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Welcome to the Land Down Undah

Growing up I had the opportunity to travel and live in several places around the world, one of which was the Gold Coast in Australia. I absolutely loved living there because of the friendly people (and their fantastic accents which I obviously worked hard to pick up), watching kangaroos duke it out in the mornings, and spending afternoons playing out in the bit of rainforest behind where we lived. Fast forward several years and I was preparing to graduate from Ohio University trying to figure out my plan. Instead of doing another internship, even though I had thoroughly enjoyed getting to be a legislative aide the previous summer for a state senator, I decided to use the opportunity to travel and go on an adventure before I was committed to a job and gained real responsibilities.

Since this was a last minute decision a few weeks before graduation I quickly narrowed down my options to returning to Italy where I had done a study abroad program or going back to Australia. Since my Italian was quite rusty and the working visa in Australia came through quickly, only a few days passed before I bought a one way plane ticket to Brisbane. Having basically no plans in place, I arrived and immediately began searching for an apartment and job. Within a week I was basically settled into a place, had gotten all the basics set up, and had been hired by a fantastic restaurant in the Quay. The position I got at Alchemy Restaurant was extremely lucky timing because it is one of the nicest restaurants in the city and they randomly had a gap in personnel open up right before I arrived.

Looking back at my fairly bold decision to uproot and move to a new continent within a matter of weeks, I certainly would find it challenging to do again. However, it was one of the best decisions I could have made and started my endless pursuit to travel and experience the world. It taught me that if you are willing to take a risk and jump in things will align and that traveling solo is not nearly as intimidating as it seems. I spent the next few months living and working in Brisbane until one afternoon I got an email from my recruiter informing me that I would start my officer training for the Marine Corps a few weeks later in Quantico. It was hard to leave a place that I was enjoying so much, but little did I know that the Marine Corps would be sending me back to Australia in a few years as a detachment OIC for a six month rotation to Darwin.

Australia is a place that I loved since the first day I visited and look forward to continuing returning to see more of it. Without any further ado, here are a few of my highlights from the numerous times I've gotten to explore the wild and beautiful land down undah.

Sydney Harbour- the Harbour is home to two of Australia's most iconic structures-both the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge which are essential visits in Sydney. The Opera House has frequent concerts and events held inside its unique halls, but there are also daily tours that let you explore all areas of the building while providing an in-depth and fascinating look at the history of the construction and design. Just outside of the main entrance to the Opera House is a strip of small restaurants and outdoor patio which is a perfect place to look out over the Harbour and enjoy a beer or three. Directly across from the Opera House is the equally famous Harbour Bridge. For $300 they take visitors on a 3.5 hour tour up along the upper arch to the very top of the bridge for an incredible view of the Harbour. I signed up last minute to do the climb and when my group made it to the top, the grey skies cleared a bit and we could even spot the Three Sister Mountains in the far distance. Even though no form of jumping off the bridge is authorized, it was still quite exhilarating to be so high up seeing the full city sprawled out below.

Bondi Beach- Located just 6 miles outside of Sydney lies another iconic spot for any jetsetter, the beautiful surfer town Bondi beach. The half mile strip of golden sands is one of Australia's most famous beaches that is well known for its' excellent waves that draws surfers year round. It also boasts nearly a four mile stretch of paved trail paralleling the coast line and offering impressive views that connects Bondi Beach to Coogee. Along the trail at the southern end of the beach is the Bondi Iceberg Pool, named after the dedicated group of locals who swim all year long- also called the Icebergs. Situated on the edge of the ocean, seawater crashes over the edge of the pool. Costing only $5 to visit and open to the public, it is another unique pool worth making a detour to visit.

Manly Beach- at the edge of the city is the entrance to the expansive port which offers a significantly less touristy beach than Bondi, but one that is also very lovely. There are frequent departures from the Circular Quay to take a 30 min ferry ride out to Manly Wharf and the beach. This small little port town has a lovely street called the Corso and the beach itself that are lined with small shops and restaurants. I made the trip out with Mariko, a girl I that I had met the previous day and spent the afternoon exploring with her and defending our picnic lunch from the hungry seagulls. We heard that Manly was worth the trip and I had met someone else on couch surfing who was hosting a small gathering out there, so we met up with the group at the beach. The snorkeling was supposed to be fantastic so I also brought my mask and did a little bit of snorkeling in the icy waters. During the few minutes that I lasted out in the cold water, I spotted a small sand shark and a small variety of colorful fish in the water, but it would be much more enjoyable on a normal summer day.

Club district- there are several rowdy districts in downtown Sydney that offer quite the lively nightlife. The King Cross district is my favorite though with the numerous small clubs packed into the quarter, a whole raft of trendy clubs and bars, and some other more colorful and seedy establishments. Around the corner are several of the more notorious gay clubs which include several huge dance floors and some more questionable features that definitely corrupted some of my innocence. Arq and Home were two of my favorite clubs from the area when clubbing was more of my scene, but the area also has a variety of pubs that were perfect for a slightly more calm atmosphere when I returned several years later.

South Bank Beach Brisbane

Brisbane- As mentioned earlier, after doing minimal research, I decided I wanted to go back to Australia and thought Brisbane looked like the perfect place to live so I could travel and explore the entire coast. Thankfully Brisbane turned out to be an interesting and busy city with plenty to do and I quickly got a job and settled into my new life in Kangaroo Point by the cliffs. I definitely would recommend visiting the city to any tourists because there is always something to do.

There is the South Bank Parkland that features a pool that looks and feels like a beach, a fantastic and completely free art museum, and an abundance of picnic facilities to encourage barbecues; South Bank is the center of Brisbane's activities and quite the cultural destination. It is located on the bank of the Brisbane River and its' 17 hectares of lush parklands not only offer stunning river views, but also hosts hundreds of events throughout the year. The extensive trails continue through several parks around the city and all of Brisbane seems to accommodate and promote an active lifestyle with the rock climbing at the quarry, kayaking in the river, and the endless hiking paths.

