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Trip Report Good onya Fodorites: Trip report for Australia 2011

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As the title indicates, all you Aussie Fodorites (and admirers of Australia) deserve a huge "Thank You" for your assistance while I planned this trip. This trip report covers the Australian part of our trip. Please see the similarly named report for New Zealand. Here is a summary of our itinerary. I will include details in subsequent posts.

Lizard Island-4 nights Arrived December 9
Cairns-Lilybank B&B for 3 nights. We flew to Sydney and picked up a Budget rental car at the airport. Contrary to most tourists, we drove south.
Mollymook/Ulladulla-Stayed at a Mollymook Beach Seaview apartments for 3 nights
Blackheath-Stayed at Secrets Hideaway B & B for 3 nights. Dropped the car at the Sydney airport and used public transportation for the remainder of the trip.
Sydney-Meriton Pitt Street for 6 nights. Departed December 28

We knew that this trip would only be an introduction to Australia. We knew that the time of year that we were visiting was not the best, although we did manage to miss the holiday crowds by going to the beach and Great Barrier Reef locations before Christmas and being in Sydney for Christmas. We would've liked to stay in Lizard Island for 5 nights instead of 4 and would've liked a night in Kangaroo Valley, but otherwise felt that our timing was fine. I do think that many visitors to Australia try to do too much in a short amount of time. The distances required to get to Australia and the costs make a whirlwind tour very tempting. We appreciated the universally warm welcome we received by Australians throughout our trip.

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    Hi, steamboatsista. Good to see your itinerary first :) - one thing I forgot at the start of my Darwin report:(
    Of your destinations I have been to Cairns and Sydney, so look forward to reading about the other places, as well as your impressions of my two familiar destinations.

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    We were met at the Cairns airport by the driver for Hinterland Aviation, the air service that was to take us to Lizard Island. The limo was air conditioned as was the Hinterland terminal, so we didn't realize how hot and humid it was until we walked out onto the tarmac. OMG! Having just come from cool, comfortable New Zealand, it took my breath away. We had been told to expect hot weather, but this was like sticking your head in the oven. Our plane was a very experienced 10 seater flown by a very attractive and competent pilot named Emma. We really enjoyed the 1 hour flight with close up views of all the reefs that the astronauts can see from outer space.

    Lizard Island was our little splurge and it was SO worth it. The service, food and lodging were all excellent. We were there for 4 nights. We were upgraded to a sunset villa, probably because the resort was fairly empty. The area around our villa seemed to be a rumpus room for several goanna (monitor) lizards for which the island is named. After my initial shock wore off, they were very entertaining and never bothered us. The Resort keeps the island as natural as possible and there are also many birds to watch and listen to.

    We were there to see the Great Barrier Reef, naturally, and we did it in great style. DH went on three scuba dives and received excellent guiding services, not to mention the gourmet catered lunch! On two days, we reserved a dinghy and ordered a picnic lunch to go. The water sports staff consulted with us about the best beaches to visit. We beached the boat, grabbed our snorkel gear and explored the reefs to our hearts' content and then moved on to the next beach. The last day, the staff dropped us off in the channel next to the Lizard Island Marine Laboratory and we drifted along the most incredible reefs. Lots of current here. We did wear lycra body suits for the jellyfish. I wear one anyway to prevent sunburn, so it was no big deal. All the equipment provided by the resort was in excellent shape.

    The resort has a fine young bartender named Daniel, who learned his mixologist trade in London. He could mix any cocktail. This was our one experience in Australia with a knowledgable bartender in a "cocktail" bar where more was served than just beer and wine. Other bars or pubs that we visited might be able to pour a pre-mixed bottle of Seagrams whiskey and something, but mostly it was beer and wine. Fortunately, we liked the beer and wine, but it was very different from what we are used to here in the US.

    Our room was very large and had a huge seaview veranda. It was so warm that we couldn't really enjoy the veranda except in the mornings. The bed and all the furnishings were very comfortable. There is a "family room" near the swimming pool with WiFi and a couple of computers for guests to use. We were sad to leave Lizard Island. They seem to be doing a good job in preserving the reefs...we only saw a couple incidences of "sickly" looking coral. Australians are so fortunate to have this fabulous natural site in their back yard.

