September 2013 issue

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Queensland beachlife

With a relaxed and casual atmosphere, a large selection of beaches, green retreats and cityscapes, Queensland has all the markings of a great study destination. Nicola Hancox discovers some of this Australian tropical state’s many attractions.

Named in honour of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, “Queensland is the second largest state in Australia, behind Western Australia, making it nearly seven times the size of Great Britain,” says Trish Marshall, Principal of Kaplan International College (KIC) in Cairns.

Home to five of Australia’s 11 world heritage sites, it also has 200 national parks covering 6.5 million hectares, and is blessed with an average eight-to-nine hours of sunshine every day. “Queensland is affectionately known as the sunshine state and it plays host to a number of international students and residents,” attests Marshall.

“Queensland has always been about lifestyle,” enthuses Ian Pratt, Managing Director of Lexis English, which has centres in Noosa, the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, as well as Byron Bay and Perth. And it’s this lifestyle that many international students come in search of. “We get students from some pretty fast-paced and high-pressured parts of the world, and it’s funny to watch them slow down and de-stress once they make it to Noosa,” he says.

Owing to its sheer size, the climate varies greatly throughout the state, from the tropical temperatures of the far north region to the pleasant conditions on the coast, to the arid heat experienced by western areas further inland. “The climate…attracts a large amount of travellers and holiday-goers from all corners of the globe,” says Marshall.

One of KIC’s centres is located in the city of Cairns, in Queensland’s tropical northern area. Complete with its very own ecosystem, Cairns boasts a wealth of wildlife many students will only ever have seen on television or read about in books. The platypus, a semi-aquatic mammal endemic to parts of eastern Australia, is one such example. “When early European naturalists arrived in this part of the world, they encountered the platypus for the first time, which proved to be a very confusing experience for them. The unusual appearance of this egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal was baffling, and many of them thought it to be an elaborate fraud,” recounts Marshall. Students may be able to catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures at the Platypus Bend Eco Retreat – which boasts a 97 per cent success rate in spotting one. Set in the green highlands of Cairns, students may also see kangaroos, wallabies, pademelons [a small marsupial] and possums, as well as tropical birds, dragonflies and butterflies.

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and students at KIC can experience this epic coral reef system up close by taking the school’s English plus diving course. “The diving course is five days long, and during this time students spend three days and two nights living on board a boat out on the Great Barrier Reef,” says Marshall.

With restaurants, bars, clubs and markets, Cairns Esplanade is a recreational area bursting with life. Pitched just in front of the Cairns foreshore, which overlooks part of the reef and Trinity Inlet, the esplanade also features a 4,800 square metre saltwater lagoon which can offer a little respite on a hot summer’s day. Meanwhile, those keen to appreciate Cairns and the surrounding area from a height will appreciate the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. In the two-and-a-half hour round trip, visitors will see gorges, rivers, mountains and be within touching distance of the rainforest canopy.

Further north is the small coastal town of Port Douglas, established following the discovery of gold at Hodgkinson River in 1877. According to David Hurford at Port Douglas English Language Centre, the area is most famous for its gently curving Four Mile Beach. This stretch of white sand is popular with kitesurfing and windsurfing enthusiasts and can be reached within about five minutes from the main town centre. “The school organises chartered yacht cruises along Four Mile Beach, and overnight trips to Low Isles, as well as customised guided trips to Atherton Tablelands, Chillango Caves, Undarra Lava Tubes and Cooktown,” relates Hurford. Those on a budget will appreciate the local sunset yacht cruise, which is free every Wednesday, adds Hurford.

The Sunshine Coast is an urban stretch renowned for its beachlife. It offers plenty of warm sunshine and has beaches suited to any taste, from rough surf to calm inlet. It also has more greenspace (national parks) than any other region in the state. The southern end of the Sunshine Coast is naturally green, observes Dr Dirk Wellham, Principal of Caloundra City Private School, a coeducational secondary school in the southernmost community of Caloundra. Situated in the beautiful natural environment of Pelican Waters, near Pumicestone Passage – a narrow waterway connecting Bribie Island to the mainland – “Our school is located one hour’s drive north of Brisbane, and a wonderful walk to the Pacific Ocean’s King’s Beach,” Wellham explains.

