Down Under: Adventuring in new, dangerous locations
Studying abroad involves getting out of your comfort zone.
Within three weeks of being in Australia, I was taken to an island for the weekend where I snorkeled in the water with sharks, slept in a tent surrounded by huge hairy spiders, washed my dishes in a sink with centipedes, and sunbathed on a beach next to snakes.
If someone had told me all of this ahead of time, I would have needed to expand my idea of a reasonable comfort zone into one that would accommodate some of these hazards.
The best thing about going to a new place is not knowing what you’re getting into.
They never advertise the scary things. It becomes a lesson in survival. As a matter of fact, I could picture “The Hunger Games” taking place here.
The island is called Moreton Island.
Attractions include snorkeling among shipwrecks, sand boarding down the largest sand dunes in the world, trekking to the oldest lighthouse in Queensland, swimming in the Blue Lagoon, which is a naturally forming freshwater lake, and relaxing on beaches with warm turquoise waters and pristine white sand.
I went with about a dozen students on a two-day guided tour with a man who looked like Nigel Thornberry and who drove us around in a great big truck with four-wheel drive. This vehicle was massive.
Little did I know that within a couple of hours, we would be flooring it over sandy terrain, across beaches, and into the wilderness.
This was the wildest automobile ride on which I have ever been.
My friends and I thought the back row looked cozy enough, but as soon as we got onto the island, we immediately regretted our decision. The tour guide drove so fast over sand mounds and boulders that we literally flew out of our seats a couple times, not to mention the air conditioner leaked buckets of water onto our heads during these airborne moments.
The guide named his truck Tina, and she was pretty old because we would get stuck going up hills every now and then and he would plead with it by name to get us to our destinations.
Snorkeling through the remains of the 1926 shipwrecks was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Despite the fact there were small sharks, venomous fish, and the deadly Portuguese man-of-war lurking in the waters, I was able to forget these minor terrors as soon as I feasted my eyes on some of the most beautiful tropical fish I’ve ever seen.
Snorkeling is an experience you’ll never forget. Breathing underwater is not a human reaction, and it’s normal to feel uncomfortable at first.
Once you get the hang of it and get over the fact that your breathing sounds like a muffled Darth Vader, it becomes something you could spend hours doing.
I can’t wait to do again.
The next activity on the agenda was to sand board down the island’s sand dunes.
Moreton Island has some of the highest sand dunes in the world, comparable to the second highest in Iran. Once we were out in the desert, I actually felt like I was in the Middle East. The sights were so picturesque they looked like scenes straight out of “The Mummy.”
Sand boarding is simply sledding down sand dunes on boards. You can either “sled” or “surf.” The risk preference is all yours. I opted to “sled,” and that was thrilling enough for me.
We spent the night in tents at a campsite that was as rough as it gets.
There was no indoor plumbing, just an outhouse to do your business and a couple of cold water showers.
I grew up camping with my family, and this was not camping. This was wilderness survival 101.
We had to deal with the ugliest spiders I’ve ever seen in my life, centipedes, and even a couple of snakes.
Fortunately, a liquor store run was included in the night’s festivities and we all sat around the campfire until we absolutely had to go to bed.
We survived the night, and the next day we headed to Mount Tempest, the highest sandhill in the world, Cape Moreton Light, the oldest lighthouse in Queensland, and the Blue Lagoon.
The hike up to Mount Tempest was an incredible workout to say the least, and the view from the top is well worth “The Biggest Loser” episode of an experience.
Cape Moreton Lighthouse is another breathtaking spot where you can see the whole island.
The Blue Lagoon was blue before the 2011 Queensland floods, but is now brown. Nevertheless, the water was refreshing after a hot day of hiking.
After the longest, most exciting, terrifying and exhausting weekend of my life, we packed up camp, boarded Tina the tour truck and headed back home.
I wonder what’s in store for next weekend.