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    We never really saw Cairns except from the air. We stayed in the suburb of Stratford for 3 nights at the Lilybank B&B. We wanted to avoid renting a car and this was possible staying in this location. A cab took us to and from the airport (AUS$ 25) which is only about ten minutes away. Pat, our hostess at the B&B, booked 2 tours for us and the tour vehicles picked us up from the B & B. The only downside of not having a car was that there are very few places to eat nearby, although there is a good deli with Indian takeaway. Indian takeaway became a standby for us in our self-catering accommodations. The Lilybank is a classic Queensland home with verandas and breezeways, which did little to lessen the heat, but our room was airconditioned (the bathroom was not). The gardens are very pleasant and breakfast was good.

    We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the Daintree and Cape Tribulation with Billy Tea Tours. It was all day, but our vehicle was very comfortable and our guides were top notch. I especially enjoyed seeing a very rare Southern Cassowary, the "tropical fruit quiz" and the stop at the ice cream factory.
    The next day, we took the railway up to Kuranda and the skyway back down. Kuranda was a nice town. We had a good lunch there and wandered through the shops. As it turned out, we liked some of the Aboriginal art galleries there better than in Sydney. More variety in style and price. The skyway really exposed the rain forest canopy, with all of its levels, in a way that is not possible from the ground. Be sure to get off the skyway at the stops and experience the little walkways they have built.

    Overall, we were happy with our short orientation to this area. If we had a rental car, I think we would have pushed ourselves to try and see everything, and you just can't see Queensland in a short time.

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    Billy Tea Tours took us to Cape Trib, too. We also found the guides knowledgeable and fun, a necessity for a full day's trip. Lizard Island sounds wonderful. Hopefully we'll get there one day.
    Enjoying your report, steamboatsista. So far it has brought back memories of 2 great trips to Cairns. Look forward to reading the rest.

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    We flew from Cairns to Sydney and picked up our Budget Rental car at the airport. Customer service there was really poor...our car wasn't ready, they tried to push us into a much less fuel efficient car and we ended up waiting for about 45 minutes, just long enough to delay us into rush hour on a Friday afternoon. Unlike most tourists visiting the coast of New South Wales (NSW), we went south to Mollymook. Australians we met on the trip said, "Mollymook? You must know someone there!" No, actually, it was a tip from Margo Oz and Bokhara on Fodors. Something about it being the unsung heroine of NSW. We liked the area very much. The drive was actually very picturesque with the sea on our left and the forests on the right. Lovely little towns every now and then.

    We stayed at the Mollymook Beach Seaview apartments for 3 nights. The apartment was spotless and had everything we needed. Our hosts were Liz, Rex and Jason and they took excellent care of us and dispensed good sightseeing advice. The only negative was that there was no WiFi or computer for guests to use. We grilled fish from the local seafood market 2 nights and ate at Millard's Cottage one evening. Millard's Cottage is a historical building which was a market and inn in earlier times. The food was excellent. DH grew up in Southern California and he likened Mollymook and Ulladulla to what California used to be like in the fifties. The sea was big while we were there and it was fun to watch all the surfers. We were fascinated by the life guards and the training that goes on with the teenagers to ready them for safe ocean swimming and life guard duties. One morning, we walked (virtually by ourselves) a long the shore at low tide. The tide pools and bird life were greatly amusing. This does not seem to be an area with a lot of "must see" sites, but it was really relaxing.

    We ate lunch at the Mollymook Golf Club which had very good food at a reasonable price all accompanied by super views of Mollymook Beach. We played a round of golf at the club's beachside course. For such a nice club, we were surprised how easy it was to get a tee time on a Saturday afternoon (16 December).

    The next day we walked along the Warden Head and South Pacific Heathland Reserve walking trails in Ulladulla which I highly recommend. Then we set out to explore Highway 1. We nosed around Milton a bit but then headed south to Pebbly Beach. I know it sounds silly, but we wanted to see a kangaroo in the wild! We had been teased by all the roadsigns warning us of kangaroos, but we never saw one. Pebbly Beach was very nice, but no kangaroos. Again, we were just amazed at how few people were out and about on a Sunday during the holidays. It felt like we had the country to ourselves.

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    Our next stop was the Blue Mountains. We drove north on the Princes Highway to Berry and then headed northwest along the Kangaroo Valley Road (no Kangaroos visable here, either). This is a beautiful, albeit slow drive. The Kangaroo Valley was green and lush and the little towns are quite charming. At Picton, we cut over to the Hume Highway which was fast traveling. It had really started to rain by this point and it rained much of the next three days.

