Last year, we spent nearly 3 weeks in New-Zealand traversing some of the North and the South Islands. New-Zealand made a lasting impression, and if it is not on your bucket list, I’d say: add it! That trip to NZ was the catalyst for our adventure. We have much more to discover in New-Zealand, and one day we’ll go back for more. But now … we were keen to explore a country new to us, where neither of us had ever been: Australia! Our initial plan was just a quick stopover in Sydney, as a gateway to South-east Asia. But honestly, once we arrived in Sydney, with no forward plans, we quickly realized we would hang around the country much longer. It is just so easy, and frankly comfortable.
I know this will sound cheesy, but in Sydney … we’ve all felt perfectly happy and content. Just like that. We slowed down our travel, and had inspiring encounters with like-minded friends in Tahiti and New-Zealand. We had fallen into a good routine where we spent our mornings doing schoolwork, and picked just one activity for the day. We learned to refrain ourselves from over-scheduling. Leaving room for spontaneity. We were about half-way into our adventure, and after 6 months of togetherness, I feel we finally “arrived”. Not sure how to describe that. My mind had finally slowed down, expectations adjusted, values aligned. It’s like our traveling family spirits finally fell into place. A sort of rest and acceptance and peace fell upon us – tangibly, for all of us.
In Sydney worldly pleasures are abundant. Coffee with almondmilk, … no problem. Egg-free pancakes … no problem. Les Mills classes at a gym (my favorites) … no problem. Organic fruits and veggies … no problem. Excellent public transport … no problem. It’s very first-world and very privileged, but I can’t deny that we so enjoyed all of it.
The home we rented via AirBNB was fantastic – so much so that we extended our stay with another week. We stayed in the Newtown/Camperdown area, which had a great vibe to it. A bit of hipster attitude; just how we like it. Renting someone’s personal home is so nice, as compared to a “professional” rental. It means this place was stocked with everything our hearts desired – spices, utensils, toys, movies, soaps, … It was all there. Even Nespresso! All green and eco-friendly. Heaven.
The owners of the home are skaters, and keep a number of boards by the front door. Our boys were allowed to use them and were quickly addicted. We didn’t go anywhere without the boards. We got Elyse a cheap step/scooter at Target so she could tag along. We used public transport and walked e-ve-ry-where. So the boards were super fun, as it kept the kids engaged on those long city walks. I squinted more than once as they scooted down a busy sidewalk, not quite in control of their “vehicles”. I’d heard about the open-minded and welcoming skater-community off course, but it’s another thing to have 20-something boys repeatedly encourage our young ones with a “Keep practicing”. Or, “Look, I fell the other day in just the same way as you did. Keep going”. And even “Hey dude, you’ve got to get better shoes” at our bulky hiking boots.
Quite a few people at home asked us about “the heat” in Sydney. What heat?! Honestly, I wore long pants and the kids wore their hoodies for most of our time in Sydney as it was quite windy and chilly. Granted, when we first arrived in Sydney we caught the end of a heat wave so it was hot-hot-hot, with temps over 47C. So we went to a museum and stayed indoors. The nights cool off considerably, and it’s not humid. Tahiti and Costa Rica were way way worse for us in terms of coping with the heat. So no – the heat was certainly not an issue for us.
When I wrote about our travel troubles about 4 months into this trip, a couple people commented that everything has a change curve. And it does. We now feel we can confidently say that “we’re here”. At that feeling of effortless togetherness, and effortless travel (well, most of the time :)). We have not planned a single thing (no flights, no hotels, no destinations) for the remainder of our leave. We don’t compare ourselves to other traveling families as much anymore, admiring the pace and intensity of some families’ adventures but paving our own way. We’ve certainly slowed it down here in Australia, and for us that works. Having this time together, allows to take in those “small” moments – read together, take a walk, play games. When we’re in the whirlwind of every day life, I certainly did not create nor cherish those moments enough. Really, it is the little things that matter. And you don’t have to travel the world to figure that out.
Sydney was the “break” we all needed. One week in Sydney became two, and Australia turned into a 6-8 week stay. From a budget point of view, a killer off. All the destinations we’ve chosen so far have proven not to be the cheapest and we’re burning a (rather big) hole in our bank account at a dazzling rate. Or more likely, we’re just not savvy budget travelers. But by staying in Australia much longer than planned, we’re saving on flights. Ah well. In the end it’ll all even out. We hope. Fingers crossed.
