Take a look at our Australian adventures: From Gold Coast to Noosa Heads, Sydney to Tasmania, and Melbourne and surrounding area.
Ah the sea breeze.. driving the Great Ocean Road, stopping wherever our heart’s desire. Our heart’s desire Lamington- an Australian, chocolate coconut cake. We stop at a bakery along the coast and order our dessert to eat on the boardwalk.
We sit down and soon a wild cockatoo comes up on the chair near us.
Well, this is pretty cool. We think, and pay no attention to him as we eat our Lamington. Soon another cockatoo joins us, and they stare at us heads bobbing back and forth. Soon, there are three, four, five cockatoos! We start to get suspicious. Why are there so many cockatoos? They look at us with their beady, little eyes; ready to strike. It’s not just Australian humans that like Lamington, cockatoos apparently do too. One brave bird makes it’s strike, going for the Lamington.
Soon the others follow, and Alayna is covered in white birds stealing her tasty treat. They caw happily, coconut dropping out of their mouths and soon more cockatoos join.
Lamington depleted we head back to the car to continue our drive, looking back at the now 12 birds that are ready to attack the next unsuspecting bakery customer.
On the Southern coast of Australia lays Melbourne. It feels like Toronto’s sister city with trendy, distinct neighborhoods, Victorian style buildings, sprawling residential areas, and a busy financial core. Tucked away in one of the artsy neighborhoods, north of downtown, was a friendly face. Mark’s sister Victoria has been living in Melbourne for almost two years and we were excited to see her. It’s an easy place for young people to start a new life as the city is very livable and social. Walking the streets, you immediately notice the younger demographic and how they have shaped the feel of the city. Hip restaurants can be found on every corner and most proudly advertise their vegan/vegetarian products. An initiative has caught on where customers bring reusable mugs and coffee shops reciprocate with a discounted price on beverages. People are upbeat and being smiled at on the streets isn’t uncommon.
The weather however, has a mind of its own. Constantly fluctuating from low 20’s to high 30’s, it can be trying on your mind as much as your wardrobe. People from Melbourne take it in stride and appreciate the warm weather when it comes. They can often be seen lounging at the community pool or down by the beach. We, too, shared in the sunbathing experience and swimming cool down routine. First thing after arriving in Melbourne we were off to the pool. We wound down the day by drinking happy hour cocktails at a hipster hangout and then going for vegetarian food. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
As with most Australian cities, wonderful nature is within an hour’s drive of Melbourne. We decided to take advantage of that and prep ourselves for our future camping adventures in New Zealand. Luckily, Victoria’s boyfriend is an avid camper and quickly became our camping tour guide. Our destination was Philip Island which is a few hour’s drive from Melbourne, off the south coast of Australia. The island is absolutely gorgeous and scarcely populated. Most of its inhabitants are Wallabies and Kangaroos both of whom are unconcerned by human visitors. As with most plans there are hitches along the way. After a late start, detours and shopping, we were finally arriving at our camping spot. Nestled in the shrubs near the summit of a large cliff we looked out onto the wonderfully blue ocean. A short walk would brought us to a mile long, white sand beach where penguins come to nest. White wash sloshed around the base of the cliff and accented the various blues that led all the way to the horizon. The slowly setting sun made the grasslands glow orange, the ocean vivid red and the sky brightly pink. There we were, enjoying drinks and taking photos of each other many of which were “Insta-worthy”. The night was followed up with a campfire and subsequent Tim-Tam-Mores (we’re looking into I.P. rights – unfortunately none lasted long enough to photograph).
Our final day in Australia was spent with the same group. We went to a ocean pool beach for a good portion of our day. The leaving tide reveals hundreds of caves and water pools that become isolated from the ocean. It makes for fantastic cool-tub exploring.
There was diving, canon balling, frolicking, and all sorts of horseplay. Alayna even got nibbled on by a two centimeter shrimp. Alcohol may have been involved. Sun baked, wind burnt and pruned from salt water we ate a full watermelon and called it a day.
Our flight to New Zealand was the following morning at 6 AM – ouch! That means wake up time is 3 AM – double ouch! The last supper was spent with Victoria eating Uber Eats burritos in her backyard. If you’re unfamiliar with Uber Eats here’s a synopsis: Have you ever found yourself peckish but far too lazy to clothe yourself and mingle with the outside world? Well, us Millennials are plagued with this 21st century illness. Forunately, a tech behemoth has swooped in and saved the day. Simply order your favourite food directly from your smart phone and some starving artist will bicycle your juicy burrito from restaurant to your door. Payment is done automatically and you can answer the front door in nothing but your favourite undies. It’s quite a time to live, indeed.
