AUSTRALIA RECOMMENDATIONS?

I’ve mentioned a few times that Will and I wanted to plan an international trip to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary on September 2. Clearly it’s taken us a while to narrow down where we want to go, but we’ve finally landed on a destination that we’re both ecstatic about: Australia!

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Our plan is to visit in early March and spend three nights in Sydney, two nights at Halcyon House in Cabarita Beach (one of the places on my hotel bucket list!), and two nights in Cairns to explore the Great Barrier Reef. I would love any and all recommendations for restaurants, coffee shops, sightseeing, beaches, shopping, etc. as I map out our itinerary!

P.S. A week in France and our African honeymoon.

35 thoughts on “AUSTRALIA RECOMMENDATIONS?

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  1. I studied abroad in Australia, it is a wonderful and magical place! When visiting the Great Barrier Reef, I would not recommend staying in Cairns. As others suggested, stay in Port Douglas – it’s quaint, beautiful, and a great location to explore the GBR!

  2. My mum lives at Cabarita, you’ll love Halycon House – recommend popping to nearby Kingscliff to eat and browse. Cabarita is pretty laid back and Halcyon House is without doubt the most glamourous place there. Re Cairns portion of your trip, I second what a few others have mentioned – have been there 3 times and taking the extra hour and half to get to Port Douglas is a much better option, it’s a lovely coastal drive to get there and it’s a perfect village in my mind, glamourous and relaxing, far from the Cairns bustle. I recommend doing one of the indigenous tours of nearby Mossman Gorge and explore the magnificent Daintree rainforest. You can also access the reef easily from there.

  3. Bondi Beach is a must! Checkout the icebergs, the Rocks Markets in Sydney, the Bridge climb if you aren’t afraid of heights! I pushed myself to do it and I never regretted it. There’s not too much to do in Cairns, if you guys can switch to going to the Whitsundays then head to Whitehaven beach too! It’s one of the top beaches in the world!

    Amanda @ Cupcake N Dreams

  4. Instead of staying in Cairns, stay on Fitzroy Island! It’s incredibly beautiful, has only one hotel and accepts a limited number of daily visitors. It’s on the reef, so you can walk out and dive/snorkel; they also have a turtle sanctuary and lots of options to go farther out on the reef on day trips. My husband and I spent 2.5 weeks in Australia, and Fitzroy was for sure the best part!

  5. I just went to Australia and by far the coolest part of the trip was the Great Barrier Reef. That said most tourist go to Cairns, but really the best place to see the Reef is the Whitsunday Islands. We spent three nights sailing around on a catamaran – truly amazing. You also get to go to Whitehaven Beach (google it!) it’s not the outer reef like Cairns, but just as amazing. We saw amazing fish, turtles and 3 different whales, plus dolphins. It sounds like you already booked your travel, but if it’s flexiable I would definitely look at the Whitsundays. If you prefer a hotel, Qualia on Hamilton Island is top notch. Have fun!

  6. Hi!

    My fiancé and I did 2.5 weeks in Australia last summer and here are a few things we enjoyed, it was the most incredible trip!.

    The Sydney Harbour Bridge Cljmb was a great way to learn about the city and just have the most amazing views! Opera House Bar is fun and we enjoyed the tour we did of the Opera House! Emma Stockman’s mom had suggested we take the ferry to Manly Beach and if not for jet lag and lack of time we would have loved to do that since it was highly recommended!

    I suggest staying in Port Douglas over Cairns based on what our travel agent told us. Port Douglas is an hour north and is so cute and quiet.. We stayed at a boutique hotel right next to Four Mile Beach and the town area. Easy access to the marina to go on the boats that take you out to the reef. Lastly, there’s a wildlife habitat in Port Douglas where you can hold a koala and feed kangaroos and get up close with lots of other Australian animals, which I loved!

    You will have a blast.

  7. We did a similar vacation in 2015 and I would definitely recommend the following
    1. Green Island – they have tours from Cairns that leave from there and bring you to Green Island (there is also a hotel which I heard was beautiful and seemed beautiful, but was out of our price range). I swam with a sea turtle there and it was beautiful. The Nature Walk around the island was amazing and you learned how the reef islands started and saw such beautiful animals and plants.
    2. Pet a Koala – At the Cairns Zoom zoo/recreation facility, you can book a private tour of the zoo which allows you to hold three animals – crocodile, snake and koala. I highly suggest it!
    3. Historical Beer/Bar Tour (Sydney)- The tour was amazing and I learned so much about Sydney and its history, all while drinking and eating local faire. It was easily the best tour I have ever been on. The guy that runs it was super informative and created a great evening.

