The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Category: Australia (page 2 of 3)

The Hunter Valley: A Wine Mecca

There are two things I like a lot: drinking copious amounts of wine and exploring new places. So a couple of weekends ago, the English Muffin and I decided to do both, and booked ourselves a weekend away in the wine region known as Hunter Valley.

Hunter Valley is likely one of the more popular Aussie wine regions due in large part to its proximity Sydney (about a 2 hour drive). They are famous mostly for their Shiraz and Semillon varietals, which I had known absolutely nothing about until I took a wine class with coworker friends a couple a months ago. I had initially signed up to have an excuse to get tipsy on a Tuesday night, but actually learned something. Go me! Anyway…

We booked one of those GroupOn Deals, which has never really worked out for me in the past but I still foolishly purchase them from time to time. We ended up at the Hunter Valley Retreat, which wasn’t too bad of a spot and was staffed by the nicest people in Australia. It was a little out of the way of Pokolbin, the area where most wineries are and the spot likely most convenient to stay, but we were only there for two days and had a wine day tour as part of the package so we weren’t too fussed.

On Saturday we were scheduled in to Andrew Grubb’s “Wine and Grubb Tastebud Adventures” (clever), which took us to several boutique wineries that I had never ever heard of before – which I like because it gives me ammo to be a prick at a fancy work dinner and name drop some obscure winery. It would have been a great tour save for one thing: three incredibly loud, classless Western Sydney women and their two terribly-behaved children lining the back of the vehicle, shouting inane conversation in a mix of English and another language, and frequently dropping the F-bomb in front of the 8-year-old kids. And we were sitting directly in front of them. Yay! We proceeded to drink as much as possible (“Oh, is that a Sauv Blanc? Interesting, may I try that as well?”) while doing our best to avoid our friends from the van when in the wineries, and testing the strength of our resolve every time the seat was kicked or a cackle sounded in our ears.

We stopped at a winery called Tallavera Grove, which I have to recommend as it had the most incredible view of any winery we saw all weekend. AND it had a restaurant called Bistro Molines with a menu that looked ridiculously delicious. I would have gone back for dinner but there was a two month waitlist for a reservation. I will plan another trip around this reservation, when I make it.

Also visited that day:
Ivanhoe Winery – had a good Shiraz as a daily drinker but cost too much to be a daily drinker. Pretty winery and very knowledgeable staff.
Pokolbin Estates – by this point we were desperate to drown out the shouting so I think we tasted 9 wines here. I can’t remember what I liked.
Tempus Two – I don’t recommend this one – it’s like the Disneyland of wine. Weird.
James Estate – it was a very nice spot and the wine was an amazing value. Unfortunately they didn’t take cards, and we were out of cash by the end of the day. Turns out it’s because the winemaker had run the business into the ground and wasn’t supposed to be trading! But had a great Verdelho that had a very distinct red bell pepper aftertaste. I was in love. And they had a horse.

The next day I had scheduled a surprise for the Muffin Man, and we were picked up for breakfast by a HELICOPTER! I had never been in one before so it was as much a gift for me as for him, but I’ll let him think I’m awesome. We landed at Peterson’s Champagne House for a champers breakfast, then off to Tempus Two to get picked up for yet another afternoon wine tour. We were prepared for the worst, but when our guide Tony pulled up the van was empty – everyone had canceled and we got a private bus tour of more amazing wineries! The only drawback? I had to stop drinking so I could drive us back to Sydney that evening.

Wineries we visited on day two:
McWilliams Wine – had a great time chatting with the staff here, a really nice guy who poured very generously.
Drayton’s Family Wines – a pretty big operation, wine was relatively forgettable, but they specialize in Port anyway (which isn’t my fave). We ended up picking up a bottle of spicy moonshine of some sort to dare each other with later.
GunDog Estate – these guys only focus on making the wine, not growing it. And they do an amazing job – we picked up a Reserve Shiraz that was incredible, and a Wild Semillon that tasted unlike any white wine I’ve ever had. We also were able to chat with the winemaker himself – he was about our age, really nice, and pretty handsome (sorry ladies, he’s married). Buy a case!
Audrey Wilkinson Winery – another one with a killer view. At this point I had started spitting instead of swallowing (I know, I know) so I don’t remember this one too much because I was focusing on the tragic waste of wine. They receive high marks from the pros but I remember not being wildly impressed.
Brokenwood Wines – Another must-taste if you go to the Hunter; they have a few wines that are unreal (we coincidentally spent the most money at this vineyard as well, because they’re priced accordingly). Mistress Block, Wade Block II, and Indigo Shiraz and Pinot Noir were all awesome.

