Growing up, my parents put a kangaroo or koala in my Christmas stocking nearly every year in hopes of taking us to Australia some day, but we were never able to make it happen. All my life, the dream lingered. Once I got married, my sister reminded me that I had declared as a child that I would NOT have children before traveling to Australia. I didn’t want to let younger me down, and after a little bit of convincing, Matt was in!
The flight to Australia was the longest Matt and I have ever flown. We flew MCO->LAX and LAX->SYD. The total trip was 20 hours each way. We wore some super cute compression socks and I made us walk around the plane every few hours. Safety first!
Upon arriving in Sydney, we took a train from the airport to a mountainous (colder) area called Katoomba. It was about a two hour train ride. Katoomba has beautiful, scenic hiking which we did for two days. We hiked near a natural landmark there called the Three Sisters, which is basically 3 giant rocks that jut up in the middle of the Blue Mountains in New South Whales, Australia. In this area, there is also a man-made-mixed-with-actual-rock- staircase called the Giant’s Stairway. The Giant’s Stairway comprises more than 800 steps descending over 1,000 feet. The first day we heeded someone’s advice and walked down the stairs and rode the world’s steepest train (straight up and BACKWARDS) back up the mountain (such a fun, terrifying experience!). That also meant that instead of walking through the forest, we had to take a cable car suspended in the air across a ravine to get to said train. The second day, we hiked the entire trail down and climbed back up. #wod #tyvm #whew. We were so Hunger Games. Hiking back up was actually more preferable though than that cable car suspended in the air on a skinny little cord. That thing was scary. Prior to visiting Australia, nearly everyone I spoke with asked me why we were going to a country where every single animal is deadly there. That fact was definitely on the forefront of my mind while hiking in the woods alone, but I felt a little better since we were carrying a satellite phone. And in the end it turns out we made it.
One thing that surprised us about Australia was that it is similar to the US in being a ‘melting pot,’ especially at the tourist stops. There were all kinds of races of people. Sometimes it can be funny to experience cultures of people around you that are different than yourself. There was one point near the Three Sisters’ lookout that the pathway had become very congested with tourists. All at once, the man DIRECTLY in front of me let out the loudest SHART I have ever heard. It sounded like the one from that rhino in the viral you tube video. I shrieked aloud, but the guy didn’t miss a beat in his conversation. He didn’t even laugh. It was just completely normal to SHART all around. I. WAS. SHARTED. ON. BY. A. STRANGER.
Our bed and breakfast in Katoomba, (where we stayed when we did all of the aforementioned hiking shown above) Lilianfel’s, was gorgeous– complete with two pools, a spa, and two restaurants way too expensive for us to indulge in. Luckily for Matt and me, they had an absolutely incredible complimentary breakfast, and we split lunch each day, which was enough to hold us over because our sleep schedules were so off. (Australia is 13 hours ahead of EST, so we had our work cut out for us in the jet-lag department). Unfortunately, high tea at Lilianfel’s was also $100 and I couldn’t convince Matt that it was worth it for $100 finger sandwiches just to pretend to be proper. (But they just looked so GOOD). I settled for this chicken and hummus plate with avocado quinoa salad paired with tea. And sat with the high-teaers. So it was like the same. Without the mountain of beautiful pastries. But cheaper.
After two nights hiking and enjoying the view at the beautiful Liliafel’s of Katoomba, it was time to take our holiday back to Sydney.
Sydney was nothing like I’d imagined. I was picturing a California beach town, but it was gigantic–it felt more like NYC! Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel, Ovolo. If you ever have the opportunity to stay at an Ovolo hotel, DO IT! They gave free surprises, INCLUDING free cocktails and appetizers from 5-7p every night. Free dinner anyone? Not to mention, because of it’s industrial décor it was gorgeous, and yet it was very reasonably priced! Our room was a loft style with exposed brick. It was amazing.
Our first day in Sydney, we took the subway (also known to the Aussies as the ‘train’) and then a bus to Bondi Beach. We had heard we may want to avoid this beach because it is more of a tourist beach, but I really wanted to see the saltwater pool. (And plus, we were tourists). We were so glad we visited Bondi–we would have missed out on quite a gorgeous sight had we decided to skip it. We didn’t go in the water though, because it was Australia’s fall season, so it was somewhat chilly in the breeze, and more so, that water was freezing! While at Bondi, there was filming for a New Zealand TV series, “The Lake House.” Not so sure why a show about a lake was being filmed at the ocean, but it was fun to watch all of the extras and crew. Spoiler alert: somebody in that scene gets shot.
The next day we got to see our Australian friends, Bec and Ash, that we met at a mutual friends’ wedding in Orlando. They recently had a baby girl named Lucy who we were absolutely dazzled by #ilovelucy. When loading into their car, a spider bigger than my entire hand was on the ceiling of the car, and it scrambled into the air vent. Ash sprayed a can of pest killer into the vent, which I am largely convinced that I inhaled our entire drive all while patrolling the air vent to make sure that thing did NOT come back out. Haha. We drove a few hours south to Kiama, where we spent the day grabbing coffee (coffee is a big deal in Australia), saw Kiama’s natural blow hole, and lunched. Matt and Ash played a game where Matt had to mimic all of the things Ash said in his Australian accent. He did pretty well. (Kind of). They taught us some different ‘Australian’ words, such as pram, which means stroller. They also brought us by their home back in Sydney and we ventured over to the mall for some ice cream. Getting to visit with them was absolutely our favorite leg of the trip. I think Bec is my soul sister, and if we lived on the same continent I am certain we would visit all the time. They are such uplifting, encouraging people and we were so happy to see them!
