On 26th September 2014, I finally took the plunge and booked my flights.
After toying with the idea for a few months and later realising that I wouldn’t be able to start volunteering abroad until the following year, I decided that I couldn’t bear to spend yet another winter in the cold. My friend Jess had suggested Australia and I had always liked the idea, plus my friend Emma was already out here and I only had a few years left to apply for the Working Holiday Visa.
I felt a rush of positivity and a surreal ‘out of body’ type experience after first booking – a moment of ‘I know I have done the right thing’… and then, I started to worry. It was my first long distance flight and my first venture into the experience of long term travel; I had gone from brief holidays in Spain and Portugal to a potential year across the other side of the world. Over the next coming weeks my thoughts and emotions were constantly dipping and rising between these two states, but the upside to making a relatively spur of the moment decision, was that I only had this suspense for 7 weeks – and they went quickly!
We landed in Sydney on 16th November to a slightly bleak looking sky and humid temperature. By the time we had made it out of the airport, it was raining! I had felt slightly ridiculous packing my umbrella, but I have come to learn that an umbrella is just as necessary here as it is back home in the UK! Luckily for us, the weather cleared up and the sun came out.
Determined to fight through the jetlag, we went for a wander down to Darling Harbour.
After almost falling asleep in an internet café around 5pm, I decided it was time to give in. I bought some instant noodles for dinner on the way back to the hostel and eventually I found myself ready for bed. I slept straight through for twelve hours, until 8am the next morning. It was perfection.
The next day I awoke feeling completely refreshed; it seems that sleep was all I needed to completely re-raise my spirits!
We had a week of activities and accommodation booked through OzIntro. This meant that we immediately met a new group of people and had some awesome trips and tours all planned out for us. This was out of the ordinary for me as I am usually very wary of guided tours and package holidays, preferring to just book things myself and see what happens, but I had decided to give this a go.
Here are some of the highlights of the week for me:
This sounds quite simple, and I guess it is, but it was so much more fun than I was expecting and the views from Sydney Harbour were stunning! As we headed away from the harbour’s edge, music blasting and the sun beating down, I felt so happy that I had taken this step and made these changes.
The man driving the boat seemed to enjoy himself as much as we did. His favourite trick was spinning the boat around whilst coming to a kind of ’emergency stop’. He also liked driving directly towards the markers and swerving out of the way at the last possible moment and he made sure that by the end of the ride, everyone had gotten absolutely drenched.
Wow. Once again, I had no idea what to expect but I did not imagine quite how invigorating this would be. This was my first time and everything about it felt like an awkward novelty. Struggling to carry my surf board down to the ocean, first dragging it and then paddling it out to sea, before clambering onto it, slightly panicked and looking behind me, desperately trying to get the timing right to catch a wave, so that maybe, this time, I could actually make it standing! I felt like a child again, learning something completely new.
I lost count of the amount of times that I lost balance and fell smack into the water, swallowing salty sea and feeling a bit stupid. This really didn’t stop me though, nor anyone else. There is something about the feeling of being lifted and carried along by a force outside of your control, and not just by any force, but a force of nature. It is so unique, so uplifting, I guess this is what makes it so addictive.
By the time we had finished for the day, I was completely exhausted and ever so slightly downtrodden – I’d only managed to stay standing a couple of times and then returned to falling – but I felt as though I’d been cleansed from the inside out. It was like the feeling you get when you listen to live music; it just takes over your whole being, grabs hold of your guts and drives you somewhere else. I’d definitely like to try surfing again.
We were lucky that despite the initial rain at the airport, the rest of the week was more like the weather that you’d imagine: opulent blue skies and powerful sunshine. This suited our coastal walk from Bondi beach perfectly. It was so beautiful, pure and magnificent; it just seemed to effortlessly fulfil all of my expectations.
This was the day I had been most excited about: hiking amongst the beautiful nature of the Blue Mountains.
Our Australian guide struck a balance between being relaxed and enthusiastic, so I immediately took a liking to him and felt at ease. Throughout the day, he liked to point out when we might see kangaroos, spiders and the elusive Lyrebird. We didn’t manage to see any on this trip but we did hear a recording of these unusual birds. You might have heard this before, but if you haven’t, you should give it a listen. It never fails to astound me.
The weekend brought a bit of time to ourselves and then a night out and a meal in the Sydney Tower.
Overall, I would say I am happy that I chose to book this. Apart from helping with practical tasks, such as setting up an Australian bank account, it also encouraged me to try activities like surfing, which I might never have done otherwise – or at least not in my first week anyway!
However, it is good to remain switched on and to remember that some things are best organised by yourself. If you are thinking of booking something like this, I would advise looking at all of the possibilities and costs. If you can’t afford to book through a company or just fancy ‘going it alone’, there are plenty of hostels who offer free tours and events and you are always going to meet lots of new people in hostels anyway!
I still think this was a pretty fun way to spend my first week though.
Surf photo taken by Jess Pobjoy