Australia Oceania

Sojourn in Sydney

My final stop on this trip was Sydney! This had been the entire goal of the trip, actually. One of my good friends recently moved down to Australia for work, so I wanted to go visit her, which led to planning PNG and Vanuatu and let me lock in the rest of my travel across Oceania.

At the tail end of a month of travel, after 15 flights and time spent in 4 other countries, I was tired. So this part of the trip was a little more relaxed – I went to the office and met up with a lot of my colleagues from the Australian office, and we went out for dinner and drinks and even a pizza making class for our team activity! I had lucked out on the timing, and so it happened while I was there.

They also told me to go to the zoo! Apparently, we could request corporate passes as a perk, so I put my name in the spreadsheet and left the office a little early and I got to go to the Sydney Zoo for free. It was right at the end of the day so I didn’t have a ton of time, but I did get to see all the Australian animals. The view from the zoo is also pretty amazing!

I took a lot of ferries while I was in Sydney. My friend lives in the Manly Beach area. It means that her main way to commute to the office is by ferry, which seems way nicer! I loved the fresh air and the views, particularly around sunset and in the evening. Her commute always started or ended with the Opera House, which was so beautiful.

I had one full free day while I was there, so we spent it mostly in the Manly area. We started with a swim in the ocean, which was pretty chilly (since early September is still winter in Australia) but definitely worth it. Then we headed out to brunch and a long walk through the area. Vicki has been trying to go to different beaches, so we picked an area she hadn’t spent time in and walked along the beach and had a few beers. It was such a pleasant day!

In the evening, we headed to a show at the Sydney Opera House! It’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the whole world, and it hadn’t even occurred to me that we could go and actually see a show there. Such a cool way to experience it! We went to Miss Saigon, which I had seen once before in Salt Lake. It’s such a moving show and the effects with the evacuation of the embassy in Vietnam was just as impressive the second time around.

All in all, Sydney was awesome. It felt like such a livable place – they have really made an effort to preserve and expand the outdoor space available to residents, they have great public transit, and everyone was friendly! I would definitely go back. Hopefully, the next time I’m in Australia, I’ll do a better job at seeing new places in Australia and not just using it at a launching pad for other countries!

Australia Oceania Vanuatu

Finding Paradise in Vanuatu

After all our struggles with delays and cancellations, I genuinely didn’t believe I would get to Vanuatu until our plane had left the ground out of Brisbane. But it did, two full days later than it was supposed to, and we landed in an absolutely gorgeous country!

Look how amazing the view was as we flew into Port Vila!

Our travel delays did mean that we missed out on Tanna. It was pretty disappointing to miss, because Tanna was the part I was by far the most excited for since it’s the world’s most accessible active volcano and you can basically go to the rim of the volcano and stare into the lava. But I still had a great time in Vanuatu, and I am so grateful for the friends I made through our entire POM VI experience – it turns out nothing brings people together more than spending a thousand hours in an airport!

We landed in the morning and then had a full day in Port Vila before we were supposed to meet up with the three people who were not personally victimized by the flight delays of Air Niugini. And what a nice day it was! We got massages, drank beers by the pool, and celebrated that we had finally made it to our next destination.

This is a photo I took at a stop on the side of the road – look how clear the water is!

The next morning, we headed back to the airport in Port Vila so we could meet the rest of the group and fly out to Espiritu Santo (often just called Santo). Going on a domestic flight in Vanuatu was strange. You read about how tiny the airports in the South Pacific are, but it’s another thing to wait at one. At one point, we thought we should go wait closer to the gate, and we stood up with all our bags, only to find that we were… already at the gate. We arrived in Luganville, which is Vanuatu’s second largest city (although city is perhaps a strong word). We stayed there for our first night and had a fun dinner of bonding with the three new people who had joined us on the tour!

The next day, it was time to head north! We started with one of the famous blue holes in Santo, which are freshwater swimming spots with stunning clear and blue water. It was beautiful and a really fun visit. I don’t know if we were in the off season, or what, but it felt like there was no one else at most of the “touristy” things we did, which was definitely not a bad thing – we were the only ones at our particular blue hole for almost the entire time we were there, which was pretty cool.

From there, we toweled off and headed up to our accommodation on the north side of Santo! We were staying in bungalows on Lonnoc Beach. Just as with the blue hole we went to, we were pretty much the only people here. It was absolutely incredible to be able to just swim and walk along the beach by ourselves. It really felt like a small slice of paradise.

More pictures of our beach time! It did rain for a good chunk of our second day, but it didn’t stop us from going out on the beach and standing in the water under the rain. It was such an amazing experience.

Yes, this is me standing on a Vanuatu post office. What of it?

After our second night at Lennoc Beach, it was time to head back to Efate, the island where Port Vila is. We flew back in the morning and headed to one of the most well known tourist attractions in Vanuatu – the underwater post office! It’s one of the most unique post offices in the world. I didn’t actually send a letter there, but several of the people in the group mailed postcards and we all went snorkeling together so we could see it.

We had a little more time to wander around Port Vila! Mostly, there were a lot of markets to explore and souvenirs to shop for. Some of us had also been talking about getting a matching tattoo, so we checked our our options, but the tattoo parlor was closed after we got dinner so we figured it wasn’t meant to be. Except….. I was supposed to be flying out SO early to Sydney, and when I woke up to catch my shuttle, I had an email saying that my flight was indefinitely delayed. Which, let’s be real, means cancelled. Because I had other plans and didn’t want to stay in Vanuatu by myself, I didn’t hesitate and booked the flight that I knew most of the others were on, which was an afternoon flight to Brisbane. Once I was back in Australia, I figured it would be a lot easier to sort things out. And when I showed up to breakfast, we decided that this was the universe telling us we should go get our tattoo.

