When we figured out that selling and delivering Dosia would afford us a trip to see Australia we were quick to make a plan to fit as much of the country in as possible. There were things we didn’t really care about like Ayers Rock (it’s basically a bigger limestone version of our granite rock in Stone Mountain, GA) and there were things we really wanted to see but wouldn’t have time for like Northern Queensland, salt water crocs in the wild, and the Great Barrier Reef. We settled on the self-drive tour from Brisbane to Melbourne.
We left Brisbane and drove directly to the Gold Coast/Surfer’s Paradise area where we were absolutely blown away by the development and tourism. This place is Myrtle Beach on crack. It’s street after street of shops and restaurants and hotels. There are hordes of Japanese and Chinese tourists unloading off buses and plenty of Aussie families dotted throughout the crowd. Every leftover spot is filled with the teenagers and twenty-somethings who seem to flock here to work and live in the summer. After a month of relative calm in NZ and nine days of nothing on the Tasman Sea, we were ready to be with a crowd. Had the torrential rains not started during our overnighter in Surfer’s Paradise, I’m sure we would have spent one more night there but as luck would have it, we arrived during the season’s first quality rainstorm which made walking the streets and sitting in the sidewalk cafes a little awkward. We drove out the next day and headed south.
We stopped for lunch in Coolangatta, a place where, looking back, we would have enjoyed spending the night. It was a small upscale beach community packed with surfers of all ages. Surfing here in Australia is not the young man’s sport it was back in Tahiti last year. Sixty and Seventy year old have no problem walking the beach in their board shorts waiting for the next set.
From Coolangatta we continued south to Byron Bay which is known as a backpacker/surfer/hippie hangout. From the second we pulled into town, I knew it was going to be the type of place we’d enjoy. Barely a person over 32 (the cutoff in my mind since that’s almost my age) wandered the streets and even though the rain continued, the beach was packed and the bars were full. We found ourselves a room at the Lord Byron Resort which was hilarious since it was neither a place of “resort quality” or “lordly” in any sense of the word but it sufficed and we settled in. Our first night we found our way to a restaurant called St. Elmo’s and ended up having the most amazing meal we’ve had anywhere across the entire Pacific Ocean. This appears to be a continuing theme throughout our time in Australia. Pork belly, Zuchini fries, scallops…the tapas menu in this place was out of control but the quality of the food was thoroughly controlled. The next day we somehow managed three hours of sunlight in which to walk the beach, check out the surfers, and quickly discover that Oz is not a place where topless sunbathing is discouraged.
Our next stop coming down the coast was Coffs Harbour. I wouldn’t exactly describe this as the most interesting spot in the country. When you open up the tourist guide and the first thing you read about is The Big Banana Ice Skating Rink you know you aren’t visiting the entertainment capital of Australia. But we managed to locate a beautiful apartment for rent overlooking the harbor and the Tasman Sea beyond and I made an amazing dinner of pork chops and asparagus which we enjoyed on the porch.
After our stop in Coffs Harbour, we decided Sydney was calling to us and blew through both Port Macquarie and Newcastle on our way there. It’s nothing against these two cities, which were both on our list to visit, but we were beckoned by the capital city with it’s gorgeous harbor and plentiful restaurants. We went straight to the hotel I had booked for the following night and announced we’d arrived early. They promptly announced that our rate wouldn’t be near as kind but they did have space. The Citigate was a decent find. It was located at the far end of George Street which is great if you’re looking to walk. Everyday for four days we ventured down this street into the downtown area where Margie shopped till she literally dropped. Seriously, everyday we were back in bed by 10:30 pm except on Saturday when we were forced to leave the city because the combination of Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, and, believe it or not, a Taylor Swift concert, overtook ALL the available hotel rooms in the city! That night we ended up staying in a TRAILER near Cronulla. Yes, a trailer. It was sold as “a cabin” but was clearly a trailer in the midst of an actual Australian tralier park. That’s all we could find after 6 hours of driving around looking for a place though I have to admit, it was brand new and not half bad for the $99 AUD we paid. However, the movie Valentines Day we went to see that evening wasn’t worth the free parking at the theater. Who the hell is Taylor Swift and why is she in a movie?
Sydney was interesting. It was busy and bustling but not overwhelming. The food was outstanding and I would like to hire a Sky Writer to publicize our support for a food court, made-to-order salad joint called Hero Salads. It was the most amazing salad I’ve ever eaten and we spent literally hours trying to locate it for a second meal before leaving Sydney. It seems the labyrinth of underground shopping malls and eateries has thrown off my internal GPS. Heading to Darling Harbor our last night to see Avatar in the iMax, we inadvertently ran into the Chinese New Year fireworks display and were treated to an amazing show before an amazing show. If you haven’t seen Avatar in iMax 3D, we highly recommend it (especially on the largest iMax screen on the planet). We took in a Thai appetizers at the Opium Den and dinner at Lotus in the upscale Potts Point neighborhood which was, oddly enough, located next to Kings Cross, the Red Light District, where we stopped for drinks before catching a cab home. We visted The Rocks, the Opera House, took a ferry through Sydney harbor, and basically experienced everything we should experience in the Southern hemispere’s self-proclaimed “greatest city.” It was an amazing time but left us with a “this is it?” feeling as we drove south along the Princes Highway towards Melbourne. If only we knew. Everyone says it. “Skip Sydney bro…head straight for Melbourne.” Now we know. Melbourne has made my list. It’s one of the most cosmopolitan, fashion-conscious, foodie-loving, easy-walking cities I’ve ever been to. And I love it. It’s topping a new blog post I’m writing called my “Top 5 Places I’d Live Outside the States.” It’s well-deserving and I can, without hestation, recommend Melbourne, Australia to anyone headed this direction. Stay tuned.