OK, that’s a really long one but if you want to ignore all the wine mumbo-jumbo it’s summed up here: We had a really nice weekend and drank a lot of delicious wine, and I’m a little bit of a wine wanker. The pictures will tell you the rest:

My Friend

My Friend

Tallavera Grove

Tallavera Grove

Gundog Wild Semillion

Gundog Wild Semillon

Frolicking Through the Vines

Frolicking Through the Vines

I'm On a Chopper!

I’m On a Chopper!

Champers Breakfast

Champers Breakfast

Airborne Over Hunter Valley

Airborne Over Hunter Valley

Our Ride to Breakfast!

Our Ride to Breakfast!

Melbourne, Part Deux

Anzac Day is the national celebration of the Australian military (ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), similar to what we in the US would call Memorial Day. Rather than be snugly fit onto a Friday or Monday like Memorial Day, it’s a fixed date: April 25th, the day the Anzacs landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey during World War I. This year, that date was a Thursday. But this year, my company kindly offered us the Friday off as well.

So naturally, whenever an uninterrupted chain of free days presents itself, I immediately started researching plane tickets. My funds weren’t quite extravagant enough to allow for a jaunt to Tasmania or New Zealand, but flights to Melbourne were still pretty cheap even just a week before, so I booked a flight to see my cousin and explore the city a bit more.

My flight was in the evening, which meant I was able to spend the day at a packed Clovelly Hotel on a gorgeous, warm Sydney autumn day. The Anzac tradition is to drink copiously (very Australian), and play a game called Two-Up. The rules are pretty simple: Choose how much you wish to bet. Gambling is massive in Australia, so usually +$20 per round is the norm. If you want to bet heads, tap the bill to your head and shout “Fifty on heads!” until someone who is willing to bet $50 on tails hands you their $50. The person betting heads holds both bets while one person in the center of the mob uses a wooden paddle to flip to bottle caps into the air. If they both land on the same side, heads or tails, the bet is won by whomever placed that bet, and you either keep the cash or hand it over. If they are opposites, the round is re-tossed.

Two-Up at Clovelly

The Scene at Clovelly

A few hours of this and I jumped in a cab for the airport, sufficiently unsober. Somehow I made it through security without triggering any alarms, but the motherly Indian woman sitting next to me on the plane shot a few disapproving glances from the corner of her eye, likely thanks to my beer/cider breath.

And then, I was in Melbourne. I had planned this trip out a little better than my last one, and we had plans.

Plans started with a day at the Melbourne Zoo. We brought along the kids my cousin nannies and some of their friends, because seeing things like zebras and giraffes with young kids helps you reawaken the amazed six-year-old in yourself. And because we thought it would be a nice thing to do for Kelly’s host family since they were letting me stay with them for the weekend. I’m proud to say I navigated five children in a packed zoo with a hangover quite well. Maybe I could be a parent someday.

Butterfly Sanctuary in the Zoo

Butterflies at the Zoo

That evening, Kelly and I charted out our exploration of the city. We started at Las Laneways Fiesta, a mashup of art, delicious Mexican food, and a bar of margaritas (duh). After inhaling four of the best tacos I’ve had in months, we decided to start our bar crawl. To sum it up: Absinthe at Bar Ampere – served in the classic 1930s fashion and not the on-fire shot format common in Ibiza. Then we went over to Fitzroy on advice of our very kind bartender at Bar Ampere and tried a cocktail each at Kodiak Club. We finished up with the most incredible cucumber and jalapeno martini I have ever, ever had (and it wasn’t just because it was my fifth drink of the evening) at Little Blood, just upstairs. Apple Maps failed us when we tried to find the Everleigh, which we took as a sign we should scurry home so as not to waste a beautiful Melbourne day on a hangover.

