During the winter holiday season we typically like to travel somewhere warm and sunny – and last year we decided to explore Australia. Australia is an amazing country; there are so many cities and sites to see but we narrowed our trip to two areas: the Blue Mountains, a gorgeous mountainous area outside of Sydney and the famous Great Barrier Reef, the largest collection of coral reefs in the world.
Hiking through the outback of the Blue Mountains
We LOVED the Blue Mountains! This was the highlight of the trip, all-around the views are jaw-dropping. The rock formations are absolutely magnificent, and we loved seeing wild kangaroos in their natural habitat – a truly unique experience. Fun fact, they say the mountains have a blue-ish hue from the oil of the eucalyptus trees.
To get to the Blue Mountains, the best way is to take the train from the airport or from Sydney. It’s typically about a 2 hour train ride, so bring a book (or camera to take pictures!)
We only had two full days in the Blue Mountains so we wanted to make the most of it. Day 1, we decided to go on a guided abseiling/canyoning adventure, so we reached out to The Australian School of Mountaineering (If you’re not familiar with abseiling, it’s like rock climbing except you’re propelling down a mountain vs. climbing up). Canyoning is exactly how it sounds – trekking through a canyon.
The day started by gearing up and then learning how to abseil, where we literally learned the ropes as we scaled down larger and larger cliffs. Once we were ready for the real deal, we headed into the canyon.
The canyoning part was a combination of scrambling over boulders, jumping through some pools of water, and climbing up mini waterfalls. The canyon ended above a steep waterfall that we abseiled down. NOTE: you will 100% get wet.
- Be prepared for all types of weather
- Lunch and all equipment should be provided but it would be best to double check
- Helmet, ropes, harnesses, wetsuit, etc.
Bring the following items with you:
- sneakers that can get wet
- comfortable shorts or long pants (preferably not jeans)
- t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt (preferably not cotton)
- light or fleece jacket
- rain jacket
- a small day backpack
- waterproof camera
Day 2, we wanted to really check out the outback and do a wilderness trek that’s off the beaten path, so we contacted Blue Mountains Guides to customize a private day tour for us. We wanted to see beautiful scenery, animals roaming free, and learn about the history and the environment. And they delivered – Mark was an amazing guide and gave us a personalized tour in the outback. He makes you feel right at home even though you’ve just met.
We hiked through the valleys, past caves and waterfalls, all while learning about the history of the area. Once it got too hot, Mark took us to a local watering hole so we could cool down. It was this beautiful natural pool surrounded by cliffs, perfect for relaxing. Our day ended with a romantic sunset BBQ dinner as we watched the sunset and a final stop at the Three Sisters for a picture perfect view.
Next up on the agenda — fly to Cairns to go to the Great Barrier Reef!! NOTE: The city of Port Douglas is a couple hours away from the airport. I’d recommend booking your ride ahead of time to make sure you don’t need to wait too long at the airport. Even though it’s a long ride you can just relax and look out for animal sightings (at one point we saw kangaroos on the side of the road!).
Diving in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR)
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world. There are so many colors of reef and fish all swimming in one ecosystem. And if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a giant sea turtle or shark. But the reef is disappearing quickly do to global warming and general human damage, so best to go see it as soon as possible. That said, if you are planning to snorkel or dive on the reef, then typically the companies will take you to areas where it has not been damaged yet.
This may seem like a no brainer but I’d recommend getting scuba certified WAY in advance of your trip to the GBR. We waited until the last second and were scrambling to find a class + dive before the trip. To make a long story short, we realized that it’s not safe for people with asthma and other breathing problems to scuba dive so we decided to just snorkel after all.
There are many scuba and snorkeling companies in the Great Barrier Reef. Many have great reviews but most tend to be big ships with up to a hundred people. We decided to go with a small group diving/snorkeling company, ABC Scuba Diving Company (they bring out around 12 people vs. upwards of 40 from what I’ve heard), which was important to us from a safety and overall experience perspective.
We were really happy with the experience. It was a well-organized, small group and we had plenty of dive time on the reef. Note that the reef is a good 40 minutes from Port Douglas, and we went to a total of 3 different sites. It might not sound like much but we were pretty exhausted after that!
The reef is so full of life – there are many different types of fish, turtles, and other sea creatures. We suggest getting the fish identification card to take with you underwater – we saw so many different types of fish; it’s really difficult to remember the specifics when you’re back on the boat. Maybe bring a grease pencil with you too, so you can circle the ones you see (and have a very cool dive log entry, if you’re into that!).
– If you get seasick, definitely get motion sickness medicine ahead of time.
– Book your dives ahead of time – we waited a bit too long and a couple of the days we were interested in were unavailable. Going into summer, it’ll probably book up faster.
– If you want good pictures, recommend you bring a true waterproof camera as you’ll need a flash to cut through the deep blue hue of the water.
Hiking through the Daintree Rainforest Tour
The Daintree Rainforest is this natural rainforest on the edge of Port Douglas. We initially picked Port Douglas because it had the best of both worlds – amazing hiking and spectacular diving.
In keeping with the theme for this trip, we looked for another small personalized tour company and ended up picking Tropical Tours. Our tour guide had a witty, dry sense of humor that made for an entertaining ride to the forest.
The Daintree Rainforest is absolutely beautiful. We loved exploring this tropical rainforest and had the luck to see one of the local, endangered birds, the Southern Cassowarry! One interesting fact about the cassowary: Once the mother lays the eggs, it’s the father that lays on/protects the eggs until they hatch and raises the babies! So unique! We were lucky enough to see a father cassowary cruising along with his babies.