Two Adults. Two Kids. 23 Days. Four Australian Cities.
G’day, mates! As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Announcing: 2019 Vacation Down Undah, Australia holds a very special place in my heart. My hubby and I honeymooned (partly) in Sydney back in 2012. Although we only stayed there for five days, we made some incredible memories. From our very first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House and swimming at the world famous Bondi Beach, to sampling crocodile and sipping the best mochas we’ve ever had, we have been so blessed to get to share and recreate these incredible moments with our kids.
Although three weeks sounds like plenty of time to explore and visit, it truly isn’t when you consider Australia is the sixth largest country in the world. It’s such a vast place, not much smaller than Canada in size, and it’s impossible to see it all in only a few short weeks. There’s so much to see and do, you’d need months. Years!
Now, despite wishing we had unlimited vacation days and a bottomless bank account to make that happen, three weeks did lend us enough time to visit four amazing Australian cities, the Great Barrier Reef, and check off a few items on our bucket list. And when you think of it that way, that’s definitely nothing to whinge about.
If you’re planning a trip down under, or hope to eventally, this itinerary is definitely a great way to go. I’m not just being biased. Well, okay, maybe a little…But even the locals we spoke to were quite impressed at how much we managed to squeeze into three weeks.
So sit back, relax, crack open a coldie and let me take you through our incredible adventure in the land down undah!
- Flying to Vancouver, staying 1 night.
- Flying to Sydney, staying 5 nights.
- Flying to Brisbane, staying 4 nights.
- Flying to Cairns, staying 4 nights.
- Flying back to Sydney, staying another 5 nights.
- Flying back to Vancouver, then straight home to Ottawa on a connecting flight.
Our journey began very early on Monday morning as we made our way to the Ottawa airport to catch our flight to Vancouver. Although this post is about Australia, this portion of the trip is definitely worth talking about.
First of all, if you’ve never been to Vancouver, you need to go. I’m not just saying that because I have to as a Canadian. Vancouver is truly gorgeous — especially in the summer. Typically known for its frequent rain, we were surprised to find nothing but blue skies and sunshine during our 36 hour stay. Plus, we got to have dinner and gelato with Mitch’s uncle, two cousins and their kids which brightened our visit even more!
Our hotel was perfectly located. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Sands on Davie Street. Not grandest or fanciest of hotels, but what it lacked in star-ratings it more than made up for in location. It’s just a few short steps from Stanley Park: a huge, scenic rainforest with several kilometers of trails, beaches, playgrounds, a pool, restaurants, and historical landmarks, all of which you can explore on foot or bicycle.
We opted to tour the park on foot the following morning — much to our ten-year-old’s dismay. Thankfully, Bianca did eventually come around on the idea of “just walking” and we all had a very pleasant time. We then ambled around the Bayshore area, checking out all the cool boats and yachts at the marina, and enjoying the cool city vibe.
By 4:00pm, we were knackered. But more than that, we were excited to get the Australia part of our trip started! So we made our way to the airport extra early. Like, seven hours early. Our hotel check-out was at 11am that morning, and with a 15-hour flight ahead of us at 11:50pm, we wanted to feel clean and refreshed — which we were not after that long hike!
Mitch discovered that there’s a Fairmont Hotel located right inside the Vancouver airport, and for $20/adult (kids are free) you can use their pool, gym, and shower facilities! This, my friends, was a life saver. I cannot stress this enough. While Mitch and the kids splashed around in the pool, I melted away in the hot tub and sauna, read, and even had myself a tiny little snooze on the lounge chair. It was glorious.
Afterwards, we all had our showers and got ready for the flight. The changing rooms even had bathing suit dryers so you don’t have to travel with wet suits! I swear, I almost didn’t want to leave.
Sydney — Part One
Day One: Recovery!
As you can imagine, we didn’t plan much for this first day aside from nursing our flight hangover. Despite best efforts, a certain amount of jet lag is unavoidable when you’re jumping seventeen time zones. Add painful cankles to the mix (well, my mix) and that was basically us on day one. My ankles had rolls, people! Rolls!
Our hotel, the Holiday Inn at The Rocks, was perfectly located. We took things easy by walking around and getting ourselves situated. Our first stop was Rossini Cafe & Bar where Mitch and I had, more than seven years ago on our honeymoon, enjoyed the best mochas we’d ever tasted. Their coffees are still delicious, but I’ll admit we had better at a few other cafes throughout this trip. We then spent the rest of the day wandering around Circular Quay, the Sydney Opera House, and the Botanic Gardens. We ended the day with a swim at the hotel’s rooftop pool & hot tub, then promptly passed out at 6:30pm until the next morning.
Day Two: Bianca’s “Real” Birthday & Taronga Zoo
Our second day fell on Bianca’s “real” eleventh birthday. The quotation marks are used because it actually takes a PhD in Physics to figure out when her “real” birthday was, due to time zones, time warps, and time holes. Long story short, she chose to celebrate it on her birthdate as it fell in Australia, and her big wish was breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks, and a day at Taronga Zoo. Wish granted, little one!
