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I’m not in the mood for a sassy title so I’ll just call this New Zealand. Australia, Part 11 or something like that.

Posted by bostonki on April 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

The feeling about this time of the semester: I could use some coffee.

When I left off last, we were heading back to Mooloolaba for our last weekend on the coast (the 4-week summer program students, that is.  We were on the trip with twenty-something students who were staying and student teaching until September).  The night we left Longreach was pretty rough; we were taking an overnight bus trip back to the coast and sleeping was not easy considering that everybody else on the bus was in the mood to party.  We stopped in the middle of the night for a restroom break and a dance party on this dirt Outback road.  Even C danced.  I would sure like to see video, I’m sure it exists somewhere.

The last weekend in Mooloolaba was uneventful – more beach days, last minute tourist shopping, and a last trip to Taps.  The real party started at 2 AM on Monday when we got up to catch a flight to Auckland, New Zealand.  For some reason we booked one at like six or seven AM.  We had a shuttle pick us up and after making a couple more stops, headed into Brisbane for the airport.  The flight was totally uneventful.  There were some beautiful views heading into the North Island, though!

One word to describe NZ: GREEN!

Once we touched down, we got to our hotel which was definitely on the shady side.  It was right on Queen Street (the main thoroughfare) and really convenient, though.  Just a block away was every Asian cuisine you could possibly want – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, you name it.  Then the tacky tourist shops, then the chain shops, then the classier shops, and that culminated at the ferry dock at the waterfront.  We went for a walk around the city and it felt surprisingly like New York, of course on a much less grand scale.  Plus, there were some awesome shopping districts.  And of course, I found a bookstore.

Sunset shot of the Auckland Sky Tower in the distance.

How cute is this?

We made it an early night considering that we’d been up since 2 AM.  And Auckland is actually an hour or two AHEAD of Eastern Australia, so that was pretty dizzying.  New Zealanders are one of the first people to see the light of a new day, so cool.

The next day, we hiked Rangitoto.  This is a dormant (but active volcano), so it could’ve erupted at any time but scientists say it’s safe for now to hike.  Now, we hiked a LOT on the trip.  I had thighs of steel by the time I was done.  This one beat me up.  There was a main path, so that was fine, but it was so steep.  Once we made it to the top, it was totally worth it for the killer views.

TSA wanted to know if I had any foreign material on my shoes.. yeah right just the soil of a New Zealand volcano

Auckland from a distance! *heart eyes emoji*  Worth the hike!

On the way down, we saw a path for a cave and followed that.  Clearly this wasn’t a popular option because there was not even an attempt at a path, you were climbing over rocks and such to get there.  It was so cool (yet slightly claustrophobic) walking through the cave, except for when I hit my head on a stalactite and cried my head off for about ten minutes.

We spent a lot of time exploring Queen street and all of the shops there.  And in every tourist shops were stuffed kiwis.  Fun fact: the fruit “kiwi” is named after the native New Zealand bird because of it’s fuzzy exterior.  And the people eventually got to be called Kiwis.  Or “Antipodeans”, but it sounds kind of rude to me.

The next day, Sam and Mikaela went to a local island for some wine tasting.  I headed out to some of the museums I had read about to check them out.  My first stop was the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, with the largest collection of New Zealand art, past to contemporary.  It was pretty sleek inside, kind of reminded me of the Museum of Modern Art.

This was supposed to represent some sort of blend of Maori men’s menial jobs and toughness..

After that I walked all the way across the city (yikes) to the Auckland Museum, which has the largest collection of Maori and Pacific Islander artifacts.  It was part science, part art, part history museum, and it was AWESOME.  There was a whole exhibit about volcanoes because of their prevalence in New Zealand.  And a LOT of boats everywhere!  Those Pacific Islanders and their voyaging (we know the waaaaay!)


Most of New Zealand besides the structured activities done here was honestly just walking around looking at everything.  We went over by the sky tower but at this point I refused to go do anything that would cost me an exorbitant amount of money.  I think at one point I just went to the public library and checked out their stuff.

For our last night in town, we went to a local restaurant/bar that was advertising the third and final State of Origin game between Queensland and New South Wales rugby teams.  I might have mentioned this earlier, but the two rugby teams play a series of three games each summer (kind of like an all-star game) and Queensland has come out on top the last several years.  We donned our Maroons gear (American girls watching an Australian rugby game in an New Zealand restaurant…) and we won!  A great conclusion to out trip to New Zealand.

