Initial Note: As promised in my 2017 Year In Review, 2018 would bring a series of guest posts from by baby brother, Samuel and his wonderful girlfriend Kara as they spent over a month on an amazing trip to Hawaii, Beijing, Australia, and a cross country road trip across the United States. You’ll remember Samuel’s inaugural post detailing their weekend at Olympic National Park. Ten Days in Eastern Australia marks their first post of 2018 with potentially ten more posts to go!
This November, Kara and I were fortunate enough to take a 10-day adventure Down Under. Our flight from Seattle had two layovers in Beijing, China (Stay tuned next week for the chronicling of our China experience) during which we packed in whirlwind trips to both the Great Wall and the Forbidden City in twenty-four hours. While in Australia our time was spent snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, enjoying beautiful beaches, observing their unique wildlife, while exploring national parks during our road tripping along the eastern coast.
Upon landing in Sydney, our adventure began at their beautiful beaches (Bondi and Cronulla) and exploring the Sydney Harbor, home of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. We definitely recommend exploring historical Sydney at The Rocks, which is a great place to grab a bite and enjoy Sydney’s rich culture. We specifically recommend Zia Pina Pizzeria Restaurant at the Rocks for dinner as it had some of the best pasta we’ve ever tasted.
Throughout our road trip, we visited and camped at several national parks including: Royal National Park (Australia’s first national park), Blue Mountains National Park, Great Sandy National Park and Myall Lakes National Park. Check our road trip map to see our route and the locations of the parks we visited. Of the parks our favorite was Blue Mountain National Park, specifically the Eureka Campground if you’re interested in seeing kangaroos and wallabies in the wild! We camped there and went to bed and woke up surrounded by kangaroos in their natural habitat. Although, see picture below, not all of the unique creatures, e.g., such as the spider that prevented Kara from using the bathroom, were as cute as others.
Royal National Park (Australia’s first national park) –
Wildlife (The Tourist Way)
We stopped at two wildlife sanctuaries, the Australian Reptile Park in Somersby, New South Wales and the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary located in Brisbane, Queensland. Australia has such unique wildlife compared to what we are use to in Michigan and this gave us a direct hands-on experience. We fed kangaroos and wallabies, held koalas and a Tasmanian devil, before facing our fear of snakes by holding a Burmese python whose tail might or might not have gotten a little too close for comfort on my backside… I will leave it at that, no further questions please. While touristy in nature, both sites are dedicated to the conservation and education of Australian wildlife. This was an ideal way to see some of the wildlife native to Australia that we weren’t lucky enough to see in the wild during our travels.
Side Note: We were disappointed because the Australian Reptile park website promised Anacondas, but alas the Anacondas are currently not on display due to currently not having an acceptable exhibit.
Australian Reptile Park – Somersby, New South Wales
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary– Brisbane, Queensland
Cities and Stops Along the Way
Leaving Sydney we stopped at both Byron Bay and Brisbane for a little relaxation, before heading to the Great Barrier Reef. Byron Bay is known as “Australia’s bohemia” with pristine beaches along the eastern most tip of Australia. We spent the day soaking up the rays on the beach and walking throughout the small shops they have to offer. Byron Bay has an active nightlife, with lines of people trying to get into clubs throughout the town.
While in Brisbane we immersed ourselves in the world of Australian sport, by attending the Rugby League World Cup Final (Australia vs. England). Rugby was new to both Kara and I so between Googling the rules and cheering for the home team we fit right in (or at least we hope so). It was a heated match but team Australia pulled out the win.
The Great Barrier Reef
It is difficult to put into words the phenomenal experience that is the Great Barrier Reef. We were fortunate enough to spend two days on the reef; on Lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot Island. Each island provided a remarkable yet unique experience.
We departed from Bundaberg, Queensland on the Lady Musgrave Explorer, that traveled 2 hours east toward the Southern Great Barrier Reef. This experience was definitely more touristy of our two excursions. While at Lady Musgrave we toured both the coral cay island and snorkeled the surrounding reef. While snorkeling we observed countless tropical fish swimming through the never-ending variety of coral. We also swam with sea turtles and watched them rest on the coral directly below us. On a not so friendly note, we came across a moray eel that decided to show his or her terrifying smile. I can safely say I gave those white teeth their deserved space and watched the eel swim away through the coral. Unfortunately, at this point, the GoPro SD card ran out of storage before capturing our sea turtle and eel encounter (rookie mistake).
Lady Elliot Island-
To get to Lady Elliot Island or ‘Home of the Manta Ray’ you must board a 12-passenger single engine airplane for a 30-minute plane ride. The experience on Lady Elliott island was different from encounters we had had anywhere else because of the overall feelings of seclusion. Upon arriving we were handed our day trip itinerary and with a good slap on the back we were set on our way. In other words we had to fend for ourselves without guides to hold our hands.
Despite the rainy day, we decided to spend our day snorkeling in the reef that completely surrounded the island. This experience was extremely intimidating because we were one of the 6 people snorkeling on the entire island! We put on our gear and walked across the reef until it was deep enough to swim in. Once again, intimidating because it’s shallow (2 ft between the coral and the surface of the water; waves hitting and nearly knocking us into the coral). After what felt like forever we reached deeper water where we could see the reef from the side. Then… just as we started to feel comfortable… SHARK! To our left a grey reef shark was (thankfully) keeping to himself near the sandy ocean bottom. We shook off our Midwest shock of seeing a real life shark in the ocean to continue our exploration ultimately viewing numerous wonderful sea creatures. Including two more sharks, two manta rays, and a groper fish.
The experience was once a in lifetime and even though it was initially outside of our comfort zone, we would highly recommend an excursion to Lady Elliot Island to anyone visiting the Great Barrier Reef.
It was, without a doubt, an experience that we will cherish for a lifetime. Australia goes above and beyond all expectations. We look forward to the day that we can return to the beautiful outback to continue our Australian adventure!