Saving work vacation days for a year, I knew this winter was time to go big. But where could I visit without rain or snow to complicate a good time?
The answer came easy. My buddy Matt and his girlfriend Katherine were in Australia under a travel visa and I soon learned that frigid holidays in Sacramento meant summer sun in the Down Under. Roping my brother Cole along, we booked flights to Sydney and came up with a plan of attack: an epic journey through Aussie’s famed Great Ocean Road.
Flying from Sac, we lucked out with a layover in Honolulu with enough time to scale the Diamond Head Crater and discover an eerie temple in the island’s north side. As the plane descended, we got our first taste of Sydney with a clear-skied view of its waterfront botanical gardens and Opera House shining in the summer sun.
We explored the city laneways, learning of Sydney’s beginnings as a prison colony that morphed over time into a modern metropolis. Yet in the old bricks of buildings you’ll find traces of its dark past, with symbol signatures carved into stone as an indication of the inmate who created them.
For our last night we embarked on a journey with Dave’s Pub Tours through the shady alleyways of a district called The Rocks. Here, we learned of four brewpubs vying for the bragging rights to Sydney’s oldest pub and heard the tale of James Squire, an inmate who escaped the hangman’s rope by brewing excellent beer. We were even allowed to descend beneath an old pub to the secret remnants of ancient prison cells.
Next up we flew to Melbourne, a city known for vibrant street art, which served as our portal to the Great Ocean Road. But before taking off we made use of Melbourne’s free tram service, tracked down some fairy penguins in St. Kilda, and watched New Year’s Eve fireworks from a rooftop bar, drinks in hand.
The Great Ocean Road has earned acclaim not only for prestigious turquoise shores, but for the diversity of environments encountered throughout its trek. Our first stop was Kennett River, a hotspot for one of Australia’s cutest critters: the koala. Driving a dirt road with necks strained out rental car windows, we scanned through miles of Eucalyptus trees stretching endlessly on each side. By the end we spotted several koalas, each tucked away in their 21 hour-a-day snooze.
Back on the highway, our setting began to shift from cliffside coasts to the winding roads and lush ferns of the Otway rainforest. What a change of scene! Here, we took a trek across the Otway Fly suspension bridges built high in the rainforest trees.
Next on our list was perhaps the Great Ocean Road’s most well-known attraction: The Twelve Apostles. These monumental slabs of sandstone emerge from nowhere amidst golden-brown grains on the shore. After taking in the views we went for a dip in nearby Loch Ard Gorge, famous for a multitude of shipwrecks from sailors attempting to enter its narrow gate.
After a quick stop at the Tower Hill Reserve filled with koalas, bizarre lizards, and giant Emus, we arrived at our final stop on the road trip: Grampians National Park. Despite temperatures of over one hundred degrees we powered to the top of the lofty Pinnacles cliff for a panoramic view unlike anything I had seen before. We spent our last night camping under stars and waking to the crash of kangaroo feet around our campground.
With the conclusion of the Great Ocean Road, it was time to check out a much different region of Australia, an island south of Melbourne called Tasmania. In comparison to mainland Australia, Tassie is a quiet place with picturesque beaches and abundant wildlife.
We spent our first day on a cruise with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys to the rugged bluffs of the Tasman Peninsula. The cliffsides, and much of Tasmania, are made of a subvolcanic rock called Dolerite whose hardness is close to diamond. This geology allowed for intricate cave systems to form across the Peninsula, some of which we were able to idle our boat through.
For the remainder of the cruise we made friends with fur seals, albatross, dolphins, and watched some fearless rock climbers ascend the arduous Totem Pole rock. For our final days we made our way up Tasmania’s East Coast route, encountering stunning vistas like Wineglass Bay, the bright red-turquoise Bay of Fires, and stopped to snap photos of all sorts of adorable creatures. It’s safe to say these vacation days were well spent.