Australia, often called the land Down Under or Oz, can seem like a faraway land in the eyes of… well, pretty much the entire world. And in a way, this is true. Australia is a long plane ride or multiple plane rides away from many places in the world. Funnily enough, this place that is so geographically far away, actually feels not too far from home. For an American, the fact that everyone speaks English is great, and many of the cities feel like a mixture of America and Europe. Not to mention, Australians are incredibly nice and have much better accents than we do, so what’s not to love? But of course, while it’s similar to home, I experienced some truly unique things while I was there (like winter during summer break) and I’d be happy to hop on another 15-hour flight to go back again.
It’s hard to go to Australia and not go to Sydney. This wonderful city, with its iconic Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, is a sight to behold. While I would say it’s arguably one of the most touristy places in Australia, there is quite a lot to see beyond just Circular Quay, which is where both the opera house and bridge reside. You can walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to a quaint and more residential area of Sydney, and then to Luna Park Sydney.
The Rocks, the oldest neighborhood in Sydney, is also worth a visit. There are many bars, old buildings and historical spots that are interesting to learn about. You’ll get a feel for what it was like to live in Sydney during the 1800s. I took a free tour of The Rocks, which was a great way to learn about its history. On each free tour I went on, the tour guides took time at the beginning and throughout the tour to talk about the Aboriginal people, the indigenous people of what is now Australia. The treatment of the Aboriginal people is very far from perfect here, and it is important to keep in mind that while you are in these cities, you are also visiting a country with a complex history of displacement and land loss.
While I was in Sydney, I stayed near Chinatown, which has incredible food and boba for all you UC Berkeley kids who need your fix. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is unique in that it houses many pieces from Australian artists, something you won’t often find on any other continent. Nearby is Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, which has an incredible view of the busy harbor. There’s a nice walk around the peninsula to get to it, which is where you can get more views of the water, and you might even catch a glimpse of some cockatoos. Around the peninsula is Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden, which is a lovely urban green space that is perfect for relaxing and getting away from the busy city for a bit. An hour or so out are the Blue Mountains, which are home to some incredible rock formations, views and quaint country towns. I took a tour bus out, so I got to cover a lot of ground in one day.
It’s easy to forget that Australia is a big place, so we took a three-hour plane ride from Sydney to Cairns, which is located in the northern part of the state of Queensland. Cairns is a place I would describe as a combination of Hawaii and a coastal Florida city, with added Aussie charm. Even though it was winter, Cairns was pleasantly warm and tropical. It’s an incredible place that is the only location in the world to be situated right between two World Heritage sites: the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. It may seem overwhelming, but if you plan it right, you can go to both of these fantastic places in the span of just a few days — just make sure to book a boat and the Skyrail over the rainforest to arrive at Kuranda, a town located in the rainforest.
The Great Barrier Reef was also so special to see. While it is suffering irreversible damage due to the effects of climate change, there is still a lot of life in it, and seeing it firsthand inspires one to want to work to protect it even more. The rainforest was also an incredible experience, and the Skyrail has won awards for sustainable tourism. In the village of Kuranda, there are some great food options and shopping, and it also offers the Kuranda Riverboat, which is like a real-life jungle cruise. I was lucky to see two freshwater crocodiles, lots of fish and some turtles! The city of Cairns itself also has a lot to offer, with its Night Markets and many gelato shops! Unfortunately, there are so many saltwater crocodiles that it is too dangerous to swim in the ocean there, but there is a lagoon right next to the ocean you can swim in.
Melbourne is the best place for coffee, brunch and graffiti walls in the Southern Hemisphere (maybe even the world). Some brunch highlights included Seven Seeds (on Berkeley Street!) and Hardware Société. Melbourne is wonderful because it’s a city with new, modern buildings, but it also has areas with traditional and historical buildings. Some examples include the Old Melbourne Gaol (a jail), the historic houses that have been around since Melbourne’s golden age and the arcades in the downtown area. The Queen Victoria Market is another gem in the city with many clothing, trinket, and food vendors. You could walk around it for hours, taking in all the stands, but be careful to not spend all your money there! I also loved the free tour — it lasted for three hours, but I learned so much about the city. Another cool feature of the city are the free city trams in the city center. Other spots you can’t miss would be the famous Brighton bathing boxes and Summerlands on Phillip Island. Both are far out from Melbourne, and Summerlands — with its cliff views and penguin march — is not actually in Melbourne, but they are both close enough to be spots worth journeying to!
When traveling Down Under, come with an empty stomach and a craving for good Asian food because this place is an underrated gem in the foodie world. Every restaurant I went to, especially the Asian restaurants, absolutely blew me out of the water. In Sydney, some highlights were the Chinese Noodle Restaurant, which had some of the best hand-pulled noodles I’ve ever had, Boon Cafe, which has Thai breakfast and a little market you can shop around, and Ho Jiak Haymarket, a Malaysian street food restaurant where I had my favorite meal of the trip. In Melbourne, I enjoyed Hopetoun Tea Rooms because of their desserts and tea, as well as Osteria Ilaria for some upscale Italian food.
Animals were my favorite part of Australia. Because Australia is so isolated from the rest of the world, it’s home to an abundance of unique and incredible animal species that you won’t see anywhere else. Wombats, koalas, cassowaries, wallabies, kangaroos, dingoes… I could go on. I’m sure many of us watched Steve Irwin when we were younger, which probably piqued many of our interests in Australian animals. It was amazing getting to feel like a kid again at all the wildlife parks I went to, such as Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park and Featherdale Wildlife Park. Even though I went to quite a few, the animals never got old — especially the koalas!
Australia is an amazing place that I hope everyone can visit sometime in their lifetimes. There’s so much to do, and you’ll never get bored. Whether you’re called by the nature, the animals, the food, the people or just a need to go as far as possible, you won’t regret going Down Under.
Sunny Sichi is the assistant blog editor. Contact Sunny Sichi at [email protected].