Tag Archives: Australia

Byron Bay: One of the best diving sites in Australia

22 Nov

The only way to enter the open water from Byron Bay is by launching off the beach. It makes for peaceful waterways with few fisherman and lots of big fish.

The highlight of diving at Julian Rocks in Byron Bay is getting up close to these guys: grey nurse sharks.

Click the image for more of Shea's photos of diving at Julian Rocks.

Click the image for more of Shea's photos of diving at Julian Rocks.

Click the image for more of Shea's photos of diving at Julian Rocks.

Read about my encounter with a whale while diving at Byron Bay.

Advertisements

theBubbleBuster recommends: The Third Wave book

15 Nov

The Third Wave book motivated me to volunteer again. Click the image to read more about the book.

Alison Thompson was living in New York City when the Boxing Day Tsunami devastated Asia. Instead of watching developments on television or donating small sums of money to assist with aid efforts like many of us did back in 2004, Alison packed her possessions and flew to Sri Lanka to help in any way she could.

The Third Wave tells the story of an Australian volunteer who intended to work for two weeks and ended up dedicating the rest of her life to helping others. Despite the physical and emotional challenges that Alison outlined throughout her story, it’s easy to understand why she has committed to working in development for the long term. The Third Wave demonstrates the real power of individual efforts in generating positive change.

I strongly recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about disaster recovery or meaningful volunteering abroad, in addition to those people simply seeking inspiration again like myself.

By Marissa Toohey

City with abseiling right at its doorstep

1 Nov

How many cities offer outdoor rock climbing and abseiling within walking distance? I recently popped out of home for just a couple of hours during a Sunday evening for a session of sunset abseiling with exquisite views of Brisbane city. How cool is that?!

Shea takes his first steps over the edge of the cliff at Kangaroo Point.

I went abseiling down a cliff at Kangaroo Point, along Brisbane River.

I'm enjoying abseiling for the very first time and just minutes from my apartment in Brisbane city.

We enjoyed watching the sun lower behind the city and finished abseiling right on dark.

The first steps were the scariest but, after leaning over the edge, I quickly trusted the ropes. Bunny hopping down the wall was hilarious and I even started racing to get to the bottom before others. I’m now looking forward to another Sunday session of abseiling and I’ve set my sights on the Glasshouse Mountains for next time, which are only around an hour north of Brisbane.

Check out Adventures Around Brisbane for details on abseiling at Kangaroo Point and bust your bubble with abseiling too!

By Marissa Toohey

Walking the Bridge to Brisbane

12 Sep

Me and my team after the Bridge to Brisbane race.

The Bridge to Brisbane race was a simple way to enjoy a sunny day and contributed to a good cause. Every entry helped to raise funds for Legacy Queensland which is an organisation that cares for the spouses and dependants of Australian veterans through pension advocacy, safety and security, financial security and social and medical care.

There are a number of other fitness and fundraising events held across Australia throughout the year, including the long running Cancer Council Relay for Life at several locations, the extreme Simpson Desert Multimarathon and, one of my favourite ideas, the Pub2Pub Charity Fun Run and Walk which is an annual Sydney event that starts at Dee Why Surf Club and ends at The Newport Arms Hotel.

By Marissa Toohey

For the love of diving

6 Sep

Despite popular belief, scuba diving is not generally about getting a rush of adrenalin. It’s about the feeling of weightlessness, the soothing rhythm of blowing bubbles, the stunning topography and fascinating interactions with underwater creatures. If you don’t believe me, just see for yourself …

This is the Great Barrier Reef which has over 1,500 species of fish.

I never get tired of diving with green sea turtles.

During a certain time of the year, you can dive with manta rays at North Stradbroke Island in Queensland.

If you study underwater landscapes closely, you find creatures that blend in with their surroundings, like this spotted porcupine fish.

Most people are afraid of grey nurse sharks but the species is not life-threatening to humans. They move slow and steady and often swim up nice and close.

You can now keep up to date with my diving expeditions around Australia and overseas through my partner’s website. Shea goes diving almost every single week so the website will be updated regularly. In addition, he recently bought an impressive new underwater photography kit so it’s about to get even better!

By Marissa Toohey

From a long journey to a single piece of paper

30 Aug

During the weekend I caught up with several members of my “Vietnam family” in Melbourne to reminisce and provide feedback to the organisers of our overseas assignments. As a reflection exercise, the event organisers asked us to illustrate significant moments throughout our time abroad.

