After our magical wedding in Punta Fuego in the Philippines, my husband and I flew to Sydney on a 7-hour flight from Manila. Although our aircraft was sprayed by insecticide prior to landing (Australia is one of 3 countries that mandate spraying to kill insects that try to hitch a ride on passengers and their belongings), we arrived without any glitches. By the time we cleared customs, picked up our backpacks, and took the 15-minute train ride to the City Centre, it was already late when we checked in at the Russell Hotel. As what became the norm on this trip, we would always find a bottle of local wine and a box of chocolates with a hand-written card waiting in our room congratulating us on our recent nuptials. The hotels really took notice of my request upon reservation to make our stay memorable as we were on a honeymoon.
For breakfast, I tried Vegemite for the first time. Vegemite to Aussies is like peanut butter and jelly to Americans. I canʼt say that I liked it since it tasted malty, yeasty and salty…in short, nasty! It didnʼt help that I smeared heaps of it on toast. I surmised that it is one of those food that is an acquired taste. I found out later that the better way to eat it is to spread lots of butter on toast before adding just a tad of Vegemite…who knew that butter would enhance its taste! With limited time in Sydney, we proceeded to check out the most popular spots on our first full day. Our hotel, located in The Rocks section and close to everything touristy, was the first European settlement in Australia wherein handmade rocks or sandstones were used to make structures hence the name. Only a short distance from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, we headed there first and crossed on foot towards Luna Park in North Sydney. After checking out the view from the other side of the bridge, we rode the light rail to Darling Harbour where we had lunch and did some window shopping. Afterwards, we strolled towards Circular Quay and visited the iconic Sydney Opera House. Photographing it was a joy as it is reminiscent of a ship in full sail! Next to the Opera House are wharves where ferries to different parts of Sydney and huge cruise ships from all over the world can be found. We purchased ferry tickets
to Manly Beach and proceeded to sit on the open air deck. It was already dinner time when we arrived at Manly so we bought take out seafood and dined on the beach. Just be aware that local seagulls also have a taste for fried barramundi and grilled baby octopus. They would swoop down and steal seafood from you as you are about to put it into your mouth which I have personally experienced. Thank goodness seagulls had good aim or I would have ended up in the hospital with a beak puncture wound on my lips!
Leaving the bustling city, we embarked on a 90-minute train ride to Katoomba, the gateway town of the Blue Mountains. It was refreshing to experience brisk, clean air, speckled with aromas of eucalyptus and vast expanses of lush greenery. We admired breathtaking valleys, the famous Three Sisters rock formation and cascading waterfalls as we hiked the beautiful trails. We even had the chance to ride the steepest railway in the world after a quick lunch of hot dogs and soda. On our way back, we stopped by Sydney Olympic Park in the suburbs. After the 2000 Olympics, it is now a site not only for major sporting events, but also for commercial and residential areas. After an excursion outside of the city, it was time for dinner and drinks at an old pub as we sampled Australian beer.
We jaunted back to the airport to catch a flight to the Outback to see Uluru a.k.a. Ayers Rock, a colossal monolith in the middle of the continent. The closest town, Yulara, has only one hotel operator, the Ayers Rock Resort, which oversees everything in town except for the post office and the bank. They provide various lodgings suitable to every taste and budget, from a luxurious glamping (glamourous camping) experience to a campground where you can pitch your own tent and everything in between. With cost and comfort in mind, we reserved the mid-priced Lost Camel Hotel that included free transfers to and from the airport. Upon checking in, we were puzzled as we saw most of the hotel guests were wearing nets on their heads. We didnʼt really pay attention because we badly needed a nap since jet lag finally caught up with us. Upon waking up, we walked around the town square to watch the didgeridoo players and browse the artsy market where we ultimately discovered the reason for the net-wearing hotel guests. It was fly season in the desert and they were everywhere and especially vicious at dusk! They would try to enter every available orifice in your head. We soon discovered that our eyes, noses and ears were covered with flies. Scared, we dared not open our mouths and bought our own fly net hats! Once it was completely dark, the flies disappeared and we were able to enjoy sandwiches we bought from the deli as we drank our complimentary wine by the pool under the stars!
