Melbourne

Melbourne was all about the food and coffee. Luckily and by a happy accident we were staying right by Lygon Street, which is famous for its Italian community and excellent food. The street has a great bustling vibe and is full of wonderful looking restaurants, which were so busy every single night of the week. They had alfresco dining and for a moment you felt like you were in Italy. 

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By the time we arrived in Melbourne it was late and we were starving so having all these restaurants so close was great and we enjoyed our first delicious Italian meal, which by chance was one of the highest rated down Lygon Street. It was so good it was hard to not go back to but with so many great looking places we didn’t want to go back to the same place twice. 

On our last night staying near Lygon Street we went to the top rated Italian restaurant for pizza, one that had been recommended to us and one we had seen queues outside every night. Luckily, we arrived early-ish and didn’t have to queue like many of the people after us. The pizza and wine were delicious – one of our favourite meals of the trip.

We loved our time in the ‘Little Italy’ of Melbourne and the place we stayed in, which was also only a 20-30 minute walk into the centre of the city. 

Our second place was at the seaside area of St. Kilda. We stayed there for five days. We weren’t too impressed or happy with our accommodation here but we were grateful that at least it had air con as we experienced two days reaching over 40 degrees whilst staying – It was difficult to be outside during these days. 

St Kilda was a cool place to stay and it was nice to be beside the sea for a few days. 

Highlights from Melbourne

I’m Free Walking Tour

This was a free tour with the premise of tipping at the end for what you thought it was worth. It was a long tour being over three hours and with a lot of walking. Our guide Andreas was full of interesting facts and we felt like we knew the Melbourne area pretty well by the end. We learnt that Melbourne has been voted the most liveable city in the world for the past seven years until this year where it missed out to Vienna, but second in the world is still pretty good. We also learnt that Melbourne had an era called ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ where the city boomed after the gold rush in the 1850s. In this time Melbourne’s population exploded from 20,000 (in 1850) to 125,000 (by 1860). During this time most of Melbourne’s institutions were established, such as the first railway line, the telegraph, the university, public library and museum and its famed Royal Exhibition Building. For a short time Melbourne was actually the temporary capital of Australia, but this didn’t last and as the decision couldn’t be made between Melbourne and Sydney at the time, they created a completely new city – Canberra, which was in the middle of both, naming it the capital of Australia. There is still a big friendly rivalry between the two cities, especially when it comes to sporting events. 

As we have been travelling we have noticed that Australians like to give things a grand title and claim to be the best or top something in the world as much as they can. We found they will give this title to random things such as in Tasmania with the ‘worlds longest single charlift span’ and Australia claims to have the ‘world’s longest fence’. We were told by our tour guide that when they cannot use the best in the world they claim it is the best in the Southern Hemisphere, which when you consider only has 10% of the world’s population isn’t quite as impressive.  

Eureka Skydeck 

This building was the ‘highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere’ and boasted views for miles across Melbourne. The lift shot you up 88 floors within 60 seconds (9 meters a second) so we did feel our ears popping. When we arrived at the top we were a little underwhelmed. It was great to have such a good view across Melbourne but it was all through glass, meaning that it was difficult to get that many nice photos without a reflection or glare. We also paid extra for the ‘Edge’ experience. For this you stood in a glass box, which then extended out of the building three metres so you had the view below your feet. It was quite crazy that only four centimetres of glass stood between you and the floor below. Again, though it was a cool experience we were a little underwhelmed especially after the first minute where it was quite exciting and then after that you were just walking around a glass box, feeling like David Blane, looking down not really sure what else to do for the next five minutes. Not only that, we were unable to get any photos as they didn’t allow you to take your phone or camera into the glass box. 

The Laneways

The hidden laneways were really cool and had some great little cafes, bars and restaurants but we were a little disappointed with the ‘iconic’ street art. There were some really impressive paintings but then a lot of it just looked like messy graffiti over graffiti. On our walking tour we did actually see some people spray painting in one of the alleys and you could see the layerings of paint in some places as they were starting to peel off. We were told that we could add some ‘art’ if we wanted but unfortunately we had forgotten our painting supplies!

The Laneways were where we finally had some kangaroo burgers, after months of talking about it. We found a small independent burger bar called Metro Burger and, we must say, the burgers were pretty tasty.

Another foodie item we got while down Degraves Street was some extremely good gelato, another recommendation. We really needed the cooling ice cream as it was another very hot day in Melbourne.

ArtVo

One day we walked to the docklands area to visit an immersive art gallery called ArtVo. We had lots of fun posing with the different works of art and illusions and we had a good laugh looking back at all of the photos. 

State Library of Victoria 

During our Melbourne walking tour we were told about an exhibition in the State Library dedicated to the infamous bushranger Edward Kelly, more commonly known as Ned Kelly. He is known as one of the last bushrangers – a thief who lived in the Australian Bush to evade capture – and is by far the most famous. He is best known for wearing a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with the police where he was shot in the legs and arrested. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. His final words are said to have been “such is life”, where the now popular phrase comes from, so the story goes. 

