A First-Timer’s Trip to Australia

Sydney, the Whitsundays and the Central Coast

Including our 12 Day Itinerary

When we happened upon an incredibly low airfare of $500 RT from Los Angeles to Sydney over spring break, we jumped at the opportunity. Australia was suddenly at the top of our travel wish list. We booked our flights (even letting the kids pick a friend to bring along). Then it was time to get to work on our itinerary. That’s when we realized Australia is a really, big place. Ok, we knew it was big, just looking at a world map will tell you that. But we really had no idea just how big. To put things in perspective, we initially thought we’d drive up to the northern coast, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Google maps quickly put that idea to rest. If we were going to make it up there (an approximately 23-hour drive from Sydney, we would need to fly instead).  Australia is just slightly smaller than the size of the contiguous United States. If you’re reading this and you’re from Australia, I apologize for pointing out what you probably consider obvious.
We did some research on the price of domestic flights, how much time we would want to stay in Sydney and if there were places we wanted to visit within driving distance of Sydney. I also read up on posts that some of my favorite family travel bloggers had written.






Awol Family

The Blonde Nomads


I visited sites of Australia-based writers and even asked for recommendations through our Instagram account. All these channels provided lots of great ideas! Our itinerary began to take shape. For our two-week Australia vacation, we planned to spend the first three nights in Sydney, then head up to the Whitsundays for five nights, then back to the Central Coast area for the last four nights. We booked our accommodations (mostly Airbnb) and made flight and car rental reservations.

Australia made a great first impression on our group.  That impression lasted. It felt familiar and comfortable. One of the girls said, "Australia feels like Texas and the United Kingdom had a baby." A huge baby, I might add. Texas, because the people are strong, resilient, and incredibly friendly. The United Kingdom, because of the English influence. This includes everything from driving on the left side to acknowledgments of royalty and language accent.

Learning about Sydney

Sydney may be the largest city in Australia, but it is not the capital. That title belongs to Canberra, which is located a few hours away by car.  Sydney was founded as a colony in 1788 when ships containing convicts from England arrived. They were left there as a punishment and today 20% of Australia's residents have a convict ancestor.

The world famous Sydney Opera House hosts over 3000 shows per year. When the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built, it required so much paint that it had to be done in grey, which was the only color available in such a large quantity. It measures 1,149 meters, and it is considered to be the largest steel arch bridge in the whole world. We learned that Sydney Harbor is the 2nd busiest harbor in the world, after Hong Kong.


For more fun facts about the land down under

check out our Australia book list

Where We Stayed in Sydney

Sydney is a large metropolitan city that covers a broad area and without a specific center. That can make it tricky to choose a home base for a visit. In big cities, we prefer to stay right in the heart so that we can walk to most places we want to go. We chose an area called “The Rocks” and were glad we did. This was the original settlement of the convicts that arrived from England. We liked this area because it felt residential even though it was within walking distance of Circular Quay (essential for ferries), the Opera House, the Botanical Gardens and Darling Harbor. The streets are lined with small markets, cafes, and restaurants. We chose a three-bedroom Airbnb which suited the size of our group well. Not only did we enjoy a full-sized kitchen for preparing a couple of meals, but we also saved a heap by not booking expensive hotel rooms.

Our 12-day Itinerary:
Day One: Welcome to Sydney-Harbor Ferry, Taronga Zoo & Darling Harbor
Day Two: More of Sydney-Botanical Gardens, Opera House, Manly Beach, Capitol Theater
Day Three: Still more of Sydney-Watson’s Bay & Bondi Beach via Ferry
Day Four: Last of Sydney-Hyde Park// Hello Whitsundays-explore Airlie Beach
Day Five: Airlie Beach-Great Barrier Reef
Day Six: Airlie Beach-Hideaway Bay & Dingo Beach
Day Seven: Airlie Beach-Whitsunday Island & Whitehaven Beach
Day Eight: Airlie Beach-Cedar Creek Falls &Conway Beach
Day Nine: Travel day
Day Ten: Central Coast-Tree Top Adventure Park & Morriset
Day Eleven: Central Coast-Sand Surf in Port Stephens & Australian Walkabout Wildlife Park
Day Twelve: Blue Mountains National Park & Bronte Beach

