After 18 months apart, having my family together again was so refreshing. The last time we were all together was for my mom’s Celebration of Life in June 2019. Time spent together is absolutely priceless.
My family is quite adventurous and outdoorsy, which makes Queensland (the northeastern Australian state) the perfect vacation destination. Adela doesn’t love all things outdoors, but she loves swimming and beaches. Rachel and my dad, Andrés, love wildlife and nature. I love Australian cities and culture. Queensland has all of the above, making it quite good for a family with diverse interests.
A huge perk if you go for Christmas is that you’ll arrive in the cheery summertime. In Brisbane, the December weather averages 66-89 degrees Fahrenheit.
Australia is huge! Almost as big as the United States, there is tons to explore. But for first-timers, Queensland would get my highest recommendation. My family flew into Brisbane for a 10-day Australian adventure. Below I've recapped our fabulous ten-day trip.
Day 1 - Settle in
On day one, I picked everyone up from the airport and brought them back to our place located 30 minutes south of Brisbane in Shailer Park. We spent some time adjusting to the new time zone and catching up. We took a few short walks to shake out the jetlag and explore the Australian bush in our backyard.
Day 2 - Explore Brisbane
After unwinding from the long plane ride, we decided to venture into Brisbane to explore the city. We parked along Kangaroo Point and ferried across the water to Felon's Brewery. At Felon's, you get a lovely view of the city and the famous story bridge with a craft beer.
We then took the free ferry across the water to downtown and did some souvenir shopping on Queen Street. Brisbane had a bustling shopping scene and lots of beautiful skyscrapers to explore. We walked about the city and stopped in a cafe or two once our feet got tired.
Next, we walked to the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. These gardens are right in the middle of the city, not unlike NYC's central park. They're great because they allow you to see the local native plants and flowers. If you're lucky, like us, you'll also see some bats, iguanas, and Ibis birds (known to locals as “bin chickens”).
We finished our day at a Brisbane Bullets basketball game, which is always a good time! It was fun to show my family what Rasmus works all year toward.
Day 3 - Gold Coast
We started our morning at Paddock Bakery on the Gold Coast - a must! Our good friends Brad and Brit are obsessed, and we, too, have grown to love it!
Next, we drove further south 20 minutes to Currumbin Beach for a day of surf lessons! Currumbin beach is a lovely beach south of the Gold Coast, and it has excellent waves for beginning surfers. Dad, Rachel, and Adela did two hours of lessons, and all got up on their boards!
Rasmus and I took photos and watched from the beach. Currumbin also has a beautiful fresh river that leads out to the ocean, which we got to swim in. We returned home and had dinner at ours with some Christmas-themed cocktails and made a gingerbread house.
Day 4 - North Straddie
After enjoying my dad's favorite breakfast - eggs and potatoes - on our deck, we headed to North Stradbroke Island. We drove from my house for 30 minutes, then took a 30-minute ferry to the beautiful sand island.
My scuba-certified sister, Rachel, had heard that the best scuba in Australia was North Straddie. North Stradbroke is known for having "megafauna," aka BIG marine life like leopard sharks, turtles, manta rays, and sometimes whales. She went on a scuba excursion where she floated down the East Australian Current and saw two black tip reef sharks, a northern wobbegong shark (she thinks), six turtles, and eagle and manta rays. At the same time, Dad, Adela and I walked a few miles on Cylinder Beach to a restaurant to enjoy some famous Australian fish and chips!
Day 5 - 6 Christmas Celebrations
I was so thankful to have everyone together again for Christmas. The last time we were all together was in 2018 before my mom passed away.
We spent all day the 24th cooking for our hybrid American-Danish Christmas meal with the Meechan's! Rasmus's family celebrates Christmas on the 24th (see more on a Danish Christmas). So we decided to do that.
We played a traditional Danish present game and enjoyed a meal that included green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, flæskesteg (ham pork crackling), rødkål (red cabbage), caesar salad, brunede kartofler (caramelized brown potatoes), Danish licorice vodka, and cheesecake!