This armour is now showcased in the State Library, so we were able to view it. We both found it very interesting to read about his life and crimes, but could not quite understand why some consider him to be a national hero and in some ways a national symbol of Australia, as the exhibition didn’t provide any information about this. We have since read that he has been mythologised into a Robin Hood type character with stories being told of him burning mortgage deeds during one of his bank robberies and fighting for the poor against the rich.    

Penguins on St Kilda Pier

To our surprise we were told that Fairy Penguins visit St Kilda Pier every evening after their day out at sea fishing. For some reason they have decided that it’s a good idea to nest on the pier, a man made structure, and we were informed that it is only the second place in the world where they have nested in these conditions. After dinner we made the short walk of 15 minutes down to the pier, honestly, we didn’t expect to see much as it was free to visit the area. 

Once there we spoke to one of the volunteers who helps to protect the penguins. While we were talking we saw our first little penguin make it on to the rocks below and start to make his way to the top. As he was only little this took a while and a great deal of effort on his part. While he was making his way up, another two penguins appeared and made the same ascent. We managed to get a prime viewing location and the penguins waddled right past us. It was a lot better than expected and another wonderful experience seeing Fairy penguins. 

Naked for Satan

Yes, a very strange name for a bar. We went here with two friends from the UK, Sarah and Kris, who are now happily living in Melbourne. The bar had a great rooftop with views across the city and a great atmosphere. This was on one of the hottest days in Melbourne, where it was still around 40 degrees when we went to meet them at 8pm. The best way to describe it was like a hairdryer been blown at you continuously – not very pleasant. Luckily, the bar was pretty cool inside and we had a great time catching up having a few drinks. 

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Australia Day 

In the end we weren’t sure how we felt about celebrating Australia Day. Before being in Australia we didn’t know of the controversy that surrounds the day and were up for celebrating it, but after being here and hearing more about the day and the history behind it we felt that it was a really insensitive day. 

The day is also now commonly known as Invasion Day, as that’s when the westerners first landed in Australia and began to colonise it. Unfortunately, this meant invading a home that had belonged to aboriginals many thousands of years before that. This colonisation meant many awful things for aboriginals, many being killed, children being taken away from them and after living on the land for thousands of years not even being counted in Australia’s population count – literally treated as if they didn’t exist. 

The government is trying to do a lot now to bring the two communities together, but a lot of hostility and anger still remains. Many people believe Australia Day should be celebrated on a different day, so not to be celebrating the day when so much tragedy occurred for the aboriginal people. 

We decided to head into the centre of the city to see the parade.

We also wanted to see the protest march being held, which actually looked considerably bigger than the parade. Many people around the whole of Australia were protesting against the current Australia Day and what it stands for. We hope in the future the date is changed and that both communities will live more at peace with each other.  

Final thoughts

We really liked Melbourne as a city. The best part was definitely the food and for Daniel, the coffee too. It is known as one of the best places in the world for coffee, which Daniel took full advantage of.

We loved living near Lygon Street and experiencing great Italian food. We also enjoyed eating in China Town, which is the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World (we told you about the titles!).

There is also quite a sizeable Greek community in Melbourne and we enjoyed a great Greek one night too. We ate out more here than we had anywhere else on our journey, but it was totally worth it!

It felt like we spent much of our time in Melbourne planning for our future travels, as when we arrived there we had no further plans as to where we were going 11 days later. After a lot of deliberation where our plans changed, not just daily, but hourly, even less at times, and after considering a range of countries including Argentina, Japan and even Los Angeles, we decided on the most obvious choice of New Zealand. So after lots of time and researching we had decided on the most glaringly obvious choice we probably could have settled on in half an hour! Even so, we were incredible excited for New Zealand and after researching we found so many things we wanted to do. We also planned our Great Ocean Road trip in this time to do before we leave for New Zealand. 

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Daniel’s favourite thing – All of the awesome independent coffee shops

Lauren’s favourite thing – The amazing Italian food we enjoyed down Lygon Street 

So that’s it for Melbourne, now for our road trip along the Great Ocean Road… 

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Tasmania

After an extremely short flight of under an hour we arrived in Tasmania, at Hobart Airport. The first place we were staying in Tasmania was a small town called Sorell, about 20 minutes from the centre of the capital, Hobart. We were staying in Sorell Barracks, which was a converted barracks built in the late 1820s that British soldiers who were responsible for helping maintain the law and order of convicts and locals used. It was a really cute place like a little English cottage. 

Mount Wellington

On our first morning we visited Mount Wellington early, although unlike us, we decided to drive to the top rather than climb. The top had some great panoramic views across the city.  

