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My First Solo Trip: A One Week Holiday In Australia Including A Chopper Ride, Lots Of Koala Cuddling And Wine

Updated: Mar 11

I don't know if the nomad in me just possessed me that day but all I know is that one random day at work, while looking for a good deal for a friend planning to fly down under, I ended up with Air tickets to Australia for 6 months later on what would be the first real solo trip of my life! Now I'm no stranger to traveling or international travel for matter, but from traveling with a group of 85+ people, to a backpacking trip to Thailand with my girl 'BFF' last year, an impromptu trip to a country halfway across the globe all by myself was a different ballgame!

The months after booking the tickets rolled on, eventful in their own ways, with a rather pushed-to-the-back-of-the-mind, excitement for the upcoming trip. I don't know if I'm lucky or extremely careless, either ways, after being on the tenterhooks for my Australian tourist visa, it arrived TWO days before my trip which almost didn't happen. The fact that I might have bought myself a white elephant struck much later when the Indian rupee plunged 55 to an Australian $ at an all time high and for a fat wad of Indian currency, I got TEN small notes of a hundred Australian Dollars each which meant this trip meant tightening the shoe-strings !

Stopping by in Malaysia - a 2nd visit to the country

My first pitstop was Kuala Lumpur, a city I had been to exactly 5 years ago, except this time, I was no tourist with a group of 80 people, but a solo traveller. I had all of one day to re-explore this city, so immediately after landing at the LCCT (that's the exclusive airport for low cost airlines! Way to make one feel poor Malaysia!) I got a hassle-free and generally free TWOV (Transit With Out Visa) pass and took a bus to the city. I must say, no Asian city I've been to has impressed and surprised me as much as Kuala Lumpur has: right from it's beautiful and tech-intensive airport to its brilliant civic infrastructure (read: wide, well manicured roads running smoothly alongside landscaped hills and highlands, triple-tier flyovers) to its vast public transport system and world class shopping malls, it has it all. After spending a day in KL, visiting the majestic Petronas Towers and other rather familiar sights, I took my final flight to Sydney.

Couchsurfing with the loveliest Indian couple in Sydney

In Sydney, an acquaintance from Bangalore (bless him) and his lovely, newly-wedded wife opened up their sweet red-bricked apartment to me and made me feel truly at home in a country much away, and colder ( literally ^& figuratively) from my own. On the first night in Sydney, a friend from Hyderabad and I got to the the famous Sydney Harbour bridge and had a first look of the iconic Opera House, in the freezing night in all its illuminated glory of the city centre !

After a 2 hour midnight walk on the walkway along the Harbor bridge and clicking some arty pictures, I took the train back to Burwood and slept off my travel fatigue and first night in Australia.

Day 1 - Free walking tour in Sydney

From a slight experience in travel that's short on time, I've learned that the trick to get the best out of time and a place is to start early, so at 8 am, all winter-suited up and raring to go ,I took the train for the central and made it in perfect time to meet an interesting, yet not much older than me, girl in a bright green tshirt, who took a group of eager (and pocket-conscious) travellers like me on  a "free walking tour" of the city. We walked and walked and walked some more. She took us to many heritage buildings and landmarks, beginning with the town hall to the famous Hyde park, the talking dog, the art gallery, the NSW financial district, the British colony called the "rocks" ending perfectly at a point offering a scintillating view of the busy darling harbor.

Walking tour in Sydney
Sydney downtown

If anything that took my breath away about the city, it is its relaxed, corporate urban and yet hippy -like outdoor culture, the amazing amalgamation of Old world Architecture and modern skyscrapers all co-existing in a perfect visual treat. The multitude of sidewalk cafes, the most well dressed people, students and high flying execs alike, walking down the road nonchalantly in their designer & street-chic best, just before a kid would whizz by you on his rollerskates & at the same, a man well past his 80's peddling along on his bicycle! If you're lucky they even greet you with the famous Australian "hey mate, have a good one"!

Spending a day at Google office, Sydney

After the tiring walk, which left me exhausted & famished, I landed up at the Sydney Branch of my company! (yeah who goes to office on a vacation, you ask?) You would too if the office offered a brilliant view of the harbor while savoring the free gourmet lunch and chilling in a colorful, art-deco office environment, located conveniently opposite a casino (!) and in the middle of all the action in the city!

An evening at the glittering Darling Harbour

After a very soothing noon spent at the office, I met up with a few of my friends in Sydney at the Darling Harbor. Basically this is a C shaped bay choc-a block with diners, cafes, pubs all, against the high rise CBD. At night this place just.. glitters. No other word to describe the fun of sipping a coffee on the staircase overlooking the view, with your feet almost touching the water, and devouring the lights & sounds of the city on a Thursday night, which as I learnt later, is the day when Sydney-ers get their pay and indulge the most in the week! Perfect.

