About 18 months ago I was relaxing on the couch in our Fullerton apartment watching Breaking Bad when my best bud/roomie, Luke, says, “I think I’m going to study abroad in Australia next Fall…”.
The following February, one day after his birthday, he’s on a plane to Melbourne, where he’ll be until the end of this year. There was no question. I would visit Australia while he was there.
Luke had barely gotten on the plane before my sister-from-another-mother and partner-in-spontaneous-travel, Kelli, was blowing up my phone asking when we were leaving. A few months later, flights were booked and time off from work was scheduled.
My friend, Greg, grew up in Sydney, so I spent some time with him looking at a map and figuring out how we could get the most out of 10 days in Australia. Turns out the land of oz is giant, so we would need to book some more flights and pack our days out to make the most of our time across the pacific.
18,000 miles in the air, 4 major cities, 3 rental cars later, we conquered one of the seven continents of the world in just over a week.
Our basic itinerary included a 14 hour flight from LA to Sydney, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a quick flight up to the tropical city of Cairns, diving the Great Barrier Reef, a few flights back down to Melbourne where we would tour the city that Luke has called home since February, a flight back to Sydney and then home to LA. We filled in the gaps with all sorts of adventures!
I’m a sucker for mood lighting, free drinks and Delta Skymiles, so we flew Virgin Australia for all of our flights except one. The trip across the pacific seemed too easy. We left at 10 PM from LA and arrived 14 hours later in Sydney at 6 AM. I thoroughly enjoyed the in-flight Tandoori Chicken meal; I think that marks the first time I even touched a hot meal on a flight. Kudos, Virgin.
Sydney greeted us with pouring rain. We hopped in a tiny rental car and I quickly adjusted to sitting on the right side of the car and driving on the left side of the road. Our first mission was to load the facebook message with the address of the apartment we were staying at on Manly Beach (thanks to Greg’s parents, Sherille and Chris Sullivan, for the lovely place to stay). It wasn’t long before we found out that there is not a Starbucks on every corner and most coffee shops don’t have Wi-Fi. I eventually bit the bullet and turned on my steeply-priced international data and we found our way to Manly Beach. The view from the apartment was gorgeous and rainy.
Our first stop was Australia’s famous “4 Pines Brewery”. Luke had mentioned many times that food was expensive and that the cost of living in oz was considerably more than the US. It was at the brewery that we realized just how much more expensive things would be. Burger and beer lunch specials were $20. For the special.
We spent the rest of the day driving around in the rain and exploring. An hour outside the city, we invited ourselves on a tour of the offices and auditorium of the original Hillsong Church campus. Humble and quiet.
Eventually, we wound up at a bar in Sydney’s ‘CBD’ (downtown). The lovely bartenders let us know that this was the first day of rain Sydney had seen in months. Later, we found out that this August has been the wettest history Sydney has ever seen. Thanks for that!
Back at the Sullivan’s apartment in Manly, we enjoyed some delicious tandoori lamb and veggies for dinner. It was delightful to enjoy a home cooked meal on our first night in a new city.
Bright and early the next morning (more rain), we picked up Luke at the airport. It was so great to see my best bro after seven months.
The idea of doing a quick beach dive in Manly was quickly shut down by a man at the dive shop who informed us the conditions would be ‘shit’. Instead, we drove back to the CBD and spent two hours in search of reasonably priced parking! Everywhere in the city seemed to be $80+ for just a few hours of parking. We wound up at a casino just outside the city and paid only $20 to park for the evening. Score.
Our walk to the city from the casino was graced with beautiful views of the city, opera house and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Just a few hours later, we climbed to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge with the help of our snarky Scottish guide, Billy! The dark and the rain made the bridge climb an awesome memory. I wouldn’t change a thing.
We finished the night with good food and drinks at the oldest hotel pub in Sydney.
