Australia Trip Report
- Submitted by: Tom Kresin
- Submission Date: 15th Feb 2005
The purpose of this report is to give some information to those who are interested in how I prepared for my trip to Australia and to also provide some personal insights on the interesting things to do (places to eat, etc.) while in Australia.
Please note, I do not speak for any of the companies that are stated within this report. All opinions stated are of my own.
This report was originally posted in the spring of 1992 on rec.travel in five pieces. All of the pieces have been condensed into one file (some of the language may sound pecular because of this).
This report covers my first vacation in Australia. I say first because most likely, I'll return...how soon though is anyone's guess.
My trip spans between Sept. 9 thru Sept. 27, 1991. To give a good idea on my travel itenerary, here's a list of stops:
Sept 9 -- Flew from Cincinnati to LA; Venice Beach, CA; Depart for Sydney
Sept 10 -- Over Pacific Ocean somewhere
Sept 11, 12, 13 -- Sydney
Sept 13 -- Ayers Rock
Sept 14 -- Ayers Rock, Mt. Ebenezer, Alice Springs
Sept 15, 16 -- Alice Springs
Sept 16 -- Cairns
Sept 17, 18, 19 -- Great Barrier Reef (60km away from Cairns in a boat)
Sept 19, 20 -- Cairns
Sept 20 -- Brisbane, Pacific Coast Highway, Oxley Highway, New England Hwy., Scone (Hunter Valley)
Sept 21, 22, 23 -- Scone
Sept 24, 25, 26, 27 -- Sydney
Sept 27 -- Flew from Sydney to Honolulu, LA, Cincinnati
As far as preparations go, I had several sources. For those who read the 'news', I scanned 'rec.travel', 'rec.food.restaurants', 'rec.scuba', 'alt.rock.and.roll' and 'soc.culture.australian'. Of course, these groups in turn spun off several email replies.
I also used the LEXIS/NEXIS service provided by Mead Data Central in order to get more in depth information from publications and other informative sources. Through NEXIS, I was able to find information (and phone numbers) of the following:
'Destination Australia guide' - great book for general info (provided by the Australian Tourist Commission). Phone 1-800-777-3688. 'Adventure Express' - company that specializes in organizing dive trips in Australia, the Caribbean and Fiji. Please note, I did not book anything through them. I only used the pamplets to get a general idea of cost and to gauge which would be a good company dive with. (I later sent inquiries to 'rec.scuba' and 'rec.travel' about info for some of the dive companies). Phone 1-800-443-0799.
The 'Destination Australia guide' also have ads for more info in Queensland (1-800-333-6050) and the Northern Territory (1-800-468-8222) which I also sent off for more info.
In my honest opinion though, the BEST guide is the Lonely Planet's guide to Australia. The Lonely Planet company is based in Australia so I guess they probably know Australia best. If you're into saving money on your trip, this is the book!
Obviously, not everyone has the same interests as I did on this trip. In many ways I'm a typical tourist in a sense that I'd like to see the typical things (the Opera House, Harbor Bridge, Darling Harbor, Sydney Tower -- all in Sydney, plus Ayers Rock and the Olgas, and so on). However, I also like to see things in a different light and to at least get to know about the culture as well.
Thus, I utilized 'alt.rock.and.roll' to find out what concerts are going on and to find out some of the best pubs to hang out for music.
'soc.culture.australian' provided some of the interesting tidbits of Australia (be that language, animals, music, whatever...) and plus, I got the national news (through some kind soul in the group) to learn about the politics, etc.
'rec.travel' provided generic info from others who have been there before or at least donated information they have gathered for their prospective trips.
'rec.food.restaurants' provided info about (interesting, good) restaurants. I don't recall seeing much in the way of Australia. However, I did see some mention about Venice Beach, CA.
'rec.scuba' obviously gave me info on the Great Barrier Reef and dive companies.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I BROUGHT ON MY TRIP
The Lonely Planet Guide.
I tried to give as much info without being overly boring (which I'm probably too late for that!). If you want more information on a particular 'subject' send me e-mail and I'll try to answer as quick as possible.
WHAT TO DO DURING A 8 1/2 HOUR LAYOVER IN LA
I lucked out. My original flight to Sydney through Honolulu was extremely full and I was offered the option to go directly to Sydney. By going direct, I increased my layover from 6 1/2 hrs to 8 1/2 hrs.
