Traveling to Australia: The Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas, Daintree Rainforest & Cairns

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-39Port Douglas

As I mentioned in the first part of this trip recap, my boyfriend and I had no plans or reservations when we arrived in Australia. February is the south of Australia’s summer (perfect weather—warm/hot, not humid), but in the north (think Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands), it’s the rainy season. We felt like we couldn’t leave Australia without doing the GBR, so when I checked the weather forecast Tuesday morning in Sydney and saw that there were a stretch of sunny days coming up around Cairns, we booked a flight up north for that very afternoon. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-21

Travel tip: As recommended by our Aussie friend, we used WebJet to search for flights while there. Typically, either JetStar, Qantas or Virgin Australia would end up offering the cheapest flight options within Australia.

One thing we noticed about flying within Australia was that they board the front the back of the plane at the same time, through two different entrances. WHY DON’T YOU DO THIS, AMERICA?! I know in the US the thought is to board window seats before aisle seats, but it’s always boggled my mind that the back of the plane isn’t boarded first to avoid aisle jams. Am I right or amiright??

Port Douglas

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-37Every person we talked to had the same thoughts on Cairns: mehhh (their words–not mine!). Put off by that, we decided to stay in Port Douglas instead of using Cairns as our home base for the Great Barrier Reef. From the airport, we took a shuttle van (in retrospect, we should have rented a car—would have been cheaper) to Port Douglas, a small vacation town about an hour’s drive north. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-23 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-40

After some quick searching on Trip Advisor for affordable—but quality—hotels, we decided on Martinique on Macrossan, a boutique hotel that we loved! The owners were so sweet and helpful with guiding our plans, and our room had a kitchen, living room and balcony, making for a comfortable two-night stay. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-45

Because it’s the off-season up north, Port Douglas was very quiet, and a lot of the shops and restaurants were closed for the season. There were a few options serving up your basic bar food menu, but my boyfriend and I are both picky about healthy food, so we ended up going grocery shopping and making most of our meals in our hotel room’s kitchen while there. I’d imagine it’s a totally different scene in Port Douglas during tourist season!

The Daintree Rainforest

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-35On our first full day, we rented a car and drove north to check out the Daintree Rainforest. From Port Douglas, you can make a nice little day out of the rainforest, slowly driving your way north along the coast, stopping at beautiful secluded beaches along the way, getting in a little hiking, checking out a crocodile tour and even zip-lining through the rainforest (we didn’t do those last two things, but they came recommended). traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-46

Our first stop was Mossman Gorge. We did about an hour’s worth of hiking (in flip-flops…oops), taking a few stops to jump in the water on our own, and ending at the largest opening for swimming with the rest of the tourists. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-25 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-26 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-27 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-28 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-29

When we made it back to our car, we continued north, and whenever we saw a sign for a beach, would pull off the road to check it out. The beaches were all down little dirt roads and a short walk through the woods. I don’t know if it was because we were there in the rainy season, but they were all completely empty—it was amazing! We’d have an entire jaw-droppingly beautiful beach to ourselves. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-30 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-31 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-32 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-33

We ended up exploring the coast like this until late into the afternoon when we figured we should turn around and start making our way back to Port Douglas. If we hadn’t stopped at so many beaches along the way, we could have gone a little deeper into Daintree and done guided tours of the rainforest, but oh well—we had fun doing our own thing and felt we got enough hiking in around the gorge.

The Great Barrier Reef

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-44Our last day in Port Douglas, we set out for a tour of the Great Barrier Reef—by far the most touristy thing we did while traveling. As recommended by the owners of our hotel, we signed up for an all-day boat cruise with Quicksilver Cruises that would drop us off at three different reef locations for snorkeling and diving.

We were on the fence about paying the extra money to scuba dive, but I’m glad we didn’t. The three locations we stopped at were definitely chosen with snorkelers in mind—shallow with tons of fish towards the top of the reef.

The boat took off around 9AM and took us about an hour out to sea to our first location. There honestly wasn’t much difference between the three spots, but it was nice having the diving broken up into three excursions so that we could have snack breaks and some relaxing sun bathing on the boat. The tour company also served us up a hearty buffet-style lunch. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-41 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-43

The Great Barrier Reef is gorgeous, and I was blown away at just how many fish there were—it’s like the Manhattan of sea life! Now don’t get me wrong, we loved it; but to be honest, I felt a little underwhelmed considering this is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I’ve done some equally beautiful snorkeling right in Mexico! To be fair though, the GBR is massive—I’m sure we didn’t go to the most beautiful part of it. Had we chartered a seaplane to take us out to the most remote reef with trained scuba divers, I’m sure we would have been stunned. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-42

Beautiful nonetheless, and we even saw a couple baby reef sharks!

