Category Archives: Australia

10 Reasons to Love Melbourne

While in Sydney, I heard that I would either be a “Melbourne girl” or a “Sydney girl.” Apparently, according to locals of both cities, you can’t love both. At least, you can’t love both equally. But I’m sorry to report to my Aussie readers, I did.

Sydney and Melbourne are in fact very different from one another. Sydney has all the major tourist attractions, beaches, and is admittedly a better option for tourists if you have to choose. However, Melbourne is definitely worth a visit too.

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3 Must-Have Experiences in Sydney

Planning a trip can be extremely overwhelming. You have to decide on which country to visit, which cities, how long to stay in each city, find hotels and airfare within your price range, and have an idea of what you want to do once you actually arrive. Aren’t vacations supposed to be relaxing?

If you’re like me, the Internet can be a double-edged sword when making these decisions. It’s easy to log hours on travel sites, reading review after review, until you lose all confidence in your ability to make a decision. So, I’m making it easy for you. I’ve compiled a list of my top three things to do when visiting Sydney. If you’re limited on time, plan your days around each of these events, giving you three very different days of touristic opportunities.

1. Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb

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I’m not going to lie, this is expensive. But then again, Australia is pretty expensive in general. And, in my opinion, it’s worth the money. Basically, BridgeClimb is an adventurous way to see the city’s most iconic sites from a different vantage point. You choose what time you want to go (day, twilight, night or dawn), get strapped into a jumpsuit and harnesses, and hike your way up the bridge, stopping every so often for historical facts and pictures. The climb takes about two hours, and there’s no need to be in shape. Just prepare for some stair climbing (obviously) and slightly high winds coming from the bay. For more information, visit the website: http://www.bridgeclimb.com/.

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2. Manly Ferry 

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In contrast to the high price of climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the 30-minute ferry ride to Manly Wharf is a beautiful, cheap way to get to know the city better. Ferries leave frequently (every half hour or so), from 5:30am until 11:45pm from Circular Quay. You can purchase roundtrip tickets at the station ($15 AUD) right beforehand.

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Once you arrive to Manly, you can go on a 10 kilometer harbourside walk if you feel so inclined, or you can do what I did and plop down on the beach and relax for a few hours. Either way, make sure to end your day with fish and chips. There are shops all along the beach, and some tucked away on side streets. We chose a fresh fish shop that had a line out the door (always my go-to), and enjoyed it on a park bench while watching the sun set. It was truly a perfect day.

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3. Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk

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This six kilometer cliff top coastal walk is the perfect way to take in the city’s famous beaches and eastern suburbs. It takes about two hours; although you could make a day of it by stopping at the parks and restaurants along the way. Public transportation is quick and easy, and bus numbers depend on where in Sydney you’re coming from.

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Been to Sydney and agree with my list? Have other suggestions? Please comment in order to help others make informed travel decisions. 🙂

New Years in Sydney

Up until a few years ago, I never cared too much for New Years. To me, it was a hyped-up celebration with false expectations, unrealistic resolutions, and drunk drivers. But then everything changed right around the time I turned 30.

Yes, it had a lot to do with the age. After years of hating my body and worrying whether or not people liked me, I was finally confident in who I was. I was content. Happy. And I attribute most of that to living abroad. And I attribute living abroad to loving New Years.

Three years ago I was in Buenos Aires, singing karaoke in a large Argentinian family’s living room. The following year I celebrated on Copacabana Beach in Rio, alongside two million people, dancing and jumping waves for good luck. And a couple of weeks ago, I got the opportunity to see the famous Sydney Harbour fireworks from a boat, with a dear friend I made in Korea.

I know what you’re thinking. (Bitch.) But it’s actually quite hard being away during the holidays. Thankfully, I have been blessed with a very understanding family. In fact, when I told them I was torn between visiting Australia and coming home, they said something to the effect of “watch out for the kangaroos.” I love them.

Anyway, the point of this post is to share my Sydney New Year’s Eve experience, and the best way to do this is through pictures. Below you will find the progression of the fireworks, from start to finish.

But first, some advice: If you’re going to visit Sydney for New Years in coming years, secure a boat a few months ahead of time. Otherwise, you’ll be fighting your way through huge crowds, waiting around on the Harbour for hours in the heat, without a cocktail. Here’s the boat we went on—about half the price of others, as it was BYOB: http://www.sydneyharbourescapes.com.au/boat-fleets/boat-detail/bid/600. Also, mentally prepare for the mass of people once you leave the boat. It took us about two hours to get home. And my friend lived a mere five kilometers away.

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The First Thing You Should Do When Visiting Sydney

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Whenever I head to a new city, I immediately do one of two things: check out the local markets, or look into a free walking tour. Yes, that’s right, I said free. Well, it’s a tour based on tips. Basically, at the end, you give what you think it was worth—or what you can afford, if you’re traveling light.

