Return to Oz.

10:57 PM Jessica Montgomery 0 Comments

I was privileged enough to have gone to Australia with a People to People student Ambassador program about 10 years ago. I was there for a little less than a month, seeing the sights and promoting cultural exchange. My group and I made our way up and down the East Coast of Australia stopping in such cities as Melbourne, Sydney, Wagga Wagga, Canberra, and Cairns. It was an incredible opportunity. One that left me feeling tied to Australia forever.

So, when the time came to begin looking into summer travel plans, Kate and I set aside a few options. China? Mongolia? Vietnam? Mongolia was looking good there for a while until I stumbled across a cheap flight to Perth on a travel website. Australia? Hmmm... I threw out the idea to Kate and she was immediately set on it. Long story short, we initially planned on flying into Perth, driving a camper-van cross country, stopping along the way and then ending our trip/flying out of Sydney. Sounds amazing right? And yes, I still might do it one day. But. We had 8 days. Dreamers we are. But time was definitely not on our side. So we decided to put our road-trip dreams on the shelf and let them collect a wee bit of dust until I make it back State-side. Our new plan was to fly into Sydney, spend a couple days there, then head North to Cairns and finish up our trip on the Great Barrier Reef. Not a bad Plan B if you ask me.


Sydney.
Day 1-2 (Day 1=travel day):
If you can recall from two posts back, the weekend leading up to our departure to Australia was a little all over the place. The Wednesday of our flight both Kate and I said it felt like we just woke up and said "Hey, wanna go to Australia today?" Our heads weren't in it. We weren't even sure of our flight times half of the time. We were in a bit of a daze. Which, looking back on our travel day, was a bit of a good thing because our travel day ahead of us wasn't for the weak of heart.
Our layover in Malaysia was ...how can I put this? Glum? Yes, let's go with that. We weren't making any friends in that airport. That's for sure.  Oh! And when flying Air Asia, mind you, you get absolutely no service. Even for a 9 hour flight. I'm talking no snacks, no water, and you even have to pay to rent a blanket to use! Kate and I couldn't help but laugh. No wonder we were getting to Aussie-Land so cheap. We ended up pooling whatever Korean won we had left to buy some kimchi-Ramen. Yep. Even cruising at 30,000 feet I can't get away from Korea.
But finally! After an entire day of travel we finally made it to Australia. And it was cold and rainy (Australian Winter). Which I didn't mind, but Kate only packed clothes appropriate for the second half of our trip: The beach part. And just to add to our interesting travel woes, we had some airport shuttle confusion (This confusion was later explained once we checked into our hostel...Wait for it. haha) So once we were finally seated on [not our] shuttle bus, Kate and I just beamed at each other a look of:  What happened?

Checking into our hostel we were greeted with the reality of why we had such a hard time with our airport shuttle. The man working the front desk was adorable aaaaand high as a kite. Completely stoned. Welcome to Australia. He upgraded us to a private room because the wifi wasn't working and must've asked us to give the hostel a good review three times and maybe offered us a map about five. He was cute and harmless enough though.
Since it was about 40 degrees and rainy out, Kate had to borrow a pair of my pants. This wouldn't seem like a big deal, girls sharing clothes and all. But for those of you who don't know, I'm about 5'10" and Kate might be pushing 5'2". I gave her my belt but there was nothing stopping how hilarious this situation was. First things first: Food and much needed shopping.
We wandered about our area and settled in at a little Indian takeout place for our first meal in Sydney. We were starving after our 24 hour travel bender and would've pounced on just about anything. So Indian was a lovely and pleasant landing. After lunch we wandered even further into an area of Sydney known as Kings Cross. I'm sure a few red flags have gone up if you're familiar enough with Sydney. Yes, Kings Cross has a reputation for being party central for backpackers and locals alike. It was a little...skeezy. But that didn't stop us from grabbing a couple matching sweatshirts and chocolate bars before heading out on our scenic walk to Mrs. Macquarie's chair to get our first glimpse of the Opera House.

