Travel is supposed to be educational, right?
We go abroad, we journey to a foreign land, we hear things we don’t understand, we smell things that smell, well, different and of course, we see unfamiliar things.
That’s the beauty of travel, at least for me. I cannot for the life of me even begin to comprehend people who travel hoping to find the same amenities, luxuries and familiarities of home on the road.
Personally, I count it as a great failure if I didn’t take away one lesson or learned something new while traveling. Sometimes those lessons are as little as learning a new word or phrase in another language, sometimes they are more profound like the importance of going with the flow and being open to trying something totally new and uncomfortable.
As soon as I stepped foot off the plane in Brisbane, Australia, I knew this would be a trip of learning new things and gaining fresh experiences.
I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly but before my arrival Down Under my knowledge of Queensland, Australia was limited to koalas, the Great Barrier Reef and that iconic beach Whitsundays, in that order. In fact, I think when most people (cough cough Americans) imagine Australia, they see Ayer’s Rock, kangaroos, the Sydney Harbor Bridge and probably Steve Irwin, so by that reckoning, I am coming out ahead, right?
However, I secretly pride myself on being both open to new experiences and passionately curious about, well, everywhere and everything. This of course includes Queensland, an area of Oz I was keen as to know better (as the kiwis would say).
Completely prepared to break down stereotypes, learn new things, and familiarize myself with a part of the world I was hoping to get to know better, I hopped off the plane happy and excited.
And let me tell you, after 3 weeks exploring Queensland, I learned loads. So after careful deliberation, a few mistakes and eye-opening moments, here are a dozen things I learned in Australia, some deeper than others, some funnier than others, but all equal learning experiences.
1. Queensland is freaking huge
Queensland is a lot bigger than I think it was. Dare I say ginormous?
Clearly I have lost touch with my American side and maybe I have spent too much time traveling the narrow short streets of Europe in a tiny car, but I was not prepared for the general vastness and openness that awaited me in Queensland.
I had this realization when I google mapped driving from Brisbane to Cooktown which takes an estimated 30 hours. I think I could drive the length of New Zealand in that amount of time.
Because of it’s whopping size, this means Queensland is super diverse and has pretty much the best of everything.
You get cool cities and fun places to chill on the beach like in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, but you also have the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays and more stunning islands, nature reserves and pristine beaches and reefs than you could ever want. And you even get the Outback and the rainforest too!
Never boring, I love that you can get both thriving cities and wide open spaces all within the same chunk of Australia. It makes you never want to leave Queensland.
2. Animal photobombs are my new favorite thing
If I had to put a finger on one thing that I really really loved about Queensland, it would have to be the nature and wildlife EVERYWHERE!
And with any chance animal encounter around the world, there is also the opportunity for photobombs. Take advantage folks!
Screw traditional selfies, when faced with a giant sea turtle or fuzzy kangaroo, there is only one thing to be done, and that’s flip the camera around and smile!
Caption contest anyone?
3. How NOT to eat Vegemite
I’d like to consider myself an adventurous eater, always game to try new things and experiment with food. So when a pot of Vegemite showed up on my doorstep at Peppers Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, I was game.
Turns out, I am not a fan, which isn’t surprising considering how much I love nutella and sweet breakfasts.
Apparently I also did it wrong, with my Vegemite to bread ration completely off – tiny smidge of Vegemite to a slice a bread. Apparently you should also spread a layer of butter underneath it too, which I also neglected. Basically I ended up with a mouthful of yuck, and I am in no hurry to try this spread again soon.
Thank god for Tim Tams and rum to wash it all down!
4. Queenslanders are chill and super friendly
Living in New Zealand, which is pretty much the chillest, most laid-back, relaxed country in the entire world, sometimes I hate leaving my comfortable bubble knowing that wherever I am traveling too will be more stressful.
Thankfully that was not the case with Queensland. Phew.
I don’t know if it’s because of the warm climate and sunshine, prevalent beach culture or what, but everyone one in Queensland I met was friendly, helpful and always had a smile on their face, something that speaks volumes to me about a place.
I’m simple. I like places with friendly folks and dislike places with unfriendly people.
5. That whole “Australia is trying to kill you” thing isn’t exactly true
Sure, it can’t be denied, there are a lot animals down under that are dangerous and potentially lethal.
Great White/Tiger/Bull Sharks – Saltwater Crocodiles – Pythons/Taipans/Brown Snakes – Box Jellyfish and Irukandji – Funnel Web Spiders – Stinging Tree
Yes, one of those is a plant. WTF.
However, they (all) aren’t on the prowl to catch you unawares and kill you, and they certainly shouldn’t keep you from traveling to Australia, so don’t be irrational and crazy.
Most Aussies never encounter any of these deadly creatures and statistically speaking the chance of you finding yourself face to face with them as well is quite low, unless you visit places like Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures where you can feed salties yourself!
I found as a general rule to follow the signs and don’t be a dumbass really helped. I suggest you adopt the same attitude.
Unless you see this.
6. But watch out for the cassowaries
I had never heard of these kick-ass birds before stepping foot in Australia, and not until I got up to the Tropical Far North.
