Out of all of the locations this program visits, the most popular and iconic site is probably Sydney, Australia. The Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbor Bridge, Manly Beach, Bondi Beach… All of these are pretty much household names that people travel thousands of miles to every year. While the arrival to Sydney meant the end of Heron Island and was thereby bittersweet, I couldn’t help but get incredibly excited to see a city that’s basically the Southern Hemisphere’s version of New York City. We had a long few days of traveling to get there and finally arrived at the Sydney International Airport around 10 pm on Saturday night. After a minor bus fiasco, we drove about 15 minutes to the Sydney YHA on The Rocks where we’d be living for two weeks. The location of this hostel could not have been more ideal. From the deck on the roof, we could easily view the whole Sydney Harbor, the bridge, and the Opera House. It was awesome.
George Street was an easy five minute walk away and held all of the cool restaurants, bars, and shopping you could imagine. After not eating a real meal during the long travel day, a bunch of us were eager to get out and see what kind of nightlife Sydney had to offer. We were also very tired though and settled on just going out and grabbing some local-looking food. (If we never eat McDonald’s again, I think we’ll all be happy.) The next morning was Sunday and was our first free day in Sydney. That morning about 10 or 12 of us got up early and visited Hillsong’s City Campus Church. I’ve never been to Passion Church before but those that had said it was very similar. What was really interesting was that I met only Americans at this church.. Not a single Australian. It was pretty enjoyable though and we had our first good Aussie burgers after so that was also exciting. That night we were provided a fancy dinner by GlobaLinks at Orient Hotel which was right on the harbor. After dinner we got to walk around and see the Opera House up close and personal; seeing a place in person you only ever dream of seeing in pictures is totally surreal.
Classes started bright and early Monday morning and with two major tests approaching, I spent an unfortunate amount of the week studying. We did make ample late-night use of the hostel’s movie room, though, and brought back the beauty of the megacouch. My two tests were Thursday, which just so happened to be my birthday. After my tests were over, the work was not over because we had planned to celebrate my birthday with a “taco night” for everyone. This meant I, along with Jessica, Greg and Chris, spent the afternoon in the market and grocery store buying an obscene amount of food to cook for 35 people. We planned to make chicken and beef tacos, guacamole, real queso, and seven-layer dip. This was a big undertaking for four people so I couldn’t have been more excited when people would walk by the kitchen and offer to help. We had a queso making station, Kayla was on guac, others were in charge of cooking the meat, and several others were helping chop all the vegetables up. Everyone worked together like a well-oiled machine and dinner ran perfectly. Even Dr. Garton was impressed with us. Also, a few of the girls made chocolate covered strawberries for dessert for Nicole and I. Nicole’s birthday was a week earlier, but since it was in Heron Island we didn’t really have a way to celebrate with her. This was the perfect opportunity to celebrate together and I think everyone really enjoyed themselves and the food. We went out that night to a few places; some were really great and others not so much. We started at Bar Century which to its credit reminded me a lot of home with cheap drinks and the stench of cheap beer. We then went to the Ivy which is one of Sydney’s largest and most popular nightclubs. The place was three or four stories and absolutely jam-packed with people. There were bouncers everywhere keeping you from going to other levels and it was almost impossible to find our way out. It was getting pretty late and we decided to head back, but on our way back ran across this little alley with this super discrete bar. Eric, Jordy, Hailey, and I figured we had to check it out, and I’m so glad we did because it was probably my favorite bar in Sydney. I don’t actually think we ever saw the name of it, but it was this little place in a basement modeled after a prohibition bar. It was super swanky and played awesome swing-dancing music and the people in there were just really classy. After staying there for a while, we did finally decide to go back to the hostel and I somehow convinced people to watch a movie with me even though it was like 3 am by this point. Having a birthday in Sydney was even better than I anticipated and I had so much fun exploring and hanging out with my good friends. Also, I think I beat my birthday curse because nothing bad happened so that’s another win.
The next morning, I headed out on a train to the Blue Mountains with Eric, Rebecca, Jordy and Davis. We didn’t really have a plan; all I had in my backpack was a change of clothes, my toothbrush, a hammock and a sleeping bag. And I was one of the most prepared of the group. It was a two hour train ride to Katoomba, a cute little touristy town right next to the Blue Mountain National Park. We walked around and saw the iconic Three Sisters and a little bit of Katoomba Falls. It was getting late and dark so we grabbed some dinner and made our plans for the night. Every hostel was all booked up because of some big race in town, so we ended up just walking down this tiny, dark path in the national park and hammocking on an overlook. As sketchy as it may seem, it was pretty neat because it looked over the entire valley. The coolest part I think was that there was a lightning storm on the other side of the valley that I fell asleep watching. When we woke up around 6 the next morning, the whole valley was blanketed by fog. It made for a really interesting and somewhat intimidating view but it was awesome.
