Australia is rich in culture, nature, adventure, food, and wine. We tapped into the experiences of Kirsten Alana, a New York-based AFAR Ambassador who has traveled extensively and shares her experiences and photography on her blog, Aviators and a Camera.
Here, she shares the moments when she realized There’s Nothing Like Australia.
What was your first impression of Australia? My point-of-arrival into Australia was Sydney, and what I noticed immediately was the multiculturalism of the city. The diversity of residents was more apparent than I expected and that made me even more excited.
Was there an experience that gave you insight into Australian culture? There are different cultures in Australia so I really had two defining moments. The first was when I visited Tower Hill and talked with the ranger about Aboriginal culture and history. The second was when I spent time in Western Australia at Cottesloe, Rottnest Island, and even down in Margaret River. There, surfing and spending time by the water came up in conversation with every local in every setting. It was so apparent how very important being outdoors is to Australians.
What was your favorite meal in Australia? I had heard about Cumulus, Inc. so many times that I was sure there was no way it would live up to the hype. Instead, it made me wonder why people had not been even more vehemently in favor of the food and the experience. Head Chef Andrew McConnell and his team manage to take simple ingredients and elevate them to the kind of fine dining level that usually involves things you can’t pronounce or recognize on the plate. I wasn’t a huge fan of cauliflower before, but the curry cauliflower is something I still remember as if I tasted it yesterday.
Australia is known for its coffee culture. Can you share a bit about your experience? I’m a coffee snob. My favorite thing about the coffee culture was the discovery of an entire group of people that is as particular as I am. I loved being able to order a flat white—the most ideal combination of milk, foam, and coffee—anywhere I went without being looked at strangely. I loved how inviting every café was, particularly Captains of Industry (my favorite).
What was the most adventurous thing you did in Australia? Riding in a hot air balloon over Melbourne was quite an adventure, not in terms of danger or adrenaline rush, but for how unique the experience was and how singularly different it was from anything else I’ve ever done. I imagine it’s the closest you can get to flying without being a bird. At least, that’s how it felt to me.
If you had just one day on the Great Ocean Road, how would you spend it? I experienced the Great Ocean Road in a number of ways: I walked it, I drove it, and I did a helicopter tour—that’s when you can really appreciate the scope, especially the 12 Apostles. But if I had just one day, I’d hike the trail that runs between the ocean and the road, appropriately called, the Great Ocean Trail. It’s a magnificent hike and one of the best I’ve done in any country I’ve visited.
Was there a point during your visit to Australia when you felt really connected to nature? When I was walking through Tower Hill, we saw koalas in the trees, walked past emus, and heard other birds we couldn’t see hidden high above our heads. I could hear the breeze, and the sky felt bluer that day than on any other in Victoria. I don’t know why it was different there; maybe it has something to do with Aboriginal culture. It’s a special place.
How are the people the same and/or different from people in the United States? The first thing that comes to mind is that Aussies really seem to understand how important balance is to life. They work hard but they play hard, too. They really know how to relax and take time to enjoy the great outdoors. I live in New York City, and relaxing appears to be the last thing on anyone’s mind here. Maybe that’s why I noticed that difference so acutely.
Melbourne or Sydney? Melbourne is accessible and pleasantly compact to me, whereas Sydney is a huge city—and a little more difficult to get to know in a shorter period of time. Though I loved both, I felt an immediate connection to Melbourne: the Yarra River, the laneways, the residents, the restaurants, and the abundance of things to see and photograph. But my favorite hotel in Australia is in Sydney. In fact, the QT Hotel is among my favorite places I’ve stayed anywhere in the world.
What can you tell us about your experience of Melbourne’s thriving art scene?There’s a lot going on, from vibrant street art to pop-up galleries; shows, tours, and outdoor performance art; even yarn-bombed trees in the public parks. It’s difficult to go anywhere and not see some kind of art. It’s a very pervasive and positive part of daily life. My favorite experiences were the street-art tour with Adrian Doyle and Michael Fikaris and the sculpture in Federation Square by Patrick Dougherty.
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