I first discovered this concept in Valparaiso, Chile. Upon arrival, my hostel provided me with a map of the city and told me I had 30 minutes to find “Waldo” in Plaza Sotomayor. Tired, but intrigued, I waltzed down the steep alleyway into the main square, and saw a small group gathered around a tall man wearing a red and white striped shirt.

In Valparaiso as well as cities like La Paz, Paris, Tokyo, and Bangkok, a local (or someone who has lived there a fair bit) takes you around the city center, gives you some history on the place, and usually provides you with a map and recommendations on what to do during your stay.

In Sydney, there seems to be several tour options, but I chose a company called “I’m Free,” based on TripAdvisor reviews. The tour was about three hours, and took us through the CBD (Central Business District), through various neighborhoods like “The Rocks,” and along the Harbour, finishing in front of the iconic Sydney Opera House. The guides were spunky, interesting, and obviously proud of their city.

Here are some highlights from my walk:

IMG_6321St Mary’s Cathedral in Hyde Park

IMG_6322The Hyde Park Barracks

IMG_6325The Sydney Hospital, also know as “The Rum Hospital,” as it was paid for with the promise of rum sale profits.

IMG_6330Next to the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, where the tragic hostage situation took place.

IMG_6337Local art exhibit, complete with the sounds of native birds.

IMG_6343A giant city model under a glass floor in the Customs House.

IMG_6333Martin Place right after Christmas.

IMG_6357Probably my favorite neighborhood, which I later explored on my own: The Rocks.

IMG_6352The famous Sydney Harbour Bridge.

IMG_6348And last but not least, the grand finale: The Sydney Opera House!

For more information, check out the website: http://www.imfree.com.au/. Tours take place every day at 10:30am, 2:30pm, and 6:00pm, and last between 2.5 and 3 hours. Note that you will do a lot of walking, so wear sneakers and bring sunscreen. Also plan on giving a decent tip. I gave $20, although many gave less, and a few gave more. And remember to Google “Free Walking Tour” the next time you visit a new city.

4 Days in Cairns, Australia

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I had never heard of Cairns before this trip. I certainly didn’t know how to pronounce it. (For those wondering, it’s pronounced like the French city, “Cannes,” or like “cans” of beans, for you classy folks.)

Cairns is a small town on the east coast of Northern Australia. It has a population of about 140,000, and is a popular jumping off point for Reef trips, tours to Fraser Island (World Heritage island renowned for great camping), and sailing expeditions to the Whitsunday Islands. But Cairns shouldn’t be discounted as simply a pit stop to somewhere better. The small coastal town is actually quite charming for a few days.

Here’s an overview of my trip, and some links and advice to do something similar if you feel so inclined:

Day 1

I arrived to the airport at 9am after a 9-hour overnight flight from Shanghai. Immigration was fairly quick and my bags were waiting for me at the conveyer belt. No one pushed me, there was no yelling, and the airport employees were actually smiling. I’ve realized that, after living in China for six months, I am easily impressed.

At 10am I took a taxi to my hostel, Travellers Oasis, in the CBD (Central Business District). The ride cost $25 AUD, but I later found out a shuttle would have only set me back $5. The hostel was more like a guest house—complete with a pool, hammocks, and Bob Marley playing through speakers. 

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After a nap, I headed to a fruit and veggie market called Rusty’s (only open on weekends) to check out the exotic fruit, veggies and flowers from the area. This is always my favorite thing to do when I arrive to a new city, as it’s a great way to understand the local flavor. This market isn’t enormous or as exotic as ones in Asia, but it’s still a great place to kill an hour, and get some great tasting passion fruit.

Not gonna lie, this is pretty much all I did my first day. I did a little more walking around, and picked up some groceries from Cairns Central shopping mall, but no matter how much I travel, I have yet to master the art of sleeping on a plane.

Days 2 & 3

At 7:15 TUSA Dive picked me up at the hostel. Before arriving to Cairns, I had a hard time deciding on which company to book my Great Barrier Reef trip with, as there are many outfitters. But TUSA had gotten good reviews on TripAdvisor, and they offered a 2-day referral dive program with the necessary open water dives and two pleasure dives. As I wrote in the previous post, I was really happy with the company, and would recommend them for diving or for snorkeling trips. 

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From about 7:30am to 4:30pm on both days, I reviewed information I had learned during my pool dives and classroom instruction in Shanghai. I also learned how to plan dives, set up gear, break down gear, and use a compass (which I failed at, miserably). We reviewed many of the skills previously learned, like how to clear a flooded mask, and what to do if you run out of air.

TUSA took us to four different sites for a total of six dives, each dive lasting for around 40-45 minutes. The company also included two “tea times” with coffee, tea and pastries, and a healthy lunch buffet, with a multitude of salads, quiches, proteins and bread. For more information on my scuba trip, read the previous post.

