I was sitting on the edge of a little boat, looking out into the water while the wind ruffled my hair. When I looked out across the bay, the famous sails of the Sydney Opera House became bigger and larger, as if they were waving at me. All in all, it was the best possible introduction to Australia.
For the first time in over two years, I was one of the first American visitors to arrive in Sydney, having taken the first Qantas aircraft from Los Angeles. While sailing around Sydney Harbour to combat jet lag, it still didn't seem real that I had arrived at this other land.
Getting Ready for Your Trip
I had just arrived at the Kimpton Margot Sydney in the downtown area earlier that day. The hotel, housed in a historic structure and furnished in soft pastels to evoke art deco and featuring towering scagliola pillars in the lobby, managed to strike a balance between formality and homeliness. A week ago, the hotel had just opened its doors, and like the rest of the nation, it was more drift hunters than prepared to welcome its first visitors. All day long, I walked the streets, snapping pictures of the cityscape and marveling at the intricately carved terraces and trendy stores of Paddington. I drove to Bronte Beach in search of a cup of joe and a stroll along the cliffs, passing by magnificent rock formations that towered above a community pool where happy families splashed in blue water that complemented the idyllic setting.
The first day in Sydney had flown by as Splendour Tailored Tours' creator Carly Rea had me immersed in the city's vibrant culture. As we skipped across the city, Rea said, "I'm thrilled for the first time in two years." While we have been accepting reservations, postponing them, and canceling them for the last two years, I am certain that we will not revert to our previous ways or allow our borders to shut without a fight.
A Brief History of How I Came Here
My friends and family back home had assured me that I would be pleasantly surprised by how sparsely populated my first visit to the nation would be. The heart of Australia, though, was evident when I explored the country from Victoria to far northern Queensland. They were happy to hear an American accent (sometimes the first in over two years), and they accepted me warmly.
Australia was just as hip as ever, with the stunning coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef, the cutting edge bakeries of Melbourne, and the trendy boutiques of Sydney. Australia has one of the harshest border procedures in the world due to the spread of COVID-19, and the country did not reopen to foreign passengers until the 21st of February. The decision came after the government had allowed visitors from certain countries including Singapore, Japan, and South Korea, as well as Australian residents and their close family members, to enter.
The government has mandated that all visitors produce confirmation of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 PCR test within three days of their journey, or a negative fast antigen test done within 24 hours of their flight under medical supervision. A digital passenger declaration and ETA application may be made online.
The administration claims that each state has its own testing on arrival policies. While visiting certain states, such as New South Wales (where Sydney is situated) or Victoria (where Melbourne is located), visitors are obligated to take a quick antigen test either the day they arrive or within 24 hours. South Australia, for instance, mandates that all overseas arrivals do a PCR test within 24 hours of arrival, whereas Western Australia mandates that all visitors perform a fast antigen test within 12 hours of arrival.
I was allowed to see some of Australia's most well-known landmarks after passing the required on-arrival exam and immediately beginning my journey across the country from New South Wales to Victoria and on to Queensland.
My First Impression Upon Arrival
Normal. When I started to travel around Australia, from its towns and mountains to its Great Barrier Reef and its rainforest, there was the one phrase that kept coming to me. It was incredible how regular life seemed in a nation that had been cut off from the rest of the world for so long.
I sat on the sand and watched swimmers, dined on unbelievably crispy eggplant with an addictively sticky sauce at the new, and rightfully popular, Southeast Asian eatery MuMu, and enthusiastically applauded an energetic production of "Six the Musical" at the Sydney Opera House. On February 21st, I took the inaugural Qantas aircraft from Los Angeles to Sydney, arriving just after 6 a.m. local time. On the preceding days, I had flown with Qantas's Oneworld partner American Airlines from New York to Los Angeles, a distance of more than 6,000 miles.
Upon touching down in Los Angeles, I made my way to the Tom Bradley International Airport without stopping for any further screening. Qantas upgraded me to a premium economy seat, where I reclined the footrest and slept on an extra-large pillow. After fifteen hours of travel and one last coffee and a little nap, I saw Sydney for the first time.
During my return to the airport, I had to go through customs and present an agent my passport and other travel documentation as it was nothing out of the ordinary. I was one of the first Americans to say it in 23 months when I arrived in Australia.
How Did Life Change in Australia Once Its Doors First Opened?
I was sitting on the edge of a little boat, looking out into the water while the wind ruffled my hair. When I looked out across the bay, the famous sails of the Sydney Opera House became bigger and larger, as if they were waving at me. All in all, it was...
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