  8. Nigella Lawson (English cook and fab author) is super active on Twitter, very responsive and has just eaten and enjoyed her way through Australia – an annual trip so lots of info to mine

  9. My husband and I visited Australia last year over Christmas and New Years. My first advice is to stay a little longer if at all possible! The jet lag really does wipe out at least the entire first day! We also had a ten-hour layover in Honolulu on the way back which was perfectly halfway between NYC and Sydney and we got to stretch our legs on a beach. It was the best!
    In Sydney we stayed at the Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park. Definitely not boutique but so nice, great location and we got it on points! We did the Bronte to Bondi walk (I agree with Emily below that Bondi isn’t the nicest beach but I loved the shops around there, check out Mister Zimi!) My favorite beach was Coogee–the ocean pools are awesome.

  10. Oh you’ll love Australia so much (except for the 20 hours of travel from NYC which isn’t great but so worth it!) Having done that trip quite a lot, I highly recommend getting as much sleep as you possibly can on the plane. The jet lag is a real killer so I’d suggest extending your trip if possible (if not just know you’ll be in a bit of a daze when you land, and flights from NYC to Sydney tend to land in the early morning, depending on where you transit through. I’d recommend the LA transit personally, the Houston transit just makes the second leg so long).

    It’ll still be warm in March, well into the 80s and 90s – you’ll definitely want to pull out your summer clothes. We’re very casual over here, but Sydney still presents fun opportunities for dressing up 🙂

    As a Sydneysider, I completely agree with everyone recommending that you visit Bondi, but don’t stay there. For shopping in Bondi though, you’ll want to look at Tuchuzy and the Lucy Folk store. There’s great food and atmosphere at Bondi’s Best (casual fish restaurant), Harry’s and Shuk (both cafes). Definitely do the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk for spectacular views and of course the Icebergs photo op. The reason I wouldn’t stay in Bondi is that it’s just not very central and you’ll find yourselves stuck in traffic in trying to get to the city, and it’s a bit of a trek to get to the north from Bondi. It is beautiful though!

    I’d plan to spend some time wandering through Paddington (Oxford St) and Surry Hills – some of Sydney’s best shopping and coffee shops. The Intersection in Paddington is an Australian designer precinct – think Zimmermann, Camilla and Marc, Scanlan Theodore, Viktoria + Woods. QVB and Strand Arcade in the city are also worth a look both for the shopping and their beautiful architecture. High street retailers I think you’ll like are Country Road and Witchery.

    There’s amazing food in Surry Hills – Chin Chin is great Asian food but can be a long wait for a table, or head over the road to Poly for bar snacks and lots of interesting wines, or try Nomad which is nearby too. Other restaurants to look at – Chiswick in Woollahra (maybe try for lunch and take a look at the cute shops in Woollahra), Hubert, which is the most amazing underground restaurant in the city, Mr Wong’s for up market Cantonese, also in the city. Australian wine is also great so I recommend trying some local drops while you’re here. If Will’s a beer guy, Young Henry’s is an indie brewery who make delicious beer that’s widely available in Sydney. Try to fit in The Grounds of Alexandria, but if you decide to stick to the city then The Grounds of the City is also super cute and yummy.

    Then there’s classic tourist things you won’t want to miss: catch a ferry to Manly for a great way to spend time on the harbour and see the city from another vantage point, and then venture around the northern beaches. Or try Watson’s Bay Hotel, which is a pub on the water in the east of Sydney. Of course you should see the Opera House, and see if you can climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge or walk across the bridge.

    Places to stay – honestly, look at Air BnB for Sydney. There are some cute hotels but they’re quite expensive. QT is a winner though, and right in the heart of the city. Pier One is also good.

    And apply sunscreen! The sun here is incredibly strong and you will burn if you don’t. Oh and generally we don’t tip unless service is exceptional, and there’s no rules around how much to tip, but it is becoming more common to tip at restaurants. And our power voltage is twice the US’s so don’t forget your adaptors.

    Enjoy! x

  11. Depending on where you are in Sydney try eating at Mr Wong in Sydney (have to book its busy).
    Hugo’s Manly if you catch the ferry over there.
    Gelato Messina (best ice cream)
    Coogee Pavilion
    Bondi Icebergs
    Toko in Surry Hills (Japanese)
    Ms G’s at Potts Point : please order the Cheeseburger spring rolls
    Strawberry and watermelon cake from Black Star Pastry.

    If you visit Opera Bar, on the way is Hacienda. A pink bar overlooking the Harbour Bridge with indoor garden. Perfect for photos.
    https://haciendasydney.com.au/

    When you visit the Great Barrier Reef, see if you can stop at Whitehaven Beach for the perfect white sand.

  12. Hello from Sydney. You are going to love Australia in March. Weather is fantastic as the overwhelming heat is gone but the days are still warm for swimming and sun doesn’t set until 7:30ish so you can watch the sun set with dinner.