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MONA

After this we went into Hobart centre to catch the ferry to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). The ferry ride was about 20 minutes on a pretty strange jungle style boat, with tigers and monkeys on, and some music playing that sounded like it belonged in an ‘adult’ film. The museum brought more strangeness with a cave like building housing really unusual pieces of artwork. It was definitely different and we did quite enjoy wandering around. Unfortunately, as the day went on Lauren became more and more ill, coming down with a bad case of the flu so unfortunately we headed back for an early evening. 

Port Arthur 

The next day we travelled to Port Arthur. Port Arthur is a 19th century penal colony established in Tasmania, where many convicts from England were sent, many for very petty crimes such as stealing 50 yards of silk and 50 handkerchiefs (in this instance the boy was only 15 years old). Their youngest convict was only nine years old.

The prison was considered inescapable surrounded in bushland and water but many did try. The most notable was a man who disguised himself as a kangaroo, covering himself in the skin of a kangaroo he had killed, and even hopped away when he thought he’d been spotted out in the bush. However, the thing he failed to consider was that guards shot kangaroos to eat them, so ultimately he was shot. He didn’t die from this and after giving himself up he was taken back to the prison with 150 lashes as his punishment.

Port Arthur was a vast area with lots of interesting history and areas to wander around. Unfortunately, there has been two big bush fires over the years and some of the buildings have been destroyed and others damaged. The ticket included a really interesting guided tour and cruise around the area. We were glad we visited.

Tessellated Pavement

This was a place that we were told about by the owners of Sorrel Barracks described as, “nothing that you will see anywhere else”. They were right, the Tesselated Pavement is an extremely rare natural formation only being found a few places on Earth.

The Tessellated Pavement is a unique geological formation made up of a relatively flat rock surface that has been naturally subdivided into, more or less, regular rectangle blocks. These rocks have been fractured by the movement of the earth and have been eroded by the waves and sediment of the Tasman Sea. The result is what looks to be a man made structure but that is completely natural.

The most well known example of a tassellated pavement is the one we visited, found at Eaglehawk Neck on the shore of Pirates Bay found on the Tasman Paninsula.

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Driving from Hobart to Launceston (stopping in Ross)

We were really lucky to have Daniel’s step sister Carly and her partner, John, living in Launceston, to stay with. We made the now ‘short’ drive to us (a mere 201km) up from Hobart after spending the morning seeing more of the city. 

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We made a short stop in a historic village called Ross, where we had some lunch and stretched our legs. 

Our stay with Carly and John

We arrived in Launceston late afternoon and were met by Carly and John, who drove us back to their house. It was great to see them and to meet lots of their animals back at their place. They have dogs, chickens, goats, cats, ferrets and then visiting black cockatoos, possums and pademelons, which are small wallabies, plus the occasional other animal – you just never know in Australia!

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We spent the next few days at the house as Lauren was feeling under the weather and needed some recovery time. So we relaxed watched a bit of TV and caught up with Carly as it had been around three years since we last saw her. During the day, we had a proper look around the property, met the goats – Albert and Arthur, saw one of the two cats as Wuan was very nervous around new people, and saw loads of chickens. It was really fun exploring the land around their house as it felt like proper Australian bush – just awesome!

We were also taken off road around their property, which was 20 acres, in the ute (a 4×4 truck), which was a very bouncy ride ploughing over and through trees, bushes and even rocks. We couldn’t believe what the car could handle and how high up we reached. It was like driving up a steep forest. Daniel also had a go driving the ute, which he very much enjoyed!

Bridestowe Lavender Estate 

The next day, Carly suggested that we visit the Bridestowe Lavender Estate, this was somewhere that we had heard about and read that it was very picturesque. It didn’t take long for us to arrive and we weren’t disappointed with the views across the vast lavender fields. The only problem we encountered was that we were not alone and that the fields are now a very popular tourist destination in Tasmania. We had fun wandering amongst the lavender. Interestingly the smell of lavender wasn’t as overpowering as you might expect from being surrounded by it and you were able to purchase pretty much anything related to lavender from the estates shop. 

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Cataract Gorge 

Cataract Gorge was right near the centre of Launceston and a beautiful place to visit. However, we instantly noticed a giant Buddha like inflatable in the middle of the Gorge when we arrived, which kind of spoilt the natural setting. From the suspension bridge and walking area the statue was also facing the other way, which meant you just had a view of his backside the whole time. Apparently it was there as part of a festival around the city and linked to meditation – we weren’t very impressed to say the least. 

They also had the ‘worlds longest single chairlift span’, which with a title like that we just had to go on… 

Fairy Penguins at Low Head  

Something we were very excited about was seeing Little Penguins, also known as Fairy Penguins. They are known by this name because even when fully grown they weigh only 1kg and grow up to 30cm high. We waited for sunset and to see them swimming up from the sea after a day of fishing and then making their way across the beach. We weren’t sure how close the penguins would come but were so happy that they waddled past us a few times really close. We also saw them coming up to the rookery area to feed their chicks, which was amazing to see. It was very difficult to not sneak one (or a family) home with us – they were just so cute! 

