A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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In a Nutshell

Australia proved to be the perfect mid-point for our year long trip. It gave us a chance to reconnect with old friends, make new friends and generally enjoy a lifestyle similar to (and in many ways better than) home.

We enjoyed the hospitality of friends in Sydney and Alice Springs who welcomed us into their homes and their lives. (And in Sydney, turned over the keys to their house and car for more than two weeks while they were on vacation).

We were also fortunate to have a visit from one of Caroline’s best friends from home. Marlee and her dad Davis came halfway around the world to join us for a week exploring Sydney and welcoming in 2009.

We had a great time together and enjoyed the news and gifts friends sent from home.

Personal History

Both Dani and I had personal connections to Australia.

Dani’s childhood across-the-street friend from Manassas, Virginia, traveled to Alice Springs twenty years ago and never left. She came to visit her father, who was working outside Alice, and ended up raising two children, building a rich and full life in the heart of the desolate Outback.

Twenty years ago I had the good fortune to meet John Utting, a rising talent in the Australian Labor Party. He went on to found one of Australasia’s leading public opinion and market research companies.

John and his wife Jen have three incredible children, and our families meshed perfectly during our visit. I know Caroline and Conor were especially grateful to hang out with people their own age.

I also had a chance to catch up with Wayne Swan, a friend of twenty years, who now serves in Australia’s Federal Parliament and is the country’s Treasurer. Wayne is responsible for managing Australia’s economy and its response to the global financial crisis. Talk about a tough job.

Having the opportunity to see and spend time friends made being in Australia even more special — and provided us a unique look into life in “The Lucky Country.”

Road Trip

After a few days in Sydney, we hit the road, traveling to Canberra for Question Time and then on Melbourne for a glimpse at Australia’s financial (and some would say cultural) capital.

From Melbourne, we flew Tiger Airways to Alice Springs. Tiger is a low-cost carrier owned by Singapore Airlines. While the tickets to Alice were a third the cost of Qantas, I have to say the experience was about as close to riding a bus in the sky as you can get.

When you buy a ticket on Tiger you get a seat on the plane, but everything else costs extra.

Checking a bag? Extra. A drink of water? Extra. Peanuts or crackers? Extra. I half expected to see them charging for use of the toilet. If the Tiger model is the future of air travel, God help us all.

Dani’s friend Kara and her husband Rob hosted us in Alice.

Kara took us to her company Christmas party on a cattle station and Rob took us four-wheeling in the Outback. They both showed us the sites around Alice, and we had a fun dinner at what may be the only Indian-Swiss restaurant in the world.

We also spent half a day at the Desert Park in Alice, which we highly recommend. A few hours at the park will give you a new appreciation for flora, fauna, birds and other creatures that make their home in this harsh climate.

In Alice, we rented a car and drove four hours to Uluru and the Ayers Rock Resort. It takes quite a bit of effort to get there, but we all agreed it was a highlight of our time in Oz.

After Alice we flew back to Melbourne, took Caroline to see the movie Twilight (her obsession), and then drove along the coast back towards Sydney.

The ride back to Sydney was quite nice while in the Australian state of Victoria, less so once we crossed into New South Wales. Some of the highlights:

  • Our stop on Phillip Island (135 kilometers outside Melbourne). We bought the three park family pass which entitled us to entry into The Penguin Parade, The Koala Conservation Center, and Churchill Island. For anyone spending time near Melbourne, Phillip Island is a worthwhile side trip.
  • We also liked Lakes Entrance at the eastern edge of 90 Mile Beach. The place has a nice small beach town feel (for some reason it reminded me of small Jersey shore beach towns in the mid-eighties). Maybe it was the ever-so-slightly rough-around-the-edges look of the town.
  • Once in New South Wales, our choice of stopping points was less fortuitous. I’m sure there are nice towns; we just didn’t pick them.
  • One place we stopped but did not stay looked very nice: Kiama. People traveling along the NSW coast south of Sydney would do well to stop there for a while.
  • Wollongong, just south of Sydney is one place you should avoid if at all possible. A giant steel mill sits adjacent to the town’s beach, spewing smoke, giving the place the feel of a potential Superfund site.
  • The Grand Pacific Drive. Don’t bother. The ten minutes of “grand” don’t make up for the two hours of less than ordinary.


While in Sydney we were fortunate to stay near Parsley Bay in Vauclause, close to Watson’s Bay and the South Head of the harbor. The Utting family welcomed us into their lives, hosting dinner parties and sharing the spots local families frequent.

When they left for their summer holiday, the Uttings graciously allowed us to stay in their house, drive their car and care for their pets. It provided a welcome sense of sanity and routine after nearly six months on the road.

We enjoyed living the life of a local — but we did our share of site-seeing too. We:

  • Spent a day at both Bondi and Manly beaches.
  • Enjoyed an afternoon at the excellent Taronga Zoo.
  • Found a secluded beach near Rose Bay where we could watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks.
  • Met the Family Trippers, roamed the Botanical Gardens and explored the Opera House.
  • Wandered round Darling Harbor.
  • Marveled at the tranquility of Sydney’s Chinese Gardens.
  • Took Tillie the Dog on morning walks to Watson’s Bay and spent afternoons swimming in Parsley Bay.
  • Window shopped on George Street and visited the Sydney Apple Store.
  • Took in the Australian Museum, the Powerhouse Museum and had dinner in Chinatown.
  • Caught up on some of the movies we’ve missed (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Benjamin Button, Australia, Twilight, High School Musical 3, Quantum of Solace).
  • Slept in, ate in, celebrated Christmas and generally led a normal life for a few weeks.


Australia is a big country and there is a lot to do and see. No one can see it all, even in the six weeks we had.

We can recommend, without reservation, visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs and Uluru. There’s a lot a great things to do in each place.


  • Ride the Sydney Ferry system for great views of the Harbor Bridge, Opera House and harbor.
  • Visit the Taronga Zoo, Powerhouse Museum and Australian Museum.
  • Have lunch in the tea room at the Chinese Gardens.
  • Spend a day at Manly Beach and another at Bondi.
  • Have lunch at Doyle’s in Watson’s Bay (very touristy, but quite a scene).
  • Walk around the South Head, beginning and ending at The Gap.


Alice Springs


  • Watch the sun rise and set over “The Rock.”
  • Hike ten kilometers around Uluru’s base.
  • Visit Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), another very impressive geological formation just 30 kilometers from Uluru.

Recommended Accommodations

We were fortunate to have more than three weeks of free accommodation while in Australia.

While we can’t get you a room at any of the houses where we stayed, we can recommend a couple of hotels we found on our road trip.

  • Melbourne – The Miami Hotel is a great “budget” option. It’s in a funky neighborhood in North Melbourne, near the Queen Victoria Market and one block from tram stop that will take you most anywhere you would want to go.
  • Phillip Island – Woodbyne Cottages are centrally located and make for a good base for taking in Penguin Parade and Koala Conservation Center.
  • Lakes Entrance – At Kalimna Woods Cottages, located just outside of town, the owners do possum feedings in the evenings and rainbow lorikeet feedings in the mornings. Nice cottages in a lovely setting.

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