Arguably Australia’s most up-and-coming city, Brisbane has gone from ‘big country town’ to modern cosmopolitan international city in less than a decade, and is now a favorite destination for locals and international visitors alike.
When Captain John Lort Stokes of the Beagle reached a harbor in Northern Australia in 1839, he thought about a friend and former shipmate who would probably like the area had he been part of the crew — Charles Darwin. Yet, the Darwin himself never set foot in the port city that would later be named in his honor.
When asked why the Captain named it after the renowned evolutionist, no one in our group was certain. “Perhaps he saw the many remarkable species that walked the land at the time,” our tour guide theorized. And it could be true. From the white ibis birds that roam the shores to the saltwater crocodiles that rule the rivers, Australia’s biodiversity is quite fascinating, to say the least.
Despite its natural beauty, however, Darwin isn’t really the first that comes to mind when we think of Australian cities. It’s the Jon Snow among the Stark children, the Tyrion among the Lannister siblings, the Dorne of the Seven Kingdoms. Isolated. Outcast. Somewhat out of place. It’s laidback when the others are bustling, tropical when others are temperate. Yet, it survives, thrives, and leaves a unique imprint among the lucky souls who would come visit.
One sure way to make us smile is to mention Australia. Whenever a friend asks us a simple question about our time there, we can’t seem to stop talking passionately. Australia is incredible. It may be the world’s smallest continent but it is teeming with adventures.
Within a month, we were able to visit four cities (Darwin, Sydney, Cairns, and Brisbane), three towns (Alice Springs, Yulara, Airlie Beach), and five national parks (Litchfield, Kakadu, Wattarka, Kata Tjuta-Uluru, and the Great Barrier Reef). It is the most unforgettable trip we have been on to date, and we can’t wait for our readers to experience what the Land Down Under has to offer.
Fortunately, it is easy to get an Australian tourist visa. While you can still apply via VFS Global, a more hassle-free way is to do everything online.
When we began our journey across Australia’s Red Center, our tour guide-slash-driver handed us a marker and told us to write our names on the window of the van. It’s a way for everyone in the group to easily remember each other’s name.
Since then, every time I looked out the window, I saw my name etched in every dawn and dusk, every starry sky, every vivid picture that sped past me. Through the glass, every place is a canvass. Every moment a masterpiece. The Outback is a wild, insane artist.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” I whispered as I picked up another stick.
Middle of nowhere. No other collection of three words had been as overused since we first set foot in the vastness of the Australian Outback. In this part of the world, almost everywhere is the “middle of nowhere.”
Our group was divided into pairs, all collecting firewood in between low trees and tall shrubs, sparsely fringing the red dunes. It had all the makings of a tragic thriller: temperature dropping, light dwindling, and dingoes howling in the distance. Every stick we picked up from the ground was followed by a deep sigh (or a silent prayer, had I been a theist). It was always a relief not finding a venomous snake or spider underneath. Australia’s deadly reputation is hard to shake off.
I wrapped my left arm around a stack of half-dozen sticks and dragged a whole slender tree trunk with my right to the side of the road, where our van was parked. Then, we broke the big, long branches into smaller pieces before handing them one by one to Nick, our tour guide, who stood atop the trailer and ensured that every firewood, down to every last twig, was in place.
“We’re gonna need these to sleep soundly tonight,” Nick said as he jumped off the vehicle. “We’re spending the night in the middle of nowhere.”
There’s that phrase again.
“And by ‘middle of nowhere’, I mean the middle of fckin’ nowhere,” he added before climbing back to the driver seat. We followed suit, finding our spot inside the van, where we spent the next hour wondering where the hell we were. Soon, the concrete road turned to dirt and the van shook as we headed straight into pitch darkness. After several minutes, we pulled over and braved the cold.
“Welcome to the middle of nowhere,” he said as he started a small fire, allowing us a look at our home for the night. And he wasn’t kidding.
The moment I reached Brisbane, a weird feeling took over my senses.
There I was, at the sixth and final stop of our tour around Australia, but it felt as though I was just starting the journey. Weeks of being in the middle of flat, barren deserts and isolated, small islands had left me adjusting again. Suddenly, multi-story buildings and parades of cars are strangers that I needed to get to know or lost friends I would need to reconnect with. Perhaps the feeling was brought about by sheer exhaustion. By the time we hopped off the train from the airport, we were almost bereft of energy.
As I stood on the edge of the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, I tried to remember the last time I did abseiling (or rappelling, as it is called where I’m from). It brought me to my high school years, when I was a little bit more physically fit and nimble. That was probably 15 years and 50 lbs ago. I remember the first time I did it, I had no qualms at all. I stood atop a cliff unshaken and fearless. I even volunteered to be the first to do it among my friends, when no one else would step forward.
For some reason, it was different this time around. Over the past decade and a half, I have evolved into this overthinker who paints every possible scenario in his head. I knew I had nothing to worry about. Stuart, our instructor had done this many times every single day for years. When he asked if anyone of us wanted to do it first, I raised my hand but Vins (my blogging partner, the other Poor Traveler) beat me to it. I was thinking, the longer I wait, the longer my brain gets consumed by thoughts of my extinction. “Travel Blogger falls to his death,” not a very good headline for the next day.
By the time I emerged from the train station, I was almost completely spent. Brisbane is the sixth and final stop in our trip across Queensland and the Northern Territory. Albeit rewarding, it had been an exhausting journey. A good rest would be very welcome. Thankfully, we would be staying at Brisbane YHA.
As YHA’s flagship branch in Queensland, we expected only great things from this hostel and we weren’t disappointed. When we made it through its gates, we were greeted by a spacious common area and a adequately-staffed reception. After checking in, we were told to make it to the next building through the backdoor, and to our surprise, we were greeted by a 5-story building. Judging from the hostel’s facade, I wouldn’t have known that this place was huge.
I honestly thought I was going to die.
When I reached the top, I dropped my backpack unconsciously and mustered all the energy I had left to catch my breath. I was vomiting air, and my chest was starting to tighten. Ten minutes and ten gulps of water later, I began feeling alright. That quick climb kept me grounded both figuratively and literally. I remained seated on the rocky ground, wondering how it came down to this.
Our mini-bus pulled over on the side of a viewpoint, and we hopped out of the vehicle carrying a camera in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. Running parallel to the parking lot was a lane of fastidiously arranged tables, champagne glasses and all. Waiters were on a watch, checking if everything was as it should be. Such a beautiful setup.
If only they were ours.