It’s my last real day in India.
I say real because I’m about to embark on 40 hours of travel to my next destination, and I don’t think a day spent just on planes, trains and automobiles should count as my last day here.
So it’s from the beautiful, serene, fantastic village of Hampi, India that I say farewell not just to this country but to my itinerary. I did it. I reached the end. It may not be the end of traveling (it definitely is not), but it is the end of the original plan.
For the past nine months I’ve traveled the world. I learned how to survive in the jungle, the cities, and the mountains of South America, adopting Spanish and companions as I went. I drove through, jumped out of a plane over, and played frisbee golf within the vast landscapes of New Zealand, forming a fondness for this faraway place that may result in a prolonged return in my future. I swam with sea turtles, got a solid tan, and enjoyed the gastronomy of Australia, a continent so far yet so familiar. I rode on every form of two- three- and four-wheel transportation imaginable, ate meals that cost little but tasted lots, and sweated my ass off in Asia, while learning hello and thank you in more languages than I can count on one hand.
I feel satisfied. Happy. Accomplished. I did what I set out to do, my 9-month open-ended plan, and now from my last location I am proud to say that I feel like I completed my goal. Everything from here on is bonus.
Thank you to the people in my life, both new and old, who have supported me, shared the adventures with me, and at times helped make this solo journey bearable. Thank you to the countries I encountered for making me feel welcome and showing me everything you have to offer and more. You are all wonderful. Thank you to myself, which feels weird to say but is true, for following through on my life goal, for not backing down when things were tough, and for becoming more myself than I have ever been.
It’s been an incredible journey that has affected me more than I could ever say here. I am not done posting, not even close, because even though the plan ends here the adventures continue. My Travel Abrodge is not quite done.
So where will take 40 hours to get to, you might ask?
Japan, you’re up next. Get some sushi and sake ready for me. I have no doubt that you’ll keep this amazing experience going.
With my departure from Australia I ended Part 2 of my RTW trip. I always knew that the Australasia portion would be a familiar breather in the middle of disparate South America and Asia, and it was part of the reason I included it where I did. A recharge if you will, with modern amenities and plenty of beach time. Plus I had always wanted to go there, and that was the whole premise of this trip – go to the places I’ve always wanted to go.
So you can imagine my surprise when I left Australasia feeling disappointed, lost, and questioning myself. I had just come from the best travel of my life in South America and I missed everything I had experienced there, from the locations to the people. New Zealand still had enough of a new place feel to keep me going, but Australia was unexpectedly hard for me. The tours, the kids, the prices, the beaches – it all came together to make me miss the unpredictable world I’d left behind.
When I think back to my month in Australia none of it is really negative. Noosa was the low point, but it was short-lived. Whitsundays, Byron Bay, Melbourne, and Sydney were all great locations that I would happily recommend to everyone. But there’s something about the impression of the overall trip that left me with a bad taste.
But I’ve come to realize that Australia served a purpose. I now know without a doubt what kind of travel I want to be doing on this trip. Organized tours and giant party hostels may have been great when I was in a different place in life, but where I’m at right now they are not for me. This was important to learn as I still have a few months of travel left and those types of things will not be left behind in Australasia.
Having said that, I still want to go back to these countries. I would love to go back to Wanaka for a season, with a few trips to the last places I didn’t make it to on my first NZ round. And I already have a route in mind for a 3 month Australia road trip. I bet you can guess none of it will be on the East Coast. I want to go to the West Coast and the interior desert; I think if I had done that trip I would have left highly satisfied. But everyone should see the East Coast once in their lives, and it’s probably better I did it before I had even more distance between myself and the other travelers, so I don’t regret the route I took at all.
Now that I’ve separated myself from those two months I look back fondly. Really I can’t imagine regretting any part of this year, and if I thought I would regret it then I would have left much earlier. There’s no reason to stay anywhere that doesn’t feel right. And I am happy to have learned more about the places and ways I want to be travelling; it is a valuable lesson for me.
So with that, I said goodbye to the familiar and embarked on Part 3. Asia would be a whole new experience with tougher language barriers and spicier street food meals, and I couldn’t wait to see what it was all about.