Human-sized emu shaped birds with a colorful head and dinosaur feet with sharp talons that can gut you, they are incredibly territorial and aggressive, and can attack when provoked, even though they are vegetarians. Also, they can outrun humans. Video here.
Pretty rare to see in the wild, I was curious about them as I explored northern Queensland. Going for a walk through the mangroves on the coast around Cape Tribulation, it was a hot and humid afternoon, cloudy with still air that promised a thunderstorm.
The only person on the trail in the rainforest, all of a sudden I heard the crunch crunch of the leaves and slowly looking over my shoulder I realized there were two cassowaries about 20 feet from me off the path.
With my eyes bugged out, I froze and slowly backed away before running as fast as I could down the path to the beach. A beach with crocodile warning signs no less. Sigh.
Chatting with the lodge I was staying at later, I realized how lucky I was to get to see these giant birds in the wild, even though I was too scared to take a photo.
7. Nothing beats a Queensland sunset
I saw more beautiful sunrises and sunsets in Queensland in three weeks than the whole time I’ve been in New Zealand! What have I been missing?
After a solid day of exploring new things and having adventures, there is nothing better than sitting down with a beer or glass of wine and watching the sun set.
Am I right?
I feel lucky I was able to witness so many spectacular sunsets, sunrises and everything in between while in Queensland.
The sky put on a show for me everyday, making the trip all the more memorable.
8. Don’t wear a white shirt when cuddling koalas
9. New Aussie words
It’s not often you travel to an English-speaking country as a native English speaker and come out with a whole new vocabulary.
Nobody says “crikey” which was extremely disappointing. However, I am pleased to report that the phrase “far out” is still in common use today in Australia. I am determined to bring this back into the American vernacular.
Finally I heard the phrase “youse guys” straight up Italian Jersey style quite a lot along with “How you going?” which confused me greatly. Familiar with both “how’s it going? and “how are you?” this unusual combination of both left me perplexed but I quickly adapted.
Three words that initially I was confused about but learned to distinguish are the hinterland, the outback and the bush. Weren’t they all the same?
The hinterland as I understand it is a remote area inland from the coast – there is a beautiful area in Queensland called the Gold Coast hinterland.
In Australia, the bush is a rural area where few people live where in New Zealand it tends to mean an area with a lot of forest or woods and MORE remote than the hinterland.
And finally the iconic outback is even MORE vast, wide and remote than the bush and the hinterland. Confusing, I know.
10. The Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world
In the far north of Queensland, you’ll suddenly come across the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest in the world. Before I started researching Australia, I didn’t even realize there was rainforest there. Hangs head in shame.
And it is magnificent.
I spent several days exploring the Daintree, sleeping in a treehouse at the Daintree Ecolodge, going on various walks, hikes and learning about Aboriginal culture.
I love trees, and I think I could have spent a year exploring this forest and still love it and still find new things. From the thundering waterfalls to the swimming holes to the hanging vines and dense bush, it was a wonder to behold.
And falling asleep high in the trees listening to the steady rain drip down with a creek bubbling nearby is not something I’ll soon forget.
11. Diving is addicting
While doing a Reefsleep with Cruise Whitsundays I got to do my very first scuba dive, and to be perfectly honest, I was pretty nervous.
Once I had all the gear on, it felt so heavy and awkward, and I was afraid to go underwater. To exit the pontoon, we had to go out underneath it which totally freaked me out not being able to come up for air if necessary.
What if my ears didn’t pop? What if I sank to the bottom? What if I passed out and got eaten by a shark?
But with the instructor holding my hand, I quickly felt safe and became accustomed to breathing through the mouthpiece.
Before long I was excited to be able to explore much deeper than I’ve been able to freediving. I love swimming and snorkeling and there is no place better to do this than at the Great Barrier Reef.
Going diving literally opened my eyes to a whole other world and a whole new arena of possible travel adventures. For me, that dive was over far too soon, and pulling off the gear and tanks, I was already starting to plot when I would be able to try it again.
Then and there I decided that I would get diving certified as soon as I could, and I would do it on the reef in the Whitsundays in Australia.
12. All of Queensland is paradise
There are many different types of paradises to be found around the world, and they all depend on perspective and mindset of the person traveling.
For me, Queensland was a paradise for so many different reasons.
From the lush tropical Daintree Rainforest to the beautiful eco resorts and islands to swimming with sea turtles to driving along the red roads of the outback, Queensland never ceased to amaze.
I think sometimes as travelers we get caught up in seeing the most famous sites and big name cities in the rush of trying to explore an entire country on our limited vacation days.
Exploring Queensland helped remind me the value of spending more time in one region and getting to know it better, than jumping around from famous spot to famous spot following in the footsteps of others. After all, at the risk of being cliche and cheesy, isn’t it better to get off the beaten track?
Have you ever been to Queensland? What are your perceptions of a country? Have you ever been proven wrong or right while traveling?
Many thanks to Tourism and Events Queensland for hosting me in Australia, like always I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect anything less from me!