By the way just a brief side note.. it was in the 40s and 30s when we went.  Keep in mind this was wintertime in NZ and it’s pretty far South.  Some girls went to Queenstown on the South Island and actually went skiing.

Next time, the final saga: Sydney.  The joys of flying unreliable budget airlines, and the blissful 24 hours in the city basically just hanging out by the Opera House.  But by far the most epic conclusion ever to a study abroad adventure..

Stay tuned 🙂





World Book Day! Here are some of my top picks and recommendations

Posted by on April 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

Today is Confederate Memorial Day.  But significantly less controversial, it’s also World Book Day!  I am SO looking forward to writing this post because I’m going to share with you all my favorite books of the past, present, and the ones I’m eyeing for a read in the future.  Leave comments here (or on Facebook) with recommendations because I’m always looking to add good reads to my shelf!  And speaking of, if you’re in the reading culture and don’t have a Goodreads account yet, sign up!  You can track which books you read, interact with authors, leave reviews, and check out all of the newest releases.

Let the reading begin!

Favorite Childhood Book

Children Just Like Me (Kindersley, 1995)

My mom bought me a copy of this book after I kept stealing it from my second grade teacher’s bookshelf.  I still have it and repeatedly read it.  Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley travel all over the world to meet kids and their families from all six inhabited continents, and you get to see their family life, school life, things they do for fun, and their dreams.  They’ve been everywhere.  There are more recent editions of this book but it feels more homogenized and there’s less info.  I’d definitely recommend the 1995 one without reservation.  The Celebrations book is awesome too, talking about holidays all around the world.

Some runner ups: Blubber by Judy Blume, Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss, and all of the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park.

Favorite YA Novel

This one is a LOT harder.  I still read YA a lot because they’re great!  Full of uplifting lessons about life and adventure without any of the somewhat bogging adult themes.  I’ve never meet a YA novel I didn’t like.  I’m going to make an obvious choice here.

Every Harry Potter Novel (No author necessary since we all know it)

Harry Potter has been unbelievable.  A whole universe we can escape into, where out problems become no longer.  It’s engrossing and we feel like we are one with the characters.  Until the summer before my sophomore year, I had only read the first four books.  I was always too young to understand the darkness and honestly, fantasy isn’t my favorite genre.  But I gave it another shot, and read all seven in two months.  Worth every second.  I’m very sorrowful if you haven’t read these yet, GET TO IT.

Some runner ups: Looking for Alaska by John Green, The Westing Game by Ellen Rasking, The Kingdom Keepers by Rick Riordan (especially if you’re a Disney fanatic), The Clique by Lisi Harrison, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (wow, tears)

I’ve read Eleanor and Park and Looking for Alaska as an adult and especially enjoyed those.  I’m not into the whole YA theme of vampires and romance.  EVERY book, amirite?

Favorite Classic

To Kill a Mockingbird  (Harper Lee)

Much better than the movie.  I know it’s usually required reading, but I’ve come across a few people who haven’t read it.  Another cast of relatable characters and themes of racism that echo into today.  And of course the whole mystery that surrounds Boo Radley (I don’t remember how it ended though, since it’s been four years).  One of the more readable classics for sure!  If you really liked this, I’d at least give Go Set a Watchman a try, but it certainly isn’t as good.  It’s all about Scout grown up and it’s just a slow moving story that takes place over a couple of days.  Oh, and Jem is dead.  Sorry!

Runner ups: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

Favorite Mystery/Thriller

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

One of the first real thrillers I read, and it got me HOOKED on the genre.  Gillian Flynn’s works are messed up.  But that’s what makes them intriguing on a natural level – murder, psychological distress, lies, cheating, killer children, whatever.  Our desire for a good scandal is always fulfilled through her works.  All three of her mainstream ones are good, just pick any of em up.  But this one is best.  And arguably, the most complete in the sense of detail.

Runner ups: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, any Stephen King monstrosity (if you can get through it, I got about halfway through It, but maybe I’ll finish it next Halloween),  You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott, and Tornado Weather by Deborah Kennedy

Favorite Historical Fiction

By far my least favorite category.  I read them so far and few between that I actually only have like two to recommend to you.

