While studying in another country, it can be easy to get caught up exploring the new city that you are living in. Every city has something different to offer, and Sydney feels endless. While I have already been here for three weeks, I feel like I have only scratched the surface. We could easily have spent our entire program just in Sydney and never have seen the same place twice, however I knew I wanted to experience a few other places in Australia as well. With a 22-hour travel time and a price tag of over $800, getting to Australia is no easy feat and, unfortunately, I do not expect to be back any time soon.
Because of this, I want to see and do as much as possible in my brief time. Last weekend we visited Cairns where we dove on the Great Barrier Reef and trekked through the Daintree rainforest. This weekend we travelled north to the Gold Coast and Byron’s Bay. It is easy to take for granted that since it is all one country most of Australia will feel the same, however, the differences were surprisingly striking.
Sydney is a huge, bustling city with a population over 5 million. Skyscrapers crowd the skyline and buses rumble through the streets. Business men and women hurry to and from work, college students study in the lawns, thousands of tourists pose in front of historic landmarks. Just on the walk to class, you can hear people speaking six different languages. Construction seems to be happening everywhere as the incredibly full city expands.
Cairns, on the other hand, is eerily quiet. A city seemingly built for backpackers, the only things to do are scuba dive and hike. The city feels like a ghost of what once was, as “for rent” signs fill the windows of empty storefronts, clearance sales fill the racks, and restaurants remain closed night after night. While it seems that it once was a lively area, Cairns feels like it is in decline. The people are much more laidback and most of them feel focused on having and providing a good time, with jobs in the tourism business. Cairns and Sydney are two of the most popular cities in Australia, but for completely different reasons.
The most recent city we visited was Gold Coast, in Queensland. North of Sydney but south of Cairns, Gold Coast felt just right. With a population of 600,000, the city boasts of skyscrapers, beautiful beaches, small coastal islands, wildlife sanctuaries, and more. It did not feel very busy, but the nights light up with markets and touristy shops, enticing people to snorkel, kayak, skydive, and hike. The small suburbs have adorable shops and a surf-centered vibe, perfect to visit but clearly not just for tourists. Our stay in the Gold Coast has been better than most, and even with downpour on our last day, the charms of the town were not lost on us and we enjoyed every minute.
All of the cities offered their own charm and personalities. Sydney is truly the business hub of Australia, and Cairns is clearly a perfect diver’s getaway, while Gold Coast is right in the middle, offering a little of something for everyone. When deciding where to live, spend the weekend, or skip altogether, make sure you pick places based on what you want to see and do. In visiting the Gold Coast, we will not get to see Melbourne, which a lot of people recommended. Despite this, the weekend trips we chose were perfect for us and I was finally able to accomplish my dream of holding a koala.