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Category: Australia

Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Sydney, revisited

On the top of my list when we arrived in Sydney was to visit the same spot I visited when my group first arrived in 2000 – Mrs Macquaries Point and Mrs Macquaries Chair. The views of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, and Sydney Harbour from this location are spectacular. To get there, we walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens and enjoyed the botany and many different species of birds we’d never encountered before, including the Masked Lapwing.

Medium sized gray and white bird with yellow masked face.

We stayed in Sydney for only two nights, but we made the most of our time and explored areas I had not visited previously. The famous Bondi Beach was one of our stops. It was certainly a popular place! We spent some time on the beach and then took the nearby walking path and were treated to some pretty awesome photo ops on the rock formations high above the water. I was also excited to see a “sea dog” in his rain gear fishing down on the water’s edge. I had only ever seen that in books before.

Aerial photo of sandy beach full of people.

Fisherman wearing yellow rain gear standing on a rock surrounded by water.

After our walk, we headed away from the beach for lunch and ice cream. We decided on a healthier lunch and went to Gelato Messina for dessert. I could not decide which flavor to order and ended up with this beauty! Three delicious flavors of awesomeness.

Young female with dark hair and glasses holding a waffle cone with three scoops of ice cream.

We also took in different views of the Harbour during our visit to the Hornby Lighthouse and our water taxi ride to the Dockside area.

Red and white lighthouse on the left, open water on the right with an island in the background.

Rounding out our time in Sydney, we took the train in to Katoomba for one night to visit Blue Mountains National Park, and see the Three Sisters rock formation. While there, I was excited to see Katoomba had a museum that offered an Aboriginal show. I was fortunate to have attended a show while I was in Australia with People to People and had hoped Bill and I would be able to do the same so he could experience it as well.

Rock formation.

Stage with pink lighting and native Aboriginal performers.

As our time came to a close, we took the train back to Sydney and were then off to the airport for the next leg of our trip – New Zealand! New and unchartered territory for both of us.

Trees surrounding wide waling path.

Cairns: Flying Foxes, Daintree Rainforest, and Great Barrier Reef

While the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest are amazing sights, I think the flying foxes were the most exciting part of Cairns for me. During check in at the DoubleTree I asked the woman at the front desk where to find the flying foxes. She let us know they were in the trees just across the street from the hotel. Thus my excitement grew!

We dropped our bags in our room and off we went. It was shocking how many of them were roosted in the trees. It was even more shocking to see them all flying through the air later in the evening.

Flying foxes hanging in a tree

Night sky filled with flying foxes flying through the sky.

Having sighted the flying foxes, we were off to explore the city until sundown. We walked along the waterfront and through the park. Cairns isn’t much for beaches – the water is too shallow and the shoreline too muddy – but the park is full of beautiful trees. We made sure to stop and have frozen yogurt before returning to the hotel.

Two white paper cups filled with frozen yogurt.

We ended our first day in Cairns enjoying the New Years Eve celebration with the locals. We were fortunate enough to enjoy live music and two separate fireworks shows.

Two red fireworks lower on the horizon with one yellow firework high above.

Daintree Rainforest

The following day we started the new year with a visit to the Daintree Rainforest. First stop, Mossman Gorge. While hiking through Mossman Gorge we were welcomed by wildlife around every corner.

A skink near a small lookout over the water.

A wallaby tamping his tail against the ground to stir up dinner.

A brightly colored kingfisher perched in a tree. And many other critters along the way.

From Mossman Gorge we continued on and took a ferry across the Daintree River to get to the rain forest portion of Daintree National Park.

We stopped at Mason’s Cafe to enjoy a kangaroo burger and crocodile hot dog for lunch. Both were delicious, but the hot dog was my favorite of the two. It melted in your mouth; the cheese and seafood sauce on top making for a perfect flavor combination.

Further down the road we explored the Dubuji Boardwalk and were shocked to come upon a very large monitor lizard just off the trail.

At the end of the trail, we came to the beach and were greeted by a sign warning visitors that crocodiles inhabit the area. We then encountered the tiny crabs that were popping out of their homes, depositing small balls of sand all over the beach.

On our way back to the hotel, we sighted wild kangaroos just off the highway. They were the only kangaroos we encountered the whole trip.

Great Barrier Reef

The following day we disembarked on our trip to the Great Barrier Reef. I was excited to go back and experience the reef with Bill for the first time. Bill’s excitement for the day was topped off with having the opportunity to participate in the guided scuba diving portion of the trip.

Being asthmatic, I was unable to participate, but I was glad Bill seized the opportunity and had a great time. My highlight was seeing a blue spotted ray swimming along below us. The food on the boat was also quite spectacular. I think it was this trip that sparked my love for passion fruit.

With the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef under our belts, we were bound for Sydney the following day.

Turquoise ocean water surrounded by lush green hills.

Driving the Great Ocean Road

One of the main attractions in Australia, I felt it was imperative that we drive the Great Ocean Road while we were in Melbourne. Being that close and not doing so was not feasible in my mind. And the drive did not disappoint!