When I arrived back to the hostel, I was able to attend an “authentic Australian BBQ” at their sister hostel, Tropic Days. For $14 I was able to sample barramundi, the area’s famous fish, emu, kangaroo, and crocodile. The emu was a bit like lean beef, the kangaroo like tender steak, and the crocodile, to no surprise, tasted just like chicken.

Day 4:

I decided to take a bus to Karunda, a small town about 45 minutes north of Cairns, renowned for its rainforest walks and koala-holding opportunities. It was an easy trip, and nice to see a different side to Queensland. 

The Koala Gardens was like a little zoo, and took only 30 minutes to walk through. It was small, but still pretty cool. I was the first one there (9:15), so I was able to feed and pet the kangaroos by myself, and spend a little more time cuddling the koala. And, let’s be honest, this whole trip to Kuranda was mostly so I could hold a koala.

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After I got my koala fix, I explored Kuranda’s Heritage Markets, where vendors were selling things like organic essential oils, imported clothing from Bali, handmade boomerangs, stuffed koalas and kangaroos, local honey, and traditional souvenirs. I tried my best not to shop for myself, or to buy my niece every stuffed marsupial I saw.

I stopped for a coffee at a place called Frogs in the market. It was a little pricey, but the restaurant had great local coffee, and a wide selection of organic teas and food items. The server was even nice enough to give me some local advice on what I should do while in Kuranda, and circled some highlights on my map. 

I decided to take some of the walking paths through the rainforest and along the river. The tourist information center where you get dropped off has walking maps and can recommend paths depending on your fitness level and interests.

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After about a 2-hour hike, I returned to the quaint town and ate lunch at a little outdoor cafe called “Well-Being Deli,” which was recommended by the woman who sold me honey at the market. I get a lentil burger the size of my head and saved half for later. The food was excellent, and they had vegan and gluten-free options.

To return to Cairns, you have a few options. The bus picks up in front of Anabelle’s Pantry at 12:30, 2:14 and 4:10. It is important to note, that the last bus leaves at 4:10, and if you miss it, it’ll cost you about $150 by taxi. Other transports include the scenic train and the skyrail . If you have the money, they both seem like beautiful options. I, however, had two more weeks in Australia, so I decided to spend $6  ($12 roundtrip) instead.

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I returned to the hostel in the afternoon, took a nice long nap, then headed down to reception to reserve an airport shuttle for the next day. But since I was flying on Christmas, the shuttle Travellers Oasis uses would not be working. The hostel owner recommended Sun Palm Transport Group (sunpalmtransport.com.au/), which I will also pass onto you. It was a cheap, timely option, and the driver was extremely nice and professional.

After that was squared away, the owner also recommended that I attend a Christmas Eve pub crawl. And although the Aussies can be quite charming, I was happy just to pack, watch some Christmas TV, and of course, eat my leftovers.

I politely declined, and said, “Maybe next time.” I have a feeling I’ll be back.

Diving The Great Barrier Reef

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Since I was little, I was obsessed with the ocean. Picture books of the sea filled my bookshelves, a shell collection decorated my bedroom, and I was dead-set on becoming a marine biologist. That is, of course, until I learned that marine biologists need to know math. And science.

I also wanted my diving license, and asked my parents to buy me the course for my twelfth birthday. But they told me it’d be best if I waited for my younger sister to turn twelve, so that we could take the class together. Reluctantly, I agreed to wait. Then, a few months before my sister’s long-awaited birthday, she announced her complete disinterest in scuba diving. She wanted another Beanie Baby.

But instead of being furious, as you might imagine, I was nearing 16, and my interests had shifted from shells and sea life to push-up bras and dating. The PADI license would have to wait.

Let’s fast-forward 16 years. I’m now 32, and three days ago I landed in Cairns, Australia, to complete my referral dive course on the Great Barrier Reef. And today, I am proud to say that I did it. I am officially a certified diver.

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I am also happy to report that it was worth the wait. Being able to spend the last two days breathing underwater next to giant Angel Fish and turtles was unbelievable. Exploring the different types of coral. Spotting sharks. Spending a solid five minutes watching a Clown Fish weave in and out of soft, noodle-like coral.

Let’s just say I’m no longer mad at my sister.

If you want to plan a holiday to Cairns as well, I would suggest booking your Reef trip through a company called Tusa Dive (www.tusadive.com). I went for a 2-day referral dive course and was extremely impressed. The boat was in great condition and very spacious. The staff members were all fun, energetic, and knowledgeable. Even the food was good.

And at the end of your day (or more, if you’re so inclined), you can purchase a USB flash drive full of photos to make your friends and family jealous. *Note: that is, of course, not what I’m doing here.*

Enjoy the following from my two days at the Reef, captured by the onboard photographer from Calypso Productions. And please, comment if you have any questions!

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