It’s no exaggeration to say we have the least adventurous eaters on the planet, so whenever we travel, we always get a laugh out of the [non-]snack options we encounter (though Tucker did insist on trying Vegemite…and nearly hurled).
Australia did not disappoint in this area…not one bit.
Fresh pet food option right next to a fresh human food option. One stop shop.
We found ourselves down to just two full days left in Sydney. A slight sense of panic began to set in; we did not have enough time here.
A little over 9,280 miles away from Sydney, Australia, lies a tiny little town in South Georgia known around the world for its incredible sweet onions. And on this Sunday (July 21), on the shores of Manly Beach, it was known for being the hometown to not one but two visitors. In an epic example of just how small the world is, we set out to meet up with a classmate of mine from Vidalia High School who currently lives in Manly Beach with his family.
We braved the weird automated ferry ticket machine again and hopped on an early boat out to Manly Wharf. We weren’t scheduled to meet up with Carlton until lunchtime, so we had a little time to wander around by ourselves.
The ferry across Sydney Harbour was amazing and gave us some cool views back towards the city (again).
We walked from the ferry across a clean, vibrant (for relatively early on a Sunday morning) shopping area straight over to the beach.
Even though it was pretty warm out, the winter ocean was still ice cold. That didn’t stop Tucker and Theo from venturing out, however. Luckily, Russ had predicted something like this and had brought along their swimsuits so they didn’t have to wear wet clothes all day.
Jack wisely opted to steer clear of the water.
My main form of communication with Carlton had been via Facebook messenger…which, of course, was not the most reliable way to make contact. Russ was still the designated roamer (meaning his phone was the only one we had on us that was connected to wi-fi), and I’d failed to get Carlton’s number. Clearly, a dumb move on my part.
We were to meet Carlton at a restaurant called The Boathouse on Shelly Beach. After our two polar bear plunge participants had changed back into dry clothes, we walked down the beach a bit to the restaurant. It’s an adorable little place with first-come seating. The plan was to meet at noon.
Noontime came and went. The boys were starving, so Russ ordered a side of chips, and in the process we discovered that the menu was going to be a struggle for our crew. We waited a little longer. My crew–most of whom were not fired up about meeting an old friend of mine in the first place–grew restless. I realized I had no way of contacting Carlton to find his whereabouts.
We reluctantly decided to bail, and I felt absolutely terrible about it. We began walking back towards Manly, and I stopped and turned towards the beach to see if he might have been waiting there for us. He wasn’t, but when I headed back to join up with my family, Russ whistled and pointed back toward The Boathouse. Carlton had arrived.
Seeing him halfway around the planet was surreal. Carlton is a very well-loved Vidalian, known for his wit and kindness. He did very well in school (obviously), and now has a fabulous career in Australia. (We had a great time laughing about his wife and daughter’s first trip home with him to Vidalia.)
We quickly agreed that Facebook messenger is not an acceptable form of contact; he had no way of telling us he was running late. We also ditched The Boathouse and headed back to Manly Wharf for a late lunch at La Cantina (again). While Carlton and I could have probably spent the rest of the afternoon howling with laughter while we caught up, I knew I’d maxed out the boys’ patience (though, for the record, they all thought Carlton was pretty awesome).
And despite our earlier frustration with Facebook, we managed to blow both of our feeds up with the above photo which was captioned as, “Just two kids who grew up together in Vidalia–9,359 miles away–hanging out in Australia.” (And, yes, I’d specifically hauled that t-shirt out to Manly with this very photo being taken in mind.)
Manly is a lovely little area. The ferry ride back to Sydney was smooth, sunny, and speedy (Carlton had told us he had the best commute on the entire planet, and we have to agree). We walked around the Opera House a bit before heading back to our apartment. Russ took Tucker and Theo out to the park, and we cobbled together a random dinner at home.
Monday arrived, and we couldn’t believe it was our last full day in Sydney. We spent the morning at the Australian Museum, which was outstanding.
This place is phenomenal. It’s the oldest museum in Australia (established in 1827), and it’s gorgeous.
There is a huge hall off to the right that’s filled with cabinet after cabinet of peculiarities. The museum also runs an incredible light show called Treasures Illuminated right over the floor two times a day; it’s a must-see.
The rest of the museum was equally as fascinating.
We finally pulled ourselves out of the museum and walked across Hyde Park to the Barangaroo area based on a recommendation from Carlton.
Hyde Park–like everything in Sydney–is clean, well maintained, bright, and happy.
Barangaroo is a newly redeveloped commercial area that also includes ample green space, though–to be fair–the area was still partially under construction when we visited. There’s a giant food hall called The Canteen that looked amazing, but had too many choices and too many long lines. The boys and I wound up walking a little farther down the road to Bel & Brio where we found fresh pizzas and salad in the market.
There were tons of unique, adorable shops tucked into every corner you could find. We wanted to walk out across the park towards the water, but there were construction barriers. All in all, Barangaroo is a funky, artsy area that would probably be an awesome spot for a date night.
We took a cab back to our apartment and began the sad process of packing up. Tucker and Theo had begged for the entire week to ride one of the Lime bikes we’d seen everywhere (the savvy reader will recall that Theo’s obsession with wanting to ride one of these things actually started back in March in Santiago…). Russ took the two of them back to the park for one last time and–yes!–to finally rent one of those bikes.
For our last dinner in Australia, we headed back to our neighborhood favorite: Vini e Cocina.
The light while we walked home after dinner had such a peculiar look to it–bright and luminous, even though it was after 9pm (and somewhat cloudy). Being in the Southern hemisphere really makes the sky stand out to me, but the sky here was even more spectacular than the night skies in Chile. It’s certainly a view we will never forget.
It’s not an exaggeration at all to say we were very, very sad to leave Sydney. Russ, in particular, absolutely loved it there. We all agreed that if we were to ever move to another country, Australia would be at the top of the list (don’t worry; we aren’t going anywhere).
We flew out of Sydney around 11:30am on July 23, heading to our third stop on The Big Trip: Auckland, New Zealand.
