After many years of having Australia on our bucket list, this year my husband Bill and I finally had the time and means to actually plan a trip. This isn’t a place you can visit in a week. Australia is a young country that served as a penal colony for British criminals banished to the country for minor crimes. But today Australia is a mix of sophisticated cities and wide open spaces. The population of Australia is only 25 million people. My husband and I love the outdoors and have always been in awe of the romance of the wild outback. There are of course kangaroos, shipwrecks and Captain Cook. Tasmania, an island state of Australia, has its legends of the Tasmania devil and now-extinct Tasmanian lion.
After months of looking at tour itineraries, I was frustrated that I couldn’t find one that exactly met our needs. So I reached out to Jacada Travel, a “travel designer” in London who helped me put together three exciting weeks. This is our journal from our trip of a lifetime to Australia...
We left Tampa at 5:00 PM on Friday, April 6th and, due to various airport delays, arrived in Melbourne a full three days later on April 9th.
Finally in Melbourne, we made our way to the Blackman Hotel where we freshened up and took a walk around the neighborhood. Nearby, we visited Fawkner Park and the nearby Shrine of Remembrance, a beautiful green space and monument dedicated to fallen soldiers. Before the trip, I had touched base with locals in Melbourne’s Greek community. So we spent our first evening in Australia at Philhellene Provincial Greek Cuisine and enjoyed visiting with John Rerakis and his wife Susie for an authentic Greek meal of rabbit stew and lamb.
We walked all over Melbourne’s city center and nearby Federation Square, a center for arts and culture in the city. Melbourne, with about 4.5 million people, is young, multicultural and has a beautiful sense of art and green space. The architecture is British influenced mixed with modern creative design.
We then traveled about three hours outside of Melbourne to start our four-day 12 Apostles Lodge Walk along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. Our base was a luxury eco lodge near the spectacular Great Ocean Walk, managed by a wonderful young husband and wife who provided backpacks, water, hiking sticks, meals and a guide. Each day we hiked six to eight miles on a portion of this national treasure.
Our team included a Japanese tour guide participating in the walk for his future business and a couple from Queensland. Our knowledgeable guide, Elizabeth, was our fearless trail leader and shared great insight to the land and history.
Day one was gorgeous. We saw unspoiled landscapes of ocean, sand dunes, woods and peaceful beauty. Day two of the walk was a very tiring eight mile hike up and down steep rocky hills with breathtaking views of the sea. Wind and weather changes were dramatic with not another soul in sight other than our five-man team. When we returned to the eco lodge, warm foot baths and a glass of wine awaited us. The meals were excellent and Ben and Ania, our lodge managers, were a joy to be with at the lodging. With only five guests, it was like visiting a friend who takes care of everything.
Day three of the 12 Apostles Walk was not quite as strenuous, hiking eight miles along the Great Ocean Walk path. We stopped often for water breaks and photos along with great stories of shipwrecks and adventures tied to this pristine protected national park. Champagne was offered at the end of the trail with car service back to hotel. All in all a great day. (We saw several kangaroo in the wild too!)
High winds and rain created a tiring final day walk but fortunately it was only eight kilometers to our destination, Port Campbell. We were offered a helicopter ride over the park with amazing views of the coastline and 12 Apostles rock formations (there are currently 8 showing as other have fallen into the sea) as part of the package followed by lunch and hot showers in Port Campbell.
Our next stop was Tasmania, an hour’s flight from Melbourne and 1,500 miles from Antarctica so slightly chillier. About a half million people live on the island, with 250,000 of those in Hobart alone. We arrived at the beautiful Henry Jones Art Hotel, a renovated old canning factory, where we enjoyed a drink at the bar before heading straight to bed.
After a delicious breakfast of avocado toast and poached eggs, we did our own walking tour of the picturesque waterfront of Hobart and visited the Maritime Museum. The history of shipwrecks and dependence on the sea was fascinating. It was good to have a day without a packed itinerary and we relaxed with wine in the afternoon at a pier pub/restaurant with excellent entertainment provided by a young guitarist from northern Italy. In the evening we dined at Rockwall Bar and Grill as recommended by an Australian on The New York Times Australia page. We dined on Tasmanian steaks and seafood and the food was excellent. We met interesting people from all over the world who have a passion for new experiences, a fascination like us for this far off island and all its romantic history of shipwrecks, Captain Cook and legends like the Tasmanian Tiger.
