Australia: A Down Under Experience
When I was a junior in high school, I found my love for travel. I attended a People to People International (PTPI) student travel program to England & France. That trip sparked a passion in international relations that carries on to this day. Ten years later, I am fortunate enough to now oversee the adult travel division at PTPI. Thanks to my dream job, I was fortunate enough to travel to Australia this past May for a familiarization trip (FAM) so that I could better understand the terrain of “Down Under” and share our program with future delegates to travel with us this October!
Australia was always on my list of places to visit just not at the top of my list, but I fell head-over-heels in love with this phenomenal country! I adored the food, the culture, the weather, the terrain, and especially the people! If the stars ever aligned, I would move there in a heartbeat. I’ve been to many, many countries in my lifetime, but the Land Down Under tops my list thanks to the extremely unique experiences that our travelers will enjoy as well.
I’m not an outdoorsy person, but I made an exception for Australia. The terrain is so varied; one day you’re in arid Uluru gazing at the red sandstone monolith that is Ayers Rock, and the next day you’re in the lush Daintree Rainforest! It is almost jarring to go from a fast-paced, vibrant metropolis like Sydney to the remote Outback. However, I loved this dichotomy because every day was a new adventure.
One of the trip’s (many) highlights was our stay in Uluru. We first visited Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to see Ayers Rock (also called Uluru), which is sacred to the local Anangu Aboriginal people. Our Aboriginal guide explained that in their mythology, Uluru is the center of the universe. As I stood before the 10-mile wide sandstone giant, I understood why. Later that evening, we had a lovely, three-course dinner beneath the stars, during which an expert described the glittering constellations. Afterwards, we visited the “Field of Lights” at the base of Uluru, where the desert was flooded with a sea of multi-colored lights funded by Quantas Airlines and designed by British artist, Bruce Munro. A magical and ethereal experience, I would recommend a visit to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park to any traveler.
The terrain changed dramatically from Uluru to the lush Daintree Rainforest. The oldest rainforest in the world is home to unique flora and fauna, brimming with life while also maintaining a calm and tranquil demeanor. Although I’ve seen pictures and watched TV programs about this ecosystem, it is something else entirely to actually be there. We visited the Botanical Ark, a private ethno-botanical garden in the heart of the rainforest. We also met the famous Alan and Susan Carle, who welcomed us so graciously and have cultivated numerous fruit, vegetable, and flower hybrids that are sought after worldwide. They were generous hosts and shared their unique harvest with us.
Much like with the rain forest, seeing pictures of the Great Barrier Reef and actually being there are two totally different experiences. We drove from Port Douglas, where delegates will stay at a out of this world hotel, to the marina. We boarded an intimate yacht and sailed for two hours, which flew by. I spent time laying on the deck to catch some sun. They provided a top-notch lunch. When we arrived, there were two options: we could snorkel or board a smaller boat with a see-through bottom for those who find themselves to not be swimmers. The water was the most gorgeous shade of bright blue. Along with the rainbow of coral, I felt like I was in a multi-colored paradise. There were parts of the reef that were safe to stand up straight. It was teeming with life, and we even saw a very rare and very big sea turtle! We were there for about four hours then sailed back.
Sydney has a totally different vibe compared to Melbourne. If I were a single young woman wanting a fast-paced life, I’d live in Sydney; Melbourne is a great place to raise settle down and raise a family. Both are culturally diverse–you can get French pastries for breakfast, stop for dumplings in Chinatown for lunch, and grab tapas for dinner. Melbourne reminded me a lot of Barcelona with its unique charm. It is a creative and vibrant city with a lot of street art. Delegates will be staying in an area called “The Paris of Australia,” but it actually reminded me of Las Ramblas, a street in Barcelona. In Sydney, delegates will be staying at the fabulous Shangri-Lai Hotel in the harbor, not far from the iconic Sydney Opera House. You will have the exclusive opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Opera House, a once-in-a-lifetime experience! You can also go to Taranga Zoo to see kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas!
Speaking of koalas, Queensland is the only state in Australia that allows people to hold koalas. When I mentioned how much I wanted to see these little creatures up close, our attentive guides pulled some strings and included an amazing visit to the Koala Reserve! There, I held a sweet baby koala by the name of Tallow. After that experience, I was sure to add the Koala Reserve to our program!
Some people may say that Australia is far away and expensive–and that’s true. But you can fly directly from LA and it goes by very fast. I also believe that once travelers arrive, they will understand why it is completely worth it. You are traveling far so you need plenty of time to really explore the continent. In fact, we saw more of Australia than many Aussies do! People have to realize Australia is huge. We stay at the best hotels, dine out of this world dishes, and experience an extremely unique and exciting itinerary. If you think my overview of Australia sounds amazing, please consider traveling with us this October to experience it for yourself with an addition of visiting New Zealand and an optional post-trip to Fiji. This will definitely be an experience to remember!