I’m going to talk about Melbourne first, and it’s cool artsy flair. It’s a city which boasts loads of street art along with museums and free exhibits. One such location is Federation Square, a funky group of buildings located in the heart of the CBD (Central Business District). I don’t know if it’s just me, but I never knew of the acronym “CBD” until Australia…interesting. Melbourne is also known for its coffee. Small alleyways like Flinders Lane are home to lots of old, authentic coffee shops brewing up loads of caffeinated concoctions with surely at least one that will tickle your fancy. Try a “flat white” or a “strong latte” to gain a feel for what a day in the life of a local is like ;)
After exploring the city a bit, I ventured out to a place called Healesville Sanctuary. The website claims it is an hour away from Central Melbourne, which is completely erroneous. Combining the one-hour train ride with the two, 20-minute bus rides gives you an hour and forty minutes right off the bat. Factor in the time you need to wait for the buses (which don’t run super frequently) and 2.5-3 hours is a safe time estimate if you are using public transportation to get there. That being said, it’s TOTALLY worth it. The sanctuary itself allows you to observe all the animals (all native to Australia) in their natural habitat - they are basically in the bush (the “bush” is basically the Australian version of what we would call the “wild”) with pathways meandering around to give you different vantage points. There are kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, emus, venomous snakes, birds (a show for birds of prey), a wombat, a Tasmanian devil and more! You can also pay a bit extra to feed the animals, I did this with kangaroos and it was definitely worth the money! All in all, an excellent up-close encounter with Australian animals in their home environment.
The other big highlight of my Melbourne experience had to be the Great Ocean Road. I was lucky to have a fantastic Australian guide (with the same name as me!) show myself and a few other people around. He was so interested in the flora and fauna, that he would stop to give us additional information, bring us to extra places and even seasoned us with personal experiences that he’s had with some of the animals for an even more personalized touch! We got to see koalas and exotic birds in the wild, a natural rainforest with some of the oldest trees in the world, along with making many beautiful scenic pit-stops including the famed 12 Apostles.
After my skydive in New Zealand (mentioned below), I went to Sydney for 5 nights. The Sydney Opera House was just as much of an architectural masterpiece as everyone makes it out to be, with the view of the harbor and the bridge making for an incredibly delightful scene. I recommend grabbing a drink at the Opera Bar, which was extremely crowded, even earlier on in the evening.
Sydney’s beach scene definitely means business and is one of the finest I’ve seen in the world. Bondi beach is only a short train and bus ride from the city center. It’s one of the city’s largest tourist attractions pulling in surfers, foreigners, locals and other walks of life as well. A close second in popularity is Manli Beach. For this location, you must take a Ferry across the Harbor but it’s only a 30-minute ride and a nice one to boot! If you go on Sundays, you can get around the entire city using public transportation for a maximum of $2.50 AUD, which is a pretty sweet deal so most locals travel the most on Sundays. Also important to note is that while Bondi Beach has a boardwalk (a very lovely stroll), Manli Beach has more of an entire town to stroll through!
Random observations about Australia: Australian accents are challenging for me to imitate. The word “mate” is used the way I would use the word “buddy” back home in New York, and “no worries” is the phrase which is used almost exclusively in response to “thank you”. Many Australians have tattoos..a LOT of tattoos, often covering an entire limb or the whole body. Many Australians have nose rings. The men often rock a hairstyle including shaved sides with a comb-over on top.
New Zealand as a country: unbelievably beautiful with rolling mountains, crystal blue rivers and lakes that will just blow you away, thus, worth taking your time to slowly explore the country at your own pace. Renting a car wouldn’t be a bad idea. There are many more sheep than people…I heard it’s actually a ratio of 20:1…that’s why you don’t encounter much traffic when driving, and even in the bigger cities, the populations are not incredibly large.