Thursday, February 13th I packed up my bags and was chauffeured to the airport by dear old mom for an adventure I will not soon forget. I was spoiled by American Airlines with roundtrip Business Class airfare to LAX which included priority check in. That along with my CLEAR membership and TSA Pre-check it took a total of 12 minutes from getting out of the car to sitting down at my gate. I am loving the new terminal in New Orleans. Arriving in LAX we were allowed entry into the American Airlines Flagship Business Lounge which was a treat in itself. It was adorned with modern decor, amazing food, and premium liquors. For a longer layover this was just what I needed to sit and relax before my long haul flight to Sydney, Australia. As if this wasn't enough of a treat when I boarded the flight to experience the AA Flagship Business Class with fully reclining seats I WAS IN HEAVEN for my 14 hour flight! It truly flew by and I landed feeling like I had a full night's sleep and ready to take on the day.
Day 1: Settling into Sydney, we were whisked to the Hyatt Regency Sydney in a private luxury van. After checking in to our rooms and dropping off our bags we hit the ground running boarding a luxurious yacht for a cruise around theHarbor enjoying Sydney's famous sights from the water. Our first stop was Doyle's at Watson's Bay for a quick appetizer which was absolutely delicious. After a few drinks and some fresh calamari we embarked on our journey to Balmoral Beach for our main course. After some wine and some delicious grub we boarded the ship and made our journey back to the wharf. We had a couple hours to relax and unpack before our own private 6 course dining experience hosted by the Hotel Manager and executive chef. The food was to die for. My favorite part of the meal was the wagyu beef cooked to perfection ...it melted in my mouth. Having eaten my entire body weight in delicious food today I decided to call it an early night before an early morning of adventure.
Day 2: Sydney Harbor Highlights, we woke up at the crack of dawn to get our own private Backstage Tour of the Sydney Opera House. This was one of the coolest tours I have ever been on. We explored the hallowed theatres and foyers where more than 1600 concerts, operas, dramas and ballets take place each year and our experienced guide lead us through every aspect of the building’s 14-year creation and 58-year history. Running our hands over the world-famous shell tiles, taking a seat in the elegant custom-made white birch timber chairs and marvel at the vaulted ceilings of one of the biggest pillar-free chambers in the world. After winding our way all the way around the Opera House we were served a delicious breakfast to fuel us for our next adrenaline pumping adventure. Next up, we conquered our fears climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge through the inner arch crossing over catwalks and stairs, and making our way to thrilling views that await you at the summit of the Bridge nearly 405 ft. above the Harbor below. As scared as I am of heights it was still an exhilarating experience my second time around. As if we didn't fit enough into this day we were determined to make the most of our time here and fit in one more tour. We went on a Taste of Sydney tour to discover what the locals know and where the foodies go! This tour was a back-stage pass to Sydney's authentic and modern multicultural cuisines. We had a few hours of downtime to relax before meeting for dinner. That evening we had a group dinner at Esquire where chivalry and honor meet flavor and taste. Reimagined comfort classics enjoyed for centuries straight. We dined with gusto and drank in the darkness. After such a busy day I was ready for bed but not before grabbing one last drink at the Zephyr rooftop bar of the hotel with an amazing view of Darling Harbor.
Day 3: Be Bold in Bondi, waking up and enjoying our breakfast before checking out of our hotel and heading to Bondi Beach. Arriving at Bondi, we met our partners at Let's Go Surfing. The golden sands and crystal waters of Bondi continue to capture hearts all around the world. Taking surfing lessons from Bondi’s only officially licensed surf school on Australia’s most famous beach. Bondi is home to Australia’s oldest surf lifesaving club, funky beach vibe bars and restaurants, urban-style shops, hip markets, Let's Go Surfing and Bondi is an experience not to be missed. After working up a sweat and getting beat down by waves, we went to the infamous Bondi Icebergs for that instagram picturesque view of Bondi Beach. Following our photo op we enjoyed lunch stops from the sand and surf at North Bondi Fish. Specializing in fresh, high-quality Australian seafood it was simply delicious. After lunch, we loaded up into our luxury van to travel to one of the most unique and luxurious accommodations I have ever stayed in, Taronga Wildlife Retreat.
Taronga Wildlife Retreat (below) is an elegant Australian eco-retreat nestled within the heart of Taronga Zoo, entering the lobby you have an astonishing view of Sydney Harbor.
Wake up to the rustling of a bandicoot. Revel in the natural beauty of the bushland. Open up your balcony sliding glass door to peer into a lush sanctuary where koalas and echidnas roam, and platypus swim. We joined a guided tour with the passionate keepers immersing ourselves in their stories and learning from their expertise. Here we encountered a close and emotional connection with the animals and joined the cause to defend their place in the world. Above all, expect to leave inspired. We had dinner in the resort at Me-Gal Restaurant with an al a carte menu that was locally inspired with authentic organic ingredients.
