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australia and new zealand travel guide



Recently, dear friends of ours planned a trip to Australia and New Zealand. Knowing how long we had lived there, they asked me for some recommendations for their travels. As a writer, this was a joy to do. Once I started, I discovered I couldn’t stop. There are so many beautiful places to visit in these two countries and I wanted our friends to enjoy some of local secrets. This piece was born from our conversation and after sending it off to them, I thought it might be useful for others exploring these beautiful areas of the world. I have posted it on here as a guide for some wonderful days that we gathered while living in Sydney and traveling in both countries. I plan to add to this when inspiration strikes, but here is the first version. Enjoy!

One path around Australia and New Zealand

(Warning: this piece contains a bouquet of recommendations for your best food and shopping choices, if you are interested in keeping your waistline and wallet size the same, read at your own risk!)

Flirtatious Sydney

Sydney is a wonderful city that boasts one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. She will take you in with her wide blue skies, easy going locals, pubs, and irresistible cafes and shops. I originally came to Sydney to stay for one year and ended up staying for thirteen, so be sure to tie up all loose ends before you leave, as you may be away for a very long time

One of my favorite aspects of Sydney is her markets. On the weekends, there are a wide range of outdoor markets which have a wonderful community atmosphere. Markets carry an array of attractions including mouth watering food stalls, original jewelery, recycled fashion, fresh produce, local flowers and local photographers and painters enthusiastically showing their work.

Paddington Market is a must visit and is located on Oxford Street in Paddington every Saturday from 10-4pm in the grounds of the heritage listed sandstone Paddington United Church. You can find more info about this famous market at http://www.paddingtonmarkets.com.au

The suburb of paddington is located at the very top of Oxford Street. You can reach this by taking a Sydney bus which runs regularly from the center of the city. Arriving into the neighborhoods that surround this part of Sydney, you will find that Paddington and Woollarha are by far two of the quaintest parts of the city.

After visiting Paddington Markets, walk up the street for more jaw dropping shopping at the beautiful boutiques that line the left hand side of this street. Round the corner at the large intersection at Queen Street and find yourself in Woollarha which boasts old leaf filled trees leaning over a wide street made up of cafes that house some of Sydney’s most loved chefs. “Bill’s Café” is found on the left hand of the street and has a famous breakfast that you can enjoy while sitting under the umbrellas in the outdoor patio area. Dining here, you will often see Bill cooking up a storm on a Saturday morning seemingly unaware of his near celebrity status. With your belly full and heart warm from Bill’s unique recipes, enjoy browsing the beautiful bookstore that also peers on to this patio. If you have more time, wandering down the street you can’t help but be taken in by Woollahra’s Charm. Enjoy getting a bit lost in the cobbled back streets of this main road and be prepared to experience a variety of stunning architecture design in the old and new homes that embrace these side streets.

In Paddington there are also many little lane ways that boast cute little shops on their narrow streets next to the classic terrace houses. In William Street below the Paddington Market on the opposite side of the road there is a beautiful chocolate shop called “Just Williams Chocolates” which is very cute and delicious if you have a sweet tooth.

Another one of my favorite places to have breakfast or lunch (where the food is even better than Bill’s) is called “Flat White Café” on Jersey Rd which is just a couple streets from the main street in Woollarha or about a ten minute walk off Oxford Street on Jersey Road. Walking down here from Oxford Street, there is an amazing old church on the right hand side at the corner that was turned into an apartment building that I always marvel at. If you eat at “Flat White Café” ordering anything will leave you with a smile on your face, but someone must try the Strawberry Ricotta Pancakes and second to that is the Squashed Banana Bread. They have fantastic lattes and it is a real taste of Sydney’s relaxed weekend scene. Grab a Sydney Morning Herald and enjoy the day.

If you arrive later in the afternoon, just across the street from “Flat White Café” is one of my favorite pubs in Sydney called “The Lord Dudley”. They have great beer on tap and a top atmosphere. Often you see people standing outside on a warm day with a Schooner in their hand enjoying the weekend afternoons talking to their mates in Sydney’s sun.