I had to fit in one last road trip before I left Australasia. Everyone said to go see the Great Ocean Road (GOR) if I had time (advice I will echo to future travelers). Not only did I have time, but I was lucky enough to have a friend with a car and a free Monday who was willing to take me on a day trip. Josi and I were going out on the road again.
As per usual with our road trip history in NZ, the weather was pretty bad. But we went for it anyway; this was the one day we had together for the trip so we were going rain or shine. I’m happy we did.
The drive is beautiful, although I’m sure more so in sunny weather. About halfway down we took a turn off onto the road where we were most likely to see koalas. Luckily there were no cars behind us as we crept down the road scanning the treetops. Then Josi hit the breaks: “koala!” We jumped out of the car and sure enough she had spotted one way up high. As I took pictures it clearly looked down at us. I jumped for joy – I finally saw an Aussie animal in the wild! And a koala, which are notoriously hard to spot.
When we could tear ourselves away we continued at our snails pace and this time it was my turn to yell out “koala!” This one was not happy we were making noises in its direction and it openly complained about t. Koalas make the strangest sound! It’s rare to hear it as a tourist so I felt really lucky. We were also lucky because this one wasn’t alone; another was up in the same tree and a mom and baby were across the street.
We moved on again, already happy with our 5 koalas, when we saw a few cars pulled over up ahead – 2 more koalas, another mom and baby. And this time there were kangaroos too! About half a dozen in a field just hanging out. More animals! I was skipping around like a giddy child. Another couple hundred meters and we had to stop again – 4 more koalas, and active ones. We saw one jump and climb up a tree (and stop for a pee break as I was filming him), and a couple had some lunch. They were all so close to the road. People were all around taking tons of pictures; I was right there with them. The next koala we saw we didn’t even stop for. We were up to 12 now. Even Josi was shocked, she’d never seen so many in a day. Later Gus, her fiancee, told us it was mating season, which explained why they were around and awake.
On our way back out the same road I saw a black kangaroo jumping around. At this point I was happy with the drive just for the animals; I finally saw them and not in a zoo. Seeing animals in the wild is always better.
We drove on, stopping for a quick fish and chips lunch (had to get one of those before I left), and made it to the first of the 12 Apostles just as the weather hit peak shittiness. We still got out and climbed down to the road. The tan cliff face and lone Apostle were imposing sites. This was my favorite vista of the drive. We were alone on the beach surrounded by the sheer awesomeness of Australia’s coastline. It was stunning even in the overcast misty rain.
It wasn’t much further to the main 12 Apostles visitor center, our final destination, which we shared with hoards of tourists. This was supposed to be the peak moment of the GOR but the strong wind, cold rain, and masses of people really took away from the experience. It was still impressive, I get why everyone goes here and still recommend stopping by, but we didn’t linger. We were also very disappointed with the visitor center: it was just a kiosk, no information on the Apostles at all. I googled them on our way out for at least a little history.
We turned around and drove back up to Josi’s. As we reached the end of the GOR we saw a huge rainbow; we were actually able to see where it ended in the ocean. To our chagrin it was too far out into the water to look for the gold, but to me it signaled a happy end to a great day trip.
It was so fun being back on the road with Josi for a day, a throwback to how we got to know each other in NZ. And beyond that, Josi and Gus welcomed me into their home, and I am so thankful to them both for their hospitality and their friendship. The night before the GOR drive I took the train out to Geelong to stay at their house so we could get up early the next day. Josi picked me up at the train station and we greeted each other with a huge hug. When we got to the house I was so excited to meet her fiancee Gus, who I’d heard so much about, and of course he was fantastic too. We all had dinner together and Josi and I finished off a bottle of wine catching up. It felt like I was staying with old friends who I just hadn’t seen in a while. On our way home the next night we picked up kangaroo burgers and made dinner together. Gus is an excellent gardener so I was treated to fresh veggies and salad picked right from the backyard to go with the burgers. It was a delicious meal.
I was sad to say bye to Josi and Gus that night; I really felt so welcome in their home. It’s a testament to how great they are and I’ll always remember them as some of the most kind-hearted friends I met on this trip. I would say I’m sad I don’t know if or when I’ll see them again but I don’t have to worry about that. Josi and Gus I haven’t forgotten – Burning Man 2016. See you there.