Saturday morning came, and it was as crisp and clear and beautiful outside as we’d ever seen. (Seriously. There’s something about the air in Australia…we loved it beyond words.)
Russ made a fantastic–albeit random–decision a few days before and had gotten tickets for the Sydney Roosters game that afternoon. We know absolutely nothing about rugby, of course. But on a run through the park, Russ had noticed that the Roosters were going to play right at the Sydney Cricket Ground, which happened to be walking distance from our apartment.
When we woke up that morning to what felt like the most glorious morning in late October, we knew Russ had made a great call. It felt too great outside to even think about museums or indoor activities, so we headed back to Bondi.
We walked down to the boardwalk and discovered that an outdoor ice skating rink had been set up.
In July. (Very novel for Northern Hemispherers, that’s for sure.) Jack opted to go for a stroll while we waited for Tucker and Theo’s time slot.
Tucker loves all things X-game related (skateboarding, surfing, rock climbing…you know, all the dangerous sports), so he wanted to check out the Bondi Skatepark.
Along the boardwalk/path right in front of Bondi Beach is the Bondi Beach Graffiti Wall. Our trip to Valparaiso, Chile, had educated us a bit on art of graffiti and had shown us how beautiful it can be when done correctly. The Waverley Council took a unique approach to combat wayward spray paint wielding defacers, and opted to require that artists obtain a permit prior to painting. Artists must apply for this permit which allows him/her to design and paint one particular section of the wall which will remain untouched by others for roughly 6 months (Aussies–being Aussies–are good and respectful rule followers). Lucky for us, July is the switching time; the area was covered with artists [legally] creating new murals over old ones.
Their methods were fascinating. This wasn’t a “grab a can of spray paint and have at it” thing; much like the street art in Valparaiso, these were incredibly well-thought-out, complicated murals painted by professionals. Watching them paint was hypnotizing.
Then it was ice skating time!
Watching the boys ice skate with waves crashing behind them on Bondi Beach was surreal.
We cobbled together a makeshift lunch from a few different restaurants (Bondi Trattoria; The BucketList) and did a little souvenir shopping before heading back to the apartment.
Then it was back to the apartment to get ready for the Roosters!
The Roosters were playing at the Sydney Cricket Ground because their regular stadium, the Sydney Football Stadium, is undergoing a massive refurbishment. As you can imagine, the Cricket Ground is pretty spectacular; we’d never been to one before but the fancy cricket areas and cricket club member areas reminded me a little of Augusta National. Check out the required dress code for members.
The only thing we knew going in to the event was that the hometown Roosters were going up against the Newcastle Knights.
Easts know how to play the game; they play it hard and fair Easts know how to win the game; they win more than their share They’re great to see in action, these boys who show the way Put the Roosters on the field, they’ll show you how to play!
Here come the Roosters, the best we’ve ever seen The red, white and bluesters, the Eastern Suburbs team “Easts to win” shout the cry that everybody knows If you play this football game beware the Roosters crow
They’re great to see in action, these boys who show the way Put the Roosters on the field, they’ll show you how to play Here come the Roosters, the best we’ve ever seen The red, white and bluesters, the Eastern Suburbs team!
Do you see that? That’s THREE STANZAS worth of unabashed, hardcore Rooster spirit, right there. The author of this jingle gets mad props from me; it takes lyrical dexterity to coin a new word to rhyme with “Roosters” and no nickname rolls off the tongue quite like “the Eastern Suburbs team.” Every single fan, young and old alike, belts this entire song out whenever something good happens on the field (…er, pitch), whenever something bad happens, and whenever else they jolly well feel like it. There are no words to describe the awesomeness of it. Here’s our reaction as we walked to our seats for the first time:
The fight song lit a fire under us; we needed to up our Rooster spirit…
…so we made a pit stop at the free face-painting booth.
The sun began to go down, which only added to the ambiance. (FYI: sunset in Sydney was at 5:07pm that day…southern hemisphere winter and all.)
The Roosters crushed the Knights 48-10. We had no idea what was going on, but there was constant action, so we just cheered when the crowd around us did. That Saturday we were the Roosters’ biggest fans ever.
We had a blast.
We were very sad to see the game end so quickly (rugby games are only 80 minutes long (with a 10 minute rest period in the middle). It was electrifying being around that many people in their element. We walked back to the apartment, riding the high of sweet, sweet victory, and displaying our unending support of our new favorite Eastern Suburbs team by singing the fight song (which we’d memorized after our nonstop exposure to it).
Once back at the apartment, Russ pulled up a recap about the game. Give it a read…it’s hilarious (and best read aloud with an Australian accent). While we knew next to nothing about rugby, we were hooked. We closed out one of the best Saturdays of the Big Trip tucked up in our cozy apartment, singing the Roosters song and watching old clips of them playing…which still didn’t help us figure out the rules or the terminology, but that didn’t put a damper on our moods one bit.
Friday morning (July 19) was beautiful: clear, crisp, breezy, and calling for us to be outdoors. First stop: Darling Harbour.
The Children’s Playground here (inside the massive Tumbalong Park) is something else; it’s not often you stumble across a playground touted as the best in an entire country. Even our 15 year old was drawn to it. One thing’s for sure: the Aussies have no fear of heights.
Tumbalong Park also houses the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a place that makes just about every must-do list. Its name certainly does not invoke how awesome (and surprisingly large) this place is, nor does it give any hints as to how intricate and thoughtfully created it is. The Garden is truly a quiet, green haven in the middle of Sydney. We did not anticipate spending over an hour there, but once we started weaving along its intricate paths, we didn’t want to leave.
From the Chinese Garden, we ambled over to the actual harbour for lunch. We were sucked in by Harbourside.
This next paragraph may make many of you shudder. Harbourside is a waterfront shopping mall. Egads. A mall. When the rest of Sydney was laid out before us. I know. But hear me out.
We were starving and having a hard time agreeing on where to get lunch, and we knew Harbourside housed a little diversion called 9-D Action Cinema, so we poked our heads inside to assess the food court situation. Here’s what we found just inside the main doors:
…a crazy bungee jump/trapeze type flipping apparatus…
…which our daredevils, Theo and Tucker, had to try.