The choice of a place to unwind that night was the much-recommended "Opera bar" right at the entrance of the Opera House, which is a stunner, with live music, the perfect blend of of the yippies, the arties, and the travelers all revelling in the great view of the city and good times. After some great local wine and some yummy finger food here with my friends, Sunny and I trailed off on the roads filled (freshly-paid) Sydney-ers, and got back home. And i knew i was in love…with the city…How I lost my boots ( what would have been a winter saviour) that night would always remain a mystery that I'd never unravel.

Day 2- Bondi beach and Bondi-Coogee Walk

A chilly, sunless day this and after luxuriously sleeping in, I was off to the coastal part of the city to visit the famous Bondi Beach and embark on the iconic Bondi-Coogee coastal walk. I don't think I can do justice to this walk by putting it in words but if you're from India, you've seen nothing like it before. My definition of a coastline, but more than that, coast-life changed forever after this walk. This 7km walk starts at the Bondi beach and goes along a well paved walkway alongside the coast, passing on one side, the rocks, never once losing sight of the turquoise Pacific ocean. Even though the entire walk is one big landmark, there is a spot every 5 minutes you'd want to stop at and let your eyes just soak up the infinity of the sea beyond and the path along ahead.

I passed several beautiful rock formations, a few beaches, dotted with happy Australian families complete with kids, babies and dogs out to have a good time, enjoying their nature they have preserved and maintained only too well.

Towards the end of this walk, I passed through of the most poignantly beautiful- cemeteries, perched on a hillslope, overlooking the blue sea. (Remember Dil Chahta Hai?) If life and death had to merge this beautifully ever, this was it.

The sun was about setting, it was getting colder and I was alone….I came back to the hustle of the CBD  hung around at the circular quay watching the happy people just done with office, out to enjoy the weekend.

Sydney had called it a day and so did I.

Day 3 - Copper Ride above Sydney

It was a day I felt on top of the world - literally! My Pilot-in-training friend Viral from Hyderabad who was doing his flight training in Sydney very generously offered to take me on an aerial ride of/over Sydney! After putting my best aviation-cool on, I got on the first chopper of my life. Viral flew us over the city, and suddenly the beauty of the city was an organized plan from up-top ! Little hut shaped houses, tiny cars moving rhythmically interspersed with turquoise pools and green splotches was my view for hours. After a bit of this we progressed above the coastline of Sydney, that I was a part of less than 24 hours ago and now I see the majestic coastline in all its blueness down below us…It was infinite sea wherever you looked out from the chopper, and the C shaped Bondi Beach on the side…The happy, fun people of Sydney - now midgets of the sea.

chopper ride in Sydney

An hour ride of the Sydney Skies and a smooth landing later, I was back in the CBD, this time hoping to do some local shopping which I did by losing my way into the Paddy's market.

When in Sydney, go to Paddy's market for souvenirs

This market is a huge weekend market that sells everything from fresh fruit, meat, fish and a plethora of souvenirs! Just the perfect place to pick up the famous Australian aboriginal boomerang and the usual touristy Sydney-branded China-made shot glasses and fridge magnets without which any true-blooded tourist's trip is incomplete.

Day 4 - Melbourne

As planned, the same evening, I flew to another big city - Melbourne to see Yamini, my good friend from college. Even the 8 degrees and the chronic rain couldn't wash away our gung-ho to explore the city & with our freshly purchased umbrellas, and a tram ride, off we went, just two girls about town.

We started with the local "Queen Victoria's" market which is just like the Paddy's market in Sydney. Here we came across an aboriginal centre where the shopkeeper was a rare surviving abo himself. After an hour long conversation and 3 CDs of didgeridoo solos later, we were out of the market and hopped on a quaint tram that's a free service to explore the popular landmarks of Melbourne.

Pintxos at Fitzroy Street

We were drenched and our craving to get some warm on was satiated with freshly made "pintxos", coffee and smoke sitting on the patio of the very curious place called "naked for satan" at the very-happening Fitzroy street. We followed by a walk-in a bookstore called "really weird shit", an antique store called "Shag" and a browse in the local artisans market.

The graffiti and beautiful streets of Melbourne

The street walls around melb city are the most beautiful assortment of colorful graffiti with everything from grunge art to manga to famous cartoons. Make sure to take some stunning pics for the 'gram here!

A little more walking got us to the famous Federation Square which is where you see the central Melbourne at its best. We sat on the steps of the Moving Images Museum, flanked by imposing British-style buildings, churches with tall spires, the classic Flinder's street station on one side and the modern financial giant buildings and the art-deco spike of the art gallery on the other. Not to describe any more, you want to see, hear and feel Melbourne in all its bigcityness, cosmo-ness, lights sounds, and business, grab a beer and sit on these steps, right here.

Mulled wine at Yarra River

The evening was getting chillier which necessitated alcohol in our system to warm up so Yamini and I went to a place that was literally the best "watering hole" I've been to. "Pomfret" is a charming rustic bar located right under the bridge of the Yarra river, with tall wooden chairs and natural outdoor torches for light & heating. The place almost feels like being on a boat, with the river sparkling & flowing on the side, the entire Melbourne skyline on view on the periphery.