The sun came out for our last full day in Sydney! Perfect timing for our 5 mile hike through the Blue Mountains (for those that care: where LOTR was filmed). The National Pass Trail through the Valley of the Waters brought us breathtaking views of vast canyons, giant waterfalls and beautiful greenery. Only a bit into the hike, Luke and I decided it would be smart to hike up some wet rocks by a waterfall. This resulted in Luke slipping, gashing his forehead and ultimately, a quick trip to the doctor for some stitches. No problem, adventure on!
The clouds showed up again the following morning as we explored the lovely town of Manly and enjoyed a delicious breakfast on the beach.
We only had a few hours in the morning to wrap up our time in Sydney before we had to catch a flight to the city of sunshine: Cairns.
Folks we chatted with in Sydney kept saying two things: 1. we’re sorry for the rain and 2. you’ll have a great time in Cairns (pronounced ‘cans’).
It was sunny, warm and beautiful for our entire stay. Cairns is for sure a tourist and backpacker town. We embraced the touristy-ness and soaked up every minute of the warm evening on our first night out in the city. From the delicious burgers, walk down the pier, live music and giant drinks – Cairns was sweet as.
No question, my favorite part about our few days in Cairns was our day trip out to the reef. I grew up diving Southern California waters with my dad and brother and, as exciting as garibaldi and lobsters are, diving the Great Barrier Reef was breathtaking. While Kelli snorkeled, Luke and I got three sweet dives in with our fun guide, Zoe. The wildlife was gorgeous, the water was warm and my dive buddy is a stud. Impossible to beat.
This fish was the highlight of our dive! Never before have I met a fish who just chilled out and let you pet it. So fantastic. She hung out with us for our entire third dive.
On our other days in Cairns we visited the Kuranda rainforest and spent an afternoon biking around the city.
It was interesting to find out that you can’t swim or dive off the beach in Cairns! When I called the dive shop to inquire about renting some tanks and weights for a shore dive, the man on the other end of the line laughed at me and simply stated ‘there are saltwater crocodiles and other dangerous animals just off shore’. Got it. All was well. We got to sleep in one morning and our relaxing days were perfectly timed before packing a ton into our final stop, Melbourne.
Sydney was a beautiful city with a lot to explore and Cairns was a gorgeous beach town like any other. My experience in Melbourne, however, was set apart from any city I’ve ever visited.
We picked up our rental car around 11:30 PM and Luke drove us to his place in the city where we would spend the next three nights. From the minute we stepped off the plane until we the minute we stepped back on, Melbourne had a special and hard-to-describe vibe.
The drive from the airport to the house on our first night spoke volumes of what was to come. The freeways are lined with art, colorful lights and detailed architecture. My jaw was literally dropped for most of the drive.
As a huge appreciator of the arts, creative & aesthetic excellence and all things colorful, it was incredible to see so much attention to detail at every turn around the city. On one of our drives there was a hotel building off the freeway in the middle of nowhere. Luke and I were speculating whether or not it was real and after a quick google search we found out that it is, in fact, a $1.2m fake hotel; a piece of art!
Our time in Melbourne was short, but incredibly sweet. Luke toured us around his campus, brought us to his favorite spots in the city and introduced us to his friends. At the recommendation of a nosy couple on the flight into Melbourne, we even squeezed in a quick dive off of a Portsea pier at the southern tip of Melbourne. A nice lady in a nearby dive shop recommended we look for weedy sea dragons. We found four of them!
We spent one full day in Melbourne biking and tram-ing around the city. One highlight of this day was a quick stop the YMCA in one of Melbourne’s suburbs. I had the pleasure of spending time with their program director. I am proud to work for an organization whose reach spans the globe and whose mission is the same in every country.
Our day finished with a yummy dinner accompanied by a draft IPA (one of two that I found in the entire country). We got home and set our alarm for 5 AM. We said our goodbyes to Luke and then a quick bus ride brought us to the airport. We hopped on a flight back to Sydney and then waited for a few hours for our 12.5 hour flight back to LA. No trip is complete without a nice nap on the floor of an airport.
I’m so thankful to have experienced every adventure with two people who are hugely important to me. A journey is best measured in friends rather than in miles (Tim Cahill) and happiness is only real when shared (Chris McCandless). Cheers to this adventure and many more to come…