Day One (Sydney):
Our international flight from LAX arrived at 7:00 am. This was not our first time to cross the Equator, we've enjoyed Bora Bora, Moorea and Tetiaroa already, but it was our first time to cross the Date Line. We struggled to get our heads around the fact that we flew for 15 hours and yet arrived two days later than we left. 
Almost there...
Almost there...
We jumped in an Uber and made our way to our Airbnb located in The Rocks. Thankfully, no guests had stayed there the night before, and we were able to check-in right away. This was very helpful since we were arriving when cafes were still serving their first cup of coffee. That meant we had a full day ahead of us and it would be no small challenge keeping our crew awake and moving. We took a couple of hours to freshen up with showers and a change of clothing. We visited the local market and stocked up on snacks and breakfast food. I won't lie, the struggle to climb into bed was real, but we wanted to enjoy our first full day in Australia and acclimate asap!
We walked over to the Australian Visitor Centre near Circular Quay and purchased a 48-hour ferry pass with admission to the Taronga Zoo. This pass included unlimited harbor ferry rides which turned out to be a great way to get around.  From there we walked over to Circular Quay, which is like Grand Central Station for ferries. We boarded a ferry for Taronga Zoo, and we were on our way. What an excellent introduction to Sydney and Australia. Leaving Circular Quay, the first thing you see is the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. Sydney Harbor is a feast for the eyes (especially tired eyes) with the many ferries, water taxis, fishing boats, cruise ships, sailboats and more.  

Taronga Zoo is located across the bay from Sydney and is a short ride from Circular Quay. Once we disembarked from the ferry, we rode up the hill to the zoo entrance in the Sky Safari (cable car). We spent the next few hours exploring this small, but very nicely presented zoo. Walking around in the fresh air, taking in a few shows, and seeing some of Australia’s famous animals was a perfect remedy for our jet lag.
The view from Taronga Zoo
The view from Taronga Zoo
Then we took a ferry to Darling Harbor where we were just in time to catch the sunset. Darling Harbor is home to some excellent museums, which we did not have the energy for at this point. There are many exciting places to eat along the waterfront in Darling Harbor, and we were all ready for a meal. The walk from Darling Harbor back to The Rocks was about 15 minutes. By the time we arrived, it was about 8:00 pm. We high-fived each other for making it through the day and called it a night. We slept like babies.

Day Two (Sydney):
We all slept through the night and this felt even more triumphant. I think we expected to get hit harder with jet lag, but clearly, we were adjusting just fine. Half our group headed out for a morning run around Barangaroo Reserve, a beautiful outdoor space along the water's edge. One of the things we loved about Sydney is all the green space. City planners have given considerable thought to parks, city gardens, and jogging trails.
After breakfast, we walked over to explore the Royal Botanical Gardens and get a closer look at the Opera House. We checked the schedule and prices for shows inside the Opera House during our stay and decided against it. There were no shows that fit our interest or budget. Tours of the Opera House are offered daily.
Next, we boarded a ferry and made our way to Manly Beach. The ferry drops people off on the bay side, and then you can take a short walk through town to get to Manly Beach which is on the Pacific Ocean side. Shops, restaurants, and activities such as surf lessons and bike rentals make this a spot you could easily spend a whole day at. It was cloudy, and so we were satisfied with walking around a bit and having lunch.

Then we got back on the ferry and headed back to Sydney. One of the things we enjoy doing when we visit big cities is taking in a live theater show. We noticed that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was being performed at the Capitol Theater in Chinatown and none of us had ever seen the stage production before. We spent the evening there and loved the show as well as exploring Sydney's China Town!

Day Three (Sydney):
The day started with another morning run, this time through the Royal Botanical Gardens. We enjoyed exploring the well-manicured and colorful grounds. One of our favorite things about Australia has been the many birds we saw everywhere we went. The Royal Botanical Gardens was an especially favorite place for these exotic birds to congregate.

From cockatoos to parrots to magpies, lorikeets, and even a few kookaburras, the area was swarming with them. After breakfast, we boarded a ferry for Watson’s Bay.  Like Manly Beach, Watson’s Bay is also located on the bay side with a Pacific Ocean side just a short walk from the ferry dock. Watson’s Bay was founded in 1788 and is famed for being Australia’s oldest fishing village.

