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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Lovely Long Weekend near Sydney - Gymea, Cronulla and Royal National Park

I recently was asked by some friends visiting Australia for a good weekend getaway from Sydney and it brought to mind my trip to Gymea, Cronulla and Royal National park back in October 2017.

September 31 - October 2, 2017

Cronulla is 30 minutes by car (no traffic) or 60 mins by train from downtown Sydney, making it extremely convenient for a weekend away.

My boyfriend and I took the train so we wouldn’t have to deal with weekend traffic and parking.  We used our regular Opal transit card (max $10-$15 ride) to Gymea station. The station is right in the middle of the little town, so we easily walked to grab groceries and stock up on wine.  We were starving on arrival, so we decided to have dinner at Renato's Cafe.  Delicious, affordable pizza and pasta and you can BYO wine – I was shocked at how much cheaper things are outside of Sydney!  It was already feeling like a true vacation away from home.

The best part of the whole weekend was our Airbnb accommodation.  It was in a treehouse.  But not the kind cartoon animals from Winnie the Pooh live in, we are talking an Architectural Digest type of home.  Situated on the side of a cliff overlooking the owner’s house, it featured a studio setup with floor to ceiling windows.  At $91 AUS a night it was a STEAL!  The owner dabbles in homemade skincare so the bathroom had coconut oil, lotions, and everything else for a spa weekend.  They’d even stocked the kitchen with snacks, milk and other essentials.  We felt right at home.

Photos from Airbnb website

We spent the following day in Cronulla.  Turns out not having a car is a bit of a nuisance, because the Tree House was in a residential neighborhood called Gray’s Point (not near anything) and we were spending a fair amount of time and money on Ubers to/from places. At least it only took 15 minutes to get to downtown Cronulla, which isn’t that bad.

We had an amazing brunch at Next Door, right near the beach.  Some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had and the people watching was pretty amusing.  We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the beach, swimming and window-shopping.  Everything is very walkable. 

Photo Credit:

As it started getting dark, we moved on to Northies, a classic Aussie pub.  Turns out it’s part of three separate venues all run into each other.  If you start at Northies, you wander through a pizzeria-meets-bar (pizza looked amazing BTW) and end at Joe’s, which is a bit clubbier (a DJ came on around 9pm).  Embarrassingly we were so obsessed with our treehouse that we left Cronulla to spend more time dancing to Marvin Gaye and drinking wine in our PJs.

Sunday, we accidentally slept in and then decided to have a leisurely breakfast so we were super late getting to the Cronulla ferry stop.

We were headed to Royal National Park, our main reason for the trip.  We planned to walk to Wedding Cake rock which is quite a hike. For $7/person one-way, the Cronulla Ferry drops you in Bundeena and then you can walk left along the water to the start of the Coastal Trail.  It's a quick trip along some beautiful coastline.

Wedding Cake rock is 3.4km (2 miles) from the start of the coastal walk.  It shouldn’t take that long to walk, but when you stop every two seconds to take pictures of the amazing coastline and have a leisure picnic lunch, the hours dwindle away quite quickly.  

Photo Credit:

We soon realized that we had arrived way too late to the park and weren’t going to make it to Wedding Cake rock and still catch the last ferry back at 6pm.  I wasn’t planning on sleeping in the park without any camping gear. So we hoofed it back to the boat to ride back to Cronulla.  We still had the most amazing day even if we didn’t make it to the famous outlook.  We did luck out on the boat ride back with some dolphins swimming alongside us. 

Back at the tree house, we had another lovely night in watching movies and then headed to bed early for our train trip back in the morning.

It’s been over a year since I went on that weekend away and it remains one of my favorite memories in Australia.  The convenience of location and transportation, the utter beauty of the accommodation and national park land and the tantalizing restaurants and people-watching made for the perfect long weekend.  I’d highly recommend!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Western Australia: Perth & Rottnest Island

August 24-27, 2017

You know when you visit a new place and it weirdly feels like home?  That’s how I felt when I first visited Perth, Australia, in Feb 2017.  I’d spent an afternoon there after a grueling week long road-trip to Exmouth and instantly fell in love, so my boyfriend and I decided to return in August to take advantage of a work trip.

We booked an amazing Airbnb on Wellington Street near the Northbridge district, just outside the bar scene so that it wouldn’t be too loud, but close to the action ($105/night which for Perth is pretty cheap).  Our number one objective was seeing the quokkas on Rottnest Island, but we’d read somewhere the boat is 3 hours one-way and $80 each.  We did some digging ang found out you can take a private three-person Cessna plane with Rottnest Air Taxi for $380 total split between three.  The best part?  You get to see Rottnest from the air, which as you’ll see from pictures later on in this post, was well worth the money!

Since the plane leaves from the airport at 10am each day and we’d slept in, we had to book for the next day, so we decided to take the river ferry to Fremantle or “Freo” locally.  But not before a delicious pulled pork egg benny and coffee from Uncle Joe's, a very cool brunch café near the Airbnb. 

To get to Fremantle from Northbridge, you have to walk to Elizabeth Quay and take the Barrack St ferry ($30 one way).  There was one at 11:15am so we could make a day of it.  The river ferry was lovely!  We sat out on the back deck looking at some of the biggest houses in Australia.