Stopping to enjoy the views along the way, our first stop was the Point Addis Marine National Park. This was just a short out and back walk, but it provided beautiful coastal views and gave Bill a chance to enjoy the scenery instead of having to drive and watch the road.

Our next stop for a short hike was Great Otway National Park. Here we hiked in to see Erskine Falls. All of the lush greenery was so welcoming! We also saw a black wallaby/kangaroo just off the road as we drove into the park. Unfortunately I did not have a camera ready and was unable to get a photo.

Green shrubs in the foreground with a cliffside waterfall surrounded by greenery in the background.

We continued down the road, taking in the beautiful turquoise water around every bend until we came to Apollo Bay and decided to stretch our legs and get some lunch. We window shopped as we passed some of the shops and opted for Barramundi and Chips from The Harbour Fish Shop for lunch. Absolutely delicious fish and chips! Highly recommended.

Breaded fish with a lemon wedge inside a white cardboard dish.

French fries inside a white cardboard dish.

Down the road we went until we came to Mait’s Rest Rainforest Walk to take in more nature and rainforest – LOVE! And then down the road again to Gibson Steps – cliffside steps that provide you access to the beach and views of limestone stacks like those of the Twelve Apostles. It was quite windy while we were there, but the views were beautiful.

Golden colored cliff surrounding a sandy beach with turquoise ocean water.

Open purple colored clam shell laying on the beach in the shape of a butterfly.

Next stop, the Twelve Apostles. One word of advice – it’s best to go here earlier in the day. We were here mid-late afternoon and the lighting made it very difficult to get good photographs. Between the sunlight, the wind, and the sea mist everywhere, things just seemed to get washed out.

Cliffside view of several small rock formations in the ocean.

From the Twelve Apostles we continued down the road to the Grotto. Technically a cave, the Grotto looks very much like a sea arch. I have a thing for sea arches and this “pseudo sea arch” did not disappoint. It’s stunning the formations nature creates.

Yellow-orange colored sea arch with ocean water sitting just below.


Photo of Melbourne, Australia skyline in the distance.

Melbourne by bike

While we were only in Melbourne for a couple days, that was still long enough for it to leave a lasting impression on me. Its modern, hipster vibe is one that could put a smile on anyone’s face. To explore the city, we decided to make use of the bike share program and take on Melbourne by bike.

Riding Bikes Through Melbourne

At one point while we were riding, some teenage boys passed us and yelled “Where’s your helmet?” This didn’t phase us much, although it did make us wonder if it was a law to have one on. (The kiosks and bikes did have instructions on where to pick up helmets, afterall.)

Blue bicycles in the foreground with a river and the Melbourne, Australia skyline in the background.

Shrine of Remebrance

Our first stop in Melbourne was the Shrine of Remembrance. This monument was built to honor all who have served in armed conflicts and peacekeeping operations in which Australia has been involved. We were fortunate enough to be there while they performed a reproduction of the ceremony that happens each year on November 11th at 11am. During the ceremony, a ray of sunlight shines through the skylight above and passes over the monument in the center of the building that reads “Greater love hath no man”. It was a very moving ceremony – would be great to be there on the actual day!

Gray stone building with stairs on all four sides, a pyramid-like roof, and colomns at the entrance.

Photo looking up at a pyramid-like ceiling with a square skylight in the middle.

Square stone monument that reads "Greater love hath no man".

After observing the ceremony, we ascended to the roof to get a view of the surroundings and downtown Melbourne. Then we descended into the basement museum and eventually exited the building.

Royal Botanic Gardens

Adjacent to the Shrine of Remembrance are the Royal Botanic Gardens. I always enjoy visiting parks and gardens within big cities. It helps you escape the busy-ness of the city and connect with nature to bring a sense of calm. Thus we took a short walk and did some exploring.

Downtown – The Block Arcade, Flinders Street Station, and Hosier Lane

On our way downtown, we passed a sign that indicated the way to Batman Avenue and HAD to take a photo. (Batman is kind of a big deal in our house. Bill has Batman socks, pajamas, a ceramic bowl that I gave him as a gift, a watch, … I have even painted the bat signal on the ceiling in our bedroom with glow in the dark paint – like I said, kind of a big deal.)

From there we explored the city center with its beautiful architecture and modern vibes abound. First we walked around and came upon the Block Arcade (in Australia they call malls arcades). Unfortunately it was closed for the day, but we were still able to enjoy the mosaic patterned entry on the outside and peek inside through the glass doors.

Mosaic tiled sidewalk that reads "The Block Arcade" in blue letters on a yellow background.

From there we meandered around for a bit, glancing down the alleyways along the way, until we came upon Flinders Street Station. We chose to enjoy the building, decorated for the Christmas season, from the outside and did not venture inside.

Large golden colored stone train station building with a domed green roof.

Now it was the main event – something I had been looking forward to since we decided to go to Melbourne – the street art at Hosier Lane. The creativity that is expressed here is amazing! Each piece an expression of an individual, yet they seem to flow so well together. I loved it. Bill is more of a skeptic when it comes to street art (he calls it graffiti), but I find it to be such a freeing display of expression – so much more so than the pristine works of art you find in a museum. I do not condone graffiti, but if the street art is created in a controlled area where it is allowed, I love it.

