After more than a year in the land down under, I’ve had a few stories to tell and plenty of memories to share. I have a few things I still want to write about Australia (and lots of things I still want to do), but I thought I’d start with a summary that I’ve been meaning to write for a while – my top 10 experiences in the country so far.
It’s really impossible to narrow down my experiences from over 14 months into 10 bullet points, and I haven’t even ventured that far from the east coast, but here’s a selection of highlights from my time there.
1. Fraser Island
Before I went to Australia, I had never heard of Fraser Island. But as soon as we landed and saw travel shops and met other backpackers who had been, we knew it was probably going to be a highlight. Driving along sandy beaches, swimming in a beautiful lake and staying in a solar-powered guesthouse around some dingoes? Sign me up!
As it turns out, even though we didn’t spot any dingoes, it was a highlight. The highlight, in fact. Although I didn’t drive myself (a major regret on my part, but I do get pretty bad drivers anxiety and the thought of driving up to 8 other people around an island made of dodgy sand “roads” did freak me out a bit. A few months on? I think I’d definitely be able to!) it was really fun to whizz along the most ridiculously wide and picturesque beaches in a pink 4×4 called Dougie. And some of the stops? The shipwreck was amazing and we stopped at some fabulous (and not so fab) lakes, including the famous Lake Mackenzie – not to mention the beaches are totally pristine and there’s 70 miles of them just on the highway strip. I’d happily go back, if just to drive the car myself and to do a 3 day tour instead of the 2 day one.
2. Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef
Would you laugh if I told you we almost didn’t go to the Great Barrier Reef? I know. Take that look off your face. The fact is, everyone knows it’s dying and I was worried it wouldn’t be worth it. And we had an idiot friend who told us incredulously (like we were the idiots for thinking it) that the reef isn’t actually off Cairns; you can snorkel on the reef in the Whitsundays and it’s amazing. So at the start of our road trip, we had our Whitsundays trip booked, but nothing for Cairns or the Great Barrier Reef.
Fast forward to the Whitsundays – and the snorkelling was disappointing as hell. Murky waters meant we couldn’t see anything, and if I’m being honest I’m not sure there was much to see anyway. Don’t get me wrong – the Whitsundays feature on this list, but not for the snorkelling.
So on our return to Airlie Beach, we immediately looked for deals on snorkelling in Cairns. Let me tell you – the reef may be irreparably dying, but there’s still plenty of it to see! And it’s not tourists snorkelling that are going to finish it off (unless you keep kicking the coral, hint: don’t!) so I’d definitely recommend seeing it while you still can! I have never seen so many different colours in my life – I saw blues, pinks and oranges that I didn’t even know existed in fish! I found Nemo, and I swam with a turtle. I’d do it again in a heartbeat! (and I’d make sure I found my underwater camera in time for it next time, too!)
3. Working in a country pub
It probably seems a little odd featuring work on a top experiences list, but hear me out. Working in a pub in the middle of nowhere (3 hours inland with nothing in between except Queensland’s “oldest town”, and 50km from the nearest shop) was a real eye-opener to the real Australian life. I met some truly incredible people; people I hope I stay in touch with for the rest of my life, and certainly people I will remember for just as long.
I had the best, craziest, totally bonkers time of my life in this place – essentially, I was in a tiny bubble for six weeks (I would have stayed longer, but you know, the government expects you to leave when your visa expires, ugh) with totally nuts people who kept buying me drinks. Basically: I was IN MY ELEMENT!
Read more: A Year Working In Australia: An Overview
4. Seeing kangaroos on the beach
I’ve made no secret of the fact this was one of the best decisions I made on our Australian road trip: getting up at 5am to go hang out with these adorable guys!!
This is at Cape Hillsborough, near Mackay, and is definitely a hidden gem on the Aussie beach radar. We visited twice – once to walk the beach during the day (we saw a few wallabies but no roos), and again on the way back down to catch the sunrise (and the kangaroos).
I’m really glad we made the stop twice, and they were both entirely different experiences. The beach is rugged and beautiful, but looked a whole lot different the second time around!
As always with wildlife experiences, don’t be an idiot: respect their space and don’t feed them.
5. NYE in Sydney
New Years marked my second visit to Sydney, and both times I barely got to see any of the city. However, it’s renowned as one of the best places to ring in the New Year, if not THE best. I’m going with the latter. Holy shit.
If it hadn’t already been one of the most romantic places for Ash to ask me to marry him, add in some lit-up boats sailing past as everyone waits for the fireworks. That should do it.
So yes, this is on the list because I got engaged there!
But it’s also on the list because THE FIREWORKS. I mean. They just have to be seen to be believed! It’s also there because I got to spend the day and night with some really good friends from all around the world, and the whole day really summarised how lucky I felt to have so many amazing people in my life.
Read more: A Road Trip To NYE In Sydney
6. Seeing a wild platypus!
You know when you kind of have something on your bucket list but you don’t even write it down because you don’t think it would ever happen? Seeing a platypus was on my list. Seeing a wild platypus wasn’t.
