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I want to try to keep this short. Spring break was glorious. Unfortunately, I found Brisbane to be incredibly boring. It had a more laid-back vibe than Sydney, but it felt more like “Generic-ville, USA” than Australia’s third largest city (the first being Sydney and second being Melbourne, of course). Brisbane was industrial and commercial, humid, and, at the time, overrun by belligerent uni students in junderwear (“jean-underwear”) and bra tops going to the big music festival, Parklife.

Brisbane River
The charming Brisbane River, flanked by overpasses.

Cairns, on the other hand, was a casual, small beach-town, even with its reputation as the Aussie town with the densest tourist infrastructure.

And so, I now present to you, my Top Five Favorite Moments from SBXtreme:

But first, the players:
I traveled with other Sydney Uni exchange students. I originally planned my trip with Richard, Shrey, and Preya, but soon we became a group of seven with the addition of Silky, Matt, and Mike. We met up with Rebecca, Kate, and Cici in Cairns, and ran into Shelby and Shivaun on our last night there as well.

5. Post-beach chocolate snacking

After an afternoon of relaxing at Trinity Beach (a short bus ride away from Cairns CBD), Rebecca and I stopped at an outdoor coffee shop nearby and made one of the best decisions of my life. We got a toasted chocolate muffin and hot chocolate. Dipping highly encouraged, we ate without speaking, allowing the chocolate treats to punctuate our day with the finality of pure indulgence.

4. Gilligan’s, in all its manifestations

It was a hostel but it was also so much more. Our far-from-humble temporary home in Cairns became an activity in and of itself. The bar downstairs was perhaps the largest and most popular in Cairns, attracting backpackers and locals alike on all nights of the week for KY jelly wrestling, bingo competitions, and ladies’ nights. There was a pool and a gym, both of which I never actually frequented, but it was nice to know they were there. We got free dinner every night. Travel desk with free advice and discounts on bookings. Central location, ensuite bathrooms. But the bestest perk of all was the balcony. I LOVE Gilligan’s.

3. Koala Sanctuary

What can I say? I got to hold a koala and hang out with emus and kangaroos. Who wouldn’t love this place?? Best thing to do in Brisbane by far. I’m convinced George Lucas’s characterization of Yoda was deeply influenced by an incidental run-in with a koala. In the spirit of metaphors, Chewbacca is just your average wombat.

Meeting a kangaroo in Brisbane
An easygoing reputation is shared between Aussie humans AND their animal counterparts.

2. Waterfall roadtrip

Bypassing our initial instinct to purchase an all-inclusive rainforest day trip, we instead rented cars for the ten of us and roadtripped a few hours away to 4 absolutely stunning waterfalls. The first was particularly good for swimming so I somehow convinced myself to swim through the icy water to the rocks behind the falls. I was gulping for air through my chattering teeth, but I determinedly sat perched on the slippery rocks and witnessed the wall of water that pounded and splashed mere feet from my face. Incredible.

Swimming in waterfalls in Cairns
After the swim and subsequent adrenaline rush

1. Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Under the surface in what is seemingly the absolute middle of the ocean, there lies a magical place, teeming with life. The coral structures often rose above me on both sides. It wasn’t about the uniqueness of organisms (even though I did see a pretty neat shark), but what impressed me was the sheer abundance of them. Looking up towards the surface, I was awarded with a view of various schools of fish crisscrossing through the sunbeams, reflecting and refracting light off their silvery bodies.

SCUBA diving in Cairns
My post-dive glow

Richard and I went on a dive boat for the day with a crew of dive instructors and about 35 other travelers looking to snorkel and intro dive. I was one of three certified divers on the boat – meaning it was just me, two other guys, and the dive instructor on our three 45-minute-long dives. The small size of our group afforded us ample individual attention, making the dive that much better. Our divemaster, Taz from a countryside outside Canberra, made me my very own “sailor’s anklet” out of rope that he braided onto my leg. The whole day was an amazing experience. Something I wish I could do again and again. Diving around the Sydney area will have to suffice until I get my second chance.


  1. Gillian Merlyn says:

    So glad you had such a wonderful time – a memory to cherish! Not many people can say they have been diving at the GBR.
    I will never forget cuddling a Koala – they are so cute & such stoners!!

    I can’t say I’m surprised that you found Brisbane boring. I’ve heard it’s considered a tad provincial after the cosmopolitan cities of Melbourne and Sydney. Vaughan says you should try to visit Darwin, it’s very exotic and interesting – he loved it. And I’ve heard good things about Perth. Such a long haul to get anywhere in Oz though!
    TaTa for now

    • mishvo says:

      We met a guy in our hostel in Cairns who had contracted dengue fever from a mosquito bite in Darwin, so I feel my wariness at visiting the Northern Territory is justified. But really, you’re right about the long haul – I don’t know if I have the time or money to make it there 🙁
      I’m trying to book New Zealand for after my exams. But I do wish I could see Byron Bay, The Gold Coast, Whitsundays, Townsville, and Fraser Island as well…
      Still haven’t even been to Melbourne!!
      Sigh, we’ll see, I suppose.

  2. itorganization2017 says:

    Congrats on surviving the Great Barrier Reef! I look forward to hearing all about it when you get back home!

  3. Jennifer Jacobs says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Such a great blog! I had a lot of fun reading about your spring break and must say, I’m completely jealous!! Thanks for sharing your adventures with us! It all sounds amazing!


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