Australia: Top Ten Experiences

(This was originally posted on 27 July)

In the last few days, after being back from Australia for a few weeks, I have finally found the time to write a blog post. Very delayed I know, I’ve been busy editing photos and video footage from the trip. As I didn’t find the time to write weekly posts while I was away (I was just too busy having adventures), I thought it would be best to document my trip retrospectively by telling you the stories of my top ten highlights. These are experiences which particularly stood out to me on my travels through New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland and there is quite a variety. I originally intended to reflect only on five experiences but it was too difficult to narrow down so I decided to extend the post to ten, and even that was tough due to all the exciting things I did!

Today my other blog, Five Thousand Miles to the Beach, which documented my year abroad in the USA reached 10,000 views, a number I find crazy! So this blog post about my new experiences seems like the perfect way to celebrate; this marks the proper beginning of this blog. If you liked reading about my past adventures I hope you enjoy this new site which will document all my journeys to come.

Here we go:


10. Watching a magnificent sunset in Sydney and a magical sunrise in Cairns

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Sunsets and sunrises have to be one of my favourite things in the world. My year abroad in California gave me a huge appreciation for their beauty and I loved the ease of going to the beach to watch. Here at home, we rarely get such striking sunsets and I never go to picturesque places to see them. So in Australia I wanted to fully embrace every one. On one of my first days in Sydney after a day of exploring I happened to be at Circular Quay in perfect time to witness this sunset, perhaps the best I have ever seen. After a busy day walking it was so nice to just watch the changing colours of the sky, from orange and yellow to pink and purple. It looked like the sky was on fire; the photos speak for themselves really! Of course it was made even more special by being above the iconic Sydney Opera House.

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I was also determined to wake up for a sunrise while in Australia and I did so in Cairns. On the final leg of my solo trip up the east coast I got the overnight Greyhound bus from Airlie Beach and arrived in Cairns at 5:45am. Unable to check into my hostel that early in the morning I decided to wait on the Esplanade and watch the sun come up. I’m so glad I had this opportunity as it was incredible.

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9. Snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef

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It may surprise people that this is only 9th on my list, and while it was a really great experience I had already done snorkelling at the Whitsunday Islands and was comparing it to that, which was a lot more enjoyable as we snorkelled in bays, so the current was a lot more manageable to swim through, whereas at the Great Barrier Reef you had little control over where you were going, being in the middle of the ocean. I got thrown around quite a bit and so it wasn’t as relaxing. I also saw more fish at the Whitsundays, so I was a little disappointed at the Great Barrier Reef. I may have just been unlucky, but I hear it was a lot more impressive to visit 10 years ago when the pollution of the ocean wasn’t so bad. However, it still ranks in the top ten as it was an experience like no other, I met really cool people on the boat and the service provided by the company was really good! I did swim in the iconic Great Barrier Reef after all! I also found Nemo! I would say it is probably worth diving instead of snorkelling as you would see much more. The company I went with was Deep Sea Divers Den on the ReefQuest trip and I would recommend them as it was a great price, the staff made the day very entertaining and the boat ride was only 90 minutes unlike others which can be up to 3 hours. It was thrilling to be swimming in the middle of the bright blue ocean, far away from anything except a boat! Being in the water did make me wish I had a GoPro though, I had a retro waterproof disposable camera with only 36 shots!

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8. Road-tripping the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles

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I took this road trip with Australian friends, two of whom I’d met on my year abroad in the USA. It was a fun trip with great music and an amazing drive along the south coast. The ocean was so blue, so many shades of blue. I thought it was incredible. Rain had been forecast for that day, but we were very lucky and had the most beautiful weather. I love being by the coast and I really appreciated the colour of the water coming from England where the sea is mostly grey. I fell in love with it, I felt like I could live on that road, get a camper van and continue to travel along the coast. Maybe one day I can go back and go all the way across and up the west coast. The Great Ocean Road provided stunning views for most of the journey, at some points it went inland through countryside and forests but those parts were also very picturesque. The Twelve Apostles, a collection of limestone stacks and an iconic natural attraction of Australia are beautiful, unique and well worth a visit. There are currently only eight apostles left due to erosion. I’d say the drive there was almost equally as impressive as the Twelve Apostles, it was just beautiful view after beautiful view. It was being sat in that car, driving down the coast, that it truly hit me that I was on the other side of the world in Australia, and I thought how lucky are Australians that they have places such as this in their country.