After a delicious burrito experience we were hankering for something sweet. Luckily, Uber Eats offers delivery gelato. That’s right folks, the tasty, frozen Italian desert delivered in 40 deg C weather. That starving artist sure had his work cut out for him. Perhaps that’s one way of summarizing Melbourne: delivery gelato from your smart phone.
Crikey! What’s that up the road? A mob of ‘roos! Beauty!
Australia is known for it’s interesting animals found no where else on the world. With deadly insects and reptiles to kickboxing kangaroos, it’s not always the best thing to run into the wild animals of the island. We’ll introduce you to some of the animals we have encountered…
Kangaroo: Arguably the most famous of the Australian animals, the Kangaroo is the largest of the species in the Macropodidae family. A large male can be up to 2m tall and weigh up to 200 lbs. There are different types of ‘roos, and they vary in size and location in Australia. These herbivores have large feet and a big tail to help for movement and balance. A normal hopping speed is about 25 km/h, but they can reach up to 70 km/h. Their large feet and tail are also used to fend off predators with powerful kicks.
Wallaby: The wallaby is the smaller version of the Kangaroo. It reaches only 1m tall, but otherwise is very similar to a kangaroo.
Pademelon: Pademelons looks like minature kangaroos, however they belong to a different family. They are slightly more rodent like, with coarser hair and thinner tails.
Wombat: Wombats look like cuddly little fluff balls, but in reality can be quite fierce. They have short, stalky legs and stubby tails, and lumber around grazing during the evening and into the night. They have rodent like teeth and claws that allow them to burrow deep within the ground during the day to escape the heat. Their rear ends have a tough hide made out of cartilage, which allows them to block intruders and predators from entering into their burrows. If the predators are able to stick their heads in, they use their powerful rumps to crush the skull against the burrow walls.
Tasmanian Devil: Although we didn’t actually see this animal, we think it should be mentioned. Looking nothing like the bugs bunny Tasmanian Devil, they are a black and white, carnivorous creatures roughly the size of a large cat. They are night scavengers, but also hunt the smaller animals described above. These animals are now endangered due to a communicable facial tumour disease and Tasmania is actively trying to keep the healthy population safe by segregating them from the rest of the main island on to peninsulas and smaller islands.
Koala: Koalas are the closest living relative to wombats, with their spoon shaped nose and stubby tails. These sleepy species typically reside in eucalyptus trees, and their leaves make up the majority of their diet. They are pretty sedentary and sleep for up to 20 hours a day. They come more alive at night, and emit large bellows that were described to us as “monster like”. Like kangaroos, koalas have pouches in which they carry their young for the first half a year of life.
Kookaburra: Kookaburras do sit in the old gum tree, merry merry king of the bushes he. The distinct laugh of the kookaburra sounds like a DJ mixing together a mishmash of acoustic noises with a harsh bird call. Kookaburras are carnivorous, which we didn’t know when two flew up to our place in Sydney and we tried to feed them. It explains why they weren’t very interested in the cereal and nectarine we tried to feed them.
Penguins: Fairy Penguins or Little Penguins, are the smallest of the penguin species and are found on the southern beaches of Australia and New Zealand. The grow to be about 30 cm tall and spend the majority of the day out at sea foraging and fishing. They return back to their nests on land at dusk, using the protection of darkness to return home. We sat on the coast of Bicheno, Tasmania hoping to see the little guys return. With the last light left in the sky two penguins waddled up onto shore. They saw us and stayed put for a very long time, before taking the indirect journey back to the nest where we had spied a penguin chick earlier. When they returned there was a joyus exchange of chirping of the family being reunited. Not as pleasant are the mozzies (Mosquitos), they are smaller, sneakier and completely painless in their bite. While waiting for the penguins, Alayna got roughly 35 bites which we found later that night.
The most dangerous creatures in Australia are actually certain types of jellyfish, as well as sharks, poisonous snakes, spiders, birds and even snails. Luckily we have not encountered any of these, and with only a few more days on the island, I think we’re in the clear! (I hope)
After hearing some really positive things about Tasmania, we decided to switch it up and fly there for a week instead of driving the whole East Coast of Australia.
Tasmania was first sighted by a Dutch explorer by the last name Tasman in 1642, however indigenous people lived on the island for an estimated 30,000 years before colonization. Like the turbulent history of the rest of Australia, the British came in around the 19h century and took over the land, killing the indigenous people and claiming it as their own.