Another Market that is great to visit is Kirribilli Market which is on fourth Saturday of each month and the first and fourth Saturday in December. This year if you’re in Sydney near Christmas time it falls on December 20th. It starts early around 7am and last till around 2pm (best to visit in the morning when the stallholders are fresh and the sun is shimmering on the water under the bridge (bring your camera!). The backdrop to this market is an amazing view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Luna Park which is a historic beautiful theme park with rides overlooking the water that opened in 1935. The market is held in the green at Milsons Point which is at the North end of the Harbour Bridge. They have delicious food stalls. Try the mini pancakes for something sweet and the Turkish Gozleme feta and spinach pancakes for savory. This market is partly second hand goods and partly new. In December they have some lovely Xmas stalls. At the end of the market closest to the water you can often find trendy labels at very cheap prices if your patient enough to dig through trash and treasure. A great way to get to this market if you’re staying in the city is to take a walk across the bridge and go down the stairs at the north side into Kirribilli which has lovely cafes. For a great view of the harbour and a meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner 7 days a week) go to “Ripples Restaurant” at Milsons Point which is literally right on the harbour on Olympic Drive below the market. Their website is: http://www.aquadining.com.au/aqua_ripples_cafe_restaurant.htm

If it is evening and you would like to visit this restaurant without walking the bridge, you can catch a ferry from Circular Quay to Luna Park Stop at Milsons Point which is stunning on a clear night. Be sure to make reservations for an evening meal.

If it is during the day and you’re craving a swim, just next door to this restaurant is the North Sydney Olympic Pool which has great lap lanes for slow or fast swimmers and deck chairs to lie out on. The cost is $5.50 per person.

On the city side of the Bridge is one of the oldest parts of Sydney called “The Rocks”. This is filled with restaurants, shops and also farmer’s markets and shopping markets on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays http://www.therocks.com/sydney-Shopping-The_Rocks_Market.htm . You will find a lot of tourist or overpriced items here, but also some beautiful streets, friendly faces and gorgeous views of the city. This is also where “The Bridge Climb” office www.bridgeclimb.com for those brave enough to take the climb up and along the top of The Harbour Bridge. This is a really popular activity with locals and tourists. Pete’s grandfather did this for his 80th Birthday! I am terribly afraid of heights and wouldn’t even contemplate it, but everyone who has done it on a clear day has raved about it.

You can also walk down to “The Rocks” from the steps at the end of the bridge or up to it from Circular Quay. The Lowenbrau Restaurant here is one of the only ones I’ve eaten at with visitors (this being a touristy area of town the prices start to soar, but this restaurant is also featured in the entertainment book if you have one). This German eatery serves huge mugs (Oktoberfest Style) of beer and German meals and often has live music on the weekends which is fun sitting outside on the cobblestone lane. The fish n’chips here is great and they do alcohol free pints mixed with all different flavors if you’re a lightweight like me! My favorite place though is the stunning bakery here in the rocks that is perfect for an afternoon or mid-morning coffee joined with their signature pastries. The outside window says “French Patisserie with Courtyard Cafe” and it is called “Le Renaissance” at 47 Argyle Street in the Rocks. Pete and I used to celebrate here after important appointments at immigration when it was located in the Rocks! They have wonderful fruit pastry and coffee and baguette sandwiches.

Another highlight is one of Sydney’s lovely museums sitting by the water just below The Rocks at Circular Quay. Circular Quay is a tourist area that houses the Sydney Ferries and has a walkway leading to The Opera House. There are often street performers and a number of little tourist centers with brochures and information to take away.

A must in Sydney is The Opera House of course! Just near there for a drink at sunset is a lovely outdoor bar called “The Opera Bar” which stretches along the bottom level of the promenade leading up to the opera house. Take one of the escalators or staircases down and enjoy a drink looking up at the bridge and the opera house. Main meals are expensive, but they have great French fries and refreshing “Lemon, Lime and Bitters” which is one of my favorite non-alcoholic summer drinks! This is a perfect summer stop for a pre-show wine or a place to lounge after exploring the nearby Botanic Gardens.

