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
- 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
- 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
- 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.