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From January 23rd to June 26th I traveled all around Australia with my girlfriend, Lauren. How did I have the freedom to travel for 5 months? I graduated from college one semester early. Luckily, I already locked in a W2 job from my internship the previous summer so I didn’t need to worry about finding one.
Long story short, this Australian adventure was amazing and changed my life for the better. I wrote this post to share my experiences with you and offer some sample itineraries if you ever plan to visit.
Get ready… this is a long one. Filled with heaps of amazing pictures though!
First Stop: Dubai
We hopped on our departing flight from Logan Airport at 10:00 PM on January 23rd. A “short” 13 hours later, we were in Dubai. I deliberately planned a 14-hour layover to give us a chance to explore the city. It was either a layover in Dubai or a layover in Los Angeles … sorry LA, I chose Dubai.
Our long layover gave us the chance to explore the biggest mall in the world, watch a world-renowned fountain show, and admire the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world).
The city was absolutely magnificent. Futuristic buildings and new construction dominated the skyline. Dubai isn’t just “all city” though. Just a few miles away from the bustling metro was the expansive Arabian Desert.
One’s things for sure… the city is wealthy, and I mean WEALTHY. We couldn’t go 10-seconds without seeing a Lambo or another luxury sports car roll by. The airport was filled with Rolex wall clocks. Dubai takes extravagance to a whole new level and it’s surely a sight to see.
If Dubai isn’t on your bucket list, add it right now!
After our stop in Dubai, we boarded our connecting flight and flew 11 hours to Perth in Western Australia. Lauren has family there so we were each greeted at the airport with a warm welcome (and a sausage roll).
Perth is a hidden gem. Since it’s the only major city on the west coast, it’s much less traveled than the rest of Australia. However, there are endless miles of beautiful beach just 15-minutes from the city!
We stayed in Perth for two and a half weeks. Our accommodation was free and most of our meals were too. It was also nice to have tour guides around the city. Gotta love family! 🙂
Rottnest Island – This spectacular island is located just off the coast of Perth and is accessible via a 45-minute ferry ride. There are no cars on the island (except for emergency and service vehicles). We rented bikes for the entire day and admired the amazing views. Rottnest is also home to the quokka… the cutest little furball you’ve ever seen.
Southwest Tour – We took a road trip from Perth down the Southwest coast of Australia just past the town of Augusta. The roads trace the edge of the sea for miles and miles and the views are spectacular. Some of our stops included Busselton Jetty (a 2km jetty over the Indian Ocean), Pemberton (home to the 150m lookout tree… that I climbed), Leeuwin National Park (cool rock formations bordering the ocean), Mammoth Cave ( a huge limestone cave), and a few more!
Caversham Wildlife Sanctuary – This wildlife sanctuary was our first opportunity to pet kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and even a wombat. Needless to say, as an awestruck American with a soft spot for cute animals, this was the best day ever.
Other things to check out – Elizabeth Quay, Kings Park, Cottesloe Beach, Scarborough Beach, Coogee Beach, Hillary’s Boat Harbor, Lancelin Sand Dunes, John Forrest National Park, City Museums
This was our home base for a majority of the trip. My girlfriend Lauren was studying at the University of Queensland so we needed our headquarters to be close by. Accommodation only totaled $1800 for the 5 months we spent there. To do this, I used an awesome travel hacking strategy combining credit card rewards and Airbnb.
Brisbane is the perfect blend of city and nature. Pretty much everywhere was walkable and we never felt unsafe (even at 3 AM in the city). There is always something to do, and lots of activities are free! We really enjoyed the Brisbane vibe and the nightlife was incredible as well. Heaps of poppin’ clubs, bars, and events every weekend. (Yes… I just said “heaps”. Aussie slang sticks.)
The ONLY downside to Brisbane was its proximity to the beach. On paper, it looks pretty close, but in reality, it takes 45 minutes to get to any of the “good” beaches. If you travel directly east from the city, you’ll reach the ocean in ~20 minutes, but it’s all just muddy estuaries.
