Australia: Two Weeks in the Land Down Under

By Waheeda Harris


Getting there: 15.5-hour flight from Vancouver 
Good to know: 16 hours ahead of MDT, Sydney has more than 100 beaches and the world’s largest natural harbour 

As I sit in a corner table at the Dining Room bistro on Sydney’s Circular Quay, my senses spring to life after a long flight. A glass of Sémillon—an Old World varietal flour-ishing in this new world—features a light honeysuckle aroma and soft flavours of peach and pear. I paired my chilled libation with an unbeatable view: the incomparable Sydney Opera House, gleaming in the midday sunshine, while my soundtrack is the welcome chatter of chic crowd. I toast the world-renowned performing arts centre, a year shy of celebrating 50 years since its opening.

Sydney revels in its seaside culture and makes the ideal starting point for a two-week Aussie adventure. Desperate for a dose of surf and sun, this beach girl makes tracks to Bondi Beach—the famed kilometre-long curved expanse of soft white sand luring surfers to the South Pacific’s endless waves. Less than a half-hour from the city’s CBD (central business district), the laid-back enclave is a people-watching paradise: teen skateboarders rolling to the Bondi Skate Park, sunseekers flowing from seaside lounging to alfresco dining, and visitors like me snapping selfies at the Bondi Beach Sea Wall, an everchanging mix of street art dating to the early 1970s. 

Veg Out (Relax) in the Emerald City of Australia

Blending in like a Sydneysider means emu-lating the local obsession with outdoor fitness. So, I head toward Tamarama on the Bondi-to-Cogee Walk, a six-km trail hugging the coastal cliffs of Sydney’s eastern suburbs. I’m quickly distracted by the ocean’s blue hues and rhythmic movements of swimmers at Bondi Icebergs Pool. I stop to peruse Hunter Park’s modern sculptures, sourced from the annual Sculpture by the Sea festival, when the trail transforms into an outdoor gallery featuring over 100 artists.

In the late afternoon, I wander Woolloomooloo’s Finger Wharf, a working port reinvented into a lively district including the Old Fitz Theatre, five-star eateries and home to actor Russell Crowe (who I sadly don’t see at one of several pubs). Date-night couples and singles ready to mingle stream past as I stroll onwards to Potts Point, an eclectic mix of fashionable shops and restaurants.

I happily stop at Sydney’s latest sweet obsession, Black Star Pastry, choosing a slice of signature rose-scented strawberry watermelon cake, before joining the animated after-work crowd at wine bar Dear Sainte Eloise. Sumptuous pecorino and rosemary croquettes drizzled with hot honey are followed by freshly shucked oysters with yuzu mignonette and a glass of Little Reddie Chardonnay. Heading back to the hotel, my taxi cuts through Kings Cross, where neon lights spotlight clubgoers just kicking off their evening as mine ends.

The next day, I’m southwest of Sydney in the Southern Highlands, where city folk plan weekend escapes to hike eucalyptus forests and spot koala and kangaroo. I’m visiting cellar doors (Aussie speak for wine tasting rooms) along the Highlands Wine Trail, and have rapidly become a cool-climate wine aficionado. As I swirl samples of Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, I wonder how much wine can fit in my suitcase?

Great Barrier Reef

Getting there: 3-hour flight from Sydney
Good to know: Cairns, Port Douglas and Airlie Beach are popular gateways to the reef

This storied UNESCO World Heritage site is an undisputed underwater marvel—and easily accessible from Sydney with a short regional flight. 

Located off the northeast coast, the Great Barrier Reef is massive: a 344,400-sq-km swath of the South Pacific encompassing 3,000 coral reefs and 900 islands. The marine habitat is one of the most significant on earth, with a rich biodiversity including coral, birds, mollusks and fish. 

“No matter what part of the Great Barrier Reef you are visiting, try to go snorkeling and witness why the reef is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet,” says Eric Fisher, biology manager at GBR Biology and Reef Magic Cruises in Cairns. “I recommend spending as long as you can in the water,” he adds. “The reef literally changes by the minute, right in front of your eyes.” Snorkelling in several places is ideal according to Fisher, as each reef has its own individual personality.


