Until I hopped into a shabby, hand-me down chevy with four German Au Pairs to road trip from our then-home Sydney to Cairns, I was naive to the glory of Australia’s national parks and beaches.
A beach is a beach, right? Sorry I wasn’t sorry, it just didn’t sound that special.
As a southern California native who has lived in Barcelona and Rio, beaches are a prerequisite to my residential preferences. Of course, I love the beach, but I want more than that out of my travels. Admittedly, I was in no rush to visit Australia. Long-term work and holiday in Oz felt like a practical, feasible destination for expat life. But just visiting Australia… nah!
Like many travelers, I’d been drawn to “exotic” destinations. I glorified foreign natural wonders – – Macchu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, Patagonia, and the Amazon. I preferred Thai food, tigers, temples, and elephants of Chiang Mai, Siem Reap, and Halong Bay. I was enticed by Cyprus, Turkey, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Romania. But another land of English-speaking, Billabong-wearing, fist-pumping, dirty-blondes was going to be everything I had already experienced in the City of Angels.
I avoided the Land of Oz, the UK, Canada, and the U.S.A. like a plague of boredom. They didn’t meet my standards of scream-out-loud adventure and cultural curiosity. Quietly, I was an “exotic” destination snob. In fact, so comforted was I by the Aussies I’d met overseas while traveling that my one-way-ticket Down Under had been presumed as a safe choice and calculated risk.
I type away with the noted shame at my once unsophisticated, callow, even ignorant portrayal of Western vacation destinations. We have romanticized bucket list checks of swimming with elephants and trekking one hundred and sixty foot glaciers to the point where the average traveler frames Instagrammable sights as a “hit it and quit it.” I only spent two days at Iguazu Falls, two days at Halong Bay, and perhaps a weekend at Machu Picchu. Given financial limitations and windows of allotted free time, there is some reason to the madness of taking a shot and moving on to the next one like a bachelor at a strip club.
And while I will not discount the value of exploring cultures alien to our own, living and traveling in Australia taught me that we do not have to step too far from our comfort zone for a new vantage point to the world.
Between teaching Sir-Mix-A-Lot lyrics on sixteen hour drives, catching shooting stars while sailing, and setting ourselves up for a scenic sunrise, Australia became more than a safe haven of people I love. Nine months Down Under and four caravanned road trips later, I can earnestly say that Australia’s natural beauty is as extraordinary as its loving, interesting, funny-to-the-point-of-ridiculous people. I love the land as I love its peeps!
Who needs “exotic” beaches when beaches in Australia look like this:
1. From Melbourne, Victoria onto the Great Ocean Road.
A jagged coastline with a collection of scattered islets, the Twelve Apostles is a unique wonder. En route from Melbourne, Australia’s most European city characterized by street art, hipsters, and coffee shops, I leaped for the love of Bells Beach, Bay of Islands and Port Fairy.
Pictured: 12 Apostles by @StephBeTravel
2. From Bondi to Palm Beach, New South Wales.
Strolling along sunny Coogee’s shores, I often caught a live band at Clovelly or BBQ at Tamarama. We dip into celebrity renowned Bondi or dance at one of many Sydney harbor bars and lounges. Alternatively, a Sunday pub crawl in the Northern Beaches of Manly had me saying “my shout.”
Pictured: Bondi Beach – @laurenepbath
Picture: Crescent Head – @thewaveprovocateur
3. The Gold Coast’s Byron Bay and Surfer’s Paradise, Queensland.
Chillin’ for the killin’ Byron Bay is your go-to for a surf before some fish and chips. Low key with a Corona and lime vibe, the Aussie beach of Byron is a haven for wave riders. While Byron’s Bay is an aquatic boulevard for paddle boards, surf, and starfish, Surfer’s Paradise resembles Sin City, Cabo, and Miami. Shop, drink, gamble, and dance after a morning of baking in the sun.
Pictured: Surfer’s Paradise by @laurenepbath
Pictured: Byron’s Bay by @JewelsZee
4. Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort and Fraser Island, Queensland
Regrettably, as backpackers on a budget, we missed Cape Hillsborough resort and headed straight to Hervey Bay for a ferry to Fraser Island. Fraser Island is a rainforest meets lake and beach escapade. A photo would deceive you into thinking that we were in the Sahara Desert. The Champagne Pools, the Maheno Shipwreck, and the Indian’s Head Cliff overlooking Happy Valley’s majestic beach left me wanting for more.
Pictured: Maheno Shipwreck, Fraser Island @StephBeTravel
Pictured: Cape Hillsborough by @JewelsZee
5. Whitsunday Islands and White Haven National Park
Sailing, snorkeling, and allowing the glow of the sun to kiss our skin, we embarked from Airlie Beach on Avatar – a former race boat turned sail boat – for our Whitsunday Islands tour. Greeted by a skipper and deckhand looking like modern pirates, we made way to the silica sand beach of White Haven National Park.
Pictured: Whitsunday @StephBeTravel
6. Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef
With beauty so grand, a self imposed “you’re not going to not dive the Great Barrier Reef” enabled me to overcome my greatest fear – – drowning. Cool Cairns and deep dives wrapped up an experience of a life-time!
Pictured: Cairns by @JewelsZee
Australia changed my life! Thank you to my Oz friends whose photos have been featured in this post and to everyone I met along my travels. Get your Aussie on!
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