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Outback Friends in the Gold Coast

I saw glowworms inside of a cave and then drove to the Gold Coast. I met some fellow travelers in the Australian outback and randomly ran into them a few times in the Northwest. While in the Gold Coast, I met up with them again - at the perfect time!

Days 443-444

After five hours of restless sleep in my smelly motel in the Brisbane suburbs, I got out of bed to pack up and check out. I drove to the Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk, which is an elevated bridge in the forest. 

Sky bridge

The entrance fee was $20, which was disappointing considering all of the similar places in Australia that were free. The metal suspended bridge snaked through the forest and ended at an opening of a canyon. The thick green trees shaded the entire area. 

Forest
Forest with tall trees

The end section slightly shook when people walked, making me fearful of falling. A sign read, “Deliberate rocking of this structure is strictly prohibited.” Unfortunately, there were a few people purposely walking in a way that was causing shaking. 

One tall tree

The crowds of people ruined the experience for me. While I think it’s great to have a more accessible bridge and path through the forest, it destroyed why people usually go to nature in the first place. People rushed through the easy walk. At one point, I was able to get a small hike through the woods. 

End of sky bridge
Tree with markings
Forest

Next, I drove 10 minutes to a glowworm cave. The whole area was a thick forest in the mountains outside of the cities. The glowworm cave had a small shop nestled in the woods. I snagged the last ticket for a tour that was about to start. As I paid the woman at the small counter, she told me about the fires that were burning close by. Two of her friends had just lost their homes. The woman was keeping a close eye on the news, hoping they wouldn’t have to evacuate. 

I didn’t know it then, but that was the start of Australia’s most destructive fire season. It was September 2019, their springtime. I kept hearing people say they were concerned because it wasn’t summertime yet, and they were already getting a lot of bushfires. Fire season starts in August, but that year, they were warned it would be an earlier start because of the trend they saw in the Northern Territory. It was heartbreaking to watch the fires continue for months and months while the country went into a full-blown crisis. 

waterfall

The tour was beginning, so I joined the group. The cave is man-made, and they’ve added the glowworms, so they don’t go extinct. The worms only live in southeast Australia and New Zealand. The tour guide explained that it’s better to give tours in man-made caves instead of natural caverns, so their cycles aren’t disrupted.  

cave entrance

We began the tour by sitting in a small, dark room attached to the cave and watched a video. Next, we walked inside the cave. It was almost pitch black, except for the glowing of thousands of glow worms all over the walls and ceiling. 

The cave had a narrow metal path with rails, and we were instructed to stay on it and not touch the worms or the walls, even though they were close enough to touch. The worms live for about a year, and they really do glow! The females are larger so that they can birth 120 to 130 babies. Their butts glow to attract insects. Then the insects get stuck in their stringy, dangling webs. I was fascinated by the strings – they were super fine and tiny. 

The nature center feeds the worms with 1,500 to 2,000 insects a day! To collect the insects, they scoop them up around a nearby lake and fruit trees using nets. 

The glowworms create their own circadian rhythm and only glow during the nighttime. Because the cave appeared to be nighttime, the worms were glowing. I looked around the cave, and the worms looked like stars. They slightly changed their brightness (like twinkling). 

The tour guide told us that many animals/insects/fish create their own light. Glowworms don’t generate any heat, though, just the light. 

I marveled at the tiny creatures suctioned to the walls and ceiling. When I was a kid, I had a glowworm toy that I slept with each night. I loved that guy, and now I was able to meet them in real life! 

Once the tour was finished, I tried to find a place to stay the night but struggled. I gave up and drove towards the Gold Coast. I passed a church that had a sign, “God had to break your heart to save your soul.” Maybe.

After 45 minutes, I arrived at the Gold Coast, with a population of 540,000. It’s home to Surfers Paradise. I drove past the beach and shops, and it reminded me of Los Angeles. I pulled over and booked a hotel in Broadbeach. 

The hotel was a complex of small apartments. I tried to check-in, but the office closed at noon. It was 4:00 pm, so I called the phone number. A man came over and gave me my key. 

I was exhausted from the previous night and fell asleep on the couch. Once I woke up, I did laundry, showered, and went to bed. I booked two nights there, and it would be my last two nights in Queensland. I was very close to the New South Wales border and would continue my trek south. 

I slept in the next morning and felt drained. I knew my body was likely fighting something. I had taken several antihistamines over the previous few nights because of allergic reactions that I was getting. Benadryl always wipes me out, but sometimes I need it to prevent my bad reactions. 