We celebrated Christmas morning by opening presents and making my mom's special "egg dish." We had breakfast on the deck and spent the day hiking nearby and relaxing together.
Day 7 - Fly to Cairns
On Boxing Day, we flew to Cairns. Sadly, we had to leave Rasmus in Brisbane to work. We planned a couple days in what they call "Far North Queensland." When we landed in Cairns, we rented a car and drove north along Captain Cook Highway.
First stop, my favorite, Hartley's Crocodile Adventures. My sister and I found this little Australian animal sanctuary last January. Apparently, it's been there since the 1930s. They're said to be the first place in Australia to breed crocs in captivity.
We boated through the lagoon and watched as our guide fed the crocs chickens from a stick. We also pet kangaroos, toured the aviary, and saw tons of Australian wildlife.
By the time we got to Port Douglas, it was almost dark. The Airbnb we rented still needed to be cleaned (it was terrible), so we had to scramble to find a new place in this popular vacation destination in high season! We had to work as a team to call and google every hotel in the vicinity. Lucky for us, this lovely couple who owned an AirBnB north of the city saved us, and their home became our safe haven. It was a stunning house located next to a sugar cane plantation.
Day 8 - Snorkel Great Barrier Reef
The thing that everyone comes for: The Great Barrier Reef! Most people don't know, but the reef is far from shore. We took a 90-minute boat out to the reef. It was pouring rain the day we went, but that didn't deter the fish. The three reef destinations we explored were: The Three Sisters (how ironic), Stonehenge, and Barracuda Bommie.
My dad and I went for three snorkels, and the girls did two dives and a snorkel. We saw white and black tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, clownfish, parrot fish (of every color imaginable), giant clams, pufferfish, trumpet fish, unicorn fish, triggerfish, angelfish, Māori wrasse, and barracuda. The coral was stunning. Adela said she felt like a lot of coral was dead, which is sad. But it's still something worth seeing. I've never seen anything comparable.
The waves were rocking that day. Dad and I kept swimming, getting swept too far away, and then we would get reprimanded by the lifeguards. We were just so excited! We did see a GIANT shark that swam out of the deep towards us. We both freaked, and I dropped the camera, sadly.
Afterward, we had a lovely dinner at Hemingway's Brewery, right on the wharf.
Day 9 - Explore Port Douglas
Port Douglas is my favorite place to shop in Australia! It's super hippie and bohemian but also quite upscale and posh. There are many local shops, fresh food, and ingenious art galleries to explore.
We started our day with a big breakfast at Cafe Fresq, one of the best and then spent the rest of the day shopping around. The girls and I found new dresses, sun hats, and bathing suits. Dad was such a good sport! Poor fella thought we were going to shop for only a few hours before hiking, but he made it through the full day of shopping.
We finished the day with a meal at Watergate, a local fave and highly-rated restaurant. We had to order the medium rare kangaroo loin and locally caught fish - it was delish. The lady from the dirty Airbnb even shouted us $250 for cocktails for our inconvenience. It all worked out stupendously!
Day 10 - Mossman Gorge Rainforest
On our last day of the trip, we wanted to be a little more active. We ventured out to the Mossman Gorge, located in the Daintree National Park (the oldest rainforest in the world). We hiked a 2.4-mile loop through the rainforest while swatting big mossies (what the Aussies call mosquitos). But the forest itself was fresh and magnificent.
We got home in the afternoon and did some swimming at the Airbnb before my dad, and the girls sang me Happy Birthday over some cake in an early celebration of my upcoming birthday (1/7).
Day 11 - Fly Home
On the last day, we all flew from Cairns to Brisbane together, where I left everyone at the security gate before they flew back to the States. I am so thankful to have such a loving, supportive family. Every time they go, I cry. This time was no different. The distance is always hard to stomach.
On his way out, Dad texted me that this was his "best trip ever." That made it all worth it! This is a trip I'll always look back at fondly.