Australian winter: tis the sea-sun

By Georgi Fogarty, University of Queensland

 

No matter where you are in the world, there will always be that short-lived sigh of relief between the last assignment and the start of exams. Fortunately for me, coming towards the end of my time in Australia motivated me to seize this fleeting moment devoid of academic stress and do something useful with it. So once my last few assignments were submitted and I had returned from Stradbroke island (which you can read about in another of my recent blog posts), I had decided that I am no longer a mainland person and started researching my next getaway. Having recently explored the second largest sand island in the world, I set my sights on the only thing better: the largest. Fraser island!

I quickly discovered that this wasn’t going to be the cheap and easy ride that Stradbroke was. The route to Fraser was much longer and far more expensive, involving 4 hours on trains up to the Sunshine coast, another hour and a half coach to a privately-owned ferry port and a ferry over to the island, which as it is privately owned costs $160 for one vehicle(!). The trip also includes other sky-high costs such as a national park fee, camping fee or accommodation costs and all the other necessary amenities like food, as supplies on the island are few and far between. Due to not having time to plan our trip too thoroughly, we decided to go with a tour group. These are extremely popular and there are several companies that promote similar routes; after a fairly short cost-benefit analysis we decided to stick to a 2 day 1 night whistle-stop tour.

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The beach adapted 4×4 hybrid coach picked us up from Noosa Heads on the Sunshine Coast at ridiculous o’clock in the morning on day 1 and took us further up the coast to the ferry port (a humble shack on the beach) where we crossed the surprisingly short distance to the island. Fraser island is what you’d expect from an island formed entirely from sand – almost nothing but beaches, trees and cliffs. Extremely natural and unspoilt, or so it felt in the dead of winter, anyway. Our tour guide later explained to us that during the summer periods when the island is at peak tourist season, each attraction you can stop at has between 500-600 people swarming around. We very luckily avoided this and had most attractions to ourselves within our tour group, which consisted of 11 people. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable on the island’s history, geography and Aboriginal culture and told us extensively about each point we visited. When we first arrived, we were driven down 75 Mile Beach (yes, it’s huge!) to our first stop: Lake Birrabeen.

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The water was freezing but so blue, and we had a little splash about before being whisked off through the jungle to our second stop, an area in the woods called Central Station. It was named this during the height of the logging industry that operated on the island before it became a protected national park. Central Station now houses the remnants of this industry; all that’s left are some derelict houses and machinery amongst the redwoods. A little eerie, but still beautiful. Logging stopped on Fraser around 50 years ago and the recovery is slow but sure. As well as the hundreds of tree and plant species, it’s also home to native wildlife such as Dingoes and koalas. We unfortunately didn’t see any of these, however we did manage to catch a glimpse of sting rays, sharks, dolphins and whales from a lookout point called Indian Heads the next morning, which more than made up for it!

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Shark-watching from a (very) safe distance.

We spent the night at a relatively luscious resort somewhere along 75 Mile Beach, which was extensively fenced off to prevent any Dingoes wandering in and wreaking havoc. The stars were incredibly clear due to the complete lack of light pollution, which always makes a refreshing change after spending lots of time in a city. Our stops the next day included Indian Heads, a beautiful freshwater stream called Eli creek, and my personal favourite: a huge rusted shipwreck, which washed up on Fraser island in the 1960s. It was used as a hospital ship in WWI, and later for bombing practice by the Australian army after it was found beached on the island (uninhabited of course). By the afternoon of the second day we were absolutely not ready to say goodbye, but our time was up and we very unwillingly parted from Fraser and all its beauty and charm. I’m not prepared to accept that I’ll never visit Fraser Island again, and it’s given me even more motivation to revisit this area of the world again as soon as I can.

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Us with ‘The Maheno’

Island retreats

By Georgi Fogarty, University of Queensland

 

Arguably the most attractive part of moving from Manchester to Australia for a year is the great weather and beautiful beaches. So after being away for a grand total of ten months, in May I finally took a weekend off work and visited the largest beachy attraction closest to Brisbane that I knew of – Stradbroke Island. To be honest, it completely amazed me that it had taken me ten months to get here in the first place seeing as it’s around 3 hours door to door and it was one of the first things that inspired me to do a year abroad in the first place; an extremely fond memory of mine is first talking to an exchange student from the University of Queensland at the Manchester Go Abroad fair all those many moons ago in October 2016, and she told me that at the weekend she’d take a break from assignments and go to her closest island to sunbathe and watch dolphins swim. Who doesn’t want that? Me, apparently – after having my sights set on this magical mystical place for so long as a large part of my motivation to get to Brisbane, it had taken me a grand total of nearly a year to get there. Regardless, it finally happened!

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Celebrating getting our act together

Getting to Stradbroke Island involved a free weekend, a bus to the centre of the city, a train to the coast and then a ferry over to the island. This is probably the same effort, distance and price as getting from Fallowfield to the Peak District, but with sun instead of sleet and koalas (cliché but true) instead of rabbits. When I initially formed an image in my mind of the second largest sand island in the world, I was drawn to images of beautiful but desolate open and untouched spaces surrounded by nothing but sea. This was all true, with the edition of a few sparsely dotted hostels, bottle shops, restaurants and a boules club. So after checking into a cosy youth hostel on the north coast, we settled in for a long, hard day of soaking up the toasty autumn sun on the beach, still going strong at 25 degrees. The hostel was a classic surfer’s hostel, with sand in every crevice and a few battered acoustic guitars that had probably seen a lifetime of being played ‘Wonderwall’ on around a campfire on the beach, which was a very handy 20 metres away.

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The long, long walk from hostel to beach.

