Post Author: Rachel
Our next stop in Australia was Melbourne! In case you missed the first few stops on our tour down under, I wrote about our adventures in Sydney and in Cairns earlier this month.
We arrived in Melbourne around 2 p.m. We took the SkyBus, which is much more affordable than a taxi. The bus dropped off in the heart of Melbourne at the Southern Cross station, which was right across the street from our Aribnb. We just dropped our bags and started exploring the city.
We were so hungry after traveling all day, we immediately went looking for a good restaurant. Get this - we went to multiple restaurants and bars, but found that most places do not serve food until 5 p.m. What?! They all serve alcohol, but no food. We finally found a place called Nando's, which is an Australian chain, but it was new to us and was the only place with food so we grabbed a table and chowed down!
After lunch, our next stop was at the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, basically a giant enclosed ferris wheel that slowly takes you up and around so you get a view of the entire city. We couldn't have picked a better time to do this because it was not busy and only a handful of other people were in line. We got our own pod to take in the city together! It's a huge pod with an in-cabin audio recording, in English, talking about the city, it's history and pointing out landmarks.
After seeing the magnificent city of Melbourne from above, we walked through the city to take in all the details of the architecture and the sights and the sounds of the culture. We discovered a really delicious gelato and ice cream shop across from the Star and tried as many flavors as they’d let us. They were all so incredible!
Walking off the abundance of gelato was imperative, so we strolled down to the water front to check out the amazing views of the city and the yachts docked nearby. We also stopped by a local market for some snacks, a few items for dinner and a couple bottles of wine before heading back to our Airbnb to get some laundry started.
At this point in the trip, we had already worn everything we packed, so we needed some fresh clothes...desperately! We made sure to book Airbnbs with washers and dryers specifically because we had chosen to limit our packing to what fit in two easy to carry backpacks and knew we'd need to do laundry every few days.
But if you have to spend an evening doing laundry, do it while sipping a glass of wine and overlooking the lights of Melbourne! Stunning!
We booked an all day bus tour on Melbourne Boutique Tours through Wildlife Tours and it was phenomenal from start to finish! We were picked up in the morning on a 15 passenger van and our driver was an absolute pro. He was super friendly, made a point of learning our names within the first few minutes, was professional and shared tons of information about every place we visited.
We started with a scenic tour along the Great Ocean Road. This is one of the most famous stretches of highway in the world - very similar to Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, in California. Thousands of tourists flock to this route each year, and after experiencing it for ourselves, we completely understand what all the fuss is about.
Tip - Be sure to take some Dramamine before the start of this trip because these are very windy roads!
We spent about 90 minutes driving southwest of Melbourne, but on the way we stopped in a small town for coffee at a general store that houses some world class baristas and one of the best cups of coffee we had all trip. Delicious! We then enjoyed about two hours driving along the coastline and stopping here and there along the way for photo opportunities, to stretch our legs and take in the spectacular views.
During the next stop, our driver took us up the hill in this town called Lorne to an overlook where we caught the most breathtaking sight of the ocean and coastline. The water was an intense shade of blue and the waves were crashing along the coast - it felt like a scene from a movie; almost unreal, but remarkably beautiful.
Our small group piled back into the van and pressed on. Our next stop was in a small town where we were able to go on a short nature walk a few meters from the road. We saw a couple koalas and some cockatoos in the trees! A true Australian experience!
Next stop, the small seaside town of Apollo Bay. It was named after the ship Apollo that used to deliver goods to the port. We grabbed some lunch at the Bay Leaf Cafe, hit the restrooms, and kept rolling. At this point, we were about halfway through the journey with all the best stops still to come!
