Melanie Chandra

New York / Los Angeles

Spotlight on Australia

Sydney has been on our bucket list for years. It is a very, very long trip from the US, and if you’re going to enjoy it, it’s best if you’re not rushed. You’ll need to set aside the proper amount of time, factoring in a buffer for travel days and jet lag. So, when we found out we had nearly two weeks for winter break, we booked our trip! It was a no brainer. Our goal was to explore two things: diving in the Great Barrier Reef and New Year's Eve in Sydney. Here are some of the highlights:

Great Barrier Reef

After flying out from Chicago (we spent Christmas there with my family), we connected to LAX, then Cairns, and then took a hopper flight to a lush little island called Lizard Island. “Lizard Island” might not sound like the most inviting place if you’re not into four legged green creatures, but it’s paradise.

Lizard Island

There is only one resort on this protected National Park, which allows you to adventure pretty much anywhere you want.  One morning, we grabbed our snorkeling gear and trekked to the farthest edge of the island only to find ourselves with a whole beach just for us.

Lizard Island

On another day, we did a group diving excursion. We sailed for about 2 hours into the Pacific to get to the heart of the reef. I absolutely loved playing with all the little nemo’s and exploring the giant clam gardens:  

Each clam was roughly the same size as me. And they would open and close all at once, creating a slow pulse, as if the whole rock was one big organism, with vivid blue tongues.

Our second to last day, we took on the somewhat challenging Cook’s Look hike, which offered views from the highest point of the island. From the resort we cut through a mile of lush greenery and the vivid beach at Watson’s Bay to get to the start of the unformed track, whose surface varied from decomposed granite to sloping granite slabs, with rough hewn steps in some places. We started in about 90 degree heat on the surface and at the highest elevation faced temperatures below 70, with high wind. It was invigorating.

Cooks Island

As for Sydney...

We fell in love with this city. Here's why:


Is it weird to say that one of our highlights of the whole trip was inside an Indian restaurant? We’ve experienced Indian cuisine in some of the biggest hubs - London, NYC, and of course India. We were also raised on our parent's homemade Indian food, so at this point, we've earned the right to be somewhat picky about it. Well, we were blown away by The Spice Room, which had some of the best Indian dishes we’ve ever experienced in our lives. We’re not exaggerating.

The Spice Room

Other great places to eat:

  • The Grounds of Alexandria: A very bustling place to be for brunch. If I lived in Sydney this would probably be my go-to spot to hang out on a Saturday morning. There’s always a huge line to get in, but it's well worth it. Hip scene. Fresh, healthy food. You can take a walk around the grounds while you wait for your table. You'll find yourself in a beautiful garden and you might even cross paths with Kevin Bacon, their resident pig. Oh, and they even have Dog Parking.  

Grounds of Alexandria
  • Indigo, Double Bay- Another great brunch spot. Lots of trendy types here. Food is delicious. Try the king prawn bruschetta - king prawn open sandwich w/ avocado, cucumber, red capsicum, on garlic bread.

  • Spice Temple- Modern Chinese cuisine that packs a lot of flavor. Great cocktails as well.

  • The Bucket List at Bondi Beach- We didn't look up this place in advance, we just sort of stumbled upon it when we were looking for food near the beach one day.  The menu looked solid, and the place was really lively and fun, packed with locals. Little did we know the food was actually amazing! We were just planning to have a snack there, but ended up canceling our dinner reservations to continue feasting on fresh fish tacos and tuna poke, as we watched the sunset.

City vs Beach Experience

Sydney is this rich, well-developed metropolis with breathtaking white sandy beaches on the perimeter. It's like NYC meets Malibu - with better weather year round.

We spent one afternoon doing the Coogee to Bondi Beach walk. It's a must do. You don't need to start all the way in Coogee, you can start anywhere really. It's the first time I've ever "beach-hopped." Every turn on the boardwalk brought a new bustling beach, complete with little beachside cafes and restaurants. Again, NYC meets Malibu. Before we descended onto our final stop at Bondi Beach, we popped into Icebergs to have a quick drink and take in an aerial view of Bondi surfers riding the waves.

Bondi Beach


Sydney is known for having one of the best fireworks displays in the world. Witnessing the spectacle from the edge of the Sydney Opera House, we understand why.  


Other excursions

Harbour Bridge Climb - Yes, it's a touristy thing, but a really, really great one. It was fun and interesting. We fortunately had perfect weather and a hilarious guide. Also note, the whole production behind the bridge climb is a very well-oiled machine. Efficient and seamless. You couldn’t have processed-engineered it better.

Sydney Harbor


The Westfield & Pitt Street Mall – here you have all your favorite designers but most importantly the most incredible food court ever. Make sure you also walk through Strand Arcade.

Strand Arcade

Our takeaways:

Sydney is one of our favorite cities.

Sydney has incredible Indian food.

A moderately packed travel itinerary works. We deliberately decided to split our time in only two cities. A year ago, we probably would have packed in four, trying to see everything. But we’ve learned from past experiences that this approach doesn’t allow you to experience things fully, and often leaves you exhausted, needing a vacation from your vacation. So, this time we cut back on the over planning and gave ourselves plenty of leisurely time to stroll, discover, and take in. Australia is a bucket list destination that everyone should add to their lists!