elements of civilization but the far side of the island is all national park and the miles of beach is accessible almost exclusively by 4WD. So we drove up the beach until we found a spot to our liking and proceeded to play a bit of rugby, relax, swim, and BBQ up some kangaroo sausages for late lunch. A very Aussie feeling afternoon on the whole.

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Yesterday my girl friends and I got off to an early start and headed to the Doomben Cup Day Horse Races at a track just a 20 minute drive from the city. I would by lying if I didn’t say one of my favourite parts of the whole day was simply people watching at this event. Everyone in attendance is dressed to the nines. But the coolest thing for fashionistas to admire are the “fascinators”–extremely elaborate headpieces worn by many of the girls that match their outfit. We watched the first couple of races to get the feel for the event and then I decided to try my hand at betting. I lost my first $5 on an underdog but doubled my second $10 on Arabian Gold. As gambling goes, I kissed my winnings goodbye on the next race when my “safe bet” first-ranked horse under performed. Overall it was a super fun day and one thing is for sure, I will most definitely purchase a fascinator for my next race!

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Sailing the Whitsundays

After joining the sailing club this semester and going out to a few social sailing days I was completely sold on the idea of spending a week sailing Australia’s famous Whitsunday Islands. The Whitsundays are a drowned mountain range that now encompasses 70-some odd islands just inside the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Our group of 35 assembled in Airlie Beach–the primary departure point for Whitsunday vacationers. Our fleet was comprised of two 42 ft. monohauls and two catamarans (that would later become known as party cat 1 & 2 respectively for radio communications). I was on one of the monohauls–with an estimated worth of $250,000–called Waterman with 6 others.

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Our first sailing day was a rough and rainy one. This weather was pretty much a dream come true for all the sailing enthusiasts on the trip and a worst nightmare for people wanting to work on their tan. Despite the weather the sail was pretty exhilarating, as we spent most of our time cruising on a 45 degree keel. We spent our first night moored at Nara Inlet–a nice bay of Whitsunday Island.

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A typical day on the boat followed the following rough itinerary: wake up and have some breakfast on the patio, sail until noon, go for a snorkel, lunch on the boat, sail to our next overnight destination, go for a hike, make some dinner, and have some bevvies. The second day was no exception and we enjoyed the best snorkelling of the Whitsundays off of Hayman Island. The colourful coral and diversity of marine life rivalled the first stop of my Great Barrier Reef excursion up north. We happened to be at the tail end of jellyfish season so we had to get decked out in stinger suits to be safe but I also personally felt like it upped my cool factor tenfold.

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On the evening of the third night a group of about 10 of us went on a fairly rigorous hike to Whitsunday Peak. We arrived at the top just in time for sunset and with the most amazing view of the surrounding islands. The walk down was a little dicey in the pitch black but luckily a few eager beavers had headlamps.

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On the fourth day at sea we arrived at the Hamilton Island Marina. Hamilton Island is essentially one huge resort; you get a whiff of wealth every time a 16 year old boy drives by you in a golf cart. We were overjoyed to arrive here because all marina occupants have access to all the facilities of the island. This meant hot showers–something you take for granted before spending a week at sea. A couple of us did another hike to the tallest point on Hamilton and then spent the afternoon hanging out in the pool. The entire group went for a nice meal out at one of the restaurants in the small village and later checked out the island pub.

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The next morning we set off for Whitehaven beach–the most iconic place in the Whitsundays. On this journey I also got to try my hand at driving the boat an I must say, harder than it looks. MUCH more finicky than driving a car and resulted in a new found respect for my skipper…but at least I looked the part.

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The beach is miles long and despite the fact that is likely the most frequented beach in the Whitsundays, it is pristine with beautiful white sand and clear blue water. The group had a bit of a party on the beach and then I went on a 2.5 hour walk of the entire length of the beach with a couple people from my boat. The following day we went for a hike to a lookout point of Whitehaven beach at high tide. The view at the end of the trail is the image you normally see on postcards of the Whitsundays and was quite possibly one of the most breathtaking views I’ve had on my trip. We spent the night moored in Tongue Bay–a bay known for it’s turtle population. We actually had two sea turtle sightings over the course of the week which was pretty neat.