Margaritas and Tacos in the Laneways

Cuzzies in the Laneways

The next day we hoovered an amazing breakfast at Two Birds One Stone in Kelly’s hood of South Yarra to fuel us up for a day traipsing St. Kilda, eating ice cream and checking out the Vintage Markets at the RSL. In one of those amazing universe alignments that rarely happen, a friend from home happened to be in Melbourne for this exact weekend, mostly because his job is to travel the world and take amazing photos of everything he sees (you should go buy some). So he met up with us and we all went to a footy (Australian Rules Football, or AFL) game. The beers started flowing, and soon enough we were all at Cookie, a four-story drinking and dancing extravaganza in the middle of the city taking shots of tequila.

Vintage Markets

The Vintage Markets
California Kids in Melbs

California Kids in Melbs

Footy Game

After a Few Carltons…

We poured ourselves into bed somewhere around 3 a.m., and a few short hours later I was up and in a taxi on my way to the airport, since it appears I can no longer take a flight without being desperately hungover.

Melbourne

I had the pleasure of meeting Melbourne for the first of what I plan to be many times. Such a great city, at least at first glance – shops, cafes, fine dining galore, a beach (even if it can’t rival Sydney’s), and best of all, MY COUSINS! My cousin Kelly has been in Melbourne since September, and we’ve had the chance to meet up three times since her arrival down under, but always in Sydney or Noosa. My cousin Ericha had just arrived in early January, but had been busy doing the things you do when you’re studying abroad in a foreign country, and I hadn’t been able to lure her down from Queensland until this past weekend. So a glorious reunion in Melbourne was staged, and we were all excited and happy about the good fortune of overlapping expatriation in the same nation (poet, heyyyy).

Cuzzies

We’re Related – YAY!

After a relatively cringe-worthy Friday night that robbed me of both my voice and my dignity (think one of the more embarrassing episodes of Girls – awkward sweaty dancing, saying embarrassing things to relative strangers, multiple social faux pas, etc.) in St. Kilda, we spent most of the rest of the weekend bonding, eating LOTS of Ben and Jerry’s, and sampling the local cuisine around the city and South Yarra, the suburb where my cousin lives. It was great to spend time with people who at least partially share my genetic code, to catch up, and to compare notes on the weirdness of living in an English-speaking country but still feeling ridiculously out of place. Considering the tumultuous last few months I’ve been having, hearing the familiar Philly accent and tell-it-like-it-is advice of my cousins left me with a pretty serious “holiday hangover” come Monday. There’s nothing like a few days of connecting to make you feel alone, huh?

So Monday dawned a rainy kind of overcast that made me ache for Seattle (weird, I know), which did nothing to improve my mood or push me into a more positive frame of mind. Fortunately, a friend from home telepathically picked up on my shit mood from 11,000 miles away and treated me to an hour-long phone conversation that more or less rid me of my Debbie Downer attitude. After that, I was able to face the challenges of the week with renewed vigor (or at least cast off my grumpy cat face).

grumpy cat

This is Grumpy Cat

If you’re interested in where we ate:

Republic Cafe

Misty’s American Diner

Senoritas Mexican Restaurant

Port Douglas and Tropical North Queensland

About an hour’s drive north of Cairns is a resort town known as Port Douglas. Highly recommended over Cairns by my Aussie friends and supposedly home to some of the best tropical beaches on the planet, my mom had booked us into a beachfront apartment at Beaches Holiday Apartments for three nights to close out our exploration of far north Queensland. And the apartment was amazing. A few yards away from the sand, walking distance to the little village, well-outfitted and comfortable, with AC blasted non-stop (this was necessary). I would definitely recommend a stay here to anyone looking to go to Port Douglas. I would also definitely recommend Port Douglas to anyone who wants to explore the Great Barrier Reef.

The first day we got in we checked out the beach, where these warnings were posted every 50 feet or so before walked onto the sand. Queensland is home to the notorious box jellyfish – one of the many creatures in Australia that wishes death upon anything it touches. Since it’s prime jellyfish season, any swimming in the 80 degree water was limited to a small area that was netted off against the “stingers,” which is what Aussies like to call jellyfish.