An illustration of significant challenges and milestones during my assignment in Vietnam

I’m no Monet, so let me break it down for you: it was a bloody big year! It started like a party (represented by a karaoke microphone at the top of the drawing that looks like an ice cream) and there was plenty of time on the toilet as a result of my bad reaction to seafood and, well, stress from culture shock. I threw in a couple of computers to demonstrate that I actually worked when I wasn’t socialising or travelling. Really, I did.

In contrast, the bottom half of my drawing only signals a few of the challenges and questions I experienced as I removed the rose-coloured glasses and my understanding of Vietnam deepened. Flooding, poverty, censorship and language frustrations were just a few of the issues that caused me to question my position and future plans.

The problem was, I needed a larger piece of paper than I planned …

Hobbies to [reverse culture] shock you – a post for my dear expat friends

29 Jul

HOBBIES TO [REVERSE CULTURE] SHOCK YOU  How many hobbies does it take for a blonde to get over reverse culture shock? Six: golf, dressmaking, scuba diving, jogging, bushwalking and even burlesque dancing.

It might sound like a joke but it’s my life.

I’ve been back in the “western world” for almost half as long as I was gone and I’ve only just made it through all the typical phases of reverse culture shock:

  • the honeymoon period when I fell in love with all the little things I’d missed;
  • the shock phase which consisted of panic attacks over (what then seemed like) absurd retail prices and feeling like I didn’t belong; and
  • finally the adaptation phase as I recognised good opportunities, accepted benefits of the Aussie lifestyle and became used to and even excited about the idea of sticking around Brisbane for a while longer.

I look over Brisbane city from Mt Coot-tha. Bushwalking has become a hobby and coping mechanism.

The only way I really kicked reverse culture shock, though, was by getting to know my long term enemies: routine and commitment. I didn’t go crazy and sign up for a two-year phone contract or anything silly like that – I said “commitment”, not “long-term commitment”. It was new hobbies that gave me regular activities to look forward to in the short term and connected me with the Brisbane community.

Settling back into Australia was more difficult than I expected and much harder than adjusting to Vietnam. I’ve continued missing the affordable travel and daily social events of my Vietnamese lifestyle but, of course, that’s only natural. Now I’m focused on enjoying the “sunshine state” with its beautiful national parks, beaches, dancing venues and welcoming new friends.

I quite like Brisbane and it could even turn into love. But I’m taking it slow – just one hobby at a time.

By Marissa Toohey

This post is dedicated to my dearest friends from Vietnam, many whom are now returning to Australia as well. I hope you all cherish the exciting moments when you realise you can drink tap water again and walk down a footpath without getting abused by a motorbike driver. I equally encourage you to allow yourselves to mourn the loss of your Vietnamese lifestyles because we had a f*cking good time that would be hard to top. Wishing you all the best in your returns, reunions with family and friends, your coping mechanisms, new hobbies and future adventures. I genuinely hope we all remain great friends for many years to come.

I’m no Aussie do-gooder

29 Apr

Australia is just full of do-gooders, and I never realised until I moved back from Vietnam.

There are rules for driving etiquette here, eating a meal properly, drinking, standing on an escalator, walking down the street, and every single person complies with these rules and leers at me when I step out of line. I’m constantly scolded for walking across intersections while pedestrian lights remain red – an action that became not only habit but an absolutely essential skill to get around in Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a hard one to crack now and I just refuse to wait when there are no cars in sight.

Worst of all, though, I’m not allowed to drink alcohol on the street! I’m not even able to have a drink with dinner on a weeknight without being labelled an alcoholic while, in Vietnam, I could get away with three or four beers per night without judgement. I could drink cheap beer at home, take one for the road and then carry the same opened can into the club with me, while sporting thongs and a slur that would surely get me refused service at a bar in Australia. It was awesome.

It’s the unspoken social rules I’ve discovered in Australia which have surprised me though. I’ve spent the past month greeting old friends and family with enthusiastic kisses on the cheek which have been returned with scrunched up noses, hugs with about half a metre of distance between us, and a tap on the back with the strength and passion of a ragdoll. It seems my European expatriate friends in Vietnam got me in the habit of lining up double-barrelled smooches that are way too close for comfort for my Aussie mates. Apparently a hand shake is acceptable and a hug if I really must.