Next up, driving on mountain roads through the Great Otway National Park. We stopped for a 30 minute hike through the luscious rainforest that led to a dazzling waterfall and our guide was happy to share lots of history about the area. This section of the rainforest dates back over 300 million years and scientists say this was what Antarctica looked like prior to the Ice Age. Australia broke off from Antarctica and headed north - this piece of the forest is all that remains from those days. According to our guide, only about 5% of the original rain forest still remains as the rest has either burned via wildfires or been developed. This area is now a protected national park in hopes of conserving it for years to come.
After another 90-minute drive, we arrived to one of Australia’s most famous landmarks, The Twelve Apostles. It was an all day journey to get to Port Campbell National Park, home to the Twelve Apostles, but it was totally worth every minute. These “Apostles” are large limestone stacks that sit out in the ocean. Wind, rain, and the ocean tides have eroded away a lot of the coastline over the last 18,000 years, but these stacks still remain and, simply put, it was SUPERB seeing these awe-inspiring structures!
We also climbed down Gibson’s Steps, 94 hand carved steps in the side of a sheer cliff, that take you from the street level down to the beach below. We slipped off our shoes, put our toes in the sand and walked through the water admiring the incredible sights.
Fun fact - the Twelve Apostles were initially called the Sow and Piglets, but some marketing folks felt like a name change would increase tourism, and they were correct! This was supposed to be the tourism “off-season”, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the parking lots. There was hardly an empty space to be found and bus after bus lined the roads with everyone trying to capture the perfect picture as the sunlight reflected off these amazing natural landscapes.
Just past the Twelve Apostles are more natural rock formations that we honestly thought were more impressive than the headline-stealing Apostles. A short distance further is the Loch Ard Gorge, which is potentially the most amazing area of nature we've ever seen. Two horseshoe shaped beaches are met by the ocean that has worked it’s way into this small bay with towering cliffs on both sides.
This area is named after a ship, the Loch Ard, that wrecked during a storm and was slammed into the side of one of these massive cliffs. Only two people survived, a 15 year old boy named Tom and a 17 year old girl named Eva. They were washed ashore and sought shelter until the next morning when Tom was able to go for help in the nearest town. He was able to lead help back to the beach to save the girl and was deemed a hero. The British government rewarded him with various accolades. As the story goes, both he and the girl went their separate ways and ended up back in the UK. Thirty or forty years later, the woman had become a doctor and, get this, was reunited with the man that saved her life, by saving his! He had become very sick and she was able to return the favor of saving his life. How there’s not a movie about this story baffles me!
By the time we loaded up and were headed back to Melbourne, it was about 6 p.m. Keep in mind, we started the day’s journey at 7 a.m.! It was a full day and we still had a 3-hour trek back to Melbourne. We got back to the city around 9 p.m. and were on a mission to find some dinner. Similar to our other struggles to find food in Melbourne, apparently most kitchens close at 8 p.m...so apparently you need to eat between 5 & 8 p.m. or you miss your chance at most places! After striking out a few times, we finally found a pub that was open and grabbed some food and a couple glasses of wine to cap off the night. A full day of driving, sight seeing and adventure, but some of the most rewarding views!
We woke up to a rainy Saturday morning and decided to venture out to find a breakfast hot spot. Taking the recommendation of some locals, we walked a few blocks in our rain jackets to a place called White Mojo, a hipster cafe in a side alley.
Side note - Melbourne has a lot of alleyways and each is filled with cute boutique shops and restaurants. The locals say it’s one of the few cities where you’re encouraged to venture down alleys!
We ordered some caffeinated artwork, or coffee as it’s commonly known, and the Big Breakfast - mac n’ cheese with bacon, cauliflower, mushrooms and a sunny side up egg, all served open face on a croissant. Could be one of the best meals we ate in Australia!
Having devoured our meal, we decided walking and burning off some calories was in order. We headed to the Queen Victoria Market, which is the largest open market in the country. It was lined with vendors selling everything from produce, to Uggs, to boomerangs and kangaroo leather hats.
This particular day there was an Indian Festival, so they had street performers teaching patrons local Indian dances, bands playing Indian music, and several food trucks and vendors selling Indian food, clothes and other products. A really cool experience to see many cultures come together at this event.