While Russ handled that mayhem, Jack and I wandered the food court and settled on a depressing little facsimile of our beloved Willy’s, The Mad Mex. I think the rest of the gang ate pancakes from McDonald’s. It was a sad meal, indeed.
At this point, we should’ve ditched the thought of the 9-D Action Cinema, but oh no. We were already deep inside this vat of kitsch, so we weren’t about to give up yet.
We forked over way too much money for the menfolk to take a 9-D (is that even possible?) “ride” on a rollercoaster. I sat outside the cinema and people watched. I made the better choice.
All of that bouncing–both virtual and actual– coupled with a sub-par lunch had left a few folks a little green around the gills, so we hailed an Uber and headed back home. Actually, saying we “hailed” the Uber is not right; we called several Ubers, each of whom was having a hard time finding us due to lots of one way streets and the fact that we’d wandered back through The Children’s Playground and Tumbalong Park, between 2 gigantic office buildings, and out to the edge of what appeared to be a large interstate highway. And to make it even more confusing, because we were Americans who still couldn’t remember the whole “drive on the left” thing, we were on the wrong side of the divided highway.
Uber after Uber would go blazing by on the other side, the driver honking his horn at us and waving his arms, with no way to stop.
We eventually resorted to a very dangerous game of human Frogger to get to the other side, but as we were still on a highway, there was no way for a driver to stop. So we trudged farther down (or up?) the highway until we could cut off onto a side street where we finally were able to catch a ride. The entire process took well over an hour.
We opted for the sunset climb–an adventure that the website said was to take 3.5 hours, which made us a little nervous. Russ isn’t a fan of climbing up really high things. (Plus, three and a half hours sounded like a lot of physical exertion.)
Fear not, friends: it does not take 3.5 hours to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A great portion of that time is spent checking-in, watching the video on its construction (which was fascinating–it took 8 years to build, they used over 6,000,000 rivets…), getting suited up, getting trained, completing the practice climb, and then waiting for your “go time” with your guide. They stagger groups going up on the bridge. We’d lucked out and were in a group of just the 5 of us (and our guide), but there was a very large group who’d finished their pre-climb checklist barely 2 minutes before we did. Our guide tried calling the powers-that-be to hopefully get us leapfrogged ahead of the big group, but he had no luck.
So we were stuck behind a group of 12 climbers, none of whom looked particularly fit or adventurous.
While technically you are continually attached to the bridge, the tether that connects your climbing suit to the 1″ diameter or so metal railing doesn’t feel like it would do much to even slow down a stumble, much less halt a fall. We tried to not focus on that.
The climb starts out easy enough; you ride an elevator up to the bridge base, and the guide hooks you in there. Then you have to walk out across the flat part to where the actual arches begin. The flat part is roughly a quarter of a mile straight out to one of the four giant pylons that appear to support the arch of the bridge (you’re several stories above a large grassy plain). From this point on is where it gets a little more interesting.
There are a lot of steep, narrow ladders bolted into the side of the pylon, and you weave and climb your way up those. The ladder part was the most frightening to me; they aren’t very wide and the footpad of each rung was shallow enough that your entire foot wasn’t on it. There’s also the updraft (and noise) from the 8-lane highway running directly beneath you that gets in your head a bit.
Once through the ladder part, you pop out to the open-air arches and an incredible view of Sydney. This part of the climb is not strenuous, but it is still a little nerve rattling which was exacerbated by the fact that we were climbing at a snail’s pace due to the large group ahead of us. This same large group caused us to miss seeing the sunset from the summit of the bridge, so once it was finally our turn to cross the top from the east side of the bridge to the west side to begin the descent, it was full-on nighttime. Our little group was a little disappointed to have missed the sunset, and we were more than a little irritated with the massive hold-up the slow group was causing.
Thankfully, the way back down was decidedly faster (though no less harrowing on the ladders), and as we were about to start our descent, our guide pointed out the Southern Cross–our first time seeing it–which was spectacular! The night sky in the Southern hemisphere really is different; you can’t help but notice it.
Once we made it back to firm ground, we unsuited, peeked at the photos they’d taken of us during our climb, opted not to purchase them (we felt they were exorbitantly overpriced, but in hindsight maybe we should have tried to barter them down a bit), and walked up the road to grab dinner at one of Sydney’s oldest pubs, the Australian Hotel. It was crowded and a little rowdy, and the pizzas were a great way to top off a great day.
That marked 4 days down in Australia…only 4 more left to go. The Big Trip was going by way too quickly.
In fact, they adore all animals, big or small, land-dwellers or sea-dwellers.
Sadly, little boys do tend to grow up, and weekend trips to the zoo begin to dwindle. While Zoo Atlanta is indeed great, after our 10,000th trip there, we felt like we’d seen all it had to offer. But throw a new venue into the mix and we’re all game; we’ve been to Farmer Sue’s Art Barn, the Georgia Aquarium (of course), the infamous Animal Exit off I-16, and just about any petting farm we come across. So when the opportunity presented itself to visit the world renowned Taronga Zoo in Sydney, we could hardly wait.
The zoo lies across the Sydney Harbour in Mosman. We bought ferry tickets at Circular Quay (through an ATM-like machine that oddly only lets you purchase 3 tickets at a time) and headed out before the zoo had even opened. The 12-minute trip across the harbour is smooth and lets you see Sydney from a different vantage.
We hopped off the ferry and onto the SkySafari gondola which whips you up the hillside and over the entire zoo and deposits you at the very ornate front gate. We bought tickets, grabbed a few maps, and made our way in.
We were initially on a mission to find a koala, so we hung a sharp left and set forth into the Australia Walkabout section.
Holy cow. The Taronga Zoo is squeaky clean, well laid out, and enormous, and it has the absolute coolest animal habitats I think we’ve ever seen. We popped in to the Australian Nightlife exhibit which was–of course–pitch black dark, so all the tiny critters in there would participate. There was a whole lot of scampering and scurrying going on in there. Our gerbils would have been fast friends with these guys…
(While one used to be able to actually hold a koala in Australia, folks figured out that it really stresses the little guys out–big time–so they put the kibosh on human physical contact with them.)
