We've been saving for this Australia trip for a couple of years now, and it's crazy that it has already come and gone. Neither of us had ever left the US before, so we had no idea what to expect, but it was an absolute blast! There are kind people everywhere. And there are so many interesting things to experience. The world is truly incredible. God is SO good, and His Creation is BEAUTIFUL!
We arrived in Sydney, Australia at 6:15am Saturday, May 31st. We flew out of DFW at 5:30pm Thursday, May 29th, and completely skipped Friday the 30th altogether. That is so weird! After around a 15 hour flight from LAX, and taking about an hour to get through the customs line, we grabbed a cab to our hotel. But, our room wasn't quite ready, so we left our luggage and explored the city a little bit. It reminded us a lot of New York or Chicago -- lots of diversity, tall buildings, traffic, convenience stores, etc. Interestingly enough, no bugs! It was also so difficult for us to get used to passing on the left, rather than the right. We were constantly running into people that were walking the other direction... silly Americans...
Finally, we got to unpack and shower! This was our hotel room, technically considered an apartment.
Now you may or may not know this about me (Casey), but I am an extreme planner. I spent the months after purchasing tickets researching every last possible detail, and creating a binder that included flight info, maps, bus and train lines, various fees, recommended restaurants, planned activities, common Australian phrases/lingo, weather forecasts, etc. So naturally, upon arrival, we decided to flip-flop that schedule around and go check out the Sydney Opera House that first night. The Opera House was located just a few blocks from our hotel, at Circular Quay (pronounced "key"), one of the major bus, train, and ferry stations in Sydney. It was a really neat place, with lots of shops and restaurants close by.
This is the Circular Quay Wharf, where the ferries came in and out of -- above that is the train station, and then behind that on the street was the bus stop. Our hotel was a few blocks back.
With Circular Quay directly behind us, the Opera House was on our right, and the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge was to the left. (If you are in need of thousands of pictures of the Opera House or Sydney Bridge, from every possible angle, we have them...)
We got to tour the Opera House as well. This was fascinating! They created a contest for the design of the building. This design was the only one that placed the two separate auditoriums side by side, rather than one in front of the other. The architect that won estimated the project would take about 3 years and $7 million to complete. It ended up taking about 16 years and $102 million.
The tour guide reiterated multiple times that they no longer allowed pictures to be taken inside of the auditoriums because of social media........ Soooo Cory snuck this video of James Vincent McMorrow and his band doing their sound check. (Don't tell!)
In the other auditorium, the Sydney Orchestra was rehearsing -- absolutely stunning!
Afterwards, we went to the Opera Kitchen for a "Tasting Plate" - basically a sample plate of everything on their menu.
To our wonderful surprise, we just so happened to be in Sydney during their annual Vivid Light Festival. They project lights onto the "sails" of the Opera House, a couple of the historic buildings around Circular Quay, and at the Darling Harbor. It was really cool!
Sunday morning, we left with plenty of time to make sure we got on the right train to get to Hillsong Church. This was our first experience with public transportation, so we wanted to make sure we didn't miss anything. We walked a block from our hotel to the Wynyard train station, and took about a 45 minute train ride to the Parramatta station. The ride was actually quite nice! We got to see more of the suburban Sydney. From Parramatta, we boarded the Hillsong Shuttle bus to the main campus. The church is really beautiful! They are gearing up for their big Hillsong Conference at the beginning of July, so they had banners up EVERYWHERE. We also found out that Brian Houston takes the 6 weeks off leading up to the conference, to prepare, so there was a guest speaker -- Phil Dooley, the lead pastor at the South Africa Hillsong campus. Matt Crocker led worship, and Bobbie Houston was their "oversight" for that day. The auditorium seated about the same amount at Gateway's main campus, but the way it was laid out made it seem much smaller.
We didn't get to explore as much of the building as we would have liked, because we had to jump back on the shuttle pretty quickly. Back at Parramatta station, we decided to explore a little more before heading back to the city. They have a HUGE mall right by the station - like at least 7 stories. The only store we actually bought something from was Target. "Target." with a period, so it counted as a new experience. :)
It rained a little bit off and on this day, so when we got back to the city, we rested a bit in our room. The main way that jet lag affected us was that we woke up around 4am every morning, and started feeling really tired around 6:30 or 7pm. It was really strange, and I still haven't quite calculated why it worked out that way...
Then we decided to walk a couple of blocks to Darling Harbor to see the Vivid display that was there. This was really different because the projection wasn't on a building, but on water that was sprayed up out of the harbor. It was very cool!
Monday was our trip to the Taronga Zoo. We had to take a ferry from Circular Quay, so of course we got a thousand more photos of the Sydney Bridge and Opera House.
The zoo was across the bay on the side of a huge hill. We got to take a cable car up to the top, and then work our way down from there.