Cradle Mountain

We hired a car to make the drive to one of, if not the most popular spot in Tasmania, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. We parked up and got the shuttle bus to Ronny Creek in the hope of seeing a wombat…and we did! It was right by the boardwalk and was just munching happily on the grass by the side. We were very happy to have seen one of these cute and fluffy creatures! 

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We carried on our walk to Dove Lake, which is the most iconic part of the National Park and where you can see Cradle Mountain. 

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Surprisingly, we saw thunder and lightning and it began to rain. So, we took cover in the interpretation centre for a while and took on some of the smaller walks. Then we went back to Dove Lake a little later when it was sunnier and enjoyed spending a bit more time there admiring the view. 

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Final thoughts

We loved our time in Tasmania and all the things we did. It was a beautiful place with wonderful scenery and did remind us of England. Unfortunately, Lauren’s illness affected our trip a little in terms of things we did but we still managed to see lots and have a great time.

We absolutely loved staying with Carly and John and getting to know them better and hearing lots of John’s stories. It was also great for us to be living with all the animals especially the dogs, Betty and Judy, and we thoroughly enjoyed the evenings where lots of pademelons would come to the house to be fed carrots and apples – a wonderful experience. We felt sad when it was time to leave.

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Daniel’s favourite thing – Spending time with Carly, John and all of their animals

Lauren’s favourite thing – Staying with Carly and John and seeing all the fairy penguins coming up from the sea along the beach

So that’s it for Tasmania and now to back to the mainland and to Melbourne…

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Road Trip – Sydney to Melbourne (to fly to Tasmania) (1,237km)

Day 1 – Sydney to Kiama

We left the Blue Mountains in Sydney on what was one of the hottest days we had encountered so far, being around mid 30 degrees. We arrived in Kiama that evening and to our Airbnb place, which was a private space on the ground floor of someone’s house called the ‘Sea Temple’. The place was really high up and had incredible views over the coast and hills. 

Kiama was a cute little coastal town with some very old looking building, including the police station and court house. 

We covered approximately 113km.

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Day 2 – Kiama to Bega, with stops in Pebbly Beach and Mills Bay

We enjoyed our breakfast that came with the room and then made our way to the Kiama Blowhole, which is a rock formation on the coast that forms a hole where the waves crash into being blown through by the wind and up into the air. We weren’t very lucky with the wind as it was a calm day but we still caught a few awesome ‘blows’!

Then we began making our way to Pebbly Beach where we had read was a great spot for spotting kangaroos by the beach. We did see some and manage to get close, they were a lot friendlier than the last grumpy one we encountered, while we were staying on Straddie! We also saw two goanas strolling by, one when we arrived and the other when we had our lunch at one of the picnic areas. 

We then continued on our way, next stopping at Mills Bay Boardwalk near Narooma. It was a nice walk around the bay to stretch our legs before the final leg of our journey that day. Lastly, we arrived at Bega, which we were not very impressed by. It was a very old town, with next to nothing going on. Well, except a cheese heritage factory they seemed to be very proud of…not really something we were interested in! We wandered around the dead town looking for dinner and without much enthusiasm with the lack of choice settled on a Chinese restaurant, where we actually had a surprisingly good meal, so at least that was something. 

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We travelled approximately 304km.

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Day 3 – Bega to Bairnsdale, with a stop in Lakes Entrance

After a terrible nights sleep at our motel we made a very early start to Lakes Entrance. It was a gorgeous place where the lake leads into the sea and you can see the entrance point of this. It was very busy with lots of families enjoying their seaside holidays. We enjoyed walking around the lakes and on the impressive 90 mile beach. 

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After lunch we played a round of mini golf, which was unlike one we had played before. Part of the course involved mechanical instruments that sent your ball around different ways, so there was some luck involved, which meant that Daniel claimed victory!

We really enjoyed the 18 hole course, however by the 15/16th hole we were really struggling with the heat and when we made it back to the car to see the thermometer reading 43 degrees we understood why! We knew it was going to be a hot day but we didn’t realise how hot.

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We then drove on to Bairnsdale where we were staying for the night and retreated to our air-conned room for a couple of hours. Even when we headed out again at around 6pm, it was still 38 degrees. This was the hottest temperature either of us had ever experienced and for someone who is always cold Lauren actually admitted that it was too hot!

We drove approximately 326km.

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 Day 4 – Bairnsdale to Foster

After a much better nights sleep we woke up feeling refreshed and surprised to see that after it being 44 degrees yesterday, it was 18 degrees! We had heard of the big changes in the weather in Victoria State but we couldn’t believe it was less that half of the temperature a day later. It was pretty welcomed though and one of the very few times so far that we wore trousers and even a hoody! 