There are many entrances to The Botanic Gardens and they are a wonderful place to take a picnic. There are many shady spots under gorgeous trees to read the paper and have a bite. Give yourself a few hours to explore as there are a number of different sections to explore. Grab a map to get an idea of what is available or have a wander and see what wonders you stumble upon. A must to see are the bats! They hang from large trees near the café in the center of the gardens. There are amazing white birds with long beaks that always remind me of Alice in Wonderland when she played croquet. ?

There is a great walkway along the water side of the garden or many paths that wind through all the way to Mrs. Macquaries Chair where the amazing St. George Outdoor Cinema is held in January and February during the Sydney Festival. For info on tickets and movies visit http://www.stgeorgeopenair.com.au . If you are here while it is on, it is a must see. There is nothing better than a fantastic movie set against a sunset over the city and Harbour Bridge. The movies have only been canceled once due to an electric storm, and of course I was there with my dear friend Jo, and still I rave about the event even after having to run through the Botanic Gardens in two foot puddles with lighting striking all around me! We survived and it really has never happened except that night and we were rewarded with a drink and a lighting show from under the eaves at The Opera Bar! Normally this outdoor movie is a sunny affair with stunning views, good food and a excellent vibe.

Darling Harbour is the center of tourism in Sydney. There is an IMAX, Aquarium and Wildlife Park. If you want to see kangaroos and pat some koalas, The Sydney Wildlife World http://www.sydneywildlifeworld.com.au/ is a good place to go at Darling Harbour. It is touristy, but they look after the animals well. Ring for times when the Koala enclosure and Kangaroo area will be open as when we went they were closed, but we got some great shots of the Koalas from behind the ropes.

A number of good restaurants sit along this waterway at Darling Harbour. One of our favorite and nicer restaurants on that strip is “Nick’s Bar and Grill” at The Promenade on King Street Wharf which is on the water just down and around the corner from the Sydney Aquarium. For bookings, the number is: (02) 9279 0122. This is a great place for lunch or a nicer dinner out. Ferries from the jetty just next to the Aquarium take you back around to Circular Quay which may be walking distance from central city hotels. This ferry ride at night is beautiful and stops at Luna Park on the way (and Ripple’s Restaurant) as well!

The ferries at Circular Quay take you to some fun places. Taronga Zoo is Sydney’s largest zoo and the Giraffe’s have the best view of Sydney Harbour. I believe it is a little hike up from the ferry stop to the zoo, but not sure how far. It is a really well kept zoo with Polar Bears and a great bird show.

The ferries also go to Manly which is the start of The Northern Beaches and a bit of a tourist town, but fun. You can take the longer trip on the standard ferry or take the jet cat for a faster trip. Manly is a town of many cafes and has a lovely beach at the opposite end of the ferry terminal. There is a stunning walk at Manly from the main beach (again opp end of ferries) out to Shelly Beach which is a wonderful place for a swim. This beach entrance is calm and no waves and a lovely place to snorkel. There is a beautiful shop on the way to Shelly Beach which I forget the name to, but has lovely jewelry and two cafes (one at Shelly Beach) and one near shop. My favorite place to eat in Manly is at “The Blue Water Café” which is in the café strip facing the main beach. They have beautiful food at great prices and a fun atmosphere and good coffee. We often had birthdays here because we knew the food was always fantastic. On the weekends, Manly also has a fabulous market lining The Corso which is on every Saturday and Sunday from 10-5pm. You’re sure to find some beautiful items here and friendly stall holders. This market has all new merchandise. The best pub in Manly is “The Manly Wharf Hotel” which sits directly next to the ferry building so if you are waiting for a ferry, you can stare out over the water with a cool drink in your hand here or go to “Max Brenner Chocolate Shop” in the ferry building and totally indulge! There chocolate fondue is amazing. From outside the Ferry Building you can get buses out to Mona Vale on the 155 or the156 bus where you can change buses to go all the way to Avalon and Palm Beach on the L90 or L88 Bus. Bus drivers are friendly and don’t hesitate to ask them to signal to you when you are reaching a specific stop. I believe that they sell a bus and ferry combined pass at Circular Quay to make it more economical.