To enter the kangaroo/emu/wallaby area, you push open a gate, walk into a small holding area, close the first gate, and then walk across to open a second gate–so there’s a two-door system going on which we thought was pretty clever. Right outside the second gate, there’s a sign reminding folks to stay on the path.
This is an underrated reminder because there are no barriers between you and the creatures as you walk along this path. We were stunned to find ourselves walking along just three feet away from kangaroos.
We were truly floored to find ourselves so close to these guyss. And it didn’t stop there; the majority of the Taronga habitats are this way, so you constantly find yourself up-close-and-personal with all sorts of critters.
…but there are also critters just free-roaming which is a bizarre (and quite fun) experience.
this bird was fascinated with Theo’s dominoes…
The seal show was campy yet worthwhile…and a nice opportunity to sit down for a bit.
We spent far too long watching the antics of the lemurs…
And we couldn’t believe just how tiny (and, frankly, humanlike) this baby gorilla was…
Everyone knows Australians have the best accent around; they also have some of the best words around…like “muster”. Here’s the best we could muster:
And then, after several hours of wandering around the awesomeness of the Taronga Zoo, we finally decided it was time to head out. We walked back up to the main gate, and Russ set about getting an Uber. While we were waiting, Theo–who was in serious domino building mode–sat down to make a video clip. This bird–perhaps the same bird who’d earlier shown interest in Theo’s dominoes–followed us out the gate and into the courtyard, where he proceeded to come at Theo and peck at his dominoes. No fear in this one (the bird or Theo).
Our cab finally arrived and rather than go straight back down to the ferry we’d arrived on, we opted to get dropped off in a different area: Lavender Bay Wharf. While the name sounds lovely, there wasn’t too much to see at this tiny port, so we bought our return ferry ticket and waited on the boat.
Ah, Luna Park. I was hoping we would not see this as I am not an amusement park fan and didn’t want to spend a day sitting around waiting for folks to ride rides. (Luckily, a sail-by was enough, though the name did come up a few times from Tucker whenever we asked if anyone had an idea of what we should do.)
Back in Circular Quay, Theo got sucked in to a bizarre busker who was balancing on a bicycle on top of a pole held up by four volunteers suckers. The show dragged on and on and on and when he started juggling knives, we knew it was time to go.
We grabbed a quick snack at The Rocks Cafe (for Russ and me) and Gelatissimo (for the boys) and then headed back to the apartment.
The fabulous Centennial Parklands was basically in our backyard, so Russ took the boys over there for a little downtime while Jack and I relaxed and read in the apartment–or at least I tried to relax…until Russ started sending photos of the daredevils on the playground…
Thankfully, they all returned in one piece, and we walked back out to grab dinner at Vino e Cucina, which was a perfect way to wind up a perfect day.
(This one’s going to be flooded with photos, so consider yourselves forewarned…)
Before we jet off on any trip, I spend way too many hours reading everything I can get my hands on about our destination, solely to steel my nerves. What typically begins as a Google search on must-sees in a city often winds up with a trip far, far down the deepest rabbit holes of the internet. These crazy diversions often yield interesting sidebars, and I wind up with a solid list of things that we absolutely cannot miss. The Bondi-to-Coogee Coastal Walk was one of those can’t-be-misseds.
After an interesting breakfast at our apartment (interesting due to its composition: cheese, crackers, dry cereal…), we hopped in a cab for the surprisingly quick ride out to Bondi Beach. It was Wednesday, the 17th of July…we think.
There’s no other way to put it: Bondi Beach is spectacularly beautiful. It’s huge and wide and rounded and–well–just like you’d imagine a place known all the world over to be. There’s something about the beach in winter, too, that makes it even more magical. We fell in love. Hard.
An incredible paved trail wraps around the steep cliffs that surround the inlets housing several beaches between Bondi and Coogee. Like everything else we encountered in Australia, this nearly 4 mile trail is impeccably maintained and absolutely beautiful.
Before we could get started on the trail, someone had to take a peek at the skatepark…
We wound up lingering around Bondi for close to an hour because we just couldn’t pull ourselves away. We saw something incredible in every direction we turned.
After taking more photos than you can shake a stick at, we finally set out on our walk. We headed south on the trail and before we even got our heart rates up a notch, we came up to the world famous Bondi Icebergs Club and its fascinating, cliff-hanging pool.
Once past Icebergs, the next stop is Mackenzie’s Point. The rock walls making up the sides have some fascinating designs and patterns carved into them courtesy of being eternally pelted by ocean winds.
We managed to keep moving along, though we were absolutely amazed at every turn we made.
We shimmied around a rocky point and then took a ton of steps downwards toward Tamarama Beach and its Surf Life Saving Club–a club which I think I would not want to be a member of.
From Tamarama Beach, the coastal walk takes you around another point and down to the largest beach on the Bondi to Coogee walk: Bronte Beach.
From Bronte Beach, the path takes you up some steep stairs and on the edge of a road that’s lined with ridiculous houses overlooking the sea. Keep walking and you’ll go back down some more stairs (did I mention the path is chock full of steps leading up and down and up and down?) to a boardwalk that runs between the ocean and Waverley Cemetery. The cemetery opened in 1877 and is spectacular in a creepy, hanging-on-the-side of the world kind of way.
From the cemetery, we kept trekking and came upon the Clovelly Bowling Club. The Australians love them some lawn bowling; we stumbled upon several different lawn bowling clubs while we were there. This one was particularly appealing, and we seriously debated going in for a game, but in the end, hunger prevailed. (It’s also very difficult to say “Clovelly Crocodiles” five times fast. Give it a try…)
We wrapped around Shark Point, headed through Burrows Park, and wound around the skinny inlet of Clovelly Beach before tackling a very steep section of the trail that runs parallel to a road. Once we came over the top of the hill, Coogee Beach lay out before us.
