Australia (Sydney and Cairns/Great Barrier Reef)

Kangaroos, koalas, platypuses, wallabies, wombats and crocodiles…what do you immediately think of? Australia, of course! Over the last week, Perry and I visited the land down under. While we unfortunately didn’t get to spend time in the “outback” seeing them in their natural habitats (but we’ll definitely be back, Australia!), we did get to see all of these amazing animals in our short trip to Sydney and Cairns (pronounced “Cans”) at a zoo :)

We weren’t sure how we would feel about Australia after we fell completely in love with New Zealand and didn’t want to leave, but I have to say that these two cities did not disappoint us. Sydney was quite lovely with its views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge over Sydney Harbour. And Cairns was a dream come true as we checked an item off our bucket list by getting to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

We started our time in Australia with four days in Sydney. As the capital city of the country, Sydney is quite large and has the same feeling of a big city, but it also has the appeal of being a beach town with amazing coastal beaches just a short 10-15 minute drive from the city center. The city (like the country) in its current state is still very young being only established by the British in the mid to late 1800s (of course the aboriginal people have been there for thousands of years before Britain ever showed up). Interestingly enough, it was used by the British to send their convicts to serve their sentences after the U.S. (specifically the state of Georgia) refused to accept them any longer after the Revolutionary War. According to one source we heard, about 20% of all Australians are descended from these original transported convicts. Super interesting, right?

We loved our time in Sydney and had the opportunity to see a city that we’ve both always wanted to visit. Our days were filled with exploring the city and soaking up Aussie life there. We walked through Darling Harbour, which is filled with restaurants and shops. We visited the Botanic Gardens and a beautiful cathedral. And we enjoyed seeing the contrast of tall skyscrapers against the historic buildings in areas like The Rocks.

One of our favorite sights and easily the most recognizable of Sydney was the Sydney Opera House. Perched out on the water in Circular Quay, it honestly is just as beautiful and iconic as the pictures lead you to believe. We loved seeing it from the land and from the water, both during the day and at night when it was lit up with bright colors. One of the sails even has a light projection show on the side with music and art from one of the aboriginal tribes that used to live in the area.

We spent an afternoon at a small zoo in the city where we could see some iconic Australian animals. The crocodile was huge, and the koalas and platypuses were some of the cutest animals we've ever seen.

One morning, we were able to take a boat ride through the Sydney Harbour. We loved being able to see the city from the water and thoroughly enjoyed the fresh perspective especially of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

And of course, one day we made it out to the infamous Bondi Beach, where we enjoyed the sunshine and picturesque ocean views. The surfers were out, and it was really cool to watch them ride the waves. The beach itself was beautiful, and on both sides of the beach are spectacular rock-faced cliffs that the waves would crash against. We were even able to see a humpback whale breach the water surface (way far away albeit), which was amazing!

Our last day, we took time to walk across the Harbour Bridge and view the Harbour and city from up above. It was quite lovely.

From Sydney, we travelled north to the city of Cairns, which is located on the coast in Queensland. Why, you might ask? Because Cairns is the best gateway city to visiting the Great Barrier Reef! Cairns was a beautiful little town that we really enjoyed spending a few days in. Similar to a beach town in Florida, things were slower there and quite relaxing.

One of our days in Cairns, we spent walking around the city and the Promenade. It was beautiful and full of life as tourists and locals spent time enjoying the ocean views and basking in the sun at the community pool. Also, much to Perry’s delight, some of the city’s trees are FULL of flying foxes (aka humongous bats) that wake up at night and fill the sky. It was a little creepy but also pretty cool (especially when you realize that they’re helping control the bug/mosquito population). 

And on our other day in Cairns, we had the opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), something that both Perry and I have dreamed of doing! It was definitely a bucket list item, and something that neither of us will ever forget!

The Reef is actually a series of over 2900 individual coral reefs that stretch for over 1400 miles along the east coast of Australia. To access it from Cairns, we went through a local tour company that took us out on a catamaran to snorkel two of the reefs. We saw hundreds of bright-colored fish, giant (2-3 feet wide) clams and beautiful pastel-colored coral. We saw one small stingray nestled in the sand, and unfortunately, we missed seeing the black tip reef shark that swam past some other passengers. Overall, it was an amazing opportunity and absolutely beautiful. We were both in awe of the beauty that lies just below the surface of the water.

In all honesty, while visiting the Great Barrier Reef was something that I’ve dreamed of doing, it was still something that I was fairly apprehensive about. Australia is known for some crazy animals that can really harm you (especially in the water), and I’m not the biggest fan of going into water that is above my waist (I know it’s irrational, but what if something tries to eat my toes?!?). Although we had wetsuits and flippers on, I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was still a little panicky when we first entered the water. But looking back on it, I’m so thankful that we were able to do it. I couldn’t imagine coming all that way and not being able to experience the Great Barrier Reef because of my fears.

Fear is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s a good thing. And sometimes it’s not. I always tell my kiddos at school that fear is natural and important. It helps us navigate life and make wise decisions. It’s that alarm system in our heads that helps us survive. But fear becomes a problem when we allow it to control us and hold us back from our hopes and dreams. When it allows us to merely survive and not thrive. Sometimes it requires us to dig a little deeper and find a hint of bravery somewhere deep inside of us. And I think we all have those things that require a little more courage and bravery for us individually whether it’s flying or skydiving or public speaking or standing up for ourselves or letting go of something or someone or even snorkeling in the open ocean. I wouldn’t in any way call myself brave, but I’m thankful that somehow I could muster up enough courage to do something that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

So for today, I’m treasuring the moments that I’ve been able to say no to fear and step out in faith. I’m holding onto every bit of courage and bravery that I find within myself. And I’m praying that you too will have the courage to do the things that you need to thrive, not just survive. May we all find a way to face our fears with resilience and trust that something far greater than our fears is waiting for us on the other side.


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