Armed with two or three maps provided to us by our hostel attendant, we set out to find a gander at the crown jewel of Sydney. Getting out of Kings Cross was easy enough and once we hit the naval harbour my 10 years old muscle-memory kicked in and I remembered how to get to the famous look out point. I was so excited for Kate to see it. The cold drizzle seeping into my severely unwaterproof shoes was little to keep me away. It could've been pouring for all I cared. We rounded the final bend of the windy pathway and I skipped towards Kate like a little kid asking "Are you ready!? Are you ready!?" Then, boom, there it was. It was definitely more beautiful and surreal than I remember. Perhaps it was the time of day. The sun was just starting to think about setting and the light on the water was fighting going to bed. It was beautiful.
Kate and I went a little photo crazy. But it couldn't be helped. Give a turtle with glaucoma a camera and I'm sure his photos would be good enough to hang up on your wall. It was impossible to take a bad picture.
We walked along the sea path to the base of the Opera House and then down into Circular Quay. We were both craving something terribly, terribly, bad for us and Western and what better meal to eat in a harbor than fish n' chips? We got takeout from a local vendor (A meal we definitely both could've split, but that's not how we roll..), sat down on a bench, and indulged. It was quite comical. Sydney is one of the fittest cities on the planet. So as we sat there stuffing our faces with fried loveliness, runner after runner cruised by in tight spandex a la GQ Nike's adverts. Once again. We had to laugh.
It was our first night in Sydney and despite exhaustion, there was no way we were calling it a night just yet. We decided to make our way back to a pub we saw earlier in a fancier district of Sydney known as The Rocks. The pub was called Fortune of War and advertised itself as being Sydney's oldest pub. Even if that wasn't true, they got us. Hook, line, and sinker. We sat down at the bar and were surrounded by old men in business suits and pea coats. We looked...a tad out of place. But that's the beauty of travelling! You don't exactly go somewhere new just to blend in into the same ol' thing. So we sat there staring at the beers on draft a bit. A cute old Australian man struck up a conversation with Kate. I assume it started along the lines of "You ain't from around here, are ya?" He was adorable, sitting on the corner of the bar drinking by himself in his houndstooth sweatervest and sport coat. Kate told the man she was from New Jersey and as soon as I told him I was from Michigan a man yelled from my right "Michigan sucks!" Ohh? Turns out, if you haven't already figured it out, it's a small world. Long story short, these two businessmen were from Michigan but one went to Ohio State -hence the "Michigan sucks!" It was fun to chat it up with them about Detroit and what have you and they ended up buying Kate and mine's first round. Not a bad way to start our Sydney pub experience.

