Tender keto shortbread cookies studded with macadamia nuts and dipped in sugar-free dark chocolate. These low carb shortbread sticks are a delicious treat everyone will love. Plus traveling keto style in the land down under!
Don’t mind me if I just pack up and move to Australia. I might be a little in love with the place and I keep joking to my husband that if he loses his job, we are moving there. Can I confess that it’s not really a joke?
These delicious keto macadamia shortbread were inspired by our family vacation to the land down under in June. Because of course I always have to bring you a recipe inspired by my travels. And both the cookies and the vacation were amazing. So you just have to put up with me telling you all about it. Or you can scroll to the delicious keto shortbread cookie recipe and ignore me altogether. It’s up to you.
Keto Travel in Australia
Australia is a big country (well, d’uh!) and since we were traveling with kids and had limited time, we really targeted two areas: Sydney and Port Douglas. It was the start of winter in the Southern Hemisphere so Sydney was in the 50s and 60s, but it was mostly sunny and quite lovely the whole time. Great for exploring the city and surrounding environs. It’s a great city with so much to see but I will be honest, it’s rather like visiting any large new world city. People have accents and the names of places are amusing and very “Australian” (like Wooloomooloo and Barangaroo!), but the hustle and bustle and the feel of the city is quite familiar to me. So it quite didn’t have that “OMG we are all the way across the world!” feel to it that I was anticipating. Still we have a lovely time and saw some great sights, so I will capture the highlights:
What I loved about Sydney
- The waterfront and harbours are some of the nicest I’ve seen in city like this. So many big cities on the water have industrial ports and shipyards which obscure the views and just look…ugly. I am sure Sydney has some of these too, but in the areas by the Central Business District, it was seemingly miles of beautiful waterfront walks, parks, shops, and restaurants.
- It’s very walkable, especially in those downtown areas. We walked almost everywhere the whole time we were there. We did grab one of those city bus tours for a bit, hopping on and off on a whim, which was a great way to see some of the sights and decide where we wanted to come back to.
- The Royal Botanic Gardens and The Opera House – I recommend walking through the gardens for at least a bit, it’s lovely in there. Then you can easily walk along the water to the famous Opera House, which is really quite remarkable to see up close.
- Darling Harbour and Barangaroo – also a lovely area to walk about, right be the water, wonderful shops and restaurants.
- Taronga Zoo – worth EVERY penny. I am not a huge zoo fan because animals in captivity are hard to see. But this is probably one of the nicest zoos I’ve ever been to and their conservation efforts are amazing. It was set out in a way that makes it easy to walk from one exhibit to another. It’s very engaging and a great place to take the kids.
- Vivid Sydney: An amazing lights festival that runs from early to mid June. They light up the Opera House and much of the downtown waterfront. I didn’t actually see that much of it because I was very sick for a few days (more on that later) but I did have a lovely dinner in Barangaroo with my husband one evening and got to see some amazing light shows, including a huge “puppet” moving up and down the sidewalk.
- Born by Tapavino: This was our “date night” restaurant and it was wonderful. Light tapas style plates for sharing, plenty of more “carnivorous” options, and they were willing to leave off the bread and some other higher carb parts at my request. Great wines too!
- Keto treats! I was delighted to discover a number of new-to-me keto products in the stores. A reader messaged me about Noshu, these delicious little low carb donuts. And I could find them pretty easily at a few local grocery stores. I also found some decent low carb chocolate that didn’t have any suspicious sweeteners or fillers.
What I didn’t love about Sydney
- Our hotel. We stayed at the The York by Swiss Belhotel in the Central Business District and I honestly can’t recommend it that much. We chose it because it had apartment style rooms where we had a kitchen so we didn’t have to eat all our meals out. But the rooms were a bit rundown and the service from the front desk was less than stellar. Our internet quite working partway through and they couldn’t fix it. They also had closed the pool for renovations but that was not called out to us when we booked it and it should have been. My kids love to swim and they were very disappointed. Given what we were paying per night, it should have been much better than that.
- The Blue Mountains. I wanted to love them, especially as we had booked a private jeep tour for the day. But I was really sick, having woken up with a tummy ache which turned into a bout of the stomach flu. I spent most of the day finding public bathrooms where I could throw up. But that’s not the only reason why I didn’t love them. I think I expected them to be more “wild” and less populated than they were. It rather felt like we never left Sydney at all. And our tour guide was not great, to be honest. He was one of these people who believes he knows everything about everything and expounded on various subjects at length most of the time. When you were feeling as sick as I was, you can imagine how utterly irritating that was. The whole tour was not even close to worth the money, in my opinion. On the plus side, though… the Blue Mountains have many easily accessible and clean public toilets, I can tell you that!
- Featherdale Wildlife Park. This could be good if it’s the only chance you will get to see the kangaroos, koalas and other Australian wildlife. But it’s small, it’s overrun with tour groups, and the animals aren’t really in their best habitats. You can go in and feed the kangaroos and wallabies, and you can have your photo taken with a very sleepy koala. But if you are going to have a chance to visit other places, like Taronga Zoo in Sydney or Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures up in Port Douglas, I’d say save your money.
- Bondi Beach. It’s a lovely beach but again, if you’re going to be visiting other beaches, especially those up near the Great Barrier Reef, I’d say save yourself the time. If it’s your only Australian beach opportunity, then it is quite nice.
All in all, we loved our time in Sydney but I do wish we’d lopped off a day from that part of the trip and spent more time in Port Douglas (Great Barrier Reef) instead. If I’d known just how much there was to do up there, I would have rethought the whole itinerary!