I’ve been back for a month now and, still, I sometimes feel like a culture-shocked immigrant who’s fresh off the boat. Imagine the troubles refugees have settling in.

By Marissa Toohey

Gut instincts about settling back in

28 Mar

The plane pulls into the terminal and I see a mob of red and white kangaroos – the symbol of Australia’s greatest airline and an icon of the hours I used to spend travelling as a corporate employee. It’s been ten months since I earned points for my silver Qantas frequent flyer account but it feels much longer, especially when I think about all I’ve done.

In all-Australian fashion, dogs are sniffing out the crowds – beautiful pedigrees – and laid-back officials deal instructions to visitors trying to make sense of the system. “Go ahead mate”, “You’re gonna have ta get a move on if ya wanna be out by this arvo”. I laugh because I’ve learnt how difficult it can be for others to decipher Aussie slang.

The electronic chip in my passport enables me to skip queues at immigration and I can’t contain my excitement when customs officials check the items I’ve declared. “I’m so happy to be home,” I tell the woman who examines my chopsticks and other wooden items. “Welcome,” she smiles and lets me through the gates without scanning my belongings.

Brisbane is just as I left it, except for areas damaged by the floods, including the Southbank beach pictured (photographed the week before I moved to Vietnam).

I expected everything to feel backwards – driving on the other side of the road, eating with a knife and fork, cooking dinner at home, even spending every hour with my partner instead of my friends – but, instead, everything feels just as it should. It’s familiar because it’s the same as I left it.

It’s only when I walk around the area that I get an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. It takes up to one whole minute for a car to pass me in the city. It’s so quiet I wonder if something horrible has happened to Brisbane! There are no motorbikes or obstacles on the footpaths, no people calling out “hello” or trying to sell me something. I often run across intersections when the signal remains red because I can’t stand to wait while there are no cars in sight like everybody else. “You think this is traffic,” I think, “You should see Ho Chi Minh.”

To celebrate my journey home, my partner shouts me a great big feast for dinner at The Smoke BBQ restaurant in New Farm. My vegetarian Vietnamese diet is forgotten as I devour half a rack of smoky beef ribs, spicy chicken wings and french fries. It tastes even better than I remember.

As I finally lay to sleep in the most comfortable bed in the world, my mind shifts back to Ho Chi Minh where my closest friends remain. My first day in Brisbane has proven that it won’t take long to settle back into Australia and my life in Vietnam will soon feel like a distant dream. It brings a tear to my eye and I fight back more when … uh oh … like a sledge hammer to the gut, I get a painful warning that it really is going to take me, and my body, a while to get used to Australia again.

By Marissa Toohey

It’s time to go home

25 Mar

I always expected my backpack to send me home early, that’s why I invested in one of the most comfortable bags on the market. I didn’t want to throw a tantrum after months of struggling with it. I underestimated myself, though, as I’ve proven to be one of the most patient and understanding travellers amongst friends.

It took an anxious night alone in a State of Islam to conceive the idea of returning home; a thought that was fostered when dozens and dozens of people aggressively accosted me for photographs the following morning, and finally a pack of arrogant Vietnamese men lacking queueing ettiquette (one of the only pet peeves I just couldn’t adjust to) solidified the idea the same afternoon. And once the idea was cemented in my mind, it was all I could think about. It was time to go home, and it was almost right on schedule.

I wonder if people will continue selling food on the street until I return again?

By the next morning I was in Hanoi and just hours away from boarding the flight that would take me back to my homeland, my partner and all the things I used to take for granted. I took photographs of the Old Quarter – which already looked more developed than when I saw it eight months ago – and I fantasised about how it might look when I return again. I also met with a great friend to laugh about all the things we love about Vietnam: street bars, the ability to have a cheap massage and without an appointment, the way men wear pink helmets and cuddle on motorbikes. Weight, of course, was a more sombre conversational point as we both expected to lose weight in Asia but had produced sizeable beer bellies. Patting my round centre, I kind of hoped a parasite was stirring in my last Vietnamese meal, just to help me lose a few of the kilos I had gained.

“Farewell Vietnam” I mouthed to the land during the drive to the airport. “It’s been swell, really swell.” The taxi driver smiled through his rearview mirror. He could see how much I loved his country and he was proud.

