Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Setting Sun

Today, July 31st is a sad day in Australia for me because firstly, I have my first class tomorrow, and secondly, Pandora is discontinuing its service in Australia and New Zealand as of today. Although I am upset that I will have to adjust to a new music app, it isn’t reasonable for me to complain about the “study” portion of my study abroad trip, especially after having had 3 weeks to enjoy myself. The past couple weeks have been dedicated to finding the best beaches in Australia, watching sunsets, and getting to know my new mates.

After a couple days of getting settled in Brisbane and recovering from the “sleep is not an option” mantra we had in Sydney, I was left with the question of “Now what?” My roommates weren’t scheduled to move in for another week so I joked about feeling all alone in my “penthouse” apartment on the thirteenth floor. I wanted to start feeling comfortable doing my own thing, so my first step to learning Brisbane was to run along the river in Southbank.

The Southbank area, where I am living, is really exciting. I am about a block away from the Parklands, which features a public pool, manmade beach, playgrounds, mini-rainforest, ferris wheel, and bike path all on the river bank! There was a food and wine festival in this area during my first weekend in Brisbane, which I was excited to attend. Also near me is Grey Street, which is lined on both sides by delicious restaurants. There is no possible way that I can try them all before I have to return home, but I’m hoping to make it, at least, to all the dessert places!

I always find myself stopping mid-run to take pictures of the scenery

Although I was excited to explore Brisbane, I recognized that Brisbane will be my home base for the next 5 months, so I wanted to take advantage of not having class to leave the city. So in the past 2 weeks, I went north to climb Mt. Ngungun and visit Noosa, and I went south to check out the Gold Coast.

The Gold Coast

The duffel bag takes Burleigh Heads!
My first excursion from Brisbane was to the Gold Coast with Leanne and Liz. We decided to spend three days checking out three different beaches in the Gold Coast, starting close to the border of New South Wales at Coolangatta, then up to Burleigh Heads, and finally the famous Surfer’s Paradise. The three of us invented our own little version of backpacking which we called “duffel-bagging” as we dragged our bags from bus to bus and beach to beach.

We checked into our hostel as soon as we arrived in Coolangatta after about 3 hours of transit. The three of us had debated where we should stay in Coolangatta after reading reviews on the Hostel World website. We decided to take a chance on the hostel with mixed ratings but a better price and location, and we were not disappointed.

As soon as we got settled in, we headed right to the beach where I had one of those “OMG, I’m in Australia” moments. The sand was so fine that it squeaked every time we stepped on it. I was taking in the blue water and the skyline of the Gold Coast in the background as I walked down the beach. I noticed a sign on the Surfers’ club that said “From Where You’d Rather Be” and I thought that was funny. At the same time it reminded me of how lucky I was to be in an amazing new place, taking interesting classes, and meeting new friends, so I let that sign remind me to be fully present and appreciative of my time in the Gold Coast and Australia in general.

"From Where You'd Rather Be"
Before long, Liz and Leanne found a good spot in the sand where they set up their towels and laid out. I did the same as I stared at the skyline in the distance, particularly noticing one tall building with a pointed roof and tall antenna. I didn’t want to close my eyes and nap (like I normally would at the beach) because I didn’t want to miss anything. My feelings of gratitude and excitement were mixed with uncharacteristic worry and doubt for the first time as I thought about how I had been in Australia for a week and a half already, but still had little sense of direction or purpose. I started to think about what I’d do next, so I decided to walk until I came across an area called Snapper Rocks. To keep myself thinking positively, I watched the waves smash up on Snapper Rocks as I made wishes. I sent good vibes to my friends and family at home (I hope you received them!) until I noticed that the sun was setting behind me, and I was missing it!