Cairns … But Really Just Gilligan’s

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-47This part of the trip was hilarious. The night we got back from our GBR boat tour, we decided to take the shuttle van back to Cairns and spend the night so we could catch an early fight back to Sydney the next day. We didn’t know where to stay, but I remembered my friend saying she’d stayed at a hostel called Gilligan’s when she was traveling through Cairns. Now when she was in Australia, she had just graduated college—a very, um, different time in one’s life than where I am now. But that didn’t really cross my mind when I booked us a room…

We roll up to Gilligan’s, and at first I think we’ve just accidently been dropped off at a strip club. The outside is plastered with pictures of half naked girls funneling beers and wrestling in petroleum jelly (I’m not exaggerating even a little bit), and there was the loud thudding sound of bass spilling out into the street at like 7PM. What in the…

Turns out Gilligan’s isn’t just a hostel—it’s one of the biggest nightclubs in Cairns. In fact, it’s really just a nightclub that happens to have communal bedrooms attached to it. LOLLOLLOL

We were definitely two of the oldest people staying there (womp womp), but it didn’t take long for us to embrace it. Up until that point in our trip, we had been so nonstop go-go-go during the day that we went to bed early every night, totally pooped. So when we realized we had accidently booked a room at Australia’s number one party hostel, we just kinda looked at each other and went, “OK, let’s get weird.”

And we definitely did. Surrounded by 18 year olds, I decided to drink like an 18 year old, and heavily paid the price the next day haha. I hate being hungover on vacations because you waste the whole day, but luckily it was down pouring all morning so I didn’t feel too guilty about sleeping in.

We didn’t get to do much exploring of Cairns before heading back to Sydney, but we heard there’s great white water rafting in the area and I wish we’d looked into doing that. Oh well, next time! traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-34Welp, there you have it! It was an amazing two weeks, and so nice to be able to take a break from reality and just enjoy ourselves. I didn’t realize how much I needed a vacation until we went! And the icing on the cake was that the trip was perfectly timed so that we missed all the snow storms Boston got slammed with–well, except for the last one. That one occurred just as we were trying to fly back, which resulted in all our flights getting cancelled and re-routed. We ended up having to fly from Sydney to San Francisco to Detroit (spent the night in Detroit) to Minneapolis to Newark (spent another night in Newark) and FINALLY to Boston. Meanwhile our bags went to Atlanta. It was such a disaster that it was funny. Look at how many boarding passes it took us to get home: traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-59Good. Times. signature


Traveling to Australia: What We Did In & Around Sydney

Traveling to Australia: What to do, eat  and see in and around SydneyBondi Icebergs pool

Jeeze took me long enough to finally post about my trip! I’m going to split it up into two posts since we divided our time between two major areas: Sydney and Cairns. They’re long, so if you just want to scroll through the pretty pictures, I don’t blame you. But if you’re interested in traveling to Australia or simply want to hear about my vacation (10 brownie points for humoring me), I’ll go over all our favorite activities, restaurant recommendations, must-see’s, etc. I’ve highlighted tips and major takeaways from the trip for any future travelers reading this.

(Not) Planning the Australia Trip

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-48Sydney skyline at sunset

I’m a planner and my boyfriend is…not…so I knew it was on me to figure out the logistics of the trip. But it quickly started stressing me out. Where should we stay? How do we get around? Should we book tours in advance? How many days should we stay in each destination? What should we budget for each part of the trip? I was falling into psychotically-type-A mode and then just thought: Screw this—let’s just wing it.

Joe had a friend living in Sydney and I had a mental list of some locations that came highly recommended (Great Barrier Reef, Whitsunday Islands, Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Great Ocean Road), and with that—and only that—we hopped on our plane.

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-19Eating breakfast at a little cafe on the water in Rose Bay

Having a local friend and not having a plan ended up being the two best things for our trip.

Not having an itinerary allowed us to be flexible and follow good weather and suggestions of locals we met along the way. I originally had a vague game plan to fly into Sydney for the wedding, fly up to Cairns to do the Great Barrier Reef, and then travel down the east coast back to Sydney stopping at the Whitsunday Islands, Gold Coast, Byron Bay and a couple other spots along the way. Then, if time, drive the Great Ocean Road on into Melbourne, and back to Sydney to fly out.

