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A Year and a bit Down Under!

By Katherine Marshall

I can blame my desire to travel after University on my parents. We were always taken away on wonderful holidays as children, and so for me the travel bug was installed from a very young age. After University, the 'round the world trip' became more and more appealing even though I thought my VSD would hinder my plans. After many discussions, mostly connected with my health, everything started falling into place. It seemed that my dream of travelling was finally coming true.

I soon began saving every penny I could and started organising the huge list of things I had to do! The first point of call was The Brompton Hospital - without their go ahead I wasn't going anywhere! Thankfully, my VSD wasn't causing a problem, although I was told to steer away from extreme sports such as bungy jumping! So off I went to tackle the next obstacle, my insurance. This luckily didn't prove too hard a task either, but my visa took longer than expected. The Australian Embassy wanted to see more documents regarding my heart problem but in the end, were happy to accept me.

So, along with only my rucksack and fond memories of my leaving bash, I ventured off to pastures new.

My first destination was Connecticut, America where I took part in a two month Camp America programme. With my work partner, we looked after twenty-four twelve year old girls which was certainly challenging! I can remember laughing all day long as we went swimming, played the drums and guitar, made jewellery in the metal shop, and clothes in sewing. Not only did I have the chance to experience and experiment with these new arts and crafts, but I met so many amazing people from all over the world. It was a very special time and one that will always be the most amazing part of my trip.

After two and a half incredible months in America, I flew home for a brief stay to catch up with friends and family before flying to Perth in Australia. My friend and I had a wonderful few months cruising around the city, travelling up the rugged West coast, before catching a coach to cross the Nullabor to Adelaide (the only drawback being that it took 36 hours!). From Adelaide where we stayed with friends, we made our way to Melbourne; my favourite place in Australia. It's very arty, with a very bohemian feel to it. It's full of little coffee shops and bars!

From here we flew to Tasmania and drove around the island in a hired white beetle seeing rainforests, deserted beaches and rolling green hills. On one occasion, a group of us canoed eleven kilometres in the rain down a river!

Apart from a few stops on the way, Sydney was our next destination. It was here that we settled for six months. The flat I shared with five other friends overlooked the Anzac bridge and the whole of the city; it looked beautiful lit up each night. We had our own pool and across the road was a park. We all worked and for six months I was placed near Bondi Beach at a publishing company. It was full of travellers so we had a riot most of the time!

Most weekends were spent organising BBQ's, or down on the beach or camping. We were all sad when the lease expired on the flat, but it was so exciting knowing that we were travelling on via the east coast.

Byron Bay was just as hippy as we had imagined! One day whilst waling along the beach, we spotted whales and dolphins playing in between the surfers. The three days we spent driving a four wheel drive on Fraser Island (a nature haven and photographers dream!) were incredible. The Whit Sunday Islands, further North, were also wonderful. Despite the bleak conditions in which we were sailing, we still managed to go fishing, swimming and snorkelling too.

Our day out on the Great Barrier Reef was also one to remember. Although due to my heat condition I couldn't dive, the colours were just as fantastic while snorkelling; I just couldn't get over the turtles that kept swimming by! From here we drove north to stay in Daintree, known for where the rainforest meets the reef. It was here that I had my first encounter with a leech - a not very pleasant one at that!

Deciding that we had had quite enough of creepy crawlies, we set off across Arnhem land to Darwin. By sheer chance we stumbled upon some work in Litchfield National Park with an aboriginal family, and little did we know that this would be our home for the next seven weeks! As well as making didgeridoos and arts and crafts, we fished in billabongs, cooked on the open fire, and swam and bathed in the creek (avoiding the crocs!) We even slept on paper bark under a mosquito net in the bush each night!

As all good things come to an end, we said our goodbyes and drove to Brisbane where we found work at a travel company. After only a month, we flew to New Zealand. Wow, wow, wow!!! By hiring a car we zoomed around each island and saw some amazing sights such as mud pools, geysers, the Maori people doing the Haka dance, and wildlife such as penguins, albatross, sealions and glow worms. I was so proud of myself when we successfully climbed a volcano in Tongariro National Park, walked through a waterfall in Abel Tasman national park, went sandboarding, and climbed a glacier! I even went skiing for the first time too!

It was only near the end of our stay in New Zealand that I some difficulties with my heart. I'd never had heart palpitations before so needless to say, I was worried. When we arrived back in Sydney, I visited the Cardiac department who saw me straight away. They gave me an ECHO, ECG, and heart monitor! I feel happy to say that it all seemed OK; they really did look after me very well.

With only a month left before coming home, we decided to visit Thailand. Bangkok was just outstanding and learning about Buddhism and a monk's way of life was just fascinating - as were the many Wats we visited. When we saw them living in shacks amongst the animals, it really was quite a shock. It was a different world but a wonderful insight at that.

For two weeks, we stayed on the Phi Phi islands living in fisherman huts on the beach. Each day I went sailing and snorkelling and ate fish fresh from the sea. Just as soon as this lifestyle seemed to take hold, we were reminded of the reality of home as our flight day grew nearer and nearer.

The flight home was very exciting; I was finally going to see my friends and family again! And yes, it was a wonderful home coming! So it seems that after Jamie Boyes trekking in Nepal, Simon Mitchell's Out of Africa experience, and Magnus and Lorraine's great Sinai Bike Ride, I'm not the only one who wants an adventure

Upon reflection, I can't ever believe that I accomplished such an adventure. Just thinking about some of the places I've seen, and people I've met make me realise just how much I've achieved. I think that because so many people (both at home and travelling) supported me along the way, it too made me believe that I could do it, and I'm now back home safely to tell my stories. I recently got the all clear, for a while at least, so maybe all those palpitations were a reaction to the thought of coming home!

What more can I say? It was life changing - do it!

Printed in GUCH News - Issue 28, March 2001

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