Great Barrier Reef off Cairns

Travel journal: Australia

Who went: Sisters Elizabeth Hutchison and Virginia Cain

Elizabeth in front of the Sydney Opera House

We went because: We always wanted to experience this faraway land, and what better way than with your sister!

Hotel recommendations: Options can be overwhelming, and because we were traveling to so many cities, we kept it simple and went Hilton all the way.

Where to eat: Lotus in Sydney overlooking beautiful Darling Harbour, delicious Thai food at Longrain in the heart of Melbourne, and Mt. Lofty Ranges Vineyard for lunch in the wine country of Adelaide Hills

Favorite dish on the menu: We tried the local Moreton Bay Bug (a cross between a shrimp and lobster). Anything at the five-star Mt. Lofty Ranges Vineyard! And for those who are brave (only Virginia did this), try the kangaroo.

Virginia and Elizabeth during the Sydney Bridge Climb

Item of clothing you shouldn’t leave home without: A hat and sunglasses. We visited at the start of summer and the sun is very intense. All Australian schools require the children to wear a hat as a part of the uniform and have a rule: No hat, no play!

Favorite historic landmark: As clichéd as it may sound, the Sydney Opera House (and tour) is a must. To see it with your own eyes is amazing.

Local attraction worth a drive-by: Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane is a great place to see the native animals like dingos and kangaroos up close and personal. And it’s one of the few places that allow you to hold a koala!

A great experience off the beaten path: Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns. It requires traveling to the northern part of the country and a long boat ride, but the exquisite sights while swimming along the reef are breathtaking.

Virginia with a koala at Lone Pine in Brisbane

Worth the splurge: It’s a tie between the Sydney Bridge Climb, which allows you to hike up more than 400 feet along the bridge for a 360-degree view of the city, and hiring a private driver for an insider’s tour through gorgeous Adelaide Hills wine country.

Not worth the splurge: Lunch at the famous Bondi Beach. Although the beach view was stunning, the food and atmosphere at the club were far from memorable.

Something surprising we learned on the trip: Water is a focal point and an attraction in each of the cities we visited. Australians look at their bodies of water differently than we do as Americans. They give their bodies of water legal rights just like humans in order to protect, preserve and sustain these natural wonders.

Insiders’ tips: It is extremely safe in Australia. We took public transportation day and night whether it was a CityCat boat, train, tram, ferry, or cab.

We would suggest this trip to others because: The Australians are incredibly kind and polite. We were overwhelmed at how patient, helpful and upbeat they were as a people. They were excited to have visitors from the northern hemisphere and eager to share their culture with us. They love Americans and were constantly telling us how they all hoped to visit our country someday. Don’t let the distance discourage you—put this amazing country on your list to visit!