Australia: Going Up, Down Under
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Australia: Going Up, Down Under

After being in the air for 17+ hours on flights from Salt Lake City to Sydney, one might rightly think that spending time on solid ground would be your first choice for seeing Australia; however this was not the case on my recent Amazing Aussie Adventure and Educational Conference sponsored by our friends and travel partners at Travel2. I got to experience a portion of this beautiful and diverse country affectionately known as the “Land Down Under” not “down under” but rather from “up above”; on a gondola, a canyon rim, an iconic bridge, a helicopter and a hot air balloon.

My arrival into Sydney was at 8:00 am, and I was ready to beat the jetlag with a full day of immersing myself in the New South Wales lifestyle. Our Destination NSW host, Tenille, met us at the airport and we were off to the Taronga Zoo where I got my first up-close views of koalas, kangaroos, and wallabies.

The Taronga Zoo is located on the shores of Sydney Harbor and can be reached by both land and water. (It’s even a stop on the hop-on/hop-off ferry tour of the harbor). We arrived by van and departed by water taxi. The zoo’s name comes from the Aboriginal word ‘Taronga” meaning ‘beautiful view’, which made perfect sense, as my first thought when visiting the giraffes (my favorites) was “This is the Zoo with the View”. And that view got even better from the vantage points on the zoo gondola ride. And for the more adventuresome, the zoo also has an action-packed high ropes course for another excellent way to experience and appreciate the breathtaking harbor and Sydney skyline views.

Later on the trip I visited two other zoos. The Featherdale Wildlife Park located about an hour outside of Sydney in the Blue Mountains National Park, where we had a much quieter and personal stroll with the animals and saw so many beautiful birds. It was here I got to hold my first (very shy) koala named Ghera. In Brisbane, we visited The Australia Zoo, established by the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. We saw a LOT of different crocodiles and alligators, as you would expect, but I also got to hold another koala here and feed the kangaroos.

After the Taronga Zoo visit, our afternoon continued on a private harbor cruise with Sensational Sydney Cruises which included lunch cooked by our captain on an Australian barbie on the back of the boat.

When most people think of Sydney, they envision the beautiful harbor, renowned opera house and the iconic bridge, however not many venture to do the Bridge Climb. Seeing Sydney from atop this amazing structure was a once in a lifetime experience. I was a little hesitant to do it at first, but am so glad I did. The Climb was not difficult (“hiking” at sea level is much easier than the Utah high altitudes) and seemed short compared to the prep time beforehand. Everyone had to change into gray jumpsuits, and no one had to ask “does this make me look fat?”, because it was obvious it did. But they were warm and yet light weight, with several items attached with cables, belts and hooks. Safety is a huge factor, of course, and everyone in our group was tethered with a Climb Guide, so you always felt very safe. For security reasons, they allow no cameras (or anything else in your hands, even your gloves, hankie and sunglasses were hooked on to your suit or belt) this allowed you to just take in the whole experience and not do it through a 5” screen. We hiked up one side of the bridge, and then once at the top had some photos taken. (Individual and group shots which we could then purchase at the end of the climb). And then we crossed over the bridge and returned on the opposite side, which gave us breathtaking views of the entire harbor.

My short stay in Sydney also included a Aboriginal Heritage Tour through The Royal Botanic Garden with a very passionate Aboriginal guide. The tour was both lovely and informative and ended just a short walk from the famed Sydney Opera House which we also toured with a very jovial, knowledgeable guide.

Our journey continued northwest of Sydney to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. We stayed in an exquisite villa at the Emirates One&Only Resort in the Wolgan Valley. The resort is located on a 7,000 acre conservancy reserve in the Blue Mountains National Park. Although a bit tricky to reach, once there, you are surrounded by beautiful rock cliffs (which reminded me a bit of Sedona, Arizona). The kangaroos came right up to our front porch to “graze”, much like the deer do in Utah. And the low laying fog in the morning added a truly ethereal feel.

While in the Wolgan Valley, we took a leisurely nature hike with a naturalist guide. Our trail included forging across a river, dodging wombat burrows (although we didn’t get to see any of these little chunky creatures on the hike) and passing some beautiful flora. One of my favorite trees was the long leaf wattle tree, so when we had the opportunity to plant our own tree, I chose to plant a yellow wattle. When the yellow flowers bloom on the wattle tree, it means the days are going to be longer (ie. summer is on its way).

My next “seeing Down Under from above” was our view from above the canyon at the Eaglehawk Lookout with views of the beautiful Three Sisters rock formation. The blue-haze, from which the mountains get their name, with the magnificent rock formations are most impressive.

It was then back up in the air for the 3 hour flight to Cairns; the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. This is a diver’s paradise, and although I do not dive, or even swim well, I had to experience this stunning Wonder, so I chose to do so from above, this time on a helicopter tour. It was beyond beautiful!

Our Educational Conference was held in Cairns, so we spent a few days here and then it was off to the airport again for a quick 2 hour flight to Brissie (Brisbane) where we enjoyed a wonderful evening at the Eat Street Market; a local fair with scrumptious food booths and live music. The best part was spending time mingling with the locals.

I didn’t think there was much to top all the amazing sights and experiences I had had to this point, but I got to add yet one more first-in-a-lifetime, check-off-the-bucket-list item, when I boarded a hot air balloon just outside of Brisbane. Watching the balloon inflate and climbing aboard just at sunrise was spectacular. The sensation of gently floating silently over the picturesque landscape of the Logan River Valley Scenic Rim was so soothing and tranquil. It truly made for a memorable way to end my Amazing Aussie Adventure.

If you’re “up” for a remarkable vacation that includes a new culture, big adventures, adorable animals, spectacular scenery, water activities and even relaxation, please contact me so I can arrange a trip ”Down Under” you’ll never forget.