By Dinah Whitear (University of Melbourne, Australia).
For many of you, studying abroad will not just be about the studying. You will no doubt want to travel and explore the country you will be calling home for a few months. For me personally, living in Melbourne has been quite different to how I had originally expected it to be. For starters, I was warned by family that live in Perth, a city on the Western side of Australia, that if I was going to Melbourne for the weather, I might as well stay in England! I laughed it off, saying it can’t be that bad and although it isn’t strictly true, he hasn’t been too far off! Going to study abroad in Australia, I imagined myself strolling off to the beach after lectures, barefoot, watching the sun set in some beach shorts and a t-shirt. Although this may be the case for some exchange students in other parts of Australia, I have to say this hasn’t quite been the case for me in Melbourne. This is mainly due to the fact that for the majority of my semester it has been either Winter or Spring, but also as a result of Melbourne’s very Southern location in the country. For those of you who feel I have shattered your daydreams of beaches and Sun, fear not, because there are still so many great things about Melbourne as a city that do make it, I have to say, 100 times better than the city of Manchester! (And also, weather is really picking up at the moment – we’ve had a few 30 degree days recently, and it’s only Spring!) So in search for some true Australian experiences, I began to plan some weekend trips that would get me away from the city for a while (like any big city – and Melbourne is noticeably bigger than Manchester – it’s nice to venture away from the hustle and bustle for a few days),and it would also give me the chance to explore more of the surrounding area.
First up on my checklist was a surf trip. I knew right before I came here that joining the University’s surf club was top of my list. It goes without saying that Australia is pretty well known for the water sport and so was something I couldn’t go home without trying! So when the opportunity came about, I signed up for a surf trip as part of the club that meant going to ‘Apollo Bay’ along the Great Ocean Road for a weekend. The Great Ocean Road is known to be one of the world’s most scenic drives and is an Australian National Heritage, and I fully recommend! We had to take a train to get closer to the coastline but once we were there we caught a coach to the backpackers’ accommodation the surf club had arranged. The drive there was beautiful – we were basically driving on the beach we were that close to the sea! So the next day involved about a 20 minute guide to surfing by the surf club (they were pretty chilled out about the fact there were roughly 30-40 of us going out into the sea to surf for the first time!) and with that, it was our turn to give it a go! I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, but after a while, I came to the conclusion that surfing isn’t as hard as it looks. Well, I couldn’t actually stand up – crouching onto my feet was as far as I got, but this was my first time and we had only been in the water for about two hours, so I felt like I had achieved something. We went back in the next day, but this time to the harder side of the beach, and that’s when I appreciated the fitness required for such a sport – the waves were so much more powerful and more frequent this time, I did kind of feel like I was being beaten up, but nevertheless, it was a very fun experience! So overall I had a really enjoyable time at Apollo Bay – it was a very lovely, peaceful town surrounded by some beautiful countryside. If any of you get the chance to go, I’d definitely recommend it!
So after a little taster of the Great Ocean Road, me and some other exchange students decided that this time we wanted to go further along the stretch of coastline to reach the ’12 Apostles’ (a collection of limestone stacks just off the coastline – there are in fact fewer than 12 now, although they do still call it that) and also to discover some more around the area. This time we decided to rent our own campervans through a company called ‘Wicked’ and that was definitely an experience to say the least! So a few days of our spring break was spent driving and sleeping in these vans, camping style. It did definitely involve leaving all those luxuries at home, let alone having to get away from technology as all our phones began dying on us, and with nowhere to really charge them up, we were left facebook-free and un-contactable for a little while, which was nice! So with very few plans in mind, we all set off for an adventure. Unfortunately, a few hours into the drive, the clouds began looming and before we knew it, we were parked up in some car park, rain chucking it down, with a dead battery in one of the vans. How did this happen?! Luckily, we had guys on our trip with us who knew a thing or two about cars and once the rain had cleared up, had to jump start one of the vans. This misfortune was a recurring theme on our road trip it has to be said. With pretty awful weather, rickety vans and nowhere to camp, we were setting ourselves up for a challenge. Looking back, it is a hilarious story to tell and just shows that not all things go to plan (not that we did have much of one to start with!). But these are all good stories and we had an experience nonetheless!
Despite the challenge of the previous road trip, me and a few other friends decided to embark on another weekend trip just before the start of exams, this time to Tasmania! Tasmania is a State island just off mainland Australia. We got a cheap ish flight over there with JetStar (one of the main budget airlines within Australia) and collected our campervans once we got there. We were very nervous of the weather, knowing how much it impacted last time, but we couldn’t have been more lucky! With the Sun shining, we could go out and appreciate the beautiful island of Tasmania, and it really was amazing! I had the best time there! I didn’t quite realise how scenic the country is, but with so many National Parks, we were spoilt for choice! On the first day, we set off to Freycinet National Park, where we did a few walks and visits to various beaches. The next day involved a sea kayak around one of the well-known bays, ‘Cole’s Bay’. We then headed back down in the direction of Hobart, the main city of Tasmania, and stopped by at Mt Field National Park, where we were immersed in a rainforest with amazing waterfalls. We then went down to the city itself and visited a much-talked about museum – the ‘Museum of Old and New Art’, better known as ‘MONA’. Not much of an artist myself, I found this a very interesting experience, in fact quite disturbing as ‘modern art’ was really taken to the next level! As an example, they had an artificial digestive system as one of the pieces, something that they actually fed and left to excrete in much the same way as a human body – I can’t say it smelt very nice in there, that’s for sure! At the end of an amazing weekend jam-packed full of stunning beaches, bays and mountains galore, it was time to head home for the start of the dreaded exam period. It has to be said, though, that after a few days well-spent amongst all the nature Tasmania had to offer, revision was made that little bit easier.
So I hope this blog has helped you to realise the number of opportunities you get to go travelling even whilst studying abroad. It has to be said that I have had a lot of work to do, but when you’re in such an amazing country as Australia, you’d be crazy not to take time out and go and explore. The above trips are the three main long trips I’ve had, but there are also so many day trips to get involved in too! We spent a day at an animal park on one weekend, which was so amazing! That was when I got to see my first kangaroo and koala, and I absolutely loved it! They are so much cuter in real life when you get to go up and feed them and get so close! Since then, I have seen a fair number of wild Australian animals and that really is the advantage of going on road trips, where you can stop off anywhere you like if you spot something you want to go and see closer. And I still feel like this is just the beginning. With exams almost coming to an end, it’s fair to say I’ve got my time-off before coming back to Manchester pretty booked up! With an East Coast trip of Australia all finalised and booked, I am hopefully going to be spending the whole of my end of November/December seeing some more exciting parts of Australia, and I can’t wait!