Adventures in Brissy

One doesn’t tend to hear amazing things about the city of Brisbane (pronounced “Briz-bin.”)  Capital of Queensland, an inland area situated on a bend in the Brisbane River, Brissy is the third largest city in Australia. This was about all I knew about Brisbane before venturing northward for a visit over Anzac Day weekend. However, after a short time in the riverside town, I came to respect and enjoy what Brisbane had to offer.


Donnie and I left early Saturday morning to catch a Tigerair flight from Sydney. Tigerair is budget airline here, much like EasyJet (SleazyJet) or RyanAir in Europe. I was impressed with how quickly the boarding and take-off process was completed, and we did not have any issues with the airline, despite hearing some horror stories from other travelers. After a quick 1:10 flight, we landed in sunny (and much warmer) Brisbane.


Thanks to TripAdvisor reviews, we booked our weekend stay at the Meriton Serviced Apartments. The room was large, modern, clean, and very reasonably priced at $150 AUD per night. Bonus: We also had a partial river view.



After a quick bite at Guilty Rogue (where I had the best veggie/goat cheese/pesto sandwich ever) we headed down to the North Quay pier to jump on the CityHopper. I really appreciated how much effort the city has put into making their city accessible. The CityHopper is a ferry that’s free to ride (hop-on, hop-off style) up and down the river. They also have city-wide free wifi! We rode the full circuit on the CityHopper, which was a great way to get a feel for Brisbane, and some great views of the skyline.



After an hour or so on the river, we were ready to explore some more of the city and also take a little siesta since we got up super early for our flight. After resting up, we headed back to the river and headed down to nearby Hamilton to visit the Eat Street Markets.




The Eat Street Markets is a food market that is only open on Friday and Saturday nights (plus some Sunday afternoons in the winter) and features foods from around the world. The market is built out of shipping containers in an abandoned container wharf– kind of like stationary food trucks. After disembarking the CityCat, we took a leisurely 10 minute walk along the lighted riverside path before arriving at the Markets.



We arrived around 7:30 pm on Saturday evening to find the place absolutely packed with visitors. There was a live band playing, twinkling lights everywhere, and heavenly smells coming from every direction. We made a full lap, which was quite a feat considering the crowds, before deciding on an appetizer of Chinese dumplings and a pork bun, a main of taco salad/quesadillas, and a dessert of the most sinful little fried delights called “honey puffs.” I’ve never seen honey puffs in the States, although if they do exist or you should ever come across them, indulge immediately. Traditionally Greek (called Loukoumades) honey puffs are deep fried mini balls of dough, coated in honey, and in our case, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled in Nutella. Heaven in a styrofoam bowl.


After our international feast, we walked around to people watch and soak up the atmosphere. Even though it was difficult to navigate the crowds, everyone seemed to be having a fabulous time, eating, drinking, and enjoying the lovely night. I was grateful for the 15 minute walk to our bus stop when it was time to leave, although we probably needed more than a mile to walk off those kilojoules.



Sunday morning we woke up very excited to venture to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is in Fig Tree Pocket, about an hour bus ride from the CBD, and we were lucky to get a seat on the packed bus. Apparently everyone was dying to cuddle a koala!

Lone Pine was founded in 1927 with two koalas named Jack and Jill, and is now the world’s largest koala sanctuary with over 30 koalas currently in residence. There are also all kinds of other Aussie-native animals, including kangaroos, emus, dingos, parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, sheep, raptors, and a duckbill platypus. We were thrilled to see a duckbill platypus swimming around in his exhibit as they are almost always burrowed away and impossible to see. I’ll post a Lone Pine-specific blog later this week, but for now, how cute are these little guys?


After returning to Brisbane, we grabbed some pizza at Communal Bar and Eats. The prosciutto and parmesan was perfectly salty, savory, and cheesy.



We walked around the Queen Street Mall, which had some fun stores, although as the receptionist at our hotel told us, “It doesn’t really compare to shopping in Sydney, and definitely not to anything in the States, so you might just skip it…”

Once it was dark, it was time for a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane and a pre-dinner sparkling drink. Much like the London Eye, but on a much smaller scale, the Wheel of Brisbane is a ferris wheel located on the banks of the Brisbane River. The cars are enclosed, air conditioned, and private, which is a nice difference from the giant, crowded London Eye cars. (Also, Donnie didn’t knock down a little kid and make him cry like he did on the Eye, so that was a win!) The wheel makes several full rotations while a recording describes points of interest. We enjoyed the views and the drinks!