It seemed that with limited time there, focusing on Australia’s east coast would give us the best bang for our buck (sorry, Perth and Darwin, you’re just too far!). Still, that is a LOT to do in two weeks—Australia is BIG. You could do the east coast cheaply over a longer period of time by taking buses or renting a car, but with only two weeks, we would have had to fly a bunch, and while flights aren’t too expensive within Australia, the costs would have added up quick.

Flying by the seat of our pants, our trip ended up looking like this: Sydney Area –> Port Douglas, Daintree Rainforest, Great Barrier Reef, Cairns –> Sydney Area: Newport/Palm Beach (northern suburbs of Sydney), Manly, lots of Bondi. We agreed we’d come back to Australia again to do the rest, and quickly stopped trying to fit a grand tour of the entire country into two weeks. Today, I’ll talk about the bookends of the trip spent in and around Sydney…

Sydney (Downtown/Tourist Attractions/Manly)

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-57While in Sydney, we stayed with Joe’s friend and his fiancé in the Point Piper area. They were a godsend! Not having to pay for a hotel room saved us a ton of money. And their view of Rose Bay wasn’t bad either… traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-1 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-2

Their apartment was a quick walk to the Rose Bay ferry dock (you can get around a lot of Sydney’s surrounding areas via public ferries—so fun!), so we could easily hop on a boat to downtown Sydney or another spot. Most mornings we’d stop at a little café at the Rose Bay marina overlooking the water and grab a coffee and some maple date balls rolled in coconut (I was obsessed with these!) on our way to the ferry. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-18 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-11Speaking of coffee, it’s a whole other language in Australia. On the first day, I tried to order an iced coffee and got a coffee with … ice cream on top of it. Stupid American. Eventually we learned the lingo, and I settled with a “long black” most days. :)

We took the ferry into downtown Sydney several times to check the tourist must-do’s off our list. First up, a walk around the Botanical Gardens and checking out the Opera House. Joe liked it so much he even modeled his hair after it… (LOL).

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-17 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-13 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-12 Notice the map shows you where the best “Selfie Spots” are around the Opera House

From downtown, you can then easily hop on a ferry to Taronga Zoo. If you’re only in Sydney on a quick visit, I’d say you could definitely skip this. You’ve seen one sad, caged animal, you’ve seen them all, right? (Zoos make me depressed). I am, however, happy we went because it was the only time I got to see kangaroos and koalas—and c’mon, you have to see them if you’re in Australia! I didn’t take many pictures at the zoo, but below you can see the city skyline in the distance (the location of the zoo is pretty flippin’ beautiful) and then the bowl of deliciousness the zookeepers were feeding the exotic birds. Joe and I were like…so can we, um, eat that? The answer was no, but doesn’t it look good?? traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-16 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-15

Towards the end of our trip, we took the ferry to Manly, which is an awesome little surf town. I easily could have spent a couple days there, but the day trip worked out well. We ate lunch at Mex & Co and got the fish tacos and ceviche. Delish!

My cousin’s wedding was in North Sydney at a theater overlooking the harbor. It was beautiful, and so amazing seeing my family on the other side of the world! It was a 1950’s themed wedding so I…put a weird mesh flower thing in my hair? I don’t know, just go with it.traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-10

A couple things we didn’t get a chance to do that I’d like to do next time (there will be a next time!):

  • The bridge climb
  • Happy hour drinks at The Ivy
  • A night out in King’s Cross (everyone kept talking about how dodgy the area is—I’m intrigued!)
  • See a show at The Opera House

Our friend also mentioned an outdoor movie theater somewhere in Sydney overlooking the water that sounds like an amazing date night. Next trip!

Newport & Palm Beach (Northern Suburbs of Sydney)

After several days up in Queensland doing the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, etc. (I’ll cover that in my second blog post), we were unsure of what to do next. The weather forecast looked permanently rainy in the Whitsundays, Byron Bay and Gold Coast, so we decided to head back down south to Sydney. A friend of Joe’s friend was going to have a huge party at his home in Newport (about an hour’s drive north of Sydney) on Saturday followed by a day out on his boat Sunday so we—obviously!—jumped on board. Guys. The house… traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-50

It was quite possibly the most gorgeous home I’ve ever been to, and we were graciously invited to spend the next three days there. On Sunday we took the boat out all day, eventually docking in Sydney Harbour where we watched the sunset. Life is good. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-49