Day 3:
The morning of our first full day in Sydney I had to run out to find a shoe store. Why? Oh, ya know, maybe because later on in the afternoon I was going to go climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge and all I had was a pair of flip-flops and a soggy pair of flats. No big deal really. After my lone and successful search for shoes (This is exciting for me ok? I can't buy shoes in Korea but in Australia I'm a normal sized person!) I met Kate back at the hostel and we left to go find breakfast. Fabulous, fabulous breakfast. I dare say most of this post is going to make this seem like a food blog rather than a travel blog... Australian food is gooooood. We settled on a place close by called Joe's cafe. Our waiter I can only assume was Joe. And Joe, was kind of an asshole. No. He was an asshole. This set the tone to what was unfortunately a reoccurring trend in Sydney. People were not nice to us. We didn't know if it was because we were tourists, because we were American, or if it was because we were so used to Korean hospitality that we forgot not all "Westerners" are as cheery and happy to be alive as us. Whatever it was, it put a little damper on my time in Sydney I hate to say. Anyhoo. Back to the food. My corn fritters with smoked salmon, grilled tomatoes, sauteed spinach, and ginger chutney sure made up for Joe's attitude. Can't get that in Korea. I hate to say it but I'd probably suck it up and deal with Joe just for the food. Nomz.
We took our usual route to the Opera House (Kate and I are travel creatures of habit. More on that later.) and popped in to ask a couple questions about purchasing tickets for an opera the following day. Like I said before, we were both in such a lackadaisical travel state that we rarely knew what time it was or what time we had things scheduled. So, before we knew it, we had to run (literally run!) to catch our bridge climb time.
I booked my bridge climb ticket a couple weeks in advanced with a credit card and a deep breath. Growing up I never had a fear of heights. But now, in my "old age", that classic Hitchcockian fear has crept into my psyche. Something to do with metal stairs/ladders and my foot going through the spaces. I don't know what I'm thinking! It's not like my feet are small or anything.. But anyway. Kate left it up to me and wasn't going to force me to do it. But that act alone was enough for me to be forced. Psssh, if it's left up to me, of course we're going to do it. So we we're running through the streets of Sydney in search of the Bridge Climb building. Our directions were off and we were sort of lost in that area known as The Rocks. We ran into a tour guide and I apologized for interrupting his tour but we were late I knew he'd know where to go. We were there with 5 minutes to spare. Wait, no actually, about a half hour to spare! haha When you book your bridge climb you are slotted for a time. Our time slot was afternoon at 1pm. Meaning, we could climb at 1pm or any other climb time scheduled within the 1pm time slot. So, long story short, we began our safety training at 1:30.
Everyone during our bridge climb experience was amazingly friendly. A nice change compared to others we encountered on our short trip. Our guides name was Camilla and she was a die-hard traveller and party girl. Her stories were great, she loved her job, and she had a zeal for life that was bright enough to shine through her matte grey jumpsuit. The group we climbed with turned into our adventure-family for those three hours we were on the bridge. There was a father and son, a UK-USA couple, an Aussie-UK, and then me and Kate: the Korean couple. We got suited up in our matching jumpsuits and stripped away any loose articles of clothing. Kate even had to take off her watch. We then went through a crash course safety demo complete with a mock course that prepared us for climbing the ladders on the bridge. That was definitely the part that was going to freak me out. We were attached to the bridge by a safety cable, but still, them stairs...I tell yah. No going back now!
We exited the Bridge Climb building through a tunnel that led us directly into the foundational structure of the bridge. We attached our clip to the safety cable, gave our radios and harnesses one last tug, and we were off. Immediately leaving the tunnel we were greeted by a gust of wind and a view of the Opera House to our right. We continued on, walking along a temporary construction platform high above the ground, until we reached the first pylon; high above street level but below the road level of the bridge. Camilla said that if you touch the granite of the pylon you will have good luck. You can bet I dragged my hand across the whole width of that thing. I was bringing up the rear of the group and I needed all the help I could get.
The worst part was definitely the ladders. Just as I suspected. For safety reasons you had to ascend and descend one person at a time. I was the last one and I took my dear, sweet, ole time. There were three ladders to climb before you hit the arch. By the second ladder you were road level with the bridge. Cars and pedestrians whizzed past as I climbed up one foot after another. Don't mind me! Just climbing this here bridge! The third ladder was my nemesis. Climbing the third ladder, you are no longer surrounded by any bridge structure. It's just you and the ladder and the Opera House to your left. But, I made it! And damn it felt good. Walking the arch was beautiful and relaxing. Absolutely incredible. The 360 degree view you had of Sydney at the summit was amazing. I felt like I could do anything. After a few photo ops, Camilla offered to record a video message for us that we could email someone from atop the bridge. I sent one back home. The entire experience took about 4 hours. If you are ever in Sydney...do this. Even if you are afraid of heights. DO IT. Definitely one of, if not the, highlight of the trip.

Coming down from our bridge high (mentally and physically) Kate and I decided to celebrate by tasting some famous Australian wine and cheese. We were terribly hungry after our day (What else is new?) so we didn't venture far. We sat down outside at a wine bistro in The Rocks and had, what we fondly call, a Pretty Woman moment. Remember in Pretty Woman when no one would wait on her and she ends up going shopping elsewhere and drops a bunch of money, only coming back to the first shop to say "Big mistake. Huge!" ? Well, that's how we felt. After facing snobby and rude people elsewhere we decided to suck it up, embrace our tourist-label, and drop some major dough eating and drinking whatever we wanted, wherever we wanted. Aside from the fact that we were lured in by a $5 a glass happy hour (haha) we splurged on a cheese plate that had brie, Parmesan, Gouda, blue cheese, honey, figs, crispy breads and jam. To die for. And if that wasn't enough we added a foccacia plate as well with hummus, roasted red pepper compote, and olive oil and herbs. Yes, you can get that in The States, no problem. But coming from Korea this was the nectar of the Gods. We posted up here and got a little tipsy.

