It was never a big dream of mine to travel to Australia, but my husband had been there before, and assured me I would love the place. I have to admit it didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting to convince me. They say, if you survive the 18-plus hours on a plane to get there, you may as well stay a while.
Well, it didn’t take long to fall in love with this colorful country and its people. It was helpful to read Bill Bryson’s book, “In a Sunburned Country” before we left. Bryson is a humorous writer, and his description of his travel in Australia made me even more excited for the trip. However, his apparent phobia of poisonous snakes, spiders, and sea creatures had a strong affect on me, as I vowed I would inspect the bed every night and not put even a toe in any Australian waters. We wanted to visit as many places as we could in just 18 days, so we traveled a lot by plane to several of the major cities, starting in Sydney, and ending in Sydney.
I expected to see a lot of dirt, tumbleweeds and gum trees, but I had no idea there was so much color in Australia. In fact, it was noticeable everywhere we went. Every wine region, city, coast, and bush area was painted with different colors than the last, and it was remarkable. I can’t tell you how many times we were riding in the car (my husband driving), and I would yell, “stop! I have to take a photo”. Phil was very accommodating to my amateur photographer demands, and was quite impressed when I showed him the results of my impulsive photo shoots.
Sydney was our first stop, and it was quite chilly for a mid-summer day in January. We stayed at the beautiful Blue Hotel on the wharf. I highly recommend this quaint area of Sydney near the Botanical Gardens, and only a 15 minute walk to Sydney Harbour. Australians surely know how to create beautiful gardens, as I observed in every major city we visited. My favorite in Sydney was Hyde Park with the massive trees and well-groomed gardens. The Australian History Museum was a real treat with its Aboriginal historical artifacts and Australian wildlife, both live and preserved.
Melbourne was my favorite of the big cities, maybe because I knew Roger Federer was there competing in the Australian Open, but mostly because it was just a cool, modern, friendly, and food-filled metropolis. The Fitzroy district was a ton of fun to stroll on a Saturday afternoon for shopping, eating, and people-watching. And the highlight of the area was finding the oh-so-hot eyeglass shop called Spex Funky Spex. I bought two fabulous pairs of eyeglass frames designed and made in Australia that would surely make all my friends back home terribly jealous. Then there was the Fitzroy Garden, which was a garden-lover’s dream. It was in the middle of the big city, but it felt like you were on a deserted tropical island.
Of course, we had to attend the Australian Open for a day, which was a ton of fun except I never saw Roger since he had demolished the Australian Tomic the previous night. The Yarra Valley, just northeast of Melbourne was a lovely excursion from the big city. We stayed at the famous Chateau Yering, a beautiful estate nestled in the vineyards and cattle fields of the valley. The Rieslings were particularly delicious, as well as the creamy cheeses from the Yarra Cheese Factory. A highlight in the area was the Healsville Sanctuary, where we spent the day watching Australian wildlife in their natural habitat.
Feeding the kangaroos was the most fun! Our first view of the big coast was at Mornington Peninsula just south of Melbourne. We stayed in Sorrento, where there are wonderful shops and restaurants, but the coastline and beaches were the real draw for us. We hiked the high cliffs over the wild beaches, covered in sea grasses and foamy surf. There were miles of trails with breathtaking views.
We flew from Melbourne to Adelaide, where we stayed only one night before traveling to more wine country. The Santos Tour Down Under, a bicycle race of hundreds of riders, just happened to be in full force when we arrived in the busy city. Thankfully, we had a hotel room booked, since the city was overcome by cyclists. The highlights of the underwhelming city were the Botanical Gardens and the zoo, where we saw the giant pandas, who had recently made their residence in Australia. Seeing a Tasmanian devil was pretty exciting too. I cannot neglect to mention one of the best restaurants we experienced on the entire trip, which was Jasmine, a truly authentic Indian restaurant in Adelaide. I’m still craving the aloo tikes, potato pancakes made by the owner, an 80 year old Indian woman.
The drive through the Barossa Valley, just northeast of Adelaide was very scenic as we passed vineyard after vineyard. We stopped at a few, including the famous Jacob’s Creek, which had beautiful grounds, and a gorgeous tasting room. We drove north to Clare Valley, which is quite smaller and less famous as Barossa, but we were staying at a highly recommended B&B called Thorn Park by the Vines. It’s owned by two colorful guys named Michael and David, both gracious hosts. Their home was beautiful, and Michael’s gourmet meals were out of this world! We spent two days touring the nearby vineyards by bicycles, foot, and car. One of the highlights was when we happened upon a concert by The Three Tenors in one of the vineyards. Only 80 tickets were sold, and everyone brought their own snack, cheeses, and breads to enjoy with the vineyard’s delicious wines while listening to three Australian tenors (from the original ten tenors) entertain for hours. They were thrilled to have a real Oklahoman attending while they sang “Oklahoma”.
Our last destination before ending our trip in Sydney was north of Brisbane to Noosa Heads. Oh what a place! The town of Noosa was full of tasteful shops and great restaurants. It is clearly a tourist attraction, but since school had just resumed in Australia, there weren’t nearly as many tourists. We rented an apartment at On The Beach Noosa, which had a private rooftop overlooking the gorgeous surf on the beach. Each morning we watched hundreds of surfers waiting for the perfect wave (and there were many of them!) We hiked Noosa State Park all three days, and had wonderful food every night. I can’t say enough about this place, and it’s at the top of my list of places to revisit.
Back in Sydney the weather had warmed up, and we spent our last two days walking around the city to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. Our last meal was arranged by Blue Hotel at Cafe’ Sydney, which overlooked Sydney Harbour and the Opera House at night. Oh what a view! The service and food were outstanding also.
Australia has so much to offer and so many places to visit. We saw as much as we could in a short time, but I’ve already started listing the places I want to visit next. The Australians are beautiful friendly people, and they love showing off their colorful country. Their accents are contagious, as are their smiles, laid back attitudes and zest for life. I can’t wait to go back!