After 30 long hours of travelling (July 13th-14th), I finally reached Perth. As soon as I stepped outside of the Perth Airport, I was greeted by my host family. Although I was half-asleep, no drowsiness could prevent me from noticing the immense warmth and friendliness surrounding all facets of my exchange, Ned Cusack, and the rest of his wonderful family (mother, father, older sister and brother). We then headed to the suburb where they live, Mosman Park.
After a few days full of introductions, I found myself back at the Perth Airport. This time, it was for my week-long sea kayaking expedition at Ningaloo Reef. It was on this trip that I learned, saw, and experienced the full beauty of everything to do with the Australian coast. Each day was broken into three different parts. The first part of the day concerned the initial departure: we would have breakfast, pack our tents and kitchen supplies into the kayaks, and then we would depart. After kayaking for a few kilometers, we would go for the day’s first snorkel. The second part of the day concerned lunch: after the first snorkel, the afternoon leadership group (student volunteers) would make the group lunch. After lunch, we would paddle another five to six kilometers and then have our second snorkel. The third part of the day concerned the arrival: after the second snorkel, we would paddle three to four kilometers to the beach that would be our home for the night. Upon arrival, we would go for a third snorkel. Then we would set up our camp, cook diner, and go to sleep.
Besides just experiencing the raw beauty of the clear, turquoise water of Ningaloo, we also kayaked next to and snorkeled with animals such as tiger/reef/whale sharks, turtles, dugongs, dolphins, and sea snakes. Out of all these encounters, there are two that stuck out the most.
It was the fourth day of the trip. Ned and I were taking a break from paddling to observe the marine wildlife around our kayak. We had been looking for some interesting animals for a few minutes, so we had fallen behind the rest of the group by a considerable distance. Suddenly I noticed a six-foot tiger shark dart under our kayak, swimming along the bottom, as if it was being chased. We were amazed, as tiger sharks are incredibly rare in Ningaloo. We decided to try to follow it but we gave up after a 30-foot chase due to the incredible speed of the shark. While we were turning around to start the trek back to our group, we noticed a 15-foot dark shape moving towards us. As it got closer, we both realized it was another tiger shark, heading directly for our kayak. We watched as it sped up and began to breach the water, both of us frozen from fear. When the shark was about one-and-a-half feet from the kayak, it did a quick 180-degree turn, tail splashing us with water as this beast thrashed about. Once we regained complete control of our bodies, we quickly paddled to the kayak closest to us. The students in the surrounding kayaks all thought we had gotten attacked, so it took a good while to explain the whole story. It truly is so crazy that the shark was so big–and the water so clear that all the other groups could see what had happened from over 120 feet away.
On the last day of the trip, we went snorkeling with whale sharks. While sailing to the drop, we saw multiple humpback whales breaching and swimming. The beauty and indescribable size of the animals make it understandable why the Coast Guard instituted a law requiring all boats to keep at least 225 feet away at all times. While easy in theory, however, staying away from these humpbacks was much harder during a snorkel session. I was treading water, still amazed from snorkeling so close to prehistoric whale sharks, when the captain of the boat started signing for me to look down. As soon as I decrypted his signals, I re-submerged under water. What I saw was a mother humpback whale, swimming close to my group in order to protect her calf from what she considered a threat. After I got back on the boat, my group leader explained that this was even rarer than the tiger shark encounter. Both of these encounters made my expedition—and my exchange as a whole–more meaningful.
School started the day after I got back from the Ningaloo Reef Expedition. The first thing I was told when I got to Scotch College was the house I belonged to: Cameron House. Houses are based on legacy, and since Ned’s grandfather, father, and brother all belonged to Cameron House, he is also a part of it. After completing my first day of classes, I realized how different Scotch is from Athenian. At Scotch, we wear uniforms, it is not coed, we cannot bring backpacks to class, and we call teachers either Mr. or Miss. All of these are the polar opposite of Athenian. These differences are what have made my first few weeks in Perth so interesting.
One of the school’s traditions is marching. Every Friday, there is a house versus house competition, where the winner is picked based on which house has the best marching. The competition has been going on since the school was founded.
I currently have about three weeks of exchange left. In these last weeks, I plan to continue to meet new people, explore more of Perth, and even travel to Singapore to visit my host family’s second house. My love for the people of Perth, Perth itself, and the continent of Australia is truly unimaginable. I look forward to continuing to update anyone who is reading this!