Honestly, I just think platypuses (platypi?) are the best. They’re the weirdest animal on the planet (basically my spirit animal) and I was thrilled to get to see one at Lone Pine – but then I read up on where you can see them in the wild, and there are two or three places that are fairly reliable at certain times of day.
Which is why we headed inland from Mackay to Eungella National Park. To say it was worth it would be an understatement. The whole area is stunning, you drive up a scenic winding road to the top of a mountain, and your reward is platypuses swimming in a creek.
7. Driving a boat in the Whitsundays
I liked the Whitsundays, but after we’d had such a good time on Fraser, that kind of blew it out of the water (no pun intended). Our tour group wasn’t as solid as the one on Fraser, and I had a bit of a nightmare night on the boat when the wind picked up. But the trip was worth it for the famous Whitehaven Beach alone.
Probably my highlight, however, was getting to drive the boat… all the way back to Airlie Beach. Everyone was taking turns as we made our final circle around one of the islands to head back, and I was umming and ahhing (like always) about whether to have a go. There was a queue, which being British can go one of two ways: you’re either drawn to it, or you want to sit back and let everyone else have their go. So I sat back and sunbathed. By the time everyone had had their five minutes, we were getting out into open water.
Damn, well it’s a bit late now. Excellent job, Clazz.
I wandered over to have a chat with the cap, and before I could say much, he’d very foolishly handed the wheel over to me.
And refused to take it back until we were half way through the breezeblocks of the marina at Airlie Beach. In fact, I’m pretty sure he only took over when it was time to park the boat. I think one of my proudest moments to date is not killing everyone on board that ship.
8. Road tripping in a campervan
There’s nothing quite like getting out on the road, and it’s by far the best way to see Australia. But more than that, there’s nothing like the freedom of being in a campervan and being able to stop where you like for the night. Don’t like somewhere? Move on to the next place. Want to stay longer? Don’t need to worry about accommodation!
I will openly admit that I wish we had been able to buy one, but hey, renting one was just as good, and probably worked out cheaper, really!
9. Holding a koala
One thing that has always been on my list is holding a koala, and I was so happy to finally be able to do it at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane! You can tell I’m happy. I’m visibly glowing! There are various places you can do hold koalas throughout Queensland, but Lone Pine was one of my favourite sanctuaries, and I much preferred it to the more famous nearby Australia Zoo. (you can read my comparison between the two here)
To make the day even better, I also hand-fed kangaroos, which was definitely another highlight!
Read more: A Day At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
10. Living in a hostel
I imagine most people don’t move to the other side of the world and think “right, let’s live in a house with 30+ strangers”. We certainly didn’t.
Our plan was to stay in a hostel until we both had stable jobs, which posed a problem when, a few weeks in, Ash still wasn’t finding anything stable. We had just moved from Brisbane CBD to another hostel on the border of Fortitude Valley to be within walking distance of my work, and immediately made a ton of friends who were living there long-term. It quickly became apparent: if we’re having so much fun here, why leave?
And so we stayed. For five months. Basically, nothing went to plan in Australia, and I feel like for the most part that was probably for the best. I have so many memories in that beautiful Queensland style house, and the manager and I had to hold back the tears when it came to saying goodbye for the final time. I mean, if you’re not sad to leave, was it really worth it?
Read more: The Pros And Cons Of Living In A Hostel
The problem with Australia is there is, well, a lot of Australia to see. And that means there is just so much to do.
Here’s a list of just a few of the activities and places I still want to see and do.
- Uluru and the red centre. I really, really expected to do this during our trip, but logistically and financially it just didn’t happen. This is probably my #1 reason to go back!
- Coober Pedy. Some way between Uluru and Adelaide sits a little mining town that gets so hot in the summer that much of it is actually built underground. That fact alone makes it one of the most fascinating places in Australia, and plants it securely near the top of my Australia list!
- Western Australia. Being Australia’s biggest state, this was a huge oversight of mine and never really got pencilled into our plans, so again logistically it wasn’t going to happen. I’d want to spend a few weeks here driving from Perth to Broome (possibly all the way to Darwin) to explore the Ningaloo Reef, Shark Bay, Monkey Mia, Karijini National Park, and a handful of places south of Perth, too!
- Great Ocean Road. Umm, can you believe I missed it?! Nope, I can’t either. It just never seemed to work in with our plans, despite visiting Melbourne a couple of times! I’m starting to wish we had done this on our road trip inland when we did our farm work. While I’m at it, I definitely want to visit the Grampians, too!
- Tasmania. I never really thought about going there, as many people don’t. But the more I see of it, the more it looks like such an incredible destination.
As you can see, I’ve barely dipped my toes into the ocean that is Australia (partly because of the sharks and jellyfish, ho ho!) but equally I’m glad I got to know the places I did visit.
What are some of your highlights of Australia?
(note: if you say Western Australia, you’re just going to make me jealous!)