My top choice is Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

My only other recommendation is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  Especially if you like war fiction.  You’ll laugh, but you’ll mostly cry.

Favorite Nonfic/Memoir

I’ve really begun to love nonfiction.  I enjoy reading about people in different parts of the world, and getting to travel there in my brain as I read.  I’ll read nonfiction… for fun.  Excluding education books from here since I’ll do a separate category below.

I Am Malala

A bit hard to read at first, the story becomes one you can’t put down.  It took me awhile to comprehend and organize the names of all the places she mentions in the book, so they should put a map in.  But just an outstanding story about repression of women’s rights to education in Pakistan (I guess this is about education after all..).  I wish I had gone to see her speak last fall, but I had a three hour class that night, not skippable in the least.  I trust that she was even more inspiring in person.

Runner ups: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline (one of my honors seminar books!), The Corset: A Cultural History by Valerie Steele, and The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore.

Favorite Education Books That Will Make You Really Angry About The State of American Education

Here’s a category I’m an expert in!

The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, by Amanda Ripley

A journalist’s educational investigation into why the kids in Finland and South Korea are so darn smart, including the good and the ugly.  No homework policies for the Finns but cram schools for the South Koreans!  Ripley traces a few high school kids as they embark on exchange programs and get to experience education in another country.  A must-read for comparative ed fanatics like me!

Runner ups (although who am I kidding, they’re all good): 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools by David Berliner, Savage Inequalities by Johnathan Kozol, and The Language Police by Diane Ravitch

On The Horizon

I have a LOT on my to-read list – ALL of the education books I’m missing out on, memoirs, hot fiction, and travel memoirs.

I’m currently in the middle of both A Short History of England by Simon Jenkins, necessary trip prep, as well as What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, a travel memoir about a girl in her twenties who goes abroad once and decides she needs to give her entire life and soul up and follow her dreams.  Not too keen on it so far but we’ll see how it progresses.

I eventually want to read some of the major classics I’ve never touched – things like The Great Gatsby, Frankenstein, and 1984.  The Girl With the Pearl Earring, Turtles all the Way Down, and Educated: A Memoir.

I’m constantly updating and revising my GoodReads list.

Well guys, that is all for today!  Happy reading!


When sheep are more important than providing adequate medical care in rural Outback areas. Australia, Part 10.

Posted by bostonki on April 17, 2018 in Uncategorized

It’s a rainy, depressing, post-ice storm Monday morning here in Buffalo, and I’m glad that I designated this as my blog day a.) so I can procrastinate even more and b.) so that I can leave my mind behind and go back to the goodness that was Australia.  I’d really do anything to get my mind away from the here and now.

Here’s a photo I forgot to add in the last post, from our one night in Yungaburra.  The infamous C is in the middle, and he just kind struck this pose so we followed suit and got a pic.  We probably promised not to put it online, but lets just say I’m having temporary amnesia.

From left to right: Austin, Chris, C, me, Sam.

When I left off, we had been spending the night in Yungaburra.  Early next morning (like 6:30), we packed our bags and headed out for our final destination (8+ hours away), Winton.  The bus ride itself was uneventful and to be completely honest with you, I’m not even sure what we did.  I can’t remember.  What was really cool was that we got to see the progression of the Outback from Tablelands to.. dust.

This was first in a series of progression pics I took.  The little mounds?  Those are termite mounds.  C advised us that when inevitably going to the bathroom outside, we should take care to avoid.. ahem.. going on the mounds.  Some nasty story about how the Royal Flying Doctor Service had to come for a rescue.

Next was this photo.  The vegetation became more and more sparse as one pushed on.  Also, notice the dirt roads.  Only roads near towns were paved.  The bus and our luggage were all covered with a nice layer of red dust by the time Winton.

And the trees eventually fell away to this.  Nothing but grasses and blue sky.  And small towns.  We stopped in one called Hughendon for lunch, and we went to a cafe called FJ Holden’s.  I tried the homemade chicken nuggets, which were super delicious.  The whole place was decked out in car decor because of some famous guy from the town and his being the first to do something.

