PORT MACQUARIE, AUSTRALIA- It’s been a week or two since my last post, and I’ve done quite a bit since then. Starting Monday, November 4 I did a one-week introductory “program” called OzIntro which as it turns out is geared towards British backpackers spending their gap year in Australia. Fellow Americans have been few and far between, but the good ole Brits are all over the place; I was the only one in a collective group of 32 adventurous souls beginning their travels down under. Upsides are earning cool nicknames such as the Clever Yank for my contributions to a second-place finish at Quiz night; downsides are constantly thinking everyone is calling my name when anyone is referred to as “Mate” (with the British accent the two are quite indistinguishable).
It was a good week, quite a structured week, but a good one nonetheless. Monday was spent jet-boating around the Sydney Harbor, though we didn’t really get to enjoy the sights since it seemed the driver’s sole mission was to whip the little cigarette boat around at a speed of considerable-knots-per-hour and get us all soaking wet (like, SOAKING, wet).
Tuesday was spent at the Sydney Aquarium, which was a cool experience but I’m personally of the mentality that fish are far cooler to see in the wild than caged up in a tank…unless it’s something Exceptionally Awesome, like a Great White Shark, which alas, we are incapable of caging.
Wednesday we took surfing lessons from my man Ilan, who personified everything one would ever expect out of an Australian surf instructor from the scraggly blonde hair and…nonchalant approach towards things to a command of the surf that is borderline Freakish.
Thursday took us to the world-famous (?)Bondi Beach, which is about a half-hour outside of Sydney. It’s quite the tourist haven, so we took a coastal walk about an hour south to a smaller inlet where there was a good ole’ Aussie BBQ and a game of British Rounders waiting for us. (Side note: Rounders is just like baseball, except far duller- imagine!).
Friday was a trip into the Blue Mountains with our guide Smokey, pictured above— born and raised in the Outback, and living up to all the hype you’d expect from a tour guide named Smokey, he gave us a great talk on the lesser-known history of Australia on the ride out. Fun facts: the Egyptians were actually the first non-indigenous peoples known to have discovered Australia, followed by the Dutch- the English just timed everything perfectly for colonization; James Cook was in fact NOT the first “Westerner” to set his sights on the East Coast of Australia in 1770.
Whaddaya know? Smokey worked as an auto mechanic in Darwin in his 20s when a man came into the shop and asked if he could repair the motor on his boat- Smokey, of course, took the job, and when the task was done the man asked if Smokey would like to lead a tour on the boat, because after all the man owned a tourist agency. The rest, as they say, is history, and Smokey has been leading tours all over Australia for the past 25 years…quite an interesting guy, and he was kind enough to give me the local scoop on the best surfing and beach spots hidden along the East Coast.
The weekend was spent planning the next legs of everyone’s travels. The East Coast of Australia is a wildly popular route for backpackers, and as such, there’s a huge market for all different kinds of 3-day tours for this and that- packaged deals galore. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement over these possibilities, and a lot of people in my program chose to fly from Sydney to Cairns (up north, near the Great Barrier Reef), and spend 6 weeks bussing down the coast and seeing the sights while being back in Sydney in time for Christmas. Personally, I’m interested in taking things a bit more slowly and planning things one week at a time, so I bought a 12-month Hop On-Hop Off Greyhound bus ticket, running from Sydney to Cairns, bringing me to my current destination, Port Macquarie.
Port Macquarie is a smaller beachside town, and the hostel I’m staying in is a converted house a mere 60-second bike ride from the beach. After staying in Sydney for 10 days, it’s been a welcome relief to be somewhere with a living room, usable kitchen facilities and a more quiet atmosphere. There are only about 20 or 30 people staying here at any given time, so I’ve gotten to know the various Germans, Canadians, Italians, Aussies and Norwegians staying here pretty well.
Thus far, this has been the makeup of the backpacker in Australia…mostly young 20s, from a modernized Western culture, embarking on a gap-year of some sorts before they begin their real lives (whatever that may be) back at home, or even here in Australia. My tentative plan is to hang out here for the next week or so and get a handle of exactly what I want to do in Australia before I find work. A smaller town like this is far more amenable to subscribing to the creed of the almighty Calorie Per Dollar, and it doesn’t hurt that the hostel has free bikes and surfboards for us to use, which is especially appealing as the weather gets nicer and Summertime Sadness once again becomes an appropriate anthem to hear on repeat wherever you find yourself.
As always, please keep in touch- questions, comments, feedback- all is appreciated, and will be attended to in due time. Pictures soon!