After a quick stroll, I convinced my parents to drive back up the street to the nearby Wildlife Habitat. I told them I would catch hell if I let them leave the country without holding a koala or feeding a kangaroo. Since my first experience in Brisbane at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary had been so magical, I assumed all Aussie petting zoos would be like this. There was definitely a multitude of wildlife (including cassowaries, these ridiculous blue-necked, angry-looking, emu-like flightless birds), but the koalas were fewer and the kangas must have just been fed, because they were just not interested in interacting with us at all. But we managed to coax a few wallabies over to charm my parents. I also managed to get my dad to hold a koala for the obligatory photo op, but my mom was too terrified to even get close.

I cooked my parents a meal that evening to thank them for the trip and because eating out in Australia (especially in tourist towns) is pretty expensive and I felt bad having my dad constantly pick up the check.

Since all Reef tours the next day were sold out, we decided to be land explorers again, but self-guided ones this time. My dad and I took turns driving all the way north, through Daintree and up to Myall and Cape Tribulation beaches. Cape Tribulation beach is the furthest north you can drive without an all-wheel drive vehicle. I was a little disappointed because I had visions of reaching the verrrrrry far north tip of the peninsula, but these hopes were dashed by an Aussie cabbie laughing and telling me that only way up there was by plane. Maybe for my next trip!

We lounged on the beach and hiked through some swamps that warned us about the crocodiles in the area (yeah), all the while being warned not to drive to fast by the Cassowary Crossing signs that dotted the road the whole way up. Apparently, if you come across one of these in the wild, you need make yourself bigger than it is (likely by holding something over your head because these guys are TALL) and looking it directly in the eye. Otherwise, you’ll receive a swift kick to the back. Cassowaries are big on the sucker punch, apparently.

We had dinner that night at Finz, which had a menu like nearly every other restaurant on the block, but the sound of their prawn appetizer was better than the rest. The food was pretty much average, but then again maybe I just don’t like Coral Trout (I tried something new).

The next day was our reef tour, which requires a post entirely in and of itself (and I still need to develop the underwater photos). We ended up having Chinese for dinner at Jade Inn, which had really great Chinese (but we were also starved from a day on the water and in the sun, so anything probably would have been delicious). We crashed immediately after because we had to wake at 3 a.m. to drive back to Cairns and catch our 5:30 a.m. flight… lovely.

We flew back into a chilly and overcast Sydney, but our pilot gave us a spectacular show by flying directly next to the CBD, Harbour Bridge and Opera House. I snapped a picture just before it was too late, but will remember to get a better one next time I’ve flown in.

Thus far into my expatriation I have managed to already cover a solid quarter of the country. Not extensively, maybe, but I’ve gotten the highlights and know what to repeat and what to skip now from Sydney up to the north-east. Time to start focusing on the South East. Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road, anyone? I’m ready for a summertime road trip!

Cairns

If it’s possible to gain 10 pounds in the space of a week, I think I’ve managed to do it. I adore my parents but my routine of salad-making for lunch, only drinking booze a couple of days a week, and running first thing in the morning has definitely taken a serious hit, and I’m not loving the results.

Regardless of the setback to being bikini-fabulous, I’ve spent the last couple of days eating, drinking (surprise, surprise, chunky) and soaking up the city of Cairns. Which is actually probably better described “as a town with a dot on the map that suggests a city, but it really just a town.” Not that I’m complaining, it’s a great town especially built for tourists and backpackers. It’s just not as big as its dot on the map would suggest. But I digress.

We arrived midday to our hotel, Rydges Tradewinds, which was relatively average but well-located. We decided a quick walk along the coast would be the best way to get acquainted with the city, and we’re rewarded with a gorgeous view of… Mud. My mom and I were both surprised at the lack of sand.