It still has that village feel to it with little outdoor eateries facing the water and Robertson Park that serves as a gathering place for residents, children, and dogs. We spent about two hours here walking the Gap Bluff Trail facing the Pacific Ocean. The wreck of the Dunbar, Hornby Lighthouse and Naval Chapel are also among the points of interest along these trails. Once back at the shore, we enjoyed a fish and chip lunch at the cleverly named “Fish and Chippery” a waterfront spot with striped umbrellas and an excellent drink menu.
Then we made our way to the famous Bondi Beach via Uber. Known for being Sydney’s most popular beach, it was crowded and we loved being part of it all. It was a Saturday afternoon with a completely blue sky.  It was busy, vibrant and fun! You cannot run out of things to do at Bondi Beach. We spent some of our time swimming and sunbathing. Then we enjoyed the beautiful coastal walk from Bondi to Bronte, passing by Icebergs and people-watching. Many enjoy the snorkeling among the rocks located at the north end of Bondi. The beachfront promenade is filled with restaurants and shops. Woolworth’s grocery store is a great place to grab bottled water for a lot less and a picnic or snack food for the beach. Don’t miss Anita’s for the most delicious gelato outside of Italy! There are public restrooms with showers and lockers as well.

From Bondi, we took an Uber back to The Rocks. After dinner, we walked around the Harbor so we could see the Opera House and city lit up with lights.

Day Four (Sydney to Airlie Beach):
On our last morning in Sydney, we decided to explore a section of the city we hadn’t seen yet. With just a few hours to spare before our flight, we wanted to make the most of it. We walked over to Hyde Park through a shopping district with high-end retailers like Tiffany & Co and Chanel. Hyde Park is a lovely urban park surrounded by some of Sydney's most desired points of interest.

St. Mary's Cathedral, the Sydney Eye Tower, The Mint, and the Sydney Barracks Museum all stand at the perimeter. Guests can easily spend an entire day in this section of Sydney.  At the west end of the park there is a small café and restaurant. Next to it is a life-size chess set. The perfectly manicured walkways are lined with benches and just like everywhere else in Sydney, many birds can be admired here. Our brief visit was every enjoyable and left us wanting more. Next time!

Then we went to the airport and flew to Proserpine via TigerAir. This is one of Australia’s budget airlines, and we found a decent fare of $250 per person. Of course, the trouble with budget airlines are the baggage fees, and we did end up with some extra fees because our carry-ons were too heavy. Even though the drive up to Airlie Beach from Sydney would have taken about 23 hours, the flight was just two hours, and that fit our two-week itinerary much better.

We picked up our rental car and made the short drive to Airlie Beach. We chose this as our second area to explore because we love warm weather, tropical climates, beautiful beaches and because of the Great Barrier Reef.  When we stepped off the plane at this one-runway, one-terminal airport and felt the warm, sultry wind on our faces, we knew we had chosen the perfect spot.
The view of Airlie Beach from our Airbnb
The view of Airlie Beach from our Airbnb
Airlie Beach is a cute little beach town with a casual and friendly vibe. Being from San Diego, we felt right at home. We rented a beautiful new house through Airbnb. It was on a hillside overlooking the coastline which meant we had a stunning view of the bay and were just minutes from town.

Day Five (Airlie Beach):
We had pre-booked a tour with Cruise Whitsundays to visit the Great Barrier Reef. We threw on our swimsuits, grabbed our towels and sunscreen and drove to the meeting spot for a 7:30 am departure. Cruise Whitsundays may be the largest company in the area, providing many tours, not only for visiting the Great Barrier Reef but also other destinations in the area as well as daily ferry service to the Whitsunday Islands.

We chose Cruise Whitsundays because they use a large catamaran for the three-hour journey (which is better for rough waters) and operate from a stationary pontoon that floats next to the reef. They offer many options out at the reef such as a semi-submarine, helicopter rides, and scuba diving. Each day, the catamaran transports hundreds of people out to the pontoon. It sounds like a lot of people, but there was plenty of room to spread out both on the boat and the pontoon and it didn’t feel crowded.
A quick stop at Hamilton Island to pick up more passengers
A quick stop at Hamilton Island to pick up more passengers
The ride out and the ride back went by much quicker than I expected. Three hours sounded so long and to be honest, I was dreading it. On the way out, they served coffee and tea (included), plus had a snack bar with items for purchase. The friendly crew gave snorkeling demonstrations and informational meetings for those who would be scuba diving. The water was rough, and a number of people got sick. Thankfully, everyone in our group felt fine. I just had to look away and hold my nose as I tend to be a sympathetic barfer if you know what I mean. If you are prone to sea-sickness, plan ahead with medication and sit outside for fresh air.
The pontoon at Hardy Reef
The pontoon at Hardy Reef
Once we arrived at Hardy Reef, everyone split up and headed for different activities. Our group started with lunch, then got outfitted for snorkeling. Included in the price of the day trip is snorkel gear and stinger suits. Everything is well-cleaned and organized for easy access. All areas are well-staffed, so help is readily available at all times. We got in the water and were delighted to find just what we were hoping for, a vibrant display of color!