We ate dinner at Chat Thai, and oh my God! They have the BEST Pad Thai we have ever had! We then went back to the hotel to find a lovely birthday surprise from the hotel staff waiting for Bianca!
Day Three – Bondi Beach
You can’t go to Sydney and not visit Bondi Beach. Not only is it one of the most visited sites in Australia, it’s one of the most famous beach destinations in the world. Even in the middle of Austalian winter, this sandy shore is still crawling with people.
After an INCREDIBLE breakfast and coffee stop at Brew Cafe, we took the city bus using their Opal Card system. It was a cheap, efficient way to get there, plus it made us feel like we were experiencing the city “like the locals”.
Once there, Mitch and the kids braved the freezing water while I sensibly stuck to the shore wearing my sun hat and reading my book. It wasn’t exactly warm out — nothing like our winters in Canada to be sure, but I want to say it was around 17ºC (63ºF) and windy. But the skies were blue and we were in Australia, so all was good in the world.
We had the most amazing sushi and beer at Raw Bar for lunch, then took our server’s advice and went hiking up the south side of the beach where we had coffees and hot chocolate at Icebergs. To be honest, although the views there were great, I’d recommend skipping Icebergs and just keep hiking on. It’s one of those places that everyone recommends to tourists, so every tourist goes there. Very crowded, understaffed, and kind of meh. Sorry.
Day Four – Darling Harbour Adventures!
Okay, totally touristy, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Madame Tussaud’s Sydney wax museum, SeaLife, and the Sydney Tower Eye. Who can resist spending the day snapping pics with cooperative celebrities, peering at weird sea creatures, and viewing one of the most beautiful cities in the world in panorama at sunset!?
Day Five – Blue Mountains & Featherdale Wildlife Park
This was our second time booking this full-day Blue Mountains Nature & Wildlife Tour through Viator. The weather hadn’t cooperated seven years ago when we first did it, but this time, Mother Nature was generous. Very generous.
Plus, our tour guide, Tris, was AMAZING. He introduced us to Tim Tams — a sugary, chocolatey, biscut-y treat which has quickly become a Kirady family obsession. More on this later.
- Scenic views of the gorgeous Blue Mountains and the Seven Sisters.
- A stop at Scenic World, where you get to ride the world’s steepest passenger railway, glide on a glass-bottom cable car, and hike the scenic walkway for incredible views.
- Lunch stop in the quaint mountain town of Leura — I highly recommend trying the pizza at Leura Garage. It’s delicious!
- Getting up close and personal with adorable kangaroos at Featherdale Wildlife Park. Squeee!!!
If you find yourself in Oz, don’t miss out on this tour!
Days 6 to 10 – BRISBANE!
We left Sydney on day six for the next part of our adventure: Brisbane!
Our hotel was Royal on the Park, located downtown and right across the street from the city’s Botanic Gardens. A lovely place to stay and walking distance from everything we ended up doing. Also? It was only $120CAD/night! Score!
Guys, Brisbane is the best. Like, I can’t even. Sydney is great, obviously, but Brisbane? *insert hearts in my eyes* I could easily call the place home.
I knew I would love it. I mean, one of the main characters in my novel is a guy from Brisbane (to be played by one of the Hemsworth brothers in the eventual film adaptation…one of these days…God willing), and I wrote him wayyyy before I ever stepped foot there. But researching it for a book and actually seeing it with your own eyes are two separate things entirely! Here’s my list of what makes this place the BEST:
- They have scramble road crossings. Look it up. It’s seriously the future, you guys!
- They have this incredible man-made beach right in the middle of downtown (Southbank). “Oi, boss, I’m goin’ for my beach break.” “Right! I’ll join ya!” We spent EVERY DAY there. That’s how much we loved it.
- Winters are hot. At least according to Canadian standards. Average June/July temps are about 21°C – 22°C. (71°F)
- Breakfasts and caffeine fixes for VERY reasonable prices at The Coffee Club. The food is worth raving about and the coffees were perfect.
- Ice skating and sliding in July at Skating At Festival. Open only three weeks during Ozzie winter — and thankfully during our stay there — you can find a giant ice skating ring and slides right smack in the middle of downtown. A perfect activity for kids and adults alike!
- Doughnut Time, an iconic shop that serves the most incredible, most indulgent donuts. And they have one called the Liam Hemsworthy. Need I say more?
- There are g-g-g-ghosts! You can join one of these super fun ghost tours which are spread out throughout the city. The one we did was a little more child friendly, so I won’t go claiming it was scary, but it was definitely interesting and fun and I would go back to try all the other ghost tours they offer.
- Lime Electric Scooters!!!! I know this is going to sound super weird, but this was one of my favorite things on this whole trip. This innovative take-a-scooter, leave-a-scooter system is not only cheap, sensible and green, it’s a fricking blast! We had so much fun scooting around on those things!
Brisbane, I love you!
Days 11 to 15 – Cairns!
There was no way we were going to spend three weeks in Australia without checking out the Great Barrier Reef. And what better place to it than Cairns!
Now, there’s a great debate as to how exactly one must pronounce the name of this coastal city. Is it Care-nz? Is it Kanz? Is it Kehnz? What is it, damn you! For some strange reason, no one can truly decide. On the one hand, it seems perfectly logical to go with how the locals in actual Cairns say it: Kehnz.
