We landed in two groups in Brisbane the morning of September 23rd. Most of us were jet-lagged and tired after the many hours spent traveling, so after a bit of downtime in the hostel, we spent the afternoon getting to know each other in a nearby city park. The next day, we jumped right into things by taking the ferry to Stradbroke Island off the east coast of Australia. We were lucky to be staying in a hostel right on the beach, and although the water was cold, it was refreshing, and the intense Australian sun kept us warm. Our group leader Nick brought out the frisbee, and we all began our attempts to throw it as well as he does. While on Stradbroke Island, we visited an Aboriginal museum and learned about life on Stradbroke, originally called Minjerribah, before the arrival of white settlers. We also went on a walk along the coast and saw our first kangaroos.
From Stradbroke Island, we drove to Elanda Ecopoint Campgrounds outside the town Noosa. Due to intense forest fires, we were unable to canoe the Elanda Everglades, and pitched our tents at the campgrounds for four days instead. During this time, we visited Fraser Island and swam in its Lake Mackenzie, which, due to its high acidity, left our skin and hair extremely smooth afterwards. The aboriginal tribes who lived on Fraser Island called the lake Boorangoora, or “healing waters” because of this property. The next day the group hiked up the small yet rocky Mount Cooroora, which in total took 2 hours. Afterwards, we stopped by a local market full of handmade goods and homegrown food. Naturally, Stephen went to find a good meat-filled meal. On our last day in Noosa, we hiked to a point called Hell’s Gate on the Australian Coast. The point gave stunning vistas of rock jutting out of the ocean all along the coast.
We then traveled to the surf town of Byron Bay and stayed in campgrounds just outside the town. There, we went scuba diving and snorkeling at the Julian Rocks—a dive spot rated even better than the Great Barrier Reef because of its proximity to cold and hot water currents that give the Rocks their amazing biodiversity. That night, we enjoyed dinner together at a Mexican restaurant called Guzman y Gomez—a much appreciated break from the camp food diet. The following day we were free to spend as we pleased. Some of us went sea kayaking and saw pods of bottlenose dolphins and humpback whale breaches. Others took the day to explore the city. Upon Stephen’s request, I will add that he and Michael went to a skate park.
We then left Byron Bay for Crescent Head, a small town on the coast known for some of Australia’s best East Coast surfing. We stayed in a lodge called Surfaris run by a couple named Ben and Sandra. Ben was our surf instructor for three days, and we all came to love him and his partner JJ. Sandra cooked our dinners and helped set up our breakfasts and lunches, and for that we loved her even more. While tiring, surfing was rewarding and exhilarating work. Having everyone stand up on a surfboard and ride the waves was an amazing feeling. And despite the frigid waters and biting winds, we all had a blast. After three days surfing, we headed into the bush to combat invasive plant species and help Australia’s native plants grow. The work was tedious, and in long pants and long sleeves it got hot very quickly. But by the end, we had made a sizeable effort to help Australia’s native ecosystem. On our last night, we celebrated Foster’s 19th birthday with cake before heading off to bed. Next, we made our way to the Blue Mountains for rappelling and canyoning. We spent the morning rappelling, which culminated in a 30-meter descent—roughly 100 feet. The mist driving in across the mountains and into the canyon made for an overcast morning. We then descended into the canyon after lunch. The mist from the morning turned into pouring rain by the afternoon, so we hiked to our ending point early and rappelled down a waterfall. We ended our rappel by falling into a pool of ice-cold water. My fingers could barely undo the carabiner due to the numbing effect of the water. After a grueling hike out of the canyon, we rested for the day.
From the Blue Mountains, we drove around 6 hours south of Sydney to The Crossing, a center for permaculture and the home of Dean, Annette, and Chelsea, who helped us in our work for the 5 nights of our stay. We constructed composting toilets, gathered mulch for the orchard, cleared trails for controlled burns, and planted trees. By the end of the five nights, we had learned much about sustainability, environmental consciousness, and what we all can do to reduce our carbon footprint. We came to appreciate the quiet serenity of The Crossing, and the rewarding work of improving the sustainability of the center. We were all sad to say goodbye to Dean, Annette, and Chelsea, but we were excited to go to Sydney.
Our first morning in Sydney, we toured around the city on a scavenger hunt. For the rest of the day, we meandered about downtown Sydney, stopping by the opera house and the beautiful parks along the water. The next day we spent planning for our trip to New Zealand, and we had an early night before getting up at 3 am for our flight to Auckland. We are now staying at Tawharanui, a campground an hour and a half north of Auckland. We’ve spent the past few days maintaining the regional park here, clearing invasive species, maintaining trails, and clearing fences. Our next stop is Rotorua, where we will be staying in a traditional Marai with the Maori people.