Mike and Theresa Blundell in Sydney(Courtesy Mike and Theresa Blundell)
Great local meal... Opium Den, a Thai place in Potts Point, a suburb of Sydney. Our friend took us, and it was cool to eat at a place away from the major tourist areas. The restaurant itself is dimly lit, with red walls and funky chandeliers—and it does get a little crowded, but it's still really fun. We ordered and shared three dishes and an appetizer. The food was delicious and the price ($70 total for three people) was awesome.
Our favorite part... I'd have to say the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island. It was an amazing experience seeing the fairy penguins (a.k.a little penguins) come out of the ocean in small, huddled groups from their day of hunting. They all chatter to each other, and it's a fascinating thing to watch! There are two main viewing areas, including what they call the Penguin Plus platform, where there are fewer people. You can even walk along the boardwalk and follow the penguins to their burrows. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos, but it was an experience I'll never forget.
Wish we'd known that... You can't really swim at the beaches in Queensland during the summer, because of the dangerous box jellyfish. I'd read about the jellyfish but didn't realize that even locals don't swim in the ocean. The beaches were pretty deserted, so we settled on swimming in rivers that were free of crocodiles. You don't want to trade a box jellyfish for a crocodile, if you can help it...
Worth every penny... Our snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef on the Ocean Safari ($108 per person). It was a small boat with about 20 passengers, including guides—and it turned out that we were the only boat on the reef. We snorkeled for about 30 minutes on Mackay Reef [PHOTO] and saw colorful coral and fish up close. Someone on board even spotted a reef shark, and our guide picked up a sea cucumber from the ocean floor and showed us its defense mechanisms. The tour is eco-certified because it uses a small boat that burns less fuel. I hope we can go back!
Never again... Rushing around. Instead of driving the Great Ocean Road [PHOTO] and coming back to Melbourne in one day, for example, we should have stayed the night somewhere out on the road to break up the trip. We left Melbourne at 7:30 a.m. and didn't get back to our hotel until 11:30 p.m.
Fun surprise... Exotic-fruit wine tasting at Shannonvale Winery, in the Cape Tribulation area. The winery owner greeted us and explained that his wine tasting included 13 samples. Whoa! When we went to Napa, we only had four to six samples at a tasting. We sat down on bar stools at one of the long tables, and we filled out a tasting form after each sample. The first wine he poured was made with mango; it was a dry wine that was recommended as a pair with lighter foods such as prawns. Mike really liked it (he gave it an 8 out of 10), but I thought it was a little too dry, so I gave it a 5. We continued on through sweet, port-like wines made from other exotic fruits like lychee, passion fruit, jaboticaba, ginger, purple mangosteen, and black sapote. [PHOTO] We knew we'd never be able to buy something like this anywhere else, so we stocked up!
Hotel we liked... The Cape Tribulation Exotic Fruit Farm. We came with no plan, which is what the proprietors, Alison and Digby, recommend. They are both very energetic and accommodating—we chatted with them every day about our plans, and they booked any tours we wanted to go on. They even invited us for drinks and—you guessed it—a barbecue. The cottages are beautiful: We sat on the balcony [PHOTO] a lot listening to the forest with tea in the mornings and with wine in the evenings. An amazing breakfast is included in the rate; my favorite entrée was the banana pancakes with black sapote chocolate sauce.