Kate and I invented a plan to go to China Town and eat more. We started walking that way but were easily distracted once we stumbled upon one of the pubs the old man the first night wrote down for us on the back of that coaster. Hero of Waterloo it is then! This place was great. It was larger and situated the corner of a neighborhood that reminded me of Ballatar, Scotland. They were playing Mumford and Sons and we ended up running into our Michigan buddies again. How was this not meant to be? We chatted it up with some locals and they told us to continue our pub crawl down the street to Lord Nelson's. China Town would have to wait.
Lord Nelson's was quite the happening place. From the outside it looked similar to The Hero of Waterloo, but on the inside it reminded me of The Winchester from Shawn of the Dead. Plus, just to make it more fabulous, it was a micro brew. We chatted it up with some locals (rather drunken, hilarious, old men actually) and ended up hanging out with an Australian field hockey team. Another long-story short, Kate ended up convincing me (And I didn't need much convincing! haha) that I belong here.

Day 4:
Rolling out of bed, another "Wait! What time is it!?" forced it's way out of me. We slept in. It was much needed but there was food to be had and opera to catch. We took our familiar route once more along the navy bay and stopped over at Harry's Cafe de Wheels for a quick breakfast/lunch combo. I dare not call it brunch because walking around with gravy dripping down your arm is anything but classy. I knew to hit this spot because I'm an avid Anthony Bourdain No Reservations watcher. He stopped here when he was in Sydney so of course I had to. And it did not disappoint. The cafe serves "pies". Not dessert pies, but pot pies. Pot pies topped with such deliciousness as mushy peas and "mash" (mashed potatoes and gravy). It was like having a UK Thanksgiving in the palm of your hand. I went with a veggie pin on the Harry's classic "Tiger", the "Veggie-Tiger": a veggie pot pie topped with mushy peas, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Yum. I want one right now.
We made it to the opera in time and took our seats in the balcony. I couldn't believe this was actually about to happen. I geek out for theatre regardless, but to actually see a production inside of the famed Sydney Opera House? Psssh, Broadway can take a back seat for the moment. I suggested we see Tosca since it was a tragedy. Comedic operas never really did anything for me and since this was Kate's first opera, I didn't it to disappoint. It was powerful and the second act blew us both away. What made our experience that much interesting was the fact that our seats were situated in such a way where we couldn't see the ticker. We had no subtitles! But I kinda liked that actually. It made us more invested in feeling the music and reading the emotions of that characters rather than being concerned with translating every word. We understood the story just fine.

After the opera we decided to hit up a store and compile a grocery bag full of goodies for a picnic in a park. I want to make an effort to do this more travelling. I love foreign marts and grocery stores. You never know what you're going to find. But, Kate and I were on a mission and made away with a bag full of cheese, hummus, chips, and chocolate. We finished what we could of our spread and decided to finally make it to China Town after taking in a sunset. One thing I forgot to mention about Australian Winter's: Stuff closes early here! I couldn't believe it but by the time we got to China Town (maybe around 6pm) all the shops were closed up and the only thing left to do was eat! We didn't complain too much... After some noodles, Kate introduced me to FroYo and all was right with the world. We waddled our way back to our hostel to change, take a quick breather, and then head back out for the night. We took in some live music, danced with an older group of women, and had a drink with a Kings Cross bar owner. We were both exhausted but we also both operate on the same travel-level: We can't waste a night. We ended up walking back towards our hostel and hit up a little pizza joint that we planned on going to the night before. The owner's name was Mike and we ended up chatting it up for quite some time. He ended up giving us our pizza for free because we were "great girls". Alright, well played Sydney. I guess not everyone here is a jerk...

Day 5:
Our last day in Sydney we had nothing scheduled. It was a free day. And, unlike our travel-style, Kate and I actually both slept in. It was a much needed recharge. We took in breakfast at a little cafe a couple streets away from our hostel. We ate outside and had a lovely street view to compliment the loveliness of our food. And it was lovely I assure you. We both treated ourselves to real coffee to start. I've never been a coffee snob. But Korea has changed that. It's amazing to taste a full bodied black coffee after having liquid sweetener touch your lips for months. I then had a wild-mushroom and spinach torte and Kate and I split a fruit salad with a side of real honeycomb. I felt so privileged and posh. Our waitstaff was really cute and friendly as well. It was if word got around the city that people were being jerks to us and finally, on our last day, Sydney rallied together to change our minds. After brunch (Yes. Classy enough to be called so.) we walked to Circular Quay one last time and caught a ferry to Manly Beach. Manly holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first outings on my last Australia trip to really stand out as a bonding experience with my group. We took surf lessons together. And, to my surprise, I remembered where to find the surfing pavilion where the lessons were held. Strange to think. I've only been there once. 10 years ago. I told you it stood out! Kate and I walked along the beach, took in some shopping, and ended up climbing out onto some boulders overlooking the water. I'd have to say that this was one of my favorite "down-time" moments of the trip. We didn't need anything to entertain us. Feeling the cool, smooth, stone under my bare feet as we watched the sunset on the water was enough for me. I have no conception of how long we sat out there for. I lost track of time. Before we left Manly, we had sushi (Made by a Korean family! No escape.) and gave into my new addiction for the second night in a row: FroYo.

