Studying abroad in the Spring of 2020 has been a roller-coaster ride, but for the short time I lived in Sydney, Australia I loved every minute of it. As a Junior Media Studies and Production Major with a Minor in Environmental Studies, Australia was the perfect place for me to live and study. I chose an external program through The Education Abroad Network (TEAN) and spent an amazing month of travelling in Australia. Due to the unexpected circumstances of Covid-19 I had to cut my semester short but I was still able to experience so much of Australia before I had to leave. Outlined below are my top 5 unforgettable Aussie experiences.
#1 The Great Barrier Reef
Seeing the Great Barrier Reef has been at the top of my bucket list for as long as I can remember. It was absolutely breathtaking to see it in person. As part of the orientation for my program I spent a week in Cairns at the northernmost tip of Australia. On my second day in the country I hopped on a boat, suited up and jumped into an ocean full of creatures and corals I had never seen before. Having only experienced the shockingly cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean before, I was pleasantly surprised by how warm the turquoise blue water of Northern Australia was. I had never snorkeled before this so there was a bit of a learning curve adjusting to swimming with fins on my feet and breathing through a tube but after a while I felt like a pro. We were given 3 hours to swim and explore and it felt way too short to see everything. A few of us saw a Pacific Blue Tang fish (more commonly referred to as Dory from Finding Nemo) which we later discovered is a very rare sight. By the time we dried off and got back to the mainland I had consumed more salt water and was sunburned more than I ever thought I could be, but it was all worth it.
#2 The Blue Mountains
At the top of my list was to see the Blue Mountains, a beautiful national park just outside of Sydney. The best views of the mountains are undoubtedly at sunrise, so my friends and I set our alarms for 3AM and prepared for an early morning. We took a two hour train ride from the city center and arrived at the Blue Mountains viewing platform just in time to see the sun rising over the iconic Three Sisters rock formation. We spent the entire day wandering the trails and stumbling upon waterfalls, rivers and bridges. It was such a refreshing change to go from the busy city to the quiet, silent nature preserve. We crossed from one side of the park to the other by gondola. This gave us a beautiful view of a waterfall below and with mountains stretching on for miles. The Blue Mountains are an amazing reminder of the natural beauty of Australia.
#3 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade
The excitement of Sydney’s annual Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade was above anything I could have expected. Every street, shopping center and window was covered in rainbow colors, and flags. In America, people associate Mardi Gras with the big party in New Orleans, but in Sydney, it’s all about the LGBTQ+ community. People from all over the country (and all over the world) come to Sydney to celebrate Pride. The day of the parade my friends and I made our way to the Center of Sydney and walked miles along the parade route until we found a good spot to see all the action. The usual city routines came to a grinding halt as the streets were flooded with people in the most outrageously colorful and fun outfits. For hours groups and organizations walked, danced and drove by, each float bigger, brighter and more colorful than the last. Of all of the organizations that were in the parade no one received a louder applause and cheer than the men and women who were representing the LGBTQ+ group of Sydney firefighters. With the bushfires still fresh in mind, the firefighters got louder cheers than anyone else. By the end of the night we were covered head to toe in glitter and wished we could experience it all over again.
#4 The Great Ocean Road
One of the best views in Australia is the Great Ocean Road. It’s 151 miles of beautiful coastal views on the southernmost tip of Australia . While it would take days to complete the whole route and stop at each landmark, my friends and I enjoyed a day tour of the most iconic sights. We spent the day stopping along the various outlooks and wandering coastal jungle paths. We stopped and watched koala bears in their natural habitats. The last and most famous stop on our journey showcased breathtaking views of the 12 Apostles, which are large limestone stacks that line the coastal cliffs. Even though it was a cloudy day, the views from the edge were still incredible and an absolute must see for anyone visiting Melbourne.
One of my favorite pieces of trivia is that if you visited a different beach every day, it would still take you 27 years to see all the beaches in Australia. I managed to see quite a few of Sydney’s most iconic beaches while I was there, and I can say that Bondi Beach was my go-to. Watching surfers, soaking up the sun, and having a sunset dinner on the beach is something I could never get tired of. If I wanted to stretch my legs for a bit I could enjoy the beautiful coastal walks that lined the cliffs over the ocean. Everything about Sydney beaches brings a relaxed and enjoyable feeling with them. Sydney is also a very artistic city where you can find murals and art installations everywhere and the beach is no exception. All along the beach walls are colorful ocean related murals which add to the beautiful scenery. On any given day I would find myself relaxing at Bondi on a beautiful February afternoon thinking about how I could be in a winter jacket making my way through the snow if I was home, and every time I thought about it I was so thankful to be soaking up the sun on the other side of the world.
Looking back on my adventures now feels like a whirlwind and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have lived in a sunny and beautiful place like Australia even for the short time I was there. I would recommend spending time in this beautiful country to anyone I meet and taking advantage of all of the sights and events that Australia has to offer. I am looking forward to the day I can return and see everything else that I missed!