Gold Coast – Certainly one of the most popular strips of beach in Australia and home to the infamous “Surfers’ Paradise”. It’s about a 45-minute drive southeast from the city, but it’s well worth the trip. There are miles of beautiful beach and a bustling, beachy city center. Also some awesome bars and nightclubs as well!
Sunshine Coast – This coastal strip is Gold Coast’s brother from the northeast. It was about an hour/hour and a half drive from Brisbane City. There are so many different beaches sprawled along this coast, but our personal favorite was Noosa. There were these amazing “fairy pools” that filled up with water during certain tides. We got to do some rock jumping and take fantastic pictures as well.
Australia Zoo – This is the zoo that the Irwin family founded. Needless to say, it’s awesome! Once again, we got our fair share of petting kangaroos and wallabies. In addition to the Aussie critters, there were also crocodiles (Crikey!), tigers, giraffes, rhinos, and zebras… to name a few. The best part was that this Zoo is a wildlife sanctuary. The animals were not cramped into tiny cages. They had plenty of room to run around and play. Definitely a must-do for any animal lovers visiting Brisbane.
Byron Bay – Home to the most easterly point in Australia, Byron Bay is a bustling ocean town located 2.5 hours southeast of Brisbane. Here, you should check out the Byron Bay lighthouse (most easterly point), amazing beaches, and the quirky town. We spent a weekend here and enjoyed every second of it.
Lamington National Park – Approximately 2 hours southwest of Brisbane, this national park is home to dozens of hikes, glow worm caves, and treetops walks. Awesome place to visit for the adventure seeker.
Other things to check out – Glass House Mountains, Mt. Coot-tha, Botanical Gardens, Brisbane Ferry, Southbank area, New Farm Park, City Museums
This was our first inter-Australian flight after arriving at our home base in Brisbane. We stayed with a family friend for a total of five days and four nights and basically just explored as much as we possibly could.
As far as Australian cities go, Melbourne was our favorite. It was really clean, artsy, and friendly. It reminded me of Boston but with more art and nature. The city is largely known for its diversity of culture and food within Australia.
The biggest downside here is the weather. Everyone from Melbourne will say that “You can experience four seasons in one day”. Unfortunately, that statement is absolutely true!
Great Ocean Road – If there’s one thing you have to see in Melbourne, it’s the Great Ocean Road. We went on a day tour and drove alongside the 35 kilometers of ocean road. Our final destination was the Twelve Apostles, which are massive sand-like structures protruding out of the water. We also visited Loch Ard Gorge (a frequent shipwreck location) and went on a “bush walk” to see wild koalas! It was certainly an adventure to remember.
St. Kilda Beach – Although the water was REALLY cold when we went, the beach was beautiful. There is a boardwalk that extends for the length of the beach filled with trendy restaurants and bars. Perpendicular to the beach is a long pier that extends into the water. The best part? At the end of the pier, you can view wild penguins!
Yarra Valley – Since we stayed with a family friend, we were fortunate enough to have a tour guide for the Yarra Valley. This vast, hilly landscape is home to some of Australia’s best wineries. We stopped at several for tastings 🙂 Afterward, we finished off our tour with some free chocolate from the local Chocolaterie. This day was filled with good wine, good food, and adventure.
Other things to check out – Brighton Beach Boxes, Melbourne Cricket Grounds, Museums in the City, Street Art, City Architecture
Sydney is the most populated city in Australia, and there’s no hiding it. The city was constantly busy and filled with noises, traffic, and things to do.
Despite the hustle and bustle, we really enjoyed our visit here. We stayed in a luxury apartment for $20pp per night! We may have stuffed 6 people in a 2 bedroom Airbnb 🙂
This is the city that everybody knows when someone mentions Australia. If you ever visit Down Under, make sure to visit Australia’s most famous city!
Opera House / Sydney Harbour Bridge – It’s easier to group these attractions together because of their close proximity. The Opera House is a magnificent piece of architecture and a must-see. Just across the river is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which connects the north and south parts of the city. Both locations are flooded with tourists and are certainly great places for some photos.
