It was time for a big vacation. Michael and I hadn’t been on a big getaway since our honeymoon. So after months of planning and saving, we were finally ready to head Down Under for two weeks and leave our babies in the hands of Nana and Grandma. We said a (tearful) goodbye at bedtime and headed to the airport in the middle of the night. I was excited and anxious all at once, and I cried as Guam disappeared through the plane window. But our adventure had officially begun!
We landed in Seoul, Korea just before sunrise. We had a 12 hour layover so we wanted to get out and see some of the city. It was a nice 18 degrees outside. After a year and a half in 85 degree weather, I was completely unprepared for the cold. Michael and I brought jackets, gloves, scarves and hats but I was still miserable. I always think I miss the cold weather in the winter, but I was cured of that delusion after about 10 minutes on the streets of Seoul. Nonetheless, we had a great time discovering the South Korean city. We went up in Seoul Tower and saw just how huge the sprawling city is. It seemed to go on for miles in every direction and there was a very noticeable line of smog surrounding the whole city.
After leaving the tower, we walked several blocks to a Korean palace. It was guarded by men who reminded me of the Buckingham Palace guards. They didn’t move or speak, despite all the tourists taking pictures with them. The palace itself was beautiful. The detail in all of the architecture was amazing.
When my toes were officially numb, we found warmth in a small restaurant and experienced Korean food for the first time. It was…. interesting. Not my favorite but not terrible. After lunch, we bought some gifts for the kids and headed back to the airport, ready to fly to Australia.
The first part of our trip was spent in Sydney. On the first day we walked around a large chunk of the business district, which reminded me of a less-frantic Manhattan. There were several shops and restaurants, and an Ugg store on every corner. I got my first Starbucks coffee in almost 2 years and then we headed towards the harbor. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was amazing… and the Opera House was even more beautiful.
On our second day in Sydney, we took a train and then a bus to get to Bondi Beach. It was a fairly hot day and the ocean was beautiful. The water was around 74 degrees, (absolutely freezing for me), but we had a great time swimming in the waves and playing with our new GoPro.
The following day I turned 30. This definitely goes down as the “birthday gift of a lifetime”… a kid-free, 2 week vacation to Australia! Thanks Michael! We spent the morning walking around the zoo and taking pictures with baby koalas. They were only 1 year old and SO adorable… that was definitely the highlight of the zoo trip for me. That evening, Michael took me to an amazing dinner at Cafe Sydney, overlooking the harbor. Not a bad way to ring in 30….
The next morning we headed to the Outback. A 3 hour flight and a 5 hour drive later, we arrived at Uluru, (Ayer’s Rock). The scenery was incredibly similar to New Mexico, just very red. It was hot and dry, (no frizzy hair!), and full of flies. When we first arrived at the resort and saw people walking around with what looked like mosquito nets on their heads, we thought they were being a little ridiculous. A few hours later, we raced to the store before it closed so we could buy our own nets. These tiny flies buzzed around your head incessantly; it was unbearable without the nets. That night we ate kangaroo and emu for the first time, (both delicious, by the way), and went to bed early so we could do a sunrise walk around Uluru. It took us about 2.5 hours to walk around the base of the giant rock, which was very impressive to see in person. There were several signs along the walk explaining the significance of different areas. We saw caves where Aboriginal children did their school work. We learned about how their culture placed a large emphasis on the grandparent-grandchild relationship. There were even certain areas around the rock where they ask you not to take pictures because it is considered disrespectful to their culture. Climbing Uluru is also considered disrespectful, but they don’t forbid it expect in the summer months when it’s too dangerous because of the heat.
After our Uluru walk, we grabbed some breakfast and drove 4 hours to Kings Canyon. I’d never heard of Kings Canyon before this trip but it ended up being one of my favorite experiences. We got up early the next morning to begin our walk at sunrise. The hike starts with a very steep climb to the top of the canyon. The next 3 hours were spent exploring the top of the canyon and peering over the sides. My fear of heights kicked in and I couldn’t get closer than 5 or 6 feet from the edge. But Michael is a daredevil and he took several pictures right by the edge, dangling a foot over a several-hundred feet drop. About halfway through the hike, we went down into the canyon, to an area called the “Garden of Eden”, which was full of vegetation and a swimming hole. This is another area where they ask you not to swim because it is disrespectful to their culture. The sign said the aboriginal boys would swim there as part of a rite of passage when becoming a man. Surprisingly, all the tourists respected their wishes and stayed out of the water.
This was not an easy hike, by any means, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The pictures really don’t do it justice. If you ever make it to Australia, I’d say it is definitely a “must do” for your trip.
The next morning we got up early, (again), and drove to Alice Springs to catch a flight to Cairns. Luckily, we had plenty of time before we had to be at the airport, so we found somewhere to watch the Super Bowl. My Panthers may have lost but at least I can say I watched them lose while sitting in a theater inside a Casino in the Australian Outback!
We got to Cairns after dark and drove an hour north to our hotel in Port Douglas. Michael really outdid himself when he found this resort. The room was beautiful, we had our own pool deck right outside the room and it was a couples-only resort. We spent the first day exploring the little town and checking out the beach. The town reminded us of a smaller Key West. It had a very laid-back vibe. The beach was another story. First of all, we couldn’t even go in the ocean because of all the deadly jellyfish in the water that time of year. They had a small area protected by a net for swimming, but during the 5 days we were there, 2 people were stung INSIDE the net. No thanks. And apparently there could be CROCODILES in the ocean too!
