Outside GO's Whitney James Goes Down Under
Outside GO's Whitney James Goes Down Under
This past fall Whitney spent two weeks in Australia. She surfed Bondi Beach, went on a walkabout on the Scenic Rim Trail, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, and more.
As the marketing manager at Outside GO, over the course of the past four years I’ve spent countless hours supporting our sales team to launch new trips to far-flung destinations across the globe.
I get to write about all of these fantastic destinations every day—ecodomes in Patagonia where pumas outnumber tourists, safari camps in Africa that induce serious wanderlust, and fantastic cruises to the icy wonderland of Antarctica. Needless to say, I’ve come up with quite the bucket list. But out of all these unbelievable destinations from around the world, one really captivated me. Australia.
Australian accents have always been my favorite (don’t tell my South African boyfriend), but my desire to see this far away land ran deeper than the hope of stalking the likes of Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman. It was the promise of seeing the lights of the Opera House in person, surfing famous breaks where salt-water swimming pools overlook the ocean, watching kangaroos hop by, and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef with green sea turtles. When Australia Tourism offered me the chance to come experience all of this first-hand, I couldn’t have packed my bags any faster!
My trip was a two-week exploration of the east coast of Australia. It began in Sydney, took me up the coast to Brisbane via Byron Bay, and ultimately involved a small plane to an island in the Great Barrier Reef. It was the perfect mix of leisurely, solo discovery and basking in Aussie humor and hospitality. Here’s how the trip unraveled.
"Needless to say, I’ve come up with quite the bucket list. But out of all these unbelievable destinations from around the world, one really captivated me. Australia."
The journey to Australia is a long one. 14.5 hours from LAX, to be exact. Luckily I was able to catch a few z’s on the plane and before I knew it, I was on the ground in Sydney at 7 AM local time. My home for the next three nights, Spicers Pott’s Point, was able to accommodate me immediately. Right away it was love! The newly opened boutique hotel is part of the Spicers properties, a group of gorgeously designed outposts across Australia that made up the base of my stay for the next two weeks.
After a few hours of rest my guide, Carly, swung by to take me on a walking tour of the city. Together with Benjamin–a local architect and guru on all things Sydney–we explored nooks and crannies that would have been impossible to find on my own. We popped into the back entrance of Manta on the waterfront for a quick glass of champagne, found a kookaburra in the Royal Botanical Gardens, and admired aboriginal masterpieces in the Museum of Sydney. Everywhere we went we ran into friends, and I felt like a local that had just returned home after a short time abroad—not the other way around.
The next two days I toured the Opera House, climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge at sunset (and in a bit of an electrical storm if we’re being honest), and stand-up paddle boarded in Rose Bay with Carly and our trusty guide, “Belly.” I surfed Bondi Beach and tried a Sydney rock oyster at Icebergs, the most photographed restaurant in Australia. On day three, it was time to depart for Byron Bay—a city that I was told by a few Australians I would like even more than Sydney.
"We popped into the back entrance of Manta on the waterfront for a quick glass of champagne, found a kookaburra in the Royal Botanical Gardens, and admired aboriginal masterpieces in the Museum of Sydney."
They were right! Byron Bay reminded me of my hometown of Boulder, except that it’s on the ocean and is home to even friendlier people. Here the wonderfully energetic Renae guided me through the perfect 24 hours in Byron. We perused the farmer’s market and local shops, walked the rolling hills of The Farm, a farm-to-table co-op with homemade bread and the best salad you’ve ever tasted, went sea-kayaking on a search for dolphins, and topped it all off with a feast and locally made gin cocktails at Harvest, a five-star restaurant that you simply cannot miss. My suite at the Byron at Byron Bay for this portion of the trip was like my own little paradise. Wallabies hopped by below my double-decked suite, while cockatoos flew through the rainforest causing a wonderful commotion. If you listened closely, you could hear the crashing of the waves on the beach that was only a five-minute walk away.
All too soon, I was whisked away in a convertible by a garrulous and lovely man named Kenn. We were on route to Brisbane, a two-hour drive north along the coast. But our trip wouldn’t be without its own fun! We stopped at a beautiful boutique hotel called Halcyon House, held a koala at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, and ate another fantastic Australian lunch at one of Kenn’s favorite spots. This was the perfect way to see the Gold Coast before arriving in Brisbane, where Spicers Balfour would be my brief home for the night before departing the next morning for the Scenic Rim Trail.
"Wallabies hopped by below my double-decked suite, while cockatoos flew through the rainforest causing a wonderful commotion."
At seven sharp, our driver arrived to take us inland to the Main Range National Park. Here we were kitted with perhaps the most comfortable backpacks I’ve ever worn. They held the supplies we would need for the day—lunch, cookies, and plenty of water to fuel us on our eight-mile trek up and over Mount Mitchell. We spent the next three days deep in the wilderness staying at Spicers Canopy and then Spicers Peak Lodge, hiking about 20 miles total through undisturbed eucalypt forests and rainforests. With friendly and expert guides Gabi and Craig leading the way, we spotted a plethora of wildlife from wallabies to dingos, 16 endangered glossy black cockatoos, and much to my parent’s dismay, we nearly stepped on a 6-foot brown snake—the second most venomous snake in the world! A true outdoorswoman at heart, this was easily my favorite portion of the trip and you can read more about the experience here.
The grand finale was a night at Lady Elliot Island, an eco-resort located at the southernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef. While it was surreal to spot manta rays swimming below our glass-bottomed boat and snorkel with green sea turtles, my favorite part of this adventure was flying to and from the island in tiny airplanes and sitting up front for the best view. Let’s just say the pilot laughed at me as I squirmed when we took off on the bumpy, grass runway!
Before I knew it I was sitting back at my computer in Colorado with a suntan, mind-boggled at how it’s possible to spend a day in an airplane and end up back in a place where once again the cold, dark days of winter have taken hold. Armed with photos and a million memories, now I can tell you first-hand that Australia is indeed as incredible as it looks. It deserves a spot near the top of anyone’s bucket list.
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Whitney's Australia Trip
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