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Australia trip report

  • Submitted by: Jim Burke
  • Website: None Available
  • Submission Date: 04th Feb 2005

On my trip thru Australia I had no reservations except for the first night in Melbourne. I had a McCafferty's bus pass (21 days travel in 30 days) and a rail pass (same). The rail pass was US$449 and the bus pass was US$406. The US travel agent recommended McCafferty's, but sold me the wrong pass. Between two US travel agents and the bus company, it took several days to get straightened out. The bus company was very cooperative on this issue and all other dealings I had with them. I don't know if there is any difference in price between Greyhound and McCafferty's, but McCafferty's has a much better reputation in Australia. I generally tried to find single accommodations and in almost all cases the room did not include a bath. All price mentioned are in local currency. I checked my email at public Internet access facilities where I could find them.
I arrived in Melbourne from Auckland on Feb 10. I already had a reservation at Flag hotel in St. Kilda. I stayed there two nights and them moved to the Carlton Hotel ($30/night) near the Bourke St. Mall. St. Kilda is on the beach south of Melbourne and easy to get to by tram. I took a tour thru Bendigo (brief stop) to Euchuca, which is on the Murray river. In Euchuca they build steam powered paddlewheel river boats. A lot of the old boats have been restored and make tours up the river. Bendigo was an interesting place. I would like to have spent more time there. I checked my email at the Cybernet Cafe, 789 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn. It's about a 20 min. tram ride and a 15 min walk from downtown Melbourne.

I took a combination of train (to Bendigo) and bus from there to Adelaide, all of which was covered by the rail pass. I stayed in the Metropolitan Hotel ($20/night for a single). It was fairly run down, but the price was right and it was a good location about a block from Victoria Square. From Adelaide I took a wine tour of the Barossa Valley. Interesting tour. Unique to Adelaide is something called a "pie floater". It's a steak pie in a bowl of pea soup and sold from a portable stand just off Victoria Square. I thought it was pretty good and it was interesting to talk to the guy selling them. I had planned to take The Ghan train to Alice Springs, but discovered that it only ran once a week in the summer. This didn't fit my schedule, so I took the Indian Pacific train to Perth. The rail pass I had was good for economy class, which is just a seat. I upgraded to holiday class, which includes a compartment with a berth and access to the lounge car, for $66. On a 36 hour train trip it was well worth $66. I checked my email at cyberscene internet services, 287 Rundle St. The train arrived in Perth about 7:30 am. I made reservations at the Ocean Beach Hotel in Cottlesloe, which is a Perth suburb on the ocean. This was probably the lodging bargain of the entire trip. It was $30/night for a large single with bath and across the street from the beach. I did a wine tour of the Swan River valley. This was a combination of boat and bus. Good trip. I checked my email at the Nettrek Cafe at 8 Bannister Street Mall, Fremantle.

It was a long bus ride (33 hours) from Perth to Broome. Unfortunately, the bus arrived at 4:45 am and there isn't much open except a 24 hr. gas station. Broome's population is about 9,000 and there isn't much choice for cheap lodging. I had a $38/night single at the Broome Last Resort backpacker. They have breakfast for $3 and dinner for $5. The reason I stopped at Broome (other than 33 hours on a bus is about the limit of my tolerance) was to see some of the Kimberly area. They had had quite a bit of rain and none of the tours into the Kimberly's were running, so I went on to Darwin.

There are lots of places to stay in Darwin. I stayed at the YWCA, also known as the Banyan View Lodge ($25/night for a single air conditioned room). I wanted to take a tour to both Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks. The manager at Banyan View recommended Coo-ee Tours. Both parks are very interesting, beautiful and worth seeing. The Litchfield tour was one day and the Kakadu tour was two days. We stayed overnight a at a lodge in the park. I don't think the tours camp out in the wet season. Some of Kakadu was closed due to the high water. The rock paintings in Kakadu were the highlight for me. I didn't care much for the guide on the Kakadu tour. He was very knowledgeable about the park, but he had a condescending attitude and seemed somewhat contemptuous of tourists. If I had it to do over, I would go with Billycan Tours. There are lots of tours to Kakadu from Darwin. I bought a didgeridoo at the Banyan Tree Caravan Park for $150. This was about the cheapest price I found. We stopped there on the way to Litchfield NP.

The next stop was Alice Springs. The three main sights are Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and Kings Canyon. I had booked a three day tour on AAT Kings Tours through McCafferty's Bus Co. while I was in Darwin. This tour was actually three one day tours that started and ended at where ever you were staying in Yulara Resort. When I arrived in Alice Springs, I discovered that the backpacker in Yulara was full for the first night plus I would basically lose a day in transit each way between Alice Springs and Yulara. I stayed at Melanka's Alice Springs Backpackers Resort, which is owned (I think) by the Ayers Rock Plus Tour Co. They have an office in Melanka's and offer 2 ($195),3 ($285) and 5 ($465) day tours, which leave from Alice Springs and camp out at night. A three day tour with them was much more appealing to me. I went to the McCafferty's office and got my money back from the AAT Kings Tour and booked with Ayers Rock Plus. The guide's name was Joey and I would highly recommend him as a guide. He is a very funny, knowledgeable and a completely off the wall guy. We camped the first night in a campground at Yulara and the second night in a primitive campground, called Lilla ("sweetwater" in the Aboriginal language), that belonged to an Aborigine friend of Joey's. There is an interesting hike near there with some rock paintings and a spring. We slept in an Australian bedroll called a "swag". The ants were pretty irritating the second night, but otherwise everything was ok. Joey stopped at a market on the way and bought two pieces of kangaroo tail, which he BBQ'd the second night. The tail was rather fatty. We went to Kata Tjuta and did a 2 hour hike. Joey gave us an excellent talk on the geology and some of the native plants. We went to Uluru for a sunset picture opportunity. The next morning we got up early and went to Uluru. Those that wanted, climbed the rock and the others went to a place for sunrise photography. Uluru is about 350 m in height and is a fairly strenuous hike. There were lots of people making the 1+ hour hike. After everybody got back together Joey took us on short hike around part of the base and talked about the Aborigine sites that we could visit (some of them are closed to non-aborigines). The next day we went to Kings Canyon and hiked around it. This took 3-4 hours depending on how long is spent at the pools at the bottom.

The next stop was Cairns. I stayed at the Floriana Hotel for $28/night for a single. Nice place run by very nice people. Breakfast is $5. I check my email at Picasso's restaurant in the Adobe Motel at 191 Sheridan St. I took the gondola to Kuranda, whose main attraction is the market. The souvenir prices were cheap compared to some of the others. There is also a bird sanctuary and a butterfly sanctuary that are worth seeing. My main objective in Cairns was to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. In a brochure I counted 21 companies that offered some kind diving trip. The options included snorkeling, diving for non-certified divers, diving for certified divers and 4-5 days of instruction/diving that led to certification. I took a trip with 2 resort dives. A resort dive is 10 m max depth, 1/2 hour max time, no more than 4 divers in a group with an instructor/dive master. I'm not how sure how you go about picking the best tour for the type of diving you want to do. I took Compass, which probably wasn't any better than any other. I thought I got some good advice from a dive shop (Pro Dive on the wharf). The last stop was Sydney. I didn't do anything worth mentioning. I stayed at CB's Hotel for $30/night for a single. Nothing remarkable except that it was close to the train station and the laundry facilities were totally inadequate for the number of people staying there.

Jim Burke

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