Back on the road for the rest of the afternoon, we arrived in Winton before dark.  We were staying at the North Gregory Hotel at the center of town, and in a lot of ways the place was super cool.  It had a whole pub area (probably the only recreational activity to do out there) with a pool table and darts, every room opened onto a terrace that either had a view of the main street or a view of the courtyard, and the interior was gorgeous.  The rooms were a little weird, but all in all it was a pretty neat place.  And they had chicken races in the courtyard that evening.

That night, a true “Australian bush dinner” (something like that) was held for us behind the hotel.  They had a ridiculously massive fire pit and cooked up some stew and rice for us, finishing up with ice cream.  That was the 4th of July.

The 5th of July was the worst day of the whole trip.  I was sick all day in my hotel room (debating whether it was from the chicken nuggets or the homemade bush stew and I’ll bet my last dollars it was the second one).  Since I was sick and in the middle of the dang Outback, I was anxious and that made it even WORSE.  Luckily one of the moms that accompanied us was a nurse and had some treatments, because by the time I decided to take something it was 5 o’clock and the one pharmacy in town was closed.

I didn’t waste the entire day, luckily.  Most of the group went on a dinosaur tour (apparently Winton’s a big dinosaur history town) or to the local school for an optional tour.  Michelle and I spent the morning walking the town border to border.  Me, frantically fearing a death via hydration, ran into every shop (so like three) looking for a bottled beverage.  We checked out a market with one person inside, Arnot’s wall (just a wall with everyday objects built in), and the worst advertised “musical playground” ever.  We doubled over when we saw this “major” town attraction.

The only person in the world who could enjoy this is a four year old Outback kid who has nothing but the dirt to satiate his appetite for quality play.

It was a pretty quiet place.

To give you a better approximation, here’s a picture of the travel section of the Winton Library (which was already as big as my bedroom).

It was definitely a genuine small-town Outback experience.  That night we all congregated in the pub and I ate more chicken nuggets.

Longreach was our next stop, and we only passed through for the day.  MUCH more interesting than Winton, but still Outback.  It’s the home to a TON of stuff.  The Quantas airline was actually founded there, and there was a huge facility alongside the road where I guess they built some of the earliest models.  The Stockman’s Hall of Fame was pretty neat, and we watched a cattle show and I cried when the sheep were forcibly sheared.  Inside there were awesome displays on Outback life and the Royal Flying Doctor Service that services the area, but I guess sheep was more important than providing rural medical care to C because I left without seeing anything else.

The primary thing we were in Longreach for is to see the Longreach School of Distance Education.  There are a couple of these schools in Outback Queensland, and they service kids who (surprise) live too far away from school to attend.  They all converge in Longreach once a year for some activities with their peers and teachers, and that’s it unless the teacher conducts home visits.  There weren’t more than a couple actual classrooms, but more radio rooms and television rooms that teachers would record themselves live or talk over the radio at their students.  Radio education was the way for the longest time, and now the transition is being made to newer, virtual methods.

One of the “classrooms” at Longreach School of Distance Education.

Oh, and one other really cool thing about Longreach: the Tropic of Capricorn ran through the town.  This was a super big deal to C (and admittedly I was pretty excited) because it separated the tropics and subtropics.  How geeky can you get?

Cash me in the subtropics how bow dah

The day in Longreach culminated with a visit to a real, working ranch.  This woman knows C, and we drove around her ridiculously large ranch for like an hour (while I was probably slowly falling asleep against the window, lol).  Once we got inside her house, she had more tea and “scones” and dinner for us.  I leafed through all her books and explored her house.  She had a massive pool table.  And the outside was done in classic Queensland style (read: ugly).

Architecture majors.. WHY is this a style of house??

This was the culmination of our two week trip around Queensland.  We boarded the bus after petting her doggo for a half an hour, and prepared to make the overnight return trip to Moloolaba, where we remained for one last weekend.

I’m tired.  So next time, NEW ZEALAND.  



A dead cricket and other adventures in small town Australia. Australia, Part 9.

Posted by bostonki on April 9, 2018 in Australia, travel

Here’s a bonus blog for tonight!  Yay!