If students have their surfboards waxed and ready to go, Wellham suggests they head to Kings or Dicky Beach, while the still-waters of Bulcock Beach are perfect should they wish to utilise the shaded picnic or barbeque area on the nearby boardwalk. The Des Dywer walking track also starts here, he adds.

There is plenty to enjoy away from the sun and surf, too. Wellham suggests students visit Australia Zoo – made famous by Steve Irwin – Noosa National Park (35 minutes north) and Brisbane (one hour south). While the Glasshouse Mountains – nicknamed as such by Captain James Cook who said the range reminded him of the large glass furnaces in his native Yorkshire, UK – is an area of national significance. The indigenous Kabi Kabi people explain the landscape’s creation in their dreamtime stories, describes Wellham.

Noosa is a resort town on the Sunshine Coast and is home to the very first Lexis English language school. According to Pratt, it is hard to escape the call of the surf, what with the coastal stretch promising the warmest winter water available. “For me, the absolutely don’t-miss experience in Queensland is a visit to Fraser Island, and I’d say almost all of our students find their way onto the island during their time with us.” Students can take a four-wheel drive across the sand flats and camp on the beach overnight, he says.

Nestled between Sunshine Coast in the north and Gold Coast in the south is state capital Brisbane – a city that has been experiencing somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. “With a continuously growing vitality... it is recognised for its efforts in urban design, governance and innovation,” describes Marshall. Once lacking the pace of Sydney and Melbourne it is now very much an “active world city” without all the hassle. She advises students get active and explore the city by bike. “The city has many bike tracks along the river, gardens and throughout the streets.”

Relaxed, friendly and approachable, Brisbane locals – 20 per cent of whom were born overseas – ensure this city has the welcoming feel international students will be looking for. Important to the city’s cultural, social and economic environment, the city’s Mayor is keenly supportive of its international guests. “Our Mayor has a strong connection with international students and continues to make Brisbane more accessible to students,” observes John Smedley, Activity Coordinator at ILSC Brisbane.

Activity programming is unique and exciting at ILSC, says Smedley, most notably the ‘zombie walk’. This worldwide phenomenon takes place in various cities around the globe, and in 2010 the Brisbane leg saw more than 10,000 individuals take part. “The students always love the zombie walk and it raises money for brain research, which is great,” he says. “This year we will have around 80 ILSC volunteers. The students get real interaction with native speakers and learn more about the positive benefits of charity and community efforts.”

Meanwhile, students can hand-feed resident dolphins on Moreton Island, 58 kilometres northeast of the city. “Moreton is an amazing place,” says Smedley. “Students stay there overnight. They go sand tobogganing and have a four-wheel drive desert safari tour which they love.”

Staying within the city limits, why not visit the South Bank [a lifestyle retreat on the banks of the Brisbane River], the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane State Library, Queen Street Mall and the Botanical Gardens, says Laura Jang at Brisbane College of Australia, all of which are free. “We offer a Study Tour programme which we tailor for each group to best suit their needs,” she adds. Typical offerings include weekend trips to Brisbane’s regional islands (North Stradbroke Island, Moreton Island and Bribie Island) and trips to one of Brisbane’s many amusement parks.

Social programming at St Paul’s International School, a coeducational private school in a largely residential suburb of Brisbane, has to cater for a specific age demographic. “St Paul’s programmes make the best of Brisbane’s lifestyle; a lifestyle that allows teenage students to be safe and enjoy a range of activities all year round,” says School Director, Debbie Kemish. Australia Zoo is a must for students, she relates, with its collection of more than 100 different species. More unusual activities include rope climbing courses, music and dance events and design challenges.