Everywhere I went I met people who told me how much I was going to like Melbourne. Whether they were from there, at some point lived there, or had just visited, the overwhelming opinion was that it was one of the best cities in the world, and as a former San Francisco resident its hipsteresque street art and coffee-obsessed culture, abundance of trams (the cable car’s cousin), and ocean-side but a bit too cold to really enjoy it location would feel a little like home.
There was some merit to this opinion. Melbourne is a manageable city with a lot of appeal. But it was that “a little like home” that everyone said I would like that ended up being the problem. Let me back up…
My days in Melbourne felt different than simply visiting a city; I was hanging out with friends in a city. Four days spent with four friends I’d met across my travels: Steve, an Irishman I’d wandered around Iguazu with for a day back in June; Josie, my German road trip companion from New Zealand; Kelly, an Aussie native I’d met at my Puerto Iguazu hostel also back in June; and Alex, an American I’d met just a few days earlier in Byron Bay. Each friend is intertwined with different parts of the city in my memory. It’s amazing how I knew Steve for a day, Kelly for 2, Alex for 2, and Josi for 12 – and none of them before this trip – and it felt so normal just hanging out with them in Melbourne. It was a nice way to experience the city. A little more normal.
So, back to Melbourne. It has a lot of things I really like. For starters, it has expansive parks for all sorts of recreation (Steve and I biked through them). It’s close to water, both the river and ocean, and as a bonus this ocean has little penguins at the St. Kilda pier that I got to see at dusk one night. It has day markets like the St. Kilda Sunday Market on the Esplanade (where I got my new rings and some gifts) and night markets like the Queen Victoria Night Market on Wednesdays (explored with Alex) – the place I had a sampling of emu, crocodile and alligator (alligator wins) – and the temporary Noodle Market, which I wandered through but didn’t eat at, although it smelled fantastic. These reminded me of SF’s Off the Grid and Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg. It has neighborhoods to stroll around and enjoy a snack or beverage. My choices were a flat white and caramel slice in Fitzroy (the neighborhood I would live in if I moved to Melbourne) and a chicken focaccia and a glass of wine in a laneway in the CBD. Both highly enjoyable experiences. It has extensive public transportation; the trams felt like SF’s MUNI system all rolled into one, like the above-ground part of the T ran on all the bus routes all over the city. It has some history and lots of culture, as I found out on the Free Walking Tour with Kelly (do it! really good one). The street art is abundant and great, and I got to pretend to be a student in the National Gallery of Victoria by eavesdropping on a class lesson in a gallery. And from what I saw, it has a great gastronomic scene. From Mexican-Korean fusion carnitas sandwiches enjoyed riverside (with Steve) to healthy quinoa and kale salad and zucchini fritters enjoyed literally on the river at Ponyfish Island (with Kelly) to a fantastic view over the city at The Rooftop Bar (with Alex), I got to have a little taste of my old home dining life.
What I’m getting to is that Melbourne is a great city. I could have easily spent more time there reverting back to normal city life. But that was my problem – Melbourne felt too normal. It could easily be in the US, they would just have to change the Macca’s sign back to McDonald’s. I was already feeling anxious about the similarity of Australia to the US so ending with a city that felt so much like home was the period at the end of the sentence. It was time to leave Australia. I needed to get back out to the different that I experienced in South America. I needed Asia.
So when the time came to board my flight, I admit, I wasn’t sad. Nothing against Melbourne, I enjoyed the city, but the timing was wrong. I was just ready to move on to my next adventure.
Byron Bay was up there with Fraser Island for the most recommended place to visit. When I was reaching exhaustion with the East Coast I kept thinking, “I just want to get to Byron Bay.” So you can imagine my relief when I made it to Byron and it was every bit as good as I hoped it would be.
I checked into the Arts Factory, the number one recommended hostel for its alternative set-up: campsites, teepees, and dorms were scattered around the woods with a pond, a beach volleyball court, a pool, a ping pong table, and picnic areas. Inside was a cafe, eclectic couches and chairs, and a pool table. There were didgeridoo and yoga classes and a brewery across the parking lot, which was my first stop when I got in Wednesday night for open mic night.