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We loved Brisbane at night. The temperature was a perfect mid-20 degrees (low 70s) and the lights from the buildings and bridges reflected beautifully in the river. It was also so quiet and calm– quite a difference from Sydney.

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After our ride on the Wheel, we headed to dinner. We grabbed a table at Ole, a tapas and Spanish restaurant on the Southbank. Once we had glasses of red sangria in hand and melt in your mouth buñuelos de queso on the table, we relaxed and noticed the gorgeous wooden ceiling. Almost all restaurants in Brisbane are either outside or open air, since the weather is typically warm year round, which reminds me of San Diego. The service was good but not rushed (it never seems to be hurried anywhere here so far) and we really enjoyed the beautiful night, almost as much as we enjoyed our seafood paella.



Monday dawned sunny and windy, mostly pleasant weather for Anzac Day, a national holiday here that commemorates the Australians and New Zealanders who served (and died) in war, much like Memorial Day in the States. We lined up with the crowds to watch the parade, full of service men and women, drum corps, and bands. It was difficult to get a good photo, but fun to watch!

After the parade, we attempted to take a bus to Mt. Coot-Tha. I say attempted because it was quite the journey. Due to the Anzac Day parade, several bus stops were temporarily relocated, even though no two sources seemed to agree on the new locations. After traversing dozens of blocks, waiting, seeing our bus zoom past, and one minor argument (it can get a bit stressful trying to figure out complicated transit when no one has a cellphone with any battery power left…) we finally made it on the 471 and headed out of town and up, up, up, to the Mt. Coot-Tha lookout.

The views were definitely worth the transportation disaster.



Once we made it back to the CBD, it was time for a quick stop at the Treasury Casino (where we won $11– yeah!) before we had to gather our bags from our hotel and jump on a train to the airport. Brisbane turned out to have a lot more to offer than we originally expected, and the city was (almost always) very easy to navigate. I’d give Brissy a 7 out of 10 for overall experience, and definitely recommend it as a place to visit if you are going to be in Australia for a while.


We’re All Going to the Zoo Tomorrow

Did you guys ever sing that song when you were little? “We’re all going to the zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow! We’re all going to the zoo tomorrow…” My favorite part was always, “…and we can stay all day!” Maybe because I loved this song, or because my Mama knows everything about every animal and made zoo trips into the most fun adventures, or maybe because animals are awesome, but I’ve always loved zoos. I’ve been to lots of the best zoos: Memphis, St. Louis, San Diego, Lincoln Park, even Prague, but the Taronga Zoo in Sydney comes in at my absolute favorite zoo in the world.


The Taronga Zoo is located in Mossman, a short ferry ride from Circular Quay. If you’re planning to visit, you can use your Opal card to board the zoo ferry– no need to stand in line and pay for separate tickets (like we did because I’m dumb.) Donnie and I enjoyed some sun on the lovely ride over (and those are not our feet.)


Once we docked, we walked up some stairs to board the Sky Safari. The Sky Safari is a motorized gondola that takes visitors to the top of the zoo. The zoo is built on a very steep incline, so starting at the top allows you to walk down as you progress. Donnie and I shared our gondola with a kind of creepy, pretty sweaty man who refused to even say hi. But we still enjoyed the views on our ride up!


Once at the top of the zoo, we followed the main path down around the habitats. We got to see a koala walking across a tree branch, which is pretty rare, as koalas sleep about 20 hours a day and are almost always sitting, sleeping, or eating.


The zoo was so shady, with paths covered by luscious foliage and pretty flowers. The animal habitats were large, well-maintained, and most of the animals were up and about as the day was nice and cool. The paths were pretty easy to follow, although we did somehow miss some of the Australian Wild area, even though Donnie memorized the map and was a great navigator!

The most impressive views are at the giraffe enclosure. Also, the giraffes were hilarious and really fun to watch.