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Our final sail back to the marina was pretty intense, with the wind gusting to 30 knots. We enjoyed one final night together in the marina before an early flight back to Brisbane the next morning. Overall, it was an incredible week spent in a beautiful place with great new friends.

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Cairns & the Coast

After two flight delays Clem–a fellow McGillian–and myself touched down in Cairns on Thursday afternoon. Being the budget-savvy traveller that I am I opted for the no-luggage fare. Keep in mind I have just embarked on a two week vacation and packing all my belongings into my school bag and carrying a sleeping bag as my “purse” was no easy task.

After picking up our rental car we hit the road and began our journey north to Port Douglas. It is a beautiful one hour drive along the coast; we couldn’t help but stop to take in some of the beaches.

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It has been quite some time since I have been full on camping and thus, Thursday night was the first time in a while that I slept on mother nature’s mattress–the cold hard ground. I forgot how luxurious sleeping without a pillow and waking up with enough bug bites to look like you have chicken pox really is.

Friday morning we woke up bright and early to depart on our full day snorkel trip to the infamous Great Barrier Reef. It was around1h 45 mins to boat out to the reef where we stopped at three different sites for one hour each. There was also a marine biologist from the Great Barrier Reef commission on board to assess some of the damage from Cyclone Ita that just passed through the area last week.

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Our first site was sort of a warm up where we were free to explore on our own for the hour and marvel at the countless different species of fish that call the reef home. At the second site we had the opportunity to go on a guided tour with the on-ship marine biologist–Emma. During the tour Emma talked about coral, passed around a sea cucumber, and showed us clown fish in their anemone that were made famous in Finding Nemo. During our lunch break Emma also talked about the reef as a whole and it’s overall health. It is a very fragile ecosystem and if humans continue to disregard this, the reef will be irreparably damaged or even wiped out entirely in a few short decades. The third site was without a doubt the most beautiful, with the most diverse and colourful coral landscape. Overall, the reef is a truly incredible wonder of the natural world and it would be a shame to see humans unnecessarily destroy one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.

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Saturday morning we got off to an early start and headed towards Cape Tribulation via the Daintree Rainforest–the oldest living rainforest in the world. I volunteered to take a turn driving for the day, little did I know my first time driving on the wrong side of the road would bring me back to my days of playing Mario Kart. The roads through the rainforest are narrow at best with non-existent shoulders and no straight stretch longer than 50m.

We made a number of stops throughout the Daintree Rainforest at various lookouts and boardwalks. The area is extremely lush and full of crocodile and cassowary warnings. We relaxed at our final destination Cape Tribulation beach for a couple hours before heading to our campground located on Noah’s beach.

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The sun sets so early here (around 6:30) so we decided it wouldn’t be unreasonable to get to bed early and try and make it up for sunrise. Boy was it worth it for this view!

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Afterwards we made the most of our morning and enjoyed a barefoot run on the beach before we began our drive back to Cairns.

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On the way back we made stops at Barron Falls, Kuranda Rainforest, and Yorkie beach. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring downtown Cairns and gearing up for our big whitewater rafting excursion tomorrow!

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We took a week off from travelling (sort of) and had an action packed week in Brisbane before we get ready to head out on various adventures for mid-semester break. Last weekend Courtney, a friend from home who is on exchange a couple hours from Brisbane, and her friend Ally came to visit me. We had a great visit and I showed them around the city! Saturday night we hit up a Super XVs game at Suncorp Stadium. It was a super exciting game of high-level rugby. It is a rugby lovers dream to be able to watch professional rugby in a stadium with attendance that rivals an NHL turnout at home.