With a jam-packed day ahead, we woke up before dawn on our only full day in the Outback. First, we joined Desert Awakenings Tour with fellow honeymooners from all over the world. We were taken to a viewpoint to watch the changing colors of Ayers Rock as the sun rises and were served billy tea and bush damper (a kind of bread). After breakfast, an aboriginal guide led a 6-mile base walk around Ayers Rock while explaining its spiritual significance and answering questions about the waterholes, rock paintings and animal tracks we saw along the way. After our morning hike, we headed to get the requisite couples massage at the only spa in town as we were on a honeymoon after all. We then had lunch at a BBQ joint where we got to cook our own barbie! We bought surf and turf proteins (prawns and lamb for my husband, crocodile and steak for me) and grilled them on our own, Aussie style! After lunch, we joined a hike, sunset and BBQ tour of the Valley of the Winds and Kata Tjuta a.k.a. the Olgas. The Olgas, a collection of 36 smaller monoliths, are the lesser known neighbor of Ayers Rock. The 3 hour bush hike was more challenging than the Uluru base walk and brought us to the valley between two of its 36 rocks. Mildly dehydrated, we finished the grueling hike as the sun was setting. As we admired the transforming hues of the Olgas at sunset, we feasted on BBQ dinner consisting of kangaroo meat, emu sausages and camel steak. After dinner, a guide conducted a stargazing tour of the sparkling Outback sky!
Although we did not want to leave the Outback yet because it proved to be better than expected, we had to catch yet another flight. This time, to Cairns, the starting point for people who wants to visit the Great Barrier Reef.
Upon arrival at Hilton Cairns which fronts Cairns Bay, we looked forward to going to the beach, but we soon discovered that Cairns had no beach! So we just relaxed under blue and white umbrellas by the pool and shared yet another bottle of free wine. We then arranged for a tour the following day to the Great Barrier Reef before heading out to dinner. Nightlife, as it turned out, was vibrant in Cairns. There were many bars and pubs to choose from. There was also a night market if one is in the mood for shopping!
Deciding to get more adventurous, our catamaran tour of the Great Barrier Reef first brought us to Fitzroy Island in the Inner Great Barrier Reef.
We were given a few hours to laze in the nude beach before the boat brought us to a
permanently anchored pontoon in the Outer Great Barrier Reef. Here, we were offered a variety of activities from diving, snorkeling, semi-submersible boat rides, and even a buffet! After lunch, we spent most of the afternoon snorkeling, donned in full body stinger suits as it was jelly fish season. We swam in warm, salty seawater, and beheld the pristine ocean terrain, teeming with all kinds of fish and sea creatures we had never seen before. We also had the chance to hold a huge sea cucumber and touch a sea turtle! After a fun day at sea, we opted for the faster helicopter ride back to Cairns for a birdʼs-eye perspective of the largest coral reef in the world!
We rode the picturesque rail journey to Kuranda Rainforest. My jaw dropped on seeing the steep Barron Gorge and the spectacular Barron River Falls. Upon arrival at Kuranda station, we took the more scenic and longer river route to the village. We then visited Rainforestation Nature Park where we finally saw animals one would associate with Australia like leaping kangaroos, barramundi-eating crocodiles, burrowing wombats, howling dingoes, and sleeping koalas. We then glided over the rainforest via the Skyrail cable car upon our return to Cairns.
Days 9 & 10
Our last 2 days in Oz were spent in Bondi Beach where we immersed in the famous Australian beach culture. We basked in the sun, chilled in the sand and played in the surf all day long. Being true to our backpacking roots, we decided to stay at Bondi Beach Backpackers Hostel on our last night. The hostel boasts a rooftop with great sunset views and the relaxed camaraderie of fellow backpackers. It is also close to the beginning of the scenic Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk, a 4-mile cliff top walk dotted with shops and cafes. It also offered stunning views of beaches, rock pools, parks and even a cemetery. We had the pleasure of taking a leisurely walk alongside cliffs as we bought last minute souvenirs for family and friends. For our last meal before taking the flight back to New York, we headed to Sydney Fish Market where we had bugs for lunch. Yes, bugs a.k.a. Balmain bugs are a type of lobster without claws and look like giant insects hence the name. They were sweet and deliciously prepared with butter and garlic, an appetizing way to cap our trip!
So there you go, mates! Our 10 fun and adventure-filled days in the Land Down Under were a great way to start off our marriage, and at the same time, check some stuff off our bucket list! It was truly an unbelievable and amazing honeymoon, one that my husband and I will remember forever!
Written by Faith Azul-Evia. Faith is an avid flashpacker (a slightly older version of a backpacker with a bigger budget but still wants to avoid a packaged version of a destination) and believes that her travels start as soon as she leaves her NY apartment building. She is in constant search of new places to explore, eat, drink, sleep, spa, run, hike and yoga. She has been to 38 countries in 6 continents and dreams of going to Antarctica someday. Follow her @faithflashpacks on Instagram.