In a lot of ways we have found our “slower” and “simpler”. We live without a calendar, without a watch and without an alarm clock. I now really notice what even one hour of lack of sleep does to us (grumpy and irritable!). I notice what a sugary breakfast does to us (sluggish and foggy). Generally, I get through the day without yawning, and my brain is “clear”. We eat lighter, vegetarian most days, and we go easy on dairy. We were very clear on why we took this year “off” to begin with – to see the world, but also to learn to live a slower and simpler live. To set us up for the next decade. Don’t get me wrong – I still am (very) eager to get back to work and contribute to the workplace, my team-mates and the world at large. But I know this year will have thought us invaluable lessons that we take with us as we establish a “new normal” when we step back into our everyday lives.
So, what all did we do?!? Despite going “slow”, as I look at the list of things we did and sights we saw, we ticked off quite a few sights.
On that first very hot day in Sydney, we spent the afternoon in the MAAS museum (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences). The museum is set in the Powerhouse, an old power plant, complete with trolleys – a unique décor. The museum has an intriguing mix of things to discover. There were lots of hands-on science applications (static electricity, gravity, …). There’s a section dedicated to space travel, where we got walk through a real space station. The kids built cars with all sorts of blocks and wheels, and then raced them of a ramp. There was a section showcasing the evolution of transport with trains, cars etc. A section on curbing global warming and much, much more. It made for a very engaging afternoon.
Another day we went to Sea Life. That was a looooong day. It was so busy, so noisy, so hot that I just couldn’t enjoy the aquarium, no matter how hard I tried. They have some great displays – the well-know underwater “tunnels” where sharks swim right by and above you. They also had 2 dugong (I think they translate to “zeekoe”? maybe?), Pig and Wuru. The kids fed starfish. But overall, no wow-factor for any of us.
A highlight of our time in Sydney was no doubt visiting the iconic Opera House. It is hard to believe that this building was erected in the 60-ies. It must have been so far ahead of it’s time in terms of design and technical innovation. We went to a show with the kids. Sadly not an opera in the main hall, but rather a kids’ focused “Pirate Party” in one the smaller side theatres. It was hilarious! Belly laughs all around. Before and after the show, the kids could do a little stand-up routine in the main hall. Our kids had to overcome their stage-fright but then were unstoppable and performed joke after joke. Here’s Elyse’s favorite:
“So there’s 2 muffins in the oven.
The one muffin says: ”Boy, it’s hot in here.”
Says the other muffin: “Holy mackerel! A talking muffin!!”
Afterwards, we spent time in the botanical gardens right next door. Got into a big family fight, but kissed and made up a short while later. Family life is messy sometimes.
Yet another day, we took the bus to world-famous Bondi Beach. It was very windy that day, with large waves and we saw few surfers daring the sea. We spent quite a bit of time at Bondi Iceberg, the pool edging the ocean, seemingly carved into the rocks. The boys all went in, but came out teeth shattering. It was so cold! Elyse fell asleep on my lap, and so I stayed glued in the same spot for over an hour, admiring all those young and tanned m’as-tu-vue bodies. The boys in the meantime drooled at the skatepark. We walked the boardwalk, and admired the street-art. It made for a very fun and relaxing day.
We couldn’t get enough of the beach (remember that we really hadn’t had much sandy beach time during our travels at all), and so we took the ferry to Manly Beach. The ferry is great, part of the public transit system, as you simply hop on with your Opal card. Oh, we also got to see a submarine up close…
You get to see the harbor from a different vantage point, and it was especially amazing to see the sun set on our way back, casting a golden glow over the Opera House. At Manly, we had enrolled V for a surf lesson. The surf school was well run and an oiled machine, but not very effective. Vincent did not exactly appreciate that no-one asked his name even. There’s probably 30-ish kids and 5 instructors or so, and so the kids simply circle through the water, get a push, and fingers crossed that they can stand up. V didn’t get up on the board even once. M in the mean time had a blast. He got a body board, and played in the surf on the small stretch of supervised beach. The waves were huge! I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the boys out in the water, even with dad present. The boys off course (dad included) LOVED the high waves!