I really didn’t want to stop writing, so in this post I’m going to talk about what happened after we left Cairns!  I really didn’t want to leave – it had been a busy and wonderful five days!  Visiting the rainforest, some beautiful obscure parks like Paronella, fun night spots like the Markets, rafting, going to the Aboriginal cultural center, and the reef trip, not to mention spending some fun time just chilling at the hostel near the ping pong table.

Our next stop, which would take two days to get to with all of the side trips, was the Outback.  The town of Winton was our destination, about a 10 or 11 bus ride inlands.  Past the atherton tablelands and into the heart of the Queensland outback.  It’s not a part of the red center that people typically think of (it’s probably another 10 hours to reach that, but it’s pretty darn close to the red center’s outskirts.  Keep in mind that Australia is HUGE, the size of the US or potentially bigger.  In fact, I routed from our base town Mooloolaba to a latitudinally (is that a word?) similar town on the West Coast, and Google gave me the quickest route as taking FIFTY SEVEN hours.  So, yeah.

C iterated over and over again that we NEED to stock up on food for the Outback.  Even though we were only going to be in remote areas for a few days, he was concerned that the bus would break down and it’d take more than a day for help to arrive.  So we all went to the grocery store and stocked up on nonperishables.

On our first afternoon out, I was the captain along with Michelle (goody, goody.  At being the captain, not at being with Michelle).  We again made a few pit stops before seriously hitting the road.  We went and stopped at Josephine falls, which was about a twenty minute trek from the visitor’s area.  It was beautiful, one of those natural rock that was smooth enough that people were sliding down it.  In true parental fashion, he told us how he used to do the same thing but he would bar us from doing it.  We also made a trip to Milaa Milaa Falls, which I liked better.  Even though the water was cold and muddy, C held a race to the waterfall and back.  Something I maybe would have done looking back on it.

Milaa Milaa Falls

That day, we also stopped at the Nerada Tea Plantation.  Oh. My. Gosh.  So this place specialized in hosting the hoity-toity afternoon teas (which are a thing in Australia, perhaps not the extent as they are in Britain, but nonetheless).  Their “scones” (sc-AH-ns, according to C) were basically American biscuits, and they served them with decadent creams and jellies.  I ate two and then was in a food coma for pretty much the rest of the day.  The plantation also had a factory where you could see the tea being made, which was neat.  But the sc-AH-ns.

A sc-AH-n.


Getting a taste of Australian tea life.

That night we spent the night in Yungaburra, which couldn’t have been an hour from Cairns.  Life in Yungaburra was.. interesting.  It was a super small town, with one motel (which we occupied all twelve rooms of, lol) and one pub in town.  So that’s where we went for dinner.  I was pointed out after my post last week that we didn’t have a Cards Against Humanity love going, but rather a Phase 10 one.  And that’s exactly what we spent the entire night in this town doing.  We hosted it in the room that Sam, Michelle, and I were staying in.  Perhaps, though, the best part was the preparation.  I pushed the beds together to make a larger playing space to discover this huge dang dead cricket under Sam’s bed.  Her face when she emerged from the bathroom to see this cricket was priceless.  Naturally we ran to the guys’ room and dragged in Sean to transport the cricket to the toilet, where it refused to flush until we weighed it down with toilet paper.  Ah, adventures in Yungaburra.

Well this blog post was much shorter than usual but I want to next week talk about our brief lunch stop, Hughendon, and how that resulted in me being trapped in my hotel room for the one whole day we had in the Outback!  By the way, the Outback is an experience to have only once.  But it had it’s own charm.  More next week!


How to tour the Great Barrier Reef without getting seasick (Hint: you can’t). Australia, Part 8

Posted by bostonki on April 9, 2018 in Australia, travel, Uncategorized

As I promised myself, it’s Monday blog post time!  Today I’m taking you under the sea (lol) to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Great Barrier Reef.  Every bit as beautiful yet depressing as people talk about.  I only spent about 45 minutes under the wonder because I was highly anxious (as you’ll read), but I saw enough.

We were stationed in Cairns the night before and after the reef trip, which is probably the most popular jumping point since the reef is super close to the coast here.  By super close, Aussies mean an hour boat ride out, but whatever, I can overlook it.  😉  We boarded our private little vessel early in the morning and set sail.  I had planned on snorkeling and most of the people had planned on scuba diving and had to listen to safety and equipment usage presentations on the ride, so a few of my snorkel buddies and I hung out on the deck for the first half an hour or so.  I loved the spraying of the water on my face, and the speed of the boat.  The landscape was beautiful too, lush hills and mountains of islands passing us by.

Then it got turbulent.

I swear, the only reason I even entered an anxious state that morning was because of the turbulence.  I heeded to warnings I’d heard through the grapevine about the potential for motion sickness and brought some dramamine for myself and a friend.  And boy do I wish I’d brought it for the whole ship.  People started lining the back deck about 35 minutes in with paper bags in hand, staring at the horizon.

The barf story isn’t over yet – just on hold while we actually reached the reef.  I geared up, and jumped down a few feet into bitter cold water.  I get it, it was winter, but still.  And because it was so turbulent, the water was rough and every two seconds I was coming up to clear saltwater from my tube or my goggles.  I had a panic attack after about 45 minutes of wading in this, and sat out the rest of the day.

In the meantime, though, I did see some pretty spectacular stuff.  The reef was pretty unicolored, an unfortunate side effect of humans.  But you could just snorkel up to a coral shelf and see right there the vivid color, and the finish swimming right alongside you.  They warned us desperately not to touch the coral.  And I didn’t, but I may have snapped off a particularly large chunk with my clown-sized snorkel fins.  #notmyfault #reefruiner #badperson

Once I was pretty over the saltwater in my mouth, I climbed back onboard and got dry.. and simply never resuited.  A few of my friends and I hung out in the captain’s quarters and we talked to him while he worked.  We may also have eaten all of his crackers.  Like, the whole box.  Arnot’s Shapes.  Holy moly.


“Look at me. I’m the captain now.”

Once everybody finished scuba diving, we all boarded again, and the captain took us to a sand island.  THIS I regret not stepping off the ship for, but we all have regrets.  It was this giant island, made naturally all of sand, popping up in the middle of the water.  You could swim to it and then wade up on the sand.  It was incredible.  Luckily I got some pictures from the captain’s quarters while eating Shapes with Sam.

View of the sand island from the captain’s deck, probably holding a Shape cracker in my other hand.

Now THIS is where the turbulence got bad, see?  People actually started throwing up (sorry to bring this up if you’re reading this, Anne) and even I started getting a little queasy from the rocking.  And this was WITH two doses of dramamine.  It was like this all the way back, and then the captain decided at the very end of the day to take a last-minute detour to cruise by Fitzroy Island, like we HADN’T just spent the last nine hours getting seasick on a boat.


Luckily for me, I’d brought a book to read.  I mentioned that I was nominated “Bookworm”, right?  Rule of thumb: always carry reading material.  It definitely took away my anxiety.  Sam and I were (and still are probably) pretty emetophobic, so how could that not be a sour experience?

My overall advice for the Great Barrier Reef sightseeing: don’t blow dollars if you blow chunks.

Are Great Barrier Reef helicopter tours a thing?


Oh look, another sugarcane train. Australia, Part 7!

Posted by bostonki on April 2, 2018 in Uncategorized

Back to Oz we go!  What’s keeping me partially motivated to continue my now months-long trip report is the fact that I just want a record of it to remember.  I lost my copy of the itinerary months ago and only have my location-alphabetized photos left to go by.  The 5 (?) days that we spent in Cairns were by far my favorite of the entire trip.

Once we finally surfaced again in Townsville after three long days of isolation on Magnetic Island (I’m probably the most introverted person you’ll meet and even THAT was a little too remote for my liking), we began the four hour trek up the coast to Cairns.  It turned into a whole day on the bus due to some pretty remote but awesome little stops we made.  Our trip leader informed us that since we were heading up to the Great Barrier Reef, we needed to watch a mandatory video from the Australian government about reef safety and conservation (it was winter, no stinger suits necessary).  He told us all to get out a pen and take notes.. then turned on Finding Nemo.

For lunch, we stopped in Mena Creek, which is a part of the Atherton Tablelands (Australia’s fancy way of saying it’s basically the boundary between civilization and outback).  It was a one-road town (maybe even less than that.. yikes) with a hotel (? pub?) that we ate at.  Perhaps the coolest part was across the street in Paronella Park.  There was this gorgeous waterfall and wooden bridge – think Shrek – and a stunning, never-finished castle built by Jose Paronella for his love, now seeping in moss.

