The redeye: Left San Francisco around 10pm and would arrive in New Zealand in just 16 short hours. Then it would only be another 3 hours to Sydney.  My sister and I flew Air New Zealand, which wasn’t so bad. They had personal TV’s with on demand shows and movies. I couldn’t sleep so I ended up watching too many movies.

5am 2 days later?

We arrived at the New Zealand airport in zombie mode. The airport is tiny, and yes you have to pick up your bags, and recheck them before you venture off to Australia. 5am small airport, no problem…right? Wrong! It just so happened that our jumbo jet and 4 other jumbo jets decided to land at the same time. New Zealand only had one security check, open. So that 3 hour layover amounted to 4; causing all outbound planes to be delayed.

Sydney

Finally arrived; customs, baggage claim, taxi; all a blur… Our dad took us to the “Oaks Goldsbrough Apartments” for the night. Very cool place. We got a 1 bedroom flat. Kitchen, living room with pullout couch, bedroom, waster dryer everything you could possibly need. It was very clean and cozy, with modern furniture. Kinda felt like we were staying in an Ikea. So we showered and rested. Now time to grab some lunch. Our hotel was across the street from Darling harbor…kind of. I mean it was a little bit of a walk but close enough to walk.

The Flat

Coming from the San Francisco bay area, Sydney’s waterfront reminds me a lot of San Francisco mixed with Seattle. The crisp smell of the ocean, lots of food, and beautiful weather. We began our Sydney tour in the food court grabbing some felafels from “Enfes Kebabs”. After feeling nourished and almost alive again, our tour continued. We ventured into a mall, where I attempted to order some coffee. In America black coffee means plain drip coffee…in Australia black coffee is an espresso. (my whole trip consisted of a language barrier in describing my coffee of choice…THANKS Starbucks) but caffeine is caffeine.

Darling Harbor

Lunch

Next on the tour was the “Hop on Hop off” bus; A very cheap and easy way of getting around Syndey’s tourist spots. The name says it all. You buy a ticket for 24 hours and you can jump on or off any of their “hop on hop off” busses which included an audio tour. And we did just that, checking out all the sites, the Cathedral, the Opera house, and my favorite attraction: Bondi beach.

“Hop On – Hop Off” Bus

Before we headed to the beach, we of course stopped in China town for some delicious pastries and tea. Sydney’s China town is very impressive, with cuisine, drug stores and small knick knacks, from all over China; it’s reminiscent to San Francisco’s, although not as big.

China Town Entrance

Right across the street from China town, is Sydney’s famous “Paddy’s Market.” Paddy’s has everything, from fresh meats and produce to what all tourists want, tacky Australian souvenirs. But the beauty of this market is the encouragement of bargaining. With so many stands selling the same products, be sure you get the best deal.

Bondi Beach, a beautifully clean public beach, full of surfers, families and lots of dogs. What more can I say? Just sit back and take it all in.

For dinner we headed back to China town for some Taiwanese dumplings from “Mother Chu’s Taiwanese Gourmet.” Crawled back to our hotel and knocked out after the longest 24 hours we had just endeavored.

Brisbane

We left  Sydney and made our way to Brisbane for a week. But don’t worry Sydney, we will be back. It just so happened we had some friends in Brisbane willing to take us in for the week, while our dad had to go to Germany for business.

“Lonely Pine Koala Sanctuary”

Wanna get up close and personal with a Kangaroo? Hold a Koala? Then definitely head over to the Sanctuary. We were able to spend all day here; there are so many animals and shows to see. When you first walk in, there are Koala’s just hanging out, how awesome is that? Just stand and stare at these little sleeping balls of fur.

Next make your way to the petting area. Yeah that’s right petting area. Feed the Kangaroos and pet them, they are very friendly. WARNING: getting up close and personal, makes it hard to try Kangaroo meat after you play with these friendly critters.

Make sure you catch the Aussie sheep herders. The stars of the show: sheep dogs. We got to experience some world class sheep herding and even a sheep shearing demonstration.

Dingos, wallabies, wombats: Oh my! I even got to pet a crocodile. But the MUST thing to do is hold the Koala. Sure it costs money, but when are you ever going to hold a Koala? It’s like holding a giant cat that smells like a goat. But as they stare back at you with their old grandpa looking face, you just smile at these goofy, cute creatures. (there are other zoo’s that let you hold the Koala’s for free, which I go to later in this blog)

After our week in Brisbane, it was time to hit the road and drive up the “Gold Coast.” We hired a driver though since my dad had a little trouble adjusting to the left handed driving.

The Great Barrier Reef

Spreading across Australia’s coast, it is the largest reef in the world. By car getting to the thick of the reef would take over 8 hours! So we decided to go as far as the bottom tip of the reef: Bundaberg only 4 hours away so not so bad.

The town of Bundaberg is known for their rum and ginger beer.  The downtown is small and dead at night. We ended up eating at an Indian diner for dinner, food was excellent, and since we were the only customers, we got the royal treatment.

