I’ve found paradise.

I found another reason to move to Australia.

It was when my friends and I reached Airlie Beach during our post-semester-giant-road-trip-down-Queensland. It’s not quite accurate to say I “found” it, either. Airlie Beach is a backpacker’s town built solely off the tourism of what was next door:

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The Whitsunday Islands!

The Whitsunday Islands were named by Captain James Cook, who believed he found the region on the 7th Sunday after Easter, also known as “Whit Sunday.” He was wrong, but the name stuck around. Today, the 74 islands that comprise the Whitsundays are a huge tourist attraction for their beautiful beaches and amazing diving. Luxury resorts pepper the islands, and tour boats leave daily from Airlie Beach.

My friends and I decided to see the islands in a less conventional way, though.

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One girl in our group was studying aerospace engineering, and this tour was just as expensive as any of the other tours, so: why not? We booked a tour that included a 30-minute flight over the islands.

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It was the most picturesque flight I have ever taken.

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…if not the most nausea-inducing one as well.

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The tour then took us on a high-speed boat to Whitehaven Beach, one of the most popular destinations in the Whitsunday Islands.

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An hour and a half later, we made it to Whitehaven Beach.

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Whitehaven Beach, true to its name, has the whitest sand I’ve ever seen. The sand is 98% silica, a purity so high that the sand never becomes too hot to walk on. The sand is incredibly fine, too, so fine that the sand is known to easily damage electronics. It even squeaks when you walk on it!

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I’m used to the Jersey Shore, where the beaches are crowded, the sand is burning, and the water is cold. Access to Whitehaven Beach, on the other hand, is limited. Smoking and dogs are not allowed. Whitehaven Beach has won multiple awards for being clean and environmentally protected, including the world’s most eco-friendly beach by CNN.

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Indeed, the area is also known for its wildlife. During lunch, we were visited by tons of friendly goannas.

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It wasn’t really just another day in Australia, though.

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Not by a long shot.

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And I have yet to find a place that beats it.

The Australian rainforest needs some “DO NOT TOUCH” signs.

Before I went to Australia, I had an idea of what Australia would look like.

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The majority of Australia is arid or semi-arid, and the country is famous for its vast Outback. I wasn’t aware, then, that…

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Australia has large swaths of rainforest all around the country, including Queensland, where my friends and I would be traveling after our semester in Sydney. My friends and I are from temperate climates. We get the deciduous trees, the rabbits, the squirrels. I didn’t have a clue about the Australian jungle– so we booked a tour of the rainforests around Cairns.

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The day of our tour, we were picked up from our hostel by a very Australian man in a Jeep.

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We began our ascent into the rainforest, which was located in the mountains.

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The higher we drove, the more lush the landscape became. The trees became thicker and thicker and thicker– until finally, our tour guide stopped the car and let us see for ourselves.

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Luckily for us, our tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the plants and wildlife of the area.

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Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

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Even when you don’t touch anything, Australia can be… iffy.

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Despite all the dangers…

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…the tour was really amazing. Really! I mean, how often do you get to eat lunch in the middle of a rainforest…

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…or get the chance to try some of Australia’s more local foods?

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What I found the most amazing was how suddenly the climate would change. Driving into the mountains, you could see the exact spot where the normal forest ended and the rainforest began. When we reached the other side of the mountain, the climate changed radically again.

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Lookit that termite mound!

I guess what my 6th grade teacher taught us about mountains really is true.

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You know, how one side of the mountain gets all the rainfall while the other side does not.

What she forgot to mention, though? How incredible mountains, and the forests on those mountains, can be.

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So, leeches? Come at me, bros. Even you can’t ruin the beauty of the Australian rainforest. 

(Though getting kicked by a cassowary might. Have you seen the claws on those things? And they only live in the rainforest!)

Setting sail, coming home

Coming home was weird.

I’ve been on long flights before. Back and forth from Japan. To Vietnam. To Australia. This flight was as long as any flight I’ve taken. But it was different, somehow.

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Maybe it’s because, after being gone for half a year, I was finally coming home.

And coming home meant that the dream was over. I had dived at the Great Barrier Reef, hiked the temples of Vietnam, and jumped off a cliff in New Zealand. Heck, ever since November, I had been on the road, living out of a suitcase, not knowing where I’d be the next day. But the start of the new year brought the end of my journey.

So I was a little vulnerable on my flight back to Boston.

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I decided to distract myself with a movie. Unfortunately, I had turned on the most melodramatic, depressing drama film ever. In my sleep-deprived, emotionally sensitive state, it was a bad decision.

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So I looked pretty awful when I arrived in Boston.

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The weirdness continued when I disembarked the plane.  Suddenly, I couldn’t help but be struck by the things I’ve experienced for years.

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Then again, at that point, I was pretty delusional. I wasn’t able to sleep much on my flight home. My neurosis became clear after I boarded the subway to head to Northeastern.

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An hour later, I finally made it to campus. I arranged housing pretty late this semester, so I was living in a dorm with roommates I had never met before. They had no idea who I was or when I was coming.

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I had flown straight from Vietnam to Boston, so all I had was my suitcase. No towel, no bedsheets, no winter coat to protect me from the below-freezing temperatures outside. I dumped my hoodies onto my bare mattress, flopped down, and finally relaxed. 

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For a little bit.

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Sort of.

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I’ve been home for about a week, and everything’s begun to fall back into the routine. I’m just about over jet lag. My body has finally adjusted to the ridiculously cold Boston weather. I’ve started my co-op, my dad drove up and moved in the rest of my stuff, and I’ve even started cooking again. Everything is back to…

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Yes, the adventure is over. All I’m left with are the memories.

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And trust me, after these last two months, I’ve got a lot of them.

(Most of which consist of me jumping around.)

Coming soon…