Sunday, May 31, 2015

Upcoming Travel Plans

We've been making lots of travel plans lately, which is just the way I like it! We are coming up on one year since we moved to Melbourne, and the current plan is to return to the states in August 2016, so we are conscious of the fact that our time is limited. We plan to have some visitors this summer (December-February) so we are trying to fit in a few trips before they arrive. We have scored a few good airfare deals on Tiger lately, so if you can handle potentially (probably) hating your life on the day of travel, then you should check out some of their sales! 

Anyway, here's where I'm headed:


Minneapolis- I'm flying home to Minnesota on Tuesday! It's been about 6 months since I was last home and I'll be able to hit a few big family activities on this trip including my mom's birthday and my sister's high school graduation. Unfortunately, Peter has some work commitments next week and isn't able to come home with me, so that means I'm stuck traveling for 24 hours by myself- super thrilling. I'm only staying for 6 days, so it will be a short trip, but I'm really excited to see family and friends!


Canberra- The capital city of Australia. Apparently Sydney and Melbourne fought over which should be the country's capital so they decided on a location in the middle of nowhere somewhere between the two. Canberra has a reputation for being super underwhelming and isn't exactly a tourist destination. Why am I going? Sylvie's passport expires this year and she needs to renew it at the Belgian Embassy, so what better excuse for a road trip! We plan to hit a few destinations along the way including Lakes Entrance and a couple national parks.


Brisbane- In August we fly to Brisbane for 5 days to explore a few areas along the coast. I'm not going to lie, the main motivation for this trip (at least for me) is to hold a koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. This place is apparently the gold standard for koala holding. Australia has really strict rules regarding handling of koalas and I believe Queensland is the only state that allows you to fully hold one. You can pet them here in Victoria but that doesn't cut it for me. Aside from the koala thing, we plan to take a day trip to Moreton Island and then road trip either north to Noosa or south to Gold Coast and Byron Bay. Currently taking suggestions for this trip, so let me know if you have any experience with any of these places!


New Zealand- We are so excited for this trip! We will be heading to the South Island for 9 days and are considering the whole camper van thing. Also taking opinions on this, because Peter is really into it and I'm really just the type of person who prefers hotels. Anyway, we plan to whale watch, visit the Marlborough wine region and then head down the west coast to the mountains. Peter is also interested in seeing some Lord of the Rings filming locations. Fun fact: there are 20 day guided LOTR tours- that's an actual thing that people do. And they're not cheap. Anyway, I've heard you could spend weeks on the South Island alone, so currently trying to narrow down must-see places since we aren't going to be able to hit everything.

So if you've got any advice for any of these trips, leave it in the comments! 
Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Scenic Flight

Back to our Airlie Beach vacation! I didn't think anything could top jet skiing and snorkeling, but my favorite activity of the whole trip was the scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands. Despite the fact that I actually hate flying, this was top 5 coolest things I've ever done in my life. We booked with GSL Aviation and coupled the flight with an ocean rafting tour in the afternoon, which I'll post about next. 

Thankfully I didn't put too much thought into the actual flight until the morning of, because I wasn't totally prepared for how small the plane would be. I'm not sure what I expected, but this plane was TINY. When we signed all the paperwork and went outside to board, I seriously thought for a minute that we wouldn't make it back, especially when our pilot appeared and looked younger than me. It was too late to back out though, so we got on the plane even after they detailed the "water landing" procedure and made us all strap life jackets around our waists. 
We got to wear these headphone contraptions, which made me feel like I was on the Bachelor, because they always take some sort of scenic flight. 
The plane! This GoPro picture makes it look a bit more spacious than it was.
We started to taxi down the runway and Peter whipped out the safety card for good measure. 

The takeoff was a bit scary, but once we got going the ride was a lot smoother than I expected and somehow I really wasn't too anxious. We went on an extremely still day with little to no wind; had it been really rough I probably would have been so scared the whole time it wouldn't have been as enjoyable. 

We flew over some of the Whitsunday Islands first:
Buying this island now. 

It took about seven minutes to fly out to the Reef, instead of the three hours we spent on the boat the previous day. The Great Barrier Reef from the sky is the coolest thing in the entire world. There were so many shades of blue in the water and it was really the most amazing thing I've ever seen.
The highlight for me was flying over the famous Heart Reef. 
I didn't get the greatest picture ever, but Peter got an awesome video on the GoPro:
I'm not sure how low we got, but the pilot swooped down nice and close to the Reef so we could get some pictures.
Next, we headed seven minutes back toward the Whitsunday Islands and flew over Whitehaven Beach, which is consistently voted one of the best beaches in the world.
Hill Inlet with Whitehaven Beach in the background.
We flew over some of the other islands on our way back to the airport.
The flight lasted an hour and before we knew it we were back on the ground. The landing was pretty much terrifying; all I saw the pilot doing was spinning some wheel next to his seat which doesn't seem legit, but we made it! 
Happy to be back on the ground.

Overall, the flight was a really cool experience and Peter and I both thought it was more than worth the money! That said, I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to do it again ;).

Good Eats

Taking a quick break from blogging about our Airlie Beach vacation to bring you some random food pictures. Because there is nothing better in this world than food and Melbourne has the best food in the world. And that's a fact.

Local Tap House- St. Kilda

First up, I met some friends for brunch at the Local Taphouse in St. Kilda last week, which happened to be Good Beer Week in Melbourne. I don't really like beer but I have to say this fruity variety wasn't bad! 
We enjoyed one of the last warm, sunny days of fall on the rooftop before winter really set in. It's now a chilly 50-60 degrees during the day, which I wouldn't have considered cold before moving to Australia, but now feels like -100. I'm officially wimpy. Next week I'll be on my way back to Minnesota for a few days and am looking forward to some summer weather! Oh the irony. 
I went back and forth between ordering real food or dessert, but let's be honest, it wasn't really a contest. Dessert wins every time. So I had dessert and beer for brunch...healthy start to the day. 