I could see how people get stuck in Byron at the Arts Factory, embracing the hippie lifestyle that it embodied. However for a short term solo traveler it may not have been the best option. It was very cool, but its guests were mostly already in groups of friends and I found it hard to meet new people. Granted this was also affected by my friend situation: with Pascal, Chris and Elsenoor all in town at the same time I opted to hang out with them instead of dedicating time to meeting people at Arts Factory. I don’t regret this for an instant; I had a fantastic time with them.
Byron was dominated by beach time, as it should be. The soft sand beach stretches as far as the eye can see and the inviting blue water is shallow enough to walk far out into. My first morning I read on the beach for hours before Pascal and Chris got there, then I spent the afternoon boogie boarding and hanging out with them. I spotted Elsenoor not far away and invited her to join us. Our last day was spent this way too, nursing our hangovers in the sun and the much better boogie boarding waves. I haven’t boogie boarded since I was a kid and had forgotten how fun it can be to ride a wave into shore.
In between beach days the four of us made the trip out to Nimbin. This Aussie town is well known for being the place to buy weed and edibles, namely cookies. We decided when in Rome and went for a day trip. Without going into much detail, I’ll just say we were a little disappointed in this adventure. There is really nothing to do in Nimbin, it is a small block with a few cafes and shops, and its main export is nothing to rave about either. It also felt way more sketchy than its reputation. Maybe I’m just too used to the easiness of California.
We finally got in some good nights out in Byron Bay. Thursday night was a bit more casual, with our main form of entertainment being making bets on where other people in the bar were from. This is how I ended up doing push-ups on the floor of the bar, something I wouldn’t live down over the next few days, but I’m not one to back out of a bet. Friday night was our last night together so we went out for dinner, a real treat for a bunch of backpackers, and it was lovely. Good food, good company, and a bottle of wine shared between new friends. We met some other people out and, after a brief detour to check out a Silent Disco (which was unfortunately all schoolies), ended up again at the backpacker bar Cheeky Monkey. When it was time to go home we didn’t want the night to end; we wandered around by the beach for a while refusing to accept defeat, but eventually we had to give in.
I had an evening flight to Melbourne that Saturday night so I said my goodbyes after our beach day. But in the trend I have going they weren’t really goodbyes – Chris and Pascal, you’re not rid of me yet, I’ll see you in Thailand for Christmas.
I left Byron Bay happy with my three days there but excited to finally get to Melbourne. I could easily have spent weeks relaxing in the hippie-turned-bustling beach town, reading on the beach, learning to surf, maybe even revisiting the Nimbin experiment, and sharing beers with my Oz travel friends. It is definitely towards the top of the list of favorite locations from my time in Australia. But as things go, I only had a few days left in this country, and I had saved the supposed best for last. To Melbourne I went.
I decided to do a quick stop in Brisbane on my way to Byron Bay. I had to go through it anyway so why not check it out? People heard I had just 24 hours and thought I was a little crazy, but I had done a dozen stops like this in South America, so I went for it. And I’m happy I did.
Brisbane is much better than I expected it to be. I’d heard that it wasn’t worth going to unless you knew someone there and maybe that’s true for a weekend or longer stay, but I had a very pleasant day in Brizzy.
I arrived at 3:10 pm and had a casual evening. I took advantage of the massive roof deck of my hostel to write some blog posts at a table overlooking the city and ate my couscous and avocado dinner (a true backpacker meal of leftovers from Noosa) outside. Brian, a quirky Swiss guy from my room, suggested we check out the free ferry City Hopper to see the city lit up from the water. Great idea.
The ferry is a nice nighttime activity. It was pleasant to putter around on a boat on such a warm night and see the glowing bridges and buildings of Brizzy. It was on this boat ride that we learned that the river really does have sharks in it! When we returned to the hostel I took advantage of another one of its perks: the movie theater. Pirates of the Caribbean? Don’t mind if I do.
