Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lance Harvey - Brisbane, Australia

Lance is a senior at the University of Utah studying Economics and Philosophy. Last fall, he traveled to Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia as part of a University of Utah exchange.

Last summer, I left my long-time home in Utah for the city of Brisbane, Australia to attend Griffith University for four months. Every day offered something new in terms of the people I met, the places I went to, and the things I learned about their culture that I would have never known without being there. This unbelievable barrage of new experiences made nearly every day unique and left me with more vivid memories about my time there than I could possibly hope to explain here. The thing I enjoyed most during my study abroad was being able to escape the confines of the campus and explore the country in the way it deserved. During my spring break, I seized the opportunity to take a ten day bus trip up the eastern coast of Australia that would stop at every location worth seeing along the way.

We left downtown Brisbane early in the morning. It was my first time leaving the city since I’d been there, and just staring out the window as we headed toward the countryside was both soothing and refreshing. Our first destination was the Steve Irwin Zoo. Normally I’m not the biggest fan of seeing caged animals, but these creatures were well-cared for, and it was cool knowing the zoo was founded by the Crocodile Dundee himself. After some more driving, we arrived in Hervey Bay and took a late night cruise out on the open ocean before heading to bed.

The next morning we boarded a ferry that carried us to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. The island is home to rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove forests, swamps, sand dunes, and a small town as well. Its residents and local visitors use the wide beaches as their own highway around the area. There were also several lakes on the island that varied in their acidity to such a degree that the water was green in some areas and clear blue in others. The coolest sight on Fraser, though, was a crashed ship that was half-buried along the shoreline. I’ve never seen anything like it.

After an all-night drive north, we awoke the next morning in Whitsunday and took to the ocean on high-speed rafts. We spent hours cruising around what I gathered to be 25-30 different islands, occasionally stopping to admire their gigantic sandbars or hike their hilly slopes. Eventually, the rafts dropped us off on South Molle Island, an exquisite hotel retreat with miles of untouched land that could be accessed by various trails. I spent the entire next day hiking the island’s three peaks, each with its own spectacular view of the surrounding isles and the Australian coastline shimmering in the distance.  Sitting atop “balancing rock” in the center of the island was probably the most serene moment I felt during the entire four months.

A sailboat awaited us the following morning and took everyone on a gentler tour of the Whitsundays before anchoring next to a wide expanse of the Great Barrier Reef. I put on my snorkeling gear and jumped in the water. The incredible amount of different species of fish and the color variety of the coral was a sight to behold. The fish would let us swim right alongside them, and it was fun to hold my breath, dive to the bottom, and roam the coral trenches. Somehow the tour guides forced us back onto the boat and back to the mainland, where again we spent the night driving.

The next morning we arrived in Townsville and began preparing for a long day of white water rafting down the Tully River. With six people and one tour guide per raft, we launched into some of the most thrilling, dangerous rapids I’ve ever been in. With barely a moment’s rest, we paddled and paddled through the torrents, but our best efforts could not thwart the river’s fury. Our boat capsized no less than six times as we floated one way or another down. Yet the hours spent on the river allowed everyone to see more of Australia’s magnificent rainforests.

That night we arrived in Cairns, our final destination of the journey. I walked around the town’s open air markets catering to tourists before heading back to the hotel and passing out from exhaustion. The next morning I booked trip aboard a gondola, dubbed the Skyrail, that took me up eight kilometers over the canopy of the rainforest. There were several checkpoints along the route that I could get out and walk, completely immersed in the trees. The paths also led to a spectacular view of the Barron Falls, a gorgeous waterfall surrounded by nothing besides the forest. The Skyrail eventually stopped in Kuranda, an aborigine village that thrived off its visitors. I bought some of their locally-made candy, but I wish I could have afforded one or two of their hand-crafted boomerangs. After spending some time there, I boarded a train that took me cliff side back to Cairns.

On the final day, we ventured way out into the ocean to another section of the Great Barrier Reef. This time, though, we got to scuba dive. I’d never been before, but it doesn’t take long to learn, and if you can learn to relax underwater, the experience is well worth it. Our guide took us 65 feet underwater, where I saw my first sting ray, a giant clam, and again, plenty of fish. It was like being on another planet.

We partied on the town that last night and said our goodbyes. Exhausted and out of money, I flew back to Brisbane the next day. I would spend another month in Australia before heading back home, but nothing I did the rest of my time there could live up to the variety of activities and sightseeing I experienced over those ten days in October. If you decide to undertake a study abroad program, make time for as much travel outside your temporary home as possible. It will reward you every time.

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