We had a lovely breakfast in Bairnsdale and then made our way to Foster. We had planned to do some walks around Wilson’s Promontory but it was later than we planned to arrive and it had started to rain quite a lot so instead we decided to check in to our hotel in Foster (about an hour away) and spend the afternoon there. We were staying at The Prom Country Lodge, which was a lovely hotel whereby we saw our first big spider; a huntsman, but luckily not as big as they can get!

Foster was a nice place, although not with much going on. We tried to find something to do for a few hours without much luck, so we had a walk around the small town and a park before having a delicious dinner at Foster Exchange Hotel.

We covered approximately 192km, so a slight shorter day of driving.

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Day 5 – Foster to Frankston, including Wilson’s Promontory

Our day started nice and early heading to Wilson’s Promontory. The National Park is the most Southernly point of mainland Australia and absolutely beautiful. We were driving through just after sunrise, which meant it looked even more spectacular and we caught sight of a big mob of kangaroos on a field we drove by – seeing kangaroos in the wild was still a novelty to us.

First we had a mountain to climb, we arrived at the foot of Mount Oberon excited to tackle the 3.4km ascent of 549m. When we made it to the top and felt a real sense of accomplishment and we were awarded by some astonishing views across the sea.

32f26087-609a-44cc-8690-2375e58a16dd After our tiring start to the day we then drove about 10 minutes to Squeaky Beach – a beach that actually squeaks when you walk on it, we had a lot of fun testing this out!

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7cc1bffa-385c-4013-9940-3fb805368adfLastly, we went on the Wildlife Walk and spotted one single kangaroo, so it wasn’t the most successful wildlife walk but as we were hitting around midday by this point it wasn’t the best time for the animals to be active, but we knew they must have been around somewhere because of the mob that we saw in the morning. 

We really loved Wilson’s Promontory and both said how much we would like to go back there and stay for at least a few days, which would mean we could be there for sunrise and sunsets and to complete many more of the incredible walks in the area. 

We arrived at our motel in Frankston and relaxed for a couple of hours before making our way to the Moonlit Sanctuary for a night time animal guided tour. The tour began, unexpectedly, with the opportunity to hold a carpet python. With some nerves Lauren did this first and was ‘kissed’ by the Python, which was a little scary. 

Then we headed into the sanctuary with lanterns. It was still pretty light to begin with so we didn’t need them to start with but by about halfway round it was pitch black. Firstly, we went to feed some Eastern Grey Kangaroos – yep, more kangaroos! During the tour we saw possums, koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, pademelons, spotted quolls, dingoes, wombats, Tasmanian devils and owls. We had the chance to feed some gliders nectar from a repurposed bottle cap on a stick, the gliders were clearly used to this as they held on to it and there was no sign of them letting go until all of the nectar was finished.  

It was a great experience to be so close to all the nocturnal animals and to feed, hold and stroke so many. Our best day of the road trip by far!

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Including a drive south to The Prom we drove approximately 222km.

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Day 6 – Frankston to Melbourne Airport to fly to Hobart, Tasmania

The last day of our trip was a very uneventful one, waking up in Frankston and going for a walk around the town to the beach and on the pier. 

We had lunch near the pier before heading to Melbourne Airport to board our flight to Tasmania. After days of little or non existent internet we were, shamefully, pretty excited to spend a few hours sat at the airport finishing our blog for Sydney and uploading pictures.

Our final day was an easy 80km to reach the airport and on to Tasmania!

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Final thoughts

We managed to pack a lot into this road trip from meeting some wild kangaroos at Pebbly Beach, climbing 500 plus meters to the summit of a mountain, visiting a sanctuary armed with solar powered lanterns to feed some nocturnal animals, and a bit of crazy golf thrown in for good measure. We also experienced our hottest and coldest days of our travels to date, one after the other in true Victoria style.

Overall, we fell as though the road trip was a mixed bag with lots of great experiences, but unfortunately some of our accommodation and places we decided to stay weren’t as good as we hoped. Despite this we both had fun on the journey to Melbourne, but we were happy to get on the airplane heading to Hobart, Tasmania.

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Daniel’s favourite thing – Reaching the summit of Mount Oberon and being rewarded with such an awesome view

Lauren’s favourite thing – Meeting all the nocturnal animal at the Moonlit Sanctuary 

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Sydney, New South Wales

We had really high hopes for our time in Sydney and were really excited to be spending Christmas and New Years there.

Our first Airbnb was in a place called North Balgowlah, which is in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney. It was a spectacular area filled with many million dollar houses and beautiful streets. The house we were staying in was no exception to this. It was a huge open plan house with five bedrooms. We loved it and we stayed in a great travel inspired room, with private bathroom and use of all the shared areas of the house. Our host Rob was such a lovely person who gave us so many great tips for the area, showed us around, took us snorkelling, and was really interesting to talk to and spend time with. She lived there with her daughter who was equally as lovely. We really felt we would miss them when we left.

