After spending two weeks in Australia, I’m by no means an Aussie expert, but I am prepared to give my opinions. Australia has always been this dream destination, top of my bucket-list, a perfection-grade paradise in my mind. As our vacation got closer and closer, I started to worry that I had built it up too much in my mind. I was afraid that I’d be disappointed, that it wouldn’t meet my high expectations. A few things were less than amazing, but overall, I’m happy to report that Australia met my expectations and then some!
The 10 Things We Loved about Australia
Need I say more? Not that you have to be Down Under to hear the Aussie accent, but being constantly surrounded by it was truly a treat. The kids had fun practicing their Aussie accents and I’ve got to say, Hadley was doing pretty well by the end. We’ve all taken to saying tomato (tuh-MAH-toh) sauce, instead of ketchup, it just sounds so much richer and more poetic.
9. Art Museums
For two people who are completely untalented artistically, Nate and I sure love a good art museum. We visited the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. We spent 2 hours there, but could have spent a whole day there. The diversity of styles and materials on display was inspiring. We also visited the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, a smaller collection, but just as diverse. The GMA had special showcases of Asian art and pieces that beautifully and, sometimes, graphically depicted Australian history. There is also a Children’s Art Center with play area that we didn’t have time to visit. Next time.
One of the special things about Australia is the wildlife. Being such a large land mass, so isolated from any other, they have some of the most bizarre and unique animals. Now before you ask, no, we didn’t run into any deadly or venomous animals in the wild (that we know of). But we did see dozens of large, sun-bathing iguanas. We saw cockatoos, just flying free and kookaburras sitting in an old gum tree. (Please tell me you know that reference.)
One night we saw a mama brush tailed possum and her baby hanging out in a tree. Standing on the Shorncliffe Pier, we saw hundreds of blue blubber jellyfish, so unique, like no jellyfish we’d ever seen before. We saw so many more animals that we didn’t know the names of. And get this, during our whole trip, I only got one mosquito bite. That’s 1 mosquito bite! How’s that for paradise?
Once outside of Sydney, we were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness, not that the Sydney-ites were mean or rude, they just weren’t as overflowing with their welcoming. Maybe it was the fact that we began our trip in Sydney, that the rest of the country seemed so warm and welcoming. I think the accent helps with this one, too. When someone opens their mouth and the Aussie accent comes out, I just know we’re going to be instant friends. Haha I could never get tired of hearing, “G’day” or “No worries, Mate”. I love me that Aussie accent… But it was more than that, the people were kind, friendly, helpful, and always good for a laugh.
Australia has it all! We saw pine-forest covered mountains and rain-forest jungles. We saw the Clarence River lazily winding through rich, fertile farmland. The first night of our road trip, we stayed at The Retreat Port Stephens, which has giant sand dunes leading to a pristine, white sand beach, as its backyard. (I’ll get back to the beaches) And we didn’t even scratch the surface of all Australia has to offer in terms of landscape. There’s the whole Outback, the Great Barrier Reef, more tropical rain-forest further north, and snow covered mountains further south. Really, I think everyone could find somewhere to love!
The only things we ate more than once were burgers, pizza, and meat pies, and ohhhh, they were good! Being such an international hub, Sydney, especially, had every kind of food from every different region of the globe. We ate Indian, Malaysian, Thai, Italian, and Chinese, just to name a few. And we saw so many more that we didn’t get the chance to try. We saw some familiar places from the States, like McDonald’s (called Makkers, here), KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominoes… oh, and Outback Steakhouse (No, we didn’t eat at Makkers, but yes, we did have Outback, and I’m only partially ashamed).
Not only was the variety of restaurants there, but the quality was truly something to rave about. Oliver’s Real Food, in Maclean, was a delicious reminder how tasty real, whole food could be. I can’t remember the name, but the Malaysian restaurant we tried felt like we were really eating authentic food, recipes that had been passed down for generations.