In the afternoon, I walked to the tram station, which would take me to Surfers Paradise, four miles away. I talked with a girl in her 20s from Brazil named Liza, who was traveling alone. We helped each other figure out the correct tram to take. Once we got on, we sat near each other and chatted. She had dark blonde hair, dark blue eyes, and was beautiful in her sundress. She was super sweet and easy to talk with. 

Liza was on the Gold Coast for three days, and the next day she was flying to Sydney. She had a six-month visa to travel around Australia and to help her learn English. We talked about our travels and traveling alone while figuring things out in a foreign country. Liza told me, “Your English is much easier to understand. I struggle with Australians who talk too fast.” I laughed, “I also have a hard time understanding Australians at times.” 

Two tall buildings

The tram arrived at Surfers Paradise, and we were going in opposite directions. Liza hugged me and then kissed me on my cheek. I only knew her for 10 minutes, but she was a sweet, beautiful soul. 

outdoor shops

I walked to Surfers Paradise through an outdoor plaza with shops. The beach was long, clean, and beautiful. It was a beautiful day, but a little chilly to be inside the water. People mostly lounged on the sand, soaking up the sun. 

beach with people
beach and buildings
buildings in the gold coast

There was a giant red sculpture, some trees, and birds looking for food. It reminded me of Huntington Beach, California. The highrise buildings were right next to the beach, giving a nice combination of city and nature. 

red sculpture
surfers paradise
australian flags
surfers
beach path
bird at beach

After enjoying the beach for a while, I walked to the Sky Deck. It’s a room at the top of a building that provides views in 360° direction. I bought a ticket and took the elevator to the top around 4:30 pm. 

gold coast skyline

The views were incredible and showed just how sprawling the city was! To the east was the ocean. I could see the waves and a few surfers in the water. The coastline stretched so far to the north and south that I couldn’t see the end of it. A sign pointing directly into the ocean said, “Los Angeles 11,555 kilometers.” I stared out into the vast ocean, thinking just how far that was (7,180 miles). 

ocean from high above
los angeles distance sign
woman in sky deck

The highrise buildings were new, modern, and clean. It was a small metropolis. The buildings were lined up against the coastline and behind them was an inlet of water that appeared to come from the ocean. It looked like a river snaking behind them. 

skyline view of gold coast
River snaking through city
buildings near beach

Houses lined the coastline around the river on the opposite side of the highrise buildings. There were small mountains in the distance. Suddenly, a thick pinkish layer of fog came barreling in from the ocean.

fog over ocean

The sun started to set at 5:30 pm, and I stayed to watch it. It was large and bright, and it disappeared behind the mountains. I loved watching the city lights turn on, illuminating the environment differently. 

sunset
sunset over city

I ordered a glass of wine and some potato wedges while I soaked in the views. There wasn’t a limit on how long I could stay up there, so I stayed for two hours! 

nighttime city lights

I had messaged Nik and Andy, who I met two months earlier on a rock climbing and abseiling tour in Karijini National Park. Nik was from Switzerland and had a working holiday visa for a year. He had spent most of his time in Perth working, and then his girlfriend joined him for several weeks. I met them during their outback excursions. 

I ran into both Andy and Nik in Broome at an outdoor festival, and then Andy once again in Darwin. Andy lived in Broadbeach, and Nik was staying at his house for a few nights. Nik rode Andy’s bike to Surfers Paradise to meet up with me. 

I met Nik at the bottom of the Sky Deck. It was cold and windy outside, and I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt! Once the sun went down, the cold really set in. We walked to an Italian restaurant and ordered some pasta. 

guy and girl
Nik and Me

Nik was in his 20s, had blonde hair and a small blonde goatee. I was so thrilled to see him again! He only had six weeks left on his visa, so his time was quickly coming to an end. When we first met, we were busy actively climbing and hiking in a gorge. This time, I had time to get to know him better. 

Nik was a car mechanic back in Switzerland, and that’s the job he did while in Australia. When he first arrived, he spent a couple of months in the Gold Coast and then several months in Perth. It was easier for Nik to get around in the Gold Coast because he could ride a bike everywhere. Perth is much more spread out, and he had to get a car. It took him an hour and a half in each direction to get to work because of the traffic. 

Nik told me that he didn’t know any English, just a tiny bit, before coming to Australia. In the area he is from in Switzerland, they speak German. He said, “But it’s Swiss German, so German’s can’t understand us.” His friends back home spoke English better than he did, and they made fun of you if you couldn’t speak it well. 