“The Gold Coast is Brisbane’s charming neighbour to the south,” notes Marshall. “And Surfer’s Paradise is a must-see for any beach lover, especially, as the name suggests, any surfing enthusiast.” The low cost of living compared with Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, and its balmy warm weather, make the Gold Coast an attractive study destination, says Alyce Elliott at the Gold Coast Institute of Tafe, which offers vocational and educational training. If students tire of Dreamworld, Seaworld, Movie World, White Water World and the Wet & Wild theme parks, they can find sanctuary at Burleigh Heads Beach, enjoy the panoramic views at the top of the Skypoint – one of the world’s tallest residential buildings – or enjoy a dining experience with a difference at Draculas Cabaret Restaurant, notes Elliott.

“By day, the Gold Coast lives up to its reputation of the laidback lifestyle: golden beaches, tropical hinterland and theme park capital of Australia,” says Richard Brown, Director of Browns English Language School, a school with centres in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. But by night it transforms, he says, with a vibrant night-scene unfolding before students’ eyes. Brown divulges a few top tips: scenic waterfront dining at Marina Mirage and strolling around the array of night markets selling clothing, jewellery, artwork and homeware.

“We offer single sex education for girls in an environment that is open and friendly, welcoming of all new students,” relates Margie McGregor, Head of Community at St Hilda’s School. With good air transport links, a high standard of healthcare, and a safe, clean living environment, the city is a popular choice for young learners. The school’s central Gold Coast location means all popular attractions such as the beach, parklands, entertainment venues and shopping precincts are close to hand, she adds.

Outside of the city, she recommends some of the amazing hiking trails in Lamington National Park or hopping across the border into New South Wales to experience the hippie surf culture of Byron Bay. Alternatively, older visitors can scale Tamborine Mountain – the name bears no significance to the musical instrument – where its hilltop base has some wonderful boutique wineries.

Brown concurs, adding that the Gold Coast hinterland is a cluster of wineries, farmland, rainforest and national parks. National Parks in the region do not charge an entry free, so are a cost effective way to explore the country’s beguiling flora and fauna. In addition, he suggests students check out the Natural Bridge – a rather unusual geographical feature – Springbrook National Park and the Currumbin Rock Pools.

As part of the schools’ social calendar, students at Brown’s can handle some of Australia’s reptilian friends. “Students are given the opportunity to get up close to meet and get photos with some of our native snakes, lizards and turtles,” enthuses Brown. “Through an educational talk – which highlights some of Australian’s fascinating scaly creatures – we hope to promote appreciation and understanding of our Aussie reptiles. It’s always entertaining, educational and a truly unforgettable experience,” he says.

Agent viewpoint

“Students comment on...the relaxed way of life and great climate. There is no getting away from it: Queensland is the sunshine state and that helps create a laid-back way of living that is attractive to many. Apart from the centre of Brisbane (which is as bustling as any other city in Australia) Queensland is home to a gentler pace of life where the famous “no worries” Australian philosophy is alive and well! Students love the outdoor life: the beach, the sport, the BBQs and the friendly people. We find that students like Brisbane because it has the facilities of a big city without the problems. It’s friendly and an easy city in which to feel at home, even as a short-term international student. Noosa and the Sunshine Coast are also very popular, especially with younger students who want to really live the beach life. Students comment most about...the nature. Queensland is home to extraordinary natural reserves and wildlife. Students love to explore places like Fraser Island where they can see stunning scenery, walk in the rainforest and escape the real world in a truly Australian way.“
Gavin Dowling, Go Study, Australia

“Our students love the fantastic weather and the sandy beaches in the Queensland region. As Switzerland is a landlocked country they appreciate it very much living by the sea. Boa Lingua [sends students to] partner schools in different parts of Queensland: Brisbane, Gold Coast, Maroochydore, Noosa, Airlie Beach and Cairns. So our student clients are located in different regions with a lot of different landmarks and cities [to choose from]. But one of the most impressive attractions [for students to visit] is for sure the Great Barrier Reef. This submarine world is simply unique and an attraction for many of our students. [In terms of specific aspects of the state and surrounding area], and with the exception of the weather, the beaches and the sea, students are most amazed by the hospitality of the people in Queensland and Australia in general. They love to meet people from all over the world and get in contact with new cultures. They also appreciate the wide range of leisure activities, shopping and nightlife in Queensland.”
Christian Graf, Boa Lingua, Switzerland

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