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The only downside of the evening was an extremely annoying girl behind us that screamed in her piercing voice for the entirety of the game. Needless to say she was a little disappointed when her team lost.

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On Sunday we climbed Mt Coot-tha, the highest point in Brisbane. At the top you are rewarded with the best view of the city you can find.

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We checked out the Brisbane casino for the first time on Tuesday night. It is located in the very historic Treasury building. To my delight my first time gambling was a success! I won $30 on my first slot machine ever and my friend Sam won $100. If my luck continues maybe my debt will be gone before I know it…or increase tenfold.

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On Wednesday Zoe, her sister Logan, her friend Sarah, and I headed to Surfers Paradise. True to form, we opted to enrol in a two hour surf lesson for the duration of the afternoon. We had so much fun learning the basics, face planting in the ocean, and finally haphazardly standing up. Zoe and I fully intend to rent boards a few more times over the semester and be ready to accept sponsorship by Quicksilver in a few months time.

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On Friday a group of us headed out on an adventure to find secret rock pools our friends Taylor and Aviva had visited a few weeks prior. It didn’t take long for us to realize this place really was top secret, as upwards of 5 locals we tried to ask for directions had literally never heard of this place before. After a bit of a wild goose chase we finally found the pools and enjoyed a full day of cliff jumping, waterfall climbing, swimming, and rock climbing with the hidden spot all to ourselves–so cool.

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Saturday morning I played in my second rugby game of the season. It was a real hot one but my team played really well and came out with a big W. In the afternoon we attended a big rugby club event called Ladies Day. Hundreds of girls with purchased tickets get dressed to the nines to watch the premier rugby game and drink champagne served by topless rugby boys. For the girls, the event doubles as a serious fashion show! Later in the evening there was a player auction to raise money for breast cancer research. Members of the boys rugby team are auctioned off in pairs and winning bidders are awarded 30 minutes with the boys and an accompanying prize. It was pretty hilarious to watch, as the boys weren’t afraid to show some skin to drive the bidding up.

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We finished the night at Friday’s, our favourite bar in the city that overlooks the Story Bridge on the river. At the end of 8+ hours in heels we were all ready to have our feet amputated but we still managed to keep a smile on our faces.

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Sydney

Zoe and I managed to cheat the system and book both of our train tickets to Sydney on my travel pass #winning. So after a long overnight ride we arrived early Monday morning.

We got off to an early start and headed towards Circular Quay. Of course we stopped to take 3,764 pictures in front of the iconic Sydney Opera House along the way.

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We caught the bus to the famous Bondi Beach for the afternoon. Bondi is one of a kind, with cliffs on either side, cute storefronts, heaps of surfers, and of course no shortage of beautiful people.

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We stopped in the cute suburb of Paddington for supper. Along Oxford St we also stumbled upon the coolest outdoor public library! The demolition site of a historic building had been turned into a beautiful work space with books for borrowing on the honour system–so cool.

After dinner we headed to the Opera Bar to have a drink overlooking the beautiful Sydney harbour. The views from the venue were pretty surreal.

Tuesday morning we wandered around Sydney’s historic downtown.
The CBD is packed with loads of gorgeous old buildings with stunning architecture. One of our favs was St Mary’s Cathedral.

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In the afternoon we headed to Manly beach on the ferry. The shops around Manly are super cute and spending an afternoon on the beach is never rough.

Since 2000 when MK & Ash Olsen filmed Our Lips Are Sealed in Sydney I have had climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge on my bucket list and Tuesday night I got to cross it off! The pre-climb prep was perhaps more rigorous than skydiving funny enough. You are required to get totally suited up, harnessed on, and radioed in. The climb itself is about 2 hours and has been completed by over 3 million people since it’s inception in 1998, including celebs like Opera, Robert De Niro, and Ryan Reynolds to name a small handful. The views from the bridge were absolutely amazing and at the top of the arch we even got to see fireworks from one of the cruise ships in the harbour! Our guide had worked at bridge climb since it’s opening so we were lucky to have really interesting commentary the whole climb!

