Since meeting Dan, he has taken me to so many places in the world. But there was one I was still missing, one elusive continent I was desperate to check off the list: Oceania!
Thanks to Skippy the Bush Kangoroo and Paige Toon my obsession with Australia has only grown in recent years. Throw in some Quokka selfies with Chris Hemsworth, Miss Fisher’s Murder Msyteries and posts from my friends living Down Under and I just kept badgering Dan until he finally caved and said “Fine, Australia 2020 it is.” So we booked the flights and then I waited patiently (a whole year!) until February came around it was time to jet off!! Obviously, as you now know, we don’t just go to one place and chill, so hang on tight.
- Kuala Lumpur
Direct flights from London to Australia don’t exist just yet, so you have to throw in a layover. Most people go for Dubai or Singapore, but we were planning on hitting the first in April of this year (that’s now a bust, thanks to Corona), and we’ve been to the latter already. So we picked Malaysia instead! I only knew the Petronas Towers from Entrapment with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery, so I was up for a little more. We hired a guide and he took us to the famous Batu temple, which has a gazillion stairs you need to climb before going into the mountain. That was exhausting! However, there were many monkeys to keep you company on the way up! Then he took us on a few stops through town, showing us the famous Mosque, government buildings, and local markets.
FINALLY!!! Australian soil! We landed late at night and went straight to the hotel, and I managed to sleep even though excitement levels were through the roof. Day 1 was Quokka day! We went to Freemantle to have breakfast and a look around the town before catching a ferry to Rottnest Island, or Quokka Island. Freemantle is adorable, a funky architectural mix between what you know of the Wild West and other Colonial towns the world over. We quickly realised portion sizes are akin to the USA, and it took us much longer to eat! Then we took a boat out to Rottnest, and desperately tried to find Quokkas by ourselves, but as they are mainly nocturnal, they stick to the shadows and don’t really emerge until lunchtime to snack on people’s leftovers. We took a walk around with a local guide and found some Quokkas hiding in the undergrowth! They look so adorable, like large smiley mice. We had lunch at Dôme, which Dan remembered fondly from previous trips, and a Quokka even came in to nibble on some leftovers under the tables. I went to dip my toes in the gorgeous water and we took a ferry back directly to Perth this time and got the best photos.
The next morning we went to Caversham Wildlife Park to hang out with all the animals. We met Neil the Wombat, fed a bunch of kangaroos, took a photo with a koala… I was so hyper I never wanted to leave. We went back to Perth for lunch and ended up in this really cool food court where you could find any type of Asian food you could imagine. We walked around looking for some souvenirs and found this cute alley called London Court that’s made to look like a street in England (think Cambridge or Oxford) and is filled with small shops. Then it was time to go to the airport, and on to the next stop!
We stayed at an airport hotel as we were only there for one day, but we tried to see as much as possible! As there wasn’t a conveniently timed walking tour, we just checked where they stopped and did it by ourselves. Melbourne made me think a lot about New York (not that I’ve been there yet), but the layout and masses of tourists and types of buildings definitely matched. There’s a lot of cool arcades in the city and we had some great Italian food as well. We walked past some lovely looking old hotels and theatres before heading to Brighton Beach, where it was insanely windy! Then we drove to Phillip Island to watch the Penguin Parade! At dusk, the penguins swim to shore in search of shelter from predators, and you can see them waddling in from the beach. We even spotted some chicks hiding in the bushes, they do not go out swimming yet so wait for their parents on land.
And from an island, we flew to another island, and then to another island! We were staying in Hobart but checked out Bruny Island, which you can access by car ferry. There are very few restaurants on the island, but we managed to locate one at the top of a hill which I had trouble negotiating with the car! Back in Hobart, we took a gander around town and saw some beautiful old houses that reminded us a lot of New England architecture. We took advantage of the B&Bs washing machine to get through some laundry and watch some terrible TV.
The next day we had yummy breakfast at a café downstairs, then grabbed the car (my favourite rental from this whole trip, a beautiful Subaru Forrester with all the mod-cons!) and drove to Penguin! The town has a large beach where, like in Melbourne, penguins come in at night for safety. Their colony is much smaller, but the town has gone all out with the penguin images! They’re on trashcans, houses, posts… There’s a small shop/museum with an impressive collection of penguin figurines!
