Running Around Australia
by Nancy Hellmrich
Sarah is a morning person. She’s up at daybreak, dressed, accessorized, and effervescing around the office before most of us have found our espresso cups. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. What is a shame, however, is that Sarah not only beat you to the office this morning, she also beat you to Australia, mate.
With a bevy of non-stops departing Los Angeles daily, getting to Australia is easy. After dinner, a movie, and eight hours of sleep, Sarah touched down in Sydney on roughly the same daylight schedule she’d left behind. Sydney, for those who haven’t been paying attention, is Australia’s most populous city, offering an exciting mix of glossy skyscrapers, handsome historic buildings, lush tree-lined parks, and inviting waterfronts. A popular filming location, several blockbusters have been produced here, including The Matrix, Mission Impossible II, and most recently, The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DeCaprio.
Circular Quay, Sydney’s harbor front, is decked out in al fresco cafés and ferry tours to places like Kissing Point and Manly Beach. To the south, a wide promenade winds around to the Sydney Opera House and Royal Botanical Gardens. To the north is the scalable Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Rocks district, which boasts artisan markets and chef Neil Perry’s Rockpool Bar & Grill, where Hugh Jackman is said to dine. In nearby Darling Harbour you can charter yachts, get your skipper’s license, or set sail on evening cocktail cruises. And, if you’re a follower of GQ and Vogue Australia, you’ll find an embarrassment of haute boutiques on posh George Street where Hermes and Louis Vuitton mingle with hot Australian labels like Akira Isogawa, Carla Zampatti, and Charlie Brown.
Along the waterfront, the al fresco Opera Bar attracts a chic mix of tourists and businesspeople who share wine, laughter, and mod dishes prepared by celebrated chefs. The lively evenings stand in contrast to the quiet harbor mornings when early risers, like Sarah, take in the fresh harbor air as the city awakens from sleep. When you’re not out running in the big city, you can run into the country for a taste of the dramatic land contrasts and clever “isms” for which Australians are known. Just a short drive from downtown, you’ll find ockas (real Aussies) and learn that sunglasses are sunnies, swimsuits are togs, dinner is tea, and the tinnies are in the eski in the ute means the beer is in the cooler in the SUV. For the fitness minded, trail running or bush walking on the 250km Great North Walk in the Hunter Valley is a worthy pursuit. For photography nuts, the Blue Mountains in NSW and the wine country in the south are equally enticing.
Accessing Australia’s wine country is no hard yakka
A short flight southeast takes you to the cosmopolitan city of Melbourne, which hosts a high-fashion thoroughbred horserace called The Melbourne Cup each year in November. This explains why Sarah arrived to find a festive atmosphere wafting through the cultural centre, where charming outdoor cafés sport chalkboard menus and graffiti-like murals adorn the narrow “laneways.” After a look around town, she checked into the rich selection of tours that depart from Melbourne daily and opted for the Yarra Valley Wineries. Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s leading wine producing regions with award-winners that include Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays, Shiraz, and Sauvignon Blancs. After a short drive into the Dandenong Ranges, Sarah was rewarded with lush vistas and neat rows of carefully tended vines. At Fergusson’s, she savored Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon along with a roast beef lunch. At Dominique Portet she enjoyed a private tasting and tour conducted by Mr. Portet himself.
A beach girl at heart, Sarah’s favorite spot was Byron Bay
Named by Captain James Cook in 1770 after poet Lord Byron’s grandfather, the area became popular in the 1970s when surfing and the Aquarius Festival made it a bohemian hotspot. Today, Bryon Bay hosts sky divers, surfers, cyclists, scuba divers, snorkelers, and more. Despite all the activity, the town has a sleepy, surfer vibe and is full of free-spirited types, organic cafés, and artsy shops. Sarah stayed at the Byron at Byron Resort & Spa, which borders a subtropical rainforest, has daily yoga, gourmet dining, a wooden boardwalk, and spa services with names like “flannel flower relax.” It will come as no surprise that, the next morning, Sarah – accompanied by an avian soundtrack of lorikeets, honey eaters, cockatoos, and kookaburras – ran the length of the boardwalk down to silky white Tallow Beach. Along the way she slowed her nimble pace long enough to spy lily-pad covered ponds, hidden prayer temples, and a porcupine-like “echidna” who rolled himself into a ball.
For remote aquatic adventures, head to The Whitsundays
Hamilton Island sits on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands. Here, you can choose from several elegant resorts and an array of activities on land, sea, and air. A seasoned paddle boarder, Sarah took the opportunity to get in a workout just off Catseye Beach. The following morning, she went for a trail run to Paradise Peak, the highest point on the island. Of course, no trip to the Whitsundays would be complete without a dip in the abundant waters of the world’s largest coral reef. Go ahead, admit it, you’re a little bit jealous that it was Sarah, and not you, who donned a head-to-toe wet suit and snorkeled among sea turtles, brightly colored corals, clownfish, striped surgeonfish, and more.
Back on land, Sarah visited the Hamilton Island Wildlife Park, where Oprah held Elvis the koala … and you can too. Sarah gave Elvis a cuddle and stopped in to see the new baby koala they had just named “Little O.” Then a short, champagne-fueled ride on a luxury yacht took her to exclusive Hayman Island, a recently renovated 5-star hideaway with a seaside pool, decadent spa menu, and a paradise of gourmet dining options. Accommodations range from lagoon and pool views to secluded beach houses with butlers. If sunbathing isn’t your style, you can sail the Whitsundays, take scandalously fast speedboat excursions, indulge in a little heli-golf, and escape for private dive trips to the Great Barrier Reef. Sarah opted for a hike through the rainforest to the island’s scenic lookouts. That evening, she savored pumpkin truffle custard, a dynamite lobster dish called Morton Bay Bugs … and the good fortune that had brought her to this multifaceted wonderland everyone calls Australia.
ENSEMBLE TRAVEL GROUP is an international consortium of travel agencies. This article was written for the organization’s Ensemble Lifestyles magazine.