Coogee is a quaint little suburb of Sydney dating back to the early 1800’s. We were starving, so we headed in to the Coogee Pavilion for lunch. Afterwards, Theo and I moseyed back to the incredibly cool game area inside the Pavilion while Jack, Tucker, and Russ headed over to the beach. (Tucker made the moderately unwise decision of getting in the water and then was wet and cold until we made it back to the apartment.)
The Coogee Pavilion was outstanding: it was lively and had tons of food options, and the game area in the back was a marvelous surprise filled with giant versions of tons of classic board games (think Scrabble and Backgammon) and not one single electronic or video game.
The Bondi to Coogee walk is a manageable distance, but there’s a lot of ups and downs going on, so at times it was slow going. It’s also a visual overload of beauty, and we didn’t want to miss a single thing. All this is to say we were dog-tired afterwards and headed back to the apartment for a much needed lie-down (we were still a little off due to jet-lag, too).
That night we took it easy once again. I wandered into the village of Paddington and found the cutest wine shop, Paddington Fine Wines, with the cutest sales clerk, Rosie. Russ wandered off in his own direction and found an incredible Italian restaurant we would end up visiting two more times before we left.
The fresh air definitely did us some good. We were finally adapting to Australian time (more or less) and were already dreading this portion of our big trip coming to an end. By the end of day 2, we were Australia fans for life.
(Actually, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; Honolulu to Sydney is “only” 5,071 miles…)
We managed to stay awake for the duration of the flight, which was relatively smooth with the exception of one batch of fairly bouncy turbulence as we crossed over the Intertropical Convergence Zone (where the north meets the south around the equator). However, right when we were bobbing across this patch, we were treated to two brothers (not ours!) a row in front of us getting into a fistfight. This altercation was so bad that one of the flight attendants got up out of her seat to come speak to them. (Their parents–seated a row in front of the boys–were headphoned up and somehow unaware of the mayhem taking place right behind them.)
Then, about 45 minutes out from landing, Russ was waiting in line for the restroom when one of those same boys walked up to the bathroom line and proceeded to hurl. On the floor of the plane. Russ barely made it out of the way. The poor thing’s hurling didn’t stop there. UGH.
Did you know that when you fly into Australia from another country, you have to stay seated once you finally arrive at the gate while they come on and fumigate the plane? It’s called “aircraft disinsection,” it’s conducted by “biosecurity officers,” and it’s a little creepy. Flight attendants go down the aisles and open every single overhead bin while the biosecurity folks stand ominously by the doors to the plane. Then they walk up and down the aisles, emptying umpteen cans of spray insecticide into the bins. Between the poor kid throwing up left and right and the dissemination of copious amounts of insecticide, we were beyond ready to exit that plane.
Rather than roll our bags down the barf-aisle, we clambered across the middle row and then down the opposite aisle–all while being screamed at by a flight attendant for not going the right way. Um, sorry-not-sorry. We are steering clear of Patient 0 and his mushroom cloud of germs.
We zipped through Customs despite me not being able to put my hands on the printed copies of our visas; I pretty much dumped every single thing out of my backpack and all over the floor trying to find them before the Customs official said, “no worries, mate; they’re recorded electronically.” Deep breaths.
We hopped an Uber and headed out to Paddington and our home for the next 8 nights.
After the prequisite arguments amongst the boys over sleeping arrangements, we all fell into bed and crashed hard–only to wake up in the middle of the night absolutely freezing. Hello winter in Australia.
Our little neighborhood was adorable, walkable, clean, and comfy. We loved it and we loved our apartment (especially once we figured out how to turn on the heat). It served as a fabulous home base for the next 8 nights.
Science museums are normally our jam, so our first stop Down Under was the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Also known as the Powerhouse Museum, this place was on every single “must-see” list I uncovered. The Powerhouse also featured a special Apollo 11 exhibit in honor of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing. We were all pretty fired up.
Maybe it was because we were exhausted and had no idea what day it was. Maybe it was because the Australians were on their winter school holiday, so the place was crawling with itty-bitty kiddos. Maybe I’d overhyped this place. Maybe…just maybe…our boys have outgrown science museums (Russ and I were truly saddened at this possibility). Regardless, we were in and out of the Powerhouse much faster than I’d anticipated.
[Revisiting the MAAS website now, however, makes me realize we just hit this place at the wrong time. While there were some bizarre exhibits (“The Ideal Home“, for instance), there were some really cool things, too. Like The Wiggles exhibit…I mean, like the vertigo inducing Zero Gravity Space Lab.]
From the Powerhouse Museum, we took an Uber to The Rocks and set out to find a lunch venue.
Australia has a very unique history; the British–once they’d discovered there was a giant mass of land way down there in the Southern hemisphere–decided it was a great place to ship out some of their convicts…a destination prison, if you will. Despite what most folks think, these convicts weren’t all that terribly dangerous; people were sent to the prison colony for petty crimes like stealing a bag of sugar or cutting down a tree. Sending criminals to Australia was actually a way for the British to remove a segment of their population that the Brits had deemed were less than desirable due to their poverty levels. Not the best moment for Great Britain.
Anyway, the remnants of the prison colony are in the area now called The Rocks, and The Rocks was our next stop for the day. But first, lunch.
After lunch, we walked around The Rocks a bit; it’s one of the oldest areas in Sydney and is filled with quaint European-ish buildings and cobblestone streets. The area also stands in the shadow of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
If you turn around, you’ll also find yourself (somewhat) face-to-face with another Sydney icon: its Opera House. We walked a little ways around Circular Quay to get better views.
We made a pit stop for the boys to get some ice cream and then we headed up to the fabulous Blu Bar on the 36th floor of the Shangri La hotel. While the Blu Bar technically wasn’t open yet, the Aussies once again proved they are the nicest, most accommodating folks on the planet by humoring us and even serving us a drink. Bonus points for the Barbie Themed Tea Party going on in the lobby, too…
After the Shangri-La and a bit more ambling around, we were once again running on fumes, so we headed back to the apartment. Russ set out to find a market for wine and snacks, and he came back praising the little neighborhood and all it had to offer. It felt like a perfect October night, and we all piled up on the sofa to watch a movie, marveling that we were halfway around the planet from our home.
