ANU Global Programs organized a trip to the east coast for exchange students at ANU during the teaching break in April. I first heard about the trip when I was still home in Finland, covered in blankets in the coach, eagerly waiting to come to Australia and get the heat on. I booked the trip right away.

 

A couple of weeks before the trip I couldn’t have imagined how many cool people I would meet during the break and how many pictures I would be taking in front of amazing views. I didn’t know then that I would see a 1000kg crocodile bound out of the water when it was invisible a second earlier, or that I would be swimming with sharks and get stuck in the middle of a river in a rafting boat.

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“The Bucketlist trip” was an 8 day trip that took us 1684 kilometers from Cairns to Brisbane, and it was organized for exchange students from both ANU and University of Canberra. We started in Cairns and drove along the coast to Rockhampton, Hervey Bay and Fraser Island, Noosa in Sunshine Coast, and finally to Brisbane. Afterwards the drive seems wild – 19 hours – but at the time we had no idea how far we actually travelled together.

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During the three days in Cairns we got to know each other and experienced the Great Barrier Reef, which for me was the number one thing on my actual bucketlist. We jumped into a three storey boat that took us to the reef. I put on a wetsuit and snorkel, pulled my fins on and looked down to the water. Then I jumped off the boat. My mask came off and I got water in my nose. A couple of hours later I was already an experienced snorkeler, or at least I managed to keep all my gear on. We swam around the reef in groups spotting colorful fish, sea cucumbers, coral and turtles. My friend and I spotted a shark going around the boat, but what stopped my fear is that it actually looked just like a big fish, not so much like the shark in Jaws  or other movies.

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Then came the day when we had a chance to try out something that takes a little gut. Some people went Skydiving, but I chose to go river rafting. I had never done river rafting before, except for something called “float the river”, which is more like hanging out in the sun on a raft in a calm water. Me and a girl who turned out to be a good friend after the trip were in the same raft. I fell in love with the river and the unexpected turns of the water currents, but my friend sat on the raft saying: “this is traumatic, I’d rather jump from the plane again”. When we headed back to our hostel, I saw our driver casually grab the key from the top of the bus tire, and I thought to myself that I really like this place.

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The real bonding time was at the bus. When we drove, the microphone went from person to person. Then there was the karaoke. Thanks to our large turnout of Canadians, everyone knew the lyrics of all Avril Lavigne and Hilary Duff songs after the trip. The bus was both burning hot and ice cold, both awesome and miserable, full of sleep and hyperactivity, smelled like fish and chips, and it was also the place where we made our home.

 

Another highlight of the trip was Fraser Island, the world biggest sand island. The ferry dropped us off and we jumped into a bus and headed to “the main road”, which turned out to be the beach. Who knew that one could have an 80km/h speed limit on the beach! Our driver had that Australian chill on. When someone yelled “Look, there’s a dingo!”, he turned the bus around and there we were, chasing a sight of the dingo. That was too much for the bus, and it broke down, leaving us standing on the beach waiting for rescuers. Everything turned out well in the end. Fraser Island left me with memories of the smell of the rainforest and the swims on creeks and lakes.

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We weren’t planning on visiting the sunshine coast, but the enthusiastic leaders of the trip decided to get us there so we could get the ultimate “Aussie experience”. We went to Noosa, a trendy surfer town 2 hours from Brisbane. That day the weather really showed its best parts and we had a relaxing time just lying on the beach before we took off to our final destination, Brisbane. The drive to Brisbane was quiet, tired. Everyone was thinking about it: this will end soon. Before it did, we spend the evening in the city and had our farewell dinner and drinks at a place that had amazing views to the city. Then we got back to our accommodation and everyone stuffed into our tiny two person room chatting until late hours.

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What I took with me from the trip was those places I wanted to see, like the Great Barrier Reef, and most importantly, the people I got to experience them with. I could have chosen to come alone or with a friend, but I wanted to get to know the people who are crazy enough to travel the entire east coast in just over a week with a bunch of strangers. Travelling in a group like this is never a bad choice. After all we are a group of exchange students who are dying to learn about Australia and share about our own cultures at the same time.

 

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