A dusty red haze hangs in the rays of the rising sun. The empty chill of a barren night is stolen by the yellow heat of the day. The colours of red dust and rock change as shadows slink across the landscape. For centuries others have been standing in this same spot, experiencing the same sunrise above the same rock in the middle of an arid and flat land that runs for thousands of miles in any direction. However, to some visitors, it is just a rock in the middle of the Outback of Australia. To me, it is much more.
Australia; a continent, country and island, all in one. Go for the feeling of soft sand between your toes and to wear the salty ocean water on your skin. Stay to explore the mountains, the rainforests, the cliffs and the desolate Outback where only the most versatile of animals can survive.
To say you’ve “seen” Australia because you spent a few days around the Opera House in Sydney, or had a “shrimp on the Barbie” in Melbourne would be like saying you could climb Mount Everest because you made it through a Medicine Hat winter.
Australia is the sixth largest country in the world and with such a contrasting landscape and culture it can be daunting to plan your trip Down Under. Where to start? What to do? Is it really worth it to see the Great Barrier Reef? Is P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way a real place? I’ll stop you before you get carried away and ignore the last question so not to disappoint. Rather, let me give you some insight into the cities I called home.
A friendly rivalry lives between Sydney and Melbourne as to which city is the best. Melbourne is best known for the culture, the food and sporting events, hosting F1 races and the Australian Open. I spent some time in Melbourne and could appreciate all that, but for me, Sydney takes the cake. Sydney is home to the beaches that define the country. Bondi and Manly, two popular tourist beaches in Australia, are located in Sydney, though they aren’t the only ones. There are well over a hundred beaches in Sydney – the clear blue water beckoning for you.
When you are done at the beach, have a drink at the Opera House or take a ferry to a different part of the city. If you’re after some art and culture, then find your way from Wynyard Train station to Angel Lane, home to the “Forgotten Songs” art installation. In 2009, over 100 bird cages were suspended above Angel Lane to commemorate the extinct and endangered birds of Sydney. When you walk down the laneway you can hear the songs of 50 birds above.
There is more to Australia than the bustling city or tourist beaches. We’ll head North of Perth to explore one of my favourite spots in Australia – a local quaint hangout called Moore River. I will always remember sitting in the beach grass, the cooling white sand between my toes as the sun set over the ocean, sending colours of orange and pink across the horizon. That was the thing about Australia – It didn’t matter if I was on farm, in Melbourne or Sydney, in Moore River, at Uluru (also known as Ayers rock) or up North in Cairns – the sunsets were always grand. The sky would change from a robin’s egg blue to gumdrop pinks, lilac purples, vibrant oranges and soft reds, releasing a feeling of complete contentment through you.
With that being said, there were two sunsets I recommend you experience if you find yourself Down Under and they are two of the most famous spots Australia has to offer –The Great Barrier Reef and Uluru.
Cairns is one of the major cities that attract tourists who come to see the Great Barrier Reef. It’s vastly different from Australia’s other major cities. When you step off the plane you are really stepping into a steam room. Lush, green, tropical and so humid there is a constant layer of sweat on your skin. The city itself is smaller than other major Australian cities, with a great deal of the population being backpackers.
Although the main beach in Cairns is closed to swimming thanks to crocodiles, sharks and Irukandji and Box jellyfish, a few hundred kilometres out from the port, you come to one of the best-known reefs in the world. Fish of different shapes and colour, corals and anemones, sea turtles, octopus, sharks and many other weird ocean dwellers are visible at the reef. Even though the water was so clear it was as if I was in a swimming pool, I unfortunately didn’t get to see a lot of the fascinating animals that inhabit the reef. This could in part be because the reef is dying. Thanks to coral bleaching, the colours and fish aren’t as spectacular as they may have been years ago. In 2016, 29 per cent of shallow water coral died because of coral bleaching; resulting from rising ocean temperatures. So, if snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef is on your bucket list, a visit soon may be a good call.
But let’s say you want to experience something incredible on a different scale. Fly in to Uluru airport or drive from Alice Springs. Regardless of how you get there or where you’re coming from, you can never prepare yourself completely for the first time you lay your eyes on the 550-million-year-old monolith.
Once residing at the bottom of the sea, the red rock sacred to Aboriginal people now stands at 348 meters and attracts thousands of people a year. Sunrise and sunset offer a mystifying experience – especially if you opt to see it from the sky. My cousin and I saw Uluru and nearby Kata Tjuta from a helicopter at sunset. We watched as the shadows of the setting sun crossed over the rock, lighting the colour of the rock on fire. As the sun set the rock changed from rusty orange to a burnt red and brown mix before it was all but a silhouette on the horizon of the Outback.
There is a thing Aussies like to say that reflect the laid back lifestyle of their cherished country – “No worries.” That’s Australia in a nutshell. You can go with a plan in your head of what to see and when to see it but the true enjoyment comes in the unexpected. It comes from the locals who introduce you to their Aussie hospitality and humour. It comes from getting on the wrong ferry or train. It comes from wandering without a plan and having your own little walkabout in a land of possibilities.
Next month catch up with Traveller's Tales when I reflect on the trip of a lifetime - The Galapagos Islands.
-Emily Wilson is still relatively new to the wonderful city of Medicine Hat, having moved here in May 2016. She was born and raised in Ontario and lived in Australia for a year. Emily has visited 31 countries and will share some of her experiences and advice for globetrotters of all ages.