It was initially used for convicts and their military guards, with the objective of developing agriculture and industries. Later on, penal colonies were developed around 1820 and it was considered the most terrible of destinations, with disease, lawlessness and every other settler a convict. They stopped bringing convicts in 1856 in an effort to improve its reputation.
Since then, Tasmania has remained a fairly quiet and underpopulated island, being home to around 500,000 people. The southernmost state of Australia is known for it’s ruggedness, and has 42% of its land mass protected in National Parks. There has been an influx of tourism and immigration to Tassie recently, partially due to the rising house prices on the mainland. This, in turn, puts strain on the infrastructure, and limits the accommodation and food available (and inflates prices).
Unfortunately, the island has been experiencing a drought, and parts of the island are closed due to bush fires (or risk there of) limiting some of our exploring. We decided to stick to the East Coast, where a large amount of the “touristy” things are and where it is safely away from the fires. We heard about the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, created by Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh. This computer science/math major created a gambling system and subsequently made millions of dollars as a professional gambler. He was as eccentric as they come; he spent large sums of money on ridiculous and abstract things. The museum was initially created just for himself to house his own art collection, but eventually decided to share it with the public. It’s a very creepy place, blasted deep into the earth and is entirely windowless, with chambers in varying directions so you never really know where you are. The “art” itself ranges from looking like garbage, to unique, to confusing, to just plain disturbing. Some things were neat, but we both left thinking “Man, there are so many better ways to spend that kind of money”. I guess we don’t have an “artiste’s eye”.
Tasmania is also home to the birthplace of the Blundstone boot. Here it is a workboot, not a fashion accessory and can be found primarily at work/safety depots. Tasmania does have a large amount of farms, mainly sheep farms, and there is an abundance of fruit trees. We stayed at an AirBnB at an old farmhouse in Bream Creek. With rolling hills, blackberry bushes, a friendly neighbourhood dog and a beautiful sunset, it almost felt like we were back home.
We stocked up on berries and kept moving down the coast, exploring the beaches, national parks, and animals of Tasmania.
The beaches throughout mainland Australia are the most beautiful we have seen in the world. Tasmania is no exception in that regard but does have a more “natural” feel to its beaches. Often rugged and completely virgin, they have jagged rock faces that accent perfectly white sand. The rocks are red in colour and are referred to as: “The Painted Rocks”. You can catch yourself walking along the shore of a remote beach thinking that you’re the only person who has ever walked here – at least for a very long time. The sugary, white sand is bleached by the powerful, unrelenting sun. When nature doesn’t offer you shade, you must make it and so we did. Building a driftwood shelter from washed up material and dry grass we made ourselves a little home. I made sure to remind Alayna to be thankful for our accommodation. I may not be able to provide housing in the Toronto market but a private beach resort in exotic Tasmania, I can do. She’s still firmly believes it’s better than living on a houseboat back home. I’ll convince her someday…
After leaving our work away in Byron Bay we made our way South to Sydney. We drove through what seemed like endless amounts of National Parks, all of which boasted beautiful beaches or lush rainforest. Australia is a massive continent and traversing it by automobile takes considerable time and petrol. Small towns are littered between the major cities and many of those places seemed frozen in time. Few people could be seen as we drove through looking for food or accommodation. After staying in a highway motel, whose best days had long past, we flirted with expediting our journey and arriving in Sydney early. Our plan was to stay with a friend of Mark’s aunt’s for the entirety of our Sydney visit. After contacting him, he encouraged us to arrive in Sydney early. We didn’t need much convincing and before we knew it we were being greeted by a friendly face.
Our host’s name was Richard. He is a laid back Aussie with a gravelly voice and a quick wit. He’s humorous and was extremely hospitable; attentive to our every need and making us feel like we were at home. Part of his charm is in his bachelor way of living: toilet paper rolls acted as doorstops, sheets as drapes. All trivial things that people pass judgement on far too quickly. Richard is a cameraman/cinematographer and has travelled the world filming movies. He’s also travelled as a backpacker so he understood the things tired travelers crave. He gladly offered to be our exclusive tour guide for our stay in Sydney and we happily agreed. Little did we know what that service would entail. Steak, drinks, more steak, tours, advice, tips, more steak, Tim Tams (fantastic Aussie, chocolate biscuits), beef pie and Koala petting.
We accomplished so much in such a short time both in terms of caloric intake and sightseeing. Richard has a trained eye for seeing a “shot” in a particular way. We were able to experience his talent firsthand and often be included in it. You don’t just see the Opera House – you see the Opera House with the perfect amount of ferries, the coat hanger bridge as a backstop and just the right lighting. We were delighted when he took the reins and did most of our day plans with insightful suggestions. He immediately knew how tired we were of doing tedious travel plans.