After pulling ourselves away from our long-necked buddies, we moved on to visit some more animals. It was hilarious listening to the little kids running around the zebras yelling about the “zeh-brahs!”


The highlight of the day was the seal and sea lion show! They had three seals, one from California, one from New Zealand, and one from somewhere I can’t remember. Donnie had never seen a seal show, so he really loved it. The seals waved, jumped off the dock, jumped super high, splashed the audience, and were all around adorable.


We spent an absolutely magical afternoon at the Taronga Zoo. I plan on acquiring season passes and bringing all of our visitors here. The only thing that would make this place better is if they had some pandas!




Today was another gorgeous day in Oz: sunny, 80 degrees (or 27 since I’m supposed to be learning Celsius) and a light breeze. I rode the ferry into the CBD and visited the Australian Museum, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The (mostly) natural history museum is well-designed and easily accessible to kiddos, while being informative and interesting for adults as well. Look forward to a museum-focused post coming your way soon. There’s something a bit more serious on my mind right now, though, so let’s get on with it.

As I was skimming across the deep blue waters between Manly and Sydney, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly content. The sun warmed my face and I was thoroughly relaxed on my bench, breeze ruffling my hair and keeping me cool. Autumn in this country is perfection. The day was so nice I decided to walk the mile or so to the museum instead of catching a bus. While I walked I kept thinking, “This is my life. This is where I live.” Because honestly, it still feels quite surreal, even after 9 weeks of living here.


Once I reached the museum, I quickly lost myself in the exhibits. I’m somewhat of a (huge) dork and I love learning. Visiting a museum by myself was such a luxury– no one to hurry me or get bored, able to move at my own pace and read as much as I wanted about each exhibit. (I now realize that I might actually be turning into my Mama– at least I know where I get my curiosity!)

A large portion of the Australian Museum is dedicated to the history and experience of many Aboriginal tribes. As I read about these native people, their culture and practice, their laws and traditions, I realized this was a group about whom I know very little. I’m unfortunately well acquainted with racism in America, but the racism in Australia is much more of an unknown for me. However, Australia’s racism is still very real, very present, and very destructive.


As I wandered through the quiet halls, reading about indigenous people and learning about their heritage, I was deeply moved. I was also hit with an ugly reality: I live here, I call this place home, and I don’t even know anything about the original inhabitants of this land. I waltzed onto this continent, American passport in hand, and felt no qualms about being here. I felt, in short, entitled to be here.

I continued exploring the museum for another hour or so, and once I had seen everything (and after buying some adorable Aussie animal sticker books for my niece and nephew) I left the building and walked out into the sunshine. I crossed the street and entered Hyde Park, finding a splashing fountain encircled by flowers and low stone steps, so I sat down to reflect.


Living in a foreign country is a privilege. I feel a responsibility to learn the customs, history, and tradition of the place I call home. But it’s more than that. The Wall Street Journal has a blog dedicated to the expat experience, and they recently published this post asking the question, “Who is an expat anyway?” While the blog focused on the expat experience specifically in Hong Kong, the take aways are applicable anywhere. “Expat” (expatriate: someone who lives somewhere other than their native country) is a term that almost exclusively applies to Western, overwhelmingly white, people.

Think about it. A Latino man working on a farm in California is considered a “migrant worker.” The family who moves to Tennessee from China is labeled as “immigrants.” But when my American-self moves to Australia, I’m an expat. And that word conveys all my privilege. I’m choosing to be here, and my husband is considered an asset to the business world because he possesses “critical skills”– IT skills, in his case. I have a passport that entitles me to move, somewhat freely, between most countries in this world.

Since moving here, I’ve had the unusual experience (for me) of being easily identifiable by a personal characteristic. Sitting on the bus, I look like almost everyone around me, but when I open my mouth to thank the bus driver as I tap-off, boom! I’m American, and everyone around me knows it. (This isn’t the first time I’ve been in a foreign country, but it is the first time I’ve been a resident, so the feeling is very different from my tourist experiences elsewhere.) I find myself wondering, “What do people automatically assume about me when they hear me talk? Is it positive? Negative? Deserved or not so much?” Before moving here, I never would have included “American” in a list of the top 5 ways to describe myself. I actually had to complete this exercise when I was in Teach for America training, and I’m pretty sure my identity centered around: female, Christian, educated, adventurous, and book-lover. If I made that list today, American would be one of the most important ways I would identify myself.

