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The Low Down on Visiting Down Under from an AFAR Experiences Attendee

This is a sponsored post from Tourism Australia.

Beth Egan, a professor at Syracuse University, shares some of the best moments from her recent trip Down Under with AFAR Experiences Sydney. Culture, adventure, food and more prove There’s Nothing Like Australia.

What experience gave you the greatest insight into Australian culture? Being welcomed into the home of an Australian couple for dinner. Not only did I experience the humor, the lightness, and the casual nature I had always thought was pure Australian, I also got chicken chips, Cheezels (a cheesy Australian snack), and every kind of meat imaginable on the barbie—plus wine, wine, wine (all Australian, of course).

What was your favorite meal in Australia? The pinnacle in terms of cuisine was, of course, Seiobo, where I feasted on course after course of perfection with perfectly matched wines. But my favorite meal was shared in the home of art dealer Ray Hughes. In the Hughes’ household, which sits above Ray’s famous gallery, I enjoyed a home-cooked meal (and learned a bit about cricket from a former cricket player) amongst arguably the greatest gallery collection in Sydney.

What was the most adventurous thing you did in Australia? Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I’ve never been afraid of heights and I’ve done my share of climbing, ziplining, skiing—but I didn’t expect the grated walkways that gave a full view of the harbor swirling below, and I didn’t really think about the fact that there would be traffic swooshing by below us. And I had never calculated the actual distance we were climbing. As one of the most spectacular views in the world, it is certainly worth it—just remember to stop, look up and down, and really appreciate where you are.

Was there a point when you felt really connected to nature? Every Tuesday, The Byron at Byron Bay offers the opportunity to take a horticulturalist-guided walk through the area’s protected forests. And, as if having a personal guide wasn’t enough, I felt even more connected when we bumped into Gavin Hughes, head chef at The Byron. Gavin uses local fresh ingredients in all of his dishes and hosts his own tours through the local food market. Despite his Scottish heritage, he spoke expertly about the unique ingredients that can only be found in Australia.

What was your favorite hotel in Australia? The Byron at Byron Bay sits on the convergence of the rainforest and the ocean—and there is a path that leads straight to the beach. But the most distinguishing characteristic is the staff. It was one of the most standout service experiences I have ever had.

Were there any other hotels that stood out? The Echoes Boutique Hotel and Restaurant, which sits on the edge of the Blue Mountains. I wanted to get out of the city and have more of a country experience. I took the train and I landed in this small place that used to be a mining town. I got in a cab, and 10 minutes later, was dropped off in front of the hotel. I thought, “This isn’t going to be what I wanted.” Then I opened up the door to my room, and it literally took my breath away!

What else can you tell us about the beaches in Australia? The most striking aspect about Byron Bay is the natural, untouched nature. I found it to be the most peaceful, meditative beach I have ever encountered. And the poignancy of standing on the beach and knowing America is thousands of miles away (and a tad north) was mind blowing. Bondi Beach is in complete contrast to Byron Bay. Take peaceful and meditative, turn it upside down, and you’re on Bondi Beach. Shirtless men and bikini-clad women playing beach volleyball or laying elbow to elbow and daring the riptides galore. I loved the kitschiness of the local shops and restaurants. If I could transport myself back to the 60s beach culture, I imagine Bondi Beach is where I’d land.

What is some of the local lingo that you picked up? You basically take the root word of any word and add “ie”—so mosquitoes are mossies, sunglasses are sunnies, and a vodka tonic is a voddie tonnie.

What didn’t you do that you wished you had? I would have really liked to see the koalas in the wild. I went to Taronga Zoo (in Sydney), which I highly recommend. But part of seeing the koalas in their natural habitat is also to be that far away from an urban environment.

What was your experience of the coffee culture? These people are obsessed about coffee. They have all these different terms for the coffee, and there’s a social aspect to the culture: Everything happens over coffee. My home base in Sydney was a coffee shop called Caperberries Café. A young woman named Penny owns it and she became my North Star. I went there as soon as I landed. Every day afterward, I’d go in there and she’d give me advice. By the second or third day, she knew what I was drinking and she’d just make it.