After the market, and continuing our day trying to do what the locals do, we grabbed some tickets for the Aussie Rules Football game that was at the nearby Etihad Stadium. It was the home opener for St. Kilda, the home team, and they faced the Brisbane Lions. The game is played a lot like rugby, but with a few twists. We sat by some locals who had a lot of patience answering our many questions as we tried to get up to speed on the rules of the game. By about the second quarter we started to get the hang of it. The game was a great way to get a little taste of the local culture!
Afterwards, we walked over to the market and purchased some sushi for dinner. There is a large Asian population in Melbourne and their food is incredible! We paired our sushi with a nice bottle of wine and took it back to the apartment where we ate, drank and packed our bags to prepare for a very early morning flight the next day over to New Zealand. Be on the lookout for that post next!
Post Author: Rachel
Following up on our adventures down under, after Sydney we flew north to Cairns to explore the Kuranda and The Great Barrier Reef. It's a very hot, humid and rainy part of Australia, but still an absolute blast!
When we arrived mid-afternoon, we checked into our Airbnb, found a restaurant nearby, walked along the coastline and explored the small town. We also made a stop at the nearest grocery store to stock up.
Budget saving tip - We were really excited about some tours and excursions we had planned, but they can be a bit pricey so we stretched our budget by making breakfast and packing our own snacks and lunches when we could. At the grocery store, we picked up fruit, breakfast bars, bread, peanut butter, jelly, etc. Having coffee and breakfast at our Airbnb, saved us both time and money. Plus, with the long days we had planned while in Cairns, it was nice to have our snacks and lunch ready whenever and wherever we happened to be exploring. We were willing to trade the luxury of eating all our meals out at a restaurant for the convenience and savings of making our own.
Pictured above is the view from the Airbnb we stayed at. It was breathtakingly beautiful! Although it's sunny in this photo, I would highly recommend packing a rain jacket. We discovered that just when we were convinced it was going to be a beautifully sunshiny day, all of the sudden there'd be a 10 minute rain shower! It wasn't ever a downpour luckily, just a pesky drizzle.
Our first full day in Cairns was all about adventure! We scheduled the Kuranda Scenic Railway tour through Down Under Tours. Turns out, this was one of my favorite tours and the best tour company of the whole trip. They were phenomenal and I highly recommend them!
The bus picked us up in front of the hotel that was directly across the street from our Airbnb. After a quick bus ride to the train station, we hopped aboard for an hour long trip to Kuranda. We enjoyed some of the most magnificent views of cane fields, waterfalls and the rain forest!
Once we arrived in Kuranda, our tour guide handed us a schedule of the days events and kept us moving. First stop, the zoo area. We met up with our zoo tour guide - basically Steve Irwin - and learned about some of the incredible animals native to Australia. Plus, get this, there were kangaroos just hopping around in the open space! All the other animals were behind fences but these friendly, which is rare, kangaroos were out saying hello and eating some treats right from our hand! How awesome!?
After seeing dingoes, spiders, emus, crocodiles, wallabies and many other amazing animals we were able to hold a croc and a koala! Did I mention this tour was incredible? Because it was!
After our thrilling morning, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet lunch - it was quite the spread, with lots of really tasty choices.
When we were sufficiently stuffed, we hopped on an Army Duck for a unique view of the rain forest. Our driver was a plethora of information about the various trees, poisonous leaves, edible plants and the insects native to the area. It was all very interesting, and a little terrifying to hear about what was in the rain forest!
Back on land, we strolled to the amphitheater where we were treated to a performance of native dances by The Pamagirri Dancers. They were not only entertaining, but funny too.
We broke into smaller groups and were led by one of the natives we had just met. They showed us how to throw spears at targets, how a didgeridoo works, and even taught us how to throw a boomerang ... it's surprisingly more challenging than you'd think, but fun!