A beautiful Maori Wrasse - photo credit Cruise Whitsundays
A beautiful Maori Wrasse - Photo Credit: Cruise Whitsundays

We have been fortunate to snorkel in some marvelous places around the globe and this is among the best of our experiences. The water visibility was incredible and the diversity of coral, creatures, and fish was stunning. Guests are not allowed to swim over the reef, and staff members are stationed through out the area to make sure of it. Floating next to the reef and taking in the sites with a snorkel and mask was bliss!

Finding Nemo - Photo Credit: Cruise Whitsundays
Finding Nemo - Photo Credit: Cruise Whitsundays

I'm certain we spent more time in the water than on the pontoon. We had also upgraded our package to be able to take advantage of the 90-minute tourist scuba dive class.

So proud of our first-timers! Photo Credit: Cruise Whitsundays

It was a first-time for all of us. The instructors were professional, patient and very safety conscious. The class took place in a tank connected to and beneath the pontoon. When we were ready, they took us out in small groups and kept us close at hand. Being able to breathe underwater like that and extend to depths not possible with a snorkel was like opening a whole new world to us. Of course, everyone wants to get certified now! The kids also had time to take a jump on the the semi-submarine for a tour before our time was up. The semi-submarine is included in the price. We did not take a helicopter ride and I'm not even sure how much it was as we didn't inquire. If you're planning to take advantage of every activity they offer, you will need to plan your time carefully.
On the way back to Airlie Beach, our scuba instructor spent about an hour with our kids. It was like an Oceanography class right there on the bow of the boat. With visuals, they loved learning interesting facts about the creatures they had seen on the dive.
In all, our outing was ten hours long. Three hours to get out, three hours to get back and four hours on the pontoon at Hardy Reef.

Day Six (Airlie Beach Area):
When we travel, we like to go back and forth between days when we have a tour booked and free days when we can sleep in a bit, enjoy the flexibility and explore on our own. This was an “explore on our own” kind of day. The teens all slept until 9:00 am. Some went out for a morning run. We cooked a hot breakfast. Then we were ready to set out for the day. We drove about 60 minutes to Hideaway Bay and Dingo Beach, two places we had read good things about. When we arrived at Hideaway Bay, the tide was at its lowest. It was great fun exploring the exposed rocks and coral for crabs and other creatures.

There are signs posted at every beach warning of the danger of jellyfish, and Hideaway Bay was no exception. So, of course, we were looking for jellyfish too. We were amazed at how far the tide had gone out and how quickly it came back in. Dingo Beach, located nearby, was okay. We didn’t love it and only stayed a few minutes. Back at Airlie Beach, we spent some time swimming in the lagoon. This is a man-made pool complex that looks and feels like a beach area. It is fresh water and free of stingers! It is very popular with families.

Day Seven (Whitehaven Beach):
It was time for another booked tour day! We knew we wanted to get out to Whitehaven Beach on Whitesunday Island. This is consistently voted the number one beach in Australia and often makes the top of the list for best beaches in the world. The white sand is 98% silica, incredibly pure and as soft as silk. Geologists still find Whitehaven Beach a mystery due to the fact that the sand here is unlike anywhere else in Australia and no one knows where it came from. Since I love all things educational, I was excited to learn that the white sand from Whitehaven Beach was used by NASA to make the lens for the Hubble Telescope.

You can only get to Whitehaven Beach by boat, seaplane or helicopter. There are many tour companies that offer a day trip to Whitehaven Beach by boat. They all pretty much offer the same thing. Leaving Airlie Beach in the morning, they head out to Whitsunday Island and moor in Tongue Bay. Then using a rubber dingy, transport guests to the beach which has a walkway leading through a narrow passage of the island over to Whitehaven Beach. The walk takes about five minutes and is well-marked with a combination of sandy trail and wooden boardwalk. Plus, there are the hundreds of others doing the same thing you’re doing, so losing your way is not likely. Most tours will allow you to spend about an hour exploring Whitehaven Beach.