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We had managed to miss a total solar eclipse by about three hours, so the pathways and restaurants were pretty full, but we managed to walk the length of the coast and the marina with minimal trampling of Japanese tourists. The general feeling of Cairns is very reminiscent of Hawaii – close, tropical heat, lush vegetation, blue but occasionally moody skies. We decided to stop for lunch at Villa Romana, which had very good Italian-Australian fare (a little surprising considering it’s tourist-trappy location). A good glass of cold white wine in the middle of a hot Wednesday is a luxury that everyone should enjoy once in a while.

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We went back to the hotel to nap before we launched ourselves out to a sunset cruise in the notoriously crocodile-infested Trinity Inlet. Okay, crocodile-infested is a little dramatic, but they are out there! We just didn’t see any. It was a nice hour and a half, but I did wish it were a little longer. It’d be fun to rent a boat and spend a day getting lost in the twisting side passageways of the inlet, pretending to be Captain Cook exploring the place for the first time again. But my mom felt a little safer in a larger, more crocodile-safe boat instead. As we headed back to the harbor with the sunset glowing gold and pink and purple behind the dark, low-hanging storm clouds, a massive stream of flying foxes flew overhead, terrifying my mother and fascinating my father. As we watched bats the size of my chihuahua fly overhead, I mentioned how everything you want to stay as small as possible has evolved to massive proportion in Australia: bats, spiders, snakes, sharks, crocodiles.

We were still full from lunch so dinner consisted mostly of oysters and champagne (so posh), and I was down for the count shortly thereafter.

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We decided to wait for the wind to settle and the clouds to disperse before we tackled the Barrier Reef, so instead of board a boat and take to the water, we opted to spend the next day as land explorers. There is a skycar/cable car that spans nearly 8 kilometers of rainforest, landing you in the hippy art town of Kuranda. It’s a pretty amazing trip, if you don’t spend too much time thinking about what the construction workers who put this thing up in the middle of the forest had to deal with between spiders, freakishly large ants, termites, and probably some other terrifying, undiscovered insect species that feeds off the blood of man.

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Kuranda itself appeared to solely exist for tourism – I feel like the ratio of residents to shops or stalls was pretty close to 1:1. There was also a kangaroo petting zoo, a bird sanctuary where you can hold tropical parrots, a butterfly reserve, and even a flying fox reserve (couldn’t convince my parents to check that one out, though it was the only free one). Most of these things were priced a few dollars more that they should have been, but regardless we still opted to go into the butterfly reserve at my mom’s urging. Now, I’m not an insect person (yes even a pretty and harmless butterfly), and I come to find out that butterflies are attracted to white colors. Between my shirt and my skin, let’s just say I spent most of the time flinching as butterflies bigger than most US domestic birds fluttered toward my face. That’s not to say I didn’t have a good time, though. I was just the freak in a butterfly sanctuary trying to avoid the butterflies, where most other people were trying to coax them onto their finger or shoulder.

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After a really good burger at Kuranda Cyber Cafe (random, but locals prices and good food) and a few hikes around the surrounding wilderness (where a dinosaur of a lizard nearly gave me a heart attack by running into the jungle right when I was unwittingly next to it on the trail), we hopped on the Kuranda Scenic Railway back to Cairns. Though the site touts this as a must-do, I respectfully disagree. The view from the cable cars is much better, you aren’t packed in shoulder-to-shoulder with 100 other tired and smelly tourists, and it takes about half the time to get from A to B. The tours usually have you go out on the train and back on the cable car, and I can see why. After being in a wide-windowed, airy cable car, sitting in an old-fashioned, cramped train with small windows is a bit of a letdown. Plus they assign you seats on the train, and we didn’t even get a window seat. There was a really cute little German toddler sitting across from us. Cute when he wasn’t screaming from his palpable exhaustion. Okay maybe I’m a little bitter. Moving on.

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Dinner was a forgettable affair at an outdoor bar where we got a front-row seat of the Cairns police doing random breathalyzers to suspect citizens driving by, and we headed to bed to wake up for our drive up to Port Douglas to conquer the Reef. Except that my darling father’s earth-rumbling snoring managed to wake me up about six hours too soon, and since I couldn’t get back to sleep I figured I may as well chronicle these events before the details are lost to memory.