Earlier that day, after a few (ok, more than a few) drinks, we jumped off the boat and thought it’d be a good idea to swim to The Island, which is essentially a floating bar you get to via water taxi. Yeah, turns out they don’t allow wet, drunk people in bathing suits to climb up the sides of their barge. That’s a #ProTip that I’m sure will come in handy should you ever visit. 😉

During the other couple days spent on the north shore, we hopped around to the different beaches, hung out by the pool, and enjoyed a slower, super relaxed pace of life for a bit. It was wonderful!


traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-53Bondi gets its own section because we fell in love with it and spent half the trip talking about how we need to own a condo there when we hit the lottery. The great thing about not having an itinerary going into our trip is that we were able to spend the last three days pretending to live there. We had a little Bondi daily routine by the end of it:

Run along the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. We walked the walk one of our first days in Australia and were blown away by how pretty the route was. At the end of the trip, we’d run shorter portions of it for a quick morning workout. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-9 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-6 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-20

Go for a dip in the water and catch some rays at Bondi Beach. My only complaint about Bondi Beach is the massive bathing suit envy it ignited in me—I swear everyone was 100x trendier and cooler than me everywhere we went. :) traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-55

Head to Bondi Icebergs for a sauna & swim in the saltwater pool. Icebergs is awesome. You pay about $5 to access the pool and sauna, but can also pay more to use their gym or attend their outdoor yoga classes. We loved it! traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-58traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-3

Finish the day with dinner and drinks at Bondi Hardware. It was almost embarrassing how obsessed we were with Hardware. The hostess would be like “Oh…you guys. Again.” But every dish was like the best dish we’d ever had and we couldn’t get enough. On the weekends they have brunch as well (it’s just dinner on week nights). bondi-hardware-salad traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-4

Speaking of food, in Bondi we also loved Trio for breakfast and lunch, Lamrock Cafe for breakfast and lunch, M Deli Cafe for lunch, Mamasan for dinner and Messina for gelato.

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-8Cauliflower spinach salad from M Deli Cafe

traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-51Mango shrimp salad from Trio
traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-56Sippin’ on an acai smoothie from Lamrock Cafe

Final Thoughts on Sydney

What an amazing city! Granted, I haven’t been able to do a ton of traveling abroad in my life, but this was the first time I visited a city in a new country and thought, “I could totally see myself living here.” It’s an English-speaking, first-world country, so certainly lots of cultural similarities to the States, but the pace is just a bit slower, the lifestyle just a bit more laid back, and therefore the quality of life seems to be just that much better. Of course that assessment is coming from someone who spent all of 14 days there, but we met countless expats in Sydney who shared that same opinion. traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-54

I was also struck by how well maintained all the public areas were in and around Sydney, and how many free public amenities there were. No trash on the ground (but also surprisingly fewer trash cans than in the streets of American cities—I don’t get it?), clean public restrooms (and even public showers), and these amazing public pools nestled into the cliffs at several of the beachestraveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-5 traveling-to-australia-sydney-cairns-7

The pools are built so that the waves from the ocean come over the outside edge—they’re awesome. And with the exception of Icebergs in Bondi, all the ones we saw were free to the public. What a great amenity for people living around Sydney—especially with young kids who may not be able to swim in the open ocean with rough waves.

Of course the tradeoff to amazing public services like this is high cost of living and high taxes, so I won’t go too far down my Sydney-is-perfect rabbit hole, but I really did adore it.

If you’ve traveled to Sydney (or live there) what are some of your favorite things to do (and eat)? signature

45-Minute Treading Workout

45-Minute Treading Class WorkoutI know this picture makes the workout look totally overcomplicated, but I swear it’s not—bear with me…

Hope you all are enjoying the weekend! I’m off to Btone in a couple hours to take a class before teaching a couple. For all you Boston peeps, Michele’s class is worth waking up early on a Sunday for—kicks my ass EVERY time. Add it to your must-try fitness list.

Anywho, I’ve got a fun cardio workout for all you gym-goes and treadmill owners. The treading class at Hilton Head Health was probably my favorite of the many varied exercise classes I tried there, so I thought it’d be fun to share one of my own creation and talk a little bit more about the fitness aspect of my stay at H3. If you missed my first post about the blogger trip to Hilton Head Health, I talked about the education component, specifically a lecture on portion control I attended.