    Our destination was Blackheath and the Secrets Hideaway B & B. The Secrets Hideaway is located off the Western Highway on Evans Lookout Road and is quite convenient as a base to see the area. That being said, we needed a car to get around. We stayed in the Maid's Suite which was a large studio, self-catering of course. Andre had baked a delicious loaf of bread for us and there was even a little Christmas tree next to the wood burning stove. It was chilly and wet outside, so we really enjoyed eating in next to that stove. There was also a deep bathtub which was nice after a day's hike. There was no WiFi or computer for guests to use. We found a deli in Blackheath where we could get Indian Takeaway and a wine store in Katoomba, so we were set.

    Our first full morning in the Blue Mountains was spent hiking the Grand Canyon. This was a very steep hike which took 2.5 hours. It was a good hike for a rainy day (or a hot day, I'm sure) because of the sheltering rocks. We got a tip from the park ranger at the Govett's Leap station about some kangaroos and off we went. We drove to the end of Megalong Valley Road and there they were...hundreds of them...along with wallabies and wombats (which looked like fat dogs to me). On the way back to Blackheath, we stopped at a little tearoom and had a delicious flat white and a piece of apple pie made with local apples. In our meager experience, flat whites are a little less expensive in Australia. $AUS 4.00 rather than $4.50 (and later, in Sydney, the price dropped to $3.50 in many places).

    The next day, we drove to Wentworth Falls and walked the National Pass. We really enjoyed this hike. It was a moderate 2.5 hour hike which takes you halfway down the face of a cliff and then a fairly flat stretch but a steep uphill to the end. I can't say enough about the resources that are spent in the Blue Mountains to keep the trails in top condition. DH does volunteer trail maintenance here in Colorado and he was very impressed with the skills of the trail builders and the techniques used to keep erosion to a minimum. There were handrails much of the way on both the National Pass and Grand Canyon, so it never felt particularly dangerous, even though the trails were wet.

    We explored Katoomba, which is a very interesting place. We found a great little coffee shop with WiFi and caught up with email. Our B&B host, Andre, had told us to go to Leura for a look around, but we never made it.

    Although the weather was not the best, we really enjoyed our time in the Blue Mountains and would encourage visitors to spend a few days rather than doing a day trip from Sydney. No comparison, IMO.

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    Thanks for a good report. Glad you enjoyed my favourite south coast. I'm amazed you didn't see kangaroos at Pebbly Beach. The last time I was there, admittedly a couple of years back, a heap of them almost knocked me over trying to get at my caramel slice morning tea!

    Waiting for the Sydney bit....

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    Ah...Sydney! We were really looking forward to Sydney and it did not disappoint. Being landlubbers, we were fascinated by the harbour and the communities that surround it.

    We dropped our rental car at the airport and took the Airport Link train, getting off at the Town Hall stop. We bought a week-long pass which covered the bus, ferry and most trains. I'm afraid that we took terrible advantage of the pass and loved the convenience of it.

    Our hotel was the Meriton Apartment Hotel on Pitt Street. Much has been written about this hotel on this site and it worked out very well for us. The location cannot be beat and the price was reasonable. Our one-bedroom apartment had a well equipped kitchen. WiFi was available at a charge of $5.00/hour (added to our bill...not through a 3rd party) and there were computers available for guests' use in the business center (also $5.00/hr). The en-suite washer and dryer was great. We shopped for food at the Woolworths, located about a block away.

    We arrived on December 22 and left on December 28. We were concerned about venues being closed during this holiday period, but we found plenty to do. The only disappointment was that there were no opera performances at the Opera House, although we did enjoy a tour. It was important to plan our outings. We did not eat at some recommended restaurants because of holiday closings.

    Dec 22- We ate a late lunch at Macchiato's on Pitt Street. We had a good pizza, salad and flat white. We had pre-booked on the Rocks Ghost Tour and met our guide at Cadman Cottage on the Rocks side of Circular Quay. I expected more history and less ghoulishness. The guide did manage to take us to some creepy places in the Rocks and it made us want to come back during the day (which we did later in the stay). We walked back to our hotel. The city was very quiet until we got to the City Centre, Galeries Victoria, Victoria Building and surrounding area. The shoppers! I have never seen anything like it. The crowds reminded me of Times Square in NYC.

    December 23-Thanks to a Fodorite tip, we walked from our hotel through Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens to Mrs. Macquaries Point. This is a lovely view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Then we went to our Opera House Tour which was very worthwhile. We had a quick lunch at the City Extra in Circular Quay. There was WiFi available at this restaurant and the customer service was excellent. We found the entrance to the Harbour Bridge walk and walked the cheapskates' route on the Bridge. We thought that it was just fine, but we found that the ferries were almost as good for views of the city and harbour and did not require walking along roaring traffic in the heat.