It’s not really ideal for swimming, but more of a photo opportunity. Stinger suits are recommended if you plan to be in the water (especially during box jellyfish season) and included in the price of tours. Then tours meet and head up to the Inlet Hill Lookout for a view over Whitehaven Beach. There are three different wooden platforms to stand on and look out over the beach from. The walk up to Inlet Hill Lookout takes about 10 minutes and is all uphill. From there, tours head back to Tongue Bay to ride a dingy back to their respective boats. Most tours then include lunch, a snorkel stop, and afternoon drinks aboard while heading back to Airlie Beach.


There are a lot of boat tours to choose from and I let the kids pick which boat they liked the best. I was glad they picked Providence V, a classic wooden pirate-type sailing boat.

Some of the other options were large motored crafts that could accommodate 100+ people and some were high-speed adrenaline type rubber rafts. A classy sailboat meant that our day would include sailing, which I love.  It also meant we would be spending our day with a smaller group of people in a very relaxing setting. Our shipmates for the day included a young Norwegian couple who met in boarding school and were taking a gap year, a family from the Northern Territory and a single lady from Germany with a sparkle in her eye. Clearly, she was celebrating something, a divorce I presume.  We felt like old friends by the time we arrived back at Airlie Beach at sunset. That’s probably because we had been through quite an experience together. Early in the day as we set out from Airlie Beach, we hit a storm and braved the elements together.  Glass-like raindrops, heavy winds that turned our sailboat sideways and rough water, had bonded us through soggy beach towels and green stomachs. Our capable crew kept us safe through it all. In fact, it was great fun and part of our experience. By the time we reached Whitsunday Island, the skies had cleared and we enjoyed a beautifully sunny day for the rest of our outing.

Providence V in Tongue Bay

The snorkel spot was along Molle Islands which I think is pretty customary for most boats. We saw quite a few in the same area on our return. Because of the current, we were dropped in the water at one point and then gently drifted along the reef where we were picked up after snorkeling about 30 minutes later. All snorkel gear, stinker suits, and food were included in in the price of the tour. The morning snack consisted of coffee, tea, and muffins. For lunch, we had chicken and a few different types of salads in a bento box sort of thing. They had a different option for the kids that was more kid-friendly. They even catered to our peanut allergy and gluten-free shipmates by providing for their dietary restrictions. In the afternoon, sodas, wine, and beer were available for purchase. Sailing back (no motor) toward Airlie Beach at sunset with a Sauvignon Blanc in hand was a nice finish to the day. If you’ll be in Airlie Beach and thinking about a boat tour out to Whitehaven, I highly recommend Providence V.

Day Eight (Cedar Creek Falls & Conway Beach):
This was our last full day in the Airlie Beach area and we decided to explore a few places we had heard about. First up was Cedar Creek Falls.

This is about a 30-minute drive from Airlie Beach. To visit the top of the falls, walk around the back and follow the trail for about 10-15 minutes. Of course, staying back from the edge is important and there are plenty of signs to warn travelers of this as well. Our group explored a bit and even made a loop through the bush leading back to another pool and a small waterfall.

Back down at the main waterfall and swimming hole, the water was pleasant and refreshing. To make a day of it, pack drinks and a picnic lunch. And don't forget the mosquito repellent!

From Cedar Creek Falls, we decided to explore Conway Beach located a few minutes away by car. It was about two in the afternoon and the tide was very low again. It looked like it had receded about a mile. There was not another soul around and it almost felt other-worldly with the muddy surface, exposed rocks and dead trees. 

In the distance, the kids saw an island and wanted to run out to it to explore. Off they went. They had been gone about 15 minutes when a storm whipped up out of nowhere and it started to pour rain! We could see them running back as fast as they could. What we didn’t see from the beach, is that the tide was also starting to rise and the closer they got to the island the thicker and stickier the mud was, almost like quicksand. Of course, I’m making this all sound dramatic and ominous, but later that night while we were talking to a couple of locals, we discovered that Conway Beach is known for having the largest concentration of crocodiles in Australia due to its locations near a river mouth. Thankfully we didn’t see any, but it did make us wonder about our safety. The whole experience was a bit crazy and gave all these teens a story to tell.

Day Nine (Back to Sydney, Drive to Gosford):
Today was a travel day with some unexpected delays. First, our flight was delayed by more than an hour from Proserpine back to Sydney. Then once we arrived in Sydney, our car rental reservation had problems as they had assigned us the wrong car. This took about an hour to get sorted out. With the two delays, plus Friday afternoon traffic on a holiday weekend, our plans of visiting two animal parks on the outskirts of Sydney got foiled.

