Our Australia Holiday By Amy Mellinger
One of my lifelong dreams has been to visit Australia. Its distance from my home country (the U.S.), its natural beauty and those fabulous accents have long captured my imagination.
Last December we took our dream vacation. My husband, three children (ages 8, 10 and 14) and I boarded the 10-hour overnight flight and awoke in Sydney to begin our Australian adventure.
We made Darling Harbour, a neighboring inlet of Sydney Harbour, our base in Sydney and it was ideal for both beauty and convenience. From our hotel, the Grand Mercure, we were within a walk or short cab ride from numerous restaurants and activities. On our first day we took a ferry across Sydney Harbour to the Sydney Zoo. The ferry ride was an attraction itself, with its views of Sydney’s most famous landmarks, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Our favorite exhibit was the area dedicated to Australia’s native wildlife specifically the koalas and kangaroos. But the zoo’s biggest highlight isn’t zoological at all it’s the awe-inspiring vistas. The Sydney Zoo sits on a prime piece of real estate and the views from the summit are stunning. The next day my husband and two older children woke up early for the wildly popular Bridge Climb. They were so excited they couldn’t get out the door fast enough. The Bridge Climb is a three and a half hour guided climb along catwalks and ladders all the way to the summit of the Harbour Bridge, 134 meters above the water. It’s so popular that my husband booked the climb a month before our trip (the minimum age is 10). When they returned they reported the experience was awesome and not too difficult. Even our 10 year old, who was a little nervous, returned all smiles.
Later that afternoon we sought out more adventure on the jet boats. The boats take you on a roller coaster-like ride around the harbor at speeds up to 80 kilometers/hour. Tour operators abound at each harbor. We loved ride but be warned it does get rough and you’ll get wet very wet if you sit in the back row as we did (children must be at least 1.3 meters to ride).
We spent our last day at Manly Beach, seven miles northeast of Sydney and just a ferry ride from Sydney Harbour. We chose Manly as surf shops on the beach offer surfing lessons (try the Manly Surf School which offers lessons for all ages). A two-hour lesson is 55 AUD for adults and 45 AUD for children. My husband and the kids took a lesson while I relaxed on the beach. Afterwards, my youngest, who was wary at first, proclaimed, I want to surf everyday for the rest of my life!
From Sydney we headed to Port Douglas, the closest gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and a gorgeous seaside destination. We flew into Cairns, an hour drive from Port Douglas, and transferred to the Peppers Beach Club which we highly recommend for the rooms, pool and staff. The beach is just a block away and the town is an easy walk.
The all-day trip to the Great Barrier Reef made three stops along the reef with time at each for snorkeling and diving. It was spectacular! We saw corals in vivid blues and pinks and fish in every color of the rainbow. From a parent’s point of view the guides were great, providing a program including snorkeling tours and a bit of reef education between stops. They pointed out various sea creatures that otherwise could be easily missed and also put the kids at ease in the water, showing them pictures of sea creatures they may see and assuring them that they were harmless. At 160 AUD for adults and 110 AUD for children (12 and under) it’s expensive but still well worth it.
Another Port Douglas highlight is Mossman Gorge, part of the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. Twenty minutes from Port Douglas, the Mossman River tumbles through a steep-sided valley lined with huge granite boulders that create freshwater swimming holes. You can take a full-day tour of the area but it’s not necessary. We had a tour bus pick us up at the hotel (10 AUD/person) and drop us at the top of the trail. From there you can walk along a 2.7 kilometer loop trail or hike across the suspension bridge crossing the river. We stopped along the way for a picnic lunch and a swim the river water is cold but feels good after a hike.
After 11 days our dream trip ended. But now I have a new dream to return. What we saw of Australia was spectacular and the people themselves were wonderful (as were their accents).
Trip Planning: We recommend Australia Expat Travel Owner Vicki Baensch. She planned a fantastic trip that included all the family-friendly details, http://www.ausxpattravel.com.au.