Going in to our Big Trip, we knew that spending 27 days together as our little group of five was likely to get tedious, so we made sure everyone knew it was perfectly fine to say when one needed a little space. We agreed out of the gate that there would be days where we’d split up or days where one (or more) of us would be allowed to have some downtime.
I certainly didn’t intend to play my “I need space” card so early into this adventure, but Saturday morning found me doing just that solely because I could not handle the thought of watching my children engage in the nerve rattling experience of cliff jumping once again.
They begged and begged and begged to go back to the North Shore, and Russ finally caved. He rented the car (which still had drips of chocolate pudding from the malasadas cooked into the paint on one of the doors) for another 1/2 day, and they all hopped up Saturday morning, ready to hit the road.
I was on our balcony helping the boys with sunscreen when I looked up to see the most ridiculous rainbowS I’ve ever seen…
We were all speechless. It truly was a spectacular moment.
Once the rainbows began to fade, the preoccupation with the North Shore moved again to the forefront. The menfolk grabbed some towels and headed out; our plan was to meet up after lunch.
I spent the morning ambling around Waikiki in search of a store that could fix my sunglasses. (I had the serious misfortune of dropping them on a marble floor, which resulted in one of the lenses popping out. Ugh. You can’t do Hawaii without sunglasses; trust me.)
I thought I’d hit pay dirt when I rounded a corner to find the T Galleria staring me down. Instead of being what I thought was an upscale shopping mall, the T Galleria turned out to be a gigantic labyrinth of duty-free mayhem. When I say “gigantic” and “labyrinth”, please know I am not exaggerating. This place had multiple levels, no windows, and armed guards everywhere. Also–and again, I promise I’m not exaggerating–97% of the languages, both spoken and printed, were Asian: Mandarin, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai…
Click on this link right here and then scroll down a bit to the photo gallery and you’ll see what I mean about this place being a vortex. I literally could not find my way out. I also failed several times at asking for directions on how to escape. Even the armed guards spoke no English. It was the most bizarre store I’ve ever been in. (Just take a peek at how many separate shops the T Galleria contains.)
It was funny until I realized I was closing in on the one-hour mark of roaming aimlessly around in search of an exit. Somewhere on one of the mystery levels, a tiny elderly lady recognized that I was a fish out of water (probably after seeing me make many laps around the floor) and took mercy on me; she left her storefront, walked me to an escalator, rode the escalator down a level with me, and then walked me to an elevator. When the elevator opened, she reached in and pressed a button marked with a character, said “turn left,” bowed, and then walked off as the doors closed. I followed her instructions to a T, and the off-the-wall T Galleria finally spit me back out onto the streets of Waikiki.
I didn’t dare look back.
(I did find a Kate Spade store on a side street, and popped in to ask their advice on where to take my one-lens sunglasses for a fix; to my surprise, they swapped my broken glasses out for a brand new pair!)
In an attempt to get as far away from the black hole of the T Galleria as possible, I crossed streets until I was walking next to the beach and back towards our hotel. I braved another shopping area–the International Marketplace–in order to grab lunch at the Street Food Hall which was an excellent decision. By this point in the day, it was time to circle back with the daring cliff jumpers, so I grabbed a book and camped out by the pool until they arrived.
We wisely opted to head back out to the beach for our last afternoon in Hawaii (and we realized we had given Hawaii the short shrift; five days here was not nearly enough time…).
One of the punch-list items on Russ’s Big Trip list was to attend a luau. After poking around on the internet for a bit, I learned we were late to the party; all of the most famous luaus were booked solid. Russ did find one option, though: the, um, Rock-a-Hula Luau.
You know it’s a little off the beaten path when the Uber driver has never even heard of it.
Nonetheless, we went in with open minds and took a family pact to make the most of the evening.
When it was time for the real show to start, we were funneled into a 750-seat theatre where it was first-come-first-serve seating. This wasn’t a problem because there were only about 150 gullible souls present to see the campy Rock-a-Hula.
Actually, “campy” is an understatement. This wasn’t a luau and it wasn’t a musical; it was something stuck in the muddy waters of in-between. There were surfer dudes and dudettes and a minuscule skit about the native Polynesians–all to be expected…
Elvis was followed by the Michael Jackson impersonator.
(To this day, we still don’t understand what Michael Jackson has to do with a Hawaiian luau…)
The Rock-a-Hula wrapped up its weirdness around 9, and we opted to walk back to our hotel.
We packed up our bags the next morning while watching the crazy last set/tie-breaker of the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon. (Packing took almost as long as the tennis match; remember, we were attempting to travel the Pacific merely with carry-ons…).
The Honolulu airport feels massive because you do a lot of outdoor walking between terminals. We made our way to the international terminal and watched as Hawaiian Air officials trolled around the waiting area, eyeballing everyone’s carry-ons. Somehow we managed to pass inspection (most likely because we were some of the first in line to board at the gate). We quietly celebrated this small victory as we filed onto the plane that was to carry us all the way across the Pacific Ocean.
As Delta loyalists (forced perhaps by geography, not necessarily brand affinity), I was a little leery of the next batch of flights we had scheduled; we wouldn’t see the interior of a Delta plane again until we were on the second of the three flights on our long, long journey back to Atlanta.
I’m thrilled to report, however, that Hawaiian Air was lovely. We did spring for the Extra-Comfort seats, and while these seats were not even in the same galaxy as the 2 ridiculous Delta One seats we had scored 5 days before, we can confirm that it was money well spent. Theo was also very excited about his complimentary travel kit and quickly (and frequently) set about making sure his face and hands were properly moisturized, which cracked up everyone seated around him (note to others: the “hydrating face spray” has a commanding–and extremely long lasting–scent).
This flight was the poster child for “long haul.” The tedium of being cooped up in a tennis ball can was coupled with the V.I.P. goal of staying awake the entire time, in hopes to knock down the jet lag before it even began (Honolulu is 6 hours behind Atlanta’s time zone; Sydney, on the other hand, is 14 hours AHEAD of Atlanta. Plus, we crossed the International Date Line (and the Equator, but by that point, we’d given up trying to process all of the oddities that were taking place). Try wrapping your head around that time traveling whiplash…)
A little over 10 and 1/2 hours later (at least according to a stopwatch), we landed in Sydney. We were bleary eyed, exhausted, and unsure of what day it was, but we were beyond excited to be in Australia. Time to start the second leg of our Big Trip!
