Para Para Paradise: 6 Days of Whitsundays

Joe and I were long overdue for a couple’s vacation. We realized that we haven’t gone away, just the two of us, for longer than an extended weekend since our honeymoon three years ago. We left work on Tuesday and geared up to start the celebration by watching the Coldplay concert in Melbourne. Their “Para para paradise” song sent us on our way with our pasty skin and beach bags ready for the wonders of Queensland, Australia to celebrate my 30th birthday and our first out-of-Victoria excursion together.

Colorful wristbands lit up the energy filled stadium at the Coldplay concert in Melbourne

Day 1

Our trip to the Whitsunday Islands started at Hamilton Island where we flew in just to catch a ferry to our first destination: Daydream Island. Upon our arrival, a bottle of birthday bubbly and some chocolate along with a note reading “Estas son las mañanitas…” (Joe thinks of everything) awaited us in our ocean front room overlooking the other islands nearby. Napping on a hammock is one of my favorite past times (not that I have many hammocks around my life), so luckily hammocks are easy to find along every corner of the island. Joe and I cozied up in a nice spot to watch the sun set on our first night of our much-awaited vacation. Some long legged birdies and wallabies even joined us for the fantastic view!

Arriving at the Hamilton Island Airport

Hammock time

Our sunset viewing party

Day 2

I met two sea turtles while paddle boarding in the ocean! Hard to believe our trip could get any better than this… but it does, just wait… it does! Joe went out on a kayak and I tried paddle boarding for the first time (LOVE!). While out on the water we burned some calories and saw some sea turtles come up for air. The small island had plenty of activities to go around including put-put golf, several pools, a nature hike, water sports, cricket, beach and pool lounging, and of course… hammock naps. Hammock nap No 2 happened on day 2! Elevated above the ground, feeling so light and unattached to any worries on earth, our vacation was doing exactly what it is meant to do. At least it was until a kangaroo running by at what seemed like 30mph interrupted our peacefully swaying hammock. No kangaroos or humans were harmed, but it was a close call.

Coral beach on Daydream Island

Stingrays at the live reef on Daydream Island

Sharks at the live reef on Daydream Island

Day 3

Nothing but gold skin and smiles as we boarded a “Cruise Whitsundays” boat, “Seaflight”, to the Great Barrier Reef. The cruise took 250 people out to the reef to snorkel, scuba and sightsee around the Reef World Pontoon floating just above the Great Barrier Reef. Scuba diving was the highlight of the morning while the 248 passengers departed in the mid-afternoon; leaving just Joe and I on the pontoon was the highlight of the afternoon. The ocean breeze kissed our sun drenched skin as we watched the tide drop on the reef, leaving the coral that was once below the crystal water visible above the ocean. Looking around we could see nothing but the horizon. The sun eventually met the sea and the stars shone brightly on what was a bright blue canvas throughout the day.  After the sun disappeared and the stars showed their bright lights, we had an amazing dinner in the pontoon’s underwater viewing room. Our butler babe (aka Nina) did an amazing job looking after us, cooking for us, and ensuring we had nothing to worry about during our overnight stay as the only “Reef Sleepers” that night. As a 400kg Grouper (largest boney fish in the Reef) watched us dine in style, we could not believe we were out in the middle of one of the 7 Wonders of the World. What an incredible life this is!

Cruise Whitsundays Boat

Exploring the pontoon

Ready for scuba diving!

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the sunset with the best compliments of wine, cheese, and Joe

Blue sky turns to gold as the night falls

Birthday dinner in the underwater observatory

Our friend George, the Queensland Grouper

Day 4

On our first day out at the Reef I noticed that most of the tourists didn’t look as excited as we were feeling to be out experiencing such an incredible place. Ticking off boxes is life’s way of tricking us into thinking we’re enjoying our experiences. Scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, sitting back and watching the sun set over the horizon, enjoying dinner in an under water observatory with a 400kg fish as our dinner guest, star gazing over the ocean and waking up to see the sun rise over the blue horizon, coloring all the clouds in the sky 50 shades of purple – no boxes ticked there, just memories engrained in my mind forever. The beauty and serenity out at the Reef is impressive, at least it was until the mid-morning when the cruise arrived with a new set of noisy tourists who were there to “tick off their box”.  Despite our disrupted silence out on the pontoon, we were able to escape the chatter for a quick helicopter ride to see the famous heart shaped reef.  No words can describe how surreal the experience was. All there is to see are endless miles of expansive bright turquoise reef and crystal clear water. The water is so clear you can see straight through, revealing even the stingrays hovering over the sand.  Truly incredibly natural beauty.

Sunrise over the Reef

Coral above the water during low tide

Ready for lift off

Heart shaped reef view from the helicopter

No wonder it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World

Our amazing crew helped make the Reef Sleep trip super accessible

Day 5

The best kinds of vacation days are those filled with absolutely no commitments… and great ocean views. We checked in to our last destination of the trip: Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island. Our room on the 14th floor dawned over breathtaking views of the Whitsunday Islands and welcomed us again with a bottle of bubbly wishing me a happy birthday (Oh that Joe!). Our lazy day on the island consisted of lounging poolside, more paddle boarding – this time mixing it up with some yoga moves balancing on the water, drinking at the swim-up bar, and an afternoon snooze on the pool chair. We ended the day laughing our socks off at each other’s ridiculousness at dinner together.

