One of the top questions I get asked about my year in Australia is “What’s your favourite place?” (Other popular questions include: “Did you cuddle a koala?” A: No! “Weren’t you scared of the spiders/crocodiles/snakes?” A: Much to my own surprise, not particularly. “Does the water really go down the drain the other way around in Australia?” A: I never actually checked, sorry!) But back to question number one…
It’s hard to settle on one single favourite place in Australia, because I am fully aware that my enjoyment of a place has a lot to do with the people I met there or went there with, the things I chose to do and sometimes factors as mundane as what day of the week I was there and what the weather was like. Also, many places were amazing in different ways and it’s almost impossible to compare them. So instead of picking one favourite place, I usually give an answer that breaks down into something like this:
My favourite tourist hot-spot in Australia: Fraser Island, Queensland
Fraser Island is on every list of must-see destinations in Australia – and it’s there for good reason. The island is beautiful and, as Islands are wont to do, totally takes you out of your everyday, mainland mindset and throws you into a bit of a timewarp. Add to that some camping on the beach with zero facilities and the perpetual bare-footedness that an island made entirely of sand inspires, and you’ve got an escapist fantasy come to life. What made my first trip to Fraser Island more than just a nice visit to a picturesque place was the amazing tour we had booked ourselves on to and the great group of people who were part of it. In fact, I loved the place, the people and Drop Bear Adventures so much, I came back for another 3 weeks of island life later in the year.
My favourite place off the beaten track: Cape Range National Park/Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Seasonal conditions notwithstanding, it is surely almost impossible to not find Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Reef breathtakingly beautiful. However, the natural beauty of our surroundings was only one of many factors that made this one of my favourite places in Australia. It was a major part of one of the best road trips I have ever been on, I was travelling with wonderful people and there were even more wonderful people waiting for us when we arrived. The local wildlife did its bit and put in some show stopping performances. Despite the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere with no electricity or running water and miles from the nearest supermarket, we partied every night as though we were in the hippest nightclub in the country. What really made Cape Range stand out in my mind was how underrated, under-promoted and under-visited it is. It felt like we had discovered something few others knew about, we were seeing something a lot of backpackers miss out on… and we were a lot richer for it.
My favourite city in Australia: Melbourne, Victoria
I may embrace my inner unwashed hippie on occasion, but there’s no point in trying to pretend I would last long trying to actually live off the grid for too long. I’m a city girl at heart and between stints on the road with my backpack, it was always a treat to arrive in Melbourne, where a proper bed, in a room, which I didn’t have to share with anyone, awaited. A room which also contained a wardrobe, where I could hang up my clothes – after washing them in a washing machine that was not coin operated. You get my drift: it was nice to return to civilisation every once in a while and there is no place more civilised in Australia than Melbourne (sorry, Sydney). I am definitely biased, as no less than three of my cousins and even more old friends live in Melbourne and were kind enough to take turns hosting me, so every return to the city was a bit like coming home. Even objectively, Melbourne is definitely the most liveable city in Australia. It doesn’t have the big sights and fancy harbour views you get in Sydney, but it has distinct neighbourhood with character, it has all the cool (third-wave, artisanal, small-batch…) cafés, trendy bars, yummy restaurants, great events and culture venues you crave after a few weeks or months in the outback. If I had to live anywhere in Australia for a while, it would definitely have to be in Melbourne.
All in all, my favourite thing about Australia wasn’t a particular place – it was the experience of travelling in a country that makes travelling easy, covering large distances by car, train and plane, often without much of a plan, meeting new people and gathering new experiences along the way, pushing the limits of what I thought I could and couldn’t handle (such as sleeping in backpacker dorms), coming to like things I didn’t think I’d like (Vegemite, Goon) and finding out I wasn’t as scared of scary things as I would have expected (snakes, spiders, sharks). In a nutshell, I experienced all those tired clichés that people annoy you with on facebook:
- no matter how much money you spend on travelling, you end up richer
- you get to know yourself better when you travel
- you find out new things about yourself when you travel
- travel changes you
- …and, you do, indeed, only live once