The ferry back to Circular Quay was beautiful. Kate and I hung our feet off the stern of the boat and watched the lights of the city. Approaching the Opera House at night from the water was another surreal moment. Both of us whipped out on cameras on cue and joked "Oh, that's what that looks like." and "What did you see in Australia guys? *scrolls through photos* Oh ya know, the Opera House-the Opera House-the Opera House." I will never get tired of looking at that thing! It's beautiful! Kate joked that I should be an architecture tour guide when I retire one day because of how excited I get over tiles, textures, etc. Greenfield Village here I come? Only if I get to dress up...

Cairns.
Day 6:
We had an early morning flight into Cairns so we had to roll out of bed around 4:30am. I dare say, there was no teary goodbye to Sydney Central Backpackers. It felt like a weight was lifted leaving that place. We landed into Cairns after a 3 hour flight and we were feeling rough. A shower and change was in order. We stayed in a mixed dorm-style room at this hostel; bunking with a German girl to our right and a French man right below. I slung my backpack on the top bunk of the Monsieur and called it a day. Though we were groggy and tired, we couldn't be bothered hanging around here for much longer. We had animals to cuddle!

We meandered about downtown Cairns for a bit, encountering more cranky locals and a slew of Asian tourists, until it was time to catch the infamous Kuranda bus(!!!). Kuranda is a small, rain forest village/tourist trap, situated in the mountains of Cairns. I say tourist trap because that's really what it is and I will openly admit that. If you make the trek up this mountain to see kangaroos (which run free and overpopulate the country), you ain't from around here. The bus ride up was beautiful. There was a clearing about halfway up the mountain that gave you a pristine view of the insanely blue water of Cairns. The colors of the Australian landscape are enough to make you squint. They are so saturated, lush, and beautiful. (If a color can be "lush"?)
We only had a couple hours to spend in Kuranda so we made a B-line for the wildlife park. Priorities. It was a Monday afternoon so we practically had the place to ourselves. There was one lone kangaroo laying outside of the kangaroo "rest area" so we had at it. He was medium sized, with big doe-eyes and tiny little hands. We tooks turns petting him and had more photo-ops than there was space on my memory card. Yup. I ran out! Quick! Back track! Delete! You don't need 3 pictures of the cheesecake you ate last night! Ok, maybe I do...

We left our deer-dog friend and went on to hold Tilly the koala. The woman in charge of handling the koalas was just as sweet as Tilly. You could tell she loved her job and loved these little dudes. Holding a koala was just like how I remember it. A squishy, furry, bag of sand. His little koala butt sat in my left hand as his arms were draped over my right shoulder. So worth being a cheesy tourist...so worth it.
We left Kuranda back for Cairns and chose to eat along the main seaside strip downtown. Kate was in search of kangaroo. Yep. To eat. Pet them by day, dine on them by night. It was a bucket list thing of hers and really, it's comparable to eating venison back in The States. We find them cute, cuddly, and exotic. But in Aussieland they are hunted just the same. So I obliged and helped her find a place. We settled on a fancy bistro called Kani. Kate got her 'Down Under Dining' on and had a plate full of kangaroo, crocodile, and emu. I opted for grilled eggplant, wine, and more cheese. Can't stop. Won't stop. Or at least until I'm fat, drunk, and broke. Amiright?! Speaking of which...after dinner we did partake in more indulgence. Cheesecake and wine. I know. I'm not sorry. Can't say I'm surprised I came home with 5 extra pounds. And I aint talkin' about luggage... 

"Who would steal 30 bagged lunches?"
"I'll tell ya who..."

Day 7:
The main event of our Cairns stay was our adventure to the Great Barrier Reef. Our shuttle bus from our hostel picked us up at 8am to take us to our catamaran docked at Port Douglas. Our coach driver was incredibly friendly and even pulled off to the side of the road at one point so we could get a look at a field full of kangaroos. There must of been at least 80 kangaroos in this field.
The weather was incredible as we stepped off our coach and boarded our Quicksilver boat. I did a do-over. Quicksilver is the company that I went to the reef with last time and the experience was so incredible that I feared if I went with another company my brain would've been filled with coulda-shoulda-wouldas. I'm going to sound like I'm being payed to say this but, I can't see how any other tour group could be better. We were taken out two hours to sea on the Agincourt reef system; part of the "ribbon reefs". On the way there we had coffee and cookies while listening to a marine biologist talk about the ecosystem we were about to be surrounded by. I was geeking out a wee bit and muttering answers to the questions the biologist was asking her audience under my breath. After hearing about wrasse and parrotfish, it was time to cruise on out to the bow of the boat to sunbath on the deck. Seriously. Is this my life?
We arrived, stuck on some flippers, and were in the water within 15 minutes of arriving at the reef. There were some pretty large fish already hanging out by the snorkel platform so it was literally a "dive in!" moment. It was incredible. The water was so clear, the creatures were beautiful, and the ecosystem looked as if there was no such thing as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As I gained confidence I swam out further and further away from the platform; letting my underwater camera lead me. I'm so glad I explored where I did because I ended up swimming with a humphead wrasse! I was alone, really no one else around me, when I spotted a diver cruising along the bottom with a camera. He saw me and motioned for me to follow and look where he was pointing. Next thing I know a HUGE wrasse cruises around a cluster of coral. This is definitely the largest fish I've ever swam with. It's lips were about the width of my wrist. Annoyed by the diver it swam away, and it happened to choose an escape route that led it right underneath my body. Absolutely amazing. I swam back in for a wee bit but then ventured back out again in search of a shark. The last time I was at this reef I swam with a sea turtle, this time with a wrasse. The only thing that was missing was my shark. I swam back to the area where I saw the wrasse and hung right as it was deeper water. The coral cleared for a bit and the landscape was more barren. I swam past one of the snorkel rest stations and looked out towards a group of large rocks ahead of me. Sure enough there was a little Carcharhinidae. I was so excited that it didn't really cross my mind that most people would swim away from one of these little guys rather than towards it. But he was just a little guy. A nurse shark I believe. I was able to nab one picture before he swam off. I've never had the opportunity to swim with a shark in open water. And what better place than the Great Barrier Reef? Incredible. Absolutely incredible. Bucket list item #4. Check.

Kate and I got out of the water for a wee bit to have lunch on the platform. Indian and seafood was on the menu. So perfect. And after I filled my belly with enough food to sink me to the bottom of the sea, Kate and I went to take a look inside the underwater viewing platform.
Kate and I were one of the first people to get in the water and we were definitely one of the last ones out at the whistle. Just like back at my Uncle Archie's backyard pool. They called me a mermaid for a reason.

A full day of sea swimming and eating and watching other things swim and eat takes a lot out of you. I passed out on the bus ride back and Kate captured one of my best moments of the trip on film. I woke up to a camera in my face and let out an instinctual "Oh nooo!". Probably woke up half the bus... Antics like these. Maybe that's why we weren't making any Aussie-chingus?

In Thailand Kate and I frequented a pad thai stand over and over again. And if we would've found that night's dinner spot any sooner, it would've been like Kao San Road all over again. We ate dinner at a burger place called Grill'd. It was divine. It was a little local place, with hipster swag, and a mouth-watering menu. I had an amazing veggie burger stacked high with avocado and a spicy mayo that put any others to shame. But the fries were by far the best fries I think I've ever had in my life. Not exaggerating. They were sprinkled with sea salt, rosemary, and something else that I can't quite put my finger on. Neither of us are "Burger People", but damn...I might just be converted.
I'll let you guess what happened next. Go ahead. What am I'm going to say happened next? You can probably quote me word for word. I'll give you a moment. ________________ Ok?
Well, we were exhausted. But because we can't let any night go to waste. (Sleep? Who needs sleep?) We headed out to check out what pubs Cairns had to offer. We took in a pint here, and a pint there and ended up at a cheesy Outback Steakhouse-esque restaurant just because we felt that we ran out of options. We snuggled up to the bar in the back and chatted it up with the bartender (If you've ever watched True Blood, picture Jason Stackouse but substitute the New Orleans accent for Australian.) asking him "If you weren't working right now, where would you be off to?" He said: "We'll, there's about 5 good places in town. But I've been kicked out of 4 of them. So I guess the one that I'm not banned from." Ohh? Well then. But then he changed his mind and told us to go to the place that he's been banned for life: The Woolshed. How could we resist?