While Nik was in Perth, he enrolled in an English class and said he’s learned a lot. He felt much better about speaking it because he wasn’t teased if he got something wrong. Nik noted that his class had people from Japan, Saudi Arabia, and all over the world. He became friends with the people from Japan. Learning and speaking English enabled Nik to meet people from around the world, which he was grateful for. 

I assured Nik that his English was excellent! I always admire people who can speak more than one language. I am not gifted in that area and struggled to become bi-lingual even though I took several Spanish classes. Nik said, “You should feel lucky because if you know English, you can travel pretty much anywhere. There aren’t many places that speak German.”

Nik was dating Anita, who I also met on the rock climbing tour. She was adorable and a lot of fun. Nik really missed her, but he was happy that she came out for two and a half months. It was supposed to be for six weeks, but she stayed longer. They drove from Perth to Cairns together, and she flew home from there. 

Nik’s sister flew out for a little while and joined Nik on Fraser Island. I told him how I did a day tour of Fraser Island and swam with humpback whales on the way there. Because my tour was just for the day, I didn’t get to see much of the island. Nik and his sister were able to camp on the secluded beaches. He converted his Land Cruiser, so there was a bed in the back with a full-size mattress. 

Nik and I agreed that we didn’t like the number of people on the east coast. We were used to the sparse population in Western Australia. There was something extraordinary about that area of the country. 

I asked Nik if he was excited to return to Switzerland after being gone for almost a year. He missed the mountains, the snow, and Anita. He was looking forward to returning soon. 

A few years earlier, Nik went to the U.S for the first time because his uncle worked for an airline and got free flights. He went to New York and loved it. That’s what opened his eyes to travel. A year and a half later, Nik flew back to the U.S. with three friends. They each picked a place to visit and ended up seeing New York City first and then flew to Salt Lake City. From there, they rented a car and drove to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Finally, they flew to Hawaii. 

Nik explained that they got around okay because one of his friends knew English well. When they were at Lake Havasu, they rented a boat for an entire day. Nik was shocked that they were allowed to rent a boat without a license or any experience! 

We were finished eating dinner, and the restaurant was closing, so we walked towards a bar. Andy drove down to meet us, and it was so cold outside, he offered to give me a ride to the bar. I hoped inside, and Nik rode the bike. Andy was in his early 50s, had dark hair, and was really active. 

We grabbed beers and talked all about our travels over the last two months. Andy had driven through the Nullarbor to get his rental car back to Perth. Then he flew from there back to the east coast. We tried to convince Nik to drive to Uluru before leaving Australia. 

two men and a woman
Nik, Andy, and Me

Once we finished our beer, we went to Andy’s house. He lives in Broadbeach in a modern home that he’s fixed up perfectly. His parents lived in the bottom section of the house, and Andy lived upstairs. He created separate entrances, so they all had some privacy. 

I walked outside on the large balcony, and it was beautiful. There was a pool below us and a smaller house in the back, which he rented out on Airbnb. It was sort of like a mother-in-law suite. Andy was smart. He cared for his parents, had space for himself, and earned money from the addition of an Airbnb on his property. 

The house was modern, classy, and new. It looked like a magazine. The decorations were well done, and I was impressed. Andy made drinks for the three of us, and we sat around chatting. I showed them some funny videos about Australia, and Nik and I couldn’t stop laughing. Andy thought our reactions to the Australian culture were amusing. 

It was getting late, so Andy drove me back to my hotel. I was so glad to have the chance to meet up with them. It was so funny that we met on a 12-hour tour in the outback and randomly ran into each other in Broome and Darwin. Now halfway across the country, we all met up once again. 

The three of us could relate to each other because of what we had experienced. We loved the outback and the feeling that you get from the remoteness. It’s a unique experience, and you just bond quickly with the people you meet. Western Australia attracts an adventurous type of traveler. We all knew exactly what we each experienced. 

While we were now in a large city on the east coast, we connected with our desire to travel and have adventures. It was perfect timing. I was feeling lonely two days earlier and like I was losing friends back home. But I was gaining friends abroad. God always has a way of putting people in my life at the perfect time. I’m still in touch with them today and would be thrilled to meet up again – somewhere in the world. 

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Throughout her wild 3-week journey backpacking 220+ miles in the California Sierra Mountains, Christy encountered freezing temperatures, pelting hail storms, and losing her way, but found trail family, incredible views, and experiences that would change her life forever. Hiking up and over ten different mountain passes gave Christy a lot of time to think about why her nine-year marriage was falling apart, gave her the chance to truly embody her individualism, time to make new friends, and the strength she would need on and off the trail. Her life could never again be the same.
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