Australia is basically one big warning sign. The ocean has enough scary creatures to worry about without adding crocs to the mix! We didn’t actually see any in the water, but we did spot some on the beach.
We’re such dorks. But we have fun. Anyway, the next day we went up to the Daintree Rainforest. We hiked through Mossman Gorge in the morning and learned about the terrifying Cassowary birds. They can grow up to 6 feet tall and can claw you to death with both feet at once. I’m very glad we didn’t come across one of these on our hike, though the chances are pretty slim. They’re extremely endangered and the Australians are trying very hard to protect them.
We went on a river cruise, hoping to see some crocodiles, but it was high tide and the elusive reptiles stayed hidden. We managed to spot the top of one’s head for a minute. But the river guide was very knowledgeable and taught us some interesting things about the area. In fact, I learned that one of the plants along the riverbank was used to treat postpartum depression in Aboriginal women back in the day. I found it very interesting that PPD was a recognized illness so long ago.
After the river cruise, we headed further into the rainforest to go ziplining, or Jungle Surfing, as they called it. I had a blast! The guides were entertaining, the views were amazing and the ziplining was exhilarating! My fear of heights completely vanished and I made the most of the experience, hanging upside down and spreading my arms wide. It was so much fun!
We heard some interesting stories from the people who live and work in the rainforest:
“I was swimming one day and a big fish got ahold of my arm, all the way up to my elbow. He started thrashing me around for a while until I could break free…. It was fun!”
“There’s a small bat who lives in my bathroom, right above the toilet. Every night he flies around the house 3 times, then goes out the front door, and returns every morning to the same spot in the bathroom. We have to leave the toilet seat up so his poop falls right in. Otherwise you’ve got a mess on the seat.”
“My girlfriend and I came home to find our cat halfway inside a python’s mouth. So I grabbed the snake’s mouth and pried it open while she grabbed the cat and pulled him out. He was never the same after that, that cat.”
The best part about all of these stories is how they were told in such a nonchalant way… like they were simply talking about going to the grocery store or walking the dog. I guess things like that are just a normal part of Australian life.
The following day it was finally time to dive! This was definitely the best part of the trip. I want to give a big thank you to Michael for being the driving force behind me becoming a certified diver. He never pushed me to do it, but once I decided to go for it, he held my hand through the entire process and kept me motivated. Now it’s my favorite thing to do and the Great Barrier Reef did not disappoint. I thought Guam had some beautiful reef life, but it’s nothing compared to the Great Barrier Reef. We booked our dives with a small company. The first day there were 10 of us on the boat and the second day, only 7 people. I can’t imagine what the experience would have been like if we’d gone on a giant boat with 50-100 other divers. We rode about 2 hours out to sea before beginning our dives each day and did 2 dives a day. We saw gorgeous, colorful fish and coral, stingrays, a cuttlefish, clown fish, anemones, sea turtles and sharks. The first day we saw two little reef sharks, probably about 4 feet long. I was excited to see my first sharks while diving. They just hung out on the bottom and eventually swam away. The second day was a different story. We were swimming along a huge reef wall when I looked at Michael and he signaled “shark” and pointed out at the blue water to our right. I turned to look and immediately freaked out when I saw the shark. My first thought was, “that is huge and looks like something out of a scary movie…” My second thought was, “swim in the opposite direction!” and I scrambled towards Michael and the reef wall. By the time I signaled to Michael that I saw it too and then looked back towards the shark, it was gone. We signaled to the other divers but no one else saw it. We’re pretty sure it was a bull shark, based on its shape and size. I could hear my rapid breathing and realized I was panicking. After a few minutes, I calmed down and carried on with the dive, but I was very preoccupied with looking out for the shark and didn’t really enjoy much of the reef. I kept looking out to my right, expecting to see it swimming right for me. When our guide signaled that it was time to ascend, I was more than happy to get out of that water. It took a lot of effort for me to get back in the water for the second dive that day, but I did and I’m glad I did.
The rest of the trip is kind of a blur. I was so anxious to get back to my babies that I couldn’t think about much else. We left Port Douglas, spent a night in Cairns, and then flew back to Sydney for one night before flying home. That last night in Sydney happened to be Valentine’s Day so, despite our exhaustion, we took the train downtown and walked across the Sydney Harbor Bridge at sunset. It was beautiful.
We finally got home 2 days later, at 1am. The kids were too tired to show much excitement when they saw us walking out of the airport, but I’ve never been happier to be home. It was by far the most exciting and interesting two weeks of my life. I couldn’t have asked for anything more in an Australian vacation. But I didn’t expect to miss my “mommy routine” so much. I’m actually enjoying cooking and cleaning and changing diapers.
This blog post would not be complete with two major thank yous. First of all, a GIGANTIC thank you to Nana and Grandma for flying all the way to Guam to care for our kiddos while we went on vacation. This trip would not have been possible without your offer to watch Kelly and Clayton. We are so very grateful! Secondly, I have to thank my awesome hubby, Michael, for planning this trip of a lifetime. He spent countless hours researching every single detail, making sure we had the best experience everywhere we went. I’m so blessed to have such a thoughtful and resourceful husband. Can’t wait to see what’s next for our adventurous life together!