Cast your eyes over an ordinary world map and you’ll find Australia tucked away in the bottom righthand corner. It doesn’t appear too grand or imposing – yes, it’s a significant land mass, but nothing in the shadow of Russia or the United States, right? Wrong.
Believe it or not, Australia is similar in size to the USA and could comfortably fit the whole of Europe inside it. This map distortion is caused by transferring the spherical shape of the Earth to a flat sheet of paper, and that often has a huge influence on how we observe certain countries or regions. My perceptions of Australia were skewed, and I completely overlooked the country’s enormity. Until I landed in Brisbane…
Originally from England, I moved to Brisbane to embark on a year studying at Queensland University. Living in Queensland (also aptly nicknamed the Sunshine State) instantly changed my ideas of Australia, due to its many differing climates. Depending on your distance from the Tropic of Capricorn, Queensland’s landscape can vary massively. From the humid, tropical Daintree Rainforest in the north, to the arid, red desert of the Outback, or the cool, mountainous hinterlands of the south. Most visitors who travel away from the tourist hotspots of Sydney and Melbourne are astonished by the vastness of Australia and its contrasting environments.
For me, the realisation of scale first hit whilst driving along Seventy-Five Mile Beach on Fraser Island, located off the south-eastern coast of Queensland. As the name suggests this pristine, uninterrupted stretch of sand is a stunningly long beach highway where all the usual road rules apply.
As we sped along, I was amazed by Fraser Island’s very existence, an island created purely by nature’s forces of wind, waves and ocean currents. We stopped to bask in the cheerfully named Champagne Pools, a natural jacuzzi formed by volcanic rocks. And once again, I was in complete awe of Australia’s physical landscape.
Looking out over the horizon of the Coral Sea, I attempted to comprehend the island’s immense size and considered the tiny place each of us occupies in such a huge world. I was humbled into feeling small – in a good way. It was atmospheric, mesmerising and ominous all at the same time.
Continuing our drive on Fraser Island, we steered inland to Lake McKenzie, an impossibly crystal-clear lake with pure white silica sand. The sand acts as a filter, giving the water its incredible clarity and feels beautifully soft to walk on. You can even clean your teeth with it! If you want to be utterly stunned, Lake McKenzie is a definite must. Fraser Island also boasts impressive sand dunes, historic shipwrecks and a healthy population of iconic Australian dingoes.
Reflections in water
Returning to the mainland, I headed north towards Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands and the spectacular Daintree Rainforest. Exploring these wet, tropical regions you’ll discover dense, ancient trees and beautiful, roaring waterfalls. After a huge downpour, the sheer power of the water tumbling over waterfalls like Millaa Millaa Falls is deafening – it has to be seen (and heard) to be believed. Standing at the base of Millaa Millaa looking up at the cascading water, I took a moment to reflect, soothing my thoughts and quietening my mind. It seems the Australian landscape is the perfect place to find a state of bliss and peace.
Away from the cities, the Australian night sky is a vast cloak of black. Finding a spot with no light pollution is extremely special. Gazing up, I saw the glittering of millions of stars that prompted me to let go of my petty troubles and ask bigger, more important questions. Grasping the magnitude of our universe in this way gave me a new appreciation of the things that really matter – my friends and family, work, future and freedom. In this sense, astronomy can help us realign our perspective and broaden our imagination.
Spending time in rural Queensland gave me a sense of detachment and the experience of taking life at a slower pace. In modern society, we can easily get lost in our chaotic and insular lives. Often, we lose our modesty and are led to believe our everyday problems are catastrophes. We get caught up in our own micro-spheres and subconsciously exaggerate our individual importance.
Travelling Australia caused a shift in my outlook and evoked the philosopher in me. Triggering a realisation that the world will go on very much the same, with or without us. It taught me to value the ground we tread and that we are minuscule and dispensable in the grander scheme of things. Whether it’s strolling along miles of endless beach or getting lost in tropical rainforests, Australia’s enormity taught me how small we really are.
Lose yourself in the natural beauty and overwhelming tranquillity of Australia on an Intrepid trip down under.