About My Trip to Australia
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Photos of New South Wales
Photos of the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns (Queensland)
Photos of the Northern Territory

Date: March 2001
Australia national flag
Duration: 4 weeks
Purpose: Vacation
Favorite Memory: Hmm... Well, it's probably a tie between scuba diving and hiking in the Outback.
Favorite Foods: A game-meat sampler plate that included kangaroo, crocodile, and various other meats I hadn't had before.
 

One of the nicest perks at the company I work for is the month-long sabbatical you get after 5 continuous years of service. I used my first sabbatical to visit Australia in 2001. I started in Sydney where some co-workers in our office there were kind enough to recommend a hotel and give me the grand tour. Next, I visited the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, then headed to the Northern Territory on a group tour for the bulk of the trip, including visits to Kakadu National Park and Uluru (Ayer's Rock). I finished up with another week in Sydney that I spent mostly doing day trips to the surrounding area such as the Jenolan Caves and the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately, I have misplaced the notes I took during the trip, and that coupled with the inexcusable three years I waited to write this have left me a bit fuzzy on the details. :) I WILL find my notes someday (I never throw stuff like that away), and when I do, I'll take another stab at writing this page. For now, a few brief comments for anyone who might read this who's thinking of visiting Australia:

  • The time of year I picked to visit Australia was definitely not the optimal time to visit the Northern Territory. I knew this going in, but I never expected it to rain THAT much. While I still got a lot out of this part of the trip, as well as some great photo opportunities, several stops on the itinerary were affected by or cancelled altogether because of weather.
  • Australia is definitely not accommodating to those squeamish about creepy-crawly things. During this trip, I shared bathroom stalls with gigantic hornets, ants, and various enormous spiders. Not to mention the assortment of snakes and lizards (although I like reptiles, so those didn't bother me nearly as much as the insects and spiders). My personal favorite--waking up in the morning and finding mouse poop on my pillow during the camping portion of the trip. Ick!
  • Speaking of camping and "roughing it"--I love the outdoors during the day. But I am most definitely an "indoor girl" when it comes to sleeping. I minimized the camping on this trip as much as possible. However, there were parts of the trip where there was simply no other option. Traipsing to the bathroom via flashlight in the middle of the night is not among my fondest memory of this trip (especially coupled with the rain!).
  • And speaking of bathrooms, outside the city, virtually none of them were air-conditioned, and most were of the "long drop" (i.e., "outhouse") variety.
  • I was really looking forward to the scuba diving. This was something I'd never tried to do before, and I went into it thinking it would be a blast. It was, but the day was a bit tainted by a little misadventure I had while waiting for it to be my turn. The scuba diving was supposed to work like this: They split everyone up in to groups of "novice", "some experience", "lots of experience", etc. They put about 4-5 people into each group. While you're waiting for it to be your turn, you are free to snorkel. Well, this sounded like a good idea--get used to breathing through a mask and swimming in flippers. So, I decided to do that. In a pool, in a lake, and even on the beach, I have always considered myself a good swimmer. So, when they offered flotation devices to anyone who was "not confident" in their swimming ability, I declined, not realizing just how different it is swimming in the "open ocean" or how difficult it would be getting used to the clumsy flippers on my feet and breathing through that mask. While I was trying to figure it out, the current was pulling me further and further away from the boat. By the time I realized it, the boat was quite far away, and I was still having trouble breathing through the mask and using the flippers. I did make it back to the boat, and probably would have made it all the way back on board (one of the lifeguards realized what was going on and jumped in to pull me out when I was about 10 feet from the boat). However, I would DEFINITELY recommend using flotation aids to anyone who has never swam in the open ocean before, no matter how good a swimmer you think you are. You can always remove them later if you don't need them.
  • After my "near-drowning" experience, I was in NO mood to try scuba diving. I fully intended to spend the rest of the day on the boat (not to mention the large quantity of sea water I inhaled was causing me to cough pretty frequently). Besides, I figured after my abhorrent display of swimming incompetence, liability issues alone would ban me from any chance of trying scuba diving, even if I wanted to. However, when it came to be my turn, the scuba diving instructor hunted me down and asked if I wanted to dive. I told him what happened, and said I'd probably just slow down the group. I thought that would be the end of it. But these instructors have seen it all, I guess--he suggested that I just put the equipment on and see how it "felt". I didn't even have to get in the water if I didn't want. So I thought "ok, couldn't hurt". Next, they assigned me and one other guy a personal instructor instead of putting us in a group. He had us get in the water and hold on to the side of the boat. Next, he had us just put our faces in the water and practice breathing through the mask. Then, he took us down one at a time for a dive, starting slowly--just a few feet down at a time. I wish I could say I was immediately at ease. It wasn't until I started snapping pictures left and right with my handy little disposable underwater camera that I was finally able to get my mind on something other than breathing. I did fine after that right up until the last few minutes of the dive when I started coughing (and panicking) again. The instructor said afterwards that he had planned to do about five more minutes with me but that given the circumstances I did fine.
  • After the dive, I decided to give snorkeling another try--this time I decked out with every flotation device they had available. Now that I knew I wasn't going to drown, it was easier to concentrate on learning to breathe through the mask. :) I got pretty good at it. I think if they had had time to do another dive with me, it would have been fine the second time.
  • A pre-paid cell phone was extremely handy to have during this trip. One of my co-workers in our Sydney office made the suggestion, and loaned me a spare phone (all I had to do was buy the minutes). This made it easy (and surprisingly inexpensive) to keep in touch with folks back home and to make calls within Australia. I will definitely make obtaining a pre-paid cell phone a top priority on future international trips.
  • I'd like to thank my co-workers Alex Khatis and Mark Wilgus for showing me around Sydney and recommending a hotel and local travel agency.