Going down under: an Australia trip

Mindy Crenshaw is happy on the beach in Australia
Body: 
Australia is a unique, wild and beautiful country with endless opportunities for exploration and adventure. While known for its large cities -- Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane -- it is full of opportuniies for cultural immersion and experiencing indigenous wildlife, enjoying adventures tailored for every interest, and is a food and wine connoisseur’s dream.

My recent trip began in Queensland, which is like no other place I’ve been to, and which completely exceeded my expectations. With its endless coastlines, the famous World Heritage Site which is the Great Barrier Reef, spectacular beaches and rainforests, this state is a living and breathing postcard waiting to be explored. 

Our one night in Brisbane was sufficient to showcase this fun, savvy city with an endless supply of cosmopolitan dining, shopping, nightlife, numerous activities, and cultural attractions all within easy reach. A walking tour with Brisbane Greeters gave us a local insider's perspective on the city, and showed us some hidden gems we wouldn’t have found on our own. A dinner at OTTO restaurant showcased the amazing seafood and wine of this area, while allowing a nice break from the long flight before continuing onto Hamilton Island.   

Hamilton Island is one of 74 of the Whitsunday Islands, situated in the heart of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.  This car-free island offers a plethora of activities for nearly every interest, including award winning sailing, diving, golf, food, fine wine and luxury resorts. 

The chic, luxury resort, Qualia, set on the northernmost point of Hamilton Island, was our home for the next two nights. The resort's personnel personally greeted us as we exited the airplane and escorted us to our assigned pavilion.  My accommodation was one of the Windward Pavilions, with modern and soothing décor and with its own private infinity-edge plunge pool and sundeck, breathtaking views of the Coral Sea, mini-bar, and private golf cart for my personal use. I arrived to find a chilled bottle of Charles Heidsieck Champagne and a fruit basket waiting to be enjoyed. 

Our group participated in The Private Sake and Sashimi Talk and Taste, one of the many activities offered to guests during their stay. This experience was a journey through one of Japan’s oldest traditions and the sakes were each paired with Australia’s highest sashimi-grade fish. I loved learning the differences between the various sakes and pairing them with the correct choice of sashimi. 

This incredible day ended with sunset drinks at the Qualia Helipad and a private beach tasting dinner on Pebble Beach.  Our menu included 10 small bites highlighting Australia’s finest cuisine, paired with the perfect wine to enhance the flavors of each dish. What a beautiful experience with the sun setting behind us whilewe  enjoyed these delicacies. 

An early morning start on EXPLORE, Hamilton Island’s Great Barrier Reef Adventure. This bucket list adventure provides a full-day on the Great Barrier Reef, with selected moorings around Bait Reef, the closest of the outer reef locations.  Accessed by their private catamaran, we dove directly off the vessel’s diving platform, made a short swim to the reef, and experienced spectacular snorkeling. 

“Goodbye” Queensland and “Hello” Melbourne, a sophisticated and creative city admired for its street art, coffee culture and labyrinth of hidden laneways and arcades. Melbourne is host city to flagship events such as the Australian Open, Australian F1 Grand Prix, and international blockbuster exhibitions. Melbourne is a city of constant discovery, laid back lifestyle, and cross-cultural mix of fashion, food, shopping, heritage, and the arts. 

Within a few hours of the city center are a huge variety of landscapes, vineyards, iconic drives, hiking trails and ancient aboriginal rock art. After a fun afternoon exploring, we chose the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant for dinner. This restaurant offers lunch and dinner in one of Melbourne’s oldest trams, dating back to 1927, which have been elegantly refurbished in Pullman-style décor. Glazed windows allow diners to privately view the passing scenery, while enjoying the lovely cuisine and wine. 

What is a trip to Australia without seeing Koala’s and Kangaroos in the wild? Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours met us at our hotel and drove us an hour out of town to see these magnificent creatures.  We spent the day connecting with nature, searching and interacting with wild animals in their natural habitats, absorbing the incredible scenery while learning from our knowledgeable Wildlife Guide. Our group found two koalas, several troops of kangaroos, an emu, wallabies, and various species of birds. Nothing beats watching a wild koala climb down her tree and walk along the ground in front of you, a wild kangaroo hopping free across the grassland, or a wild emu approach to check you out! 

We spent a full day exploring Melbourne before heading out to the scenic resort region of the Mornington Peninsula, rich in wineries, golf courses, restaurants, and art galleries.  Our next two days were full of wine tasting, visiting a local farm, sightseeing, incredible meals and lastly, Phillip Island, home to the famous Penguin Parade.

Phillip Island has a reputation as a coastal gateway, where visitors can see penguins, seals and koalas in their natural habitat, and explore its natural attractions and stunning coastline. The Phillip Island Penguin Parade, the star attraction of the Phillip Island Nature Park, delights visitors as the little penguins make their way up Summerland Beach each night at sunset. There are various viewing options to see the penguins. Our group did Underground Viewing, a viewing experience limited to 70 people, which provides an eye-view level opportunity to watch the penguins waddling along the Penguin Parade’s most popular pathway. We opted to also watch from the outdoor viewing platform which gives views of the coastline and the penguins coming out of the water. The park does not allow the use of cameras or video as it frightens the penguins. More reason to visit and watch these superstars!! This Penguin Parade was the coup de grace for me -- the perfect ending to this life changing journey. 

The Australians are gracious, friendly, and truly excited to have visitors. The parts of Australia that I experienced grabbed hold of me and are pulling me back to see more. Are you ready to journey Down Under? 

Contact Mindy Crenshaw to learn more about beginning to plan your Australia and South Pacific vacation.