I am an American, from Nashville, Tennessee, who married an Australian (Anthony Pie, an architect who I met at the Royal Ascot Races while living in London, but that’s another story!). Living in Australia, you cannot help but catch the travel bug. Not only do you have to travel quite a distance to get most places, but everyone does it. The overseas trip is de rigueur for “Aussies.” If people aren’t on an overseas trip, they are surely planning one or talking to friends about it. Travel is embedded in the Australian culture. Don’t you always meet a lot of Australians when traveling? This is why!
My American friends often tell me they’re dying to visit Australia, and they usually include New Zealand on this “bucket-list” trip. I would discourage the idea that Australia and New Zealand are best done in one vacation. Not so. Do yourself a favour and plan them as two separate holidays. It’s worth it to take your time, and uncover great spots in each place.
Here is my idea of a dream vacation in Australia: starting with the stunning “must see” Sydney, delving off the beaten path to a couple of summer spots Australians love for weekend getaways, and finishing with an urban fix in cool and cultured Melbourne. I hope this insider knowledge gets you away from the cookie-cutter sights (reef and rock) of an Australia trip, and inspires a more localized (read fun!) trip “Down Under” soon.
It’s a great idea to escape the North American winter and visit us for the Aussie summer. January is when you will find Australians at their most relaxed, at the beach, or enjoying the great outdoors. In fact, from Christmas until Australia Day (January 26), it’s hard to find many Australians at work―we are on “hols”, as the locals say!
Sydney is a fabulous way to start any Australian adventure. Even for locals, Sydney Harbour, with its impressive bridge and iconic Opera House, never ceases to take your breathe away, but especially on a sunny summer day. It is spectacular, so why not splurge for your first stop with a stay at the newly renovated Park Hyatt Sydney? It is Sydney’s premier hotel and with the US dollar favorably positioned to the Aussie dollar, it’s a good time to stay at the best.
Bondi Beach is a must! Start with the walk from Bondi to Bronte and back (a favourite among Sydney-siders). Then, grab a table at chic Sydney favorite, Icebergs Dining Room, for a long, lazy lunch, while watching the tanned and fit catch the crashing waves below. The pool at Icebergs, cantilevered over the ocean, is very cool too.
Some of my favorite Sydney haunts are the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art); Art Gallery of NSW (New South Wales); and shopping in leafy Woollahra (Queen Street and its surrounding lanes, Double Bay – Transvaal Avenue, and Surry Hills – Crown Street). Book in advance to dine at Sydney hotspots like Mr. Wong, Chiswick, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Quay, Porteño, 10 William St., or LuMi Bar & Dining. For a casual lunch, try Cafe Sopra at Fratelli Fresh in Potts Point. For antiques, don’t miss Geoffrey Clark’s amazing store, The Country Trader (Danks Street). For Australian art, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Paddington is among the best.
With Sydney done and dusted, it’s time to explore the Northern New South Wales beaches. A short flight to the Gold Coast and a 20-minute drive will have you at Cabarita Beach. Your base for the next few days is Halcyon House. This recently opened Palm Springs-style makeover of a 1950’s motor inn is Australia’s latest and much raved about oceanfront boutique hotel.
It is artsy, bold and fun in design (with interiors by Anna Spiro). The staff is chic and cool, minus any attitude; the GM, Mauro De Riso, is Italian and was formerly at JK Place Capri. The hotel’s restaurant, Paper Daisy, is so good you will look forward to dining there nightly rather than going out. It’s always full of locals, which is a great sign. Do venture out one night, and head a few miles south to the sleepy town of Brunswick Heads to dine at Fleet. With only 20 seats, it has inspired cooking, savvy staff and some fabulous lesser-known wines. Daytime jaunts to neighboring Byron Bay for its hip shops and a must-do lunch at organic farm/food store/cafe Three Blue Ducks are other fun activities in the area, aside from the sand and surf.
Another off-the-usual track suggestion is Tasmania. Since the fabulous MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) opened just outside of Hobart a few years back, “Tassie” has been a must for Australian visitors, yet is not often on a typical US traveler’s itinerary. A day in Hobart with a visit to MONA (by boat), would be the perfect start before heading to the new privately owned island getaway, Satellite Island.
Located in the south of Tasmania, Satellite Island is a truly unique destination―the perfect combination of relaxing hideaway and untamed wilderness. It’s a privately owned house and island, so you’ll have the place to yourself. Your island home has 360 views of Southern Hemisphere wilderness―a mix of native bush, ancient blue gum trees and sheer sea cliffs awaits. The Summer House (the main accommodation is perched on the cliff top on the northernmost tip of the island) and the Boathouse (just below the Summer House on the rock shelf) are reserved just for you. Plus, the island is exclusively yours whether you are a group of 1 or 12.
You can sleep on the water’s edge at the Boathouse in overwater bungalows, with just the sound of lapping water and unspoiled views of the wilderness. It’s also fun to light a fire on the pebble beach, complete with a glass of Tassie wine in hand, or watch the sunset from Last Glimpse Point at the end of the island…next stop: Antarctica. From Satellite Island, it’s easy to explore nearby Bruny Island with its stunning walks, winery, and amazing fresh food from oyster farms and the cheese factory, Bruny Island Cheese Company.
After your untouched island escape, it’s time to finish in what many say is Australia’s coolest city―Melbourne. It is my hometown, and a city that takes a bit of research to get the most out of. Many top restaurants and hip bars are barely marked, and tucked away in narrow lanes. While the city has all the larger hotel chains, I send most friends to a small boutique option, Lyall Hotel and Spa, for its local setting in South Yarra. The Lyall’s owners Peter and Rowina Thomas, are well connected to the local scene. From The Lyall, you can explore the boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants of South Yarra, yet still be in the city in five minutes via Uber for dinner.
Melbourne is food and coffee obsessed. Trust me, you don’t have to look too hard for a good coffee in Melbourne. My morning “flat white” fix is at The Final Step, just across from The Lyall, best enjoyed with their bagel with avocado and feta mash. A walk around “the Tan”, the picturesque track around the Royal Botanic Gardens, is ideal for taking in the local vibe while walking off all the great food. Follow this by coffee at South Yarra’s favourite French-style brasserie, Entrecôte, and it’s about as “Melbourne, as the locals do” as you can get.
Have I convinced you that perhaps it’s time to stop talking about Australia and book a flight?
If so, I recommend Qantas―direct from LAX or Dallas to Sydney, and direct from Melbourne to LAX on the return with easy add-on connections to most US capital cities. Sip some wine or champagne, lie back, watch a movie or three, and before you know it, you are here!
For more travel inspiration, follow Betsy Pie on Instagram @betsypie
Wondering what to wear on your Aussie adventure? We have a few stylish ideas, inspired by Betsy’s fantastic guide.