What did I do with my time? Well, since I was going to be on a plane for 14 hours or so, I figured I'd want to stretch out and get some exercise. I hired a cab (you might take an airport shuttle bus, they may be cheaper) and went to Venice Beach and rented some bikes. For those who aren't familiar with the area, there is a looonnnggg bikepath in which you can pedal over a long distance to other towns (Santa Monica, Malibu, etc.)
After the pedaling, I ate at the 'Sidewalk Cafe' (in Venice) and ordered Mexican. Simply delicious!
Obviously, with such a long time, I'm sure there were other things that one could do.
Sydney in many ways is another city that could have existed in the US. My friend and I kept remarking during the first days there that 'this reminds me of New Orleans' or 'this reminds me of San Francisco'. Of course, there's much more to a city than just a group of buildings. Once you see the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge, there's no mistaking you're in Sydney.
What's there to see in Sydney? Well...
The Opera House - The Opera House gives guided tours and obviously has performances there as well. I passed on a tour but I did see a play call 'Sleuth' in the Playhouse there. The Sydney Symphony was also playing as well but the seats were rotten (and since music is very much a part of my life, I wasn't going to blow money on poor acoustics).
The Harbor Bridge - Another symbol of Sydney. You can walk across and also climb inside one of the stone pylons (closed on Wednesday which of course would be the time I tried). If you're driving a car, you might accidently get a tour. We somehow managed to cross it 3 times (twice unintentionly).
The Rocks - Many 'things' were here in the past and now it contains an interesting collection of shops and pubs. It is worth your time to browse some of the shops or at least have a cool brew at one of the local pubs. Make sure you check out the Lord Nelson Pub and try the 'Old Admiral'.
The Royal Botanical Gardens - Located on the north side of the Opera House. Not only do you get to look at a nice 'garden', you'll get a terrific view of the harbor with the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge at Mrs. Macquarie's Point.
George and Pitt Streets - If your into shopping, these are the streets for you.
Queen Victoria Building - Converted into a 'shopping mall', this has many interesting shops. However, compare the prices! The place is really is worth at least sneeking a peek in at least. I didn't buy anything here so don't blame me if you get ripped off.
The Sydney Tower - Looks much like the 'needles' you would see in Seattle or Toronto or whereever. Great place to get an overview shot at least.
Hyde Park - An nice little park where many people in Sydney hang out for lunch. By the way, it's also a great place to grab a nap after lack of sleep the night before (hmm, I wonder why I know that...).
King's Cross - At night, it looks a lot like Times Square. Once you see the large Coca-Cola sign, there's no mistaking where you are.
Darling Harbor - In this area there are many things to see close by. Over here you'll find the Sydney Aquarium, Harborside, the Powerhouse Museum, the Maritime Museum (which was closed when I was there but should open up later this year), and the Chinese Garden.
Other things that you might check into (but for some reason, I didn't get to them): Art Gallery of NSW, Natural History Museum, and the Old Government House. You can even go sailing for around A$14 in the harbor!
Just outside of Sydney, you can also check out the Blue Mountains, Bondi Beach and Manly.
-- Once you get into Sydney, you need to stop by the NRMA (if you're a AAA member). From here, you can get maps and such and one of the best things of all (if you're on a budget) is to get the backpacker's guide. The backpacker's guide is where I found my best deal on a hotel.
Greetings Oxford Koala Hotel, Oxford St. -- At the time the cost was A$90. They are affiliated with Best Western if that makes a difference. It was okay in a sense that you have a TV and a private bath but it wasn't anything to write home about compared to the Wool Broker's Arms (see below).
Wool Broker's Arms, 22 Allen St. -- Discovered in the backpacker's guide as 'luxury accommodations'. The reason for the 'luxury' is that the hotel normally charges $50 per person unless you mention the ad in the guide. Here you have color TV and a sink BUT you have to share 2 bathrooms between 6 rooms. The total cost for us was $15 per person. However, the owner was going to the States soon and wanted US currency and thus we made a deal to stay for US$10. Not bad...highly recommend it.