Another lovely ferry ride from the city is to Watson’s Bay. Here lies two restaurants, one is more of a casual fish n’chips kind of pub and the other is “Doyles On the Beach” (02) 9337 2007 which has quite a name in Sydney and serves beautiful seafood by the sea with a little more upmarket prices. Up on the hill behind the restaurants are breathtaking views of the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

In the center of Sydney are some great sites to sea. St. Mary’s Cathedral is a beautiful visit and sits just next to the beautiful Hyde Park which has a beautiful fountain and if you visit near dusk or in the evening, the park has thousands of fairy lights in its trees. It is very pretty and at different times of the year, there are great festivals here for art or wine experiences. Walking back towards the city center on Macquarie Street you will see some lovely sandstone buildings along the sidewalk and there is a public library and entrances to the Botanic Gardens. Sydney has some lovely museums scattered through the city. None of them will disappoint. Sydney is a great walking city and there are trains, the monorail (to Darling Harbour), ferries or buses. Parking is expensive within the city center.

For entertainment, a beautiful restored theatre in the city central is The State Theatre. To see a show or concert here is a beautiful experience because it is such a lovely setting. For info on what is playing while you’re there check www.statetheatre.com.au and of course The Opera House is the absolute best place to see anything! The website is www.sydneyoperahouse.com and I’ve heard from some of our visitors that they have an excellent tour of the building which is 25% off if you book online and goes for an hour. This is great if you’re interested in the history and architecture of this amazing building. Last year they showed The Nutcracker in December which got great reviews, but tickets sold out fast and went on sale in October or November. For a great Blues and Jazz venue, The Basement is located a few streets up from Circular Quay and often has a very impressive line-up. They sell tickets online http://www.thebasement.com.au/ or at the venue and often you can see American Bands in this very intimate space. Be sure to book a dinner table closest to the stage as these are the best seats and the food is good!

For ten years, Peter and I lived on The Northern Beaches of Sydney. We lived in three areas on the beaches: Church Point, Avalon and Narrabeen. Church Point is a beautiful off-shore community which has a ferry service that takes you out to some lovely hiking trails. It is a bit of a drive from Sydney, about forty-five minutes, but a beautiful area to walk along the water or to take the ferry to Hall’s Wharf and hike for an afternoon. If you have a car there are beautiful drives through The Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park: http://hke.sydney.com/town/Bobbin_Head/Ku_Ring_Gai_Chase_National_Park/info.aspx

A drive up to West Head is beautiful and there is a jaw dropping lookout. You can reach this by continuing along the road Pittwater Road from Church Point which leads on to a curvy road to the park’s entrance which I think is West Head Road. This park road leads out to the entry point for many great hikes (we were engaged at the beautiful “Flint and Steel” beach track!) and at the end of the main road there is an outstanding lookout point that shows you the lighthouse at Palm Beach and Lion Island. At the Elvina Track there is a small parking lot. You can leave your car here and hike up the wide path. Shortly after the start of this track there is a little path on the right hand side which leads to a rock platform where there are some lovely Aboriginal Carvings. We lived at the seaside village at the bottom of this track (about an hour hike in total) which consists of a scattering of homes looking out over the water (no shops here).