The area we planned to cover north of Sydney.
The area we planned to cover north of Sydney.

Instead, we drove directly to our Airbnb in Gosford.  We checked into Marlene’s place and met her and her brother Nigel. Our three bedrooms with shared bathroom were located upstairs near the front door. Accommodations such as these are not always my favorite. But the “slice of life” you can gain from such an experience as this is unparalleled. We ended up at a local pub down the street for dinner where we saw not one tourist. The waiter kicked the door open with his foot while balancing a tray full of hot meals with an “I don’t care” attitude. Our kids sang karaoke tunes in a bar full of locals who were glad to share their stage with a group of Americans.  It was great fun! And the fish and chips were pretty good too. When we got back to Marlene’s place, we discovered that she had a piano in the parlor and that she was a piano teacher for more than 40 years. Like an impromptu recital, we shared renditions of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” and Beethoven’s Prelude. We learned that Nigel lives in the Philippines and is visiting his sister and planning a sea voyage back to the Philippines on his sailboat later this month. The next morning when we drove off in our minivan, we waved like relatives with promises to keep in touch.

Day Ten (Tree Top Adventure & Morriset):
Our day started with a morning reservation at TreeTop Adventure Park. My family loves these kinds of places and has been fortunate to experience them throughout Europe and a couple of places in the United States. TreeTop Adventure Park is located in Ourimbah State Forest and about an hour and a half north of Sydney. We started with the Sky Coaster. This was SO MUCH FUN and unlike anything else we had ever done before.

It's sort of a cross between a roller coaster and a zip line. Apparently, this is the first of its kind in the world, but today they can also be found in New Zealand and Brazil. First, you get outfitted in a zip line-like harness, that also includes a sling to sit in like a hammock. Another piece of equipment is included that attaches you to an overhead track that is stationed through the forest. This particular ride is 1000 meters long and has you zipping through the forest faster than Tarzan for what amounts to a four-minute ride. Our favorite part was a series of five circular twists that makes you feel like you’re going through a washing machine cycle.

From there we headed over to the traditional ropes course area. They have five levels of climbing, allowing beginners and those looking for a challenge to each have a great time. The top level (black) is for guests 16 years old and older.

They even have a perfect spot for the little guys to experience a course of their own. In addition, the park includes a playground suspended in the trees in a net, hiking trails, picnic tables and a few food trucks offering treats such as shave ice and frappes with pastries. We arrived at ten in the morning and at four in the afternoon we had to give our kids a departure warning so we could continue on our way. That’s how much they loved it.

As a mom, I love these types of experiences because it’s strength building both physically and mentally. The kids are working hard and challenging themselves at the same time. They are problem-solving and celebrating each other’s successes. I can’t think of a better way to spend the day. Enjoy a great day at TreeTop Adventure Park. Pack a picnic and plan to spend the whole day. You probably will anyway!
Just a short drive north on the M-1 is Morriset. If you’ve spent anytime exploring the Central Coast on Tripadvisor, you probably know this area is teeming with wild kangaroos. In fact, it’s become a problem and authorities are trying to crack down on the number of kangaroos freely roaming the area near the Morriset Hospital and the hordes of tourists that visit them.

Shamelessly, we are among them. When we first arrived, we had no idea of the current situation. We were merely following directions that we’d read online. Well-stocked with bananas and carrots from the local Woolworths, we were ready to have our kangaroo time. When we arrived in the Morriset Picnic Area we discovered through the many blocked off roads and illuminated signs of road closures that this was not an area where tourists were welcomed. So like good citizens, we turned our car around a planned to leave. As we were driving away, we noticed a number of kangaroos in an uninhabited bush area along the side of the road. We pulled over, cameras and gratuitous fruit and veggies in hand. We found a group of kangaroos hanging out. They looked at us and we looked at them. We had heard to be careful as they will “box” anyone who they deem as a threat. Most of them hopped off into the forest, but one remained. The boys named him Jerry and we figured he was a juvenile because of his size. Later in the trip when sharing our pictures with a zookeeper, we learned that he was a she. And she was an Eastern Gray Kangaroo that was likely full-grown and carrying a joey in her enlarged pouch. To think there was a baby kangaroo so close, safely tucked away in her mother’s pocket! She was a big fan of our bananas and carrots and she exchanged photos for our produce.

The banana evidence. She loved them.
The banana evidence. She loved them.

