Gap Year Down Under: CM travels to Melbourne and Western Australia

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When Tourism Australia offered to send College magazine on a 10-day taste of what a gap year could be like in two of Australia’s hottest cities on opposite coasts—Melbourne and Perth—of course we said yes. What could be better than a trip Down Under? But we got more from the experience than just sunburns and a hangover—and if you’re considering a gap year in Australia with their new work and holiday visa, we think the same will go for you.

Inside Melbourne

The group and I explored Melbs’ inviting and colorful downtown starting with Federation Square, a popular meeting spot with art galleries and restaurants. For a panoramic view of the city we shot up 88 flights in the Eureka Skydeck, and had a beer at the top to celebrate. A clear viewing box, which hung off the edge of the skyscraper completely revealed the city beneath our feet: an uncluttered landscape with patches of green and the Yarra river flowing through its center. The city looked peaceful and I could sense its calmer pace compared to most American cities.

Everything is “no worries mate,” and the Australians we met, when we did manage to get lost, were friendly. At night, it was refreshing to see restaurants that weren’t chain after chain. One funky restaurant, Cookie, encompassed Melbourne’s artsy and cosmopolitan style with its Thai- and Italian-fused tapas.

Walkabouts, Surfing and Helicopters

Venturing outside the city, we joined the Echidna Walkabout guide to see kangaroos, emus and koalas in their natural habitat. Our guide had us crouch down and move quietly through the bush. We probably looked ridiculous, but we took it seriously and it was pretty thrilling to spot a kangaroo. This wasn’t an experience a zoo could replicate.

For a classic Aussie adventure, we hit the beach with a Go Ride a Wave surf instructor in Torquay, Victoria’s surfing capital. Learning how to surf isn’t as difficult as one might think…not wiping out is a different story. Taking the thrill factor to new heights, we caught a helicopter ride over the Twelve Apostles, stunning massive rock formations in the water created by erosion of the limestone cliffs. The pilot removed the helicopter doors so we could videotape (check out our video at collegemagazine.com).

Biking: The New Hangover Cure?

That night we went out on Acland Street, known for its restaurants, cafes and famous cake shops. We barhopped starting with The Espy, a trendy live music venue. The bar scene isn’t that much different from America but you might say the Aussies party with a little more fashion, a little more dancing and a lot more beer. We drank way too many Tooheys, and stayed out until four.

Less than five hours later we were up and ready for a four-hour excursion with Real Melbourne Bike Tours. Could biking be the new hangover cure? We biked to the football stadium, a brewery and then to the Queen Victoria Market where we sampled different local cheeses and smoked salmon. Covering so much ground left me with a better sense of life in Melbourne. I could see that the Aussies around us placed more emphasis on the joys of dining and nature, really taking it all in, something that’s easy to forget in school with jam-packed schedules.

Tastes of Western Australia

For a little less cosmopolitan and a little more community, Perth in Western Australia (WA), is another option for a gap year home base. After the four-hour flight from Melbourne our first stop was Cottesloe Beach. We relaxed in the sand with fish 'n’ chips, authentic Australian beach food—fresh, fried and awesome.

After, we headed to the city of Fremantle, where music plays in grassy open spaces and the feeling is good. The most hopping spot was Little Creatures Brewery. Their prized drink is the Pipsqueak cider, which we didn’t realize until the guy sitting next to us flashed us his pair of “Pipsqueak” undies.

Expanding our palate, we set off to Swan Valley for tastings of every kind—beer, wine, chocolate and coffee. Eating fresh, local foods and wines plays a major role in Aussie dining. Out of nowhere at the coffee tasting we met a woman carrying a pouch with an orphaned baby kangaroo that she let us hold. This moment fulfilled another reason why we leave our comfort zone and experience life in a different country. Fully surrendering to the experience of being abroad meant being part of these surreal surprises.

Sandboarding and Paradise

For some action in WA, we went on the Australian Pinnacle Tours through the Pinnacles Desert. Unfortunately the tour was painfully boring (think long bus ride plus uninteresting guide) until we got to the part where our guide took out sand boards for us to ride. The endless sand dunes with the ocean in the background made me realize how much beauty exists in the world that I just haven’t seen. I loved running down the mountains of sand; I felt free.

To experience the holiday side of WA, we took a day trip to Rottnest Island, known as a paradise destination. Our plan was to bike around the island and snorkel near the reefs, but we got stuck with pretty cold and rainy weather. We did at least get to see their cute, little native marsupials called quokkas.

Goodbye, Perth

On our last night, we celebrated at an intimate Spanish restaurant, Duende, and partied at the very trendy Niche bar, dancing in their garden courtyard by the DJ. I didn’t want that night to end knowing I would be leaving Australia the next morning.

I knew I would take it all with me though. These moments riding in the helicopter, holding a baby kangaroo, boarding down sand dunes were my taste of what a gap year could mean—adventure, surprise and freedom.

 

GAP YEAR 101

What is Australia’s Work and Holiday Visa?
American students and recent grads ages 18-30 can work and travel in Australia for up to 12 months. For more information, go to Australia.com/workandplay.

Are there pre-packaged trips?

Tourism Australia, STA Travel and V Australia join forces to offer different work and travel packages, which include airfare, initial accommodations, orientation, job leads and travel adventures.

How much does the flight cost?

V Australia offers roundtrip airfare from LAX to Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane starting at $735*.

Where can I stay when I travel?

YHA: The Great Ocean Road YHA in Lorne has tree house-like rooms, high up on the hill with large windows and the coziness of a hostel. Check out the awesome restaurant and bar nearby, Ba Ba Lu, where the Mojitos are strong and the breakfast is unbeatable. They have dozens of YHAs in Australia including downtown Perth.
Base: The Base Backpackers Melbourne hostel has it all: Internet lounge, pool table, bar, luxury sanctuary floor for girls only, movie room and more. With happy hours, BBQs and live music, Base is known for their hot backpacker parties.
 

TOP 5 WAYS TO CONVINCE YOUR PARENTS ABOUT AUSTRALIA

1. “Hello — I need internship experience and I might as well get it in an economy that’s hiring.” Australia offers students a work and holiday visa, where you can gain job experience and finance your adventures in this beautiful country. Programs like STA Travel help students with their living and job search.

2. “Resume builder 101.” Employers value study abroad experiences and it should be added to your resume.

3. “I went on a walkabout on campus and all I spotted was a squirrel.” Traveling in Australia will open your world not only to unique wildlife but also a different culture.

4. “How can I be independent if we’re living in the same country?” Studying abroad is known for helping students gain more confidence and independence.

5. “If I don’t do this now, I’ll be too comfy to leave my comfort zone.” Good luck trying to find an employer after college that is down with you traveling abroad for a year.
                   

As College Magazine's Publisher, Amanda is passionate about creating the ultimate guide to college. She spends her free time soaking in the sun at Coronado dog beach or rocking her air guitar at The Casbah.

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