    For dinner, we took the bus out to Surry Hills. We found Surry Hills to be a very interesting neighborhood and would've liked to try a couple more restaurants here. I would go so far as saying that this might be a good place to stay while in Sydney. We were looking forward to our reservation at the Red Lantern on Crown Street. We had the tasting menu and felt that the kitchen was doing everything right, but the service was really poor. We had to wait out on the sidewalk when we arrived on time for our 6:00 seating. There was no bar or waiting area. Guests were packed into the place like sardines. Then, we felt rushed by the waitstaff during the meal although we had plenty of time before the 8:00 seating.

    December 24-We walked to the Circular Quay and took the Manly Ferry to Manly where we met friends of friends, Peter and Monica. They took us to the headlands where we had a nice walk and a preview of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race which was to take place on Boxing Day (December 26). We stopped in at St. Andrew's Cathedral for a Christmas Eve service and then ate in our apartment (a nice piece of Australian lamb accompanied by a nice Australian red wine). Merry Christmas!

    December 25-Christmas day was a good one to visit Taronga Zoo. We saw a good cross-section of ethnic Sydney, but it was not crowded. The Australian animal sector was what we wanted to see and we got to see all the secretive creatures we hadn't seen in the wild. For the rest of the afternoon, we got on and off ferries and perused the inner harbour area. We walked through the Darling Harbour to Chinatown where we thought we would have dinner at the Golden Century , but it was closed. Maybe we didn't know where to look, but we found Chinatown to be very quiet on Christmas. We went back to Darling Harbour and ate at the Thai Foon which was good and the people watching excellent.

    Dec 26: We had wanted to see the start of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race and a private guide dropped in our laps! Peter of Manly had captained a yacht in the race for 6 years and he explained the strategy of it to us landlubbers as we looked down from the Manly North headlands. We could see the yachts racing out of the harbour and into the open waters. The other thing we got to see was all the partying! Sydneysiders and Manlyites? had their chairs, picnics and beverages ready way before the start of the race and enjoyed them long after the yachts made their turns toward Hobart. We were invited to a potluck Boxing Day party. I must say that here was where I had my best Australian pavlova which was a traditional one with fresh local strawberries. We walked along the marina back to the ferry terminal. After disenbarking at Circular Quay, we walked back to our hotel through the Royal Botanical Gardens. This time we skirted the eastern part of the gardens at dusk and saw the amazingly big and bold fruit bats that have taken over and have decimated some of the big old trees. It was a bit unnerving, but interesting to see, nonetheless.

    Dec 27- Thanks to you Fodorites for detailing the bus trip to Watson's Bay and then taking the ferry back. We walked along the Gap and then had lunch at Doyle's. In the afternoon, we finished our look around the Rocks area including the Rocks Discovery Center (free) and a little walking tour around the alleys that make this section of Sydney so interesting. Unfortunately, we missed the last tour at Susannah's Place which looked interesting.

    Dec 28-We checked out of our hotel and they stored our bags for us. We walked to the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. We thought this was a very well done museum. The Barracks building housed convicts at one time and more recently, thousands of immigrant (mostly Irish) women who were to begin their lives as servants in the new country. The Museum does a good job describing the convicts' lives there as well as their contributions to the colony, most particularly the construction of many of the stone buildings which grace the Rocks area. Then we walked to the Fish Market for lunch. We had a delicious fish meal at a very reasonable price. If you go, don't expect ambience! Our last stop was the Chinese Peace Garden near Darling Harbour. This was amazingly quiet (peaceful, even) in the middle of the busy city. Our hotel allowed us to take a shower and off we went on the Airport Link to the airport. Our late evening flight on Hawaiian Air was delayed, but the Sydney International Terminal is a great place to be delayed. Nice shops and restaurants.

    Sydney was a great place to end our trip. We loved every minute of our 6 days there. People were unfailingly kind and we were fortunate to meet locals who took us into their homes and showed us how Australians live. Sydney truly is one of the great cities of the world and we are looking forward to returning.

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    steamboatsista, loved your report. I am already thinking, 'next time, next trip' and one of the 'next' things will be the Barracks museum that you mention. BTWay, I agree with you about the fruit bats - interesting creatures, but boy, ugly.

    On the map, Mollymook looks to be due east of Canberra. I wonder if it's the 'go to' weekend beach destination from that city (which, needless to say, is inland...)

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    Steamboatsista, thanks so much for your report. We really enjoyed re-living areas which we visited on our recent trip, and got some great ideas for our next one. Glad you had a good time!

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