Australia, New Zealand offer adventure

If your idea of traveling involves more doing and less viewing, more outdoor adventures and less fluorescent lighting, and more independence and less homeland security, then head down under to Australia and New Zealand. I spent the spring 2007 semester exploring the land and studying at the University of Melbourne.

Australia was first settled in 1770 as a British penal colony. Australia Day, Jan. 26, marks Australia's independence from England. But this celebratory day remains controversial. The Aboriginal people of Australia can be traced back 42,000-48,000 years, and refer to Australia Day as Invasion Day. They only gained suffrage in 1967, and are still in negotiation with the current Australian government to achieve justice, equality and a formal apology for the way they were treated. Bearing this in mind, Australian culture is an eclectic and somewhat antagonistic mixture of British roots, Aboriginal traditions and young Aussie spirit.

Upon arrival, we backpacked the popular route up Australia's east coast; the land of surfer's paradise, the Great Barrier Reef and the notorious Frasier Island. Frasier Island, the second largest all-sand island in existence, offers budget backpackers from around the world the chance to unite in the midst of a wild, two nights camping and self-driven four-wheel drive adventure through the sand dunes. It's a beautiful uninhabited island, composed of amazing freshwater lakes, desert-like sand dunes and dingoes, the dog-kings of the island. They supposedly prey on children and small-framed women, which is more of a joke than a threat.

Melbourne is the metropolis of Australia's southeast corner, about a 15-hour drive south from Sydney. Although these two cities appear close on a map, they are separated by hundreds of miles of farmland, and are in an intense competition to be Australia's prime cosmopolitan attraction. Studying at University of Melbourne was a great opportunity to meet locals and attend classes lead by professors and political figures like Aboriginal-rights activist Gary Foley.

Melbourne offers a refreshing contrast to Geneseo: a vibrant and diverse nightlife, the potential to get lost exploring, miles of bike paths, international neighborhoods, art, numerous Australian footy (football) teams to barrack (Australian slang since "rooting" for someone means sleeping with him or her) for, and great live music. A short drive from Melbourne are great surfing locations, the touristy Great Ocean Road, national parks Yarra Valley wineries, to name a few.

New Zealand, Australia's magnificent yet slower-paced southeast neighbor, is a breathtaking land, best known as the backdrop of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and for the ruthless All Blacks rugby team. The best way to explore New Zealand's natural wonders is to bring a tent, rent a car and remember to drive on the left side of the road.

New Zealand is a chill country that attracts thrill-seekers excited to spend money on adrenaline sports such as skydiving, bungee jumping, canyoning and whitewater rafting. Glacier climbs up Franz Joseph and Fox are easily accessible, while campsites are plentiful and hikes are breathtaking.

Traveling to these destinations is far more exciting than reading about them. So take some personal time away from Geneseo; let another student have your Milne cubical and spot on the IB dance floor. Go experience what the world has to offer.