Arrival in Sydney

The first taste of Sydney that I received was as the plane was touching down from Dallas, the pilot who came on the overhead speaker greeted us with “Welcome to Sydney, Australia, the most beautiful city on earth, although I may be a little biased.” Unfortunately, I needed to get on my flight to Cairns before I could actually see Sydney which felt like a tremendous tease. Now; however, I have been living in Sydney for a week, and I have been impressed. I should mention that Sydney isn’t exactly what I expected it to be, a lot of the preconceived notions about what living in Sydney would be like have actually been turned on their head quite quickly. Firstly, because Australia is in the southern hemisphere it is currently the middle of winter which means that the weather isn’t always all that warm, and daylight hours are short. I was expecting the less than warm weather and had packed accordingly. It’s worth mentioning that during the day the temperatures are still plenty comfortable, typically in the sun it gets to the mid-60s or so but in the mornings and evenings the temperature gets down to about 40 degrees which is plenty cold but like I mentioned earlier I was prepared for cooler temps. What I was NOT prepared for has been the short daylight hours! The sun begins to set around 3 o’clock and it is dark out by 6 o’clock, which has been just absolutely brutal. I just keep reminding myself that the daylight hours will only increase while I’m here and that thought alone has helped me push through.

Macquarie University, where I am studying this semester is about a half hour outside of Sydney’s central business district or CBD and is the home of Sydney’s second largest business district in the city. Within the first week I have already gone downtown three times and I made several other observations that I was not expecting prior to landing in Sydney. Sydney is not nearly as flat as other major cities that I have visited. While portions of the CBD are fairly flat, Macquarie, and many other parts of Sydney are extremely hilly. The other aspect of Sydney that I noticed which I had not expected is that Sydney, and I believe much of Australia, has a much larger Asian influence than I had expected. Once again if I were to take the time to logically think about it, this makes sense. Australia is far closer to Asia than it is to Europe and despite the initial colonization by Great Britain, in today’s globalized world it would only be natural that Australia would be influenced by the countries that are closest. This has led to an impressive Chinatown in downtown Sydney, as well as some of the greatest Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian food (amongst others) that can be found outside of those countries. Needless to say, I am quite excited to test that claim.

This pig statue is just outside of the Royal Botanical Garden and rubbing it’s snout is supposed to give you good luck.
I accidently got lost but that gave me the opportunity to walk through Darling Harbour where a street artist was working on this piece in chalk!

One of the great aspects of living in Macquarie rather than actually downtown in the CBD is that I am living around much more nature and national parks. In fact I have one national park that is just about a five minute walk from where I live! I have been able to explore some of these areas and other areas outside of downtown Sydney but more of that will be included in later posts. Nevertheless, having so much nature so close is helpful in that it allows me some space from the fast pace of city life. It’s worth noting that Sydney is not as hectic and fast moving as cities like New York. In fact one night a couple of friends and I were trying to find our way back home because we hadn’t realized that most trains stopped running after midnight and so at around 1 o’clock we were walking around the city trying to find the bus stop and at that point the city had become significantly quieter. I noticed few cars on the street and few people walking around, whereas New York it seems that cars and people are a constant presence regardless of the time of day.

This was on the top of a rock outcropping (there are LOTS of those here) in Lane Cove national park which is only a five minute walk from my apartment.

Walking around downtown I naturally was immediately drawn to the two major buildings that Sydney is known for: the Opera house and the Harbour Bridge. After seeing it up close, I have decided that the Sydney Opera house is my favorite building in the world. From any angle you look at the Opera house the building looks fantastic and at any time of the day. I also learned that construction on the house was expected to take four years but actually took fourteen years to complete. The building also cost over fourteen times the originally projected amount. I was able to meet up with a friend of mine who is a part of Hope’s dance troupe and was on tour in Australia at the time, and we ate on the terrace of the museum of contemporary art to watch the sun go down over the bridge with the Opera house in the background. On another day a different friend and I walked through the Royal Botanical Gardens and climbed atop a rock outcropping to once again watch the sunset. In both instances the view was spectacular and I couldn’t help but be awed by the beauty of this city. Before we went our separate ways, my friend from Hope said to me “I sure hope you never get sick of sights like this.” I’m pretty confident that I never will.

This was from on top of some rocks just beyond the Royal Botantical Gardens.

This was the meal on top of the Museum of Contemporary Art. I tried kangaroo for the first time! I felt a little bad for eating it but it was delicious.


