Australia, 2018

Zuiker family in Sydney

Erin, Anna, Oliver, and Malia sporting new hats in chilly Sydney.

Hurricane Florence has me hunkered down in this solid house, so I’m taking the opportunity to chronicle the family trip to the South Pacific earlier this summer.


At the end of June, late on a Friday night, I settled into the comfortable Boeing 787 Dreamliner for the 16-hour flight from Houston to Sydney. Anna was sitting on my left, Malia on my right, Erin and Oliver across the aisle in the middle row of seats. Oliver was delighted to have his own screen and many movies to choose from. I was deeply satisfied to be heading back to the South Pacific, with my family, nearly 20 years since Erin and I finished our Peace Corps service in the Republic of Vanuatu.

As the plane flew on (crossing the International Date Line), we ate, watched, slept, read, wrote, waited.

Then we were landing in Australia on a beautiful but chilly Sunday morning. We stored a few suitcases (for our trip to Vanuatu a few days later), donned our coats, took a train into the central business district, walked along Hyde Park, and found a sidewalk table at Two Good Eggs for breakfast and hot coffee. We dropped our bags in our AirBnB, walked through the city, found a sale on warm hats, and headed to the ferry for a ride to Manly Beach. Anna and Malia took photos, Oliver immediately made a friend on the sand, and Erin shivered with a cold and body aches.

Back in the CBD, we had a delicious lunch in the subterranean Fratelli Fresh Italian restaurant — penne with lamb ragu for me — and discussed our plans for the next few days. Here’s what we would do:

  • Walking under, onto the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and up into the pylon with its history exhibit and observation deck;
  • After negotiating a refund with our AirBnB host and customer service (the apartment was nice and in a great location, but a broken bed and an overpowering hallway smell made it very uncomfortable for us), a move to a hotel in Chinatown;
  • A full day with PJ’s Tours to visit the Featherdale Wildlife Park, and then the Blue Mountains, Echo Point, and Scenic World, where I would revel along the rainforest boardwalk and the rest of them would ride the train up and down; ice cream cones in Leura town; a stop at Olympic Park; and the ferry from Parramatta back to Circular Quay.
  • Uber rides all over, and once we discovered that the Uber app tells the languages a driver speaks, Oliver would enjoy announcing our destination in Mandarin;
  • A visit to the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbour;
  • A visit to the Muji store to stock up on the gel pens I use to write in my diary;
  • Lots of flat white and cappuccino for me and Erin, and hot chai for Anna and Malia.

A most enjoyable first few days of our vacation. Now, time to fly east to Vanuatu.


I’ll publish a separate post about this eventful portion of the trip.


We arrived back in Sydney nine days later, checked into our apartment rental in Camperdown, and hailed a ride to Bondi Beach. For lunch, we sat at Bondi Trattori overlooking the beach, and once the children were done eating, Erin and I sent them down to walk in the sand while we enjoyed a second glass of wine and marveled at the journeys we’d taken together to bring us here. We joined them on the beach, walked to the one area safe for swimming, and helped Oliver change into his swimsuit. He splashed and ran. “I’m the only one of the family brave enough to swim,” he said proudly. The rest of us nodded, huddled together. Earlier, on the walk across the sand, Malia had said to me, “Dad, I want to go to California” — an instant Malia classic, and now a family reference for wanderlust, about thinking of one destination while standing in another famous location.

I awoke the next morning to learn Belgium had beaten Brazil — I’d not caught a World Cup game since before leaving, and had not been able to wake up at midnight or 3 a.m. in Vanuatu to watch the games in the nakamal. Belgium was my team, I’d told everyone there. (My brother, Matt, had given me a Kevin de Bruyne and Belgium scarf before the start of the tournament.)

Anna is a high school senior and looking at colleges in the U.S.A., and she asked me to walk with her through the nearby campus of the University of Sydney, in search of a bookstore to buy a shirt. The campus was dead on this winter Saturday, but we found the Cambridge-like courtyard and snapped photos. We met up with the others at the outdoor Glebe Markets, for crepes, curry, cappuccino, and chai (of course) and browsing among the vintage clothing stalls and jewelry makers.

Then, we all were off to the iconic Sydney Opera House, for Dark Emu by the dance troupe Bangarra. After the mesmerizing performance, we joined the other tourists in snapping many photos of the architecture, the harbour, the bridge, the people. Erin bought a pair of Uggs, Oliver took another look at the levitating Golden Man, and we headed back to Camperdown, where we ordered Thai takeout and I stocked up on chili tuna at the market next door.

Early the next day, back to the airport, and another long flight, and home to North Carolina. We arrived to our (recently renovated) home to hear the water pipes making noises, and immediately embarked on a few weeks of emergency repairs. Work kicked in, school started, we spent a few weekends preparing the font flower beds and hanging photos and arranging the kitchen and finally getting that moved-in feeling. But often, during our dinner conversations, we talk about the trip, and replay the many fun activities. Everyone smiles.



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