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
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.
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)
While 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…
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. Speaking 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).
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??
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.
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…
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.
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!
Bondi 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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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 beaches.
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.