Hello readers! I'm writing from an airplane seat as I fly from the east coast of Australia back to Auckland. Now, I've been in Auckland so long that it almost feels like I'm flying back home! When I first arrived in New Zealand, one of my plans was to visit Australia while I was still in the Southern Hemisphere. Thankfully, I was able to plan a trip with a few Auckland friends around the end of finals to travel to a few places on the eastern Australian coast.
After a quick three-hour flight over the Tasman Sea, we arrived in Sydney, where we tried to see as much of the city as we could during the short time we had. The iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge were definitely worth the visit, surrounded by the botanical gardens and big downtown area. After lots of walking around (and taking tons of photos), we took a ferry up to Manly Beach for the afternoon to relax and enjoy the warm weather. The sun was greatly-appreciated though we quickly realized the thin ozone layer above us meant the sun was super intense–sunscreen was a must!
We also met up with some other study abroad students who had lived in Sydney for the semester. We chatted about our experiences and I got to compare what it was like living in Sydney versus Auckland. Both cities are on the coast, with access to beaches, ferries, and islands. However, the weather in Sydney is much more temperate, leading to quite a warm summer. I was glad I had packed my bag full of shorts and swimsuits (while back in Auckland, I'd still be wearing sweaters)!
Sydney is also a much bigger city than Auckland! I was initially perplexed by how big not only the downtown was, but all the surrounding suburbs. With so many places in Sydney, the transportation system around the city is huge! It's easy to get around and explore everywhere in and around Sydney, but all the buses, trains, ferries, and the new tram line that was being built seemed crazy compared to the few train and bus lines we have around Auckland.
Living in Sydney sounded really fun and adventurous, but it had much more of a big-city vibe than Auckland. I guess it's really up to thinking about the type of person you are and what kind of place you like to live in when you're deciding where to study abroad! While it's a little more challenging to get around New Zealand (especially as it's made up of two islands), I definitely enjoyed the smallness of Auckland and the wilderness around the country. I was glad I got to talk to some of the Sydney abroad students, though, to hear about their perspective on studying abroad in Australia!
From Sydney, we headed up north to Airlie Beach, a small beach town surrounded by islands. As everyone in my group was SCUBA certified, our main plan was to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. We booked a boat to the reef on a day trip and did two dives on the reef, which was beautiful. We saw coral, so many different types of fish, starfish, and even some reef sharks! Another day, we went snorkeling and saw even more vibrant coral, fish, and some stingrays. So, whether you have your dive certification or not, you can definitely still experience the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef (and I highly recommend it!).
We also explored Whitehaven Beach, which is like the Statue of Liberty of the Whitsundays. When we came around the corner on the boat, I was blown away by how pristinely white and long (over seven kilometers) the beach was! The sand was almost pure white (as we learned it has a very high silica composition) and contrasted against the light blue of the water. Further up the beach, stingrays and small sharks swam around our feet as we waded in the water. Initially, I had been a little doubtful about going all the way out on a boat to see the beach, but I was so glad I did. Whitehaven was unlike any other beach I'd ever seen!
The rest of my time in Airlie Beach was spent lounging in the "lagoon" (a huge community pool in the middle of town with a beautiful view of the ocean and the Whitsundays) and reading books from the nearby second-hand bookshop. I will admit that it was very different from my typical style of traveling, where I usually have lots of plans and activities lined up. Still, it was nice to have a relaxing few days with no more worries about school now that the semester had finished.
Now that I'm reflecting on the trip, I will say I enjoyed visiting Australia so much! I would definitely love to travel there again to explore more of the country–and spend more time on the beach. Also, I can't believe I'm heading home to Texas in only a few weeks! Most of my IES Abroad friends have already headed back to the United States (as the semester ended about a week ago). I decided to stay for a few weeks into December before flying back but I still feel like my time in Auckland is ending so fast! For you future study abroad students: enjoy every minute you have abroad because time just seems to fly by!
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<p>I am a sophomore anthropology major and pre-med student at Southern Methodist University. I love hiking, camping, rowing, and exploring new places!</p>