For those of you who don’t know, living in on the
Wet West Coast in Vancouver, BC involves donning our rubber boats and trench coats (and for me, waterproof running gloves that I wear every day regardless of whether I’m running) and hunkering down for the relentless rain and grey skies which typically begin November and end … well, that varies … Right around January, we all start getting a bit squirrely around here and the plans for a March break getaway begin a-brewing.
When mid-February rolled around and we found out that my hubby had holidays over the break, we just knew we had to go somewhere hot and sunny. Typically, folks in Vancouver head to 1 of 5 places: California, Hawaii, Florida, Mexico, or the Carribbean. However, if you start your planning in mid-February you likely will not find a flight (for us stand-by travellers) or it is waaaaaay too expensive. So, why not head down to the Southern Hemisphere where people are experiencing late summer/early fall? And, importantly … there were seats available!
For the record… it was MY idea…
Where Did We Go?
Yes, for those of you who don’t recognize the flag, we decided upon Australia! Australia has been on my bucket list of places to visit for as long as I can remember. Well at least since my mother informed me that I could not have a pet koala and since gazing upon the Sydney Opera House through my View-Master in complete and utter awe as a child.
I would now like to share with you some of the highlights of our travels which centred largely on Sydney and the Gold Coast. But before I begin with my Top Five Best Experiences in Australia there are a few things I need to mention.
It’s a really long flight from Vancouver to Sydney and back again (duh!).
Q. Do you know what made it longer on the way to Sydney?
A. The 1.5 hour delay at 11:45 pm at night
Q. Do you know what made it longer on the way back to Vancouver?
A. The medical emergency on the only flight to Sydney from Vancouver on our airline (thus being the plane bringing us BACK to Vancouver) that caused a diversion to Honolulu and resulted in a TWO-DAY delay in our return flight. THEN, when we were finally airborne, Dominic (who was sitting with his Dad two rows back from my daughter and I) began throwing up and feeling light-headed, which prompted said Dad to freak out and scream for a doctor on board (he’s since conceded that perhaps he may have over-reacted just a touch!)
B. The Touching Tribute to Steve Irwin at the Australia Zoo
I must admit that we were not prepared for our emotional reaction to all of the tributes to Steve Irwin throughout the Australia Zoo. For those of you who don’t know Steve Irwin (aka the Crocodile Hunter), he was a well-known Australian wildlife expert, television personality, and conservationist. He died tragically in 2006 when a sting ray’s barb pierced his chest during the filming of one of his documentaries. Steve left behind his wife Terri and two children, Bindi and Robert. The photo below is of a beautiful mural made of mosaic honouring Steve Irwin.
C. The Playground in Sydney
I, in all honesty, have never set eyes on a playground like the one we found in Darling Harbour in Sydney. We just finished building a playground at our school and we are quite proud of how beautiful it is, but this playground is MASSIVE and the kids spent HOURS playing in it. It featured the tallest climbing net I have ever seen. I didn’t climb up but my hubby trembled and paled as he made it to the top. The water park is so imaginative with rivelets of water trickling down amongst a maze of rocks featuring removable dikes and dams. The playground also featured spinners, a flying fox (what we call a zip line here), a humongous saucer swing, and an even bigger slide. I could just go on and on about this park. It was AMAZING!
Oh Ken! You with that deep, tantalizing voice, speaking with that delicious Australian accent. I couldn’t get enough of you and you never led us astray (ok, maybe you did once or twice). Who is Ken, you ask? Ken was our GPS guide – you know, that little voice in your GPS that says “In 200 meters, turn right”. We ended up renting a car for three days and only turned on the windshield wipers (instead of the turn signal) and veered into the wrong lane a few times! Do you know what’s more dangerous than driving with the steering wheel on the other side of the car and driving on the left side instead of the right? I’ll tell you … walking on the sidewalk and trying to cross the street. Let’s just say that I now understand why we have “Look to your right/left” emblazoned on the road at intersections for pedestrians in Vancouver (they’re in Sydney too!)
E. The Time Difference
If you go by the philosophy (as I do) that you can sleep when you’re dead, you’ll do ok. We forced ourselves to stay up as late as possible starting the first day (I think we made it to 7 pm local time), and eventually we adjusted. And, you know what? I was totally ok with waking up at 5 am because I got to watch the sunrise from our 66th Floor condo facing East in Downtown Sydney. Here’s the view from where we were. It only took about 4 days (all beginning with a bad headache) before we were on a good schedule. Coming back is a bit different… Thursday was the first day that both my kids are at school on time (although one of them tried to crawl back into bed after breakfast). C’est la vie!