Over eight months I learnt the importance of development work, the hardships people endure around the world, the realities of communism and socialist countries, human rights, advocacy. I realised Australia really is “the lucky country”, ranking at the top of the UN’s Human Development Index for years while Vietnam ranked 113th in 2010 (one being the highest quality of life and 169 the poorest on the scale). My work in the development field is not over yet, just the first amazing chapter of it.

By Marissa Toohey

Leaving behind the easy life

22 Mar

I freaked out when I landed on Vietnamese soil eight months ago. It was dirty, overwhelmingly busy and there were no familiarities – not even a 7Eleven. But the things which challenged me at the beginning are now my greatest comforts. I cherish moments lost in twisted networks of old alleys, thrive when negotiating for fresh fruits at the local market and I prefer to enjoy a warm beer with ice on the sidewalk than to sit in an elaborate hotel bar.

The thing is, I’m now more afraid of returning home to Australia than I was of settling into Vietnam. Once I overcame the culture shock, life in Ho Chi Minh City was a breeze, and this is why:

  • I haven’t prepared a single meal in eight months. It’s difficult to justify the efforts of cooking when it’s usually more affordable to eat out in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • The weather is warm all year round! The sun isn’t always shining but the temperature varies from just around 30-35 degrees.
  • Where else can you catch taxis regularly, effortlessly and affordably? It sure beats overcrowded trains and buses of Australia.
  • There isn’t a day that passes without someone telling me I’m beautiful! Seriously, blondes do have more fun in Vietnam because they’re still a novelty for the locals.
  • My HCMC home has a rooftop terrace with amazing views of the city. I finish most nights relaxing on the roof with friends, drinking Ba Ba Ba beer.
  • I have been able to travel (often internationally) every second weekend, literally. Budget travelling is so easy to do spontaneously around Vietnam and South East Asia, and you can reach many more places during a weekend than you can from anywhere in Australia.
  • Meals cost as little as $1, DVDs just 50 cents, t-shirts $3 and rent around $200 per month. Vietnam is one of the cheapest countries in South East Asia.
  • The greatest thing about living in HCMC, though, is the supportive, enthusiastic and warm-hearted network of expatriates. I’m going to miss my friends – who I have grown to know very well over shared meals and beers almost every day – immensely.

You know the feeling when you walk through your own front door after weeks away on holidays? Instant relaxation, comfort, ease of mind, bliss even. That’s how I feel when I return to Vietnam after weekends travelling. I hope that feeling gets me through the first tough weeks of reverse culture shock in Australia too.

By Marissa Toohey

Vietnam, my parents and ba ba ba

14 Dec

VIETNAM, MY PARENTS AND BA BA BA  It doesn’t matter how old you get, it’s always comforting to see your mum and dad. Home-made dinners, cups of tea and big gossip sessions are always the highlights during our meetings. But my parents and I recently had a very unique reunion … because it happened in Vietnam!

Home-made dinners were replaced with Vietnamese food at local restaurants, tea was exchanged for “cafe sua da” (a super sweet Vietnamese coffee), and gossip sessions focused on the quirkiness of Vietnam rather than the latest happenings amongst friends in Sydney.

What’s most exciting, though, is that it was their very first trip abroad and it couldn’t have gone any smoother. Ho Chi Minh City is an intimidating and intense destination, even for individuals who are well travelled, but my parents embraced the madness like a fat kid embraces lollies; they just dove straight in and savoured every flavour and taste! They were dazed by the volume and logistics of the traffic, with a system of more motorbikes, cars, buses and trucks ever seen before in Australia that somehow manage to exist without road rules. They ate green bean cake, fresh catfish, ban xeo (Vietnamese pancake) and drank plenty of “ba ba ba” (333) beer. They quizzed their tour guide so much that they were only able to see one sight in the time they planned to see three! And they fell in love with the romanticised tales of Uncle Ho. What’s even more amazing, is that it never even rained! Now that’s just unheard of in the tropics …

I’m really thankful I had the opportunity to share my life and loves in Vietnam with my parents as I know it’s an experience which is changing me and, hopefully, has given them more perspectives as well. Anyway, life only gets better when you learn about “ba ba ba”. So cheers to my parents!

Mum stands in the entrance of the caves in the Marble Mountains.

Dad climbed through caves to get to the peak of one the Marble Mountains (pictured).

