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Heidi Shenk "Australia" "travel"

I've written about Australia before, but only in a spattering here and there. During college, I spent a semester studying at the University of Wollongong, just south of Sydney. During my time living there, I spent as much of my free time traveling throughout Australia, a feat which is very difficult to do in such a vast land.

I spent a day snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef. A friend of mine who lives in Melbourne hosted me for a weekend of enjoying the city and an afternoon of live music. I spent four days in Byron Bay enjoying the beach life and doing nothing but relaxing after a long midterm week. A weekend was spent on Bowen Island, a bird sanctuary in Jervis Bay, where I was lucky to see fairy penguins emerge from the water to nest on the beach for the night. And another weekend was spent in a cabin in Kangaroo Valley, where I saw wallabies in their natural element hopping through the forested land.
And then there were some things I didn't get to do because I simply ran out of time and money. I remember arriving at O'Hare in Chicago after a long flight back. My parents were happy to see me and gave me huge hugs. I began tearing up. I already missed Australia and didn't want to be back. And here I was, thinking I would never be able to go back.

Two months ago, while chatting with Andrew about plans after my final months of teaching, he suddenly said, "I have an idea. Let's go to the courthouse and get married and then fly to Australia." I responded with, "Are you serious?" A few weeks later, we had purchased round trip tickets to Sydney for September.

Slowly, we're reserving accommodations and flights for more adventures while in Australia. We've made plans to stay in an apartment in Sydney for several days before jetting off to the Northern Territory where we'll be staying in a cabin near Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. This was one of my bucket list items that I didn't get to do last time. We'll be staying in Cairns a few days to check off one of Andrew's bucket list items too-- the Great Barrier Reef. Never did I think I would get to see such a magnificent natural phenomenon twice in my life. And finally, we're heading to Byron Bay for several days of relaxation at the beach after a good solid two weeks of adventure. Byron Bay, my favorite place in the world. How could it not be when it looks like this?
Lots of plans still need to be made, and while we still have several months ahead of us until the trip, I am already counting down the days. It's been nearly nine years since I lived in Australia and this is a trip I've been looking forward to ever since I left.

For me, this trip will also symbolize a new start. It's a break in our usual lives. In September, when I would normally be starting a new school year, we will be traveling in a beautiful country, on our honeymoon so to speak, and celebrating my 30th birthday in Byron-- my favorite place in the world. Life doesn't get much better than that.

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