The Woolshed was like something out of a movie. Picture Coyote Ugly but Australian. And instead of the bartenders dancing on the bar, the patrons were dancing on the tables. We ended up making friends with a wedding party (of course!) and I danced the night away with a Finnish girl named Josephine who moved to Australia about a year ago after meeting her Aussie boyfriend while on vacation in Bali. And I thought I had interesting relationship stories... Way to show me up Josephine.

Day 8: Our final day.
Because I'm now a walking cliche and like to get tattoos in different countries, I had to wake up at a reasonable hour to meet with my artist whom I made an appointment with weeks before. (They're not as impulsive as they seem, I swear!)
I chose to get my work done at Cairns City Tattoo after some research and finding an artist I liked. When choosing an artist, for me anyhow, it's half aesthetic and half artist's personality. It's about the design for sure, but then it's also about creating another memory. So I met up with my artist Mat Fink and felt as comfortable and confident as can be. He was a big teddy bear. Such a sweet guy. A former Australian sailor who trained in the very bay Kate and I walked past every day to and from the Opera House and Circular Quay. While doing dive training he said he encountered some Great Whites in the bay. So amazing. (That's actually more common than most people think too!) This whole situation was so fitting. I saw a shark in open water yesterday, my artist dove with Great Whites, and I was getting a hammerhead shark on my foot.
Come to find out, getting a tattoo on the top of your foot is not as cute-sie as it may seem. It took about an hour and a half and I must admit the last 15 minutes were torture. I actually had to take a break. Ehhh..embarrassing. But Mat was sweet about it and got me a glass of water. But it's done! It looks fabulous and I love it.

As a celebratory post-tat date, we headed back to Grill'd. haha And you better believe that this time we didn't share a side of fries! Seriously. If you ever find yourself in Cairns, first things first: See the reef. Second: Eat at Grill'd.

We walked along a little boardwalk on the beach after dinner. People watching, bird watching, BAT watching! Huge fruit bats were swooping down from the trees and it was clear that they were not concerned at all with people. I felt like Ace Ventura.

It was our final night. It was an indulgent-whirlwind of a trip and we couldn't let it end without one last night for the record books. We went back to our hostel, changed and got all gussied up, and headed back into to town for...you guessed it: More dessert and more wine. But this time we bought the bottle. Never done that in a restaurant before! Bucket List Item #346: Check.
We headed back to The Woolshed for more table dancing and Aussie-antics. It was a Wednesday night, mind you, and this place was packed. I was going to say I feel like Aussies probably party hard even on days like Christmas, but then I remembered: They do. It's summer for them and Christmas day is often spent grilling on the beach. Yeah. Australia.


Day 9: Travel day from hell.
I've never had three flights in one day. And I think it's safe to say that I never will again. From Cairns to Sydney. Sydney to Kuala Lampur. Kuala Lampur to Incheon. Nope. Never again. Especially on an airline that would probably charge you if you asked a stewardess "Excuse me miss, what time is it?". But we made it. And by the time I was done drooling all over myself on the third flight, the first flight seemed like a dream. We came to the realization that we had a 36 hour travel day from door to door. I'll wear that as a badge of honor. (*Note to self: Stop travelling ridiculous distances with a fresh tattoo. It sucks.)

Australia. Would I go back a third time? Yes. Why? Well for one, I have a thing with even numbers. And for two, it's an incredible country. It's as if the UK and California had a baby and they named it Australia, Aussie for short. I'm thinking that after my second contract in Korea is finished I'm going to do a bit of travelling, touch base at home, and then head back to WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). Just another one of those opportunities, like coming to Korea, that if I hear about it and know that it exists...I can't pass up. I just can't. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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