Staten Island Tech math teacher, Ms. Gia Koutsovasilis took a trip to a very interesting destination, over ten thousand miles away to the country/continent of Australia. She shares her epic adventure of getting stranded on an island, exploring one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and meeting Wally the fish.
Australia is very much one of the most unique locations on the planet. More than 80% of Australia’s plants, mammals, reptiles, and frogs are unique to Australia and are found nowhere else. There are more kangaroos in Australia than there are people!
However, Ms. K was quick to note that kangaroos are not hopping around, inhabiting the major cities of the country such as Sydney and Melbourne. “My uncle lives in a residential area, even there you don’t really see them.”, she recounts.
She got her glimpse of the furry friend at the zoo, the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, where they have what’s known as the Kangaroo Walk. “They’re walking around on the path and you can touch them if you want to. They could come up to you if you hold out your hand as if you’re giving them something to eat, if they felt courageous enough. They’re a little scared of us.”
On the ferry ride to the zoo, she got to see the most famous building in Australia, the Sydney Opera House and other cultural sites.
Ms. K got the opportunity to spend both Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Australia. “I arrived there Christmas day and I went to the beach! There were people wearing Santa hats and Santa costumes.” On New Year’s Eve, she was lucky to have a friend who had a penthouse apartment in Melbourne, which provided spectacular views of the fireworks that night. Most people have to camp out early along the Yarra River to get decent views of the fire display.
The sun was fierce partially due to the reversal of seasons (it’s summer there during winter here). “They say the Mediterranean sun is very strong (she’s of Greek heritage and has been to Greece) but I have never experienced a sun as strong as the Australian sun. I couldn’t really believe it.”, she remarks. This is actually largely due to a hole in the ozone layer right above the country! “You really have to protect yourself, put on a lot of sunblock and can’t stay out too long…”
After Sydney, she went to the state of Queensland where one of the seven wonders of the natural world is located, the Great Barrier Reef. It is the largest coral reef system in the world. The reef structure was built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps- making it the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. Ms. K notes that the reef is quite a ways from shore, it requires an hour-long ferry ride to the middle of the ocean to a man-made platform on which all the snorkeling, scuba, and other gear is available for various activities. After snorkeling and scuba-diving, Ms. K got to try out a seabob, “a new contraption similar to a jet ski but when you drive the front downward, it will take you underwater! It’s like riding a dolphin.”, she describes. She says the trip inspired her to get a scuba license.
Under the surface, she spotted a baby shark, schools of hundreds of tiny fish, and one of her favorite parts of the trip, a large fish “with big lips” territorial to the area, known as Wally. “He was so friendly, he would swim up to snorkelers and even allow people to pet him. You wouldn’t expect that from a fish!”
While taking a helicopter back to shore instead of the ferry, the weather took a turn for the worse, and the pilot announced he would be making an emergency landing. After waiting out the storm for some time on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean, the pilot took off a second time only to make another premature landing, this time on an island of Aborigines. The natives were friendly and even offered shelter. The helicopter ride intended to take twenty minutes stretched into 5-6 hours before returning to the mainland.
When I remarked how frightening all of that must have been, she exclaimed that it was actually very exciting. She grew close to the people she was stranded with, even had dinner, and exchanged phone numbers with them. It was less of an inconvenience rather an incredible experience.
When asked what it was like making the trip alone and if she would recommend it, she responded, “My friends couldn’t go so I said I can go by myself or just not go at all. So I decided to go. Best decision I made. I met really cool people, made new friends. Obviously, it’s good to go to safer countries. I felt really safe and really comfortable just kind of touring and going out on my own. As long as you know how to enjoy your own company and meet new people and be adventurous it’s a great thing. The part that scared me more than traveling by myself was the 16-hour flight from L.A. to Sydney. But I spent eight hours sleeping and the other eight grading papers. Having made the trip, Australia doesn’t seem so far anymore.”
Enjoy these gorgeous pictures of her trip!
By: Shivanie Rambaran