Some of my favorite places and experiences from living in the city were chilling at the Cloudland Bar, dinning at the open air casual rooftop restaurants that sprinkle the area, cheering the All Blacks rugby team on to victory at the Suncorps Stadium, tearing up the horse races in the fanciest threads I owned, dancing at the Family Nightclub (now called Ei8ht), and of course cuddling a koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Brisbane is a fantastic, vibrant city that has endless activities and things to do!

Whitsundays- although Australia is no stranger to stunning and expansive beaches, the Whitsunday Islands and Whitehaven Beach in particular are truly some of the most spectacular beaches in the world! While living in Brisbane I used the weekends to explore the area and visited numerous beaches from the most easterly point at Byron Bay to several islands along the coast. Initially I was shocked that beaches like Surfers Paradise and Bribie Island were so empty because I was accustomed to popular beaches in the States that quickly tend to be overrun by crowds on sunny days. However, the other beaches did not even hold a candle to the stunning glowing white sands of Whitehaven Beach. The Whitsunday Islands are comprised of 74 small islands off the northeast coast at the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. I took a little puddle hopper plane out to see the islands from the air and to visit the famous Whitehaven Beach. Although I did not realize it at the time of booking, the tour was apparently designed for couples which was glaringly obvious upon arriving and meeting the two honeymooning couples that were sharing the day trip. Since I was traveling alone though the pilot let me jump up to the co-pilot seat and gave me the extras for the picnic lunch that was provided which consisted of a wonderful spread of sandwiches, fruits, chocolates, and champagne. The trip was amazing though and I do not think that I could have been any happier than I was sprawled out on the stunning beach soaking up the rays while sipping directly from my personal bottle of bubbles and staring out at the clear aquamarine waters stretching as far as the eye could see into the distance. Although the photos of the Whitsundays show how remarkable the islands are, even they cannot adequately convey the beauty of this slice of paradise.

Springbrook National Park- This protected national park is located in the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia just over 60 miles south of Brisbane. The park is part of the Shield Volcano Group of the UNESCO World Heritage and in 2009 it was added as one of the Icons of Queensland as a natural attraction. The main reason that I wanted to visit the park though was to see the Natural Bridge with the glow worm grotto. The Natural Bridge is a rock arch that spans over Cave Creek where a waterfall cut down into a cave beneath it causing the waterfall to split at the top. This cave and some smaller caves in the vicinity are also home to a colony of glow worms, which I had first heard about from a Planet Earth episode a few years earlier. Although it was pretty incredible to see the small glowing organisms so close, the grottos on the North Island in New Zealand were substantially larger and offered a much better chance to see them glowing in a completely dark environment. Still, Springbrook National Park was excellent for hiking around and offered numerous beautiful waterfalls and overlooks of the valley below.

Diving the Great Barrier Reef- One of the natural wonders of the world as well as one of the most famous diving locations, the Great Barrier Reef was actually one of my first dive trips which set the bar extremely high for following coral dives. The water is simply teeming with every shape and color of fish, coral, turtles, etc. There was not a dull moment on any of the dives with massive Blue Groupers brushing by and spotting several cuddle fish shifting colors to blend in as they swam past. The Great Barrier Reef lives up to all the hype and is definitely a destination that should remain on every avid divers’ bucket list!

Northern Territory- one of Australia's ten territories, the NT tends to get a bit of a bad reputation from Aussies which is understandable when comparing it to the other beautiful and inviting cities, especially those along the East Coast. Swimming is prohibited in most of the coastal waters surrounding Darwin due to the abundance of crocs in the region, but the laid-back town has several things to do even if they are a bit more unsophisticated than elsewhere on the continent. The main attractions include: visiting the Mindil Beach Market where local vendors have handmade crafts and a diversity of foods for sale, watching a movie at the Deckchair Cinema which is set-up similar to an old drive-in movie except the lawn is filled with comfortable deck style chairs, hiking and swimming at Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks, going on a river cruise to watch the jumping crocs, spending a night gambling at the Skycity Casino, and of course getting some cold brews at the Deck Bar or having a rowdy night at Monsoons along the popular Mitchell Street.

Since my time in the NT was spent doing essentially an extended bi-lateral engagement, almost all of the time was spent on the airfield or in the Outback supporting training. Although there was not a lot to see in most of the training areas since they primarily consisted of expansive desert, the "deployment" was one of the highlights of my time in the Marine Corps getting to work with the Aussies, having the opportunity hang out the back of the 53 helicopters, and mostly the Marines that I got to work with and learn so much from. I may be a bit partial, but I think my Marines were some of the absolute best out there.

Although I have thoroughly enjoyed every time I have gotten the chance to live in Oz, I am greatly looking forward to the next time I go back and visiting Uluru, exploring the West Coast, and doing a road trip along Great Ocean Road remain high on my list!

Currency: Australian Dollar

Drink: Bundaberg Rum, Crown beer, Coopers beer, VB, and Tooheys are some of the classics. However, the hard cider game was also on point ranging from dry to sweet and offered in a variety of fruity delicious flavors. The ciders are an excellent change up especially for Sunday fundays.

Food: Although Australia offers numerous fantastic eateries and its own unique cuisine, one of my favorite dishes (other than the traditional steak) is the garlic bread. While Italy does all things carbs well, Australia most certainly one ups the game with their bowls of fresh made bread that is dripping in buttery garlic and smothered in fresh grated cheese. It is unreal and well worth the extra hour in the gym!

Electric Outlet: Type I

Visa: Not required for tourism

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