Shrek: Oh, you can’t tell me you’re afraid of heights?
Donkey: No, I’m just uncomfortable about being on a rickety bridge over a boiling lake of lava!

The unfinished castle.

During our drive, we got a really deep look into Australia’s sugarcane, banana, and pineapple industry.  Sam and Austin were our bus captains that day and thus needed to keep us engaged by talking to us over the mic, playing music, whatever.  C wanted them to keep talking, so they eventually just reverted to pointing out every sugarcane train and pineapple tree we saw.  Kudos to them.

Oh, look. Another sugarcane train.  Surprise.

I still can’t get over how awesome Cains was.  It’s this cute, but rough, little city that has its fair share of questionable nightlife and Aussie surf culture.  Our hostel was probably a half an hour walk from the main thoroughfare, but luckily there were shuttles that ran back and forth.  Sam, Michelle, and I shared  a room for six with Chris, Austin, and Sean, and it was here that our legendary Cards Against Humanity nights would develop.

My favorite part of the city was the Cairns Night Markets, which must have had hundreds of stalls worth of food, souvenir, and gift vendors.  I tried bubble tea (it tasted slightly different, probably less Americanized.  Asian food as a whole was more authentic due to the proximity and large wave of immigration), brought my boyfriend back some coffee, and it was here (well, on the main touristy thoroughfare) that I purchased my beloved mother-daughter plush koala bear (later named Chloe and Joey) from a Chinese souvenir shop.  You don’t even know how hard it was to find a reasonably priced yet cute koala bear.  Some of them looked like they’d been through a woodchipper or something.

The entrance to the Cairns Night Markets.

I don’t remember the exact order of how things were done in Cairns.  I think I’ll save an entire post dedicated to the Great Barrier Reef for a later date.  The whole Northeastern Queensland is pretty much blanketed in rain forest, so we did a lot of wet, sticky, humid activities.  One day we went on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which took us up over the trees in gondalas and down the other side to the rainforest village of Kuranda, where we walked the streets and I waited ten minutes for them to bring me a muffin from behind the glass.  Australians pride themselves on relaxation and “taking your time” but come on man, I could’ve gotten that in thirty seconds at Tim Hortons.  The village was beautiful.  On the bus ride down, we got stuck in traffic and after waiting an hour, turned around.  Good thing!  It turns out there was an accident and the wait time was TEN HOURS to get through!

#views from the Kuranda Skyrail. There’s a train as well that weaves in and out of the mountain.

Another day, I went white water rafting on the Tully, which cut right through the rainforest.  According to the group that took us, it was one of the greatest places to go rafting in the world, and it was.. quite an experience.  I’d love to do it again.  And I only fell out once!!!  Rafting is kind of a weird combination of paddling and then all of a sudden you drop to the floor and pull your knees to your chest as you’re sailing over rocks into the next section of the river below, and the water you’ve displaced is crashing over you.  I was soaked!  Also that day, I slid down a rock-formed slide into a sucky spot of the water (like it sucked you and pushed you out) and jumped off a cliff (sorry, mom).  I totally almost backed out and I never want to feel that sensation of my stomach lifting into my throat ever again, but it was all good fun.  The whole trip ended up being twelve hours and I just crashed when I got back to the hostel.

Yet another day, we went to the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Center.  I wish I cold have looked around at the art and exhibits, but we were on a group schedule.  We learned about bush foods and medicine, Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, saw performances featuring an actual life sized digeridoo, and the best part, got to learn how to throw both spears and boomerangs!.  I was terrible with the spears (I would have starved if I had to actually catch kangaroo with these things), but if you threw the boomerang and it came back to you, you got to keep it.  My second time, I threw it.. and it came back in a complete circle and hit my arm!! He let me keep it, and to this day it’s one of my FAVORITE souvenirs.  Plus, it didn’t cost a dime 😉  What an awesome feeling!

My friend Mikaela throwing a boomerang.

I was having a terrible, panicky, cancel-all-my-obligations-and-take-a-mental-health-day kind of day but writing this made me so happy.

Next time – the ins and outs of the Great Barrier Reef.  So much barf!  Panic attacks in the water!  But what I did see int he 45 minutes I was under was astounding.