While it's not the cultural adventure that Europe or Asia is and in so many ways is Bizarro America, I'd still love to share why Australia is a special place in so many special ways.
Within a week upon arrival, an Australian friend (mate?) turned to me and said "Do you want to play kangaroo golf?"
"What is that?" I asked.
"Well, basically it's just golfing on a golf course, but kangaroos are hopping around, wild". UMM... YES! I forgot to cash her in on this incredible offer, but I do need to speak on behalf of the rumors that Australia is basically just a giant beach with kangaroos hopping around. It's totally true.
Truth be told, I never once spotted a wildly roaming kangaroo, but I did go to every freaking zoo that country possessed. The Perth Zoo. The Steve Irwin Zoo (aka "Australia Zoo"). Some animal sanctuary. The incredible and amazing TARONGA ZOO, which also happens to boast my favorite view of Sydney.
I love that Australian zoos allow you to get up-close-and-personal. I fed giraffes and elephants, CUDDLED koalas >_< (I'm like a giddy Japanese schoolgirl with this memory), and chased around wombats and wallabies until my heart exploded.
The insane amount of native cuteness gets two thumbs up.
One fine day, my non-Aussie friends and I hopped a ferry to Rottnest Island ("Rat's Nest" if you want to translate it from Dutch...). "Rott-O" is known for great biking and being the home to quokkas.
Gosh, quokkas are cute. They're little rodents with teddy bear faces and unfortunate rattails, and Australians basically regard them with the same disdain I reserve for squirrels, but, you KNOW. They only exist in this one place on earth. It's not like I tried to pet a shark or something.
Let's clear the air. My childhood was filled with trips to the Jersey Shore. That's right. You've seen it on MTV? And until my eyes laid sight on the beaches of San Diego just six years ago, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around other people's obsessions with the beach.
Oh yes, that floating garbage dump with the sand attached? You like it?
But LOOOOOORDY, even the West Coast of the US has nothing on the West Coast of Oz. (But neither does the rest of Australia, sorry mates).
The first trip I made to Cottesloe Beach, I was confused why all the swimmers were avoiding the same part of the ocean. "Oh, they're avoiding the kelp," I was told by the Aussie accompanying me.
"But how do they know there is kelp?"
Well, the reason is simple. You can see it. The ocean is clearer than a swimming pool and no matter how many times I walked out into it, the amazement that I could SEE my TOES never wore off.
Not only is the water crystal clear, it's also perfectly warmed by the blazing sun. The sand is soft and white and the surf is something I actually allowed myself to get swept up into. It's the only body of water on earth I find preferable to dry land.
* AND MORE *
Australia has so many things that I can't find elsewhere in the world. They have, without any doubt, the best-tasting pineapple on earth. How? How is this pineapple so good? I don't even know that I like pineapple in the US. And, the night sky is GORGEOUS. It's not just happenstance they've printed the Southern Cross on their flag, the sky is beautiful. Is it the depleted ozone that transforms the watered-down blues of the Northern Hemisphere into the heavy, so-close-you-can-touch-it blanket of velvet overhead in the South? I have no clue, but there is not a moment while I've been north of the equator that the sky has blown my mind the way it does compared to the hours I'd spend gaping at it.
Of course, the cities are amazing. I had the most amazing time gallavanting through Sydney for 12 days, climbing the Harbour Bridge, taking the ferry around and snapping photos. And Melbourne, with it's eclectic architecture and back alleys and satisfying restaurants. (Australia does fail the US on the cuisine front, but the US probably fails France and Italy, so no judgements!). And Perth, the edge of the earth, the home that found me when I needed a soft place to land.
Happy Australia (Straya) Day, mateys! Get pissed and have a heaps good time! (Oh yes, my last little shoutout is to your butchery of the English language. No worries, I speak your language.... so smile, and hand me a Vegemite sandwich?)