The day after we took a ferry over to Manly, where million dollar homes and scenic boats speckled the scene. This was more of what I had imagined when I dreamt of Australia. The wind on the ferry was a bit chilly, and it rained a bit, so we curled up in a towel. Once in Manly, the sun came back, and first we explored the Sea Life Sanctuary. We learned a lot about the native penguins common in Sydney Harbor. They also had sharks, small crocs, and sea horses to see. After, we went to a few shops, of course enjoyed the sun on the beach, and before getting back on the ferry, stopped for some Thai food. Matt ordered some ‘bone-out’ wings, expecting the American version of boneless wings. Instead, what he received were chicken wings with the bones hanging out. Mmm. Mine was good though. Sorry babe!
Later we visited the Opera House + Sydney Harbor. We stayed out until 9 (which seems early, but we’d been falling asleep every night about 6) and got drinks at the Opera Bar right outside of the Opera House on the water. It was packed with locals and beautiful nightscapes overlooking the water and adjacent to the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It was the perfect place to soak in our last night and do some people watching. After drinks, we walked the Harbor Bridge and the views were unreal. What we discovered is that Sydney is the perfect blend of true city (with proper public transit and infinite things to do) and quaint beach-town living.
The cities we visited, Katoomba and Sydney, are in the Australian state of New South Whales, but our next stop took us to a new state, Queensland, where we hopped on another plane (just in case we hadn’t traveled far enough), and flew to a city in northeast Australia–Brisbane. I don’t know the exact mileage, but the look of the map and the flight time were comparable to a flight from Orlando to NYC (in a New York state of mind over here). We were SHOCKED that a ticket agent didn’t even ask to see our id to obtain our plane tickets! All aboard, I suppose! Our next destination was about an hour and a half train ride from the airport.
Because if there is one person I think of when I think of Australia, it’s Steve Irwin. I grew up loving the Crocodile Hunter. I couldn’t go all the way to Australia without visiting his home In Beerwah, (near Brisbane), the Australia Zoo.
When we arrived at the train stop for the Australia Zoo, a zoo shuttle picked us up at the station. They had luggage storage at the zoo, which was nice. We decided to buy 2 day park passes since, I promise you, there is absolutely nothing else to do in Beerwah (it is mostly woods). We hadn’t rented a car because neither of us were comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car. I think when people travel to the Australia Zoo, they likely stay on the Sunshine Coast, which you should do if you go, too.
The Australia Zoo was everything you would think it would be. It was clean, well-kept, it’s mission was conservation, and the animals were amazing. You can’t see a kangaroo or koala just anywhere in the world, but at the Australia Zoo they are in plenty supply. There were even wild iguanas roaming the sidewalks. Who knew. I really enjoyed learning more about Steve Irwin’s story and that of his family at the memorial area, which had pictures and information about their life, and their life’s mission, to teach people about how to protect animals, and how to protect the earth. The croc shows and bird shows were breathtaking, and we got to see the fully operational animal hospital.
Before we left on our trip to Australia, Matt was talking about our plans with one of his managers at work. She told him he should steer clear of holding a koala, because many of them have chlamydia. I was devastated when he told me this news. I tried to research on my own if this disease could spread from a koala to a human with a scratch from the koala’s sharp claw (CAUSE I DON’T KNOW!)…I searched to no avail, and was undecided on whether or not we should hold them at the zoo. But when we got there, they were just so cute, and fluffy. I reallllllly wanted to hold one…
Standing in line to hold the koalas, I was anxious excited, but the anxiety won over. “Excuse me, sir?” I said to the zookeeper nearby. “Can this koala give me chlamydia?” I only wish I’d snapped a photo then, because all I got was the look. It said stupid American. (So, no. It turns out, no. No is the answer).
So I held the cheeky bear and he was just as fluffy and snuggly as I thought he would be. He was so heavy too! What a lump.
When we left the zoo, we asked the zoo shuttle driver to take us to our bed and breakfast (who are we?!) because there is only one taxi in Beerwah and it could take hours to catch a ride, and our shuttle driver so kindly obliged. He also agreed to pick us up the next morning (seriously, we’re BOLD!) at the bed and breakfast, which was (by the way), really just a house.
First of all, let’s talk about that awkward moment when you and your husband are on the last leg of your trip. You show up at your quaint, very private, beautiful, country B&B and upon settling in your room, notice a sign that says (in not these exact words but this exact meaning) A PYTHON-MAY-CAN-OFTEN FREQUENTS-IS ALLOWED TO- VISIT YOUR ROOM, SO AND NOW I QUOTE, “DO NOT BE ALARMED AS I AM A HARMLESS PYTHON.” AND ANOTHER THING. That awkward moment when you show up at your quaint, very private, beautiful, country B&B with no car and no food. You explain this to the owner who is a very nice woman and drives you to the nearest restaurant (only restaurant) in town. You show up 30 minutes before they serve food so they tell you the bar is open. You sit down with your husband and a nice pear cider. As you reminisce on the good and funny moments you’ve shared on your beautiful trip, suddenly right next to your pear cider, lands a DIME-SIZED black raisin. You look up to find a gecko above your head on the inside of the window, who has poo’d a poo as big as him on you. The romantic moment has ended, as you very rationally disagree with your husband about the possibility of you or said husband drinking the cider that was right next to a dropped bomb (that could have touched the lip of your drink of the way down- WE DON’T KNOW). I certainly daydreamed of home that night (get it, because I didn’t sleep, not with a python up in here). NOT TODAYYYYY.
Needless to say, the next time we visit Australia we will rent a car, and commute from the Sunshine Coast. I was disappointed not to visit there anyway as my sister had highly recommended we stay there. Australia is such a big country-it’s a whole continent in fact-so there are many places I want to see when we go back. The Barrier Reef, Melbourne, and Uluru to name a few.
the newly whale