Two weeks in Australia
My daughter's first stuffed animal was a koala and from that gift, an obsession was born. When we decided to homeschool for a year and travel, Australia was at the top of our list of places to visit. Weird because it seems like Australia is usually the last place on people's list. It is far away, a good 15 hours from Los Angeles, and maybe it doesn't have the cultural draw of places like Europe or Asia, but it is a great place to visit with kids.
We were lucky enough to have local friends living in Melbourne, so that was our first stop.
4 nights in Melbourne
We literally went straight from the Melbourne airport- which stamped my daughter's passport on her birthday FTW- to the Healesville Sanctuary. I am a crazy person about fighting off jet lag and my go-to move is to make everyone keep moving all day. This was a perfect way to keep everyone awake and busy because, you know, KOALAS! Healesville Sanctuary is in the stunning Yarra Valley wine region, so the drive was very picturesque. The grounds of the sanctuary offer up close viewings of a variety of native animals, including koalas, kangaroos, platypus, dingoes, wombats, emus and more. For a little extra cost, we were able to get close to the koalas, though you are not allowed to hold them at any parks in or around Melbourne or Sydney. This was a lovely way to start our trip to Australia and we pulled up to our rental apartment around dinner time, so we didn't have to wait too much longer until I finally allowed everyone to sleep.
We stayed in the area of Melbourne called, Fitzroy, in a cool old factory building that had been converted to apartments. We rented our apartment through Luxico, which offers only upscale type accommodations, so there is no guesswork like there some times is with Airbnb. There are great restaurants around Fitzroy and we opted for a quick burger at Brother Burger, which was delicious and quick enough that the kids didn't fall asleep in their fries.
We took in quite a few sights throughout the next few days including: journal writing in the gorgeous State Library of Victoria, taxidermy central at the amazing Melbourne Museum, views of the city from Eureka Skydeck and Melbourne Star, local flora and fauna at Fitzroy Gardens, and ScienceWorks, which was super interesting and also required a ferry trip down the Yarra River.
Our friends live in St. Kilda's so Kate recommended we meet for dinner at a sushi restaurant across the street from the St. Kilda Harbour. We celebrated my daughter's birthday with a pavlova that Kate made and at dark we went to see the little fairy penguin procession on the rocks. We thought we would need to travel to Phillips Island to see the penguins and were so pleased that they are right in the city. We were also really excited about that pavlova!
We took one day trip to explore the Great Ocean Road. This was an unexpected road trip pitched by Kate's boyfriend, who had been planning to take this trip with his out of town guest. We jumped at the chance, but when the other kids got wind of the road trip they all began a frantic pitch to join. All four kids wrote passionate letters carefully explaining why they should go and why missing school in this instance was acceptable. Finally the adults relented and quickly rented a van big enough for everyone. It was an unforgettable day. Mainly in the best possible way, as the route is stunning and seeing the 12 Apostles after all the lovely little stops was just breathtaking. But it was definitely a long day and I will never forget the songs the kids were singing on repeat to keep themselves entertained. I love traveling and all the twists and turns your plans can take when you're open to anything. I'm so glad we had that road trip experience and the kids had that amazing bonding time.
Places we ate that we loved:
Grumpy and the Dreaded One’s Little Cafe of Awesome. Not sure about the grumpy or dreaded part, but it was definitely awesome.
Breakfast Thieves. Lucky for us, this was right next door to our apartment and so we ate there more than once!
Yo Chi. We stumbled upon this delicious frozen yogurt spot while out walking around. It was a huge hit with all of us!
Two Nights in Uluru
We had originally booked three nights, though I have no idea why I thought we needed that much time. It became obvious very quickly that we needed to do a quick reschedule and the first hour of our trip to Uluru was getting a flight out after two days, cancelling the last night of the hotel, and rearranging the dates at our apartment in Sydney. I think it was maybe the frozen kangaroo tail in the village grocery store that made me jump into action. Anyways, once that all got sorted, we could relax a bit. We loved the sunset camel tour that we went on that evening. It was so peaceful and the view of Ayers Rock was gorgeous in the outback.
