Our Australian adventure ends in Brisbane, where we had just about 24 hours to spend enjoying the city. And with 24 hours, we accomplished a lot. Brisbane is easily a city that I could picture myself living in, very similar to that of Chicago. The Brisbane River is the life blood of the city with so much carved into the riverbeds, be it homes, museums, restaurants, businesses, or boardwalks. Taking a boat tour of the river is an absolute must. From the South Bank of Brisbane, tours run frequently, and you can just book your ticket day of, as we did. The tour is not to be missed. For two hours we ambled up and down the river, intaking so much information and admiring the stunning architecture and views. Again, so similar to that of the Chicago Architecture Tours.
After our tour ended, we decided to explore the South Bank. For a city nestled between the Gold and Sunshine Coasts of Australia, Brisbane has its own man made city beach. Literally. With sand. After checking out the beach and the surrounding shops and restaurants for a snack, we waited in a short line for a whirl on the Wheel of Brisbane. The wheel is fantastic! A video plays during your ride pointing out landmarks and giving a brief history on the city itself. For having only 24 hours in a place, we learned an awful lot about its history.
We then decided it was best to get a little lost. We left the South Bank and just walked through their CBD, past beautiful museums, popped into the famous Oak Street Casino, and walked until we could not walk anymore, and still continued to press on.
We set out for dinner near Eagle Pier at Il Centro, an Italian restaurant on the waterfront. We did not have a reservation and were fortunately seated outside with a view of the river and the beautiful Story Bridge, lit in purple on that evening. After a relaxing meal we set out for our final Brisbane adventure, a ghost tour. Kind of silly and touristy but no less fun.
On occasion we love a ghost tour (the one in Key West is fabulous), and decided it would be a fun way to get a different perspective on some of the city landmarks that we didn’t get a chance to enjoy. The tour was really fun, and in true ghost tour fashion had an over-the-top tour guide. The most chilling part for me was walking through the arcade in the CBD and through a stairwell and a hall. With so much drama, he sent us one-by-one and mentioned a Shining Style sighting that comes out to scare most passersby. I had no such sighting but still bristled on the walk. After the 90 minute walk was over, we explored the city a bit more and then headed back to the hotel. With a flight home to the states the next morning our last evening was bittersweet.
While we were excited to get home and watch the Sox win the World Series, we loved Australia and talk about going back all the time, heck, we almost stayed there. Australia is a beautiful country with beautiful people, and Brisbane exudes that.
When planning our Australian honeymoon, we knew that Sydney was a must, and so was the Great Barrier Reef, after that, we had no plan. After looking at our map of Starwoods in the area, we settled on Noosa Heads because of a recently revamped Sheraton. Doing a little research, we learned that Noosa was their version of the Hamptons, with surfing, beautiful beaches, a national park, and close to Fraser Island. Fraser Island? We’ll get to that in a later post.
We arrived late in the evening at Noosa, and checked in. We were upgraded to a duplex, pool facing suite, with a downstairs living room, patio, and powder room, and upstairs with a master bedroom, balcony, and huge bathroom. Like a bathroom you only dream about when watching HGTV. To put it bluntly, the hotel was stunning. The next morning, we were excited to start exploring.
The concierge mentioned there was a beautiful hike in the National Park, in walking distance from the hotel. In fact, everything was in walking distance of the hotel. The main street was adorable, littered with boutique shops, al fresco style restaurants, and on the other side, a gorgeous beach with big waves. With our sneakers on, we headed toward the hike. The hike was up a large hill, half trail, half wooden stairs, overlooking the beach, beautiful mountains, and various swimming holes. The views were incredible, and the hike was fairly easy. Upon reaching the top, the trail continued down the other side of the hill into another stretch of beautiful beaches but we chose to head back due to a hunger and an overwhelming need to go swimming. It was here that we discovered our favorite lunch spot, Zachary’s. Their arugula, pear, and parm salad dressed in a thick balsamic covered in grilled chicken was large enough for two. We became regulars overnight. One Monday during lunch, I watched the Giants get their first win of the season against the Minnesota Vikings while eating lunch. The time difference and sports never lost it’s initial luster for us.
After lunch we decided to rent paddle boards. This was a unique experience. After standing up and falling a few times, I paddled out a bit further to discover I was surrounded by hundreds of light blue jelly fish. I didn’t even bother standing up again, despite a few Australians trying to coax me up and shouting words of encouragement. They weren’t close enough to see the terror of jellies waiting for me if I fell. I think it’s time for a new paddle boarding experience though, no?
It was back to the beach for some relaxing, and it is a beautiful beach. In fact, there are multiple beaches in Noosa Heads. Along the Noosa River and by the Noosa Spit Recreation Reserve, there are beautiful beaches, heavy winds perfect for kite boarding, and a view that will blow your mind. We explored all sections of Noosa, and spent many an afternoon lounging by and walking along the reserve, watching the people, the puppies, and the kite boarders.
Noosa has a lot to offer, there was no want for nightlife or restaurants, and in nearby Noosaville, there were also wonderful restaurants and bars to enjoy. We loved iS Tapas Bar in Noosaville (unfortunately no website to link to). The sangria was delicious and the food was just as tasty. Everything was either in walking distance or a short drive away, and on week three, I was a pro behind the wheel.
Noosa was a great relaxing stretch of time, and for anyone heading to Australia, I would highly recommend it, especially the proximity to Fraser Island, a really cool and fun day trip, coming up on the blog next week.