We visited Koala Park which is exactly what it sounds like. Fuzzy, exhausted koalas hang from eucalyptus trees as tourists feed and pet them. Kangaroos, emus, wombats, dingos, wallabies, also live at the park. Feeling like children at a petting zoo we tried to chase down the various exotic animals. Unfortunately, most had overeaten by the time us Canadians rolled in with our bags of Alfalfa. Alayna tried coaxing the rotund wallabys from their slumber in the shade and managed to feed one: success!
We were absolutely spoiled and we loved it. The food in Sydney was delicious and the company even better. Our host seemed to comfort the hidden struggles that you feel after so long on the road. He could relate to them as he had walked in our footsteps many years ago. After numerous funny moments and interesting conversations, we were being dropped back at the airport. Hugging goodbye seemed difficult as we were about to step back into the cold, lonely world. No more steak dinners and careful guidance. Thank you Richard, you made Sydney very special.
Sydney is a sprawling harbour city and is the most populated city in Australia. To us it had many similarities to Toronto. Skyrise towers intermingle with old, British style buildings. Tree lined streets and parks, cute boutique stores and coffee shops, but of course, nicer beaches. Like Toronto, Sydney’s real estate has boomed dramatically since 2012, with a 75% increase, making the average detached home worth about $1.1 million.
What makes Sydney so special? Well if the sun, proximity to beaches, and bustling nightlife aren’t enough, there is the architecture. The iconic Sydney Opera House was designed by a Danish architect, after winning an international competition. They began construction in 1958, but the architect left in 1966 over “conflicting interests”. It finished in 1973 but he refused to return to see the completed project, despite being awarded the highest award for architecture and it becoming a UNESCO site.
Being the ever thrifty travelers we are, we had found a deal on Groupon for an opera performance at the Opera House. Not knowing basically anything about opera, we thought ‘why not?’ and bought some tickets for Opera’s Greatest Hits. We arrived a few hours early to the Sydney harbour, to take in the Harbour Bridge, see the ferries, and of course, inspect the Opera House. It’s a very “wow” moment, seeing the iconic building for the first time. It’s the quintessential “I’m in Australia” view and it really doesn’t get old.
As you get close to the opera house you can see all the detail. It surprised us that the roof is actually two-toned tiles, layed in different designs to make up the “sails” that are the opera house roof. In addition, it’s not actually one building. From different angles, you can see that it’s actually a few buildings, and it houses multiple theatre stages.
We handed in our tickets, bought a drink at the bar and went into the sectioned off places many tourists never get to go. The inside is decorated with wood, but the ceilings are a sculpted concrete (which apparently caused many issues with getting the correct sound distribution initially) and we made our way to our seats, anxiously awaiting the start. The lights dimmed and the pianist/host came out and talked to the crowd. Anyone from overseas, anyone from Spain? Do you happen to from Seville? Perhaps a Barber? Which lead into the first opera song, The Barber of Seville. To laypeople such as us, this is the song from Bugs Bunny when he cuts Elmer Fudd’s hair. As it was “Opera’s Greatest Hits” we actually recognized a considerable number of the songs they sang. We even got to participate in one, so we can say that we sang at the Sydney Opera House. It was truly a fantastic show, and it was a bit unexpected how much we enjoyed it considering neither of us are opera aficionados.
After the opera, we relaxed by the harbour, and watched the hustle and bustle and the overexcited seagulls snagging people’s food. The lights come on at night, illuminating the harbour bridge and opera house, creating a whole new sight to behold.
The harbour bridge is a icon in itself. Taking 9 years to build, it was completed in 1932. It spans 1.15 km and was a huge feat of engineering at that time. It is used continually, having 150,000 cars passing over it daily. Maintenance crews are continually painting it to prevent rust (it takes 1 year and 30,000L of paint). Fun fact, the actor that played Crocodile Dundee used to be a bridge painter. You can climb the harbour bridge for the small fee of $250, or you can climb the tower beside it for $15. Guess which one we opted for.
We of course, did a few other “must do” attractions in the Sydney area. Bondi beach has been a staple to surfers and beach goers for many years. We went to Koala Park and hand fed some wallabies (the kangaroos had already been fattened up too much before we got there). The main attraction is the koalas. We get to head into the koala enclosure and get to pet the hairy little guys (we learned it is hair, not fur) who sleep for 20 hours a day. They looked completely zonked out, but one managed to keep his eyes open for a few pictures with us. We understand you koalas. We’ve been there.