The Golden Triangle- South Yarra

My friend Lauren has raved about this place for months, so Peter and I had high hopes and it definitely delivered. The portions were huge, the prices were good, and this Pad Thai was among the best I've ever had.  

Brunetti- CBD

After dinner we headed to Brunetti in the city for some dessert. I was so full I couldn't finish this chocolate tart, which I think is a first ever. 

Manchester Press- CBD

This one was from before our trip, but I really liked this bagel place and never posted about it so here it is!
Soooooo good. My go-to brunch order is avocado on toast so I was interested to see if it would be as good on a bagel and it definitely was. There was also a good selection of bagel sandwiches that I want to go back and try at some point.

I Actually Cooked

Lastly, Peter and I made this Cajun Chicken Pasta this week. Peter said it was really good...I've had what can only be described as the most stubborn cold ever all week and haven't been able to taste much, so I'll take his word for it. 

And for something non-food-related, I met Sylvie in Federation Square last night before going to her place to watch Married at First Sight- the Australian version just premiered last week and is the most fabulous show ever. Basically, two people who have never met get married. It sounds a bit far-fetched but they are analyzed and matched by psychologists and relationship experts so most of the couples actually seem to be a good match and hit it off. It's only week two though, so we'll see if the marriages are actually successful. 

Anyway, I took a couple pictures while waiting for Sylvie because Federation Square at night is just amazing. 
Sunday, May 24, 2015

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef

Today I'm continuing the recap of our Airlie Beach vacation; so far I've posted about arriving in Airlie Beach on Sunday and our jet ski tour to Daydream Island on Monday so check those out if you haven't already!

We woke up bright and early Tuesday morning for our snorkeling trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. We decided on the day trip with Cruise Whitsundays and had a really good experience, especially since all of our snorkeling gear and meals were included in the price. There were tons of activities to choose from once we got out to the reef like diving, snorkeling, a glass bottom boat for those who didn't want to get in the water, and you could even schedule a massage on board. Peter and I both love snorkeling so we chose to spend the day doing that!

We left from Airlie Beach and made a stop at Hamilton Island to pick up some more passengers before heading out to Hardy Reef, a three hour trip in total. The marina area and the island in general were so pretty we took some pictures while we waited for everyone to board:
We had a bit of down time while everyone got on the boat, so we decided to try out the selfie stick. It was obviously amazing, unlike my hair in this picture:
To get out to the Reef we cruised through more of the Whitsunday Islands, which made the rather long boat ride interesting. The scenery sort of reminded me of some of the lakes in northern Minnesota I used to vacation on as a kid, but obviously this is an ocean and also a bit hillier (that's a word). But it had the same forest-y (also a word) vibe to me!

Once we left the islands we cruised through open water for awhile before reaching the edge of Hardy Reef. We docked to the second pontoon from the right in the below photo and entered the water there.
Pictures don't do the Reef justice; the colors were so vivid in person!
The floating items in the background of this picture (a rope and various rest devices) lined the edge of the Reef which was nice, as swimming in the open water is a bit intimidating. The Reef was shallow, but we obviously couldn't stand on it to rest, and once it dropped off you could barely see the ocean floor.

We docked and quickly put on our snorkeling gear. It wasn't required, but was strongly advised to wear stinger suits. Apparently there are a few species of jelly fish in the Reef that are deadly, so ya, we wore them.
Peter tried the GoPro on his head the first time we went in, which turned out to be a mistake given the amount of above-water footage we got. 
The required peacing photo.
Life jackets were also optional, but I'm not a huge fan of deep water so we wore those too. Plus, I already looked ridiculous enough, so why not add a life jacket?

We were some of the first people in the water, which was really nice since I got hit in the face with a few flippers once it got a bit more crowded. I had the underwater camera and took about ten zillion pictures, so here ya go!
I've tried to take so many underwater selfies in my life and maybe it's just me, but I always look possessed.
The tour company had an underwater photographer who I think also secretly fed the fish because they were obsessed with him.
They literally attacked him.
After about an hour we swam back toward the boat to eat lunch and there were hundreds of these guys.

The fish were amazing, but some of the coral was even cooler. It's weird to see it move because you kind of forget it's alive.
Love this picture!
Because I took an embarrassing selfie I also had to snap a super flattering picture of Peter.
These little guys weren't scared at all and ran into my mask a few times.
A bit cloudy but loved this fish!
See that wasn't so bad. I spared you about 387 photos so thank me. 

On the boat ride back the wind had picked up and it was a bit rough. I'm pretty sure there were more people at the bar buying motion sickness tabs than drinks. Thankfully neither Peter nor I get motion sick so we got drinks :). 

When we were almost back to Hamilton Island, something malfunctioned with the boat and they didn't want to risk docking it, so another boat came to pick us up in the middle of the water. That put us back about an hour, so by the time we were headed back toward Airlie Beach we were able to catch a really amazing sunset. Peter snapped a picture through the boat window, so again it doesn't really do it justice, but it was one of the best sunsets I've ever seen!

And now for a couple more videos!


Welcome! I started Laura and Peter Down Under in July 2014 when my husband and I moved from the States to Melbourne, Australia for his job. I blog about expat life, our travels, food, and whatever else comes to mind. Follow along on our adventures Down Under!



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