Afterwards, we shopped for some souvenirs, and had a delicious dinner at the Martin Place shopping center. We finally gave in (well, Cory finally gave in) and decided it would be alright to go to bed a little early so we could fully enjoy the next day's adventures. :)
Tuesday morning we attempted to take a bus ride, which proved to be slightly more confusing than the train ride. When we finally figured out the correct stop we needed to be at, we had just missed one of the buses that went on our route, and so we had to wait for a little while. Fortunately, we discovered that our stop was right across from Sydney's local news station, where Ellie Goulding was performing two of her songs. There was a huge crowd of people at the windows, so we joined in and got to be on Australian TV!
Check out the video here! (Cory is the one picking his nose behind the keyboard player... and then I'm the short one beside him every so often...)
Finally we boarded the right bus, which then broke down a few blocks away, so we had to get on a different bus, and eventually made it to Bondi Beach, which was across the city. This beach was beautiful! We grabbed a late breakfast at one of the beach cafes, and then were able to walk on either side of the beach where there was some beautiful cliffs. All along this coast, they have public pools that are made up entirely of ocean water!
After spending a couple of hours at the beach, we decided to walk about 30 minutes up to Bondi Junction. From there we caught a train back to Martin Place, which was a couple of blocks from our hotel. We had passed this alleyway a couple of times on our walks around the city, but we finally were able to grab some photos before we had to check out of our hotel.
After a couple of hours waiting for the shuttle to pick us up, and a couple of hours waiting at the airport, we boarded our flight for Cairns, which is about three hours north of Sydney, up the eastern coast of Australia. It was about 5 degrees hotter that it was in Sydney, and very humid - it reminded us of Florida. Our hotel was only about ten minutes away from the airport, and right on the coast, but it was too dark for us to see much. So the next morning, we awoke to such a beautiful surprise!
Cairns is such a beautiful city! We were constantly in awe of the landscape everywhere we went.
Wednesday was our snorkeling day. We were picked up early that morning and taken to the Reef Fleet Terminal, just ten minutes south of our hotel and right near the Cairns CBD (Central Business District).
SIDEBAR: As we were waiting for our taxi outside the hotel, we ran into two friends from good ole Manchester High School! How crazy is that?!?? We were bummed to never actually get to connect with them while we were there... but it's a small world afterall!!
We got checked in and boarded our boat, the Ocean Freedom. There were about 50 passengers total, some scuba diving, some snorkeling, plus the crew. 9 hours is a LONG time to be rocking on a boat! It took us about 2 hours to get out to the Great Barrier Reef. We stopped at two different locations to snorkel, and got to ride a glass-bottom boat.
We also rented an under-water camera... which was not the beeest quality, and it was pretty hard to control with all of the waves, but we got a couple of good shots of the reef. It was interesting to learn about the reef -- basically, it can only thrive under perfect circumstances, and there are certain factors that have to be in place: constant certain temperature, certain depth in the water, certain distance from the shore, certain plants growing along the shore to maintain the local wildlife, etc.
We got to talk to a lot of interesting people on our long boat rides. Most were young 20-somethings that were working and traveling around Australia, one girl from Germany, and another girl and guy from London. It was fascinating talking to them and hearing about their experiences. And they love America! We both talked later about how we wish we could have done some backpacking after college. :)
When we got back to the terminal, we grabbed some food and caught a cab back to the hotel, showered, and called it an early night!
Thursday the 5th was our anniversary! And we took a day-trip up to the Daintree Rainforest! It was a little over an hour north of Cairns. Our tour guide, Daniel, was a great guy, FULL of information. We drove up the Captain Cook Highway, passing sugar cane fields, tea fields, some beautiful views of the ocean, and took some VERY windy roads up a mountain through the rainforest.
Our first stop was a wildlife habitat, where we got to touch the animals!
Next we stopped at the popular Mossman Gorge.
We drove even further up the mountain, more windy, thin roads, to a small camp for lunch. It was raining by this point, but we were in a covered pavilion, and had some delicious fish and steak! Afterwards, the rain died down, and we got to explore the beach for a bit.
On our way back down the mountain, we stopped for a boat ride on the Daintree River and found some crocs!
When we finally got back to our hotel, we took the shuttle back to the CBD, for an anniversary dinner at a place called Brushfire, which was basically Texas de Brazil, and absolutely delectable! We shopped around for a couple more souvenirs, Casey got an incredible $15 full-body massage, and finished off the night with some fantastic gelato.
Early the next morning, we caught a cab to the airport, caught another cab back to the hotel because we forgot all the souvenirs we bought, and then got back to airport with plenty of time to spare! From Cairns we flew back to Sydney, and from Sydney flew back to LAX, and finally back home!
This was absolutely one of the most incredible trips of our life! We are so excited to get to travel more and see more of this beautiful world. Thank you for sharing in our joy throughout our whole journey! :)