CB Private Hotel, 417 Pitt St. -- We arrived late from Scone and well, the Wool Broker's Arms has limited hours. The place here was clean although our beds were a tad lumpy. Of course, as tired as we were, we didn't notice. $50 for 3 people.
Here's a list of restaurants/pubs that I went to:
Gumnut Tea Garden, The Rocks -- Good place for lunch and the desserts are terrific!
Jacksons on George, Circular Quay on George St. -- A cool little pub to go to. I happen to eat a lot of Fish and Chips here for some reason...
East Ocean Restaurant, Chinatown -- A place where the food is wheeled to your table and you chose the food as it goes by. Highly recommended by the Syndey Morning Herald. I guess I can recommend it too.
Bill and Tony's Italian Restaurant, Kings Cross -- Great Italian food. First course $8. Two courses $13. I had the meatballs (in addition to the salad and bread) and was stuffed.
The Metropolitan, George St. -- Another pub with a restaurant upstairs. Had some of the best Chile Con Carne I've had in a long time (it was on special)
The Pumphouse Brewery, Darling Harbor -- Had a steak that wasn't the greatest. However, if you're there for drinks, it isn't bad. Try the Thunderbolt beer (7.5% alcohol). It is truly not for the 'beginners'.
Two music papers are published, one on Tuesday ('Drum Media') and one on Wednesday ('On the Street'), which list upcoming concerts by the big stars and of course, the local acts at the local pubs. You can pick these usually at a pub.
If you have the time, catch 'Fast Forward' (sort of a Saturday Night Live) and 'Hey Hey It's Saturday' (a variety show). If you're hurting for American fare, try the 'ABC World News Tonight' (on in the mornings) and the NFL game of the week (that is if you're there during the US fall) on Tuesdays and Saturdays. They also have versions of '60 Minutes' and 'A Current Affair'.
On 'Black Friday' (Friday the 13th), I took an Ansett flight from Sydney to Alice Springs and then from Alice Springs to Ayers Rock. I believe that direct flights do exist but obviously, I didn't have one.
Once you arrive in the Ayers Rock airport, you'll probably will take a shuttle bus to the Yulara resort. This resort was built to fit almost everyone's needs from budget up to luxurious. It's also interesting to note that the developers tried to 'hide' the resort in order to keep from detracting from the beautiful landscape (and in my opinion, they did a great job)..
I stayed at what was known (as least in the Lonely Planet book) as 'Ayers Rock Lodge'. Many (if not all) also refer to this place as the 'Red Center Resort' which is the motel beside the lodge. The lodge was dormitory style in that you had bunk beds and shared the room/building with appox. 16 - 18 people. If you're worried about security, there are lockers outside of the dining area in which you can store your stuff (I didn't have any problems).
One of the first things you want to do when you arrive in Yulara is to visit the Tourist information center. From here you can book tours or browse through sort of a 'Ayers Rock museum' which describes the plant life and the life of the Aboriginal people. It was here where I booked a 24 hour pass to Ayers Rock and another tour to the Olgas complete with sunset viewing and a barbarque (with champagne). Both tours were with ATT Kings Tours.
The Olgas: Of the two 'rocks', the Olgas are far prettier than Ayers Rock. We hiked through the 'Valley of the Winds' which took us probably 2 1/2 hours to hike. Words simply cannot describe this place. As far as the sunset, the rocks did change color but the true light show was in the sky. Since a volcano erupted in the Philippines a few months earlier, the setting sky was really remarkable. The BBQ? Great!
Ayers Rock (Uluru): I took a sunrise tour (covered by the 24 hr. pass) in order to watch the changing color of the rock. I was a little upset that our bus had left a little later than they stated. Again, some of the best colors was from the actual sunrise. After viewing the sunrise, I opted to climb the rock. A note of warning, it is NOT for the weak of heart. If you're not in very good physical shape, I would recommend that you probably would not enjoy climbing the rock. When I climbed, it was a windy day and well, it certainly got stronger the higher you climbed. I estimate probably a 70 mph wind...a wind that you could literally lean into and still be supported by the gusts. Please note, some people have died there. Would I do it again? Yep!
This was a tough town to really research. I've heard from others that there's just not much here. Due to the madding pace of my travels, I figured (if nothing else) that I could relax a little bit here.
