I just got back from what had to be one of the best vacations ever, visiting my friend Laura B. Vary in Australia. I started by flying into Gold Coast Airport, near Brisbane, on Christmas eve. Laura picked me up and we walked around Brisbane a little bit, then went to her cousin’s family’s house for Christmas. Her cousin is American, his wife’s parents and brothers are all from New Zealand, and the brothers are married to Australians, so it was a very multi-cultural Christmas. Her cousin’s kids were just about the cutest, most thoughtful and polite children I have ever met:
Tatum, 16 months (who was mesmerized by her Elmo toy)
Mackenzie, 7 years old, who later that day painted my fingernails with her new beauty kit
And Hunter (9 years old) and Kingston (4 years old)
I bought little toys from Indonesia for each kid, and they all (well, the ones who could talk) seemed to make special, unprompted efforts to say thank you and play with it in my presence. This was the first Christmas I had spent with kids, you know, since I was a kid, and it was really special with kids like this. Are all kids like this?
Well, on the morning of the 26th, we packed up Laura’s rental car and headed south towards Sydney. We broke the trip into four days of 2-4 hours driving each, and stayed at some great beach towns along the way. First was Byron Bay, where we stayed in what can only be described as a hippie commune, had a relaxing afternoon at the beach, and ate incredible tapas while watching the sunset (a little tricky since this is the east coast)
This is also where I conducted a short-lived experiment with the “Australian Surfer Girl” Hairdo:
The next day, we moved on to Coffs Harbor, a town that mystified us. People had told us that is was a really nice, touristy town, but after Byron Bay, it just felt sleepy and run down. We redeemed it, though, by having delicious fish and chips on the harbor pier.
Then we walked past the pier, on a breakwater to Muttonbird Island, where thousands of Muttonbirds come to nest underground. After the walk, I understand why they have to nest underground – it was windy like I have never seen wind before. If there had been children with me I literally would have worried about them blowing away. Laura wished she had worn a skirt with fewer of the properties of a kite.
Then we moved on to Port Macquarie, where I got to see my first Koala up close and personal at a Koala Hospital. Laura had described them to me as “walking stuffed animals,” and they totally lived up. So darn cute!
We had a beautiful beachside picnic in Port Macquarie, then spent the afternoon at the beach (again, very windy).
That night, we walked around town, and had drinks/tapas at several nice places, most with views like this one behind Laura.
The next day, we moved on to Newcastle, the second-largest town (behind Sydney) in the state of New South Wales. It was pretty empty this week, though, with everyone off work and out of town. We took another breakwater promenade to the end of another (former) island.
Then we walked all over town trying to decide on the best place to eat. We decided on the Customs House, and we both had amazing burgers. Then, Laura made the mistake of sending me inside to order one dessert for us to share. Oops, looks like two desserts came out. Darn.
On our way out of Newcastle, we decided to get one last wildlife fix before heading to Sydney. We went to a wildlife reserve, where we felt a little threatened by the peacocks walking around the place like they owned it.
And saw more adorable koalas. I dare you not to love them.
And I got to see my first kangaroo!
Then, we headed to Sydney, and decided to start it out right by going for drinks at the Sydney Tower, in their 360 degree-rotating bar.
There’s the tower the next day! (We picked the right day to go, I think)
We ended up at the Sydney waterfront that night (maybe on a little champagne high) and decided to get the “Chocolate Indulgence” platter at Guerlain’s restaurant. I believe that was the last time we ate dessert for the trip. Probably enough dessert had been eaten for a year over the previous 48 hours.
The next day, we walked all around Surrey Hills, King’s Cross, Darlinghurst, and the Harbour area, and decided to reward ourselves with one of Harry’s Cafe de Wheel’s famous “tiger” pies. in Australia, pies are always savory, with vegetables or meat inside, rather than sweet. The “Tiger” came with mashed peas, potatoes, and gravy on top. It was amazing!
The next night was New Years. We had Indian for dinner, then walked around the neighborhood we were staying (which was a little removed from downtown Sydney, but still on the water) to find a good spot to watch the fireworks. We saw a couple of parks that were full of teenagers trying to drink illegally, which would have been fine, but then Laura came across a little alleyway. The alleyway led to a set of stairs that basically dead ended into the harbor. It was a public access point for an underwater cable, about 6 feet across, and Laura and I sat right there, our feet dangling over the water. We were joined later by a group of friendly Australians who had come across the same spot 7 years ago and had come back ever since. They said that every year, a few tourists managed to find it, and they were happy to share their spot and their snacks with us. I knew the fireworks were going to be good, but that was the understatement of the year (of 2011, that is. 2012’s understatement remains to be made). There were 6 barges in the harbor, and each let loose an identical fireworks display. One alone was way better than any fireworks I have ever seen in my life before. In fact, they made me feel like the fireworks I had seen in the past weren’t even fireworks. Plus, they had fireworks coming out of the Sydney Harbor Bridge! It was amaaaaaaazing and these photos can’t begin to do it justice.
Here’s us at our spot. You can’t really see, but that’s the harbor right behind us.
And then it was basically time to go home, after an amazing trip. A friend asked what the favorite part of the trip was, and (with the obvious exception of the fireworks) I couldn’t begin to choose only one. Everything was amazing. But it was especially nice to be more or less back in my own culture. I was nice being able to blend in and not always attract hoards of cell-phone-toting adolescents who want their picture with me. It was nice to just be able to speak English. It was nice to escape from the many things that make daily life in Indonesia really fun and exciting but also really exhausting. I needed a break, but now I am ready for 2012 in Indonesia! There are so many good things ahead of me this year!