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Did you know that you needed a visa to enter Australia before you get on the airplane? Neither did I!
How did I miss this? We got up to the check-in counter at the airport, handed over the passports as per the usual and the woman behind the counter kindly handed them back. “You don’t have a visa to enter Australia.”
Um, what? I thought I could get the visa, if indeed one was needed, upon arrival at the airport. That’s pretty much the protocol in most of the world.
“You need to step over to that counter to get your visa. We can do it here,” she nonchalantly added.
We got out of line and headed over to another counter for Emirates Airlines to get the visas taken care of. I am now wondering if this is a problem because our flight didn’t originate in the USA. We were flying to Sydney from Christchurch after all. Honestly, because they said that I could pay for the visas and they could issue them for me on the spot I didn’t give it another thought. “The good news is,” the man behind the counter said, “you can go to Australia today.”
Um, yeah we can.
As I mentioned I am lucky enough to have a friend in Australia who actually wanted to hang out with me and my two crazy kids for a few days! We became mums together so we were pretty excited for our kids to hang out. They were only babies and toddlers together. Compared to those days they each seemed awfully grown up now.
When I was planning the trip I said that I was hoping that we could experience “the real Australia” for a few days. I had this idea in my head about not being in Sydney the whole time, but I wasn’t really sure what I was asking for. Luckily, she did. “What about heading into the Blue Mountains just west of the city. It’s beautiful up there and we can stay at a homestead,” she emailed.
Just the word homestead conjured up images of desert cowboys traversing the rugged Australian outback. “YES, that would be AMAZING,” I responded. And so, we were off to the mountains to ride horses and see wild kangaroos.
“Trust me,” she said, “they will just be jumping around out there with us.” Really? Really?
The Blue Mountains
It’s a lovely drive into the mountains. If you are heading that way, stop in Leura, even if just to stretch your legs. It’s a quaint little town with a main street dotted with shops, cafes and restaurants. We popped into Leura Gourmet for lunch. They have a beautiful view of the mountains from the dining room and it’s casual with kid and adult friendly food. Before we got back into the car we were sure to procure the most important item, a couple bottles of wine. Can’t leave that to chance.
Our destination was Yarrabin Holiday Ranch, a 2,500 acre wonder in the Australian bush. Trail riding, gold panning, feeding lambs, horses and chickens, hanging in the game room playing ping pong, air hockey or board games. In the summer tennis and swimming are options. The place is rustic and simple. The food is hearty, plentiful and tasty. The horses are well cared for and stately, beautiful animals. You’ll see Lorikeets and the Crimson Rosellas feeding.
After nearly ten years of living on different continents, there I was, catching up with my friend in the evening with a glass of wine in front of the wood burning fire while the kids were off doing….whatever 9, 10, 11 and 12 year-olds do.
We had the place to ourselves. It was magical.
And she was right. There were wild kangaroos and wallaby jumping around out there!
We had barely two days to make the most of our visit to Australia’s largest city. I chose a hotel in The Rocks neighborhood, mostly for the ease of walking around to the iconic sights, which I thought on a short visit, we should see. We chose to spend an afternoon with our friends in Taronga Zoo. It was an easy walk to the Wharf to get onto the ferry to cross the harbor and lets you off right at the zoo.
[HOT TIP: To save time, when you buy your ticket to the zoo, which you can do when you get your ticket to the ferry, include the gondola ride up to the top. That way you can make your way from top to bottom. Otherwise, walk to the top.]
The views of the city from the zoo, which sits atop a hill overlooking the harbor, are beautiful. I’d heard how great they were. It was a nice enough backdrop, but for me it’s the Australian wildlife that steals the show. This continent is home to some really unique animals that you can’t see anywhere else. In the Walkabout exhibit you can get up close and personal with the ubiquitous kangaroos and wallabies. For these reasons I’d say Taronga is worth the price of admission. Food and drinks are expensive inside, but it seems to me you can bring your own.
The Northern Beaches
Because we were with friends who had a car and who live in the area, after our afternoon at the zoo, we drove out to the area known as the Northern Beaches. Our friends happen to live up that way and it was nice to see that part of the city with them. We opted to spend a few hours in Manly Beach, a bustling little beach town, also with a port and ferry access back to the other side of the harbor, which we would use later to get back to our hotel.
I’d recommend the places we ate and our hotel, so I’ve listed them here, in case you’re Down Under and would like a friendly fellow traveler’s opinion.
- The Langham Sydeny – Kent Street, Miller’s Point
- Harbour Indian – Kent Street
- Pattison’s Patisserie – St. Ives (locations around the city)
- Criniti’s – Manly Beach
- Leura Gourmet – 159 Leura Mall