View from our balcony at the Reef View Hotel

Lounging poolside enjoying some live tunes

Delicious and laughter filled dinner at Romano’s

Day 6

Whoever said all good things must come to an end must have gone on a lot of really great vacations. We made use of every last sunshine filled moment on our last day on the islands, but doesn’t it always seem like you could use just one more day of holiday? Heading to the airport we must have looked like the long faced tourists we saw in the departure lounge upon our arrival. Our fate caught up to us and the tables had turned – now envying the pale-skin, happy-faced new island dwellers just getting off the plane that was about to take us away from the lovely sun and sea we enjoyed all week.

Can’t we just stay?

Queen Victoria Market

We finally made it to the Queen Victoria Market this weekend. I can’t believe it took me over a month to walk 15 minutes to a market full of bliss! Heaps of baskets full of fresh produce with a great organic section welcomes you into the food market. Stalls of cheeses and olives and fresh organic breads line the inside of the deli. The fish, poultry, and meat market has everything from Tasmanian salmon to blue crabs to any cut of meat you could dream up.

The market is also great for those cheap nick nacks you never knew you couldn’t live without (like a nail drying fan for $2!). Coffee and lunch? Yup, you can grab that too! Other stores filled with candles and aboriginal art line the northern perimeter of the market as well.

I can’t believe I didn’t bring my granny cart (I finally got one) to this amazing place! My nearly daily trips to Woolworths are ending here… I found my shopping place!

What’s for dinner? Well cheese and wine of course. It was reminiscent of the time Joe and I spent in London in January of 2007. One night, Joe got to the flat after work and I prepared a cheese platter of decadent creamy goodness that I picked up at the market. We sat down, opened a bottle of wine and Joe said, “thanks, this is great! What’s for dinner?” We’ve enjoyed many wine and cheese dinners ever since.

Milk, eggs and blisters

Calling all New Yorker’s, San Franciscans, Bostonians… basically any of you most walkable cities residents! HOW DO YOU GROCERY SHOP??? No, seriously… how do you do it? A trip to the grocery store for me in LA consisted of driving my car to Trader Joe’s, walking out of the car, seeing the “Don’t forget your bags!” sign, walking back to my car to get the bags and then heading into the grocery store only to wheel out my cart full of goodies, put them in my trunk (or boot as the Aussies call it) and then drive home. Minimal bag carrying involved. Minimal steps involved. I would often challenge myself to carry all of the groceries into the house in one trip. That’s about as difficult as it got friends!

Melbourne is much different. Boy was I schooled on the grocery shopping technique sans car! I picked up as much as my little basket could fit thinking that if I could carry the basket around in the store my muscles could easily handle the walk back to the hotel.  Picked up some milk, eggs, bananas, some other essentials (yes, of course taking advantage and exploring the range of regional wines!)….

Checked out at the self check out stand (yikes these prices are painful), bagged my groceries (still have to get myself some reusable bags here) and walked to our temporary home in these cuties:

My shoes aren’t always the most comfortable, but I thought I’d change that since my new city requires a lot more walking than car dependent L.A. Look at that cushioned insole! Don’t they just scream comfort? Perfect for a cute but casual errand running trip? I thought so too, until 5 blocks later when I arrived back at the hotel waddling into the room with killer blisters on my feet and four plastic grocery bags cutting into my hands. I dropped the bags on the counter, kick the shoes off and collapsed on the floor. Ok… sorry for the drama. But I seriously remember whispering to myself “you can do it!” when I was only half way to the hotel. I eventually did manage to get it together and whip up the ingredients that had cause so much pain into a descent meal. I might need a granny cart after all.


G’Day Mate

We finally arrived! and it finally hit me. You’d think the months of planning, packing, and saying goodbye to friends and family would have done it, but it was actually the little flight tracker on the plane from Auckland to Melbourne that did it. I realized that plane wasn’t turning around for us. We were on our one way flight to our new home.

The excitement caught up to us and we collected our bags, all 562 of them, and headed to our temporary hotel apt. Upon arrival at the hotel we realized that we left two items behind at the airport! Apparently 562 and 564 bags/boxes/walker combination seems the same as you are packing it in to a taxi. Luckily for us we have two great friends in Melbourne who spent their ANZAC Day driving us back to the airport to pick up the forgotten items.

We arrived to a cold and rainy city. Apparently their first day of winter had waited just for us to arrive! Time to put away the sandals and maxi dresses… and get out the Collingwood Magpies scarves! Thanks to some incredible friends (more like guardian angels) in L.A. (Thanks Astrid, Andy, and Melissa! if you are reading this) we were introduced to two of our newest friends in Australia who provided us with a true Aussie welcome.

A little background first… ANZAC Day (April 25) is one of the biggest national holidays in Australia. It commemorates and honors the Aussie and Kiwi military (Think Veterans Day and Memorial Day combined and on a much bigger level). The whole country practically shuts down. Most businesses close for at least part of the day and everyone in the city hopes to score some tickets to the ANZAC Day Footy Game.

So… back to our first day in Australia. We ventured out (in the pouring rain) to our first Australian Rules Football (otherwise known as AFL or Footy). There are 17 AFL teams, 10 of them are in the Melbourne area. With footy, cricket, rugby, tennis, and who knows what other sports we have yet to discover, this city is sports crazed! Every ANZAC Day the Collingwood Magpies and the Essendon Bombers play a match and draw huge crowds every year. So… you can imagine that this game is a pretty big deal around here. And rightly so, Footy is apparently RAD!

Enjoying the Footy with our new Mates, Jimmy and Pat. We were instantly converted Collingwood fans (the team people love to hate)! Go Pies!

The game was incredible, full of excitement and action (it’s like a blend of American football, soccer, and a sprinkle of extra action combined). The insanely fit players storm the field with furry. Kicking the ball to each other with unbelievable Accuracy. The Our Pies brought it home in the last-minute for an epic win against Essendon… then it was out to celebrate the victory with or new mates.