I’ve found myself so frustrated in conversations about America, especially American politics. Everyone has an opinion, and I find myself making apologies, keeping quiet when I have so much to say. What I really want is to yell, “Stop telling me how America is or isn’t! I live there. I actually know!” And suddenly it seems so obvious to me. The white settlers in Australia ultimately believed, because they were White Westerners, that they knew what was best for the Aboriginals, and they carried out those beliefs until the native people, the ones who were here first, were marginalized, segregated, and oppressed. Then I think to my real home, in the States, where racism is still very much alive. Why are White people leading the conversation on racism, especially when that narrative is so often: “Does racism really still exist?” We aren’t the ones who are supposed to have an opinion on that.


The oppressed, the repressed, the marginalized communities get to have an opinion, because guess what, they know how it actually is. My frustration at being told how things should or shouldn’t be in America is honestly inconsequential when I start to imagine the frustration so many people of color experience on a daily basis. We need to shut up and start listening to the voices that actually matter, the voices of the people who know because they live the experience. My voice does not matter when it comes to racism. I have a responsibility to acknowledge my incredible privilege– a privilege I have simply because I was born to White, upper-middle class parents, not because I did anything to earn it. And once I acknowledge this privilege, my responsibility is to listen. Listen to those around me who are living lives different than mine because of their skin color, or their ethnicity, or their economic status. I need to learn how to be an ally by actually listening, not telling someone what I know, because my experience is not his or her experience, and my experience doesn’t really matter in this arena.

“Oh, you’ve been to America for two weeks and watch a lot of CNN? I’m glad you’re interested, but you don’t really have any basis for your opinions of how my country operates and what “we” are all actually like.” It’s so easy to understand in this context, but when applied to racism in America, it can suddenly feel more convoluted and confusing. But I am starting to really see, and understand, how privilege works. This isn’t something I was oblivious to previously to moving to Australia, but my limited experience in being “other” than the main has really taught me how little I understand. So here’s to growing, learning, shutting up and truly listening– because my privilege comes with responsibility, and that is not something to be wasted.

All the Best Food

Finding the “good food” is an important part of any trip. It can be challenging in some areas (Evansville, IN I’m looking at you) or plentiful in others, like Charleston, SC, where I’m pretty sure I could spend months visiting different restaurants and never run out of delectable options. I’d read a lot about Sydney and the surrounding area before we moved here, so I was aware of the vast international presence that exists, both in population and culinary options. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how good the food is here.


Food here surprised me in both quality and quantity. There are numerous restaurants, even in small areas, and a vast variety of types of food: Thai, Italian, Vietnamese, fish and chip shops, seafood, Chinese, Malaysian, Mexican, and probably dozens more. Except for Mexican food, which is woefully lacking in cheese dip and LP Specials, everything we’ve encountered here has been fresh, authentic, and delicious.



If I have a kryptonite, it is chili jam chicken stirfry with cashews. This dish is the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, with plenty of veggies (although in Australia they spell vegie with one “g”) and perfectly roasted cashews. I’ve ordered this dish with rice, eaten it by itself, and also with wide, flat noodles– it’s incredible all three ways. Apparently I’ve never been able to take a picture without diving in, so here’s a beautiful Pad Thai to fill in.


The Thai food we’ve had here puts anything I’ve ever tried in Nashville to shame, including my beloved Thai Phoo Ket. Maybe I’m just really hungry, but I would say the Thai food alone is worth the plane ticket to Sydney. And that’s a long flight.


Australia has a pretty significant Italian influence, which has resulted in two glorious treasures: pizza and coffee.

The pizzas here are very different from American-style pizza. If you’ve been to Europe, especially Italy specifically, you’ve probably encountered the wonder that is the thin, crispy yet chewy, wood-fired pizza with fresh toppings. My favorite is a tie between traditional Margherita (tomato base, super fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil) or ham and pineapple. There are also loads of more “adventurous” style pizzas, including the Tandoori Chicken with mint-yoghurt drizzle (pictured below), prawn and seafood, and interestingly enough, a “Coat of Arms” pizza that features meat from Australia’s coat of arms– emu and kangaroo. Can’t say that I’ll be digging in to that last one anytime soon.