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7. Walking amongst Melbourne’s street art

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I’m a big fan of murals and street art and I had read about this in my Make The Most of Your Time On Earth book. It’s what I was most looking forward to visiting in Melbourne and it didn’t disappoint. The constantly evolving street art on several alleyways throughout the city such as Hosier Lane, Union Lane and Central Place demonstrate Melbourne’s edgy art scene. In 2007, to combat the city’s graffiti problem, the authorities started a programme “Do Art Not Tags” to encourage street art instead of tags in specific places in the city. The result is an amazing array of colourful murals and art pieces concentrated into certain areas. Many provide social commentary and messages to the viewer, a far cry from the less meaningful tags which previously covered the walls. On my walk around the lanes I found someone doing a tag, so while they do still exist, they are surrounded by street art and murals and are likely to get covered up relatively quickly by new and very different pieces. It is constantly evolving. It was a photographer’s dream, so much colour and variety, and knowing the artwork may be covered up by something else very soon, makes it that much cooler to have captured. Wandering through the alleyways also provided a relaxing break from the busy city streets, almost as if you were in an outdoor gallery. No white space here though, brilliant colour everywhere you look! A very distinctive city attraction and a brilliant reason to visit Melbourne.

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6. Exploring Melbourne’s Old Gaol 

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This is a bit of a different one. I love visiting old prisons, I find them so interesting. This may be due to taking the course, ‘Doing Time: American Prison Culture’ at university in which we learnt about the prison system from the beginnings of the penitentiary to the present day prison. We had to read Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, hard work but a very interesting book and we even visited a prison where we talked to prisoners about some poems and artwork. The course gave me such a great understanding and as a result visiting Melbourne’s Old Gaol was really intriguing. The gaol was built in the mid-1800s and had 133 hangings until its closure in 1929, including that of the infamous Ned Kelly in 1880, a bushranger who has come to be an Australian cultural icon. A guide tried to convince us the gaol was haunted as a result of the hangings, showing us some images that supposedly had ghosts and sending us into the “most haunted” cell. It was fascinating to think about all the prisoners who had been in those cells over a hundred years ago and walked throughout the gaol shackled in chains, some even walking to their death.

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5. Cycling amongst the autumn leaves in Canberra

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There’s nothing like getting out and about on a bike in the fresh air to take in the sights. Canberra is a great place to do this due to its accessible cycle paths and mostly flat terrain. The city has several routes which take you around Lake Burley Griffin, through the countryside, past the National Museum of Australia and then towards all the parliamentary buildings. We cycled over 21km and it was probably the best way to explore the Capital Territory. We even spotted some wild kangaroos! You can do shorter or longer routes depending on what suits you. We hired bikes at the Yacht Club, which were brand new and we were the first people to ride them. They conveniently had baskets on the rear for belongings and we were given locks which was great for when we parked up at the Parliament Building to take a look around. It was interesting to see Australia’s parliament, you can go in and explore the building which was designed by architect Romaldo Giurgola who based the design on the shape of two boomerangs. Canberra was a very quiet and relaxed place, it felt as if the parliament buildings were inside a massive park. I particularly enjoyed the colours of the leaves around the city, a contrast to the sunny warm climate of Queensland I had just come from. I experienced my second autumn of the year and I loved it. I guess that’s what happens when you travel to the other side of the world!

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4.  Gliding above and venturing deep into the Barron Gorge Rainforest

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While in Cairns I decided to take a trip on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway which takes you above the World Heritage-Listed rainforest for about 40 minutes. There was something so calming about being in a cable car on my own gliding through the air with only the sounds of the rainforest below. The cable cars also stopped at two points allowing you to explore the depths of the rainforest. It was so pretty and peaceful to be surrounded by trees and greenery. The sunlight coming through the canopy was something else! I spotted a very big spider while walking as you can see in a photo below. The journey ended at a little village in the middle of the rainforest called Kuranda which in the 1970s and 1980s was popular with people seeking an alternative lifestyle. This is still evident today in the village in amongst its markets, art galleries and numerous wildlife sanctuaries. My return journey was on the Kuranda Scenic Railway which went through the trees, winding past mountains and waterfalls. It was great to see the rainforest from the opposite perspective of the Skyrail, cruising under the tall canopies of the Wet Tropics, a stunning journey.

