Wow, 2016 has been an awesome year! It’s surprising what memories come back to you when you really sit down and think about them. I’m so glad I took the time to look back on this last year living in Australia and revisit my travel highlights of 2016. It’s a great opportunity to appreciate the positives, figure out what you learnt and look forward to the year ahead.
2016 was my second year away from home and the majority has been settled nicely in Melbourne. However, I’ve still managed to explore heaps of Australia. I’ve travelled to new places, had a tonne of first experiences and ticked off a couple of my all time bucket list adventures. Plus, I’ve even managed to visit my favourite place in the world twice – home! – to celebrate two very special weddings.
So, in order of occurrence, here are my 10 (nicely rounded number) Australia travel highlights of 2016.
Rainbow Serpent Festival
I kicked off 2016 the best way possible; by attending my first Aussie festival! Held in Victoria over Australia Day, this 5 day festival is one of 5 types of festival you need to attend in your lifetime. Seriously, it’s unlike any other! I donned what I thought were the most outrageous festival outfits, only to walk out of the campsite and be outdone by those 10 times more outrageous.
I shook my booty in a ‘twerkshop’ and danced under a rainbow coloured canopy that released light sprays of water to keep you cool. But probably one of the best things about this festival, and many others for that matter, were the people. I spoke to countless friendly festival goers who all had one thing in common; to generally have too much fun! Starting off my year like this most certainly set the bar for the rest of my travel highlights.
One from my thrill seeking bucket list. My Skydive in Cairns in February easily makes my travel highlights! James surprised me with the gift of jumping from an aeroplane at 14,000ft for my birthday and it was the BEST thing ever! So good in fact, I did it twice! We dived with Skydive Cairns over the Great Barrier Reef and it was the scariest and most exciting experience I’ve ever had rolled into one. Check out the video and all the details if you’re thinking of Skydiving in Cairns, here.
The Great Barrier Reef
There is so much to do in Cairns and around Port Douglas (check out my Guide To Cairns for ideas) but you absolutely can not travel to Cairns, Australia and not visit the Great Barrier Reef. Considered one of the top destinations in the world, you must see it while you can. It was one of my travel highlights for 2016 because I was so happy to be back in the water diving again, something I miss a lot after leaving Koh Tao, Thailand.
Most people snorkel the reef but if you are a keen diver there are always options to do 1, 2 or even all three drops as dives when booking a full day trip. One tip I would have for anyone booking a boat trip to explore what The Great Barrier Reef has to offer would be to dive once and then snorkel. The reef is just that, a reef. So some of the best things to see are less than 5 metres deep.
That said, we did see a couple of reef sharks while diving, which made it completely worth it but you get a much nicer experience of the reef and it’s beautiful colours while snorkelling.
Check out Poseiden for bookings, these guys were awesome.
Formula 1 Melbourne
OK so I’m not the biggest Motorsport fan but I bought tickets for James’ birthday and went along to tick another one of Melbourne’s Best Sporting Events off my list. Held in Albert Park, Melbourne this event marks the first race in the Grand Prix series and Australia definitely knows how to get the party started. It was fascinating to see Albert Park lake transformed into the stunning circuit and hear the sounds of the cars whip round. I loved every minute of it and happy to say it’s made it to my travel highlights of 2016.
Seeing Bon Iver at Sydney Opera House
We’d already been to Sydney three times between December ’15 and February ’16. But when I saw that Bon Iver would be opening Vivid LIVE Fest with a performance of CERCLE at The Sydney Opera House I couldn’t resist. I’ve seen them live once before during an intimate gig at the O2 Academy, Leeds and I remember how much I loved it. So I could only imagine how amazing the bloody Opera House would be!!
Two tickets, flights, Air BnB, dinner and $1000 later it was worth every penny. I love visiting Sydney and this occasion was definitely my favourite so I had to add it to my travel highlights of 2016. The setting is as incredible as you’d think. I sat with goosebumps throughout and although not the typical of concert venues (no lighters and mosh pits here I’m afraid) it is a really special place to see your favourite artist perform.
As part of Vivid LIVE Fest, some awesome illuminations light up the city at night. We got to see some of the worlds most famous landmarks with a different perspective!
Sailing the Whitsundays
Well what can I say about this one! Sailing the Whitsunday’s is a fantastic experience and inevitably one of my travel highlights for 2016!
We booked with Oz Sail for the 3 day, 2 night trip aboard Avatar, a Trimaran sailing boat. We sailed smoothly all day, stopping at beautiful snorkelling spots and floated on the water at night. Seeing the stars at night in the clear sky was pretty magical. But the top highlight for me was Whitehaven beach.
For anyone visiting Queensland, Whitehaven Beach is a must. It’s the most beautiful beach I’ve seen. We spent 3 glorious hours on the beach admiring it’s pristine coastline. Pure white sand squeaks beneath your feet and the clear turquoise water is ridiculously calming and tranquil. Plus, there’s a stunning ocean view from the lookout. It constantly evolves with the tide, revealing ripples of shallow water and banks of sand.
Dining at Vue De Monde
Somewhere on this list I had to feature food because, well, I love food. Luckily enough in October I ticked off a first and ate at one of Melbourne’s fine dining restaurants, Vue De Monde. I consider it a travel highlight because I had to travel up 55 flights to get there!
On the 55th floor of the Rialto building in Melbourne’s CBD, James and I sipped champagne and ate fish topped with foam (!) while enjoying sweeping views of the city. The evening was spectacular and delicious and not at all pretentious.
Hiking in the Grampians
By December, Melbourne summer was officially back in our lives. With the weather showing signs of consistent 30 degree days, we did what any normal people would do and left the city. Where to? The Grampians! This place has long been on our list and is one of many road trips you can take from Melbourne.
We were greeted by beautiful mountains made of bustling boulders during the hike up towards ‘The Pinnacle.’ We lost count of the amount of amazing views with hanging ledges & took an insane number of Insta worthy shots! The Grampians are a little further afield than than some road trips out of Melbourne but don’t let that stop you. It’s an easy route and still doable over a weekend. Read my blog on Exploring The Grampians; 2 Night Itinerary to find out how it’s done!
Christmas Day on 90 Mile Beach
To round off the year, there had to be something great for the Christmas break! The planning was quite spontaneous and we were warned that everywhere would be booked up. Since Christmas falls during school summer holidays down under, plenty of Aussies would be heading to the beaches too. Luckily, we still found a great campsite in Gippsland called Emu Bight at Lakes Entrance, with 90 mile beach at our doorstep.
Here we spent three days over Christmas doing what all British groups of mates do best. We tanned, played cricket, ate barbecue food and drank. Oh and played a spot of charades!
I couldn’t be happier with the way I spent the last year. The amount of travel highlights I’ve been able to list is great! Even though I’m not strictly ‘travelling’. The major lesson I’ve learned in 2016 is no matter how permanent my home, there’s always opportunity to explore. 2016 has let me see that I can still have adventures, however short and sweet, without being a full time traveller.