    Best view of the Harbour Bridge is from the Opera Bar right under the Opera House. Order food and watch the ferry boats come and go under the bridge or turn around and look at the sails of the Opera House. Great shopping is in the Queen Victoria Building in the heart of Sydney CBD. It is a beautiful historical building building which stocks chain stores but also unique Australian brands. Just down the block from there is the Strand Arcade, which stocks a mixture of food, clothing and accessory boutiques.
    A few people have said this and I have to agree. The coastal walk from Bondi to Coogee is beautiful. You don’t even have to do the whole walk to appreciate the area as it is quite long. Eat at Icebergs for lunch at Bondi. It overlooks the beach and the ocean pool. Great people watching.

    I have never stayed at Halcyon House but if you want to visit somewhere during the day, Byron Bay is about 35 minutes south of there. It is a coastal town where Chris Hemsworth lives and other Australian celebrities. Despite the celebrity, it still has a town feel. If you do the beach walk eat at The Beach restaurant.
    Hope that helps

  13. Sydney-sider here!

    1. Walk from Bondi to Coogee (or Coogee to Bondi) and have breakfast or lunch at Icebergs.
    2. Have fish and chips at Watsons Bay Hotel (you’ll love the styling)
    3. Visit the MCA and then wander around the laneways at the Rocks

  14. Hey there – I am in Australia also and would echo the comments to rethink Cairns…..so many nicer towns close by. Some amazing recommendations here and would advise booking any restaurant hotspots in advance as they can be popular. Sydney is great as it is both a city and beach break. If you could extend the trip I would try – I fly to US regularly and 7 days is a tough turnaround! But the coffee here will knock your socks off so that can help 🙂

  15. Hello from Australia! So glad to hear you’re coming to visit, it’s really lovely here. My local recommendation is to skip Cairns and stay in the Whitsundays instead. You’re closer to the reef and it is truly spectacular. My husband and I stayed on Hamilton Island 4 years ago and i couldn’t recommend it more. You can take a ferry out to the edge of the reef to snorkel and scuba dive (that’s my number one recommendation) and you can also snorkel right off Catseye Beach. We happened to swim with the resident turtle when we were there and it was amazing.

    My other recommendation is please don’t just go to Bondi, while it’s so popular it’s nowhere near our nicest beach. If you’re restricted to Sydney I would go to northern Sydney like Palm Beach and Manly, have the real Australian experience. You won’t regret it.
    Happy to help if you need any more advice! You’ll have an amazing time. xx

  16. I would highly recommend visiting the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney – absolutely beautiful building with some great shopping too! I have also done the guided walking tour of the Sydney Opera House, Thoroughly enjoyed it and learnt plenty about the design and build of the Opera House (even as an Australian myself). Plus you get to enter some of the theatres/concert halls which are amazing.

    In terms of far North Queensland and Cairns, I would recommend exploring the Daintree Rainforest if you can spare the time. Cape Tribulation is absolute paradise. During the summer/autumn months you do have to be careful of Irukandji jellyfish if you are planning to swim in Far North Queensland so keep this in mind and ask about precautions if booking tours or planning to swim at any of the beaches. (Don’t let this scare you off though – it is beautiful and well worth the visit)!

    No matter where you go there is plenty to see and do. March is also a great time of year to visit (great weather). Have the best time!

  17. I’d highly recommend staying in Port Douglas (a cute beach town) rather than Cairns! I went with my family a while ago and don’t remember where exactly we stayed but it was a beautiful beach rental. Also, the highlight of my trip was going to Kangaroo island off the southern coast. Just stunning.

    1. I’ll echo both of these – we went to both on our honeymoon and Kangaroo Island will forever be one of my favorite destinations. I still get emails from Southern Ocean Lodge where we stayed and get tempted to book a return trip regularly, it was incredible: https://southernoceanlodge.com.au/ . We spent several days in Port Douglas and dove the Great Barrier Reef one day, did a Daintree Rainforest Tour, ate delicious food and enjoyed the gorgeous beaches and relaxed town feel.

    2. I studied abroad in Australia and agree with these ladies! Do not stay in Cairns, it’s touristy and not very nice. Port Douglas is so quaint, relaxing, and a great location to explore the Great Barrier Reef!

  18. I just went to Australia and New Zealand this summer and spent time in OZ in Sydney and Cairns. Not to pimp myself out, but I recapped my time in Sydney on my blog with all my restaurant recommendations, etc. It was such an amazing city. Make sure to check out the Mitchell Road Antique Market in Alexandria, and to do the walk from Coogee to Bondi Beach, it was amazing!!!

    https://www.dianapearl.com/coogee-beach-bondi-beach-sydney-australia/
    https://www.dianapearl.com/sydney-australia-travel-guide-taronga-zoo-opera-house/

  19. Cool! I’m going to reach out to a friend of mine who moved here from there, and Emma’s mom (who has a bunch of family there) to see if they have anything to share.