We did learn later that bananas aren’t the best for them as they are high in sugar. They mainly feast on grass and that is best for them. So if you have your own kangaroo experience, just stick with carrots.   While kangaroos are uniquely awesome to any of us living outside of Australia, they are mainly seen as pests to those living in Oz. Farmers hate them because they ruin their crops. Motorists hate them because they jump out in the road at sunrise and dusk causing extensive damage to their vehicles. But gift shops and tourist love them!
The farm at Morpeth - an Airbnb
The farm at Morpeth - an Airbnb
Then we drove up to Morpeth, near Hunter Valley where we checked into another Airbnb. Another “slice of life” this time with a farmer and his horse-training wife. They rent out a small section of their farmhouse to visitors. We loved getting to know Greg and Jessica and staying on their cattle and horse farm. This area is known as being a gateway to a wine region and the famous Port Stephens and Newcastle areas. We knew that the short time we had planned to visit would not be enough and we vowed to return someday.

Day Eleven (Port Stephens & Australian Walkabout Park):
When we were researching the best activities for families in New South Wales, Sand Surfing on the sand dunes in Port Stephens came up as a top attraction. As this was unlike anything we had ever experienced before, we knew we had to work it into the schedule.

We’ve got a crew that loves surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding, so why not sand surf too! If this was an adults-only trip, we might have just lounged at one of the wineries in Hunter Valley, but when the kids got wind of this excellent activity, they were begging to give it a try! There are a handful of companies operating sand surfing tours in Port Stephens and most are located in the lower parking area of Anna Bay. We chose Sand Dune Safari. We liked the fact that they are a small family-owned and operated company. And they've been doing this for 20+ years! The excursion began with a 10-minute bus ride out to the dunes.  The bus almost felt more like a moon rover or something out of a Star Wars movie.


Once out at the station, we were given a safety briefing and instructions on how to ride. You can either sit and slide or stand and surf.

Everyone in our group started out sliding and then quickly graduated to surfing. I, on the other hand, stuck with sliding. I consider myself to be adventurous with many things, but standing on a board and sliding down a 100-ft sand dune wasn't going to be one of them. You can choose which hill you want to tackle. Some are much longer and steeper than others. And since these dunes are constantly changing due to wind, you can always experience something new.

You can spend as much time as you’d like out on the dunes. As bus rides arrive and depart every ten minutes, guests decide how long they want to stay. We stayed for about two hours in total. It was great fun, and we would recommend it to anyone looking for an adrenaline and action-packed activity like none other. And you'll love Sand Dune Safaris!

Located in the same parking lot are desert camel rides and a great swimming beach. Bathroom facilities and a restaurant/snack bar are also available.


Then we started to make our way south again toward Sydney. Even as we were driving away from the Port Stephens and New Castle area, I regretted that we didn’t plan to spend more time here. But as we approached the end our two-week visit to Australia, we knew that we were barely scratching the surface and would love to return someday.

Our next stop was Australian Walkabout Wildlife Park located in Calga, about an hour outside of Sydney.  Considered a sanctuary and not a zoo, this wildlife park is enjoyable for the whole family.

No booking is required, and the park is open every day of the year except Christmas. If your kids are looking for a place to pet kangaroos, have an up-close experience with a koala and learn about the many unique creatures that call Australia home, then this is the perfect spot. The “animal loop’ walk will take you by enclosures with a Tasmanian devil, echidnas, wombats, and dingoes. Kangaroos, wallabies, and emus roam the park freely and are quite used to be being greeted by visitors. Every hour animal encounters and special activities are available with the professional staff.

Guests can look forward to boomerang throwing, organized feeding times and animal encounters. This was the highlight for me as I love educational opportunities and because of the small-ish nature of the place, I felt like we could ask questions and have personalized attention with each of these encounters. A beautiful gift shop with plush stuffed animals and cultural aboriginal souvenirs are available for purchase. Guests are invited to bring their own picnics or purchase food from the Koala Kiosk.  You can also stay overnight in a self-contained eco-cabin.