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3. Riding in speed boats, snorkelling and taking in the view at the Whitsunday Islands

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Many people take two night sailing trips around the Whitsunday Islands but as I was short on time I decided to do a day trip with Ocean Rafting which uses a speedboat to get around the islands. I did the Northern Exposure tour as it had two snorkelling spots rather than just one. We also stopped at the famous Whitehaven beach for lunch and had a guided walk to Hill Inlet to take in the breathtaking view. I’m so glad I did this tour over a two night sailing one, as I saw everything I wanted to and the speedboat was a really fun and different way to get around, more exciting for me than being on a sailboat. On the journey back to Airlie Beach I was able to sit on the side of the boat, right next to the ocean with the wind in my hair, as we raced another boat back to the marina. Ocean Rafting staff made the day really fun and the snorkelling spots were great. The water was calm and we didn’t need to wear stinger/wet suits due to the warm temperature of the water and there being a low risk of stingers at this time of year. We were able to swim around at Maureen’s Cove and Mantaray Bay which had really beautiful colourful coral and lots of fish. At some points I found myself in the middle of a school of fish, trying not to touch them! There were so many fish it made it a very cool experience and it was very relaxing to be able swim at your own pace taking in the underwater scenery. This is why I ranked this experience so much higher than the Great Barrier Reef snorkelling. Of course the views at the Whitsunday Islands are another reason why this tour is higher. This is the most beautiful place I think I’ve ever seen. I was told to make sure I went on a tour which included the Hill Inlet Lookout and it didn’t disappoint. This is Australia at its finest!

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2. Going “Down Under” to explore the Jenolan Caves

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On my last full day in Australia we visited the Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains. We did the two-hour River Cave Tour which had something impressive to look at every step of the way. I’ve never done anything like this and it was very beautiful. It was very strange to be underground, cut off from the rest of the world, but an even better and more unique experience because of it. This particular limestone cave features the River Styx which has led to the creation of pools of motionless water such as the ‘Pool of Reflections’ as shown below. The still water generates incredible reflections of the rock formations in the caves above. We were told by our tour guide about how the formations in the caves came to be, from deposits of calcite crystal. The different types of formations are: Stalactites (grow downwards), Stalagmites (grow upwards), straws, columns and pillars. There is such a variety of shapes and colours it is fascinating to see. I felt like I was in a fantasy world, it was very surreal!

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1. Stargazing and watching the moonrise on Fraser Island

This natural wonder was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. Here in Manchester we don’t see many stars and definitely not the Milky Way. Due to the island’s distance from any light pollution and due to the moon not having yet risen, the night sky was so crystal clear and absolutely full of stars, like even more than you can possibly comprehend. The Milky Way was in full view and it was absolutely incredible. To see this for the first time was pretty much indescribable and it’s a memory I’ll try to keep forever. The whole tour group went down to the beach, all 27 people lay in row on the beach and looked at the night sky, shouting out whenever they spotted a shooting star (I saw two). We then looked out to the ocean and watched the moon rising from the horizon. As the moon rose the amount of stars in the sky steadily decreased. Our tour guide told us this moonrise only happens twelve times in the year and we saw it on two nights! After being so wowed the first night we decided to go to the beach the second night too. An absolutely magical experience. When I got back to Sydney I couldn’t shut up about how amazing the stars were, my friends thought I was crazy. I had no picture, no proof to show. Since I’ve been back home, when asked about Australia, I tell people about the stars on Fraser Island.

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Sometimes the best moments aren’t caught on camera!

I didn’t take my DSLR camera to Fraser Island due to fear of it getting destroyed by all the sand we were told gets everywhere by tour guides. They were right! By the end of the tour all my belongings were covered in sand. Not having the capability to capture the stars and moonrise made the experience much more authentic and enjoyable, no distractions, just pure amazement. These days we are all so caught up in technology that we can forget to just look, not through our screens, but actually look at the events unfolding before our eyes. Sometimes you have to leave your camera behind and just live in the moment and in this case lie on a beach watching the shooting stars above.

As a whole my time on Fraser Island with Palace Adventures was one of the best parts of my time in Australia so I am planning to do another blog post about my 3 days on the island soon. Stay tuned for that.


I hope you enjoyed reading some highlights of my trip and liked the featured photographs too. I certainly enjoyed writing this, it brought back a lot of memories!

See you next time!

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3 thoughts on “Australia: Top Ten Experiences

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