So I’ll be on four hours of sleep, driving my parents for the first time on the opposite side of the car and road, with a mother who barely survived teaching four teenagers how to drive without popping an aneurysm. Wish me luck!

Til next time, xoxoxo!

The Blue Mountains

On Sunday, my parents and I decided to see more than just the city or the beach, and headed out to the great western mountain range called The Blue Mountains. The mountains aren’t actually blue, but they are covered in over 150 different species of eucalyptus, whose leaves emit a vapor when the sun heats them that turns blue. So the mountains themselves are actually quite green, smothered with a decidedly blue haze.

In order to cover the major highlights in a short amount of time (and because the idea of driving twisty mountain roads wasn’t very appealing to me), we opted for a day tour with Oz Trails, chosen mainly because it seemed to offer the most for the money and was recommended by Lonely Planet, who usually know a thing or two about these things. Our full itinerary looked daunting for one day, but we did manage to get it all in.

We started off by driving all over Sydney picking up various tourists (we had the bad luck of being the very first people picked up thanks to our location at the beach), then hit the road to head West.

The first notable stop was what I believe they called Scenic World, which is basically a couple of cable cars/gondolas and the the worlds steepest railway, originally designed to get coal up a 52 degree incline, now used to scare tourists in the thousands on a daily basis.

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The day included a good deal of very easy hiking, a few waterfalls, and this cliff, which the Australian Government is crazy enough to let people go to without feeling the need to protect people from their own idiocy by installing a fence or net of any sort.

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We ended the day with a river cruise down the Parramatta back into the city. Seeing any city from its waterways is always an amazing experience, and Sydney is no exception. Having become familiar enough with the roads and land, it was like seeing the city and suburbs for the first time all over again. And of course, I failed to take even one picture. Maybe because dad and I were knocking them back.

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We ended with dinner in Darling Harbour and went back to my abode at the beach to collapse in a heap.

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Road Trip Day 4: Brisbane and a Menagerie

When I finally emerged from my death-like slumber nine hours later, I was ravenous. So we checked out of our hotel and wandered to a local pancake place, which was clearly a converted church judging by the pews as booths and the vaulted ceilings. The food wasn’t amazing, but got the job done. Then we jumped on a bus to head out to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, about 20 minutes outside town.

The website promised frolicking with kangaroos, hugging koalas, and the opportunity to see all other sorts of animals unique to this corner of the world. And it certainly did not disappoint. I saw more koalas than I could count, of all ages and varieties. Some sleeping in little grey balls in the crook of a tree branch, some slowly chomping on leaves and blinking sleepily at the people shoving cameras in their direction, some jumping from one limb to the other with surprising deftness considering the generally slow and sleepy aspect of the animals at rest. I went crazy, snapping picture after picture, video after video. I went to the General Store to buy my way into a koala’s arms and saw $2 bags of kangaroo food. I snapped up two and rushed out to find this magical place where one feeds kangas.

We wandered into a field and into one of the most magical moments of my life. First we came across an emu, whose sheer size and alien-esque demeanor had me staying a few feet away. They had zero fear, brazenly walking as close as I’d let them before I skittered away.

Then I saw them. Kangaroos by the dozens, some lounging, some hopping, some mingling with other visitors, not even put off by the erratic movements of young children. I could barely contain my excitement as I approached, apprehensive due to my lack of familiarity with the animal, but so eager to interact with it that in a matter of moments I was crouched on the ground with a velvety kangaroo nose puffing little hot breaths into my palm. As my apprehension decreased, my desire to pose with the animals increased, and we all had quite the photo shoot.

Oh, Hi There…

I also got a video of an adorable Tasmanian Devil yawning, pics of dingos (they look like dogs), a video of a platypus just cruising around his little enclosure, and (the piece de resistance), pictures of ME holding a koala!!

A Kookaburra

I was worn out when we left a few hours later, but since we had a few hours until our flight, we decided to head to Brisbane’s Chinatown to see the sights and dine at Thai Wi-Rat, a Thai-Laotian restaurant. The name may have put off some, but online reviews had us giving it a shot anyway – and wow, did it pay off. Delicious Som Tum Thai salad (spicy!), an amazing clear broth prawn noodle soup, spring rolls of perfection, and the most amazing pad Thai I’ve had in quite some time, washed down with a bottle of NZ Sauv Blanc. Absolutely. Perfect. Wouldn’t have been able to end the trip any better way.

