When I was a kid my dream was to travel to Australia. For a few years I even collected koala bears and kangaroos in a variety of forms, from stuffed to porcelain and also started a piggy bank to save up. For some reason life got in the way and we never made it but finally, over a decade later I made it to the land down under and it was more amazing than I could have ever imagined! 10 days in Australia is just not enough. Choosing the perfect destinations was hard, to say the least, but we made a decision and got some great advice on must sees. We began our trip in Sydney and then headed up to the Whitsunday Islands and it was hard to choose what to highlight!
There is a ton to see and do in Sydney, I had no idea what to expect, I only know a few people who have ever been so I had to do some digging for the top sites, not only tourist attractions but also more local, and of course, the best food!
We stayed at the Shangri-La in an area called “The Rocks”, on a hill above Circular Quay (pronounced Key), which is the popular harbor that you’ve probably seen photos of. The hotel was really beautiful and the view of the entire harbor was incredible. I was alone for the first few days of my trip, so I really got to explore my way aka see everything possible and walk everywhere! I wear my husband out with all my walking, seeing and doing, so it’s always nice to have a little bit of time alone to just wander and think and envision and explore, there’s nothing like it!
The Rocks is really interesting. It’s the most historical area in Sydney and holds a lot of historical buildings and interesting architecture but is also a hip nightlife spot and sits next to the cruise ship docks. I noticed equal numbers of tourists and locals flocking, here which gave it a much more authentic and local vibe.
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
On day one in the height of my jet lagged unconsciousness I wandered out to the Museum of Contemporary Arts “Artbar” because I’d been told earlier in the day that the theme was Mad Max style dystopia and there would be rooftop drinks and DJ’s etc. I’m so glad that I went, it was really cool to see amazing art in a really interesting setting with some crazy costumes (pics here to see what I mean) and cool curation! I don’t know much about modern art (except that the creepy movie rooms scare me) but this museum, and the event especially were very unique, not to mention the view from the rooftop was absolutely incredible.
HUNTER VALLEY WINE COUNTRY:
Just 2.5 hours from the city is the beautiful Hunter Valley known widely for it’s Semillon production along with other varietals (Yep, fancy words, I know my wines…wink). Anyways, our guide Flynders (seen in the photo lying on the ground) was really fantastic and I got to meet some great people, primarily Americans living in Sydney, but also a German and young European couple who had been working on an organic farm, amazing! The wines were also great! Unlike wine country in the U.S. these wineries were much smaller and more laid back. We tasted several wines at each stop and then were invited inside to try anything else from the list that we liked; this made for a long day, especially since we also stopped at a chocolate factory, vodka tasting room and cheese tasting room, OMG!
Bondi Beach is really well known as a hotspot year round but we were lucky to be there during the Sculptures By The Sea exhibit with hundreds of works of art created by artists from around the World. There were so many stunning works and I’ve added a few of my favorites below, but I definitely recommend you check them all out on the website.
I ventured out to Manly on my third solo day and I’m so glad that I did! The boat was jam packed with locals headed to catch some waves for the day. After a 40-minute ride we pulled up to the docks and I was really confused because I didn’t see any waves at all, in fact, just the opposite, totally calm mellow water. However, I quickly caught on that all of the hoards of people were crossing the street and walking along an amazing wide street lined with adorable boutiques, ice cream shops and cafes that led to the other side of the island which was indeed the total opposite. Rough, wavy, windy and full of surfers. Manly felt like a perfect beach town. I met an American nanny who asked about my shoes and we walked together for awhile while she told me her story. Next I did some shopping and enjoyed lunch at a small restaurant where plants grew on the walls and everyone was in a swimsuit, I loved Manly and could’ve stayed longer. If you go, you should try to spend a day or two there.
BLUE MOUNTAINS (AKA NO MOUNTAINS DUE TO RAIN):
Our Blue Mountain trip wasn’t all of the mountainous wonder that we’d envisioned when signing up. But, it was still a good time. This just so happened to be the same day of the Melbourne Cup, an event that seemingly all of Australia takes the day off for. Much like the Kentucky Derby, everyone puts on big hats and goes to a bar to drink all day. A local explained that each year there is one big race and many small ones, and this year a female jockey won the big race for the first time ever, pretty amazing! We also paid a visit to scenic world with many, many squealing Japanese tourists (my fave) and very little scenery. Finally, the highlight of the day, a trip to a wildlife park to say hello to some Australian wildlife! This was so much fun. We got to pat a koala bear on the booty (as instructed) and feed some wallabies. We also got to check out other native animals that I’d dreamed about seeing forever!
ONE & ONLY HAYMAN ISLAND & THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
…Skip to Wyatt and I re-uniting, heading back to the airport, flying to Hamilton Island. I have to start with thanking my friend Kelly for this amazing intel. I had never heard of the Whitsunday Islands until she told me I should check it out. Kelly basically said these were the best beaches she’d ever seen and I was sold! I’ve seen some great beaches so I was ready to be totally wowed!
The One & Only experience is just like it sounds, completely one of a kind. (p.s. they are not sponsoring this post, but I’d gladly come back :). We disembarked the plane at the tiny airport on Hamilton and stopped by the O&O desk and that’s it, they got our bags, led us to our taxi (a yacht) and we were on our way to paradise. We also got champagne for the trip, not a bad deal! Hayman Island is a tiny chunk of land that is super secluded and private for hotel guests only. The resort was recently renovated and is completely beautiful and luxurious. When the boat docked at Hayman there were golf carts waiting to take us to the main building and there each guest got their own guide to give us a tour and complete the super brief check-in to our room. Because we were celebrating our anniversary, we also had chocolate and more champagne waiting in our room. I was overwhelmed to say the least. This is why we go on yearly honeymoons, married life is hard!
Our stay was so magical. Giant breakfasts every morning, easeful but active days in which we took long walks out on the sand flats, laid in comfy beach chairs or big beanbags in the pool, took sunset hikes and a kayak snorkel trip and finally went to the Great Barrier Reef to Snorkel! I wrote a ton about the reef for GLDMNE, you can read that here, and I will here say I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m usually a wary snorkler but this felt so free and wide open. There is nothing around the reef so coming upon it by boat was remarkable, the water so clear you can see the fish and turtles right through it.
Leaving Australia was not easy! I felt very at home in this place across the globe which didn’t surprise me since every Australian I’d ever met has been so kind and generous. Hopefully we’ll make it back again some day and if you’re planning a visit I hope this will help you choose some great sites to see!