When I was an RA at SMU, I had a Hall Director, JB, who asked us where in the world we wanted to travel. I told her that I wanted to visit Australia. Time passed, and she got us all travel books for the destination we picked. I never got rid of that book. The desire to go Down Under has grown with time. Now that I have become a world traveller, I felt like it was a good time to start looking. Two years ago when I was researching the best new years celebrations in the world, I came across an article that listed the top five destinations:
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Sydney, Australia
- London, England
- New York City, NY, USA
- Edinburgh, Scotland
Since I went to Rio to ring in 2017, I figured I might as well follow down the list. After I moved to Jacksonville, FL I told a couple friends my plans to see if anyone wanted to join. One friend was very interested, Joel. So we started planning our routes and timing. I knew the best flights to get there would take us to Sydney first. After that I wanted to make sure we were able to visit the Great Barrier Reef, then head over to New Zealand for some nature and hobbit-living.
Hotels in Sydney were ridiculous already in May, so I locked down the Sheraton on the Park using points. After that, we looked at our other cities. It turned out that after Cairns it would be easier to do an overnight layover in Melbourne en route to Queenstown. This meant we would be able to explore three different cities and areas in Australia.
Joel flew the normal way to Australia, but I had all these Qatar points just sitting in my account getting ready to expire. Since I would be in Dallas for Christmas, I figured I could from Dallas to Doha to Sydney. When I checked the points for a one way flight, it turned out that I had just enough to get First Class the whole way. This meant a 777 from DFW to DOH, and an A380 from DOH to SYD… Yes… I was getting a first class seat in the A380 for 14 hours. This seemed like the best way to burn my remaining Qatar QMiles.
Arriving in Doha brought back many memories of my time in the Middle East. I promptly went to the Al Safwa Lounge to grab a shower and freshen up. After that, I plopped down in a chair, and caught up with some friends. I only had a short layover, so I made my way to the entrance of the plane. There was only one other person in the whole of the First Class area. In other words, we each had our own personal attendant. Of course, I ordered the caviar and the Dom P.
Both of the flights were very peaceful. I was happy I went the long way, but it was a pretty cool feeling to land on a new continent. I grabbed the rental car from RedSpot (I booked through National, but I guess they outsourced). Driving in Sydney is very confusing. The street signs lack a lot of information, oh, and the driver’s seat is on the right side. I definitely hit the windshield wiper controls many times when I was reaching for the turn signal. Whoops. I finally made it to the hotel, and met up with Joel. He had already done some wandering, so we headed back out to see some sights. The first place we tried to visit, didn’t exist? Then the next place was closed. We finally found a place that was open, Beer DeLuxe. It is very apparent that they don’t depend on tips for anything. There were probably six employees wandering around, barely helping anyone. The place was packed. You have to order and retrieve beer & food from the bar. After browsing the menu, I picked my beer: they were out of it, my second choice, my third choice, and my fourth choice. Turns out their available beers were almost completely different from the menu. I asked why they didn’t update the menu. Apparently, it is difficult to change a menu. Wow. Well, this meant that I was ready to leave. Luckily, the next place we visited, Bitter Phew, was pretty dang good. They had intelligent bartenders, an awesome tap list, and a chill atmosphere.
After a couple Aussie brews, we decided that we should go back and rest up for our road trip.
One of the reasons, we rented a car was that we wanted to drive out to the Blue Mountains and see some animals. The park was about an hour away from Sydney. On the way, we took a detour to Featherdale Wildlife Park. We wanted to see some Australian animals.
After spending the day admiring some wonderful creatures, we went to hike around the mountains.
From there we checked out the red hands in the caves.
Sydney Night Life
After a dose of nature, we decided to swing by Manly Beach to see what the fuss was all about. This was a cool spot. It was very crowded, and the sun was even hotter. After that, we parked back at the hotel, and went wandering. Since New Years was severely affecting our ability to get a good skyline shot, we grabbed the ferry over to Manly Beach. This ride allowed us to get the great views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Of course we ended the night at Bitter Phew, as would become our pattern.
The next day, the time had come: SydNYE New Years Party at Pier One. I started looking for events a little late, and the cheaper spots sold out. But this offered an up close and personal view of the fireworks. It also helped that this party was open.
Once the sun went down, the party started going. socialites, celebrities, and commoners alike were having a great time. Then the first set of fireworks went off at 9:30. They were fantastic.
We were prepped and ready. The Midnight Showing absolutely took my breath away. It was only our third day there, and the whole trip was worth it.
The next day, I relaxed and paid the price for eating a convenience store beef roll. I still made sure to hit up the Tap House one last time.
The flight up to Cairns was quick and easy. I actually sat next to this splendid woman who was going up for a girls’ weekend. She informed me about the terrible weather in the forecast. But I assured her, I am also traveling up there, so Jeff will take care of the weather. I went on to tell her the story of my friend Jeff, and how now he watches over me when I travel. We landed and started looking into plans for our time. I said goodbye and wished her an awesome #woogirlweekend.
We had only just learned about the rainforest nearby and the SkyRail that we could take. We called and got the last two tickets available.
The views were pretty wonderful. It is times like that when you almost want to put the camera down and just experience it. I did take a few pictures of course, but this part was for me mostly.
The next day, I went and got my tattoo, and Joel jumped out of a plane. Yeah, because that is the normal thing to do. We signed up for a pub crawl through PartyInCairns. As cheesy as these crawls can be, I have found that they are a good way to meet other travelers and see several local bars. This was no exception. We even got to hit up the world famous Gilligan’s. Side Note: To any of my bro friends, you need to check this place out. It is a hostel resort for the avid partier. We did karaoke, watched some tourists show off their dancing skills, played some drinking games, ate late night food… basically L-I-V-I-N.
The next morning we were greeted with a perfect sunrise. I think this is when Joel started to understand how Jeff works to take care of my travels. Cairns had 80% chance of rain for the whole time we were there.
We opted to take a cruise out/helicopter back tour of the Great Barrier Reef through Nautilus Helicopters. Being a bigger guy, this company actually took the time and effort to work with me. We were able to book the whole tour through them. There was snorkeling, SCUBA, submarine viewing experience, food, and fun.
Even with all the articles I read online telling me the reef was dead, it was truly a wonder of the world. The marine life and growth is breath taking.
Our last city in Australia came about as a stop of convenience. All the flights from Cairns to Queenstown had a layover in either Sydney or Melbourne, so I figured we should take an extended layover and check out the 12 Apostles. Sadly they are eroding. But they are still worth the trip for sure. One of the best parts was driving on the Great Ocean Road. The coast and the hills and landscapes are ridiculous.
After we got back to the hotel, I went to check out a couple last spots.
I can hardly put into words how amazed I was by Australia. Sometimes, we build things up in our mind too much. Then when we finally experience them, they let us down. But not in this case. I had a dream of visiting Australia that started back in 2003. I have now lived that dream.