Brisbane Art Installation

 

Day 3: Byron Bay, a Bikini Contest, and Glowworms

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We woke early enough to get up to Byron Bay in time for a delicious breakfast at DIP Cafe on the main drag in town. Byron Bay is one of Sydney’s favorite weekend escapes, and I can see why. It has a very relaxed, hippy vibe without being too upscale (which runs the risk of being pretentious). I had a delicious plate of caramelized banana French toast and a delicious latte, but I still had food envy when Kelly’s Croque Madame arrived.

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I called about a snorkel trip to Julian Rocks after breakfast, but sadly there was only one spot left on the tour that day, so we opted to hike up to the famous lighthouse on a bluff overlooking the town and the beaches beyond. And what a view! We managed to see a whale frolicking in the distance, a couple of dolphins, AND a stingray swimming in the incredibly clear water at the base of the cliffs. We also made it to the eastern-most point in Australia! There were views galore (I gazed longingly at the Julian Rocks) and we had a prime view of the amazing Byron Bay beaches. Since we’re on a tighter schedule today (we have to get Kelly back to Brisbane in time to catch a bus to Noosa), we didn’t stay around much longer but jetted north toward Tweed Heads to see what we could find.

Beautiful Byron Bay

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The road north was so green, full of rolling hills and cows at some points, or shielded by red-brown tree trunks with peeling bark that looked like they had been planted in perfect rows by the clever hand of mother nature.

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Things took a turn for the weird when we pulled into Coolangatta (a seaside town right next to Tweed Heads). We were looking for parking when Kelly spied a taco bar that looked like a fun and cool place to take a rest. Confusion beset us as we ordered our tacos/nachos/margaritas and observed a series of pretty, heavily makeupped young ladies prancing around the bar, the presence of a DJ, and a weird plank bisecting the pool. We shrugged it off as likely a weird local thing, until we were settled with our drinks waiting for our food to arrive and the DJ announced that the “Bundaburg Model Contest will start in ten minutes.” Yep, we stumbled straight into a bikini model contest. Let’s just say Josh was a happy man.

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We took off from there to head to Springbrook National Park, a rainforest of trees and palms and twisty, winding roads. We hiked to a lookout with an amazing view of Brisbane, down to a waterfall, and we’re so excited when we finally pulled up to the “Best of All Viewpoint,” only to be disappointed by being too high in the air to see through the cloud that had settled on the mountain. Well actually, Kelly and Josh were disappointed, I was cracking up.

Brisbane from afar…

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As the sun fell behind the hills that surrounded us, we started the trek north toward Brisbane, but stopped off to take a night hike to see the glowworm caves at Natural Bridge. Such an amazing thing, to walk into a pitch dark cave, look up and see thousands of pale blue dots glowing at varying intensity, like little neon emeralds twinkling and swaying in the soft breeze from the waterfall nearby. The pictures just don’t do it justice.

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We had places to be, so we left and started the hour and a half drive north in the dark. The incredible, bright full moon flirted with us between clouds, treetops and mountaintops, peeking at us sometimes, staying hidden other times, and occasionally shining on us full force.

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By the time we had left the park, I was exhausted from the long and eventful day and started nodding off right in the passenger seat. We finally arrived back at the Brisbane Airport, got Kelly to her bus, jumped on the train to the city, and I hit my pillow so hard I think the dent will be permanent.

Road Trip Day 2: Noosa to Ballina

The next morning we had a delicious breakfast, then attacked the coastal walk along the Noosa bluffs. My cousin had seen a koala here up in the gum trees a couple of days before, so I spent half the hike with my face upturned to the trees (and almost walked off the trail a few times), but alas, no koalas were in the cards for me.