Snapper Rocks
Leanne and Liz were both perched on a rock overlooking the ocean and the skyline, and I sat with them for 20 minutes as we watched the sun set. Every time I see a sunset in Australia lately I think, “Wow, that is most beautiful sunset I have ever seen,” but this is the sunset that started all of that. The colors were so brilliant and saturated. The light of the sun (which blinded me even through my $3 sunglasses lol) reflected so brightly off of the water. The water was so vibrantly blue except where turned white as the solid body of water turned into wave then individual water particle as it smacked off the rocks where we sat. As the sun finally hid itself completely behind the mountains, I stepped off the rocks and noticed how the orange and blue sky (where the sun had set minutes ago) faded into pinks, purples, and turquoise across the sky. Moments like this made it easier for me to remind myself to be present in the moment.

The sunset at Coolangatta - if you look closely, you can see the building I was talking about!

The next morning, Liz and I woke up early to take advantage of free breakfast at the hostel before we went our separate ways to explore the area. I went back to the beach where we were yesterday, to Snapper Rocks, all the way along the shoreline until I left the state of Queensland entirely and crossed back into New South Wales. I found snorkelers and surfers and fishermen along the way, and I started thinking to myself “I should get a snorkel” or “I would love to fish here.” These thoughts were the reason that I decided I would be ok in Australia and would be able to find my purpose here so I committed to acting on them.
I found a picture of this exact staircase on Pinterest, but I like mine more because a bush turkey interrupted the shot

I met Leanne and Liz in the hostel shortly after to check out before boarding our bus to Burleigh Heads. Once again, we set up our towels and enjoyed the beach. Once I got over my “I’m from New York and Australia has never seen cold” mindset, I decided that it was actually cold and that I should get up and walk to get my blood circulating a little better. I walked down the beach a little bit before I started thinking, “it would feel really good to run right now.” After reassuring myself that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t wearing proper running clothes or shoes, I went for it. I noticed the building I had stared at all day yesterday, in the distance along the coast. Curiosity got the best of me as I started thinking “what is that building? Can I run there? Maybe I can walk/run there. I wonder how far away it actually is. Is that beach still considered Burleigh Heads?” I committed to running to the exact point where that building was perpendicular to the beach. My depth perception failed me as I ran, what I thought was maybe 3 miles, ended up being way more. By the end, my toes felt like they were going to split in half from the blisters and I had scabs on my chest where my bikini top rubbed against it. I didn’t care though because this was the first time I ever ran as a mode of discovery. When I finally arrived at the beach, I asked a tourist taking pictures of the ocean what the name of this beach was. I couldn’t stop laughing to myself that I had made it all the way to Surfer’s Paradise because that was our next location! I thought about trying to call Leanne and Liz to tell them to just meet me there, but I didn’t have my phone or any other way of contacting them. I also realized that I didn’t know the time, but judging by the placement of the Sun in the sky (and how hungry I was) I guessed that I had been gone for a maximum of 2 hours. I started to run back, but quickly realized that my feet weren’t “keen” to run.

Travel hack - we filled our duffel bags with peanut butter, jelly, and bread to save money 
After about 3.5 hours of running/walking to Surfer’s and back, I had gotten really hungry, so Leanne, Liz, and I got some fish and chips before heading to back to Surfer’s. We stayed with Alisse, a girl we had found on Facebook who also booked her housing with Semester in Australia. She introduced us to her friends, and we checked out some of the night life in the Gold Coast! I had a great time overall, but I decided that it’d be best to return when it wasn’t the dead of the Australian winter.

When the 3 of us arrived back in Brisbane, I had FOUR roommates! Keiko had arrived before I left for the Gold Cold Coast, but I was officially meeting Ashley, Gianna, and Rachel for the first time! I had talked to them all on Facebook so much that it had felt like meeting up with old friends. We decided to celebrate their arrival by going out on Grey Street for tacos and margaritas, then head to Fortitude Valley for a night out. I was really glad to finally have people to share my room and my experiences.
Meet my roommates! - Gianna, Ashley, me, Rachel, and Keiko

The Sunshine Coast

Later that week, after everyone settled in and got through orientation, we did a beach trip! Everyone wanted to check out the Gold Coast, but having just came from there, I was all for checking out the warmer Sunshine Coast. We decided on Mooloolaba Beach (I’d be impressed if you can pronounce the name of this beach on your first try!) To make the most of the day, we decided to leave by 7 AM so that we could be there all day before the sun sets. Although I did not enjoy the early morning, the experience was so worth it. The water was so clear and decently warm! We walked up and down the beach, swam for a little, and got to know everyone in our group of 13! We definitely made the most of the day, before returning home to watch the premier of The Australian Bachelor (which is even cattier than at home, believe it or not!)