The Great Barrier Reef was a cool and incredible adventure on so many levels that I’ve blogged about in a few posts now, refreshers here, here, and here. Being able to walk from the beach into the sea and be surrounded by the world’s largest reef system and immediately see fish, turtles, and large purple sea fans, was just incredible.
So for those that are not familiar with Australian geography (myself included pre-trip), Queensland is one of six states in Australia, and covers the northeast coast (a part close to the equator). Queensland is famous for Brisbane, the ability to hold a koala, the gold coast, and the piece de la resistance, the Great Barrier Reef. When we decided to honeymoon in Australia I gave my husband one requirement, I must hold a koala bear. His requirement, dive the great barrier reef, so naturally, we had to head up to Queensland after Sydney.
After a short 2-3 hour flight into Cairns, which included popsicles, full meals, and practically a red carpet (I love you Qantas) we had arrived. We were renting a car as we were staying about an hour north of Cairns in a town called Port Douglas. What you’ll find with our travels is that we go where the Starwood’s are, and Port Douglas checked all the boxes. Now, Australians drive on what I call, the wrong side of the road, and as Steve is the navigator, it meant I was in the driver’s seat. This is the second time I’d been driving on the left side of the road, the first time was in desolate Middle Caicos but this, this was a trafficked area. Our “left’s are easy, right’s are hard” mantra was going to be helpful, but would not calm my initial nerves, especially since I almost took down a row of cars just trying to leave the rental car lot. But there we were with no other option but to drive it. So after realizing the right lane was the fast lane, putting the windshield wipers on everytime I meant to put on my blinker, and navigating what felt like 100 roundabouts, we, and all other drivers on the road, arrived at their destination unscathed.
We stayed at the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas hotel*. Many reviewers mentioned that for a hotel, it was beautiful but a little dated, and we didn’t mind. The hotel itself sat a few yards above beautiful four mile beach, had sweeping groups, multiple pools, and was a short car ride into the main town area where lovely restaurants and boutiques dotted the street. You could even walk into town via the beach and take a bus back if you were so inclined. We were slated to spend 5 nights in Port Douglas, and would be maximizing every possible moment.
That started with visiting Mossman Gorge. Part of the allure of Port Douglas is not only does it have a beautiful beach and access to the Great Barrier Reef, it is surrounded by the Daintree Rain Forest, a beautiful lush rain forest in Queensland. The Mossman Gorge contains beautiful water falls, swimming holes, trails and look-outs for visitors to explore. After checking in at the visitor center, a free shuttle bus drops you off at the trail head. Not knowing what to truly expect, we were off. The water hole is one of the first things you pass, but we wanted to save that for the end. After a few hours of walking through well defined trails and bridges, we circled back to the watering hole where families, friends, and people of all ages were jumping right on in. Since the water was total run-off from the mountains, it was freezing, though I still took the plunge in…sort of. I don’t think I dunked my head. Though who knows, I may have been bribed with chocolate or gelato afterwards if I did.
Mossman was beautiful and set the tone for a great rest of our time in Port Douglas. Our dive/snorkel adventure was still a few days away, and my main requirement, hold a koala bear was next up.
The Port Douglas Wildlife Habitat is an incredible experience. We spent a good half day there and I would do it again in a heart beat. We arrived as the habitat was opening (which I would recommend), and the entrance fee was pricey, but so worth it. I think it was 35 dollars maybe? As you enter the wildlife habitat you can purchase in their cafe area bags of feed for the wallabies and kangaroos. Bags cost between 3-5 dollars and lasted the entire time we spent feeding the animals. Upon entrance, you are first greeted by delightful little wallabies. I literally was taken back to my days watching nickelodeon after school and Rocko’s Modern Life. I never really knew what a wallaby was but there I was feeding them!
After Wallabies we graduated to full-on kangaroos. Even ones with little joey’s in their pouches. It was adorable! The area was also fairly open, and you were co-mingled with kangaroos, pelicans (their beaks are terrifying – they warned us not to get too close), and Emu’s. My husband actually fed an Emu, I was too terrified. Since the animals were so used to humans feeding them, I wouldn’t use the term aggressive, but at the same time, the kangaroos demanded their snacks. I joked that one was a gate keeper that wouldn’t let you pass without paying a toll. We hadn’t even seen the koalas yet and already I was thrilled. We spent at least 1-2 hour feeding all these different animals and chatting with some of the staff about the various animals before us. After we ran out of feed we went into the cafe area to figure out when and where I could hold a koala. Times were posted in the cafe, as well as various tours. We took a tour of the birds of the habitat and were not disappointed. There were two birds that stuck with me. One was a bird who looked like he had been attacked by another animal, feathers missing, and in complete disarray. When we asked the guide about this bird, he said that the bird had lost his soulmate and could not bare life without her, so he had started to pluck away at his feathers. Kind of the most romantic bird ever, no? The second bird was this agile, athletic thing where you could throw a worm anywhere and it would catch it. We all got the opportunity to throw worms and that bird did not disappoint. If he could be a wide receiver for anyone, football would not be a fair fight.
Now after we saw the birds, it was finally time for my main event. Which again, much like the Grand Canyon was almost secondary at this point. After feeding the wallabies and kangaroos holding a koala seemed cool, but it wasn’t a fully interactive experience. A very tired, adorable animal is plopped on your chest and then a minute or two later extracted from your body and draped across someone else. Not nearly as fun as little creatures feeding from your hands, but no less cool. Bucket list item complete!
I feel like I could go on forever, but will break out the Great Barrier Reef into another post. Until then, drive safely!