The study abroad office at the University of Sydney is very good at introducing the new international students to Sydney, running various pre-semester trips that are designed to help you explore your new home. The two-day trip I had decided to go on, called ‘Extreme Adventures’, left the university early on Saturday morning, which was not good for me as I am not a morning person! Despite the rain, I was definitely excited.
To my surprise, I ended up sitting on the coach next to the only other Brit on the trip (the world is full of strange coincidences)! I made a joke about the number of North Americans on the trip (at least half were American), to which she turned to me in shock that I had a British accent. Conversations about home helped the journey to our first destination pass quickly.
After an hour long drive, taking us over Harbour Bridge and through some really gorgeous scenery (Australia is truly a beautiful country), we arrived at the Australian Reptile Park. Here, Douggie (our very Australian-named tour guide) gave us some free animal food, a bit like the stuff you get when you go to the zoo as a kid and feed the goats. However, this wasn’t for the goats. Instead, it was for us to feed the kangaroos that were roaming freely around the centre of the park! I tried to get a decent selfie, but I’m pretty sure that the kangaroo wanted to punch me in the face so I flinched while taking the photo! Still, it was an incredible experience.
A normal photo vs. the moment when I though I was about to be attacked by a kangaroo…
There were other animals to see in the park too. As special guests, we could all enter an enclosure and have a photo taken with a koala – I even touched it, it’s very soft! There wasn’t too much else to see as it was only a small zoo, but we could see lots of crocodiles and spiders (i.e. things that can kill you), and there were also some Tasmanian Devils. We only had an hour there, so it was time to head to out next stop.
Again, it about an hour to drive us to the next stop, which was the Hunter Valley. This is an area near Sydney made famous by the vineyards. The weather had picked up and became sunnier and warmer, making me regret wearing jeans (the weather changes very quickly). Here, we were taking part in some wine tasting, which for someone who doesn’t drink was certainly an interesting experience. For everyone near me, however, it was great because they could have all the wine I didn’t drink!
We visited two vineyards, both with wine tasting. The second wine tasting was hosted by the owner of the vineyard, who reminded me of an Australian Micahel Palin. There was also olive oil tasting here, which I could take part in! We also visited Potters Brewery where we learned how beer was made, followed by free beers if people wanted. Despite not drinking, it was still a really nice area to be in.
It’s probably a good time to mention our coach driver here. He was wearing a very interesting uniform, which I snuck a photo of during our time at the Hunter Valley! Also, when he had finished driving for the day, the first thing he did was crack open a can of beer – how very Australian!
It was time to leave the Hunter Valley and head to our accommodation near Port Stephens. A lot of the Americans decided to sleep in the house which could accommodate for over half of the people on the trip. They had bought some beer and wine from Aldi when we stopped for food, and so ended up having a big American party in the house, even ending up with a local stag do joining in!
I, on the other hand, was in one of the cabins they had, a bit like they have in Centreparcs. Coincidentally, I ended up in a cabin with all Europeans (I broke the ice by making a brexit joke)! Before dinner, we headed out to the sand dunes next to us, which happened to be the largest dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. It was really strange to walk out from a forest to the sand dunes; it was a complete change in surroundings. Once we had climbed to the top of the dunes, it was like being in the desert. The sun began to set so we returned for dinner (which was takeaway pizza). The Europeans and I had a very civilised evening (unlike the Americans, as we pretty much discussed European politics for the night!
After a good night’s rest, we left our accommodation to travel to Nelson Bay, which was not a particularly long distance away. On our itinerary here was to go on a Dolphin cruise. We journeyed out into the middle of the bay (which provided some very nice views of the landscape), to where the Dolphins could be seen. I managed to see some and even grabbed a few photos. One came up to the front of the boat! It was such an amazing experience.
On the boat ride back, we had the opportunity to go swimming in the bay! A net came down from behind the boat, meaning that we could swim while the boat continued to move. To get in, you had to go down a waterslide, which I ended up getting stuck on. To say I swam would not be an accurate statement, as it was more a case of the boat dragging me along and clinging onto the net to stop myself from getting pushed to the back! It was really cool to be at water level knowing there were dolphins nearby. Luckily, I didn’t get stung by jellyfish like some others on the trip.
After drying off and getting chips at Nelson Bay (not as good as British chips), we headed to our final destination – Birubi Point in Anna Bay. The activity here was sandboarding. To get there, we had to go on large 4×4 buses which took us over the dunes. They had a camera inside filming for a promotional video, so the driver took us on a longer, bumpier route (taking us over ‘the drop’) while driving at a faster speed than he normally does. People were flying out of their seats, and it was certainly an experience to say the least.
The sandboarding itself was a bit of an anticlimax. We thought it would be like snowboarding but on sand dunes rather than snow. But it was actually like a slow version of sledding. In spite of this, a few of us decided to go down the other side of the dune and try to do it standing up, which I did somewhat successfully! There were great views all the way round when you got to the top, so it was worth the steep climb on the sand to get there (it was a proper calf workout)!
Unfortunately, it was soon time to take the three-hour journey back home to Sydney! It was a fantastic weekend, and it is one that I will not forget anytime soon. Getting back home, I headed straight to sleep so that I was ready for the next day at the university.
A) The University of Sydney
B) Australian Reptile Park
C) The Hunter Valley (Potters Brewery)
D) Maitland (where we stopped for food)
E) Nelson Bay (Dolphin Cruise)
F) Anna Bay (Sandboarding)
G) Back to the University