By Friday, the majority of my roommates left for an ACU-sponsored trip to Byron Bay for the exchange students. Silly me signed up for the same trip 2 weeks later, so I had to make a new plan for the weekend. When Nolan sent me a picture of Noosa National Park, I responded with “let’s go.” I had heard amazing things about Noosa anyway and was really excited to check it out. We got together a group of 5 of us (me, Nolan, Kevin, Max, and Jiorden) and left Friday night. As soon as we got there, we walked around Hastings Street where we found a bar with live music. Kevin, from Massachusetts, couldn’t help but feel at home because Noosa reminded him so much of Cape Cod. After enjoying some gelato, beers, and live music, we headed to the beach in pursuit of the stars. The sky was so clear that we were able to see the galaxy, not just the stars! By default, we began to look for the Big Dipper until we realized you can’t see the Big Dipper from the Southern Hemisphere! We did, however, see at least 3 shooting stars!
The Noosa Crew - Kevin, Jordan, me, Nolan, and Max!
The next morning, we set out to find the Pinterest-famous Noosa Fairy pools in the National Park. We wanted to get there before high tide at 12:45, so we quickly ate breakfast and set out! Once upon a time, the Fairy Pools had been a local secret that were hard to find, but now even Google Maps knows about them! We basically just followed all the other tourists there. You could tell that everyone there wanted an Instagram-worthy picture of them floating on their backs in the pools (Guilty), but the funny part was that everyone was really respectful about taking turns swimming in the pools as you got your own personal photoshoot. After taking in the scenery, we continued to hike through the national park. We found a beach right in the middle of it where we hung out for a couple hours. On the way back, we took the long way through the National Park where we quietly and intently looked for wild koalas to no avail.
Swimming through the Fairy Pools!
Casually struggling to avoid harming the coral on the way out of the Fairy Pools

We ate a late lunch before returning to the hostel to shower and get ready for the sunset. We found the perfect spot, called the Spit, to watch the sunset. At the spot I was standing, there was water on both sides of me beautifully reflecting the sunlight. This was another superlative sunset, and it definitely rivaled the one in Coolangatta. After the sunset, we went to a restaurant called Zachary’s where we got pizza and enjoyed some more live music. We didn’t plan on staying long because we were cold and tired, but we ended up closing the place down. A group of women probably in their mid-forties got up and started to dance for the last couple songs, and inspired us to do the same. Jiorden described the night as “wholesome,” and we all left smiling.

Although having a set schedule of lectures and tutorials will change the pace of the upcoming weeks, the adventures will continue. For that reason, I’ll reference a sunset again, metaphorically this time. The sun is setting on my summer vacation (in the dead of Queensland winter) in preparation for another adventure tomorrow. I think starting classes tomorrow at ACU will help me to realize the “purpose” I have been struggling to find so far in Australia. I am looking forward to meeting new people at school, potentially joining new clubs, and learning new things.

Jiorden caught me freaking out over the adorable wedding pictures being taken 10 meters away.


  1. Sunsets �� are so good for the soul. What I would do to share a PB&J with you on the beach! �� Enjoy your amazing adventure. Your writing makes me feel like we are right there with you. Cheers! Aunt Marci.

  2. I am so proud that you are making use of every moment to explore the beauty of Australia! Thanks for keeping us informed of your adventures. Somehow, this blog (and your amazing gift of writing) might just point to the purpose you are looking for. Don't forget to stay in the moment and keep up the good work!! Love, Mom