4. Fresh Food
Coming from our South Pacific island of American Samoa, where fresh food isn’t always readily available, the produce sections of the grocery stores looked like Heaven on Earth. The fruit and veggies looked fresh and were mostly reasonably priced. We bought more strawberries* and/or blueberries everyday. The food in the restaurants looked and tasted fresh and flavorful. We didn’t even get to a Farmer’s Market (which was on my bucket-list, but sadly had to wait for another trip). The reason being, that we were able to find such an abundance of fresh and real foods by simply walking down the grocery store aisles.
The beaches were one of the main things I worried would be disappointing. We spent very little time at the beaches, due to rainy weather and prioritizing other things ahead (again, we were coming from a tropical island), but we could see at a glance the beauty and vibe of the beaches. Australian beaches go on forever! I’m talking miles and miles and miles, or should I say kilometers and kilometers. Most of the ones we saw were made up of the softest, whitest sand. There were caves and tide pools to explore. Our favorite beach was Caves Beach, a few hours north of Sydney. We also had a blast at Bondi Beach, where the energy was alive. I was afraid that the crowds would feel overwhelming, in comparison with our empty beaches of home. On the contrary, even crowded Bondi Beach was exhilarating and fun.
2. Koala Sanctuary
Before going, one of my top bucket-list experiences was going to a wildlife sanctuary. While in Brisbane, we went to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. I instantly fell in love! We spent a whole day there and I could have gone back again and again. There were so many more native animals than we had seen in the wild. We’d been joking with the kids about being wary of dingoes, and then we saw some, and they are way cuter than I had ever imagined. We got to pet a koala (you can hold one, but it was pricier than we were willing to pay) and, assuming they’d be super soft, we were surprised by how coarse the fur was. We watched a sheep dog demonstration which the kids and adults enjoyed.
But the main attraction was the kangaroos! I know, you’d think it would be the koalas, but those friendly roos completely won us over. There is a great, big open grassy area, where we spent a couple hours, at least, just hanging out with them. We fed them, took a million pictures, and even played with some of the smaller ones. We loved it. The kids loved it. We HAVE to go back someday!
1. Friends & Family
Lastly, we LOVED getting to see friends and family! I know, not everyone will have this perk to visiting Australia, but if you’ve ever lived far, far away from loved ones, you’ll know what an incredible treat this was for us. Nate’s grandpa was born and raised north of Brisbane and most of his cousins are still living there. We got to reunite with family we hadn’t seen in years and meet new family for the first time. We also met Nate’s mom and step-dad, who live in San Francisco, which was so nice for the kids to spend so much time with their grandma. There’s nothing quite like being with family. Some times were frustrating, but mostly it was a real treat after seeing no one for almost a year and a half.
We stayed with family in Brisbane, which saved us $, and they were a wealth of info for the best things to do and see. They also bent over backwards to make us the best, most exotic bbq! I had mentioned that I wanted to try some real Aussie food, you know- kangaroo, croc… A couple nights later, they treated us to bbq roo, croc, Moreton Bay Bugs (flat-head lobster), and prawns. Yes, we had prawns on the barby! And it was amazing! Okay, everything was amazing except the roo. I’ll admit that I didn’t love it, but I’m glad to say I’ve tried it.
Just as amazing, was getting to meet up with one of my best friends whom I hadn’t seen in 16 years! It was surreal, sitting there, eating brunch with her and our two families. It was like the last 16 years hadn’t happened, except we had even more things to talk about. The conversation flowed. We still laughed and joked and our hubbies only added to the fun.
I could go on and on, the Opera House in Sydney, the whole city of Brisbane, road tripping between cities, the kids getting to ride on the metro…
But I’ll finish here. If you ever get a chance to visit Australia, please, go! My dream destination truly was a dream come true. Even with cloudy skies and downpours for most of the two weeks, it was easy to see that this place is something special.
Is there somewhere you’ve been dreaming of? Are you worried it won’t live up to the pictures in your mind? Go. Find out. Who knows, you may just come to find that you love it so much you’d be willing to change your life to move there.