Curiosity and colour, reconnecting and discovering, dreaming and hoping, appreciating the unfamiliar, flights and fatigue. These words float around in my mind in speech bubbles as I reminisce about my recent summer adventure across Australia with my teen.
The trip had been in the planning for months as the school exam season meant we could take off together ahead of the peak holiday season and enjoy this one-on-one experience for the first time ever. Australia. Full of memories of another era and another life for me and an exciting far-flung destination full of crazy creatures and stunning natural beauty for my son.
It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I undertook our month-long odyssey. What would it be like travelling with my 16-year-old son? How would we rub along together whilst travelling? Would this trip live up to expectations? Would it dazzle and inspire? Would it shimmer and sparkle as I hoped? What kind of travel-buddy would he be? Would he engage with me or would he stare at his phone? How would he cope with the long-haul flight?
Sydney, we are coming!
I needn’t have worried as our first stop in Sydney set the tone for the rest of the trip. His eyes widened in wonder as the train pulled into the Harbour and the magnificent Harbour Bridge came into view followed by the gleaming white sails of the Opera House. It’s a view that never disappoints. Friends made for an unforgettable week, an adventure-packed few days where I reconnected and my teen revelled in unfamiliarity. Our afternoon whale watching tour just outside of the harbour was a highlight as we saw many pods of humpback whales a few metres away. My son was beside himself that this was even possible so close to the city. We saw the whales again as we stared out across Bondi beach – there they were breaching in the distance.
A tour of the magnificent Opera House is a must as the guides are really engaging and the architecture is sublime. Teens will love this as it is such a special building. We were lucky enough to be allowed in to hear a famous Chinese concert pianist practising for his evening performance. The light, the endless skies, the sunsets and the beauty of the cliff walks along the city’s beaches, the ocean and the food made it the easiest of introductions before we headed off on the real adventure.
And let’s not forget the food…
The food in Sydney is simply the best experience, an authentic Eurasian taste adventure made with sun-kissed ingredients and fresh fish. Spice Alley on Kensington Street is home to the kopi-tiam. Multiple hawker-style eateries under a ceiling of glowing lanterns, this laneway meanders through the landscape of Asian cuisine.
At The Boathouse Shelly Beach, a waterside cafe, kiosk and events venue located on Shelly Beach in Manly, we ate lamb so tender it just melted on the tongue. According to my son, this was the ‘best meal’ he’d ever had, which is no mean feat. We loved also the vibes of North Bondi RSL. Located at the northern end of the iconic Bondi Beach, just a stone’s throw from the surf, it’s perfect for relaxing with friends while taking in the best views in Bondi. With meat raffles, great food promotions, and free live music every Saturday, there’s something for everyone. And if you miss a proper fish & chips, head to Doyles at Watsons Bay, an Australian heritage seafood cafe from 1885.
Pushing the boundaries with food as well as with adventurous experiences was a wonderful way to bond together. I loved sitting in the candlelight in the evenings, just he and I, remembering our day over a delicious meal. Not a phone in site except to take shots of the beautiful sunset over the Harbour Bridge. Opera Bar, is simply the best for sunset views and often described as the best beer garden in the world.
Snorkelling together on the Barrier Reef
First to Queensland where we snorkelled together on the Barrier Reef, pointing out the brightly coloured fish, the sharks and clams, bonding and sharing and gazing in wonder at our surroundings. How lucky we were to experience the beauty of the far north Queensland coast with its deserted white beaches and shimmering waves. We shared a cabin in the Daintree Rainforest and listened to the rain in the evenings gently tapping on the roof and the frogs croaking in a nearby pond. We went on crocodile cruises spotting these majestic creatures from the safety of our boat. We sank our toes into soft white sand and learned about the plants and ferns of the ancient Daintree Rainforest. Two world heritage sites collide here – reef and rainforest, making this a very special place, where we absorbed the knowledge and wonder from the local guides and learned things you’d never find in books.
*Extra Tip: For the Barrier Reef, stay in Port Douglas and not Cairns. A much nicer vibe and more relaxed. We enjoyed the Bay Villas Resort
Paying A Tribute To Ayers Rock
From the tropical climes of Queensland, we ventured into the Red Centre, to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the Olgas. These glorious giant rock formations change their colour depending on the time of day. From golden to red as the sun comes up, turning slowly to purple towards the end of the day. We visited the Rock several times to appreciate its beauty and its colour and walked around it. It’s no longer allowed to climb it as the local aboriginal people prefer you not to. A 40-minute drive away lie the Olgas, giant boulder-like formations riven with walking trails of varying degrees of difficulty. We got lost through the biblical Valley of the Winds with its harsh rocky terrain and unearthly breeze.
We drove together across the Outback, to Alice Springs, listening to loud music and sharing our favourite songs. Just outside of Alice, we found the Earth Sanctuary where a local family shares their knowledge and passion for the sky at night. We peered through their telescopes at Saturn and its rings. We’ll never forget the sparkle of the Milky Way.
Remote Western Australia
In Western Australia, we pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone and tried new things, like snorkelling with whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef. This remote reef is halfway up the coast of WA in a place called Exmouth. You need to fly to a small airport called Learmonth as the distances are huge. The whale shark experience is something neither of us will ever forget. Swimming with this majestic peaceful creature was such a privilege. The stripy turquoise hues of the water are a wonder to behold.
It was a privilege to travel with my teen and I know this trip has created a memory for us both forever. He was a wonderfully engaged travel buddy who delighted in the natural beauty of Australia. He adored the reefs we visited and howled in delight at the whales we saw, the cheeky dolphins following our boat, the rare and weird-looking whiskered dugong and the gorgeous turtle bobbing about in the waves. Uluru in the Red Centre is indeed spectacular and he hiked up the boulders in the Olgas so enthusiastically that I was left bringing up the rear, panting to keep up.
After landing back home after an intense month of travelling and a 16-hour non-stop flight from Perth we hugged and he said, “Mum, thank you for taking me to Australia”.