HIGHLIGHTS – From vibrant cities to natural wonders, from reconnecting with old friends to embracing new experiences… here’s the best of my unforgettable trip to Australia.
I can honestly say that Australia is one of the most amazing places I have seen.
My trip there was something of a surprise (I decided to go in mid-November and left on December 5), and my expectations weren’t particularly high. Yet, Australia completely bewitched me.
Even though I have only seen a fraction of the country, I have done enough to fill an entire lifetime of travel memories. Besides, since Oz is so big and diverse, I feel like I have been on four different holidays: from Sydney’s beaches to the red rocks of the Outback, from the food scene of Melbourne to the incredible colors of the Great Barrier Reef, my adventure down under is something I will never forget. In fact, I already can’t wait to go back!
I will provide more detailed accounts in due course, but for now here’s the highlights of my three weeks in Australia:
– The views of Sydney harbour
When it comes to cities, it doesn’t get much prettier than Sydney. The city’s impossibly beautiful natural harbour features iconic architecture harmoniously set against the backdrop of low, lush hills dotted with condos and villas. My favorite views are from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair in the Royal Botanic Gardens (the iconic image of the Opera House with the bridge in the background), from the pylon of Harbour Bridge (a tenth of the cost of the bridge climb), and from the ferry to Manly (catch it at Circular Quay).
– Walking from Bondi to Coogee
The famous walk from Bondi to Coogee features some pretty incredible views of the city’s coastline and beaches. Bondi is certainly iconic, with its 1-km stretch of sand, cool graffiti and hippie-cum-hipster vibe, but I must say my favorite beach was Bronte – not just because the name makes me think of Italy, but because of the cute park adjacent to it. According to Sydneysiders, Tamarama Beach (nicknamed Glamourama) is where the beautiful people hang out, whatever that means. On the coastal walk, don’t miss the eerie, yet beautiful Waverley Cemetery, overlooking the ocean.
– Drinking beer by the Opera House
At the end of a long day of sightseeing, my friend Claudia and I sat down at Opera Kitchen for a much-deserved adult beverage and incomparable views of Sydney CBD. We were surprised to see that drinks here weren’t much more expensive than in the rest of the city ($11 for a beer becomes normal in Australia after a couple of days), especially given the proximity to the city’s number one landmark. Wear sunscreen!
Around an hour and a half outside of Sydney lie the wonderful Blue Mountains. The most famous sight here is the Three Sisters, a beautiful rock formation overlooking forest and mountains stretching all the way to the horizon. Don’t miss Echo Point for the postcard shot of the Three Sisters, the Giant Stairway (perhaps not recommended to those with a fear of heights), and Scenic World’s Skyway, a gondola offering spectacular views of Katoomba Falls and Jamison Valley. This is a great one-day excursion for hikers.
– Spotting rock wallabies in Simpsons Gap
At the beginning of a great one-day exploration of West MacDonnell Ranges, I visited Simpsons Gap – a serene natural pool surrounded by ghost gums (beautiful, tall trees native of this part of Australia) and bright red cliffs. Come early in the morning or in the late afternoon, and you’ll have a chance to encounter a black-footed rock wallaby or two. These marsupials seem to play hide and seek in the rocks and are very good at camouflaging, but if you are lucky one or two might get closer to the water and pose for a photo.
– Mutitjulu Waterhole
The Outback is as wild as it gets, and few places on Earth have made me feel one with nature as much as mystical Uluru. On a walk around the foot of the mountain, I got to see Aborigenal rock art and, a few meters down a trail, a gap filled with water trickling down the side of the “Rock”. Once the guide got everyone in the group to shut up, the only sounds one could hear were birds chirping and a rivulet of water flowing into the waterhole. A magical moment.
– A BBQ with a view of Uluru at sunset
It wasn’t only the picture-perfect view of Uluru (some still call it Ayers Rock, somehow stubbornly) from a distance that made the BBQ so special. It was also the fact that the sky had been overcast for most of the day, with even a bit of drizzle threatening to ruin my visit to Uluru. So, I was so happy when the clouds parted and I got to see the red of the rock set against the blue of the sky, as the sun made its way down towards the horizon.
– Enjoying views of Melbourne
The best views of Melbs’ skyline are those I enjoyed from the south bank of the Yarra River. On my first day in town, my friend Liz took me to one of the many bars in the area, Ponyfish Island (right under the pedestrian bridge). We caught up over glasses of vino, watching the world go by and the late-afternoon light painting the skyscrapers of Melbourne CBD gold.
Aussies know how to party. And they like their booze. Being my friend Liz’s plus one at her company’s Christmas party was an absolute delight! It was a fun night with an old friend, it gave me the opportunity to live Melbourne like a local, and there was an open bar… it doesn’t get much better than that! Needless to say, the night ended in the food court on the ground floor of the building, eating greasy Chinese food to avoid waking up the following day with a pounding headache.
– Gibson Steps
If the Twelve Apostles are the best part of the Great Ocean Road, it is possible that Gibson Steps are the best part of visiting the Twelve Apostles. This is not only because, once on the beach, you are only a few meters away from these giant monoliths, but because you are not surrounded by hordes of tourists armed with selfie sticks and tripods. Or at least I wasn’t, which allowed me to enjoy an unforgettable walk along the almost empty beach.
– Scuba diving in the GBR
I know it looks adventurous, but as a non-certified diver I was only allowed to be taken down to a depth of five meters – with the instructor holding my hand. Nonetheless, it was a great experience to see the Great Barrier Reef from this slightly different perspective. Too bad they didn’t put too many weights around my waste and I kept going up towards the surface: given that I normally don’t have this problem of being too light on land, I choose to live my life under the sea.
– Whitehaven Beach
No wonder this place is routinely voted as the most beautiful in Australia! Look up “perfection” on the dictionary, and you’ll find a photo of Whitehaven Beach. The sand is as white and soft as flour, the water is as clear as glass, the sky as blue as it gets. I even saw lemon sharks swimming in the lagoon! Paradise does exist, apparently…
– Scenic flight above the reef
One can’t truly appreciate the sheer size of the Great Barrier Reef without flying over it. From the sky, the GBR looks like an abstract painting with every possible shade of blue. A perk of solo travelling? I was given the co-pilot seat, with all the coolness that comes with it. (I used GSL Aviation in Airlie Beach.) On the way to and from the reef, we also enjoyed impressive views of the Whitsundays and Whitehaven Beach.
– Holding a koala
Two words: cuddle overload.