How did I get here?: I took a bus from the Yulura resort and traveled down Lasseter Highway and then turned north onto Stuart Highway. Our bus (ATT Kings again) did make a stop during the afternoon at Mt. Ebenezer in order to partake in afternoon tea. Total travel time, 5 hours.
So what is here?: I rented out a 'Moke' in order to travel around a little bit. I don't recall the price but it wasn't out of the ordinary. Of the places to see, I recommend the following:
Telegraph Station -- I think the history behind the station was probably the most intreging. It was here that Australia finally had a link to England.
Chateau Hornsby -- A winery that was built in the middle of the desert. For A$2, you can do some wine tasting and buy some decent wine. It was also here that I saw a performance by Ted Egan, a 'folk singer' who will give you a history lesson about 'My Land Australia'. If you see Mr. Egan anywhere (even on TV), I would take the time to see him.
'Take a Camel To...' -- Provided by Frontier Tours, you can take a camel to breakfast, lunch, dinner, to Chateau Hornsby, etc., etc., etc. We tried to book a camel for the winery and they were booked up (we tried to book the same day). We ended up 'taking a camel to breakfast'. It was cool to say you rode on a camel but basically you just ride for 45 minutes to an hour on camels attached to each other. I wouldn't bother showering before riding...they do tend to smell... 'Neat Experience' if anything.
Simpson's Gap/MacDonnell Ranges -- Simpson's Gap is approx. 22 kms. west of Alice. The drive to/from the Gap was quite beautiful. At the Gap, you can set your eyes on rock wallabies and kangaroos.
Todd St. Mall -- The 'shopping' area here. If you want aboriginal souvenirs, you'll probably get a better deal here than you would say in Sydney. I bought some things at the 'Original Dreamtime Art Gallery'. The prices here were considerably cheaper there than they were in Sydney.
Lodging -- I stayed at the Red Center Resort (obviously, this is associated with the one in Yulara). This resort is set up to cater to all types. One can stay in 'normal' rooms, share a quad share bunkhouse, or camp. I choose the quad share and only had to share the room with my friend who was traveling with me. Cost was roughly between A$15-20. They also have a bar and restaurant, swimming pool, volleyball and tennis courts and laundry facilities. This place opened after my 'Lonely Planet' book was published. To make reservations call (089) 52 8955.
On September 16, I took an afternoon flight on Ansett from Alice Springs to Cairns. Since I already booked a room at the Parkview Backpackers Inn, I phoned them from the airport upon arrival and had them pick me up free of charge.
My first impression of Cairns? Well, it didn't seem like we were in Australia anymore (much less Kansas). I almost felt like I was in the Caribean or something. Many international tourists come here and so the 'oz' flavor had faded somewhat. Since I wanted to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) that certainly wasn't going to bother me.
Once I arrived at the backpacker's inn, I scoped out all of the brochures that were in the 'lobby' of the place. And like everyone who had given me information had said, there are 'tons' of brochures (and 'tons' of travel/dive shops that specialized in dive trips). What I wanted to do was to go on a 'liveaboard' where I would be gone 3 days/2 nights. Well, lucky for me, there was one dive outfit that fit the bill -- 'Down Under Dive'. Since I had done extensive research on all of the dive places, I had no recollection of this one. The receptionist had dove with them so I said 'what the heck' lets do it!
In my honest opinion, I made a very wise choice. The boat had 16 total divers (6 experienced, 10 students). Also on the ship was the usual crew and of course, a dive master. The total cost was around A$225.
The boat was not a 'dive' boat as such but a boat that was converted to a boat that allowed diving. That may not make much sense but if you were to compare this boat to a dive boat that can hold 90 people, well, you'd understand. Each room had bunk beds and their own private shower. If you're into real luxury, such as steak dinners every night, well, this boat isn't for you. Personally, I was there for the diving and meeting new people and I can say I wasn't disappointed.
Basically we did a total of 10 dives during those 3 days. We did 3 the first day, 4 the second and 3 on the third. Within those dives, two of them were night dives.
The dives were spectacular! Words couldn't describe the beauty of this place. So many colors, so many aquatic creatures (not to mention a shovelnose shark one night!).
Our boat was approximately 60 kms from shore. The reefs that we visited were: Milin Reef (a decent intro to the GBR), Koala Pass (terrific coral), and Flynn Reef (the shovelnose shark and mantaray).