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The operation faced a LOT of skepticism and resistance before it got the green light–it was a 10 yr uphill battle for the founder. But to put how well this operation does now in perspective, the cheapest climb is $200; they have roughly 500 climbers per day 365 days a year; you are not allowed to bring cameras and pictures are sold at the end. So they’re doing alright.

On Wednesday we spent most of the day at the highly recommended Taronga Zoo. At the zoo, not only are there hundreds of cool animals but also amazing views of the Sydney cityscape. My fav exhibits had to be the red tailed panda and the gorillas. Zoe had been waiting her whole life to see a quoka–a special type of wombat–so that was the highlight of her day without question.

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After the zoo we headed down to Darling Harbour, a beautiful area lined with restaurants and shops on the water. We met up with Briley, another on of my friends from my Thailand tour for dinner at a yummy Asian restaurant that brought back memories of our trip!

On our final morning in Sydney we wandered around Pott’s Point and Rushcutter’s Bay Park and got a glimpse at how the other half lives. These people are living in mansions on the harbour with their tennis courts, polo field, and country club a stones throw away. However, it is pretty ironic that one of the wealthiest suburbs in Sydney is directly adjacent to what is widely regarded as the seediest area of the city–Kings Cross. Zoe and I have already begun to scheme ways we can earn enough money to retire here.

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Fraser Island

Thursday afternoon Zoe, Sam, Mere, and I took off for our weekend getaway to Fraser Island. We decided to rent a car to get to the tour starting point due to cost and so we began our first road trip on the wrong side of the road with Sam behind the wheel. We made a pit stop at King’s Beach in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast for a nap and a bite to eat. Afterwards we continued our trek to Hervey Bay where we stayed in a hostel overnight and got picked up the next morning by our tour company Cool Dingo.

We had a one hour ferry ride over to Fraser Island where we were greeted by our guide. I really didn’t do much research on the island at all and booked our tour based on a few trip advisor reviews. On the company’s website they 4WD tours; so we really weren’t sure exactly what that meant before arriving on Fraser but it didn’t take long for us to find out. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world at 120kms in length. For whatever reason I had the misconception the roads on the island would be paved…or at least that the sand would be packed down to simulate pavement. I could not be more wrong. Our vehicle for the weekend was a jacked up 4WD bus that is designed to go over extremely narrow, windy, incredibly bumpy, very loose sand “roads” which feels closer to a roller coaster ride than a car ride.

Our first stop was picture perfect Lake Mackenzie. Here we relaxed and went for a dip in this fresh water lake in the interior of the island.

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For the afternoon, we headed out on a trek through Fraser’s rainforest. The hike went through Pile Valley–a sub-tropical forest full of giant satiny trees. We also walked along the Wanggoolba Creek, a very pretty natural creek with a sandy bottom

On day two we headed straight for 75 mile beach–the world’s longest sand highway. We drove along the beautiful beach for quite some time until we stopped at a small scenic flight operation where we decided to #YOLO and head up into the sky to take in some aerial views of Fraser. The flight was an awesome way to get a better sense of the island’s layout and scale. Image

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Our next stop was the Maheno Shipwreck–a pretty cool historical site that dates back to 1935.

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We then drove up the beach to Indian Heads. We completed a short hike to get to the top of this lookout. From the top you can see miles and miles of beach along the Coral Sea in either direction. It was pretty spectacular and the most beautiful day for it.

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Afterwards we drove up to the Champagne Pools. The Champagne Pools are natural rock pools just inland from the ocean that allow you to relax in shallow waters or play in the ocean waves that come crashing over the walls of the furthest pool.

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At the beginning of day 3, we headed straight for Lake Birrabeen for a dip and a paddle board.