Blue Mountains – Picture the Grand Canyon filled with Eucalyptus trees… that’s basically the Blue Mountains. The “blue” hue radiating off the trees is from the eucalyptus oils and it gives the whole valley a misty glow. We went on a long hike under and around a massive waterfall and then took pictures of the Three Sisters (three massive rock formations in a line).
Bondi Beach – Sydney’s most famous beach. This place was filled with beach lovers and surfers. The surf was rough but the swimming was super fun! Abutting the sea were the Iceberg Pools, which are swimming pools fed by the ocean waves. The vibe is fun and chill. No wonder it’s Sydney’s most popular beach!
Other things to check out – City Museums, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Night Life, Manly Beach, Botanical Gardens, City Parks
Okay… not quite Australia like the post title implied, BUT this place was amazing. We arrived at Wellington airport at midnight and caught the 2:30 AM ferry down to Picton on the South Island. We spent four days exploring the South Island then spent three more days in Wellington on the North Island in a friend’s apartment.
New Zealand was hands down the most beautiful country I have ever visited. We were awestruck for a solid 24 hours as we drove around in our rental car. It’s just endless nature untainted by the human touch. I almost just sounded like Edgar Allen Poe or something, but it’s true. Wanna hear a crazy fact? The sheep to human ratio is 23:1!
New Zealand Highlights
Wharariki Beach – This beach is one of New Zealand’s hidden gems. Located on the northwest tip of the South Island, this beautiful beach is approximately a 4-hour drive from Picton. We camped nearby overnight and woke up just before sunset to get on the beach. The sun rose over the hills and illuminated the massive limestone stacks in the water. This was probably our favorite place in New Zealand.
Abel Tasman National Park – An expansive national park consuming the northwestern corner of New Zealand’s South Island. There is so much natural beauty to be seen here… way too much for us to see on our short journey. However, we saw as much as possible with our limited time and every sight was breathtaking.
Marlborough Sounds – The Marlborough Sounds are located on a peninsula just north of Picton. Here we laid eyes on some of the bluest water in the world and lush, vast mountains. This place was a photographer’s heaven.
Te Papa Museum – If you’ve been paying attention, this is the first museum to make the Highlights list… and for good reason. This FREE museum stretched across four floors and was filled with interesting exhibits. I learned so much about New Zealand’s history and there were some ancient fossils, dinosaurs, and things like that to satisfy my inner nerd.
Other things to check out – Kahurangi National Park, Wainui Falls, Split Apple Rock, Cullen’s Point Lookout, Wellington City, Mt. Victoria, Wellington Cable Car
Home to the northern Great Barrier Reef and bordering the Daintree Rainforest, this city is surrounded by natural beauty. We spent four days and four nights here adventuring and exploring.
This trip was packed full of fun excursions and we lucked out big time with the weather. Despite the tropical climate, it didn’t rain once during the daytime! Great weather = fun time swimming at the beach, right? WRONG.
We couldn’t go in the ocean because of the box jellyfish and crocodiles. Welcome to Australia!
Great Barrier Reef – We went on an all-day scuba and snorkeling tour on the outer Great Barrier Reef. Although we saw less sea life than I had hoped, the coral here was amazing! Swimming among the fish and alongside the reef are indescribable experiences. It’s really just something you have to do!
Daintree Tour – Our second excursion of the trip. We went on a 2-day, 1-night Daintree Rainforest tour. The first day consisted of a long coastal drive along the seaboard, a visit to a wildlife sanctuary, and swimming in a jungle creek. That night, we slept in a cabin IN THE RAINFOREST. Yes, we were literally in the jungle. We saw a tarantula in the bathroom and lace monitors (giant lizards) roamed freely. On the second day, we went on a guided jungle walk and a crocodile river cruise. The entire tour was amazing.
Waterfall Circuit – Just an hour south of Cairns is Waterfall Circuit. Basically, it’s a huge plateau with waterfalls inhabiting every drop-off point. We drove around in a rental car and visited as many as possible. Our stops included the Malanda Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls, Ellinjaa Falls, and Josephine Falls. We also stopped to see the massive curtain fig tree during our scenic drive.
