Taking a dive Down Under

I was about to dive into the clearest, bluest water I had ever seen in my life. I could see the outlines of fish swimming in and out of coral … with the sun shining from above, it was truly glorious.

Let me back up a little.

This summer, I escaped the sickly hot weather of my home in Southern California and took a 14-hour flight to Australia, where, because of the hemisphere difference, it was winter. I spent two weeks touring the two major cities of Melbourne and Sydney with my cousins, followed by a one-week stay in tropical Cairns.

Though Australia is the world’s sixth-largest country by total area, its history and culture remain relatively unknown to the rest of the world. So here is the short version: Australia was originally inhabited by indigenous Aborigines for thousands of years until it was overtaken by the British as a place to keep their felons. Today, the country is comprised of six states — New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia — along with several territories.

Though Sydney is not the capital of Australia, as many mistakenly think, it is the largest and most populous city with much to see and do.

From the incredibly innovative Art Gallery of New South Wales — with the most amazing contemporary display — to the diverse floral collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney has it all. The charm lies in its eclectic nature: Contemporary skyscrapers are juxtaposed with Romanesque architecture, Sydney Harbor borders onto the business district and the Queen Victoria Building houses a mall, that  with its highly decorated infrastructure, could be its own gallery. Interestingly, all of these attractions are seamlessly integrated together.

Though I did not go into the Outback — which is located largely in the western and northern territories — I had my fair share of native animals and sightseeing in Melbourne. At an animal sanctuary on the outskirts of town, I shook hands with the kangaroos and pet an emu. In Ballarat, the site of a gold rush in the 1800s, I panned for gold for what seemed like hours and then headed to the gift shop to buy myself a souvenir.

For my last week, my family and I took a three-hour flight from dreary Melbourne to a place up north called Cairns, where I was able to tan on various golden beaches due to Cairns’ year-round tropical weather. It was there that I snorkeled amongst the Great Barrier Reef and swam in the most pristine of marine ecosystems. While I never did see a clownfish, I had the surprise of spotting a whale swimming across the horizon.

One of the most exciting things about Australia was, of course, the food. Though I was never adventurous enough to try crocodile or kangaroo meat, I feasted on a native fish called the Barramundi. Likewise, I developed a love affair with the Aussie snack called Tim Tams — a chocolate coated biscuit with cream filling — and ate Vegemite on toast like a native Australian.

Though I will probably never visit Australia again, I highly recommend taking a trip down under to anyone who has the time and resources. The people are friendly, the food is good and nowhere else in the world can you shake hands with a kangaroo.

Image Source: Weiru Fang, Daily Cal