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And about Australian coffee. Let’s just say it lives up to its reputation. I honestly can’t compare the coffee here with Italian coffee (mostly because my idea of coffee, when I spent two weeks in Italy at age 20, consisted of a French Vanilla Bean frappuccino from Starbucks) but it is an entirely different substance than what we consume in America. Everything is espresso-based and treated with care and precision.

I was very skeptical before trying coffee here, especially since I had become somewhat dependent on my morning drip coffee, usually consumed black or with one sweetener. Then I tasted my first flat white, and I haven’t looked back. Coffee is an art in Sydney, and it is taken very seriously, with incredible results.


A few weeks ago, Donnie and ferried over to the CBD and went in search of the lauded yum cha I’d read so much about. Yum cha, literally “drink tea,” is a term used to describe the brunch-like meal originated in Cantonese-speaking areas of China. We usually hear this referred to as “dim sum” in the States, which translates to “touch the heart” and is a description of the wide variety of options available on the menu– anyone can find a dish they love.

After a bit of research, I landed on Marigold (which was then confirmed as “one of the best for yum cha” by our Australian dining partner on our cruise) for our first foray into “Chinese Brunch.” We took the train from Circular Quay to Town Hall and walked the 15 or so minutes into the heart of Haymarket, home to Sydney’s Chinatown. We entered a brick building, waited with a small crowd for an elevator, and journeyed to the top 5th floor. The doors opened on a large, bright room packed with diners and a long line of patrons waiting for a table.


The woman in charge was all business, bustling customers to tables with impressive efficiency. As a result, we were seated within minutes of joining the long queue. Then the fun began!

Servers passed through with carts full of mostly steamed delights. We began accepting dishes and requesting bamboo baskets full of dumplings, buns, and all kinds of treats.



My favorite item was the silky, piping-hot prawn dumplings, while Donnie was taken with the pork dumplings, and we were both obsessed with these lightly fried noodles dipped in a peanut butter-chocolate sauce. Marigold boasts a busy, loud, and simply fun atmosphere. Tables were packed with friends catching up, families enjoying time out, and the occasional couples. Every dish was fresh and very hot, and the pot of tea I enjoyed was light and fragrant. Yum cha was definitely an experience that I would recommend any visitor to Sydney enjoy, and I would highly recommend Marigold.

Fruit and Veg

Now that we are settled in our apartment, we’ve been cooking at home each night instead of going out to eat. It’s honestly been very enjoyable to explore Aussie grocery stores and have a kitchen at my disposal again, even if my new kitchen is approximately 1/5 the size of my previous kitchen. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the fresh produce at our disposal and the prices are quite reasonable (for most items.) Some fun new things I’ve had to learn include converting recipe measurements from cups to millileters, pounds to kilograms (I almost ordered over 2 pounds of deli turkey on accident!) and figuring out new names for common items (a bell pepper is a capsicum, ketchup is tomato sauce, and cantaloupe is rock melon.) Overall, food here is incredibly fresh and almost everything is free from preservatives.

Also, the major grocery stores deliver your shopping to your door, which is an absolute miracle, especially when you hate grocery shopping as much as I do!

Cruising the South Pacific

One of the biggest perks of moving to Australia is the chance to see a whole new part of the world. I’ve been obsessed with traveling since the first 2-week trip my family took camping across the American West when I was 8. My parents have always prioritized traveling, which instilled in me the desire to experience the beauty, wonder, and excitement of discovering new places. As a kid we visited National Parks from California to South Dakota, seeing some of America’s most majestic landscapes. I’ll never forget the first time I stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon, hiked an active volcano in Hawaii, or watched black bears crossing right in front of our car in the Rocky Mountains. We snorkeled with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, climbed a waterfall in Jamaica, and swam with dolphins in Mexico. These experiences shaped my spirit and developed within me an intense desire to really see our world, not content with staying put.

Now that you understand my travel compulsions, it should come as no surprise that when we found a cruise offered at a ridiculous last-minute discount, we couldn’t say no! Easter is national holiday here, with both Good Friday and Easter Monday as work holidays, so we took advantage of Donnie’s time off and booked a balcony room for a 9-night sailing on Royal Carribean’s Explorer of the Seas.