Day 4: Hunter Valley Vino, waking up to the sounds of koalas and wallabies starting their day was a remarkable moment. We had breakfast and boarded our van with Australian Luxury Escapes for a truly unique tailored wine experience through the Hunter Valley.
Our first stop was Tyrrell’s Hunter Valley winery with 160 years of winemaking under their belts. We had an opportunity to participate in a ‘SacredSites Exclusive Experience’, one of the most unique winery visitor experiences available. Fifth Generation, Chris Tyrrell, hosted us on a private and personalized tour of Tyrrell’s Sacred Sites vineyards, located on the Ashmans property. The Sacred Sites are ungrafted dry-grown vineyards which are over 100 years old. Tyrrell’s own 7 of the 11 oldest vineyards in NSW. These vineyards are still producing exceptional fruit which is made into some of the most sought after wines in Australia.
Next up, we went to Keith Tulloch Winery, this small completely family owned winery and vineyard produces wines that express the unique terrain and climate from the ancient soils of the Brokenback Range. Here we enjoyed a unique wine tasting experience in collaboration with a local artisan chocolatier Cocoa Nib. Sampling five handmade praline chocolates, matched to the winery’s current release wine. After getting our fill of wine for the day we made our way to the 5 star Spicer's Guesthouse for our overnight accommodation where wine & exploration is the talk around the table.
Day 5: Adventure & Explore, We awoke early and enjoyed a lovely breakfast before heading to Port Stephens. En route to Port Stephens we stopped for a ATV adventure through the largest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere. We went through, up, around, and down ginormous sand dunes during our hour and a half tour with Sand Dune Adventures. This was so much fun it was like having a little piece of Louisiana with an Australian twist. We also went tobogganing down one of the steepest sand dunes which was quite exhilarating until we realized we had to hike back up it to get to the bikes.
Now that we worked up an appetite we head to Nelson Bay for a lunch at the Little Nel which has grown into the favorite haunt for Bay locals and visitors alike. The menu changes as regularly as the seasons (often more) and samples the best local and interstate produce they can find. After enjoying a delicious lunch we joined Moonshadow TQC Cruises for a dolphin discovery cruise around the bay to soak up some sun. To end our day we visited the Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary (currently under construction) who aim to provide the world best practice standards of care to sick, injured and orphaned koalas to give them the best opportunity to be returned to the wild, while supporting research and collaboration to preserve their habitat to ensure that future generations may continue to enjoy seeing wildlife in their natural setting. This was such a memorable experience hearing about these very fragile creatures and how to donate and sustain this amazing organization. It was made even more special because Destination New South Wales adopted a koala for each of us to benefit this amazing cause. After this life changing experience we head to the beach for our overnight accommodations.
Day 6: Pearl Hunting, waking up and enjoying a lovely breckie we depart for Broken Bay for a truly one of a kind experience at the Broken Bay PearlFarm's 'Shellar Door'. Established in 2003, but it has only now, for the first time in 15 years opened its doors to allow a unique insight into the culture of Pearl Farming. Pearls from Broken Bay Pearl farm (Akoya pearls) are world famous for their very high luster and unique colors and this is an extremely rare chance to get hands-on with a portion of the harvest of pearls from both Western Australia and New South Wales. We cruised the scenic waters of the Hawkesbury River out to their saltwater paddocks. Learned about their pearl farming techniques, the hard work and risks that go into cultivating our local pearls. We discovered some of the river’s amazing history, Indigenous rock art, and a 150-year old rock oyster industry. We also joined a hands-on session with their pearl harvest where you will witness how pearls are graded and learn the 7 virtues that underpin the value of their farm-direct Pearls of Australia.
As a part of this tour you can also purchase a pearl you harvested that very same day and get it set into a necklace or ring to commemorate your time in Australia. It was something truly special. After pearl farming we made our way back to Sydney for our last night in my own little paradise. After checking into our overnight accommodations, Old Clare Hotel, we went on a Culture Scouts tour of the Chippendale & Redfern neighborhoods talking us through Chippendale’s urban transformation, the city versus nature aesthetic; taking us off the tourist drag on a curated tour to show us their favorite gems. We end the tour at Australia’s first rooftop indigenous garden, where we can see, smell and taste local native plants with local Indigenous horticulturalist. To put an exclamation point on this trip of a lifetime we ended our night with a farewell dinner at Ester Restaurant & Bar reliving our favorite and most memorable moments complete with group superlatives. We laughed, we cried, we dined, and wined. It was truly the best night of the trip for me even though it was so bittersweet.
Day 7: Leaving the Land of Oz, waking up early for the final time was extremely tough getting out of bed. We all met in the lobby told our fabulous hosts Heather & Derek goodbye and boarded the transfer to the airport. The only thing that softened the blow of leaving was being able to experience American Airlines Flagship Business one more time and knowing I wouldn't be cramped into a row with 3 people and only 6 inches of leg room.