But is it?
As a foreigner and non-Aussie-accent speaker, it seems a bit silly to me to try to imitate them. I read this amusing blog post by KyleBrittain where the author compares the pronunciation of Cairns to the word Vancouver. Ozzies pronounce it “Ven-COO-vah”, not “Van-coo-ver” with that distinct “r” at the end. Similarly, Scottish folk pronounce the word cairn as “cairrrrn”, rolling that sweet r for miles. Therefore, wouldn’t a Canadian, such as myself, pronounce Cairns as “cairns”, as in air with a c and a “nz” at the end?
No. Apparently this is offensive to Ozzie ears and I was very politely scolded for it. But no matter. This place is so bloody charming, you won’t care at all that you have no idea how to pronouce it.
We stayed at the Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort, which—do I sound like a broken record yet?—was PERFECTLY LOCATED. There’s a walk-in pool with sandbar, and the whole place feels a lot like an all-inclusive Carribean resort.
Cairns is full of fantastic little restaurants which we had a lot of fun trying. The samosas at Indian Brothers Restaurant were the absolute best! Just don’t walk under the huge tree near the Woolshed. You’ll likely get pooped on by a bird (or BAT), as I did.
Another really cool thing about Cairns is the Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome. It’s an indoor ziplining park with live birds flying around and crocodile pools dotted along the ziplining course. This place was a BLAST! The best part? A 45ft free-fall attached to nothing but a rope that gradually slows you down as you fall.
Next on the agenda was the Great Barrier Reef! We booked the tour directly through Down Under Dive. They were amazing. The full-day reef cruise tour included stops at two different reef locations, five hours of snorkel time, a BBQ buffet style lunch, as well as coffee & tea throughout the cruise. We ended up renting wet suits too, because the was a bit nippy. The whole experience was magical. A true bucket list and memories that we will keep forever.
Finally, a huge shout out to the Cairns Woolsworths cashier who introduced us to Tim Tam Slams — the process of sipping chocolate Milo (chocolate malt powder you mix with hot milk) using a Tim Tam as a STRAW and then slamming it into your mouth before it falls apart. I swear to God, you guys, this is a real thing. Check it out here.
Days 16 to 21 – Sydney!
We arrived back in Sydney just in time for the Bastille French Festival AND the Sydney Chrstmas In July Festival! Imagine, four days of kiosks upon kiosks of delicious food, Christmas themed shops made of wooden shacks decorated to look like a Christmas village, French cinema, music, live performances, and “ice” skating just to give you an idea.
We basically spent the whole time eating, eating, and doing some more eating. There was raclette, French onion soup, Swedish waffles, poutine, crepes, delicate French pâtisseries, paella, cotton candy, mulled wine, gelato, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch.
We also made it a point to try the Five Must-Try Foods Australia has to offer:
- Tim Tams: Check!
- Kangaroo: Check! (SeaRock Grill, Circular Quay)
- Barramundi: Check! (SeaRock Grill, Circular Quay)
- Lamingtons: Check!
- Vegemite: Check!
- Bonus – Crocodile: Check!! (The Rocks Cafe, The Rocks)
Lets just say it’s no mystery as to why I came home weighing a lot more than I did when I left.
We also took some time to do a bit of shopping. My favorite find was a shop called Bush Art at The Rocks weekend market where I picked up souvenirs for my mom and sister. They made gorgeous eco-friendly jewellery made from real eucalyptus leaves dried, then dipped in gold or silver.
Exhausted (and full) as we were, we did take the time for one more guided tour before leaving. A full-day trip to Canberra from Sydney, booked through Viator. We got to see fantastic views of the city from the summit of Mount Ainslie, took a guided tour of the Australian War Museum as well as the National Museum of Australia, then visited the billion-dollar Parliament.
Our next adventure was Luna Park, Sydney’s most iconic amusement park. We decided to go for the kids, not expecting too much out of it, but this turned out be an insane amount of fun! My favorite ride was the Tango Train (Wild version)! Omg, I nearly peed myself it was so fun!
Our final and biggest splurge of the trip was going to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince at the Sydney Opera House. I won’t lie — the cost was outrageous. But SO worth it! There were people dressed up in the coolest Harry Potter costumes! I even spotted a guy dressed as Filch! No joke!
The talent (and stamina) of the musicians was beyond impressive. They were so perfect and on point, I kept forgetting the music playing was live! A wonderful night, and I’m so glad we got to share that experience with the girls. Unforgettable.
Afterwards, it was sadly time to say goodbye to Australia. As with my Ireland – 2019 Girls Trip post, I won’t get into the long, looooong boring details of the trip home. Lets just say it involved hardly any sleep and lots of cankle action. Not much fun, but necessary.
And now for my next adventure: Losing all the weight I gained in Australia! Hahahaaa *sob sob sob*
I hope you enjoyed reading this very long post and am impressed if you made it to the end! Stay tuned for more on my writing, as well as some helpful tips if you’re traveling with kids. If you have useful travel advice you swear by, please drop a comment to share it. I’d love to hear from you! xxoo