The second place we stayed in was in Annandale, which was a short 15-20 minute bus ride into the city. It was a studio flat, which seemed pretty small after being in a big house, and on the hotter days which were between 32 and 35 degrees it wasn’t very comfortable without aircon!

City highlights

For our first day we headed to the centre, without really having a plan, except to sightsee, which was rare for us normally knowing what we wanted to see and do in a day, or at least having a vague idea. 

We did know that we wanted to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House and once we did later on that day, we both had a real sense of, ‘Wow, we’re in Sydney, Australia’. 

We first went to St Mary’s Cathedral and walked inside, it was very impressive. 

 Then we spotted Hyde Park, where we went for a walk and were very excited to hear a local musician playing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer on keyboard. We were determined to get into the Christmas spirit as much as we could, trying to look past the fact that it felt like the middle of summer! 

Next, we came across The Queen Victoria Building and thought we should have a look inside – I’m sure the Aussies are more passionate about our British royalty than we are… they even have a public holiday (a day off work) for the Queen’s birthday, which we don’t in England. Inside we found lots of shops, a ginormous Christmas tree and a school group singing Christmas carols – we were definitely beginning to get into the Christmas spirit.

Prior to arriving in Sydney, we had heard about Mrs Macquarie Chair as something to go and see, which was a chair built by the Governor at the times’ workers for his wife as she enjoyed looking out to sea from there. A bit of a underwhelming point of interest to visit, but then I don’t know what we were expecting from a chair! 

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You walked through The Botanical Gardens to get to the chair and through these gardens we got the first views of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Truth be told, we were a little underwhelmed by the Sydney Opera House at first glance but once we got closer it was more what we imagined and was pretty spectacular to see and to walk around. We decided to have a drink in the Opera Bar, which was really special and one of those times we really had to stop to take in and where we were and what we were experiencing. 

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Lastly, we grabbed some Opal cards (similar to Oyster cards) and caught the iconic Sydney to Manly ferry. The views were great and we managed to get a seat right at the top of the ferry. Although, it had turned into quite a windy day by that point and being sat at the top was very blustery. 

Art galleries

We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, The Art Gallery of New South Wales and White Rabbit Gallery (a recommendation from our hosts). They were all really interesting and in particular the Masters of Modern Art exhibition at The Art Gallery of New South Wales was a highlight, as it featured many of Lauren’s favourite artists. We also really enjoyed the White Rabbit Gallery, which has the largest collection of Chinese art outside of China. It was contemporary and very thought provoking and we enjoyed the traditional Chinese tea room there.

The Australian National Maritime Museum

We were keen to visit this museum after discovering part of the ticket allowed you to explore some vessels including a submarine and a replica of the famous Endeavour (Captain Cook’s ship he discovered Australia in). Being on board the ships was really fun and we learnt a lot about the conditions living on board from some friendly volunteers and ex submariners.

We were also interested in seeing the James Cameron exhibition and film about his journey to the deepest part of the ocean – Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, which is seven miles below the surface. The exhibition and film were both really interesting.

The Pylon Lookout

After deciding against doing the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, as it was just too expensive for what we thought it was worth, we found out, whilst eavesdropping on a couple in a cafe one afternoon, about the Pylon Lookout. You climbed 200 steps to the top of the pylon, which was part of the bridge, and it gave the same views as the Harbour Bridge over Sydney, just not as high. We thought it was brilliant and well worth the $15 entry fee.

Manly

Manly has been one of our favourite areas of Australia so far. It is a wonderful beach town, with lots of great beaches, markets, the Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve, the harbour with restaurants and bars overlooking the water and just a great feel to it. We enjoyed walking around here many times, relaxing on the beaches, surfing, eating, drinking and snorkelling. Plus the ferry from the city (or to the city) was a fantastic experience.

Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve

On our second morning we were invited out by our host to go snorkelling at a place called Cabbage Tree Bay, where she is a volunteer and snorkels regularly. It was a gorgeous area. The water was a little choppy and murky, and cold (for Lauren), but it was a great experience. We saw a variety of fish including groupers, millets and a catfish. After a refreshing swim we enjoyed a coffee overlooking the water and getting to know our host even more. She also really kindly took us on a scenic drive around the Manly area including North Head, where we stopped to check out one of the best views of Sydney. A perfect way to start the day. 

We went back to Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve to go snorkelling on another two afternoons, both times to Shelly Beach. There were so many interesting fish and we went back home and used our hosts guidebook (the first time), which enabled us to identify a Blue Grouper, Maori Wrasse, Silver Bream, Luderick, Goatfish, Black Rock Cod, and then what we’re pretty sure was a young Wobbegong Shark, which is really exciting as you don’t see them very often! 

