Sydney and Cairns

First things first: As I begin typing, I’m sitting in a hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia and I’m still amazed that this is a thing.

Unfortunately, it’s short-lived. My sister contracted dengue fever while in Bali or Lomboc over the last couple weeks (not contagious and she’s basically feeling back to normal, don’t worry!), so we’re flying to Singapore today to let her rest. We have an amazing, generous aunt, uncle and two cousins living in Singapore who have offered to let us stay there while Lexie fully recovers. 

Since we were planning on doing Singapore for about a week anyway, we’re just moving some things around. I plan on coming back to Indonesia eventually to do some exploring, but I’m not sure if it will be now or much later in the trip. And to be honest, after the eye-opening hour I spent getting from the Jakarta airport to a hotel in my taxi, I’m not sure I was fully mentally prepared to handle the transition of relative comfort in Australia to…nothing close in Indonesia. 

I’ll keep everyone updated as to my new plans, but the prospect of just crossing Indonesia off the list and moving on is upsetting, so I know I’ll be back eventually. For now, on to Singapore, Malaysia, and maybe another country or two! Now, back to your regularly scheduled Australia blog:

So, Australia is over. That happened way too fast. Since my last Australia-specific update, I’ve explored every inch of Sydney and even spent a weekend in Cairns to delete a bucket-list item.

I found myself enjoying the sights and sounds of Sydney, much like I enjoy San Francisco. I’m not sure I could live in Sydney after the time I spent there, but the vibe was similar. And, of course, the Sydney Opera House, Botanical Gardens and Harbour Bridge were just as amazing as advertised and nearly rival the Golden Gate Bridge for me as tourist eye candy.

Well, at least when the sun was out. Katie and I spent a solid three days wandering through the must-see Sydney spots while being drenched by a heavy downpour. Eventually, we got to see them all with the blue water sparkling and the sun shining — even from a ferry, on our way to Manly Beach to couchsurf for the first time.

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That was definitely a highlight of my entire time in Australia. Our couchsurfing host was Eric, an Argentinian handyman living in Australia for the past four years. He initially came over to play rugby (looks like he was pretty damn good!), but now just plays on a less competitive team after he busted up his Achilles.

Eric was extremely friendly and always so curious about Katie and I and our lives back home in California. He’s one of those guys that has held every job in the book and is a Wikipedia addict, so it was almost like we were living with a tour guide for two days. Sure enough, he piled us into his car with his Finnish girlfriend Heidi (they met on couchsurfing!) and took us on a day-long driving tour of all the Northern beaches, culminating in a jaw-dropping hike over a strip of land separating the ocean from a bay.

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Shelly Beach, in Manly. Believe it or not, it was pouring five minutes later.

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We spent most of the time there wandering Manly Beach, meeting and hanging out with Eric’s friends and roommates (from Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan and Brazil!). I could dedicate an entire blog to that experience, but let’s just say that Eric set the bar very, very high for future couchsurfing encounters. I feel like I met a couple of people in a very short time in Manly Beach that I could look up any time and sit down to an hours-long conversation with.

Other than couchsurfing and sightseeing, Katie and I spent a beautiful day in the Blue Mountains and a cloudy, but enjoyable day walking the coast to Bondi Beach.

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Blue Mountains.

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On the coastal walk to Bondi Beach.

After those two days, I’d truly felt that I’d seen everything I’d wanted to see in Sydney. So, it was on to the bucket list item: The Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns is a completely different world from Sydney, in my opinion. There is still a backpacker/party atmosphere and quite a nice downtown area around a local marina and lagoon. But there are far fewer people and the climate is much more tropical, wrapping me in humidity upon exiting the airport.

I stayed in a hostel called The Jack, revered for its pub downstairs and nightlife next door (“WARNING: LIVE MUSIC UNTIL 1 AM ON THE WEEKENDS” it says all over the website — very accurate, although I wish they’d change it to “TERRIBLE LIVE MUSIC”). After wandering the downtown, marina and lagoon in one fell swoop the day I arrived, I decided the best way to spend my time in Cairns was to take a couple of day trips.

Saturday was spent on a waterfall tour around the Cairns area, and I can’t speak highly enough about the company and guide (Brett) who led the way. I joined a handful of other young backpackers from Ireland, England, Germany, Spain and more to hit up about four different waterfall spots. We slid, jumped and climbed every inch of those bad boys, while being serenaded with random science and animal facts from Brett (“Female kangaroos are very promiscuous.” “Sea turtles are literally high all the time, as one of their main food sources is the poisonous box jellyfish, which affects turtles like LSD.” “Nobody has died of a spider bite in Australia in more than 50 years.”).

You can see some pictures from that day here:

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Spotted this snake cuddled up inside a pole.

On Sunday, I boarded an early ferry to Green Island, one of the closest snorkeling spots to Cairns. The island itself had some cool history and I took the 40-minute walk around the perimeter, before settling on the beach with my snorkel gear. Though I’m pretty sure I was snorkeling the saddest part of the Great Barrier Reef, I WAS SNORKELING THE GREAT BARRIER REEF. Like, all day. It was awesome. Almost immediately, I was joined by a massive turtle friend (can’t confirm whether he or she was on jellyfish LSD) and later saw a pretty big ray. It wasn’t quite the Finding Nemo landscape I’d imagined (I’d totally pony up for an outer reef tour next time – I got what I paid for), but it was still one of the better snorkels I’ve ever done in terms of the amount and variety of fish.

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Leaving Cairns, on the way to Green Island.

Cairns was a whirlwind, as I took off back to Sydney less than 72 hours after I arrived, but totally worth the price of admission. Back in Sydney, it was a little bit of planning, some packing, one more two-dollar sushi roll lunch and then off to Jakarta. Five things I’ve learned in the first month of backpacking:

  • You’re never really alone, even if you’re “traveling alone” – the hostel/backpacker culture seems to guarantee that
  • Food, drink and fun can easily be had at an affordable price, even in expensive countries ($5 goon was just as good as $50 wine, which I already knew, but it’s internationally confirmed now)
  • Plan ahead – nothing sucks the fun out of arriving somewhere new like having to immediately find WiFi and book hostels, flights, etc.
  • Talk to everyone and anyone you can, especially other travelers – they’re all interesting and interested and most are probably looking for new friends, too
  • Toilet spiders may be a myth – yours truly had zero fatal bathroom incidents in Australia

As mentioned above, Lexie and I quickly turned around in Jakarta and headed for Singapore, which is pretty much the polar opposite of Indonesia, despite being so close together. So, look out for more here soon. Blog, Asia version!

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