• Image about Australia
The Anzac Square War Memorial

Of Diving In Too Deep
I wish I knew how to scuba dive. It’s a refrain I repeat anytime I travel to a place with a lot of pretty fish. But I have never gotten certified, and to don a scuba mask out here on Lady Elliot Island — on the southernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef — makes me think of possibly the complications. So I have to settle for the snorkel instead, which isn’t exactly a consolation prize. “Aw, mate, just wait until you see what’s down there,” says D.J. Ninness, our guide from Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort (and another extraordinarily friendly and knowledgeable Australian).

Give Me a Vegemite Sandwich

On such a whirlwind trip through Queensland and New South Wales, we barely had time to eat. But when we did, we ate well. Here are American Way’s recommendations for restaurants in Brisbane and Sydney.

Buzz BistroShop 22 — Emporium
1000 Ann St.
Fortitude Valley QLD
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South Bank Surf Club Bar & Restaurant
30aa Stanley Plaza
South Brisbane QLD
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Tartufo Ristorante & Bar
1000 Ann St.Fortitude Valley QLD011-61-7-3852-1500
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Quay Restaurant
Overseas Passenger Terminal
The Rocks, Sydney NSW
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Guillaume at Bennelong
Sydney Opera House
Bennelong Point, Sydney NSW
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Rockpool Bar & Grill
66 Hunter Street
Sydney NSW
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We slather on the sunscreen, which is an absolute must in this part of the world, and head out to sea on a glass-bottom boat. “Look at that monster down there,” Ninness announces animatedly. Down below our boat is a stingray the size of a Hyundai. There are also a host of biblical-size fish and multihued coral that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. “I could spend a month on this island and be completely content,” I tell Ninness. “I don’t blame you, mate,” he says. “You really need more than an afternoon to appreciate it.” But an afternoon is all we have. We puddle-jump back to the mainland in time for cocktails at the Emporium Hotel. I am getting tired now. Especially at night, I worry over situations that I know will be all right. Tomorrow we’ll be going to Sydney, but not until we cuddle some koalas.

Perhaps It’s Just Imagination
No matter what zoo you visit, and despite how cute, cuddly and docile the koala bears seem, any zookeeper will tell you that to hug a koala is to take your life in your own hands: They have razor-sharp claws. Similarly, you’re told that kangaroos don’t make good quirky pets, and you should avoid touching them too. And forget about befriending an emu: Those suckers are mean.

But imagination abounds at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Opened in 1927, this is one of the only places in the world that lets you actually hold a koala. You can also feed and pet the kangaroos and emus, and you’ll leave with the same number of digits that you started with. “These koalas are conditioned to enjoy the company of humans,” says Lone Pine’s Mathew Doherty. “Our trainers are the best in the world.”

This leafy sanctuary, located on the banks of the Brisbane River, is an animal wonderland. Besides having 130 koalas, they have Tasmanian devils, wombats, hundreds of birds that you’re allowed to feed and a platypus that I could have sworn winked at me. Lone Pine is another one of those places that deserve more of your time and attention than a morning can provide, but we have a timetable to keep. Our Qantas flight from Brisbane to Sydney, New South Wales, is leaving shortly, and a whole new face of Australia is about to show itself. The continent’s largest city awaits, and my arrival therein will bring me one step closer to my search for a man named Colin.

Day After Day It Reappears
It doesn’t matter how many pictures you’ve seen of the Sydney Opera House. And I don’t care if its 1950s architectural design (completed in 1973) is no longer considered state-of-the-art by contemporary standards — the structure on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour commands attention. From my room at the Shangri-La Hotel, every time I look out the window, there it is, the renowned Opera House, flanked by the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. I spend a lot of time looking out my window.

Sydney is truly a wonder to behold. There’s so much going on yet at such a decidedly steady pace that you never feel that big-city feeling.
Wild Escapes provides our first tour around town. Our guide, Grant Charlesworth, takes us all over the city and gives us the most thorough of history lessons. We see the actual marks left by pickaxes from the days when prisoners were exiled to Australia to serve their sentences. Places like St. Mark’s Church at Darling Point (where Elton John married Renate Blauel in 1984) show just how innovative and detail-oriented the thieves were when doing hard labor. “And we’re not talking about just murderers here,” Charlesworth says. “You could have been sentenced to Australia for stealing bread.”

We see other iconic neighborhoods, like the bohemian Kings Cross district, and we sail around Sydney Harbour with the Harbour Days Sailing Experience, but perhaps my biggest thrill comes on my second day in Sydney.