Other things to check out – Night Life, The Lagoon, The Marlin Marina, Night Markets, City Museums
Tasmania (Plus Melbourn Pt. 2)
This adventure happened on a whim. We found flights from Brisbane –> Melbourne –> Tasmania –> Back to Brisbane for $160 (that’s really cheap) so we couldn’t pass it up. We spent two nights in Melbourne and revisited the city. It was just approaching winter so the leaves were changing colors, giving the city an orange glow.
In addition to our repeat sightseeing, we went to an Australian Football game at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. The rules were tough to understand at first, but the environment was fun and the fans were going crazy.
After our two-day stay in Melbourne, we flew to Hobart, Tasmania. We rented a Toyota RAV4, which became our bed for the next 7 nights. I have to give Lauren credit for planning this trip. Each day was jam-packed with fun activities such as hiking and sightseeing. We started in Hobart and drove counterclockwise around the entire island of Tasmania until we returned on the final day.
This trip was an adventure, to say the least. “Highlights” included eating canned spaghetti, waking up a 2 AM and turning on the car heat since it was 34 degrees outside, and showering twice during our eight-day trip. But hey, it builds character!
Tessellated Pavement – Southeast Tasmania. Although we only spent an hour or so here, it was one of my favorite places. I don’t think talking about it will do it any justice. I’ll just drop the mic and show you the picture during sunrise that morning.
Cradle Mountain – Northwest Tasmania. Snow in Australia? What?! This was the first time we witnessed real snow in Australia. The scenery was majestic and there were dozens of hikes to choose from. Most of the main hikes surrounded a massive lake that displayed an incredible reflection of the mountains. We completed two separate 4-hour hikes that day. The first was Hansen’s peak and the second was Marion’s lookout. Highly suggest this mountain range to any hikers.
Wineglass Bay – East Coast Tasmania. Yet another breathtaking view. We climbed up to the top of Mt. Amos and even scrambled some boulders to photograph Wineglass Bay in its entirety.
Cape Raoul – Southwest Tasmania. This 5-hour hike was well worth the views. Stacked columns of rock dominated the mountainside. I had never seen anything quite like it. Lucky for you, we snapped a great photo!
Other things to check out – Launceston, Tall Tree Forest, Lady Barron Falls, Russell Falls, Cataract Gorge, Port Arthur, MONA, City Museums, Mt. Wellington
These islands are what you’d expect to see on a honeymoon-getaway advertisement. The water is the bluest of blue and the sand is the whitest of white. We spent a total of five days here and we never wanted the trip to end.
This was our last inter-Australian vacation and we wanted to make it a good one. It was “winter” when we went, which meant most days were a bone-chilling 80 degrees. Gotta love Australia!
Whitsunday Islands Highlights
Sailing Tour – My favorite part of this trip BY FAR was the 2-day, 1-night sailing tour we booked. The first day consisted of lounging on the deck, meeting the 18 other passengers, and lots of snorkeling! The Whitsundays are located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, and the sea life we encountered was spectacular. We saw sea turtles, dolphins, groupers, squid, and tons of exotic fish.
On the second day, we visited Whitehaven Beach (the whitest beach in the world) in the morning. In the bay, we were greeted by some friendly stingrays and lemon sharks. It was amazing! We ended the tour with another snorkeling expedition and then laid out on the boat until we berthed back at the port.
Other things to check out – Airlie Beach, The Main Strip, Boathaven Beach
Final Stop: Dubai (Again!)
We ended our trip with another intentional full-day layover in Dubai. This time, we went on an Arabian Desert Safari. The safari included dune bashing (riding an offroader through the desert), camel riding, a belly dancing show, a fire show, and an all-you-can-eat buffet! How much did it cost? $30 🙂 Thanks to my radical research skills and finding a tour charged in the native currency.
We had the time of our lives experiencing the Emirates culture and voyaging through the desert. Unfortunately, this was our last adventure before we had to head back home to reality.
Our next adventure awaits!
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