The main road on the Northern Beaches is Pittwater Road which turns into Barrenjoey Road at Mona Vale. This road hugs the coast and intersects all the major towns (except Church Point which has signs off the main road at Mona Vale). Mona Vale is the first town that is lovely to stop in. It has a street running through it with lots of little cafes and shops. Qi Natural Therapies and Yoga is the yoga center that I managed for four years and is on the corner of Bungan Street and Pittwater Road upstairs from the best coffee in Sydney at the 2KF Café (a little hole in the wall with fantastic toasted banana bread and the lovely organic Campos coffee). Qi Mona Vale offers massage, acupuncture, yoga and bathrooms if you have been drinking too much coffee downstairs. In Mona Vale, “Morgan’s Too” is a lovely bustling café for lunch and fabulous Chai tea with Soy milk and great Turkish delight. Also “The Inch Café” is a good choice if you’re after a quieter and more spacious experience. Australians are very friendly and will point you in the right direction if you ask. Berkelouw Books sits across from the library in Mona Vale and is one of my favourite bookstores. They have stores here and on Oxford Street. In Oxford Street they have a fabulous second hand book section and a great cafe where you can try before you buy the books.

As you continue down Pittwater Road from Mona Vale, it turns into Barrenjoey Road. This is where the drive becomes its most beautiful particularly when you arrive into Palm Beach which is an exclusive town that houses Australia’s movie stars trying for a quiet life and many Australians surprised at how their housing prices soared through the roof about ten years ago. Barrenjoey Road travels the length of the coast littered with these many beautiful towns of the Northern Beaches ending at Palm Beach where it wraps around into Whale Beach and then reconnects with the road again. We were married at Palm Beach and had our reception at Whale Beach. There is a great organic burger restaurant at Whale Beach for lunch called “The Olive and Rose”. Whale Beach is a bit off the main strip and essentially just a long strip of beach and homes, but lovely.

In Palm Beach there are some great restaurants and gorgeous shops. “Barrenjoey House” restaurant has lovely food and great people watching in the open air dining across from the Ferry. This ferry will take you across the water to The Basin where there is a lawn for picnics and a lake to swim in. The town of Avalon is an absolute gem and comes just after Newport and just before Palm Beach and is one of the only towns on The Northern Beaches that is set back from the main road. There are great cafes and shops to wander through and it is a must stop if driving out here. Parking can be crowded, but usually you can get a parking spot in the Woolworth’s parking lot. One of my favorite places for breakfast, lunch or a coffee and cake is “The Cook’s Larder” which is a sweet little café on Old Barrenjoey Road in the main strip of shops and also a cooking school. “The Healthy Chef” Café on Avalon Parade is also in the main shopping area is and where I go for great healthy organic food and they have a great cookbook for sale, but if I were on vacation I would indulge in “The Cook’s Larder”!

If driving along Pittwater Road back to Sydney, you will drive through the seaside town of Narrabeen. On your left hand side, you will pass a fire station and shortly after that, passed the lights, a shop called “Cherry Blossom” will be on the corner of Clarke Street and Pittwater Road. If you turn into this little side street you will be welcomed by the ocean and on your right will be the front lawn of our apartment building. Look up and at the very top of this heritage listed building along that whole top floor was our apartment looking out to the sea for the last four years! Cherry Blossom has great clothing, very original pieces and fun colorful gifts.

Outside of the city, but not too far away are The Blue Mountains. This is a series of mountain towns with stunning hiking trails and “The Three Sisters” rock formations. We always stay in Blackheath at our friend’s beautiful holiday home which they rent out. There is an excellent skyway and tram down into the rainforest valley. To drive from Sydney it is about two hours without traffic to The Blue Mountains. If you’re thinking of going there, visit the blue mountains website at: http://www.bluemts.com.au/ and let me know if you need accommodation as friends let out their amazing holiday house which has really reasonable rates and is a beautiful mountain town walking distance to cafes.

The Hunter Valley wine region is also about a two hour drive outside of Sydney and has some award winning vineyards and cheese and chocolate factories. A beautiful valley where the wine and food are excellent and the accommodation, like any wine country, expensive for what it is! The website for info on The Hunter Valley is: www.winecountry.com.au


I’ve been to Brisbane a handful of times and have ventured out to places in Queensland near and far to this main city. A couple hours drive from Brisbane is the sweet town of Eumundi. This town has a great market called “The Eumundi Market” http://www.eumundimarkets.com.au/content/view/15/95/ which is on Wednesday and Saturdays. They have so many wonderful things here and the town is great as well especially because there is also another location of the Berkelouw Bookstore here which has a wonderful casual café next to it (if you go get the pumpkin and spinach salad…really amazing). Eumundi is a great place to stop when driving to Noosa which I can’t say enough good things about as a town. It has a wonderful beach (although certain parts of the year may be closed due to jellyfish) and it has a lovely rainforest coastal walk which is level and easy and beautiful. Great cafes and wonderful shops in this summer seaside town.