So much adventure, but we weren't done yet. Next, we caught a bus for a quick ride to the gondola where we got an entirely new view of the incredible sights from above. On our way down, we were able to hop on and off the gondola to explore different parts of the rain forest. The waterfalls were massive and magnificent and the foliage was beautiful. We also saw lots of very strange insects.
I can't say enough great things about this tour. It far exceeded our expectations and was an absolute blast!
As you can imagine, by evening we were wiped out. Back at our Airbnb, we made sandwiches for dinner, enjoyed a glass of wine and relaxed. A good night's sleep had us ready to hit the ground running for Day Two.
Another full day on the agenda! We woke up early, had our smaller backpacks packed, sunscreen on and met up with our tour bus for our Great Barrier Reef adventure! The bus took us to the pier where we boarded a boat and made our way out to the reef, about a 45 minute boat ride.
Tip - bring Dramamine. This was a LIFESAVER for us! We popped some Dramamine while we were on the bus in preparation for the long boat ride ahead and it definitely saved us from feeling sick on the water.
The Great Barrier Reef is unquestionably one of the world's most fascinating destinations. Imagine pristine blue water filled with colorful reef and equally beautiful marine life. Simply gorgeous!
It was a fun-filled day! We snorkeled, spent time at the beach and took a tour on a semi-submarine boat!
Take a look at the gallery below for all the photos, which by the way, don't even begin to do it justice.
We had a great time on this tour, but realized that if we could do it again, we would scuba dive so we could see more of the coral and fish. Still an amazing experience though.
That evening we were craving some American food and we found a place off the pier called "Howlin Jay's" featuring some of Nashville's Hot Chicken! We grabbed a couple of beers, some hot chicken and enjoyed kicking back and listening to the lull of the waves rolling in.
After dinner, we wandered around the small town once again, enjoying the sights and the sounds before heading back to our room to pack. The next morning, we headed down south to Melbourne. That blog post is coming soon!
Thanks for coming along with me to Cairns and enjoy the gallery of pics below.
Oh my goodness, I have so much I want to share with you all about our amazing trip to Australia and New Zealand! I've done a fair amount of traveling, but never have I had the opportunity to take this kind of adventure - where we really had the luxury of time to explore and soak in what each city had to offer.
To keep from being saddled with luggage that had to be checked, retrieved and pushed and pulled from place to place, my husband and I each packed a backpack. Yep, we were able to fit everything we needed for 2 weeks in a backpack weighing about 20 pounds; easy enough for each of us to carry. We also brought a smaller backpack to use for our day trips, but it doubled as a carry-on for the things we wanted to have ready access to on the long flights over and back. Be on the lookout for more about what and how we packed in an upcoming blog post.
Over the next couple of weeks, I'll pour through all our pics and videos and give you a glimpse into each day's adventure. I'll also share what to do, what to skip, where to eat and recommendations for must see places along the way. It was a a blast and I hope you enjoy traveling along with me.
Our first stop on the list - Sydney, Australia.
We visited Sydney during the third week of March. We caught the tail end of the their summer and the start of fall. However, the temps were in the 90's and even hit 100+ one day. It definitely still felt like the dog days of summer.
Our 15 hour flight arrived around 8 a.m. local time and we hit the ground running! We knew we'd never recover from jet lag if we didn't keep moving. We dropped our bags at our hotel, changed clothes and got on the road.
Bondi to Coogee Beach Coastal Walk
We started with the scenic Bondi to Coogee Beach walk. It gave us a much needed chance to stretch our legs and take in the beauty of the city, enjoy the ocean breeze and soak in the sunshine. This popular pathway is situated on a clifftop along the coastline and offers fantastic views and plenty of photo ops. It's generally an easy walk, with a few stairs, and plenty of water fountains and restrooms along the way. Plan to take at least a few hours so you can stop for photos, bring good walking shoes, and, for sure, remember your sunscreen.