Day Twelve (Blue Mountains & Bronte Beach):
We decided to spend our last day in the Blue Mountains National Park. Located about an hour west of Sydney, we saved this famous and picturesque mountainous area for last. Steep cliffs, waterfalls, and bush walk trails are part of the exquisite scenery. Quiet little towns with church steeples, tree-lined parks, and elementary schools, a lucky few get to call this area home year-round. We split our time between two spots, Wentworth Falls and Katoomba. First, we drove into the small town of Wentworth Falls and followed signs for the Blue Mountains National Park. This is a short distance from highway A32 and easy to find. The car park is small, but the neighborhood located nearby has plenty of street parking available. We explored a few different trails and lookouts. Our favorites were Jamison Lookout, Fletchers Lookout, and Weeping Rock. Some of the longer walks require a national park pass, but otherwise, access is free. The undercliff track looked interesting, but we were ready to move on to the next location.
Katoomba is among the larger towns along the A32. It turned out to be an excellent spot for antique shopping, souvenirs, and snacks. It was also quite crowded with tour buses. If we had to plan it over again, we might have started here earlier in the morning when crowds would have been smaller and worked our way back toward Sydney as the day wore on. Katoomba is home to Echo Point and the famed Three Sisters. The Visitor’s Center complex is large and a mecca for tourists from all across the globe. Don’t let the crowds discourage you. Press on, and you won’t be disappointed. The Three Sisters is the Blue Mountains shining glory. According to Aboriginal legend, three sisters had fallen in love with three young men from another tribe but were forbidden to marry.  The three sisters were turned to stone to prohibit them from pursuing their hearts' desires.

If you’re up for a bit of a walk and heights don’t bother you, head over to the suspending bridge located among the Three Sisters. If the car park is full, park up by the Blue Mountain Chocolate Company and walk down. Plus, you’ll have an excellent excuse to peruse the small batch sweets in the glass case when you return to your car.
Katoomba is also home to Scenic World. If you have the time and budget for it, this might be the best way to take in the incredible scenery of the Blue Mountains. It features the steepest incline train in the world, a cable car, skyway, and walkway.  It looks like a lot of fun and a great place to spend the day.
After half a day of hiking and photographing the incredible beauty of one of Australia’s many national parks, our group decided to head for the beach. Yep, it’s true! With accommodations booked near the airport and an early flight the next morning on the agenda, what we wanted more than anything was to dip our toes in the Tasman Sea one more time before saying goodbye to this place we had all come to love. So we hightailed it back to Sydney and chose Bronte as our spot.

Arriving an hour before sunset, we got wet, walked along the shore, admired the man-made salt-water pool, and even played a game of tag on the sand. Our Australian adventure had come to an end, and I can’t think of a better place to have watched the sunset one final time.
So there you have our "First Timer's Trip to Australia." We loved our visit and imagine another trip sometime in the future. It's a wonderful place for families and if you have the chance to go, don't think twice. Do it!


What did we miss? Please share your favorite Australian spots for next time.


We would like to thank Providence V, Treetop Adventure Park, Sand Dune Safaris and Australian Walkabout Park for providing free or reduced priced tickets for us to participate in your outstanding activities. All opinions expressed are our own. If we didn't LOVE it, we won't promote it.



Add Comment
Debbie says... (Reply)
"Well, now I feel I have experienced some of Australia. Beautiful all the way around. Love you posts and enjoyed the scenery ♥" (5/16/19)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Thank you! We sure enjoyed the trip and would love to return someday. " (5/21/19)
Kathryn says... (Reply)
"What an incredible trip! Australia is on my bucket list and seeing this doesn't help my feverish case of wanderlust!" (5/19/19)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Kathryn, you would love it. It's truly an amazing place and I hope you get there." (5/21/19)
TreeTops says... (Reply)
"What an incredible experience you shared with your family - creating memories that will last a life time.
We just loved reading about all of your adventures and your photos are just gorgeous! You really have showcased a slice of Australia so magically.
We hope that if you visit again we can welcome you back to TreeTops. " (5/21/19)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Thank you TreeTop! Everyone's visit to Australia should include time at one of your adventure parks. We couldn't drag our kids away, they had so much fun!" (5/22/19)
Amanda | Toddling Traveler says... (Reply)
"This is such a great and detailed guide. Australia is on our bucket list and I love this as a starting point!" (5/21/19)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"I hope it helps. Planning a first-time trip to Australia can feel very overwhelming. There's probably a million ways to do it and not a bad way either. We loved the country and know we'll be back someday." (5/22/19)
Karen says... (Reply)
"Australia looks amazing! We still haven't made it this far but one day I hope we will. I'll be saving your itinerary for then!" (5/22/19)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Thanks Karen! Watch for those low-cost flights. I keep seeing them pop up!" (5/22/19)