Frasier Island is further up the Queensland Coast and the largest sand island in the world. It is gorgeous and I believe you can do day trips or stay over night in their one hotel on the island. I did a five day camping tour and loved being on the island at night, watching the Dingos relaxing in the sun on the beach, experiencing the phosphorescence in the waves at night and seeing the many freshwater pools as well as sailing down the rivers on my back (aside from the eels! eek). Be sure to get groceries and all the provisions you’ll need before you get on the island as there isn’t any stores if you are camping. I would recommend going with a tour group to get the most out of the island.

Brisbane itself has some lovely little neighborhoods including it’s own Paddington which was a sweet place for a wander on an afternoon and stands out in my mind.


We travelled around NZ in a campervan hired through a fantastic company called Standby Cars which operates in Australia and New Zealand and will soon be coming to the USA. This company needs people to return campervans and cars after they have been rented to their original destination. We drove a luxury KEA campervan with all amenities including DVD, TV and plush comfortable micro-suede bed/couch from Christchurch to Auckland. We paid $35 for the seven days in our camper and loved the experience. For more information visit www.standbycars.com.au and go to the “hot deals” tab and enjoy their amazing offers!

On the South Island’s East Coast, we had a wonderful time and our favorite place was Kaikoura which is an amazing town with a gorgeous main street and all kinds of ocean adventures. The highlight of the town is that they had fantastic whale watching tours. If you get seasick and decide to do the whale watching be sure to take something before you get on the boat as they have nothing to ease your sickness on the boat. I opted for the herbal remedy before I got on and it just wasn’t strong enough. I suffered pretty badly and hung on to the horizon with my eyes in between the magnificent whales and dolphins jumping out of the water. The amazing thing about Kaikoura is that the ocean’s shelf drops off very close to shore making very deep water close to shore which attracts families of whales all year round. This is great but also makes for big swell, hence the sea sickness. Even though I was green for a few hours after the ride, this still was my highlight in New Zealand and I would go back! We saw Sperm Whales and I cannot describe how beautiful they were. We also saw hundreds of Spinner dophins which are acrobatic and put on an amazing show in the shallower water. The boat staff were very professional (aside from the lack of Dramamine!) and I would highly recommend this ride. The color of the water here was extraordinary especially at the beach near where they book the whale watching tours. The town’s website is: http://www.kaikoura.co.nz/ .

We also really enjoyed Christchurch and stayed at an excellent hotel called Peppers Clearwater Resort http://www.peppers.co.nz/Clearwater . We had a room on the lake with its own jetty. This hotel had a free shuttle service into the city center as it is located about twenty minutes out with its own restaurant, pub and a championship golf course which is lovely. Christchurch has a stunning botanic garden which was such fun to wander through with sculpture mixed in with such amazing plant life. It was cold in Christchurch in December so remember to bring some good layers for New Zealand’s ever changing summer climate!

My favorite café in NZ was something we stumbled upon along the coast road outside of Kaikoura at State Hwy 1, Kekerengu Marlborough called “The Store”. There is nothing else around this restaurant, but if you are driving that HWY, make a point of stopping here for a long lunch as it is one of a kind for quality of food and atmosphere.

We preferred the South Island to the North Island, but a real highlight on the North Island was the Te PaPa Museum at Wellington www.tepapa.govt.nz which is just near the ferry port. This museum deserves a whole entire day and a beautiful café inside the museum with excellent coffee.

If you have any questions before you leave let me know! Enjoy The Southern Hemisphere and say hello for us!

posted under travel tips