You probably gathered that we had a fantastic time in Australia as a family. 3 weeks together and we didn't kill each other. Here are some travel notes in case you are interested.
We spent our first week driving up the east coast. After landing in Sydney, we stopped in each one of these places, spending at least one night there while getting to our destination of Hervey Bay: Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, Ballina, Surfers Paradise [2 nights]. This was around 800 miles of driving, similar to driving from DC to just past Jacksonville, FL. Each one of the places we stopped at was very fun though with lots to see. The east coast of Australia is absolutely breathtaking. On the way back, we drove to Brisbane and then flew back to Sydney for our last week where we attended the Hillsong Conference. We used mostly hotels for these stops - most were moderate, one was very budget and one was super nice. We had to keep reminding ourselves that Australia is a big country and we wouldn't be able to see it all.
Driving on the other side of the road really messes with your head, especially when you are jet lagged. It will eventually be easier though. You'll use wipers for turn signals and try to get in on the wrong side of the car a lot. We rented a car through AAA which seemed to have the best deals. Since we rented and returned to different locations, it was a little more expensive and definitely required shopping around.
Hervey Bay is a perfect little quiet beach town. We didn't venture onto Fraser Island, which is the world's largest sand island and close. It seemed like the best access was to take a tour and we didn't want to spend the money or sit on a tour bus for a whole day, especially after the Lady Elliot day. You can rent a 4x4 and drive yourself on the island - maybe next time.
We took a day trip out to Lady Elliot Island during our time in Hervey Bay and this was definitely expensive and definitely worth it. If you know me, you know I dislike boats. But I got in one here because you can't be on the Great Barrier Reef and not get in a boat. You take a little 8 seater plane from the Hervey Bay airport and fly about 45 minutes to the island. Once you land, you get your snorkel gear, go on a reef walk with a guide, and then get in a glass bottom boat and go out to snorkel. The water was a little cold so we rented wetsuits which worked out great. Lunch is provided and then there are a variety of things to do after lunch. I wore a lifejacket all day too but still had to be sort of rescued - good thing our older daughter is a lifeguard. Still this day was worth it.
Most of the Australians we met were super friendly and love Americans. Granted, we were mostly in vacation spots so it was pretty laid back. I do think though that Australians are a 'say it like it is' culture. Food was delicious - our only nominal meal was at Hungry Jacks, which is the same thing as Burger King in the states.
We used AirBNB for our stay in Hervey Bay and Sydney. Both were great stays, much cheaper than hotels and owned by locals. The cottage in Hervey Bay was beautiful and was a rental property. The apartment in Sydney was much different in that aspect - the owner lived there most of the time. That's a different feel but not at all unacceptable.
We did a fair share of cooking our own dinners as well as making lunches. Grocery stores are plenty and look very similar to the US - lots and lots of choices. I'm in love with Golden Pikelets. Australians care about their food.
Ashfield, where our apartment was in Sydney, is very diverse, lots of Asians there, a very much day to day non-touristy Chinatown. It was the perfect location for us - 30 minutes to Olympic Park where the Hillsong conference was and 20 minutes into city center. Lots of great Chinese food and a good tattoo studio too.
We didn't see whales at Coffs Harbour, but did see them off the coast of Ballina as well as from the lighthouse at Byron Bay and in the boat and from the plane at Lady Elliott. At Byron, we also saw multiple schools of dolphins. We were a little early for the whale watch season.
The weather was beautiful in Hervey Bay - low 70s every day. We were in shorts and tshirts while most Aussies had their winter coats. Sydney was colder - 50s and 60s most days and we had 3 days of rain. Winter in Australia while summer in the States so we brought warmer clothes. Our trip also coincided with a 2 week school holiday in Queensland, the state of Australia where Hervey Bay is located.
We also spent a day in SF on either end to break up the travel a little bit and to see the city. We did some sightseeing on the way out. The way home included sleeping most of the day and staying up just about the whole night.
Most of all of these logistics were planned while we were still in the US. Travel hacking post at another time.
Must do's if you go where we went:
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, Lady Elliot Island, Byron Bay lighthouse, walk along to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair along the Sydney Harbour Botanic Gardens [but they close the gates at 5:30pm], make your way onto the Sydney bridge, both Hillsong campuses in Sydney are standing room only.