The ship left from Circular Quay, so we hopped on the fast ferry on Monday afternoon and walked over to the passenger terminal. We wasted little time in acquiring some delicious beach beverages and settling in for our sail away!



We sailed for two days before reaching our first port: Isle of Pines, New Caledonia. New Caledonia is a French collective, made up of several islands located about 750 miles east of Australia. We anchored a few hundred yards from shore and took “tenders” (basically cramped little rescue boats) to the small dock. From the dock, we walked directly onto a beautiful beach complete with white sand and crystal clear, turquoise waters.


IMG_5583.jpgDonnie and I spent most of the day in the water, just soaking in the sun and enjoying paradise. We also tragically lost our beach towels to the surf when the tide came in considerably further than we expected and drenched our towels in salt water and approximately 3 tons of sand– oops! This was our favorite day of the entire trip: sunny, blissful, relaxed.

We docked in Noumea, New Caledonia the next morning. Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia, and is described as the “Paris of the South Pacific.” I’ve been to Paris a couple of times and can safely say that the only thing Noumea has in common with Paris is a shared language.


While we were not super impressed by Noumea, we did enjoy taking a bus tour around the small island and spending some time at the lovely Baie des Citrons, or Lemon Bay. If you are into kiteboarding or windsurfing, this is the destination for you. We loved watching the kiteboarders speed up and down the intensely blue water.


We also found the most terrifying Marilyn Monroe statue ever at a little beachside restaurant.


After we left Noumea, we headed for Mystery Island, Vanuatu. Vanuatu is an independent island nation that was occupied jointly as the British-French territory of New Hebrides until 1980. The new name, Vanuatu, is composed of “vanua” which means home and “tu” which means stand, to indicate the independent status of the country. Mystery Island is completely uninhabited, but local residents come over from neighboring Aneityum when ships are in port to provide snorkeling excursions, drinks, and market goods.


The tiny island is surrounded by a coral reef, so the snorkeling is excellent just off the beach. We saw giant, rainbow colored parrotfish chomping on coral, as well as lots of other brightly colored fish and different coral. We also walked around the perimeter of the island and discovered the WWII-era airstrip that was used by Allied forces. Walking down the jungle-ish path truly felt like you had been transported to a deserted island.




After snorkeling, exploring, sunning, and swimming, we jumped on a tender boat and boarded our ship for 3 lovely days at sea on the way back to Sydney. We used our utterly relaxing days to sun-bake (this is what Aussies call “laying out” or “sunbathing”) and read, enjoy frozen drinks, and lose a few dollars in the ship’s casino. We discovered Roulette (so addictive!) as well as the classic Quarter Game and a slot machine (or “pokey” in Australia) that featured our favorite bonus “Fever Games” where you got 10 free spins and I once scored $62 on an 80 cent bet!

This was our first time on Royal Caribbean, and we were pretty impressed with the experience. Our balcony room was lovely and pretty spacious for a cruise ship cabin,


Deck 5 was home to the Royal Promenade, which housed shops, an Irish pub, and a French-inspired snack shop.


We spent most of our time on Deck 14 on the back of the ship. There were nice sunning chairs, a perfect breeze, and it was super uncrowded. We were also only a few steps away from the sky bar and the adults-only pool.

In our opinion, Carnival has better “casual” food for breakfast and lunch, but this ship did have a Johnny Rockets that cost an extra $7/person for a soda, fries and onion rings, any main, and an ice cream sundae. Donnie was thrilled with their American-style burgers and real American bacon! In the evenings, the dinner in the main dining room was impressive. We loved our waiters, Anthony and Rob, and dined on delectable lamb curry, steaks, grilled lobster, roast chicken, scallops, prawns, and numerous sweet treats. It was also fun to dress up a little for dinner after beaching and sunning all day.


On the last night, we finally visited the mini-golf course, and I wish we had gone earlier! The course was open 24-hours and really fun, even if Donnie beat me.



We only had our phones for pictures, as I didn’t take my nice Canon, but we tried to capture the beauty and fun as best we could. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the South Pacific and came back to Sydney well-rested and a bit more tan than we left.