The only way to get to the reef from here was to board a boat or a small plane. The boats were all booked so we opted for a private island experience. A little pricey at about $1k per person, but it’s an all day, all inclusive experience you can’t compare to anything. Including a private plane ride to the island, all you can eat food, private tours of the reef and more.

“Lady Elliot Island”

We took a 7 seat plane to the island which took about an hour. When we arrived we landed on a small grass airstrip. “Welcome to Jurassic Park” I thought. The island was small enough to walk around in a half an hour but big enough to feel like you were on an episode of “Lost”.

We ventured out to sea in a glass bottom boat. The water was too choppy to really see anything in the glass bottom part of the boat, but they stopped in the middle of the reef and let us out for snorkeling. So what kind of person goes snorkeling in the middle of Australian winter without a wet suit? Someone from California. I got crazy looks from people; but anyone from the OTHER side of Pacific Ocean will tell you, this 65 degree water seemed like a hot tub.

Ever watch a Corona commercial? You know the one where the man and woman sit on a private beach and look off into the relaxing ocean…Yeah that’s “Lady Elliot Island.” Make sure you catch the fish feeding. The fish feeder comes out to the shore and like clockwork, so do the fish. They all make their way out of hiding for this daily ritual; and of course so do the seagulls.

After a long day of peaceful relaxation we returned home. Our pilot decided to see if we could spot some whales from on high. I saw one surface but couldn’t get my camera quick enough to snap a pic. Never the less our fearless pilot, determined to show us whales, decided to drop the plane and make sharp turns, leaving passenger stomachs up in the air.

Next Stop-Surfer’s Paradise

Further up the coast is a small town known as Surfer’s Paradise. There is no better way to describe it. Endless long beaches, trendy shops, and countless restaurants and bars; a surfer could easily get lost in this town. At night the town light up with bright neon lights and loud music. If you are looking for a fun beach town, look no further.

In the morning my dad was determined to have me surf in Surfer’s Paradise. So we headed to the beach and found a small surf shack. Rented a board for $20 an hour. Not bad. Keep in mind, I am from California but only surfed once and that was in Hawaii. But I loved it so much a bought a board and have yet to surf in the cold waters of the Pacific. So being the novice surfer I am, I attempted to enter the angry winter sea. I got tossed around A LOT! But I was able to catch a few waves to make for a good enough pic.

Back to Sydney

To close the trip off it was only fair we explored some more of Sydney. When we landed, on the tarmac we were greeted by an unwelcome guest: RAIN! and lots of it. What a difference coming from the sunshine of the Gold Coast to the bleak cold rain in the city.

We stayed at the “Somerset.” A nice hotel flat, smaller than the Oaks, but cozy none the less. We went to bed early because we had a long day ahead, with a tour package up to the “Blue Mountains.” Our package included a bus ride up to the mountains, entrance to a zoo, lunch at a golf course, and a night boat ride along the Sydney coast. Unfortunately the rain followed us up to the Blue Mountains.

Our first stop was the Zoo; another chance to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s animals. This “Featherdale Wildlife Park” was smaller than “Lonely Pine” but still fun. The kangaroos were definitely less timid here when you feed them by hand, and petting the Koalas is free here.

Next was Australia’s best waterfall. There were many flights of stairs to get to the bottom of the waterfall but it was a good picture opp. However, the rain and weather didn’t make us want to stay very long. So it was off to lunch at the Katoomba golf club. I ordered a nice lamb chop with some fries and delicious cheesecake for dessert.

After lunch it was straight to the Blue Mountains. Due to the overcast day and the rain, it was hard to make out these blue mountains, but we learned all about the legend… Something about three sisters turned into each of the giant rocks, and the eucalyptus trees somehow give off the blue aura. Once at the mountain you take a little train up to the top where you can walk around rope draw bridges, that look as though you have entered an Ewok village. I think if it had been a clear day this trip would have been more pleasant. One can only take being soaked so long.

The bus ride back was a little long as my eyes grew weary, I took a nap. As we approached the city we drove past breath taking Olympic city. We didn’t get to go inside but got to see the venue from the freeway. We parked and it was time to take our night boat trip and see the city skyline all light up.

Our last day in Sydney was a little sad. We had grown to love this city by the bay, as noted on t-shirts we bought for our close friends (I heart Sydney). But we must not waste our last day, so we went to the Aquarium on the warf, where we saw the incredible cow of the sea, the Manatee. We saw some great white sharks, giant rays. I know they say everything is bigger in Texas, but have you seen some of these Australian sea creatures?

We grabbed some quick lunch and went back to exploring. We closed the day and trip with an IMAX experience. Australia boasted the largest IMAX screen in the world. Why not? Well if you spoiled Americans think the movies are way too expensive, try going to Australia: 4 IMAX tickets $100.

In the morning we said out good-byes and headed our separate ways.

Australia- they drive on the wrong side of the road, their coffee names make no sense, and the toilets flush the opposite way. But still I had a unique and memorable experience.