Arrive Down Under

One week has past since I have arrived in Cairns, Australia and it has been busier than I possibly could have imagined. Cairns is known as the “Adventure Capital of Australia,” and the city lives up to its reputation. The city itself is a northern coastal town surrounded by beaches, marinas, and water on one side and mountains on the other. The city has a similar feel to Florida beach towns in many ways with open air restaurants and bars right on the water, as well as a multitude of tourists. As I took evening walks downtown I passed groups of people speaking languages from across the globe, many of which I could not recognize. Unlike Florida, however, the people and tourists of Cairns do not go to the beach when they want to cool off, rather, they have a city lagoon which is similar to a massive public pool in which the residents of the city can swim. The reason for avoiding the beaches of Cairns is that they are filled with saltwater crocodiles, jellyfish of many varieties, including box jellys, stonefish, and sharks, just to name a few. Fortunately, Cairns has plenty to offer without going to the beach.
On my second day in Cairns we went out onto the Great Barrier Reef to go snorkeling and scuba diving. Never in my life have I been filled with so much awe and sadness at the same time. The reef was a thing of beauty with fish and coral of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Angelfish, parrot fish, regal blue tang fish looked like the glittering lights of a Christmas tree as they swam by me. Unfortunately, the reef also is no longer what it used to be as a result of environmental destruction. Reef bleaching has sucked out so much of the vibrant colors of the reef, and although there certainly were areas of breathtaking beauty, significant portions of the reef looked more skeletal with white coral being contrasted with a bright spot of nearby color. The marine biologist aboard our ship told us that it is projected that within the next five years there will be more plastic in the world’s’ oceans than there are fish, and that coral grows at the rate of centimeters per year so destruction to any portion of it could be the destruction of decades of natural growth. Even seemingly small things like sunscreen could damage the reef and we were instructed to apply sunscreen at least a half an hour before entering the water. It was humbling to realize that a living structure the size of Japan could be simultaneously so fragile, and it gave me a greater understanding of environmentalism.

Here are a couple of pictures from my scuba/snorkeling experience

Here you can see how low the tide got as the reef is actually beginning to come out of the water
This is a picture just outside of the hotel I was staying at while in Cairns

On day three, I had the opportunity to go canyoning in Crystal Cascades with a group of others and our tour guides which was wild! Admittedly, I felt a bit dorky at first as we pulled up into the park wearing wet suits, helmets, and harnesses, meanwhile we walk past little kids and their parents simply wearing bathing suits. Crystal Cascades is a waterfall and river system which provides the drinking water for the city of Cairns. At certain points in the river that becomes wider, deeper, with a weaker current and the locals use those places like an all natural swimming pool. After we passed all of the families, we arrived at a massive gate with barbed wire wrapping across the top. The guides led us through and we started a hike up an incredibly steep hill. Once we made it to the top of the hill we began canyoning down which consisted of abseiling, cliff jumping, swimming, and zip lining down the river/waterfall system to the bottom. The entire experience was simply amazing as we scaled down waterfalls in a gorge surrounded by the Australian rain forest. Needless to say, I was quite happy for the safety equipment that made me feel so foolish earlier, particularly helmet as I slipped going down one of the main waterfalls and slammed into the side of the cliff.

Here is a picture of the group after finishing the canyoning

Finally, on day four I went into Daintree Rainforest with an aboriginal tour guide as he taught us both about his culture and about his land. Before we started our hike, we were asked to join in a smoking ceremony where the guides made a small fire underneath a cover so that the smoke would billow out onto which we were told would protect us from any danger as we entered the forest. My guide, Skip, once again mentioned how the Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest rainforest and that it is the only rainforest that has never had any primates other than humans. As a result, the fruits in Daintree are far more toxic than the fruits found in other rainforests around the world. Skip also taught us about stinging plants in Australia and how they have tiny hairs on the leaves which is embed into your skin and sends four different toxins into your muscles (one of which scientists have yet to discover what it is!) when they are touched and the needles can stay embedded in your skin from anywhere between two weeks to two years! I made sure to take careful notes regarding what that plant looked like in order to avoid it in the future. Skip also told us about how the aboriginal people would use barbed vines as hooks and fishing line when they went fishing. He also told us about how the aboriginal people would use glowing mushrooms to allow them to see when hunting at night, which I thought sounded like something straight out of the movie Avatar. Skip then took us to a river which ran through the rainforest and he told us that this river was the water supply for the city and it was entirely safe to drink which naturally led to all of us students filling up our water bottles with the river water and I must say it was fantastic. After finishing our hike through the rainforest we went to a wildlife reserve where I was able to get up close and personal with a lot of animals native to Australia. I had the opportunity to feed wallabies and kangaroos, as well as pet a koala and see other animals like emus and cassowaries.
At the end of the week, all of the students who were apart of my program said our goodbyes and made our way to our respective universities across Australia. This first week has been busy, and action-packed, and it has felt like something out of a dream. As my plane took off to Sydney and I watched the mountains and rainforest shrink in the distance, I couldn’t help but feel tremendously grateful for the opportunity that I have been given to study abroad. At times it has been difficult for me to comprehend the reality of the whole situation because I am quite literally on the opposite side of the planet right now and having experiences that I have only previously dreamed of which have each been incredible! Now off to Sydney to see what Australia’s biggest city and the home of my new university has to offer!

The bus ride into the Daintree forest was pretty scenic too

This is the river which acts as the water supply for Cairns

This is Humphry, the Koala I got to meet
Feeding the kangaroos and wallabies was so cool