Note: This journey was done in Jan 2018.
As I write from the perspective of someone who’s grown up and lived in the USA, there isn’t much to say about Australia other than it is very similar to home. Sure, there are several differences; store names, slang terms, and work-life balance philosophy come to mind. But for the most part, anyone going to Australia will not find themselves feeling too out of place. However, I can’t speak about living there. All I know is, real estate prices are insanely high.
I realize my post will sound like I had an unexciting experience in Australia. I was mainly there to visit family & friends, to dive the Great Barrier Reef, and to watch the Australian Open. The rest (history, food, culture) didn’t interest me apart from trying out kangaroo and alligator meat.
I started off flying from Kuala Lumpur to Perth to visit my cousin Eugene and his family. Had a fun time with my nephews and also sampling bits of Perth culture. I got to try some kangaroo meat on skewers. It tasted a lot of like gamey beef in my opinion. The fish and chips my cousin’s wife brought us to eat was delicious. The seaside view was gorgeous. My only gripe with Perth was that it was too small, laid back, and slow for me. Maybe it was because I stayed with my cousin out in the suburbs. I’ve never been big on suburb life, even in America. Too much space, too few cars and foot traffic, too little chaos, too quiet most times. But it works well for some people, just not for me.
Got a chance to spend a day at Rottnest Island with everyone and seeing my first quokkas. These… giant rodents… are indigenous to Rottnest Island and maybe a few other islands nearby. I am always excited to see a new species I’ve never heard of or seen in my life before.
We also visited Caversham Wildlife Park. This place was fun because I got to touch koalas and feed kangaroos.
Flew to Melbourne to visit my old friend Leon and his mother, both whom I haven’t seen since 1998. I stayed with him. He brought me around town, introducing me to the Melbourne brunch culture (it’s not cheap!). Apparently, there are many Melburnians who are real coffee snobs in that they believe Starbucks is filth (Gasp! How dare they! Not Starbucks!). Although I appreciate my java, I can’t say their local coffee itself blew my mind. I think it takes a palate better than mine to discern the superiority of local brews.
Oh yeah, let’s not forget another huge reason why I went to Melbourne, the Australian Open. I completed my “career slam” by attending the only slam that has eluded my grasp so far. My favorite is still the French Open though. The Aussie Open was fun but Roland Garros had better atmosphere and fan-player intimacy in my opinion. And let’s not forget the gorgeous red clay, compared to the blue hard courts in Melbourne. Anyway, I digress. I got to see some noteworthy players up close so that was nice (Grigor Dimitrov is no Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray but he was top 5 at the time of the slam so I’ll take it). I also caught Lleyton Hewitt hitting with his pupil, some young Aussie up-and-comer. Hewitt still had it. His pupil couldn’t keep up. I guess that’s the difference between a former world #1 and 2-time slam winner compared to an unproven “rising star”.
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef. Liveaboard diving. Yes please!
Although I wish my friend Aaron could’ve joined me for this leg of my trip, I still had a great time doing day and night dives at the GBR. Was it beautiful? Yes. We didn’t get divemasters to guide us for our dives so we generally followed the most experienced diver around. My “small” group of 6 ppl was fortunate to have a Belgian named Jack to help lead us around. Compass navigation underwater isn’t something I’ve been exposed much to.
Anyway, got to see many gorgeous sea-life. (It’s too bad I didn’t have an underwater photography rig to capture any images.) The night dives were new to me and the scary thing was, I almost lost my group for a minute. You see, we had to wear some small glow-sticks on our tanks, which are color-coded by group. My group was assigned blue glow-sticks. However, when we are diving at night when it is dark (apart from our flashlights) and we are trying to look at the sea-life, it is easy to lose the group if one isn’t careful. I was looking at the reef wall and when I looked back ahead, I saw a diver with what I thought was a blue glow-stick on his tank so I figured, hey, that’s my group and I proceeded to follow the light. A minute later, I realized it wasn’t a blue glow-stick, it was green! So I look around to see if I can locate my group. Meanwhile, the divers with the green glow-sticks were swimming away. I was almost alone in the deep blue. Thank goodness a few seconds later, I spotted some blue glow-sticks in a distance. I swam toward them and discovered they were my group. Apparently, they had been searching for me as well. Anyway, once the group was reunited, we continued our merry way. When we got to our 5 meter safety stop, we saw a few dark eerie silhouette of some sharks. Most likely grey-tips, so we weren’t worried. Great whites and tigers aren’t found in those parts so we didn’t worry.
Oh yeah, sea-sickness is a BITCH. The rough weather and seas on the first day made for some funny scenes of many people sitting outside, trying to look at the horizon so they don’t feel like puking, but many did anyway. I came so close to puking myself. Fun times.
Took a side trip to Canberra to visit another old friend (John) I hadn’t seen since I was 13 years of age. I can’t understand how anyone could live in Canberra for 8 years. I couldn’t see myself being there more than a week. It is a planned city so it was very devoid of personality. However, the Australian War Memorial did move me. There was a wall filled with engravings of all the Australian (and possibly New Zealand?) soldiers who lost their lives in the wars that involved the ANZACs.
I preferred Melbourne over Sydney. In my opinion, Sydney was too big and too touristy. The crowds and chaos that filled places like Sydney Harbor was claustrophobic. Personally, visiting Sydney once was enough for me. The only highlight for me was seeing the opera house up-close. It wasn’t beautiful or anything but it was a different perspective from the images of it that most of us are used to seeing. I did spend some time “beach-surfing”. Visited Bondi and Manly beaches for some sun and people-watching. Met an interesting couple while at Manly. They had been cycling around the world since 2008. I often wonder how people do that. It’s much more challenging than solo backpacking.
For a few more pictures of Australia, click here.