Graffiti style painting that reads Melbourne in blue paint on a yellow red, and green background.

Black and white graffiti style painting on a mesh wall.

Brightly colored giraffe with flowers and greenery painted on a street.

The next day we were off for the Great Ocean Road to enjoy beautiful ocean views and see the Twelve Apostles.


Tryptic of three photos: Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge, adult female sitting on a large gray boulder, and sandy beach with turquoise water and an island.

Epic Adventure: Bangkok, Australia, New Zealand & Oahu

Starting Christmas Day, 2014, Bill and I embarked on our 26 day Epic Adventure. Our flight routing consisted of Chicago-Tokyo-Beijing-Bangkok-Melbourne-Cairns-Sydney-Chrischurch-Auckland-Honolulu-Dallas-Chicago with an overnight in Beijing, most of a day in Bangkok, several days in the Melbourne area, several days in Cairns, several days in Sydney, several days exploring the south island of New Zealand, a short layover in Auckland, and a three day stop over in Oahu. If that isn’t an epic adventure, I don’t know what is! (To add to its grandiosity, we flew business class for the longest legs of the trip.)

Adult female with long dark hair and glasses sitting in business class section of an airplane.

This trip was a long time coming. I had yearned to return to Australia ever since my People to People Student Ambassador trip back in 2000. Fourteen years later, it finally became a reality. After being there, I think Bill now realizes precisely why I was so adamant about wanting to go back. The country is beautiful, the people are wonderful, the sights are great, and food treats you right! What more could you ask for?

This trip was not exactly the same as the trip I was on in 2000, but it hit some of the highlights and added even more great things. In 2000 we took a bus from Sydney up the eastern coast to Cairns, with frequent stops along the way. On this trip we first explored Bangkok for a day and then were off to Australia, starting in Melbourne – driving the southern coast along The Great Ocean Road to Port Campbell and back.

Photo of Melbourne, Australia skyline in the distance.

From Melbourne we flew to Cairns, rented a car, and visited the Daintree Rainforest. We also took an organized snorkeling trip out to the Great Barrier Reef – no trip to Cairns is complete without visiting that natural wonder.

Photo from airplane window over the Great Barrier Reef.

When we were done in Cairns we flew to Sydney. After exploring the city and reminiscing on some of the things I had seen on my previous visit, we took the train in to Blue Mountains National Park for an overnight.

Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Then back to Sydney and off to New Zealand! New and unchartered territory for both of us. After visiting, it was clear why many people say you cannot visit Australia without visiting New Zealand and vice versa. Both are amazing, but in totally different ways.

Adult female sitting on top of a large gray boulder with several other large boulders surrounding.

To end the trip, Bill had found that we could include a stopover in Hawaii on our way home, so we took full advantage of that and spent 3 days on Oahu soaking up some more sun before returning to the cold midwestern winter.

Sandy beach with turquoise ocean and an island in the distance.

Three continents and four countries later, this epic adventure is what I consider to be our best trip to date.

Flying foxes hanging in a tree

Devastating news from Australia

Last night Bill said to me “I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear.” I braced myself for something personally offensive. He then continued “It’s been above 100 degrees around Sydney lately… and it’s killing the fruit bats.” Those words twisted like a knife in my chest.

The CNN article I found goes further into detail to say that “Australia is experiencing temperatures of nearly 115 degrees Fahrenheit” and “the bats have trouble regulating their body temperature when the heat climbs above 100 degrees Fahrenheit” – “about 3,000 flying foxes died this past weekend alone”.

Seeing the fruit bats in Australia was an invigorating experience. They are enchanting animals that I could observe for hours on end. Going out at night around 6:30pm in Cairns, hearing all their chatter and then seeing them take to the skies – thinking about it brings me an immense joy.

I hope the weather in Australia evens out soon. It’s devastating to know that such amazing creatures are suffering and dying with no way to escape.

My favorite destinations

There are many places I have fallen in love with. Below are seven of the top destinations I have visited and a few highlights from each of them. (In alphabetical order because I can’t bring myself to rank them.)

Cairns, Australia

Daintree Rainforest

Fruit Bats (locally known as Flying Foxes)

Great Barrier Reef

Crocodile Hot Dog and Kangaroo Burger

YoMG Frozen Yogurt

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Salt Water Crocodile

Hammerhead Shark

Camping on an island more than 70 miles away from any other major land mass

Paris, France

Parc Monceau

The Louvre

Whistler’s Mother

The Thinker

Park Hyatt Vendome


Portland, Oregon

Food Trucks

VooDoo Donuts

Nike Headquarters

Ruby Jewel Ice Cream

Sydney, Australia

Sydney Harbor

Pie Face

Gelato Messina

Venice, Italy

No vehicle traffic


Dal Moro’s Fresh Pasta to Go

Day trip to Burano

Vernazza, Italy

Ocean side serenity

No vehicle traffic

Day trip to Monterosso al Mare – enjoying Monterosso pie and anchovies while we were there


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