9,280 Miles: Part VI, Our Last 2 Days Down Under

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.

it’s such a small world…

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.

There was a pizza buffet type deal going on…but you got to order whatever type pizza you wanted, and they’d bring it to you. The boys ate their weight in pizza, for sure, and we had tasty leftovers for our last breakfast in Australia.

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.

I was fascinated with the departure signs in the Sydney airport…so many exotic locations! We couldn’t believe how far away from home we were.

9,280 Miles: Off to the zoo–Taronga (Sydney, Part III)

My boys have always loved the zoo.

Jack’s very first trip to the Atlanta Zoo; January 5, 2005

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.

when the main entryway looks like this, you know it’s going to be a pretty interesting place

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…fullsizeoutput_fa91

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.


Yes, Paddington, we absolutely do love you.


9,280 Miles: Sydney, Part I

(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 fist fight. 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.

view up the street towards the market in Paddo

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.

strolling through Paddo in search of breakfast

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.

also, shout out to one of the boys’ favorite science teachers–Ms. Maas-on-a-Rock 🙂

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.]

(not the Zero Gravity thing…just a cool prism thingy)

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.

I think we ate our weight in guacamole and queso at the El Camino Cantina

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…

HTH Dominoes hard at work

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.

We were smitten with Sydney already.