We spent the day traveling by car to Cradle Mountain National Park (the park had a wild, rugged intensity about it that is unique to anything else we’ve seen in Australia.). The long ride gave us the opportunity to see many beautiful communities of farms with sheep, cows and a few wombats along the way. We stopped for coffee in Oatlands and further up outside of Launceston had a delicious lamb lunch at a hillside Tasmanian winery. We arrived at the park late afternoon in time for a presentation on the rare Tasmanian devil and observed them feeding on wombat. Aggressive, fearless and similar in temperament to hyena, they’re a fascinating endangered species. We also explored the park, Dove Lake and Cradle Mountain and the variety of trees and landscapes. Most impressive was the rainforest, the only one in the Southern Hemisphere not in tropical area – it was stunning.
We stayed at the comfortable Pencil Pine Cabins at Cradle Mountain Lodge, complete with a fireplace and tasty meals in the main lodge. Most of our fellow hotel guests were from the Australian mainland and were especially warm and welcoming when we told them we were from Florida.
We then set off for Sydney, via Hobart and Melbourne. We stayed at the Four Seasons, a great location steps from the iconic Sydney Harbour, which boasts one of the world’s biggest natural harbors in the world. We took a four-hour cruise with a buffet lunch on Sydney Harbour in the afternoon. The waterfront, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and beautiful architecture that surrounds this giant harbor made for a memorable and relaxing afternoon.
Australia has a fairly large Greek community and we had the opportunity to meet a distant cousin, Arthur and wife Michele, in Sydney. They showed us more beautiful sights and the newly developed Barangaroo, a harbor arts and dining district, and had lunch at Bungalow 8. We did a little shopping then headed to Doyles restaurant on Watsons Bay where we enjoyed a delicious seafood dinner right on the bay.
The next day, we drove two hours out of Sydney to Blue Mountains National Park for a few short hikes and a picnic on the mountain. As it was autumn in Australia, fall colors were glorious and abundant. On our last night in Sydney we had a great dinner at the Four Seasons and then a few drinks at Fortune of War, Sydney’s oldest pub where we had fun with locals and enjoyed live entertainment. The friendly Aussies made a very positive impression on us everywhere we went. They were keen to make sure we enjoyed ourselves and eager to be a small part of our holiday.
On to the Red Center! A.k.a the Outback, an easy three-hour flight to Uluru from Sydney. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is in the middle of Northern Territory with little else around the desert landscape. The first afternoon we watched a demonstration of a Didgeridoo , a wind instrument developed by indigenous Australians, and visited a museum showcasing indigenous art. Desert Gardens Hotel, just outside of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, is our home for the next two nights. It’s comfortable with stunning views of the rock.
One morning, we got up at 5 a.m. for an amazing sunrise breakfast outdoors on a dune. Breakfast was prepared at a picnic site with views of the wild desert and giant rock in the distance. We then toured various locations in and around the giant Uluru. Parts of the park look similar to Sedona, Arizona, but more dramatic. The fact that this rock takes up something like six miles with nothing else around it makes for quite a sight. Each night, the Ayers Rock Resort tour team hosted a well-orchestrated buffet with music and stargazing. The sun setting and good company from all over the world made for a great final night.
We flew back to Dallas to catch our return flight to Tampa, a 14 hour journey. It was a wonderful experience and we have memories to last a lifetime.
My amazing itinerary was put together by Jacada Travel’s expert travel designer, Jane, based in their UK headquarters. What makes this company stand out is the way they create and execute a trip. Jane and I had two or three conversations where she investigated our interests, previous travel we had done and what activities we enjoy most. Then we discussed further details by phone. The final itinerary was set with every detail listed. We missed one ride due to delayed flights and one morning walk but considering a three week trip with multiple flights and hotels this was minor. At every hotel we stayed at there were updates on our itinerary as needed and a welcome hand-written note from travel designer Jane.
Worth mentioning, none of the U.S. travel guides I researched mentioned the Great Ocean Walk. If Jacada’s Jane hadn’t mentioned it, I would not have included it on my list of places to see. Also restaurant reservations, car service pickups and meticulous planning made the trip worry free.
All this made for an adventure that is considered one of my best life experiences. Jacada is efficient and focused on giving you a great travel experience. They get five stars!