This is my first tattoo! It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to do, but never had anything specific that I wanted to get. So this was honestly a great way to do it. It was fun, it was spontaneous, and after I got it done I couldn’t stop looking at my forearm. Plus, it’s definitely an interesting souvenir from Vanuatu!

Blurry picture of my first official Australian Maccas on our brief road trip

Obviously, I hadn’t been planning on landing in Brisbane, so I had to do some adjusting for my trip. Initially, I was meant to land in Sydney, have a couple hours layover, fly to Wellington, spend the night there, and then meet up with Alvaro and Eric in Wellington for a flight out to Christchurch the next day. Luckily for me, Lucy, pictured above with the matching tattoo, lives close to Byron Bay, so she offered to take me to her house, let me crash with her for a night, and then I could take a short flight down to Sydney. If I could get Air New Zealand to just move me to the exact same flight 24 hours later, it would be a pretty easy fix. We landed in Brisbane and I stopped by the desk as soon as I cleared immigration. The woman was so confused by my ask and why I was in Brisbane and not Sydney, but she was able to help me! The only thing I had to do was book my flight down to Sydney the next day and all was not lost. I had a second unintended stopover starting at the Brisbane airport, and I managed to see a little more of Australia before Lucy dropped me off at the airport again.

The final cherry on top of the flight struggles is that I got to Ballina the next day and boarded my flight…. only to have them come on the announcements and tell us all to get back off the plane. The vehicle that was carrying the luggage literally hit the plane (???!!!??? it’s a plane? it’s not moving and it’s by far the biggest thing in your field of vision?) and damaged it, so they needed to get a flight engineer from Gold Coast to make sure that we were still good to fly. Honestly, it was super stressful in the moment, but looking back it’s also pretty hilarious to see just how many weird flight situations we got into over the course of this trip. Thankfully, after this one, it was pretty smooth flying! At the end of the day, we were able to re-board, I made it to Sydney, and I also successfully made my flight to Wellington to start the next adventure.

Australia Oceania Papua New Guinea Vanuatu

POM VI Down Under

The main thing, if you’re traveling in the South Pacific, is patience. Because the airlines are not the most reliable, and when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, there aren’t a lot of options to switch to other flights or try a different airport or airline. We had already had flight trouble within Papua New Guinea, flying from Port Moresby up to the Highlands, but none of us had any idea how bad it would get trying to get out of Port Moresby and to our next destination: Vanuatu!

Look at the light in our eyes as we got to the airport! Short lived, unfortunately

The flight path we were supposed to have was Port Moresby > Brisbane > Port Vila, with a couple hours in Brisbane. We arrived bright and early at the Port Moresby airport, having flown in from Goroka the day before, and then…. we waited. And we waited. It was one of those times when they kept telling us things were delayed for an hour, and then an hour would be up, and then it would be delayed yet again. At one point, they said we were delayed because someone had to be medevac’d out of PNG, so they put that person on the plane and took the luggage out and then put their luggage into the hold, and then apparently it no longer worked to bring them on our flight and so they took them back off the plane and pulled the luggage out to sort through it and find their bags again. People were watching this with the general vibe of sports fans rooting for their favorite team, including cheers and groans at the appropriate times. It felt like we were never getting out of that airport, and we were becoming airport people like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.

Hour ???? of our delay

Luckily, of people to get stuck with, it was a good group. We made a lot of jokes about our whole situation, including naming ourselves the POM VI after the Port Moresby airport code. What quickly was becoming a problem was that we were blowing through our layover in Australia, and we were not going to make our Vanuatu flight. Which, for most of us, was fine, as we could spend a night and fly out the next day. But one of the POM VI was from Chile and he wasn’t able to clear immigration in Australia without a visa. He was going to be able to get through in transit status with our initial flight plan, but it didn’t seem like there was anything we could do to get him on a series of flights that would keep his time in Australia low enough to qualify for transit status. I think he ended up flying through New Caledonia to meet us in Vanuatu, which added another leg to the trip but did at least go smoothly! Definitely a reminder that passport privilege is real.

Slightly blurry but it really captures the excitement of getting on a plane!

Eventually, we got on a plane! People cheered and clapped when the pilot passed us to board. It was such a relief just to be leaving the Port Moresby airport. We got to Brisbane pretty late. Honestly, Australian passport control is a breeze – they’ve really streamlined the process with the ETAs and electronically linking everything together, and going through the kiosks made it way faster than most countries I’ve gone to. We got to our hotel, made plans to meet up for our third airport day in a row, and passed out.

And then it was time to go back to the airport. Which is when we found out we had more bad news…… Our flight to Port Vila had been cancelled!

While I was super bummed to miss out on the first part of our plans in Vanuatu, we had a great time with our extra day in Brisbane. It’s a cool city, and had not been on my original plans in Australia!

Overall, it was a very relaxed day – we went to brunch, wandered around a bit, went to the pool, and did our laundry. Major shout out to our hotel for having laundry machines we could use for free! As usual, the best laid travel plans aren’t always the way things actually happen, but sometimes that’s the most fun part. One thing is for sure, I’ll definitely never forget the Port Moresby airport or our strange layover in Brisbane!