The next morning I set out early to do Lonely Planet’s CBD walk (taken from a fellow traveler in Noosa). This walk was a great introduction to the city; it took me through main plazas, urban districts, important civic buildings, bridge views, riverside boardwalks, the Botanical Gardens, and the South Bank, which is a fantastic public amenities space. There’s a rainforest walk with a Nepalese Pagoda, plenty of places to lounge in grassy fields, walking/running/cycling paths, cafes and restaurants, a cultural center, and the Street Beach, Brisbane’s lagoon. What is with Australia and their love of public swimming pool lagoons? I had now seen this 3 times: Cairns, Airlie Beach, and Brisbane. They’re all so well maintained too, looking clean and inviting. I wonder if that would ever happen in the States.
I spent a decent amount of time in the Gallery of Modern Art. This museum is a perfectly manageable size and had some interesting exhibits. I discovered 2 new artists I really liked: Tracey Moffatt and Hiraki Sawa. It is definitely worth a visit, not just for Art History people. (And it’s free!) On my way back I encountered a food market in front of the Treasury where I wanted to buy everything, but I held off because I’d been told of a cool stop in an alley nearby.
I almost missed The Brew – on Albert between Queen Street Mall and King George Square – because it really does just look like an alleyway, but it’s good thing I found it. This is an awesome chill place I could spend hours in, the type of place where you can hang out alone or with friends, starting with a coffee and moving on to food and beer as the day moves on. I let myself get a mocha (so good) and took some leisure time. A reward for a good 24 hour visit to Brizzy.
At 4:00 I boarded my bus to Byron Bay happy with this last-minute stop. I needed a city in between all this beach time. I didn’t realize I’d missed cities until I took more pictures on the hour and a half boat ride than I did on all of Fraser Island. Add Brisbane to the list of places that made me think more about my future, this time leaning heavily in favor of city life. And when I spent a lot of time trying to get a good picture of a funky skyscraper and a trussed bridge, and sitting in a gallery to listen to an architect talk about his work, I was again reminded of my love for architecture. Could this year bring me right back to where I was before I left, just a year older and more traveled? TBD, but after Brizzy, it’s possible. Then again after this year anything is possible.
The last stop on my pre-booked adventure tour was a 2 day 3 night kayaking and camping trip in the Noosa Everglades. I knew nothing about Noosa before I visited Happy Travels in Cairns, but they offered to throw it in for free and I like kayaking so why not. But I was never really excited about it, and after the Whitsundays and Fraser Island tours, and seeing the same familiar faces in Airlie Beach, Rainbow Beach, and the Greyhound bus, I was feeling a little exhausted and over these prescribed tours. I felt like I was being herded along with the rest of the foreigners, only seeing the parts of Australia that the travel agencies wanted me to see exactly how they wanted me to see them. This wasn’t the type of travel I had done in South America and it wasn’t what I had wanted to do here or for the rest of my trip.
So when I called the Noosa Everglades company before getting on my bus to confirm the shuttle would pick me up and they told me that I was too late to confirm, the shuttle was running only at 1:00 that day and I wouldn’t get in till after 3, so my only option was to take a local bus and a AUD 30 cab ride out to them, I had no qualms about changing my plans. I took this as a sign from the travel fates that I shouldn’t force the kayaking trip just because a travel agency told me to. I wasn’t into it, the fates didn’t want to make me go, so I dropped it.
Within a matter of minutes I booked two nights at the Nomads in Noosa, where it seemed like most of my Fraser Island tour was also headed, and decided to spend the third night in Brisbane on my way to Byron Bay, a city I was previously going to skip entirely.
Noosa was hot and full of the same gap year kids that were starting to irk me. I found great company in Guusje, Esra, Elsenoor, and Tom, a group of Dutch travelers with who I hiked the coastal trail, made delicious and cheap dinners with lots of veggies, and experienced at least a small taste of Noosa nightlife before feeling too old and going to bed.
Noosa itself isn’t that much. It’s a quaint town with a wonderful coastal walk leading from Noosa Beach to Sunshine Beach. This was the highlight and really the only thing to do unless you wanted to shell out the money to surf or kayak (a 1 day Everglades trip was AUD 85-185). Otherwise it was young backpackers participating in wet t-shirt contests and hanging out at the Nomads pool. In short, it wasn’t for me.
But I was happy with my change of plans. I chilled in Noosa, saved money with grocery store meals with Guusje and Esra, and got myself excited about breaking away from this crowd by choosing to go to Brisbane. It was the right decision.