What I loved about Port Douglas
- Pretty much everything. Really. Seriously. If my husband were to lose his job or quit for some reason, I would honestly consider moving to Port Douglas for a few months. Just for the heck of it. It’s a great little resort town about an hour outside of Cairns, and it’s perfectly situated to explore the Great Barrier Reef and the surrounding rainforests and mountains. I just wish we’d had more time to explore.
- Four Mile Beach. One of the nicest stretches of sand I’ve ever been to, with soft clean sand and plenty of room to play or run when the tide goes out. I ran a few mornings out there as the sun was coming up and it was an absolutely joyous experience.
- ANZAC Park, right down on the point of Port Douglas. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, a reference to the soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who fought in the allied forces in World War 1. This park right by the water is absolutely stunning and just a lovely place to hang out and enjoy the ocean and mountain views.
- The weather. A gorgeous and sunny mid 70s every day. And since we were there just before schools let out for some winter holidays, it really wasn’t crowded at all.
- The restaurants. Tons of lovely beach-y restaurants with open patios. Not all of them serve the best food but they have great atmosphere. I honestly wanted to try them all but we clearly didn’t have time for that and again, we had a kitchen at our hotel so we made quite a bit of food at home. A few standouts: the big bowl of prawns and dipping sauce at The Court House Hotel, which has amazing verandahs and porches and outdoor spaces for sitting and sipping and watching the world go by. The mud crab at Arabella’s – to be honest, the rest of the food was meh, but the atmosphere at this gorgeous place can’t be beat. A gorgeous courtyard lit up with lights and they played Casablanca on a blank wall with the sound off. And lunch on our last day at Rattle & Hum, which bills itself as American cuisine (mostly pizza and burgers) but has an extensive menu of other food. I can’t even remember what I ate, but I know it was quite good and they have a great back patio area that opens out onto the hill above it. I really wanted to try Salsa Bar and Grill, which was said to be very good but we couldn’t get in as they were completely booked up.
- Green Island. This was our Great Barrier Reef experience, and it was awesome despite very choppy weather and some sea sickness for my kiddos. Green Island is an island and resort right smack over the GBR and you have to drive back to Cairns and catch a ferry from there. The ride over was pretty bad, much worse then normal apparently, and my kids were all pretty green by the time we got there (green on Green Island!). But again, so very worth it. We did a semi-submarine tour to see the reef a bit and that was pretty choppy too. And quite silty as the waves were really stirring up the bottom. But it was still spectacular, seeing giant clams and sea turtles and huge schools of fish. Then we grabbed our snorkelling gear and headed to one of the beaches. I was amazed at my kids, they all took to snorkelling like fish to water. Especially my middle child, who ventured out a second time with her dad and they ended up floating above a giant sea turtle for a while. On the way home, I got them all to stand up on the top deck with me, using their legs to balance themselves against the choppiness of the boat and none of them felt ill on the way home. Keeping our eyes on the horizon and using our muscles for balance made all the difference.
- Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. Now this is the place to go to see some of the wonderful Australian wildlife! It’s extremely well done and you can see so much more than crocs. But dang those salt water crocodiles are scary guys…massively huge with such strong jaws that they make a startlingly loud snapping noise when they clamp them shut. It rather sounds like a canoe paddle being slapped flat against the water. The staff at Hartley’s are incredibly knowledgeable and take the conservation of crocs very seriously. And the human safety very seriously too, telling us the best places to swim and the places to steer clear of. This was my favorite place to see the kangaroos. They have a huge enclosure and the roos just kind of chill and hang out. They have feeding bins readily accessible at all times, but you can take a little bit of it and hand feed them. They were so chill and there was no one else around when we went in so we had them to ourselves for a while.
I didn’t dislike anything about Port Douglas. Our holiday apartment wasn’t fancy but it was more than serviceable and we were paying only about half of what we paid in Sydney. My only regret is that we didn’t spend more time there. I would have liked to go up to Kuranda, this well known town up in the rainforest. You can take a train or a gondola up there and it has lovely markets, but we were told it was very touristy so we opted for a hike in Mossman Gorge instead. If we’d had more time, I would have done both, plus an extra day or two of just lying about on Four Mile Beach.
Our verdict on Australia? We loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. For my kids, it was the trip of a lifetime and I feel so blessed to have been able to give them this opportunity. We made such amazing memories and I truly hope we will make it back there someday. There is so much more of that gorgeous country that I would like to see.
And now…cookies. In honour of Australia, one of the great producers of macadamia nuts, I made delicious keto macadamia shortbread. Buttery, crisp, and dipped in chocolate. I saw similar things in the Sydney Airport on our way out and felt inspired to make a healthy low carb version. I feel I did Australia proud!
Macadamia Shortbread Cookies
- Line a large cookie sheet with a silicone baking mat or a large piece of parchment.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sweetener until lightened and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract and salt.
- Add the almond flour and about two thirds of the macadamias and beat in until the dough comes together. Transfer the dough to the prepared cookie sheet and roll out into a square about ¼ inch thick (10 x 10 inches or so). Refrigerate 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 300F Use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter to cut the dough into small rectangles about 1 by 2 inches. Carefully separate the cookies and spread around the baking pan, leaving about 1 inch between them. Use any edge pieces to form a few leftover cookies by hand.
- Bake about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until just lightly golden brown. Let cool completely on the pan.
- Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Add the chopped chocolate and cocoa butter and stir until melted. Dip the cooled cookies in the chocolate and place on a waxed paper lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each with a little chopped macadamias and let set.