Friday, July 12–our second day with the rental car–found us still up and at ’em before sunrise.
Once the sun finally joined us, we headed out for a quick breakfast before a hike. Leonard’s malasadas are pretty much a legend in Honolulu (at least according to Google and any cab driver we encountered) despite the fact that they are actually a Portuguese, not a Hawaiian pastry. These hole-less fried doughnut-type thingies were pretty good, according to the boys. Get the plain sugar or the cinnamon-sugar regular malasadas and don’t mess with the malasada puffs, which are way over-stuffed with gooey, super sweet cream filling. Theo made an unfortunate order of a dobash malasada puff that was pretty much inedible until he squeezed out all the chocolate pudding filling.
And he squeezed that filling out of the window of the rental car–right onto the door of the rental car…without us realizing it had dripped on the door and had begun its slow slide downwards. [Foreshadowing.]
We were headed a tiny bit outside of Honolulu to Manoa Falls, but first, since we were only about two miles from the butt of a very funny high school joke, I forced my family to take a side-trip…
(If you graduated from Vidalia High School back in 1989, you might be in on this joke, especially if you were stuck in homeroom with us cool kids whose last names started with A-Ca. Otherwise, I apologize for taking up a few paragraphs on this.)
Obviously, way back when we were applying to college, there was no such thing as the internet. And because it was over 4,600 miles away from Vidalia, no one–including VHS’s somewhat intimidating, opinionated, and homegrown college guidance counselor–had ever heard of this little university with an undergraduate enrollment of around 1,500 students (at that time)…no one, that is, except my dear friend Brian. (How he dug up info on it to begin with is beyond me.)
So while we endured presentation after presentation from our sweet-but-less-than-savvy guidance counselor on “choosing the right fit for you” and what she called “the benefits of staying close to home,” Brian would mumble under his breath something along the lines of, “nah, man. That’s not what they tell you at Chaminade.” It also did not help that our class had someone being recruited all over the southeast to play football; he’d come to school each morning talking about yet another college or university that had contacted him, to which Brian would reply, “yeah, well, the Coach from Chaminade had me on the phone half the night, too.” Or, “I’m really thinking Chaminade’s the place for me. It’s the right fit.” It was all stunningly ironic and incredibly dry humored, and Brian’s long distance love for Chaminade spread amongst my best friends. Midway through our Senior year, we were all Chaminade fans for life, sight unseen.
Trust me: it was really funny. (To the best of my knowledge, no one from my class (much less the guidance counselor, who grew beyond peeved at hearing random shouts of “Go Chaminade!” at all her mandatory guiding lectures) so much as ordered a brochure from this little gem of a school, much less applied to it.)
It took all of about 4 minutes to drive the loop through the Chaminade campus. If we could’ve found the bookstore, I’d have wiped them out of t-shirts.
Anyway, I knew if I’d gotten that close to hallowed ground, I had to follow it through to the end–hence the photo above, which won the Facebook for the day (well, at least the Facebook of my friend Brian for the day).
And with that, we’re on to Manoa Falls…
After climbing Diamondhead Crater, Jack mentioned that he really enjoyed hiking, so we began searching out other [manageable] hikes. Manoa Falls is the second most frequently hiked trail in Oahu and clocks in at just under two miles round trip, but don’t let that short distance fool you; there were some tricky, slippery parts on this muddy, rocky trail leading up to a 150 foot waterfall.
We were quite sticky, hot, and sweaty when we climbed up the last few steps to this:
Please note that large sign on the left: DANGER. STOP! Please also recall yesterday’s ridiculous cliff jumping episode. Clearly, “stop” and “no” are not well understood by some members of my family. (How did I fail so badly at this one aspect of parenting?) (<–P.S. That link is worth clicking, just saying–skip the ads.)
Thankfully, the two daredevils made it back from their dip in the freezing cold pool in one piece and without contracting leptospirosis. (<—proof that I’m not just a Nervous Nelly for funsies; I fear things for valid reasons.)
The blowhole was formed by lava from many volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago. The lava flowed down into the sea and quickly cooled into tubes through which water shoots out, like a geyser. It doesn’t sound too impressive on paper, but trust me: it is. Watching the Halona Blowhole erupt kept our attention for close to an hour.
Did the daredevils want to climb down to the beach pictured above? Of course they did. However, this time, Russ and I were in agreement that such an adventure was a hard no. Just a few days before we were there, two people were washed out to sea from Halona and drowned. (And few days after we were there, two more folks were hit by a huge wave and sucked out into the ocean; they were luckier and managed to be rescued.) The Halona area is not one to be messed with.
We pulled ourselves away from the mesmerizing blowhole and drove back towards Waikiki a tiny bit to the Koko Marina to grab lunch. There were tons of options, and we wound up having a perfectly lovely meal at the Kona Brewing Co. overlooking the marina.
From there, we headed to Hanauma Bay to spend the afternoon on the beach.
Hanauma Bay is a state park and beach nestled inside the caldera of an old, old volcano–a location that’s a magnet for cool sea creatures to call home. You pay (a minimal amount) to enter/park, and they make you watch a short video about the conservation of sea life before you can take the 5 minute hike down to the beach.
We had snorkels for 4, so that meant we rotated through them with the odd-man-out in charge of guarding our stuff on the beach.
Snorkeling here was terrific; there were many, many more things to see than at Shark’s Cove (though don’t let that turn you off from visiting Shark’s Cove; it’s still absolutely worth it).
Once our fingers and toes were all puckered from being in the ocean so long, we packed up and headed back to the hotel to shower and then out to dinner on our next to the last night in Honolulu. We took the path of least resistance and walked over to the Tiki Bar & Restaurant above the Aston Waikiki Resort right next door. The live music and sunset views were pretty doggone solid, and everyone left happy.
