By Aryiana Rackham
*Editor’s note: Aryiana Rackham is one of our Global Buffs. This is the first in her series of posts about all things life in Australia. Sound interesting to you? You could be featured next – submit your own post to Michal.Greenberg@colorado.edu for a chance to become a part of the CU Boulder Education Abroad blog! (Pro-tip: posts accompanied by their own high-resolution photos from abroad get mega brownie points.)*
When I talk about the land where everything is poisonous and/or will eat you, including the trees, what’s the first thing you think of? Most would chuckle and say, ‘Australia!’
Until recently, I was guilty of the same assumptions. When I met my best friend a little less than a year ago, he showed me that there was more to Australia than poisonous creatures and intense nights of bar hopping. My heart was sold on it before I ever set foot in it, because he encouraged me to experience his country, just as he had mine. I worked for three months with the Education Abroad office at CU to find an Australian university best fit for my studies while stomping around a new continent, and it is the BEST decision I have ever made. Australia is aussome.
While Australia, and in particular Sydney, is phenomenal, it is also confusing, daunting, and expensive. I’m here to help you navigate that, give you hacks for cheap meals, exciting sites, and the most efficient ways to get around the Land Down Under. My first month has been filled with laughs, missteps, and lots of lessons – and I hope to impart some of those to you, so that it’s smooth sailing when you check it out yourself.
While both the US and Australia have plenty of parks, I feel safe in saying that Australia takes theirs to a whole new level. There are heaps of them in large cities under mandate of the government, so no matter where you are, you’re likely no more than a mile away from a slice of nature in the urban jungle. The most famed one: Hyde Park in central Sydney, where I type this very blog. Towering trees arch across cobbled footpaths, and their vines tickle ivy hedges. Fountains dedicated to the late and great of this country babble across soft grass.
Hyde Park is divided into two parts, the first containing gorgeous fountains that singers and dancers often busk around. The second is more like walking through an outdoor museum. Statues mingle with monuments dedicated to Captain Cook, fallen Anzac Warriors, and honour the Indigenous Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. An entire day could be spent wandering this stretch of a few city blocks, soaking up history and local talent. Just across the road are petite cafes to grab coffee and a fresh macaron. The best part about this day? It is FREE. The park costs nothing, the entertainment costs nothing, and short of buying a three buck cup of coffee, there is no out of pocket cost.
I live in a small, predominately Asian suburb in western Sydney, so I have the good fortune of learning about different Asian cultures and enjoying what they have to offer by simply walking down my street and into the plazas. One crisp Saturday morning, my boyfriend and I decided to walk through the park to check out what it had to offer and we were greeted by a celebration of the Chinese Lunar Festival. Right there, two blocks away from us, a culture was celebrating one of their holidays in the park. When it’s not filled with festivities, that same park offers a pond with a massive weeping willow towering out of it and lorikeets, cockatoos, and seagulls splashing around the pond. A small cafe next to a garden cottage draws in customers with fresh pastries to be enjoyed while admiring another memorial dedicated to Australian history.
These are just two parks in the urban sprawl that is Sydney. Parks are free, abundant, and absolutely beautiful. Some are massive jungles, like Hyde Park, or there are quaint bustling ones, rich with local culture, but regardless: they’re always free. There are also national parks, which I have yet to experience, but as soon as I do, they will make their way into my upcoming blogs.
But – how do you get to all these parks, especially ones like Hyde, if you aren’t living in the city?
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of using Sydney public transport, especially their train system, so here is a quick how-to.
There is something called an OPAL card, and it’s how you pay for public transport in Sydney. You can walk into any kiosk, convenience store, or grocery store, and buy one. The card itself is free, but you load whatever amount of money onto it you see fit. If you are a student, ask your university in Australia to issue you one, and your fares will be half price. I have found that $20 a week is a good place to start. OPAL cards are refillable, so if you’re running low, use a station kiosk, add some cash, and you’re on your way. When you tap on and off the entry of a train station with your card, it always tells you the balance, so luckily, it’s never a guessing game.
Download the TripView Lite app on your phone as well. It gives you all the train, ferry, and bus maps, schedules, and locations in Sydney. Just pick your beginning location, where you want to go, preferred mode of transport, and voila! From there, it’s a smooth, safe ride. I have found this to be the most reliable, inexpensive, and safe way to travel around Sydney.