After the most welcome drink of "Mulled wine" which is basically a mix of herbs infused in warmed warmed wine, we walked back around a bit more and decided to call it a day, given out achy bodies, my broken shoes, and the evening that just didn't stop getting colder. A well-spent day, exploring the art, the culture & the city of Melbourne ended with a home-made dinner and some chilling (warming?) by the fireplace.

Day 5 - Kilda beach, Melbourne

Next day Yamini took me to the famous Kilda beach, which is as San Francisco as Melbourne gets. The neat roads are lined up with bars, cafes and quaint bakeries with the most drool-inducing produce on display and smells wafting in the air.. We sampled a few that sinful stuff at "monarch bakery" with a cheesecake and other goodies I forget from a temporary deactivation of any other senses than taste and smell.

Now that I was ready to drown myself and die happy, we did some beach bumming, shell-picking at the Kilda beach and sad farewells. Unfortunately, with my time crunch, our plan to do the famous 12 Apostles Ocean Drive remained a plan and a motivation to come back to Melbourne again. Someday.

I flew back to Sydney later that night, and strangely Sydney felt like coming back home, for a place I'd just got to 4 days before. Tired from the traveling, I decided to spend the day at my friend's in the hood and go to bed early for another action-packed tomorrow.

Day 6 - Kangaroos and Koalas in Sydney

Ever since I knew I was going to Australia, I've  wanted to see 2 things.

1) Koala

2) Kangaroo

(come on, how can you come back without seeing the national animal of Australia? It's different that it's also the only national animal in the world that's also a culinary delicacy :)

This was my penultimate day in Australia and I knew today's all I had to check off these 2 off my list. Unfortunately, kangaroos and koalas don't roam around freely on the roads in Australia like cows and dogs in India. So choosing to visit a national park, over the famous Hunter Valley and indulging in some wine-tasting, was a tough but natural decision.

I had to make the best use of my day so I planned a trip to the locally-recommended "Blue Mountains" - a hill station located about 2 hours away from Sydney City and did the 'Featherdale national park " located enroute. I finally had my first sighting of a Kangaroo here! But hold on just 2 puny Kangaroos for a $25 is not what I signed up for! But as a further trail into the park would reveal, there were Kangaroos every step of the way! Eating, playing, mating, trying to mate (oh yeaaah.....them Kangaroos are horny animals!), running about, there were kangaroos everywhere….Small kangaroos, large kangaroos, albino Kangaroos....I think watching a joey (as a kangaroo baby is called) jump in and out of the mother's pouch is one of the most amazing nature's wonders you'd ever see….One moment you see a bit of the kangaroo baby leg and the next you see its head rearing out of the pouch and Lo! it jumps out, trots around and hops back into the safe haven with the mother licking the baby to comfort at every chance! After a lot of awwww-moments, I turned to mush again at my first encounter with Koalas!

Remember those little snap-on, stuffed koala-bear toys made famous by a Hindi music album from early 2000 ("chui mui si tim lagti ho") that ultimately ended on our bags and curtains?

Yeah, the koalas are just like it!!! They cling to every damn thing in sight and now officially top my list of adorable animals! 

featherdale national park sydney

When I was done plotting plans to abduct a koala & smuggle it back home to India with me, I checked out a few other exotic animals at the park and came back to the station to travel further up to the Blue Mountains. The remaining day was spent at the Blue Mountains and visiting the famous 3 Sister rock formations.

Day 7 - Leaving Sydney

After spending a very emotionally-charged last day in Sydney with a dinner at a friend’s whose house offered a brilliant view of the Sydney Harbour, I bid farewell to the Australian land, and once again got back to Kuala Lumpur, realizing that it was exactly 5 years before on the date I’d been in KL! ( I also managed to lose my wallet on this leg of the trip, but that's a story for another day.)

It's been a few months since I went on this trip and mind is flooded with so many emotions. Safe to say, I went on the trip solo, but in my paths met some amazing people, reconnected with some old connections and came back with some great new friends. I Wouldn't be exaggerating if I said I'm hungover on the beauty that Australia was, I'm hungover on all the trains/buses/ferries i took to explore the country (or a tiny part of it as it were) the people, the zillion roadside cafes,  even the expensive $4 coffee. I miss asking people to "Can you take a picture please", I miss saying "have a good one, mate" when getting off another bus in the city but above all, I miss feeling at home while being 1000s of miles away from home.

I would definitely recommend visiting Australia to everyone, at least once in their lifetime more than that I’d recommend travelling solo, because what’s life without new sights seen, new foods eaten, new people met and new experiences cherished.


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 I (Monica) am a lifelong traveler, (40 countries), sustainability and veganism advocate, and a marketer by profession. I'm old school in that I still like to blog and document rather than shoot and post.

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