After hiking around a little, we ran into two other girls from the program, Jess and Emily, and went into town for some lunch. Jess, Emily, Davis, and Becca decided to break off and take a train to Wentworth Falls while Eric, Jordy and I got on a train the other way to meet up with a few other people from the program that were planning on rock climbing that day. We found them with a great deal of luck and I climbed my very first real rock! Now don’t let my excitement about it confuse you… I was really, really bad at it. And even though it took me forever, I think it was at least slightly entertaining to everyone watching me. I may or may not have shouted things like, “Why do people do this?!” and “This is so terrible!”… But all in all I would try it again at some point. We explored the cliffs a little and hammocked a little, and overall just enjoyed a really great afternoon in great weather with an amazing view of the mountains. I also got to repel down a taller cliff face which was much more enjoyable since it didn’t require much strength on my part.
The next day was Sunday; some people studied a lot, and some (me) went to this really cool street market with live music, good food, and shopping! A big group of us went that night to the big Hillsong campus. It was kinda a struggle to get there with two different trains and a city bus. But we eventually did and it was a cool experience. With my major tests out of the way, I got to venture around Sydney more that week. Some morning I would just get up and just walk before class, or get on a random train because that’s how you see stuff.
One day, the Biology 3100 students took a field trip to the Long Reef Marine Reserve. We were in the same groups as the field research on Heron Island and were given another project to do. After a very thrilling job of counting individual barnacles, we walked through tide pools and found crabs, eels, sea urchins, and sea stars. Compared to the field trips for Biology 2100, this wasn’t bad at all.
The same class also took a field trip to the Blue Mountains National Park near Katoomba, about a 2 hour drive outside of Sydney. We did a 4-5ish hour hike which didn’t seem too grueling at first. However, we did have to descend “The Great Staircase” to get down into the valley we’d be hiking through. And as we all know, what goes down must come up. (Or something along those lines…) Needless to say, the hike finished with climbing a ton of really steep stairs that seemed to go on forever. Also, this was the infamous hike we’d all heard about where everyone gets leeched. Thankfully, only about 5 students actually donated blood to those little suckers, myself included. It was a good time. And the scenery wasn’t too bad.
On Wednesday of our second week in Sydney, a group decided it was time to hit up one of the world’s most famous icons: the Sydney Opera House. We got $225 tickets for $50 with the student discount for Carmen. While the opera is not necessarily my favorite form of entertainment, it seemed fitting for my one opera experience to be at the Opera House and it was entertaining nonetheless. The next night we decided to walk down to Darling Harbor for dinner on the water.
The next day was the Blue Mountains field trip, so that night was our last night to experience nightlife in Sydney. Through a series of not necessarily unfortunate but definitely strange events, we actually ended up at what I presume is a gay bar. It was a hilarious but also disturbing occasion. We also went to the prohibition bar again so that was fun. On the left is Eric, I picked out his shirt and made him match me. I, however, will not claim to have picked out Jordy’s clothes. Whether or not its surprising that he got into the gay bars with no issue is for you to decide….
The next day was Saturday, our last full day in Sydney. I set out with Eric, Jordy, Davis, Evan, and Noel to do a 3-hour beach hike ending at Manly Beach. It was actually a very enjoyable hike, although we didn’t stick to the trail most of the time. They all wanted to scamper along the rocks/cliffs right on the water instead of the perfectly safe hiking trail. I actually had a lot of fun but there were definitely times I was pretty nervous about some of the leaps. Towards the end, we came across this very private beach and thought it might be a good place to chill for a little while. Looks cozy, right?
Well… wrong. Upon closer observation, we quickly realized that we had quite literally stumbled onto a nude beach. We made a speedy escape and decided it was time to finally make it to Manly. By the time we finally got there, a small storm was rolling in bringing in some light rain. We stayed for a short minute just to say we did, then left to get some food and head back to our side of town on the ferry. This was also when we realized I was almost always the only girl on our little adventures and thus began the term “Jess and the gang”. The ferry back took place right when the sun was setting which was awesome and produced what’s quite possibly my favorite picture of Sydney.
That night I showered and packed to get ready for the next day of travel to Fiji. We did have one more midnight stop to make before leaving though: Pancakes on the Rocks. Its a 24 hour pancake place that puts ICE CREAM ON YOUR PANCAKES. It blew my mind. They were super delicious and a great midnight snack before leaving our hostel at 3:30 am to catch a 6 am flight to Nadi airport in Fiji. I know I most likely left out a ton of details for Sydney: several games of Clue, Presidents, and Bananagrams, movies in the hostel’s movie room, nights hanging out at The Rubble… but those are all details I will never forget. Ten weeks in, I began to get to know everyone on a deeper level and make friends I intend on keeping for a long time.
Blog update on my two weeks in Fiji aka paradise coming soon!
If I haven’t convinced you yet to go on Pacific Program or even a vacation to any of these destinations, this video might change your mind. Put together by Matt Josey, here’s a 4 minute glimpse into the best three months of my life!