A different kind of Christmas

A different kind of Christmas

People relaxing on Christmas day at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia.

People relaxing on Christmas day at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia.

During the Christmas season, I find myself sticking to tradition. I decorate the tree at the beginning of December, bopping around to carols. I cozy up on the sofa, hot drink in hand, watching a good old Christmas movie. I wear my Christmas sweaters upon several layers of clothing and admire the street decorations while doing my shopping. On Christmas day, I gather with my extended family for a day of cheer, food and exchanging gifts, followed by another sofa session.

One year, I spent Christmas in east Australia. I began my stay on the Gold Coast with family who I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Despite this making me feel more at home, the Christmas season was far from traditional. I ditched the sweaters and boots for shorts and flip-flops and replaced cozy sofa sessions for tanning ones.

Chanel Galea exploring the Great Barrier Reef.Chanel Galea exploring the Great Barrier Reef.

Once I got over the jetlag, we headed straight to Surfer’s Paradise, one of the many amazing beaches on the Gold Coast. I noticed that the streets were decorated in a different manner; life rings were used to replace the classical holiday wreathes and Santa wore tropical shorts and a sunhat while carrying a surfboard.

I hadn’t swam in months, so I was happy to be able to dip my feet into the water again. The ocean was fresh and I let the surf crash right into me as I burst out into a gasp. We sat on the beach, watching surfers in Santa hats ride the waves. Close by, we attended a Christmas caroling event in the park. People sat around to picnic on the grass, catching some sun while ironically singing to White Christmas.

On one of the days, we drove for some time towards Byron Bay. This beach town was as mellow as it gets, giving off all sorts of hippie vibes. Shops were more like markets, selling unique, handmade goods while blasting tunes. Pedestrians walked barefoot around town, seemingly with no care in the world.

Walking towards the seaside, we passed by groups of musicians gathered on the lawn, as well as some challengers attempting to win at giant chess. I was in awe as I admired the reflection of the sky on to the glowing sand during the ebbing of the tide. The sand acted as a mirror, making it seem as though beachgoers were walking on clouds.

A few days before Christmas, my cousin and I headed to Cairns. We arrived at our resort, and started off with a walk on the totally deserted six-kilometre beach. It was lined with thick palm trees and all I could hear were the leaves swaying and the waves washing ashore. It was so peaceful.

The next day, we gave up peace and quiet for some thrills as we went on our first adventure – white water rafting. The Barron River was insane. We cruised down the river and I started feeling adrenaline rushing through me as we began to approach the rapids.

New Year’s Eve fireworks being let off from Sydney Harbour Bridge.New Year’s Eve fireworks being let off from Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The ocean was fresh and I let the surf crash right into me as I burst out into a gasp. We sat on the beach, watching surfers in Santa hats ride the waves

The white water was eager to take us on and the raft’s speed increased as we swerved through narrow bends, gliding past boulders. We nose-dived down towards the water with a big splash and a loud screech with every rapid, landing in relatively calm water until the next rapid. A few hours in, we finished the tour with sore shoulders and high spirits.

The next day, we visited one of the natural wonders of the world – the Great Barrier Reef. After a choppy, 1.5-hour boat ride, we anchored a short distance away from one of the reefs. Geared up in wetsuit and snorkelling mask, I plunged into the water and dove downwards.

I had never felt so free yet so small in my entire life as I did in that very moment. I composed myself, startled at the depth of the ocean. I swam towards the reef, feeling more secure  and began to explore the world beneath me.

The sun’s rays penetrated the surface of the water, illuminating the reef, each piece of coral unique. Schools of fish passed by me as they glided along with the current, appearing metallic as the sunlight hit them. I submerged towards the bright blue starfish that lay on the coral, watching in awe.

Sunrise reflections at Surfer’s Paradise on Queensland’s Gold Coast.Sunrise reflections at Surfer’s Paradise on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

At times, I was so mesmerised that I needed to remind myself to return to the surface for air. I felt so comfortable under the water that I regretted having to return to land.

On the way back, I reflected on the experience. Although beautiful and diverse in such a particular way, the reef was not what I expected. What may once have been purple and blue and orange was now yellow and brown, relatively mundane. The coral had become bleached, losing its vibrant colour due to increased global temperatures. Although this saddened me, I tried not to let it damper the whole experience, but attempted to relive it, allowing my spirit to feel as free as it did in the underwater world.

We returned to the Gold Coast in time for Christmas. That morning began with fresh fruit salad and champagne. We exchanged gifts and prepared lunch, consisting of fish and prawns grilled on the barbeque, potato and garden salad, and cold drinks, followed by ice cream. We spent the rest of the day pursuing pool activities and even headed to the beach for more water games.

Chanel Galea taking a selfie with a kangaroo.Chanel Galea taking a selfie with a kangaroo.

We finished off the festive season in Sydney. The terrace of our apartment offered us an amazing view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We opted to skip the crowds and chose to stay home to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks go off when the clock struck midnight.

Over the next few days, we explored the amazing city. We visited the notorious Opera House and climbed more than a thousand steps to make it to the top of the iconic bridge, reveling in a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful harbour. We jumped on to a ferry from Circular Quay, appreciating the beauty of the city’s skyline from the water and ended our stay in Sydney with some time on the popular Bondi Beach.

This holiday was filled with adventure, activities and all things exciting. Although it wasn’t easy being away from home for Christmas, I got to experience this much beloved season in an entirely different way, making it a Christmas I will always remember.

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