After diving, we were very ready to leave Cairns, a port city that serves as a launching pad for divers to the reef. The actual town felt seedy and run down by backpackers and drunken aboriginals roaming the streets. That was my first time encountering the “aboriginals” in Aus, and it was a very depressing site. They looked like outcasts of society, suspended in the middle with little direction on how to adjust. I don’t know enough about the aboriginal culture in Australia to write about it but it has a lot of similarities to Native American’s problems- high levels of unemployment, alcoholism and poverty, unable to preserve their culture while adjusting to modern society. Like Americans, Australians don’t seem to discuss the “aboriginal” problem, the original sin of all countries founded by colonial powers.
From Cairns we took an overnight bus to Airlie Beach, as a quick stopover to see the infamous Whitsundays- a group of white sand islands dotted around a crystal blue ocean. I didn’t really know what to expect- the skeptical snob that I am- I figured I’d seen enough beautiful beaches this year (obviously). But when we arrived on Whitehaven beach, I realized why it had been rated as one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world. It was perfect. Unblemished. Immaculate. Unspoiled by overcrowded tourists. The ocean was so many different versions of blue. From a lookout point you could see the swirls of sand on the ocean floor and the changes of color from the waves. It was the highlight of our trip to Queensland and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The state of Queensland is really beautiful and remarkable, with a varied topography. It’s a very accurate portrayal of Australia’s infamous natural beauty. (Granted, I’ve only conquered the East Coast of Australia, so I’m not an expert.) We flew from Airlie Beach to Brisbane and road-tripped down past the Sunshine and Gold Coasts to the little hippie inlet town of Byron Bay, where surfers carry their boards through town and backpackers build bonfires on the beach. I fell in love with the laid back feeling of Byron, which brought back a homesick feeling for northern California.
We ended in Sydney just in time for the Vivid Festival- a light and music show that takes place in installations all over the city, most notably on the Opera House. I had no idea what to expect from Sydney and had only heard what it’s like when compared to Melbourne. Most people say it’s a louder, more boisterous, and bigger version of Melbourne-that the people are snobbier, or its not as clean. I think my low expectations upon arrival are what made Sydney one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited. It accomplishes three very important things that make it so great (and on its way to being like San Francisco- which is obviously the bar that everyone should compare great cities to). 1. It gives off a small town charm even while being in the middle of downtown. Each neighborhood has a unique character to it with boutiques and sidewalk cafes, giving off the small town feel of a main street. 2. The diversity of architecture and neighborhoods make it an easy and enjoyable walking city. There’s a great mix of modern financial buildings and classic colonial style houses scattered throughout the city. 3. With the harbor and the ocean nearby, it has unbelievable natural beauty for a city of its size. Taking a boat around the harbor and seeing the houses lined up on the water felt like the boat ride around San Francisco bay. The beaches on the southern part of town give it a laid back feeling and the botanical gardens offer a quiet solace to the busy financial district.
I had mixed emotions landing in rainy Melbourne. I didn’t realize how much I missed traveling, but on the other hand, after several months of settling down in a new city, I finally felt like I was arriving back to a home. I had a great new apartment and friends who were waiting to hear about our trip-which in itself felt like an accomplishment. We ambitiously traveled the length of Australia’s east coast, and let me tell you, it was not cheap. Backpacking Australia is so expensive that backpackers can’t even afford it. What I spent in two weeks here, penny pinching hostels and fast food, would’ve lasted me two months in Asia, in hotels and nice restaurants. However, I’ve now seen the natural diversity of Australia outside Melbourne, leaving me ready to start planning my journey home…