The 2010 FPA Australia conference is my third trip down under and each time it gets better and better as I learn the best places to go, things to do and places to visit. With apologies to the great travel writers, I humbly attempt to capture the experience and encourage you to “go there, man!” This statement is borrowed from Bill Bryson, author of the excellent Australian travelogue, ‘In A Sunburned Country,’ and highly recommended reading.

My solo journey begins late on a dark, dreary and rainy Friday night around 11:30 p.m. at SFO’s international terminal. As I gaze out onto the bleary tarmac from the airport lounge, sipping a pre-flight cabernet, I realize I’m in the midst of a San Francisco “film noir” moment.

I approach the United counter, brimming with confidence that my frequent flyer 1K status will entitle me to a coveted upgrade for the 14 hour flight.

Sorry: business class has “checked in full.”

Checked in full

But, no worries, mate. I settle in for the long flight with a loaded iPad and multiple sleeping medications. I am entertained for the first half of the flight and sleep fitfully for the second half and wake into a somewhat normal state as we land into the southern hemisphere.

Arriving into Sydney on a stunning Sunday morning (you lose a day en route west), I once again am pleasantly reminded of the friendliness, openness and welcoming attitude of Australian. “How are you going today?” is the frequent greeting.

Sydney is known for its stunning skyline, opera house and location on an enclosed bay, very similar to San Francisco. Surrounded by tall buildings and a view that makes your eyes water, I go for a long jog down to the Circular Quay to see the ferry boats traffic to the suburbs and to the famous Manly and Bondi beaches. Continuing my run on to the steps of the famous opera house, I sprint up “Rocky” style to take in an ocean and city view unsurpassed on the globe.

I finish my run through the equally famous Hyde Park, a vast open area with thousands of rare and unique plants, trees, bushes and Aussie citizens soaking up the warm sun.

After a full Aussie breakfast, I travel on foot to the shopping districts, charged with the mission of picking up authentic Australian UGG boots for my daughter, Rugby gear for my son and several pounds of Australian chocolates for clients. Unfortunately, this is where we feel the impact of Bernanke’s money policy, as everything is incredibly expensive and the strong Aussie dollar hammers the tiny US dollar. I observe signs in the many banks offering savings yields of 7% and they seem so bizarrely out of place when compared to the 1% returns we see in the United States.

I stop into the many pubs to check into the local scene and find that each one is a veritable casino, full of slot machines and scores of televisions broadcasting live horse races, dog races, cricket, golf, tennis matches, US college football – basically any sport you can think of that you can wager on anywhere in the world. This is truly a sporting and gambler’s paradise!

That evening I take in a superb dinner on the waterfront, enjoying a Tandoori chicken dish and Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, prepared by an Aboriginal chef. Can there be more culinary influences in one place? As the sun sets and the temperature moves from comfortable to sublime, I start searching real estate listings and help wanted ads on the Blackberry.

The next morning I have to start earning my keep. We host several workshops on document management for my client Laserfiche, with our local solutions provider Lanier. There is nothing better than having “feet on the street” locally and the blokes from Lanier introduce us to a very engaged group of financial advisors.

Who needs lifestyle when you have tech integration

Clearly technology has not made its way into the local businesses as we “wow” the attendees with the most basic of advisor technology to get rid of the paper. Note to the rest of the advisor technology industry – this is a very green field for technology sales down under and the depth of efficiencies and integrations we have are simply not here!

Tuesday brings another beautiful day in downtown Sydney. I am again quite impressed with the work-balance lifestyle in Australia, as it seems that all of the coffee shops and cafés are full in the mornings, the pubs and restaurants are packed during lunch and no one is working after 5 p.m.

Another, and probably even more pleasant, aspect of the financial district (at least from this guy’s point of view) are the “Sheilas.” A local, affectionate term for the women of Australia, these gals dress up to the nines, with some of the most exotic shoes that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Despite the laid-back culture, Aussie women’s fashion does not take a step back, and the number of beautiful women strolling the streets of Sydney is a sight to behold.

Given the time and day differences between the United States and Australia, Monday night Football actually occurs at lunch on Tuesday. I step into “The Republic,” a four-story pub in downtown Sydney that is actually showing the Denver Broncos-San Diego Chargers game live on ESPN2, right next to coverage of the dog and horse races, Cricket and tennis matches, all of which you can place a bet on at the bar. I wager Aussie $2 on a dog named Ralphie’s Paradise and simply enjoy the spectacle as the dogs run all over the place, tripping each other, and my pup comes in last place.

After a couple of days in Sydney, it’s off to the Gold Coast on an easy one-hour flight to Coolangatta airport, near Surfer’s Paradise. The Gold Coast is a 33-mile long strip of the most beautiful beaches, featuring tourist traps, casinos, a jungle two miles west and some incredible architecture that frames a stunning skyline. infused with an Asian influence, the Gold Coast hums with activity, particularly this time of year as the “schoolies,” congregate. Schoolies are the Aussie term for the thousands of 18-year-old graduates who gather for their version of Spring Break to drink, dance and make us all long for those carefree days. With a drinking age of 18 in Australia, the scene is wild and out of control, but fortunately (unfortunately?) many miles to the north from where the FPA conference will be held.

Foursome

Wednesday is the FPA Golf day, and I have the good fortune to be in an excellent group of financial planners who become fast friends. Greg, a planner from South Australia, lectures me on the finer points of Australian beer as I consume what I thought was a local favorite brew, VB. “Victoria’s Bitter is the crap, mate. No one likes anything from Victoria.” He also provides interesting background for the financial crisis with Australia’s version of sub-prime loans, “Ninja loans killed the banks – no income, no job or assets – and Storm Financial put a wicked black eye on the industry.”

My other golfing partner, Anne, the wife of a prominent planner and founder of a dealer-group, keeps us in check with her humor and approach to life. “My husband’s business is for sale, but he bloody won’t sell it to a bank!” reflecting the hostility that many financial planners have for the big banks in Australia that control most of the larger dealer-groups and were the cause of much of Australia’s financial problems. We finish in the middle of the pack at 2 under par in an “Ambrose” tournament (same as a Scramble). Despite the middling finish, we have a great time on the Royal Pines golf course – all now fast friends for life, which is what golf foursomes are all about. The Australians are truly the most friendly, warm and enjoyable people I have ever met.

That evening the FPA conference gets under way with a cocktail reception and those events are chronicled here separately.

Saturday, the final day of the trip, brings a bright and early wake-up call to catch a plane to Sydney for the 13-hour flight back home to San Francisco. This time I catch a break and the upgrade goes through. Business class provides a welcome sanctuary for the journey home and I actually land on Saturday morning into SFO before I had left in Sydney.

Due to the time change, you actually get a day back on the eastern way over the Pacific. My spectacular view of San Francisco as the plane brings me safely back from Oz reminds me: There’s no place like home.

Elizabeth’s note: It’s nice to find another fan of Bill Bryson right here at RIABiz. My recommendation for those whose tastes run more to fiction: Tim Winton’s Dirt Music, a magnificent book that’s partly about the landscape of Australia itself.