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We decided to start heading south hugging the coast instead of taking the more efficient freeway. We saw some incredible mountains from the car, so when signs popped up for the Wild Horse Scenic Lookout (and Kelly started complaining of a full bladder), we decided to jump off the freeway and see what it was all about. Apparently it was about a 700m hike at a 30 degree incline at the height of the subtropical Queensland heat. But when we finally panted our way to the top, sweat rolling down our backs, the view was something to behold. The incredible peaks to the West jutting out of the misty dark green jungle/forest on one side, and acres and acres of pines from a sustainable tree farm operation on the other side. We caught our breath and took as many photos as we could before we started the decidedly easier hike down.

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As we drove south we’d squeal with excitement (well, Kelly and I would squeal, Josh would roll his eyes) whenever the road signs warned us to watch out for koalas, kangaroos, or both. Then we’d press our noses to the windows like little kids hoping for a glimpse of the creatures. I have lived in Sydney for nearly three months and still had yet to see the animals the country is famous for. Then finally, as we were diverting East toward Deception Bay, Kelly let out a piercing shriek and yelled, “Kangaroos! Kangaroos! Kangaroos!” to which I let out my own piercing shriek and yelled, “Where? Where? Where?” It’s a small miracle Josh didn’t crash. Turns out they were hanging out with some cows in a pasture across the road. We forced Josh to turn the car around so we could have a photo shoot, and here’s what we got:

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You can tell by the manic expression on my face how excited I am about this whole thing, no?

We got back on the road and drove through a few more coastal towns to Surfers Paradise, a glittering metropolis of high-rises directly on the sea. By this time it was getting toward late afternoon and the sun was hiding behind a bank of clouds inland, so we took the coastal walk and captured a few more pictures then opted to move on and get checked into our hotel, which was still an hour and a half south.

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We arrived in Ballina (the destination for our second evening) just after six. We checked in, cleaned up, and headed out for dinner at a local Italian place. We had picked up a few beers on our way out to dinner and cracked a couple as we watched a movie back at the hotel, but the combination of driving, walking, hiking, squealing, laughing, and getting a little sunburnt had us nodding off pretty early.

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Road Trip Day 1: Traveling and Noosa

Despite attending yet ANOTHER awards ceremony on Thursday night that had me gallivanting around, I found myself rudely awakened from the reparative slumber I needed by my alarm clock. At 4 a.m. So I could hop on a bus and two trains to get myself to the airport for my 6:20 a.m. flight. I chugged as much of the crappy $3 instant coffee that I could on the hour and a half flight to Brisbane, and the excitement of embarking on a new adventure carried me through once we’d landed, secured our car, and hit the highway to Noosa to meet up with my cousin. The Awesome Superfast Gold Coast Roadtrip had begun!

The Evening Prior
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On The Road!
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We got into Noosa around 10:30, too early to actually check in, so I surreptitiously changed into a bathing suit and shorts the parking garage and walked the 10 minutes it took to get to the beach. On the pathway I encountered some Queensland unique flora and fauna, namely these beautiful pink spikes and these strange creatures I started referring to as beach turkeys. I became minorly obsessed with capturing the perfect picture of the beach turkey, but the best I could do was these two.

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I spent an hour lazing on the beach with my travel companion, Josh, a friend I had met at work. We soaked up the sun while waiting for my cousin and the hotel room to become available. And what an hour! The morning sun felt wonderful, the superfine sand felt lovely between my toes, the green-blue ocean in front of me was beautiful, and the sounds of waves and gulls instantly put me into a Corona advert state of mind. Here’s an idea of how amazing it is:

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After blissing out for a bit, I headed back to check in and meet my cousin. We grabbed lunch (with wine, duh) and hit the beach for the rest of the afternoon. It was glorious! We caught up on the last couple of years, had lots of girl talk (fortunately our male traveling companion had fallen asleep in the sun by this point), and had a few laughs. In lieu of dining out, we opted to barbecue back at the hotel in true Aussie style, then headed to a local Irish pub called SoGo. Cheapest vodka sodas I’ve found so far in Oz ($5)! Gotta love the Irish. We crashed out pretty early so we could get up and get on the road.

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All in all, not a bad first day. Not much driving considering it’s a roadtrip and all, but we had over 300 km to cover the next day. A day of beaches, white wine, and relaxing seemed the perfect way to kick it all off.

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