All throughout the day at H3 there are fitness classes offered, ranging from yoga to TRX to aqua boxing in the pool. Some have capacity limits and require sign-up the day before, but for the majority of them, you can just pop into whichever ones sound appealing. That’s something I really liked about Hilton Head Health’s programming—they don’t force you to do anything you don’t want to. Yes, the majority of guests are there to lose weight, and there is guidance and encouragement to do certain classes, but there’s no drill-sergeant mentality. You make your own decisions about what you want to do.

trx-hilton-head-healthSarah and I at a TRX class at H3

During my stay, I tried a bunch of classes: Pilates for Flexibility, Yoga Flow, TRX Circuit, Muscle Mobility (SMR with lacrosse balls) and Treading (twice). A lot of the guests at H3 are just starting out on their road to health, and the instructors do a great job of teaching to beginners while also offering modifications for those who are more advanced in the class. As someone who’s in the industry, trust me—it’s a sign of a damn good instructor if a group of people ranging from young fitness bloggers to 60+-year-old beginners leaves a class all feeling like it was an awesome experience. So let’s slow clap it out for Camila at Hilton Head Health—her treading class had everyone sweating (and dancing).

45-Minute Treading Workout

This workout is made for the treadmill, but you could easily adapt it to another cardio machine (stationary bike, elliptical, etc.) The numbers used are for a treadmill with a 0-15 incline range, so adjust accordingly if your machine uses a different scale.

All levels can do this workout! You’ll see I use the terms walk, jog, run and sprint to describe the speed you should go—these terms will mean different speeds to different people. If you’re advanced, sprint might mean 10+mph. If you’re a newbie, sprint might mean power walking at 4+mph. Both are great! These terms represent more of an effort scale than a numerical speed value:running exertion speed scale

As you’ll see, the workout is broken up into sections. The numbers always represent incline. For speeds, I use walk, jog, run, sprint. The image at the beginning of this post is super detailed (you can print it out and bring it to the gym with you), but if you’re a treading pro, the following summary might be enough to guide you.

WARM UP | 0:00 – 3:00
At a 0 incline, do a minute of slow walking lunges (set treadmill to .5-1mph for these) then jog for two minutes.

STEADY CLIMB | 3:00 – 13:00
Maintain a steady jog-run pace throughout the 10 minutes. Every minute, you’ll change the resistance up by two points, starting at a 3 and peaking at a 15. You’ll then decrease the incline by four points each minute, returning back to a 3 incline.

Using 30-second intervals, you’ll run, sprint, and then walk (recover). Do this at a 3 incline, then a 6, then a 9.

BREAK | 17:30 – 19:00
Walk it out, grab a drink of water, catch your break. You can jog if you’re ambitious.

ROLLING HILL | 19:00 – 29:30
Maintain a steady jog-run pace the entire time. You’ll change your incline every 60 seconds climbing up to the top, staying at the top for 30 seconds. Incline changes are in increments of three and get less steep with each of the three hills: 6, 9, 12, 15 (first hill); 3, 6, 9, 12 (second hill); 0, 3, 6, 9 (last hill).

BREAK | 29:30 – 31:00
Walk it out, grab a drink of water, catch your break. You can jog if you’re ambitious.

SPEED INTERVALS | 31:00 – 36:30
These are done at a 0 incline. You recover for 30 seconds between each of the five sprints. The first two sprints are 60 seconds long and the last three sprints are 30 seconds long.

BREAK | 36:30 – 38:00
Walk it out, grab a drink of water, catch your break. You can jog if you’re ambitious.

FINAL PUSH | 38:00 – 41:00
Run for a minute each at a 10, 5, and then 0 incline.

COOL DOWN | 41:00 – 45:00
Walk for three minutes, gradually slowing it down. Finish with a minute of those slow walking lunges we started with.

hilton-head-health-blogger-tripAndie from Can You Stay For Dinner?, Beth from Beth’s Journey, Monique from Ambitious Kitchen, Sarah from Sarah Fit and I before our first treading class at H3. Not pictured is Lisa from Snack Girl who joined us for our second treading class the next day. :)

In addition to taking classes, I also got a tennis lesson (I LOVED it!) and went for a couple beautiful runs on the beach by H3. The sand there is hard so it’s perfect for running and even bike riding. If you follow me on instagram, you’ve already seen the view, but it’s just too pretty not to share again:hilton-head-beach hilton-head-beach-sunrise tennis-lesson

Have you ever taken a treading class (or something similar) before? I find running on a treadmill painfully boring alone, but in the group setting it was so fun!