This place is GORGEOUS!! We were in awe of this particular spot. Everywhere we looked we saw the incredible work of God's hand.
While at Bondi Beach, we stopped at the Bondi Iceberg Club, threw our backpack in a locker and sat at the edge of the pool with the ocean waves roaring next to us. For just $7 we got a day pass with access to the pool and sauna and it was so worth it. A perfect way to forget about any jet lag!
Sydney Opera House Bar
It was St. Patrick's Day so things were bustling and people were out and about enjoying the holiday. The Opera House is a stunning architectural marvel that was the perfect backdrop for enjoying an after dinner glass of wine, a live band, the cool breeze and gorgeous scenery.
Before heading to Sydney, we researched some of the best places to grab a bite for breakfast and on our list was Motown Coffee Brewers. It was wonderful! We also discovered that Sydney has some of the best coffee around. If you're a coffee lover, this is the place for you.
This is an absolute MUST and it was one of the coolest experiences ever! You can see all of Sydney in the most spectacular way. Our tour guide's knowledge of the city was impressive and we learned so much about the history of Sydney. Plus, the views were out of this world!
As you can see, we donned some very fashionable gear for this excursion. HA! When we arrived at the BridgeClimb location, we watched a safety video, filled out paperwork, breathed into a breathalyzer (yep, can't drink before this adventure!), threw on these jumpsuits and were checked to make sure our harnesses and gear were clipped correctly. Everything from your hat to your sunglasses are clipped on because you are climbing about 450ft above a highway! No phones, cameras, jewelry, water bottles - you can't take anything with you. We were able to store the rest of our stuff in the free lockers they have available.
We chose to do the morning bridge climb, ascending the upper arch in about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. The views, particularly at the top of the bridge, were sensational. The climb leaders take pictures and videos for you along the way that are available for purchase at the end of the tour. You will want those once in a lifetime shots!
The climb wasn't terribly difficult, but we were definitely ready for some lunch and a cold brew when we finished. Our guide recommended the Australian Hotel so we gave it a try and our lunch was delicious! We were already stepping out of our comfort zone, so we ordered up a kangaroo burger and devoured it in no time. Also, it was fun trying a couple of different beers since they have over 100 on tap.
Later that afternoon, we hopped on a ferry and headed for Manly Beach for a little exploration of the Northern Beaches of Sydney. We heard so many great things about this spot and it didn't disappoint. We made our way to 4 Pines Brewery, a local beer company, and taste tested a few of their most popular brews. We claimed a spot on the patio to relax and enjoy the view on a hot Sydney day.
That evening we had reservations at Fish at the Rocks where we ordered oysters and split a seafood pasta dish. The staff was attentive, the atmosphere was cozy, and and we loved indulging in a superb seafood dinner along with a glass of wine. Highly recommend.
Our last day in Sydney, we got up early to see the sunrise. We walked over to the Sydney Bridge to catch the sun as it came up over the Opera House. It was absolutely breathtaking! We were so glad we didn't hit the snooze button and miss this brilliant view. It was out of this world magnificent and pictures just don't do it justice.
Once the sun was up, we walked back to find some breakfast and enjoy our last cup of delicious Sydney coffee before hopping on our next flight.
By the way, we split every meal during our trip. The portions were plenty for two and we saved some cash too. Speaking of cash, you aren’t expected to tip in Australia. Staff is paid minimum wage and tipping is not customary. But be aware that also means the service is much slower just about everywhere. We planned about two hours into our schedule for each meal to compensate for the slower service and that worked well for us. We were never rushed and learned to enjoy the slower pace.
Sydney was by far one of my favorite vacation destinations ever. I'm already looking forward to our next opportunity to take a trip down under.
After Sydney, we flew up to Cairns to explore The Great Barrier Reef. I'll have more on that coming soon! I can't wait to share more photos and videos with you from this incredible adventure.