The purple taro rolls were an added bonus (this one was accidentally dropped on the floor which is why it’s rudely lounging on the table rather than a proper plate…).
Part One of our Big Trip was coming to an end mighty quickly. We had just one last full day in Oahu…
When we began planning The Big Trip, our surfer boy, Tucker, had only one request: we must visit the North Shore.
(Actually, that’s not true…he had many requests, including cliff diving, amongst other ridiculous ones. But taking a day trip out of Honolulu was an easy item to address, especially since the island of Oahu is only 44 miles long.)
We were up and at ’em before daybreak once again on our third day in Hawaii, but we couldn’t pick up the car until 7 a.m. (most everyone knows I am not a morning person, so even typing that sentence cracks me up.). We borrowed towels from the hotel, loaded up, and headed north. First stop: Sunset Beach.
The North Shore of Oahu is famous for big waves and big beaches–pretty much everything a surfer desires…but the most spectacular display of these waves occurs predominantly in the winter months. Turn around to the summer months (we’re still in the Northern Hemisphere here), and these crazy spots of monster waves featured on YouTube are a bit in hibernation…just a bit. They’re still crazy enough to impress the socks off a gaggle of teenagers. I can vouch for that.
Sunset Beach, a little less than an hour from Honolulu, is pretty much a straight shot north up the middle of the island through fields of sugar cane and pineapple plants. The sand on Sunset Beach is ridiculously deep and quicksandish and–to be honest–tough to walk in, but the beach was stunning and almost eerily empty (perhaps because we arrived at the wee old hour of just quarter past 8 in the morning). We managed to keep the boys out of the water here and only stayed on Sunset, squashing up its ankle deep squishy sand for about 30 minutes.
Next stop: Ehukai Beach Park, home of the Banzai Pipeline where waves can roll in at 20 feet high. Fortunately (for me, not for our surfing kiddo), these ginormous waves only show up during the winter months on the North Shore. Still, the waves were pretty crazy, and the boys couldn’t stand not getting in the water.
The photos don’t do it justice; waves taller than the boys would come crashing down on a shore break–meaning the wave just sort of shows up out of the blue and then rolls over right on the shore. The boys were never in water above their waists, yet they would be completely submerged when the waves would come. It was fascinating to watch (and a bit nerve wracking).
After an hour or so of being slammed into the shore, we needed a little break. We headed into the town of Haleiwa.
Russ and Tucker are surf-shop junkies and the North Shore Surf Shop did not disappoint. Right across the street was a beautiful little restaurant, Haleiwa Beach House, so we popped in for a drink and a snack. Of course, nothing in Hawaii is cheap, so while the full menu there looked great (I particularly loved the garlic edamame), we opted to mosey on in to Haleiwa proper to search for something a little less extravagant for lunch.
After lunch, we headed back out of Haleiwa Town towards Shark’s Cove for some snorkeling. I’m not the world’s best snorkeler–something about seeing all those living, moving critters underneath me gives me the willies–but Shark’s Cove was quite fun. We were grateful to have brought water shoes, though. There were tons of sharp rocks, and it’s a slippery walk to get out into the cove.
Snorkeling Shark’s Cove is fantastic–if you have the gear. We all enjoyed it a ton and saw tons of sea-stuff (very colorful fish, flow-y sucker-creatures, what-have-you…remember, underwater viewing ain’t exactly my jam).
Last adventure-y spot for the day: Waimea Bay. I offered to drive from Shark’s Cove to Waimea, which was a critical error in mom-ness. See, for the past two months, Tucker had been jockeying to “cliff dive” while in Hawaii. He showed us multiple crazy, ridiculously dangerous videos of individuals making ridiculously bad life choices by jumping off various ridiculously stupid cliffs/rocks/jetties/what-have-you. We spent many a night ’round our dinner table with me going from merely voicing stern objection to this idea to me absolutely losing my mind over the idea of this idea.
But back to the adventure at hand: it’s notoriously difficult to park at Waimea Bay and its Beach Park. I dropped the boys and the other parent man-child/co-conspirator off, with the intention to meet them *right over there* on the beach as soon as I could park.
Well, they weren’t lying about the tricky parking situation. It was Buzzardville up in there; cars stalking folks walking out towards the lot/road, and it took forever…about 20 minutes, to be exact.
Upon finally winning my round of The Hunger Games in the parking lot, I grabbed the towels and made my way to our designated meeting area where I realized the folks I were to meet were not there.
Then I looked around and saw the freaking stupid “cliff” from which Tucker had been wanting to “cliff dive” for the past two months. Guess where I found the rest of my family?
To say I was not a happy camper after this foolishness is quite the understatement.
Luckily–as is the case with most places in Oahu–the rest of the beach was gorgeous and semi-non-life-threatening.
Finally, we packed up and left the mayhem of Waimea’s magnetic (for some members of our family) Jump Rock and took a slight detour back through Haleiwa Town to visit Matsumoto’s Shave Ice for, well, one of their world famous shave ices. (We’re still not sure why it’s called “shave ice” rather than “shaveD ice” but the line was long and the boys say it was 110% worth it.)
We rolled on back to Honolulu late that afternoon with no plans for dinner. We all desperately needed a shower, so we handled that scenario with a little bit of UB40 playing in the background and then found ourselves with 3 exhausted boys, ready for bed. So Russ and I decided to pop down to a restaurant underneath our hotel; at the last minute, Jack pulled himself out of bed to join us.
Arancino was surprisingly hopping and surprisingly tasty. We 3 sat at a small table in the bar and had a lovely conversation and some excellent pasta to fill our bellies. Jack and I stumbled back upstairs while Russ went in search of the perfect swimsuit a little farther down the road (at least that’s what he said he was doing *just kidding* he came back with a new suit for himself and for Theo).
We had one more full day scheduled with the car and had our sights set on a solid hike followed-up with seeing several exciting parts of the windward side of Oahu on Friday. We had our fingers crossed that we’d all sleep past…oh…5 a.m. on Friday morning, but it wasn’t going to be in our cards (just yet)…