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After lunch we set out on a hike to Hammerstone Sandblow. It was about 2.5kms each way–amplified by the fact that you’re hiking through sand. We finally made it to the Sandblow; it was pretty crazy that we could feel as though we were in the middle of the Sahara and really be less than a couple kms from the beach and have emerald-green Lake Wabby right beside the sandblow to cool off in. We had some fun in the seemingly endless sand dunes and got a fish pedicure in the waters of Lake Wabby before heading back to the bus.

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As we made our way back along the beach towards the ferry we had a few dingo sightings! Looking at them it is so hard to believe they could aggressive animals that we were only allowed to photograph from the safety of the bus. They really just look like beautiful domestic dogs but there are signs everywhere around the island to remind you these wild dogs have inflicted serious injury, even death, on humans in the past.

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I was warned before my arrival in Fraser that tourists are notorious for getting their vehicle stuck and having to have it towed. As it turns out, despite the fact that we were with an established tour company we did not make it off the island without having our own bus break down. Luckily it wasn’t too big of an ordeal but it was pretty interesting to see how efficiently they can solve these sorts of problems given the regularity of occurrence.

Overall, Fraser Island is a pretty amazing place and I definitely hope to get back one day to rent my own jeep! I know what you’re thinking..my driving record isn’t exactly flawless. Maybe I won’t be the driver but I will find someone qualified to accompany me I promise.

Marvellous Melbourne

I began my extremely LONG journey to Melbourne on Wednesday afternoon. You know what they say; desperate times call for desperate measures. So in my dire financial situation I have “elected” to take the train to Melbourne rather than fly to save some cash. However, this savings comes at it’s own intangible price, 27 HOURS OF MY LIFE I WILL NEVER GET BACK. And that’s each way. Oh and that’s economy, the sleeper car was a luxury I could not afford. My wallet better be grateful that’s all I’ve got to say.

I met some Canadian guys on the last leg of my train ride and they happened to be staying at the same hostel so we were able to navigate our way there together upon arrival in Melbourne. We were staying in a cute suburb close to the beach      15 minutes from the CBD called St Kilda. My friends weren’t due to arrive until after midnight so I went down to check out the local night market with the two Canadian guys. This place was hippie central with an abundance of bongo drums and fire dancers—it had a very similar to the crowd you would find at Tam Tams in MTL.

The next morning we headed the Melbourne’s downtown core for a walking tour I ripped out of my Lonely Planet book. We started at the Queen Victoria Market to grab some grub. For the next couple of hours we toured around the streets, passing all of Melbourne’s iconic buildings and monuments. The coolest part about Melbourne though is the little tiny alleys found all over the city lined with unique boutiques and some of the best food in Australia.

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We headed over to Southbank to check out a floating pop-up restaurant open for the Melbourne’s food and wine festival. The venue allowed you to enjoy some very high quality food for a reasonable price! I split a four-dumpling taster with Mere and the chosen paired wine.

Eventually we made our way to Brunswick Street, known for it’s hipster vibe. The street is full of awesome cafes and shops but we headed to a restaurant called Little Creatures, as we were meeting my McGill roommate Casey’s friend from Newfoundland who is in Melbourne for Vet school. The “dining hall” was a super cool venue and the food was to die for. I also tried out a beer tasting platter that was quite good made up of the house cider, a pale ale, a darker vanilla infused beer, and an IPA. We ended our night on Chapel Street—Melbourne’s famous nightlife street.

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The next morning Elai arrived and we had a great breakfast in St Kilda. We then walked along the St Kilda beach and out to the pier, as it was much warmer than our first day in Melbourne. Afterwards we strolled the streets and cute shops of St Kilda and ended the afternoon at the St Kilda botanical gardens. Elai and I headed back to Brunswick Street to do the shops and were just in our element. We had a dinner date with two girls from our Thailand trip right downtown at a yummy Mexican tapas place. It was really great to catch up with them and after dinner we headed to a bar called the Croft Institute recommended by Casey’s friend Kathryn. This place is literally down a sketchy alley in Chinatown but the concept is cool! The bar is themed like a science laboratory and drinks are served with syringes for consumption.

