Australia: Weekends away

Since I am officially on the tail end of this amazing adventure abroad, it has become a top priority to see what the rest of the country can show me. Although I absolutely love everything Sydney has to offer, from its fast paced city life to the numerous, relaxing beaches scattered at every corner, I decided that it’s time to step out of the city limits. In a matter of three action-packed weekends, a group of friends and I planned and executed trips to three destinations: Gold Coast, Byron Bay, and Port Stephens.
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We ventured off to the Gold Coast after our spring break trip to Cairns, and stayed in an area called Surfer’s Paradise. This is considered the number one “schoolies” destination (which is equivalent to our spring break, except in January) for Aussie students across the country due to its wild nightlife and impeccable beaches. One of my first impressions was that the city closely resembled Miami with its vast beaches closely neighboring skyscrapers. Regardless of the fact that March is considered ‘off season’ for Surfer’s Paradise, the weather was still perfect with a moderate crowd of backpackers inhabiting the area. On arrival, we were talked into signing up for a bar crawl by a charming local, which included dinner, entry into 5 bars and a drink at each one. Even though we ended up finding the bar crawl to be a bit overrated, it still ended up being a great way to see a number of places in the city. The nightlife had a very clubby atmosphere and was packed with youthful partiers, both backpackers and locals. Following a late night out on the town, we spent our next day laying out and soaking up the sun on the pristine beaches. Our original plan was to rent surfboards for the day, but the waves and currents were too rough and were considered a potential liability. As disheartening as this was to hear, we knew exactly what they were talking about when we went into the ocean for a swim. Even before submerging in waist deep waters,we could feel the strength of the waves pulling us at great forces. The beaches had twice the number of lifeguards on duty and even had helicopters patrolling the coastline, so we decided to stick to splashing around in the shallow parts. Overall, weekend was a perfectly relaxing and enjoyable.
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My roommates and I decided that our next destination would be to Byron Bay, which is located roughly two hours south of Gold Coast. This quaint little hippie town was my personal favorite. There was live street music being played at almost every other corner that complimented the altogether friendly atmosphere. Once again, the weather couldn’t have been any better, so we made our way to the beach before doing some afternoon shopping. The sun was out and the water looked so inviting with its gentle waves and crisp, sparkling appearance. I have started to make a point to go swimming every time I go to any new beaches, because I never know when I’ll get the chance to return. My favorite aspect was that Byron Bay’s vibes made me feel as if we had made our way back to the 70s for the weekend. Even the beaches were given a splash of design to add character to the already hippie atmosphere. Everyone was so down to earth and had no worries where the day took them.
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My third and final weekend away consisted of a prepaid trip to Port Stephens with a number of friends from my program. The trip included shark and ray feeding, a dolphin watching cruise, sand dunning, and a wine and beer tasting. Having a set schedule of activities was a nice change of pace after the two relaxing weekends we had spent on the beach. We arrived late Friday night and decided against going out to prepare for the busy day ahead of us. Our morning started early with the shark and ray feeding exhibit, which was nowhere near as intimidating as I had anticipated it to be. We were able to submerge ourselves waist-deep in water and were given feeding sticks and cups of squid to feed them. The shark pool mostly consisted of nurse sharks that were no bigger than a meter as well as the sting rays, which were all friendly and eager to eat. Following the feeding frenzy, we were taken on a hike to a summit that over looked all of Port Stephens as well as Nelsons Bay. Cloudy skies made the hike substantially less strenuous, and even gave way to a nice breeze at the top. Once we made it to the summit, the landscape displayed its breathtaking views. 10013711_10203532339137834_1201724689_n
We then had free time to shower and eat before the dolphin watching boat cruise. I was exceptionally excited for this, since dolphins have always been one of my favorite animals. Thankfully we saw heaps of dolphins splashing around, and a few of them even swam up to the boat on several occasions. The excursion was topped off with a bar that allowed us to enjoy a couple of Coronas during the trip. My friends and I had a blast throughout the entire day, but the absolute best part was dining in the harbor at sunset. We caught one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve seen thus far (which isn’t as many as I’d hoped considering I’m usually busy during that time of the day). This set the mood to kick start our night on the town, which consisted of only two local pubs. There was roughly 20 of us in the group out of the 50 students that came on the weekend adventure, and we single handedly filled up a majority of the people in the bar. Regardless, we still had a fun night and a smaller group of us decided to make it even more memorable by taking a midnight swim in the harbor. On our last day, we were taken to Anna Bay where we could ride camels and go sand dunning. Both activities were heaps of fun despite some afternoon showers that interrupted the camel ride. Fortunately, the damp sand made sand duning twice as fun because we could go twice as fast. It was quite exhilarating and even a bit scary going down the steep slopes. Fun fact: sand from the massive dunes at Annas Bay are exported to the touristy beaches of Hawaii due to volcanic activity that makes their sand less appealing. After a couple of hours at Annas Bay, we made our way to a beer and wine tasting to try some Australian homegrown booze.
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All in all my love for beaches is stronger than ever now, and I hope to one day live close to one. The thing I love most is the carefree ambiance that surrounds the shore. Anyone and everyone that chooses to spend the day on the beach does so because they are given the chance to relax and take a breather from the busy, fast-paced lifestyles that are common in today’s world.

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