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Manly Dam

Manly Dam was a 10 minute walk away from where we were staying in North Balgowlah and we set off on a cooler afternoon, with binoculars we’d borrowed from our host, ready to take on the 8km walk around the Dam. As we were leaving we were given advice about the snakes we may encounter, which made us a little wary before heading off. Even though we had walked around quite a few rainforests since being in Australia, this felt like our first proper bush walking experience. 

The path felt pretty untraveled with some parts being overgrown and with the knowledge of lots of snakes in the area, it felt like quite a big undertaking. The path was pretty uneven and steep in parts and we were definitely looking everywhere we stepped! We didn’t see any snakes though, just lots of lizards, water dragons, birds and a wallaby. Another good walk in Australia, we were starting to feel like more and more experienced Aussie walkers by the day.

North Head

After a failed attempt at hiring bikes, as the only hire shop in Manly just decided not to open one Sunday, we walked around North Head but decided against the walk up opting for a bus, where we then walked around the area and tackled the much easier walk back down via another seemingly untraveled route which required us climbing through a hole in a wall, this route eventually lead to Shelly Beach. 

North Head was a gorgeous area and we particularly enjoyed having a drink at the top with a view across the city. Although the day that we did this there was a very strange sea fog across Sydney, which even the locals were surprised by. It was an interesting thing to witness. It was still there when we went snorkelling later that afternoon and made the experience quite eerie. 

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Surfing at Manly Surf School

We thought that while we were in Australia we should have a go at surfing and decided to book a two hour lesson at Manly Beach. After a pretty quick demonstration we were in the water catching waves laying on our boards and riding them to the shore, which was really fun and I think gave us a bit of a false sense of security as to how easy it would be to ride the waves standing up… a completely different ball game! Although by the end of the lesson and after many failed attempts we both managed to stand up on our boards and ‘surf’ a few times! We had a blast doing this and may give it another go in the future. 

Spit Bridge to Manly Scenic Walk

We set off for the scenic walk early one morning. It wasn’t the best morning as it was quite cloudy and grey but this did make it cooler than walking in the sun. It was a tougher walk than we expected. Our walks seemed to be getting further and further – this one being over 9km. It took us just under three hours to walk the coastal route to Manly, where we ended at Manly Wharf feeling pretty accomplished. The coastal route lead us to a number of beaches that were only accessible on foot and despite the grey day still looked amazing. We really enjoyed this hike but were very happy when we reached the end and could enjoy some lunch and a drink. 

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Christmas in Sydney

Darling Quarter Open Air Cinema

The Darling Quarter in Sydney had a range of Christmas events, which involved four days of Christmas films showings in an outdoor cinema for free. They showed two every evening and we were very surprised to show up to find big bean bags to sit on to watch the films. We first went to try and watch Santa Claus on the 20th December but after a huge thunderstorm started that afternoon, which seemed to be becoming a regular occurrence during our first couple of weeks in Sydney, the event was cancelled. We tried again the following evening, with better luck, and watched The Grinch. We grabbed two comfy bean bags and some Mexican food and sat eating whilst watching the film – it was great!

St Mary’s Cathedral Christmas Story

St Mary’s Cathedral was a stunning building we had visited on our first day and we went back to watch the Christmas light show, which was a Christmas story being told and projected onto the cathedral. It was nice to watch but we were surprised to find that the ten minute story just repeated over and over again for the night from 8:30pm until 12am. We went back another evening, as we were in the area, to see if they did a different story but it was the same one again – we felt sorry for the workers there who had to sit through the same ten minute story for over three hours every evening for 20 days! 

Carols in the Domain

We put on our Christmas hats on December 22nd and made our way to The Domain for Australia’s largest Christmas event, which is broadcasted across Australia. It was huge and we couldn’t believe how many people were there when we arrived. It was an entertainment evening featuring lots of music acts performing the classic Christmas hits and carols. The only people on the list we recognised, embarrassingly, were ‘The Wiggles’. We walked around and made the most of all the free goodies being handed out, including cans of Coke and Cadburys chocolates, and then found a spot and made ourselves comfortable for the evening. It was pretty good, a little slow at the beginning, but it was nice to get into the Christmas spirit a bit more. 

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Coogee to Bondi Beach Coastal Walk

We set off a couple of days before Christmas for one of the top things to do in Sydney, which is the 6km walk along part of Sydney’s coast, either beginning or ending at the iconic Bondi Beach. We chose to end there as we thought we could then spend the rest of the afternoon there. It was a beautiful walk and after lots of rain and thunderstorms we had been having, it was a lovely sunny day. We started at Coogee, then walked through Gordons Bay, Tamarama, Bronte and finally Bondi. We finished in Bondi and enjoyed lunch by the beach and had a wander around the area. We felt really excited to go back there a few days later for our Christmas beach day.

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Icebergs Swimming Pool 

This was a salt water swimming pool right on Bondi Coast with a view overlooking the sea and beach. It was extremely popular, probably partly due to the fact we went in the school holidays a few days after Christmas and we arrived about 11am. It wasn’t too busy in the pool, we easily had space to swim, we just struggled to find somewhere to lie/sit. 