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On our final day in Melbourne Elai and I got off to an early start and headed to Chapel Street for breakfast and a walk around. Afterwards we trained into the CBD and explored some of the inner city streets some more. Being together again in the food capital of Australia left us no choice but to find a lunch that would blow our socks off. Kind of by chance we ended up at a South East Asian joint where we enjoyed an amazing meal that brought back memories of Thailand. After lunch and a few wrong turns we finally arrived at the Brisbane Exhibition Centre to watch a couple of Australia’s top Crossfit Athletes throwdown for the Open WOD 14.2. It was a lot of fun to watch and as it turned out the WOD happened amidst a fitness and health expo so we got to walk around a few other booths (and sift through lots of body building meatheads on roids). The most hilarious booth at the expo goes back to my remark earlier about fake breasts. This booth was advertising “cosmetic vacations”, trips to Thailand to get a boob job! What a vacation package…

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We enjoyed one final dinner in St Kilda at an awesome Italian restaurant and then had to part ways. I was able to shave 6 hours off my return by inquiring and catching an earlier train back to Brisbane (and got upgraded to first class in the process) #winning.

Last Weekend of Freedom

After a great two days in Noosa we took Friday night off to rest up for our big music festival the following day. On Saturday we convened at 10AM to start getting ready for Future Music Fest! We knew the music fest scene was big in Oz so we decided to dress the part and all sported flower headbands. Let me tell you, if there is ever a place to people watch it is at a music festival. The attitude of most people seems to be the less clothing the better—some people could make you feel modestly dressed in a bikini. 

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We headed to the festival around noon and spent the entire day at the main stage listening to a wide variety of lesser-known artists. Macklemore kicked of the headliners around 5 but Hardwell had to be our favourite performance. One interesting thing we learned over the course of the day is the popularity of fake breasts among young Aussie girls. It was shocking; it literally seemed like one in every four girls had gone under the knife. One girl we spoke too who had to only be a couple years older than me had spent a whopping $24,000 on hers!! $9,000 in Thailand and $16,000 to fix them when she got back to Australia haha. A guy we met told us that a famous bar in Surfers Paradise had recently given away a pair of fake breasts as a door prize! So crazy.

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On Sunday I dragged myself out of bed to be at school for 9AM to try out the UQ Sailing Club. We convened at the school pool and headed by car to a harbor about 40 minutes away. Getting started was a bit of a lengthy process because of the small number of experienced sailors relative to total people in attendance. Eventually we headed out on smaller boats to sail to a nearby island. I was on a small catamaran with five others—only one of whom knew what they were doing. Maria, our skipper, is on the sailing club exec and she taught us about sailing as we went and gave us each a turn skippering. All those days at Sturgeon Point Sailing Club were slowly but surely starting to come back to me! We hung out on the island for a bit and then headed back to shore and by that time it was 5PM—great way to spend a Sunday. We all went out for some delish fish and chips at a local joint to finish the day off.

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I really enjoyed sailing so I decided to become a member and I also decided to sign up for their spring break trip, as most of my friends are going to New Zealand which I have already done. The trip sounds incredible though; it’s 7 days of sailing the Whitsunday Islands (off the coast of Queensland) with 30 students from the club in 3 different boats. The boats are big enough that we will be sleeping on them as well! I’m really looking forward to it and I’m just hoping I don’t have any critical responsibilities as a member of the crew or the vessel could be in grave danger.

Alas, Monday—the dreaded first day of class—came and went. It had been so long since I’ve been in the school groove, but avoiding class forever had to come to an end at some point. My first couple classes were okay, a little dry because the first week is a lot of administrative stuff. The environment at UQ on campus is great though, it’s a really lively and bustling campus. Given that it isn’t located in the heart of the city and you can find everything from a candy store to a dentist on campus, a lot of students spend their entire day on campus.