Exploring Australia as a Study Abroad student

Exchange students on the Study Abroad programme at Leeds Beckett are exposed to the opportunity to see places far beyond your normal lecture theatre. Between classes and during holidays it is possible to explore your chosen country and experience its beauty and culture. As an exchange student in Sydney I did just this last weekend with three uni friends I took the road trip of a lifetime along The Great Ocean Road of Australia.

We had very little planned, just the knowledge of one or two things we wanted to see along the way. This is my favourite way to travel because you have the freedom and time to linger and enjoy what is right in front of you. You arrive at places with no expectations; you arrive at places you didn’t know existed and are always wonderfully surprised. It means you allow your feelings and your energy to dictate where you go. It means one conversation can change your whole trip.

The Great Ocean Road is almost self-explanatory. It is a route that runs from Melbourne, Victoria along the South Coast of Australia all the way to Warrnambool. In total it takes about 3-4 days to drive.

Map of south Victoria, Australia

Firstly the four of us: fellow Beckett explorer Benjy and two Canadians, Paulina and Emad, had to get to Melbourne, which is either a 10 hour drive or a 1 ½ hr flight. We took a flight with a rucksack and a guilty eco conscious on our back. Inside we’d packed one tent, one sleeping bag, a torch and film camera between us. We hired a car, filled the boot with our inadequate equipment, stopped at Aldi for ingredients for salsa wraps, which we planned to eat for 4 days, and set off with music blaring through the speaker.

View from moving car

Our first stop after 3 hours, brought us to Torquay just as the sun was setting. We pulled up to the beach, danced around in the sea, enjoyed the dying light and ate the first of our wraps on a picnic bench, with the sound of the ocean serenading us. After a bit of searching on ‘CamperMate’, (an absolutely necessary hiking, camping app for Australia and New Zealand) we found a nearby campsite, set up in the dark and barely slept. Two of us were in the tent, and the other two slept in the car. The tent was freezing with just one sleeping bag between the two of us but at least we could lie flat. I do not know how the others faired crouched up on the seats; I’d rather be cold.

We set off before light the next morning to try and catch the sunrise over the sea. It was pretty cloudy so it wasn’t the most spectacular of skies but as we lay on our little picnic blanket on the beach there was nowhere else I’d have rather been.

Couple lay on Australian beach at sunset

We stopped at Lorne, a cute little village on the road, for coffee and breakfast before driving on to Apollo Bay. This was a beautiful stretch of sand where we spent the morning swimming, playing Frisbee, writing, reading and catching up on a little of the sleep we missed the night before. We browsed the sweet little market in the town square, admiring the handicrafts of the jewellery makers, and soap sellers, the colours at cloth makers and resisting the tempting smell of the bakers.

Paulina drove us on along the beautiful coast road to Otway, winding along the cliff edge watching the ocean overwhelm the horizon beside us. Otway is the second most southern point of Australia and its lighthouse sits on shipwreck coast, suggesting it either didn’t do its job or is one of the most needed lighthouses out there. When we got there in the sea mist it was easy to see the importance of this striking white tower. The cloudy views meant we didn’t stay long and were soon on our way to Port Campbell for fish and chips. We back tracked to watch the sunset over 12 Apostles – a collection of fallen and eroded cliffs engulfed in the sea. Another night camping, that was no warmer than the last, meant we met another traveller who recommended we visit the Grampian Mountains 2 hours north of where we were.

Path up to a white lighthouse

So the next morning we drove inland, off The Great Ocean Road, along wide, open stretches of land towards the mountains. We set up camp surrounded by kangaroos, picked a trail and hiked along a river towards a summit. We got lost following the river too far and the two city boys provided quality entertainment as we climbed across the rocks. But then Emad surprised us all by pretty much running up the mountains as soon as we found the path.

View over a mountain range

The views from the top of the mountain were among the best I’ve seen in Australia. We could see miles and miles into the distance beyond the rolling plains dotted with clusters of towns to where the blue misty horizon merged with the clear sky. Directly below us thick eucalyptus forests circled the lake in the valley and climbed the slopes, surrounding us on all sides. Behind us other mountains rose up and the steep red rock was an impressive backdrop. It was an incredible view, I didn’t want to hike down.

Girl standing on a large boulde with mountain range in the background

We treated ourselves to a delicious meal at an Indian restaurant that evening and after a little stargazing we snuggled into our tent (or for the other two back into the car) for the night. That third night was best sleep off the trip probably because we were all so exhausted! We woke to the sun streaming through the trees before packing up and setting off back to Melbourne, music blaring through our trusty speaker.

This road trip was one of the highlights of my time abroad: I became close friends with three amazing people and saw the beautiful coast of Australia, all between studies! Why not take the opportunity and go on an exchange yourself? It might be one of the best things you do…

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