Christmas Day on Bondi Beach

A very strange Christmas Day, waking up without a tree and presents, but instead getting our swimwear and Christmas hats on and heading straight to a beach. We decided on the iconic Bondi Beach for our Christmas and joined thousands of others to soak up the sun and swim in the sea. As we didn’t want to cook the traditional turkey, we instead opted for turkey rolls on the beach. Followed by a BBQ back at our apartment on the balcony. A very different Christmas Day experience!

Boxing Day at North Sydney Olympic Pool

This was something we really wanted to do in Sydney as it was located under/next to the Harbour Bridge – you had a great view! The pool was really big with seating areas in the sun too, we had a great afternoon swimming some laps and it was cool to think of the Olympians that had trained and made records there.

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Lentil as Anything

We wanted to go to this restaurant as it was set up as a non-profit organisation where you pay ‘whatever you can’ for your meal. They have a selection of about four meals you chose from and a desert everyday for lunch and dinner and you pay anonymously when you leave. They also promote the option of people volunteering in different ways as a way to pay for the meal. It is completely run by volunteers and a very popular place. There was a queue whilst we were there, which is not uncommon. It was nice to support a place like that and the food was pretty good too. 

New Years Eve

After lots of research and discussions we decided to spend our New Years at Luna Park.

We had read that to go anywhere free you needed to be there early morning on the day and we just weren’t prepared to sit/stand for over 12 hours to get a good view of the fireworks. So we decided, especially as we had decided against climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, that we would spend out for a VIP ticket to the Luna Park event, which promised uninterrupted views of the fireworks, Harbour Bridge and Opera House…and it was completely worth it!

We had an amazing night and had incredible views for the fireworks and a clear view of both the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. The fireworks were spectacular and we also had such a fun evening at Luna Park, which is an old style fairground/theme park. There were lots of rides we went on, including a Ferris wheel, dodgems, the tango train, slides and a fun house. The music and atmosphere were great and we felt very lucky to be seeing in 2019 in such an iconic place with each other.

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Blue Mountains

Through some bad planning we ended up wanting to visit the Blue Mountains (one of Sydneys top attractions) at the busiest time of the year- the school holidays and tourist period between Christmas Day and New Years. Subsequently, we ended up having to book tickets on January 2nd, still in the busiest period, and the day we were leaving Sydney to begin our road trip down to Melbourne. This meant a very early start to collect our hire car and to then fit in the day before heading to Kiama, three hours away. 

We decided to visit the Blue Mountains via the very popular option of Scenic World, which is made up of three rides that take you to the main areas of the mountains and give you incredible views across the area whilst travelling. On one of the trips we were told that despite being able to see for miles and miles we could actually only see approximately 2% of the national park that makes up the Blue Mountains, which were also compared to the size of 14 Singapores, which gives you an idea just how big the National park is. We arrived for opening time and luckily beat some of the crowds, but hardly as it was extremely busy. 

First, we travelled on the Skyway which is a cable car that takes you across Jamison Valley with views of the main star of the Blue Mountains, ‘The Three Sisters’ and on to Echo Point and Katoomba Cascades and Falls. The mountains looked amazing and are called the Blue Mountains because they actually look blue, which is apparently from a mix of the eucalyptus oil from the trees, dust and water vapour and how the light reflects off this combination. The views were simply stunning.

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Next, we excitedly climbed aboard the worlds steepest railway (52 degrees), which was really awesome to go on! The seats were also adjustable so you could maximise the incline further to 64 degrees, which we did. As obvious as it may sound, it felt so steep and almost felt like you were going down at 90 degrees and pretty quickly too. This lead us down to Jamison Valley where we walked around the boardwalks, getting pretty hot as the temperature was rising. 

Lastly, after being absolutely boiling in now well over 30 degree heat, we took the Cableway back to the main building to desperately grab a cold drink, before making our way to Kiama mid afternoon.

Final thoughts

Overall we loved Sydney, it was the first place that had everything, in regards to it being an exciting, busy city and it had the gorgeous coast and lots of beaches and wildlife. The weather wasn’t great for the first couple of weeks with lots of rain and thunderstorms, which did affect our plans. We also experienced the worst hailstorm the city had seen for 20 years. But we did then enjoy just under two weeks of amazingly hot and sunny weather and for Christmas time.

We absolutely loved Manly and the Northern Beaches area and we loved our first stay with Rob and Sophie. It was great in our second place to be so near to the city with frequent buses every few minutes and everywhere being easy and quite quick to get to.

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Lauren’s favourite thing – New Year’s Eve at Luna Park

Daniel’s favourite thing – Snorkelling at Cabbage Tree Bay

So that’s it for Sydney and hitting the road for Victoria, Melbourne to catch our flight to Hobart, Tasmania…