The next day we took a dot painting workshop with an aboriginal woman, Millie, who taught us all about this ancient form of communication and art. We also took a hike around the base of Ayers Rock in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park with a local park ranger. Our guide was very knowledgable about the area, customs, and history of Uluru. We saw ancient cave drawings and he explained different facets of the aboriginal culture. It was both fun and educational and I'm really glad that we got some of this Australian history in between visiting the big, modern cities of Melbourne and Sydney.
Our final night was a real treat because we were there for an incredible art installation, Field of Light, by artist Bruce Munro. The exhibition was originally conceived when Munro and his fiancee were camping at Uluru/Ayer's Rock. To Munro, the red desert had an incredible feeling of energy, ideas seemed to radiate from it along with the heat. He installed this enormous shimmering field of light at many locations before finally installing it in Uluru, where it will remain until December 2020. Other iterations of it continue to travel around the world. The lights here are entirely solar powered. You really have to see it to believe it.
There are a few places to stay in Uluru, all in a similar area. We stayed at the Emu Walk Apartments, which were spacious and very comfortable. We were happy there was a nice pool as well since the temperatures shot up to 110 degrees in the middle of the day.
We found the best food at the Sails in the Desert hotel, as the little restaurants and grocery in the town center were pretty poor.
The final leg of our Aussie adventures was five nights in Sydney. We rented an apartment in Surry Hills, which was such a cute, residential neighborhood and great for walking to the nearby restaurants. Sydney felt very similar to our hometown of Los Angeles. It was much warmer than Melbourne and it just has that laid back, sunny feeling like LA.
We loved walking around and getting a bit of beach in, though it was still a little too cold to spend time in the ocean. The walk from Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach happened to coincide with an annual art exhibition, Sculpture by the Sea, which made the already gorgeous walk even more exciting. We past the famous Bondi Icebergs Pool, though we didn't go in. We were starving after our long walk and enjoyed a delicious lunch at The Bogey Hole Cafe before getting on a bus back to Surry Hills.
My friend, Kirk, is from Sydney and his wife, Susan, told me they loved to spend time at Taronga Zoo when they are back there visiting family. We needed more time with koalas, so we booked a special up close koala encounter, which was great but we also loved seeing all of the other animals there as well. Feeding the giraffes was hilarious and the gorillas were putting on a major show for us by running all around and tackling each other. It was a really fun place to visit. I highly recommend doing the ropes course through the zoo, as well, because you can see all the animals in their habitats from up above.
We enjoyed spending time down at the Sydney Harbour and loved the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, where you can see the opera house and Harbour Bridge from across the water. We really lucked out when it came to finally visiting the Sydney Opera House because there was a piano concert by two young, Dutch brothers, Lucas and Arthur Jussen. Not only were they extraordinary piano talents, but they were also playing for His Majesty King Willem-Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Máxima, of the Netherlands who were in attendance. The stage was strewn with traditional Dutch flowers and the whole evening felt magical.
Halloween in Sydney
Halloween is a fairly new holiday to reach Australia, but being Americans, the kids were anxious to find whatever bits of Halloween that they could. I learned that Luna Park, the great old amusement park, would be hosting a Halloween spectacular. Thankfully we got there while there was still daylight because, let me tell you, all Australia seems to know about Halloween is the scary business. There were no cute costumes, there was no little bite sized candy. It was 100% blood and gore and scare the bejesus out of you intentions. We thought we might need to cancel the plans, but we carried on. The kids got their faces painted in a oozy gash type fashion to fit in. We proceeded to lines for rides where the attendants stared at us with creepy eyes and said nothing, then followed us around like we might be murdered at any minute. The other patrons were equally terrifying. Those freaky twins in bloody babydoll dresses with dead faces kept passing us on the thoroughfare. For once, I found the hideously scary rides to be more of a comfort than being left down on the ground with those weirdos. I was practically leaping into the seat for the Hair Raiser, the godforsaken thing that is 50 metres above sea level that plummets you over 80kms towards earth. When it started to get late and the darkness was well established we had to leave. It was just too much. But we survived and we even found a neighbor in Surry Hills handing out candy.