Dad and me on the bridge in Hoi An.

Dad and his tour guide floating on the Mekong River.

Mum climbs into the Cu Chi tunnels.

Dad and mum at the Reunification Palace in HCMC.

By Marissa Toohey

Moreton Island wild dolphin feeding experience

16 Jul

MORETON ISLAND WILD DOLPHIN FEEDING EXPERIENCE  Dolphins are one of the most adored creatures on Earth and people travel from far and wide just to get close to them. Moreton Island near Brisbane is one of those special locations in Australia where people can pay to hand feed dolphins in the wild. For me, a truly devout admirer of the species, it was a bitter sweet experience.

The family of dolphins have been visiting Tangalooma Island Resort for decades. Three generations frequent the resort nightly, familiar with the routine of feeding at 6pm. Resort staff have watched them grow up and have names for every one of them.

But disappointment consumed me when a noisy flock of over 150 people raced towards the water to take part in the feeding experience during the weekend. The noise, pushing and shoving, and sneaky people jumping the fence to join the queue was too much for me, which made me feel for the seemingly dependent pod in the shallows of the water.

Only a handful of people were actually allowed into the water at a time and fish were rationed to one per person. The rules were firmly announced: no touching the dolphins. But it still felt like the dolphins were controlled for a show, rather than wild creatures as they should be.

Dolphins arrived early and people swum out to meet them.

Another disappointing aspect was the lack of management before and after the show. A number of dolphins arrived at the resort over an hour and a half before the feed was due to begin, swimming into shallow water in anticipation for food. People continued fishing off the pier despite the presence of dolphins below, and others swum right out to meet the wild pod, which is illegal in Australian waters (you are supposed to keep a distance away). Staff were nowhere in sight to manage the behaviours of their guests.

But the experience was still magical and I believe it must be effective in educating tourists from around the world. Getting up close to a dolphin, where you can see their playful eyes and powerful dorsal fins, is really inspiring – even if it was only for one minute. I only wish it was managed by researchers (not for profit) and restricted to fewer people.

Brisbane day trip #2: Surfers Paradise Festival

24 Jun

BRISBANE DAY TRIP #2: SURFERS PARADISE FESTIVAL  Surfers Paradise is like the trashy younger sister of Brisbane – it’s noisy, flashy and always up for a party. So when I heard the very first local festival was on, I prepared for madness. What I found was actually a lovely combination of sunshine, music, art, sport and friendly faces.

One of many performers in the region for Surfers Paradise Festival.

Surfers Paradise Festival involves special performances in the areas of music, art, food and film. The comprehensive event program includes something for everyone and the festival vibe is so obvious in the streets that it’s worth dropping by at any time of the day anyway.

You’ll see acrobatic performers on ribbons amongst the buildings, artists sketching on the ground along CavillAvenue, bands performing original pieces in the mall and loads of unusual street performers.

The best part is that, despite the winter season, the sun is shining and it’s still very warm!

The festival is due to wrap up at the end of the month but there are still a few highlights to go:

Youth a-live lets “guitar-fuelled” youths take to the stage. The final session is on Saturday 26 June at Caville Mall from 2pm to 5pm.

The Great Aussie BBQ is marketed as one of the biggest events of the festival. It will be held at the Esplanade on Sunday 27 June from 11am to 5.30pm and it’s free!

Beachfront markets are on every Wednesday and Friday from 5.30pm to 10pm. The beachfront markets are held along the beachfront … obviously.

Surfers Paradise Festival has attracted loads of entertaining street performers.

Visit the official website for more detailed information: www.surfersparadisefestival.com

By Marissa Toohey


How to kill a day in Brisbane – a picture story

23 Jun

HOW TO KILL A DAY IN BRISBANE – A PICTURE STORY

Swim at the man-made beach at Southbank. You can relax in the water and see panoramic views of the city just across the river.

Walk from Southbank to the Botanical Gardens via the Goodwill Bridge.

Stroll through the peaceful Botanical Gardens.

Explore the CBD and don't forget to go shopping at Queen St Mall!

Take a 15 minute ride on The Wheel of Brisbane for great views and an informative guide about the city's history.

Go to QLD Art Gallery. Currently exhibitions are Ron Mueck sculpture and Unnerved: The New Zealand Project.

By Marissa Toohey

%d bloggers like this: