The time has come. Almost unbelievably, I’m leaving Australia. Looking back on my time living and working here on a working holiday visa, it feels crazy to think that it’s been a whole year.
Technically I’m leaving two weeks ahead of the end of my visa, a decision made suddenly one morning in Hobart when I booked a flight to Penang. I had my hesitations. I should at least visit Sydney before I go, I told myself, or look for a rideshare to see some of the east coast. I felt guilty leaving early, but a big part of me didn’t want to rush to other Aussie destinations just to check them off before I left. And, of course, there’s this: Australia is expensive. Six straight weeks of traveling without work has taken its toll on my bank account. Between squeezing in two more weeks of travel or booking a flight elsewhere, I knew which the wiser decision was.
So here I am, soaking up my last days of Australia in the city where it all started. Now that I’m back in my old stomping grounds, I’ve made my peace with that spontaneous one-way ticket. I’ve been strolling through my old neighborhood, indulging in my favorite Melbourne eats and catching up with friends from all over the country who’ve just so happened to land back here at the same time as me. Being here just feels right.
So right, in fact, that I can hardly fathom that I’m leaving.
I’m sure the reality will sink in once I arrive in Penang, when I’ll have the time and space to properly reflect on everything this year has been. For now, though, this week has meant a whole lot of reminiscing about where I’ve been. And so, in my nod to the new year (just a little bit late!), here are the top six places I’ve visited this year — the places that I find my mind lingering over most, and the places I already long to go back to.
If you’ve been following me this year, this one should come as no surprise: I absolutely adore this city! Getting to know Melbourne during the four months I lived here was hands down one of my best experiences of the year. From checking out the local markets and eating to my heart’s content in St. Kilda to exploring local vineyards and savoring incredible sunset runs around my favorite place in the city, every adventure here had me falling for Melbourne just a little bit harder. I still feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of everything this city has to offer, and that just might be the most exciting part of all. You can bet that when I return to Australia (and I know I will!), Melbourne will be first stop.
2. The Great Ocean Road
After months of living and working in Melbourne, this was my first big trip in Australia. Between the seven of us backpackers, our minivan rental and whatever random assortment of camping gear we were able to scrounge together, the road trip came together completely haphazardly — and it was all the more amazing for it! The drive blew our minds from the very first glimmer of ocean, and from Torquay on, it only got more and more magical. I’d expected gorgeous coastline, but the postcard-perfect rolling hills of the surrounding farmland and lush, fern-draped rainforests came as a complete surprise. Best of all, we were downright spoiled with wildlife sightings — and really, what’s a trip to Australia without a kangaroo or two?!
3. Cable Beach
Having mostly grown up hours or days from the ocean, I thought I had it pretty good living in Melbourne’s city beach suburb of St. Kilda — and then I moved to Broome. Now I’m probably ruined for life. I mean, after living mere minutes from one of the world’s top-ranked beaches, how does one ever go back?! I guess I’ll have to cross that particular bridge when I get there, but for now, I’m infinitely thankful for having gotten to live at Cable Beach as long as I did. During my five months in Broome, I spent as much free time as I possibly could running, playing and lazing on this glorious stretch of sand. No matter many hours I spent there, my first glimpse of the beach’s impossibly turquoise water sparkling beyond the dunes never ceased to amaze me. Catching Cable Beach’s infamous sunsets was a strictly observed evening ritual at the hostel I called home, crazy beautiful every time and made even more surreal by the silhouettes of the camels parading down the beach each night.
4. The Gibb River Road
More than anywhere else I’ve traveled, this felt like a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It’s easy to imagine booking a flight back to Australia to check out Sydney, visit Uluru or dive in the Great Barrier Reef, but taking a four-wheel-drive-only outback road trip into the heart of one of Australia’s most remote and least visited regions? That’s the kind of trip you have to jump at when the opportunity comes around, and jump I did. Hitting the road for ten days to explore the Kimberley was one of the best decisions I made all year. We hiked through staggering gorges, witnessed crocodiles in the wild and swam in the most beautiful swimming holes I’ve ever seen. Let me tell you: after five months in Broome and ten days in the outback, the Kimberley has me by my heartstrings. I’d not only do this trip all over again — I’d give myself at least twice as much time! Check out my first two posts documenting the greatest road trip you’ve never heard of here and here.
5. Ningaloo Reef
I knew that Ningaloo was one of the world’s biggest fringing reefs — that is, a reef that grows directly offshore — but I don’t think I truly understood this fact until I saw it for myself. Here, the reef really is immediately off the beach— as soon as you step in the water, you’re surrounded by fish and coral! We visited Ningaloo from both Exmouth and Coral Bay. We had only a day in each, but I could have happily spent weeks or — let’s be honest — forever here. Even in two days, we were able to experience the reef two different ways. Outside of Exmouth, we snorkeled just off the beach at Turquoise Bay (which just might have my vote for the most beautiful beach in the world) and Oyster Stacks, while in Coral Bay, we took a glass-bottom boat tour for some offshore snorkeling. Between the turtles and blacktip reef sharks we saw, I could hardly have been more satisfied. I haven’t gotten to my west coast trip yet, but keep your eyes out — I’ll be posting more about this favorite stop soon!
6. The Overland Track
Here’s the thing: Tasmania was beyond incredible. There wasn’t a single day I didn’t love, not a single day that didn’t have me daydreaming about a return trip (and this was before I even left!). It kind of kills me to include only one of our Tassie stops on this list, because the entirety of our three-week trip there dazzled and inspired me. If I had to pick one highlight, though, it’d have to be the six days we spent hiking one of Australia’s most popular Great Walks: the Overland Track. My sister and I are both big on hiking, but neither of us had done a full-on backpacking trip before. This may have been our first, but it won’t be the last — the Overland Track got me completely hooked! We hiked over 70 kilometers through windy moorlands, fairytale forests and alpine slopes. Carrying nearly a third of my weight on my back made the hike both one of the most challenging and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Needless to say, the views were more than worth it. I’ll be sharing heaps more from the Overland Track and the rest of our Tassie trip soon — stay tuned!
I can’t even tell you how happy I was when my sister brought over a little library for her month traveling Australia (thanks, Casey!). I happily made my way through her stack, most recently finishing Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted (I still haven’t seen the film, but after reading this short memoir I definitely want to check it out!) and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (I never had to read this for school, and oh man, it was a much more excruciating read than I expected!).
Oh Wonder, over and over again. I was obsessed even before seeing this duo at Falls Fest, but they blew us away so much at the festival that we even caught them again a few days later in Melbourne! I’ve also gotten on a bit of a Disclosure kick. After ringing in New Year’s with Bloc Party and Disclosure, we actually found ourselves waiting with them at the Hobart airport the next day! Not such bad company for an airport hangover, right?
& Feeling Inspired by…
So much! Besides reading up on the New York Times’ 52 Places to Go in 2016, I’ve been loving on Alex’s underwater photography in her Loving Lac Bay: Yoga and Diving on Bonaire’s East Coast post and dreaming of California with the Travelettes’ 8 Reasons to Visit San Diego. I’m also digging Chantae’s challenge to play outside — definitely my favorite of all the New Years-y posts I’ve read so far!