Our visit to the Tower Eye was ‘meh’. Personally I am not a fan. Add souvenirs, everyone whining, cranky. We posted selfies that day, and I remember the smiles were forced! With older kids, the Tower Eye could be spectacular. You can get out onto a glass platform up high, overlooking the city. I think that would add quite a spark of adventure!
Throughout our time in Sydney, we got into a good gym routine, and I got to take some of my favorite Les Mills classes. Yeah … the first couple months we kept our exercise up, sort of, but the last couple weeks we had totally slacked. Time to get back into it!
Needless to say we have a fan-tas-tic time in Sydney. When asked what the kids’ absolute favorite was, they all would say Darling Harbour. There is a large children’s water playground, with something for all ages. It was busy, and our kids made friends easily. The boys had gotten a couple dollars allowance, and they set out on their own to buy a souvenir. A big city adventure!! It’s one of those where they snuck off. Had we known, I don’t think we would have allowed them to cross a busy street by themselves and enter a market. But they managed, and were incredibly proud of themselves. Little kids are getting bigger… We ate at McDo, which the kids consider a real and rare treat. Elyse still talks about wanting to go back to “that playground with the water”. Such days are so precious.
After 2 weeks of big city time, we were ready to move on. We packed up, picked up a rental car, and off we went for our Australian roadtrip adventure! From Sydney to Noosa, from Noosa to Melbourne, and back to Sydney. Our time in Sydney has our batteries recharged completely and we were pumped for the adventures that lay ahead!
As usual, adding a shortlist of places we stayed, ate and played that we feel were worthwhile sharing. We don’t mention the ones we didn’t like that much :).
Where we stayed:
– AirBNB on Kingston Road. We got really lucky with this one. The family only rents out their home when they are on vacation themselves, and so I can’t find the link. Sorry!
Where we ate:
– The Grounds of Alexandria: an eclectic amazing mix of eateries, food stalls, and other things. It was super super busy on both occasions we were there, but the décor is splendid. We took a cookie decorating class here with M and E, and they loved loved loved everything about it.
– Newtown – Bangkok Bites: Great décor, and the food was fantastic too. Once you walk inside, you feel like you might as well be in Thailand.
– Newtown – The Italian Bowl: Semi-fast-food Italian. You pick the type of paste, type of sauce and minutes later food is ready. The kids loved that fact they could choose their combi, and the food was actually pretty good.
– Newtown – Gigi Pizzeria: There’s a line down the sidewalk, waiting to be seated. And rightfully so. The pizza’s are creative and to die for!
– Newtown – Gelato Blue: All vegan ice cream, and delicious!! Made mostly with coconut milk, and offering an incredible range of tastes.
– Bondi Beach – Lox, Stock & Barrel: We had to wait for over 30 minutes on a weekday to get a table here for lunch. It was worth it! The clientele here understands “cool”, and it’s a pleasure to sit & observe. Oh, and the food was good too.
– Manly beach – The Hot Dog Man: casual, fast food but yummie hot dogs, with vegetarian dogs too! Fun interior. Perfect for a quick bite after a long beach day
Where we played:
– The iconic Opera House and next door neighbor, the Botanical Garden. There’s several shows playing simultaneously at the Opera House. I would have loved to catch an opera, but sadly we didn’t book tickets well enough in advance. You can bring a picnic into the gardens and stroll by the waterfront.
– Powerhouse Museum: situated in an old electrical plant, this museum features an eclectic set of artifacts and activities; something for every kind of kid!
– OPAL: using public transport in Sydney is super easy. Get the physical opal card at any station and most convenience stores, get the app, upload money onto the card, and off you go. The app is excellent to plan your (multi-leg) trip in the city.
– Darling Harbour: we loved the public playground here, and spent several hours here on a busy Sunday. Bring towels, as the kids will want to get wet on the different water play structures
– Beaches: Bondi Beach with Bondi Icebergs, and Manly Beach
– Manly Surfschool: outside of school holidays, or for a more private lesson, I am sure this is a great surfschool. They were super organized and professional. The day we showed up however, it felt extremely busy with little personal attention for the little ones as they experiment on a surf board.
(skipping Tower Eye and Sea Life as those where ‘meh’ visits for us)