We started out the day by going to the Queen Victoria Building and having some German breakfast (oh the bread…) and walking around town and the botanical gardens, where the Ibises roam freely! Then we rounded a corner and voilà! Opera House. I was obviously wearing my Dory T-Shirt and took a bunch of photos in full-on tourist mode. There was a humongous cruise ship docked that day and the docks were full. We walked around the Rocks and I got a super tasty lemonade from a street vendor. From there, we headed to Darling Harbour for lunch and to roam through a crazy Chinese market. Then we headed to the Wild Life Sydney Zoo because we didn’t have time to go to anything bigger. They had a Tasmanian Devil which was missing from my exotic Animal list.
For dinner, we went to Din Tai Fung and honestly, the pork Xiao Long Baos in Sydney were potentially the best I’ve ever had. I dare say even better than Taiwan, but that might just be because I can’t remember what they tasted like in Taipei. They were super gingery which was amazing! They also had steak fried rice which I haven’t seen anywhere else so far. On the way back, we even saw a firework display at Darling Harbour. They have those every week!
And so we left the Land Down Under for the Land of the Long White Cloud! Flying over the South Island and landing in Queenstown is INSANE! There are mountains everywhere and as you get off the plane BOOM! mountains! Queenstown is gorgeous, and every B&B is cute and has a killer view. Ours was no exception, and we had an easy walk to town. Unfortunately, nature was against us and we couldn’t do the biggest day trip we’d planned, which was Milford Sounds. They’d had a mudslide a few days earlier and so only helicopters or tourist buses could go, which was out of our price range. Instead, we made the most of it and over the next few days visited Glenorchy and Wanaka, while spending the rest of the time in Queenstown. We absolutely LOVED going luging! You get amazing views, take a bunch of ski lifts to get to the top and then race down! We wanted to go to Dunedin too, but things didn’t work out timewise for a bunch of reasons. Reason enough to go back!
No nerd trip to New Zealand is complete without a trip to Hobbiton! We flew to the North Island and stayed at Auckland airport. Bright and early the next day we drove to Matamata where the farm on which the set is on is located. We got there and grabbed a quick lunch, then queued up for our tour. They take people on a coach and then drive you from the café area to the actual village which is a little further out. You get a quick video on the bus, and then your tour guide walks you through Hobbiton. It’s as magical as you can imagine, but it’s a shame you can’t really stop and roam by yourself. You’re meant to stick to your guide and group, and end up only having a minute to take a photo at each house, mostly less! It’s still a great trip and well worth the money if you’re a fan.
Auckland, on the other hand, was pretty lame. The whole city centre is one big construction site and there’s no life, like in many US cities where everyone lives outside of town and just comes in to work. From there we flew back to Sydney for a quick 3-hour layover and then…
For the final leg of the journey, making it to the halfway point back (NOOOOOOOO!), we went to Thailand. We decided on two guided tours to maximise our time there and see as much as possible. On day one we visited a temple (the first of many), then took a boat ride on a canal to check out a local floating market. There are loads of Catfish in the area and the guide had some bread for us to feed them. It was INSANE all these fish just came from everywhere and thrashed about trying to get bread, rocking the boat, splashing water everywhere. From there we went to another temple, then lunch, then to the Grand Palace. It is an amazing complex with beautiful buildings and many intriguing statues. After that, we took a Tuk-Tuk to Wat Pho, the temple of the Reclining Buddha. The statue is 46 metres long, covered in gold leaf, and the building had to be erected around the Buddha as they wouldn’t have been able to do it the other way around. We ended the day with a visit to a flower market and a nice meal, ready for the next adventure.
Day two was a visit to Ayutthaya, where there are many ruins of temples. We stopped at the Summer Palace, still in use today, and saw some funky elephant art made out of trees. Then we visited one temple after another, had some food that made one of the other tourists cry and rounded up the last night with another Din Tai Fung, though this time it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
And so we flew back home and Dan barely spent one week at work before being ordered to work from home for the foreseeable future. We had many more trips planned for this year, including one to the Middle East, the Azores, Italy, Canada, and Alaska… Many have already been canceled but I do hope that by Summer, things will be getting better and we can go. Keep safe everyone, and to more travels soon!
Pictures: Author’s own