Getting there: 1.5-hour flight from Sydney
Good to know: The city’s temperate climate changes quickly—pack an umbrella 

Where Sydney’s energy is a welcome whirlwind, Melbourne’s pace is easygoing, imbued with sport, modern art and plenty of coffee. As I sip a flat white (espresso with steamed milk), I’m surrounded by joyful shades of yellow, orange and red at The Olsen, one of four Art Series Hotels in Melbourne. 

The landscapes of renowned Aussie artist John Olsen inspire me to explore the great outdoors, so I hop on one of the hotel’s sleek Lekker bicycles to cycle the South Yarra district. 

Pedalling beside the Yarra River, I spy rowers cutting through the river’s current before I turn my two wheels into the 38 hectares of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Circling Ornamental Lake, I survey lush vistas of greenery in this calming oasis in the middle of the city. After I cross the Yarra River, a series of green spaces lead to Melbourne’s sports HQ: the Rod Laver Arena, centre court of the Australian Open, Melbourne Cricket Ground and Olympic Park, site of the 1956 Summer Olympics. Like any Melburnian worth their weight in coffee beans, I dutifully stop to sip a flat white at Bedggood & Co. 

Sweet As! (Fantastic!)

Returning to the hotel, I catch a green tram heading downtown. The popular trams are one part of the world’s largest urban train network. Historic St Paul’s Cathedral acts as my trailhead as I enter the maze of Melbourne’s Victorian-era laneways, clusters of indie gift shops, fashion boutiques and cool cafés, each twist and turn revealing the city’s eclectic architectural past. 

Elegantly lined with striped awnings and outdoor terraces, Hardware Lane is alluring to the office crowd, here to rejoice their post-5 o’clock status. I continue to popular Hosier Lane with walls covered in bold street art. 

A group of footy fans, resplen-dent in red and black team colours, notice my perusal of the graffiti, inviting me for a happy hour pint. They offer a crash course in Australian Rules Football, tips on coffee (Proud Mary coffee beans), late-night laneway bites (Meyers Place) and the best beach around (Williamstown).

Havin’ a Plonk (glass of wine) in Melbs

The next day, hot air balloons slowly ascend Melbourne’s morning sky, colourful patterns glowing in the sunrise as I head northwest to the Yarra Valley, the country’s premier cool climate wine region. My guide advises us to forget snooty wine descriptors, pronouncing shiraz with emphasis (“shi RAZ people!”) and encouraging us to say chardy—Aussies can’t resist a good nickname. My palate is repeatedly pleased with champers and cab sav, too.

Back in Melbourne, I follow Port Phillip Bay’s shoreline, taking endless photos of the 80-plus vibrant Middle Brighton Beach bathing huts before I find a bench on the pier for an impromptu picnic of fish and chips with a mini-bottle of champers. I raise my glass to my Aussie adventures, knowing this island nation has become a mate for life.

Northern Territory

Getting there: 3-hour flight from Melbourne 
Good to know: Taller than the Eiffel Tower, Uluru experiences an average 300 mm of annual rainfall, which creates waterfalls and sustains vegetation 

The expansive desert landscape of the Northern Territory—known as Australia’s Red Centre—is bursting with ancient wonders and has long been a sacred space to the Indigenous Anangu people. 

One of the Outback’s most iconic landscapes, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is home to two natural wonders: Kata Tjuta, 36 giant rock domes spread over 20 km, and Uluru, a 348-m-high rock formation. Formerly known as Ayers Rock, it’s the world’s largest sandstone monolith. 

Matt Cameron-Smith, CEO of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia suggests walking around the base of Uluru at your own pace or taking a guided Segway tour to understand the significance of this site. 

“I always recommend a sunrise walk through the Valley of the Winds at Kata Tjuta,” he adds. “It’s extraordinary to see the various rock formations, flora, fauna…well worth the hike.” Cameron-Smith also encourages visitors to spend time in the Gallery of Central Australia to better understand Aboriginal Australians, the world’s oldest living culture