As everyone on holidays does, we decided to eat again upon arrival in Fremantle.  Fremantle is the “hipster” area of Perth, similar to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY, or Los Feliz in LA.  In true hipster fashion, we decided to have lunch at the Fremantle Markets which have been around since 1897, a long time for a country as young as Australia.  The market is massive and caterers to the hungry and thirsty as well as those looking for clothes, shoes and other non-edible items. I love trying random food at markets because if you don’t like it, it’s a $5 mistake, so I went for the Gozeme, Turkish bread with spinach, chicken and chili.  It was delicious!!

I’d come to Fremantle during that afternoon in February so I sort of knew my way around a bit and suggested that we walk down to Little Creatures Brewery for a beer tasting flight on the water.  Along the way, my poor boyfriend was forced into a couple shops, where I found an awesome bejeweled jean jacket (it’s cuter than it sounds okay!)

Another amazing thing about Perth, is that it’s on the WEST side of Australia and that means one thing where Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and every east coast city can’t compete…sunsets.  We were already on the ocean so we continued down the boardwalk to Bathers Beach Hotel where I had an incredible caramel espresso martini while watching an incredible sunset.

Since we hadn’t had “official” dinner (hadn’t we be eating all day??) we strolled down to Bread In Common, recommended by a close friend from Perth.  We shared some small plates which were good although not as exciting as I'd have hoped. A $30 Uber and we were tucked into bed.

The next morning we quickly searched for a nearby breakfast spot before heading to the airport.  We settled on Eros Café, which had great coffee although the food wasn’t particularly memorable.

For the Cessna flight, the plane maxs out at 300kg, including people and their packs so we could only bring essentials – snacks, sunscreen, hats, snorkel gear and a selfie stick for the famous quokka pic!  I’d also recommend wearing athletic clothes and sneakers over a bathing suit because you’ll want to bike around the island comfortably.  It’s not fancy.
The flight was only 15 minutes but it was magical.  You fly out over Perth for some awesome city shots, then a short stint over open ocean and then you arrive at the island.  The water around the island is just deep enough for sailboats to moor, causing an array of brilliant shades of blue emanating out from the island’s bright white shores.

Highly recommend walking into town and doing the “bike n’ bus” option for $45 each from Pedal & Flipper.  It allows you to bike wherever you want on the island until you are tired and then you can leave the bike at a bus stop and take the bus back to the town.  The island is much larger than you think, so the bus is a nice backup, just don’t forget to ask for a bike lock because you are still responsible for the bike.  Of equal importance is remembering to RETURN the bike key before you leave the island.

We decided to bike the island clockwise from the main town, heading out in the general direction of Salmon Cove.  One of the most enjoyable and beautiful bike rides of my life, not too strenuous but a good workout for someone that doesn’t ride often.  Unfortunately, my boyfriend suddenly started feeling really sick after about 2 hours so we dropped the bikes at Stop #8 and took the bus back in.  We were both feeling not great considering we hadn’t really eaten since breakfast (reminder to bring some snacks!!)

In another unfortunate turn of events, I’d had the selfie stick stuck halfway into my backpack and somehow in transit the clicker for the stick fell off and was lost.  So when we returned to town for the famous quokka pic, we realized the stick wouldn’t work.  My boyfriend was shattered… both physically and mentally, but I wouldn’t give up.  So, instead I set the iPhone to 10 sec timer mode and chased down quokkas hoping they’d just happen to smile when the timer went off.  I think we got some good ones, saving the day!

Starving, we grabbed lunch at Hotel Rottnest, which had great outdoor seating on the water and pretty incredible burgers.  You have to keep an eye on your food because the seagulls are QUITE bold.  I lost a couple fries mid-conversation.

Finally, our 4pm departure arrived so we headed back to the island airport for our flight back.  Poor guy was feeling so sick that we went straight back to the Airbnb for a quiet Saturday movie night before he flew out the next day.

I combated my lonely Sunday blues with shopping on Williams Street (as you do) and then checked into my hotel for work, The Alex Hotel.  Wow.  It, to this day, so my favorite place I have ever stayed, other than maybe that safari villa in South Africa.  I felt like I was staying in someone’s beautiful home.  There was an honor bar in the common area filled with amazing local beers, free breakfast that included some of the most interesting and tasty muffins, and a gorgeous rooftop looking out of Northbridge.  To top it all off, the way the room was structured, the entire wall of the shower was glass allowing the sun to stream in through the window, without anyone being able to see you.  

I spent the rest of the afternoon sunning myself on the roof before meeting up with some mutual friends for dinner at Cottesloe Beach Hotel.  Cottesloe is a beach town north of Fremantle similar to a Bondi Beach in Sydney or Manhattan Beach in LA.  Yet another incredible sunset from the hotel restaurant while enjoying a delicious duck curry.

The next few days, I linked up with some work mates and we hit up some eclectic cocktail bars, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and even a drag show in Northbirdge!  The most memorable are listed below:
  • The Standard - pretty good dinner
  • Ezra Pound – they make a great Sazerac cocktail (with cool ice!!)
  • Mechanics Institute – very tasty burger with a cool outdoor picnic area 
  • The Bird - live music with a great backyard and beer specials.  They even make a decent espresso martini for a dive bar.  The backyard has Anya Brock paintings, one of my favorite Australian artists
  • Connections (affectionately called “Connie's”) - gay bar with a drag host and ladies mud wrestling on Weds

Overall, a very satisfying trip and a town that I’d arguably live in once I’ve slowed down a little more.  Such unique restaurants, bars and cafes, lovely, friendly people and some of the best sunsets I’ve seen worldwide.  I’d highly recommend visiting, although due to the sheer size of Australia, it’s a trip on its own.  I will most definitely be back.