What else is in Cairns?:
Rainforests and such. I can't say too much...all I did was scuba here. >From what I hear, you must check out the rainforests. Maybe I will when I come back again.
GOLD COAST SCENERY
On September 20th, I left Cairns and headed south to Scone (more about Scone later). My intention was to fly to Brisbane and then take bus/train/ car to Scone. My friends and I eventually settled on a car (which cost A$420 for 7 days from Thrifty). We left the Brisbane airport around noon and started on the Pacific Highway.
I'm not going to go into great detail about the Pacific Highway (or the Oxley Highway) but let just say that it was great to see the scenery at ground level. And in the case of the Oxley Highway, you'll drive through several national parks.
Just one word of caution, watch out for kangaroos at night (or cattle)! Kangaroos react about as well as a squirrel trapped on the highway -- they don't know which way to go and when they do, it's too late...
Total driving time: Approx. 10 hrs.
SCONE (AND THE HUNTER VALLEY)
Scone, population of roughly 3,000 people is situated along the New England Highway in the Upper Hunter Valley wine region, north of Sydney and southwest of Brisbane. Scone is basically a 'horse' town where there are many horse farms. If you like to 'play the horses', they have a racetrack here. Although I drove here, Scone does have an airport and trains come from Sydney daily.
In case you're curious, the reason why I came here was to visit a friend who was working on one of the farms there.
I guess my stay here could be analogous to a 'farm stay' (of which I've seen advertised in several travel brochures). Since I grew up in Kentucky, you can pretty much say, 'if you seen one farm, you've seen 'em all'. The best part about being on a farm is the contact with the local folks. We did spend some time looking for 'roos out on the farm as well (and we weren't disappointed).
Meanwhile, the Hunter Valley (of which Scone is in the upper part) is known pretty much for the wineries. I was told that the lower wine region contained the best wineries so we headed to Branxton from Scone (on the New England Highway (15)).
A good starting place is to enter onto 82. Right here there's a large billboard showing the layout of the roads and the wineries/restaurants in the area (there's also a descent map in the Lonely Planet guide as well). The Lonely Planet guide suggested to go during the week instead of the weekend since many people travel up from Sydney. We went on a Sunday however it was the day of the 'Grand Final' in rugby. If you're an American, think of it as going out during the Super Bowl...there wasn't too many people out.
We pretty much used the Lonely Planet guide as our guiding force to good wineries. The first one that we went to was the Rothbury Estate. If you haven't wine tasted before, they'll certainly give you a good introduction. In my opinion, this was the best winery we visited. (NOTE: I saw a special on the Discovery Channel which mentioned the Rothbury Estate and their fine wines).
Here's a list of the other wineries we visited and my opinion of the wines (after I tried them back at home):
Chateau Francois -- Owned by a man who originally hailed from New Jersey. None of his wines are exported and ordinarily you need to have an appointment to try the wines (we lucked out). He doesn't have much of a selection but all of them tasted pretty good. I recommend a visit, if anything, ask him how he ended up in Australia. If you have to make an appointment, don't sweat it.
Oakvale -- Due to the 'Grand Final' not much talk from the owners. I purchased a 1985 and a 1987 Peppercorn Shiraz. Each of them were aged differently and thus, each had a unique taste. Recommend.
Terrace Vale -- Interesting conversation however, stay away from the Pinot Noir. Not very good. The 1988 Semillon (from Bin 1A) was okay but did not compare the Rothbury Estate wines. So-so.
After all of the wine tasting, I purchased 9 bottles. I had no problems bringing them back into the country. However, you might be taking a chance so DON'T BLAME ME IF YOU COULDN'T.
When you are set to leave Australia, make sure you get to the airport early to fill out your departure form and be prepared to cough up A $20 departure tax. Afterwards, if you're headed to the East Coast of the US, be prepared for what seems like a never ending day. I left at 10am Sydney time, arrived at 8:50am in LA (same day) and finally got back to Cincinnati at 7:45pm (after a 3 hour layover in LA).
If you have a flight like I had, a nice sponge bath (so to speak) in the LA airport will do wonders in boosting your energy level (for a while).
More on Pacific Rim
More on Australia