  20. I highly recommend Thala Beach Nature Reserve (about an hour’s drive north of Cairns) for your time at the reef. It’s a gorgeous property with the option of staying in a tree house (!) and not far from Port Douglas. There’s also a wildlife habitat nearby where you can feed kangaroos and hold a koala. Highly, highly recommend!

  21. Sydney has great beaches–if you’re up for a walk there’s a great (paved) cliff walk from Bondi Beach down the coast–it’s got great views and the cutest beaches to stop and swim in when Bondi’s too packed. I would also recommend taking the ferry over to Manly to walk around there and to see Sydney and the Opera House, etc., from the water (great views!). Likewise, I would recommend wandering around the botanic gardens–they’re gorgeous! And I know you can pay to go up and over the bridge, but you can also just use the pedestrian walkway to walk across part of the way to see the city from another view point. Cairns is lovely, much smaller than Sydney, but they have a great farmers market downtown (or at least they did 10 years ago when I studied abroad there!) with the freshest fruits, veggies, and hand crafted items. If you head north out of Cairns there’s beautiful beaches, the Daintree Rainforest to explore, there’s also a bungee jumping place right across from James Cook University, if you’re feeling brave! Cairns has a great garden as well, they also did a lot of free art shows and other things while I was there. Have so much fun! I didn’t have a ton of extra cash to spare by the end of my semester there, but there’s tons of great, fresh food available and wonderful restaurants. It would be so fun to revisit as an adult with a bigger travel budget!

    1. The cliff walk around Bondi is amazing. We just did it in September. I also disagree with a previous poster about Bondi. It is so eclectic and cool, and if you are visiting Sydney so easy to do.

  22. We went to Sydney and New Zealand for my honeymoon! I’m so jealous–we want to go back really badly.

    I HIGHLY recommend checking out The Rocks in Sydney. It’s a cute old neighborhood around the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Lots of cute shops and good food! We also went on the Sydney with Conviction tour from Urban Adventures and LOVED it. It was a great walking tour around The Rocks, so we got to know the neighborhood and see a lot of sites, plus the information was really interesting. https://www.urbanadventures.com/sydney-tour-sydney-with-conviction

    We stayed at Pier One Sydney Harbour which is right next to the Harbour Bridge. Highly recommend it–great location, great vibe, great service.

  23. I haven’t been to Australia so I have no recommendations. But, New Zealand is my favourite country in the entire world so far. Based on my experience with jet lag (and my husband’s as well as our little guys), I don’t think you have planned enough days. The first couple will pass in a haze and then you’ll just be getting a handle on your exhaustion when you preparing to fly home. It would be a shame to fly nearly half-way around the world to not really get to a decent sample of the country.

  24. Great cafes in Sydney are Lyfe Cafe and Shuk!

    My favorite memories include the walk from Bondi to Bronte along the coast, and Watson’s Bay. It’s also great to have drinks at the Opera Bar at the Sydney Opera House.

    Have the best time!

  25. That’s so exciting! My fiance and I are planning on Australia for our honeymoon next year (we’re thinking Sydney, wine tasting in Adelaide, then either Melbourne or Uluru), so I don’t have any recommendations for you but I’m definitely looking forward to hearing all about your trip.

  26. If at all possible, I suggest spending time in Port Douglas over Cairns as it’s more off the the beaten path, more of a focus on the beautiful environment, less crowded beaches, etc!. With Cairns you’ll have access to better nightlife and shopping but if you’re visiting the Great Barrier Reef, I’m guessing that’s not a priority. And I realize these aren’t destinations you’ve mentioned, but some of my favorite places that I’d say aren’t to be missed are Noosa, Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. If you were to pick just one, I’d say the Whitsundays are something everyone should experience in their lifetime!

  27. You’ll have a blast! I’d recommend spending as much time as possible in Bondi Beach in Sydney – lots of cute boutiques, restaurants and hotels plus the coolest people ever and the famous Bondi Icebergs! Even if you don’t stay there, you should definitely do the Coogee to Bondi beach walk and then spend the afternoon in Bondi. I felt like the outer suburbs and beaches had a lot more character than downtown Sydney. That said – I did love the Surrey Hills and Darlinghurst neighborhoods, and it was fun to explore The Rocks too!

    Cairns is a weird place – very backpacker-y and less character. No real sightseeing in the city but it’s really just a jumping off point for diving. If you’d like someplace a bit more quaint, I’d recommend staying in Port Douglas instead since it’s a cuter town with the same access to the reefs. The GBR is amazing though – you can’t miss it!