Yeah, you folks in Australia and the U.S. know what I’m talking about. I just have one thing to say – Thank Goodness we don’t have THAT here in Vancouver! The kids went completely cuckoo in there. lol
My Top Five Best Experiences in Australia
#5. The Beaches, Hotness, and Sunny Skies (Mostly)
The whole point of going to Australia was to be warm again. The weather did not disappoint. I did not feel any coldness the entire time we were there. Wait, not true, I was cold when I entered air-conditioned stores and restaurants. Did it rain? Yes, but only after we were tucked away in bed for the night. The Gold Coast was hot and sunny every day with perhaps a passing shower. It was lovely.
Oh, the beaches! We were camped out in an apartment/condo at Burleigh Heads with the beach located just across the road. That sand! Unbelievably soft, few rocks, pebbles, and shells. It was a dream. And the waves – massive! While I wasn’t quite brave enough to try surfing, I did boogie board quite a bit. It was such a rush to see 2 meter waves bearing down on me – part terrifying, part exhilirating.
#4. Tropical Fruit World
We were pleasantly surprised by our visit to Tropical Fruit World. The reason we wanted to go in the first place was because we love to try new fruits, especially ones that we would never have the opportunity to find in our local grocery stores. Ok, arguably, we could have just bought them at grocery stores in Australia, but then we wouldn’t have experienced the boat cruise, train ride, feeding of kangaroos, macadamia nut-cracking, and safari through the plantation (so beautiful!).
And, importantly, we most likely wouldn’t have encountered the ice-cream bean (not as good as you’d think) and the MIRACLE FRUIT. That was the coolest thing ever. So, you put this unassuming little red berry in your mouth, chew it up, and smear it all over your tongue (especially on the sides in the back). Then you put a lemon in your mouth and suck back the juice. What you end up tasting is more like Lemon Sorbet because what the miracle fruit does is fool your tongue into thinking that everything is sweeter than normal. The effect lasts about 20 minutes. It was… get ready for it … a miracle.
#3. Sydney and the Opera House
Oh, Sydney Opera House, how I’ve longed to feast my eyes upon you in person and lay my hands upon your … what? … yellowish tiled roof? You mean those are not billowing white sails? Ok, even if it was not quite what I expected, the Sydney Opera House is still an architectual wonder – it is beautiful! We had the opportunity to walk right up to it (it took everything in me not to squeal like a young child as we got closer and closer), rest our hands upon it, and also view it from the ferry we took to Manly (a resort area in Sydney).
One other feature of Sydney (although I could choose many) worthy of mention are the Royal Botanic Gardens contained within Hyde Park (I think). They were so green and lush and contained the most beautiful (and in some cases, unusual) vegetation. And, much to our amusement, there were wild cuckatoos flying around in one particular section (loud birds those cuckatoos!). You can see that my kids were making friends with the cuckatoos. 🙂
#2. Cute Furry Animals and Big Fish With Sharp Teeth
When I was about my daughter’s age, I begged my Mom for a pet koala. At the time, they were the epitome of a cute furry critter. However, after doing much research using our encyclopedias, I learned (much to my dismay) that koalas live in sub-tropical areas (in Australia) and they basically only eat Eucalyptus leaves. So, perhaps Manitoba was not the best place to keep a koala as a pet. Boo…
But my day has come … perhaps I don’t have a koala as a pet, but I did get to snuggle one up in my arms. Yes, they are as cute and cuddly as I expected. Now I want one even more! We encountered the lovable koalas in both the Australia Zoo (where we could pat their soft cushie bottoms to our heart’s content) and at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary where we got to actually hold them.
We also had a chance to visit the Sea Life Aquarium in Sydney where we saw all varieties of sharks, rays, and other fish, as well as the dugongs as we walked through the glass tunnels. I don’t know if it’s because we visited the aquarium on the second day we arrived in Australia (and were exhausted) or because we have an aquarium in Vancouver, but I felt under-whelmed by the aquarium. That being said, my hubby and my kids all enjoyed it very much.
#1. The Wonderful People of Australia
I can say with no hesitation that the most positive experiences we had involved the encounters with the super-friendly people in Australia. This ranged from the helpful concierges at the airport who helped us make accomodation and travel arrangements; the super-friendly owners and employees at the hotels/condos we stayed; the kind bus drivers who took pity on our ignorance of the bus system only to patiently explain the details of how Go Passes work and especially the one kind soul who waved us on for free (we were looking particularly harried THAT time!); the young man sitting beside me on the flight from Gold Coast to Sydney who was so nervous about flying – we were chatting and laughing so hard other passengers were staring (sorry, but WE had a good time!); the lovely gentleman who volunteers at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary among the roaming ‘roos who delighted me with stories of his travels across Australia; the many, many other parents we met in random parks and playgrounds who were only too happy to share information about kid-friendly activities in the surrounding area; and so on and so on.
It is YOU, the incredibly kind, courteous, helpful, and generous people of Australia who made our travels so memorable. THANK YOU!! Now, when can I move there? G’ day mates!