Traveling with my folks ensures certain occurrences to each vacation day, especially when touring Australia. Regular instances include my farmer father explaining the almond-growing industry to every possible person that comes within 20 feet of my family, and my mom’s constant water bottle and a bathroom breaks. Fanny packs – or bum bags as Aussies call them, since fanny is a not-so-nice word for vagina – and shorts with socks are part of the daily ensemble. And if everyone in the southern hemisphere cannot tell we are tourists already, my folks will proceed to loudly comment on anything slightly different from American. The combination is at least entertaining and promises for a memorable experience.

After visiting Sydney, we spent some days touring the rainforest in Port Douglas. The Daintree River flows through the area and the brackish water is home to the salt-water crocodile. We went on a little riverboat and spotted four crocodiles within the hour. Our guide said occasionally people who live around the area will swim in the river after having a few drinks. Apparently a mail lady and her boyfriend disappeared in the river some years ago after a party. The townsfolk went on a croc-killing spree and eventually found a bit of her arm in the belly of one of the younger ones. And I thought drinking near the cliffs in I.V. was dangerous!

After seeing Port Douglas, we boarded a ship called the Coral Princess to cruise part of the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns to Townsville. The only downside was the ocean was churned up from the earthquake and tsunami that happened in the Solomon Islands. The result was a never-ending sense of nausea that can only been described as riding a tilt-a-whirl while drunk. The perpetual discomfort was worth it, however, to see the Great Barrier Reef in person. Everything was afire with color and laced with patterns that I didn’t know nature could produce. And yes, I found Nemo.

The last stop on the Crecelius family vacation was Brisbane and the Gold Coast. We boarded the Croc Express bus to visit the Australia Zoo. I was taken aback upon entering the park to discover Steve Irwin’s face printed on nearly every inch of the place. His parents opened the zoo in the 1970s. The grounds were the most beautiful and spacious out of any zoo I’ve ever seen. I was actually happy for the animals in there because it was such a well-run environment. There was a display of Steve Irwin’s life history and a memorial to him where people could write messages and leave little tokens, like plastic crocodiles. Thousands of people from every country left messages of thanks for him. It made me realize that despite the jokes you could make about his overly enthusiastic nature and the risks he took, he really was a wonderful person and did a lot for the protection and conservation of the animals he loved.

The highlight of our trip for me also occurred in Steve’s zoo. I finally got to hold a koala. From the first day I walked into the Education Abroad Program office and picked up the Australia brochure with a guy holding a koala on the cover, I had a goal. I wanted to take that fuzzy, sleepy little marsupial in my arms and cuddle. The expression “cuddle a koala” is thrown around a lot in Australia, but it’s all lies. Queensland is the only state that actually allows you to hold one. So when the zoo girl instructed me to put one hand under the butt and the other hand on the back of the three-year-old male koala named Leno, I happily obliged. His fur felt springy like a lamb and he smelled like eucalyptus. While I pondered over the penalty of koala theft, the zoo girl took a photo, which I could purchase at the reasonably low price of $20. That picture is packed away safely for my return to Adelaide, where I’ll gleefully post it on Facebook.