The beach is an endless stretch of white sand bordered with palm trees and shrub on one side and an extremely blue ocean on the other, straight out of a travel brochure. The colour of the sea honestly looked artificial, but the temperature was perfect and we spent a long sunny afternoon splashing around in the surf and playing cricket on the beach. It was hell. At dusk, we headed a little further round the coast to Stradbroke’s main attraction, the north gorge walk. This is a long, wooden board walk that spans a stretch of the cliffs around the north coast, and is definitely the place to be for sun set. From our high vantage point on the cliffs, we were also given a front row seat to huge leatherback turtles, manta rays and dolphins below us which was spectacular.

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The view from the highest point of the gorge walk

The Australian nature cliché didn’t end there though as heading slightly back inland we passed a dozen kangaroos (including bonus point of a mother with a Joey in her pouch!), wild koalas and as it got slightly darker, hundreds of bats.

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Poor quality picture, high quality experience

The sunset was easily one of the best I’ve ever seen, and we headed back to the hostel with rose tinted goggles feeling drunk on the wholesomeness of the day we’d just experienced. It’s easy to forget that it is actually autumn now on this side of the hemisphere when the days are still so warm, so the 10 degree lows of the night came as a bit of a shock. We managed to overcome this fairly quickly though by hoarding blankets from our hostel and huddling together on the beach for a pretty remarkable astronomical display.

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The next day consisted of similarly wholesome activities; sunbathing, surfing (which I discovered I am terrible at) and very sadly saying goodbye to the island. However, not for long; I plan to return at least once before I leave to make up for 10 months of lost time! But for now it’s back to daydreaming about dolphins in between assignments.

Still Sydney-siding

Bethan Rowsby, Geography, University of Sydney, Australia.

Whilst many of my friends who are also studying abroad are coming to the end of their semester, mine has only just taken off. I’m currently in week 5, with 8 weeks to go and then exams so I will be finished by the 26th June! Or rather I would be, if I didn’t take a class that has a field trip in July to… Indonesia! Oh, the perks of being a Geographer. I am glad as it does mean that I am able to spend more time in Australia before I have to leave (plus it gives me more time for my dissertation research that needs to be done…). Sydney has become another home for me and I’ve been here for 10 months now yet there is still so much to explore.

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Continue reading “Still Sydney-siding”

Christmas in Australia

Bethan Rowsby, University of Sydney

I knew I wasn’t going to be going back home to the UK for Christmas, which was sad but it meant I got to experience Christmas in Australia! Since I wasn’t able to spend they day with my family, I was kindly adopted into the home of one of my housemates, Rachel, who lives in Kyneton which is near Melbourne but very much not urban at all. I had a great time out in the country for a week! Continue reading “Christmas in Australia”

And finally…

By Elizabeth Hardy.

So, more or less everyone has left for their exciting year abroad. And after patiently waiting for months watching other people have fun, it is my turn to go. And leaving the airport just a week ago, I had no idea of the crazy (but amazing) experience this week’s upheaval would be for me.

To help me organize my thoughts, I think I’ll make a list. These are the things that have struck me most about California in my first week:

  1. Size. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is bigger here. Be prepared for food to be about 4 meals worth. The good thing I have learnt is that it is totally acceptable to ask for a doggy bag/box to take the food home with you. Take-away food is really cheap as well, so you can get a few meals in one for not much.
  2. Speaking of size, the roads. Coming into Santa Barbara via Los Angeles is certainly an experience. The roads are huge, and of course everyone drives on the odd (I won’t say ‘wrong’) side of the road. It is expected that you will learn this fast, otherwise you will be squashed by a huge truck that nearly everyone seems to own.
  3. This is not London. People in Santa Barbara, often complete strangers, are happy to help out. I am so grateful I took advantage of this – being completely new in a foreign country is frightening and often very disorientating. Luckily I managed to find several people very quickly to help me, and for that I am thankful.
  4. The academic system. It is very different to how we study in the UK – mainly because class participation is not only recommended but necessary to get a good grade, and because there is a huge emphasis here on continuous assessment. For example, in one of my classes there are 3 scheduled tests and 4 unscheduled tests during the 10 week quarter. Whilst the tests will be bite-sized compared to what UK students are used to, you also have to be on your academic game all the time. I’ll make sure to post more on the academic system when I’ve had more time to understand it!
  5. Fraternities and Sororities. They exist. They are almost exactly like in films. I am yet to discover much about them but from what I can gather they are indeed as bizarre as they look.
  6. The sun. It shines, all the time. Yay!

For the people that have managed to read this far, I’ll give you a little information about the University itself. UCSB (University of California Santa Barbara) is based about a 2 hour drive north of LA, on the coast. And when I say on the coast, I mean this in the most literal term – the University owns it’s own lagoon and beach. This is a regular haunt for students and is quieter than you would imagine, particularly considering the amazing sunsets.

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The University Beach

Most students live just outside of campus, in a place called Isla Vista (IV). IV is pretty well known as a party town, particularly nearer the beach although there are some quieter spots. The benefit of living in IV (as I do) is that it is very close to campus, which is so much bigger than Manchester. Try to imagine University spanning from University place to the end of curry mile and you’re just about there.

In terms of accommodation, I live in co-operative housing. This is essentially a cheaper way of living with other people, where chores and cooking are shared. If you are interested in how this works, I myself am still learning so it would be beneficial to direct you to the website: www.sbcoop.org. All I can say is, I have met some fantastic people so far and I am very excited to see how the relationships I am starting to forge develop over the upcoming year. I am insanely excited for the upcoming year in general!

That’s all for now folks.

Lizzie.