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Trip Report: 2 weeks in Australia

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Just returned from 2 weeks in Australia, and figured I’d share my flight and trip experiences. For starters, here’s the itinerary for the trip, which as you can see, was quite aggressive. We redeemed Northwest Airlines miles, which made a normally long trip even longer, due to the routing we had to take.
o Friday, January 13: To Australia (Detroit-Chicago-Seoul-Sydney)
o Sunday, January 15: Arrive Sydney, on to Adelaide
o Monday, January 16: Fly to Kangaroo Island for 2 days
o Tuesday, January 17: Return to Adelaide
o Wednesday, January 18: Fly to Melbourne
o Thursday: Explore Melbourne
o Friday, January 20: Drive the Great Ocean Road
o Saturday, January 21: Fly to Cairns
o Sunday, January 22: GBR Tour
o Monday, January 23: Mossman and the Silky Oaks Lodge
o Tuesday, January 24: Fly to Sydney
o Wednesday, January 25: Explore Sydney
o Thursday, January 26: More in Sydney (and Australia Day)
o Friday, January 27: Blue Mountains
o Saturday, January 28: Return home to the U.S. (Sydney-Seoul-LA-Detroit)

The report is pretty long, so I’ll break it into several posts.

Before the day-to-day details, a few topline thoughts of Australia, based on our limited 2 weeks in a small portion of the country:
- By and large, the Australian people are a friendly bunch, who unprompted would ask if you need directions if you simply looked lost
- Australia has tons and tons of beautiful sights, with scenic vistas all along the coast from Queensland down to South Australia (not to mention the 99.9% we didn’t see)
- The domestic Australia flights (on Qantas, Jetstar and Rex) are significantly more pleasurable than their US counterparts, which have turned air travel into a Greyhound experience
- Getting around Australia was a breeze. City transit is a dream (especially Sydney, where you have ferries, buses, monorail, trains, cabs, water taxis, etc.). And even though road distances can be far, everything was very well marked and people drove far better than in the US.
- 99% of cars follow the speed limit. Signs warning of speed cameras are everywhere, and we saw some radar shooting. I felt guilty each time I hit 102km/hr in a 100km/hr zone. I’ll probably get a stack of speeding tickets in the mail!
- Most things are considerably more expensive in Australia than in the US. In general, meals were 25-50% higher (with taking the exchange rate into consideration) than you’d find in the US.
- We were generally underwhelmed by the food quality, taste, and restaurant service. That is not to say that the food was bad, but overall, it was nothing to rave about. While I’ve read that food has come a long way in the last 10-20 years, it seems that it still has a ways to go.
- The most memorable parts of the trip were Kangaroo Island, part of the Great Ocean Road drive, the walk from Bondi to Bronte Beach, and probably the tour of the Opera house (which you’ve seen so much of, and doesn’t let down in person).

I posted a detailed report on our various flights to/from Australia (on Northwest and Korean), as well as our intra-Australia flights (Qantas, Jetstar and Rex) in the trip reports forum on flyertalk.com, so check that out if you want to read about those.

OK- onto the trip:

DAY ONE: Adelaide and the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel
After about 33 hours of traveling from Detroit, with stops in Chicago, Seoul and Sydney, we were officially now on the ground in Australia. We chose to start in Adelaide so we could get to the destination we really wanted to get to, Kangaroo Island. My take, which was confirmed by our taxi driver, was that for tourists, Adelaide seems to be more of a hop-of point than a “real” destination (no offence to any Adelaide residents). It is a good jumping off point for visits to Kangaroo Island, the South Australia wine regions, beaches, or even the start of the Great Ocean Road drive towards Melbourne.
We arrived at the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel, which is a nice, relatively new (opened in 2004), boutique hotel a block from the Rundle Mall shopping street. It was about 1pm, and since our room wasn’t ready, they reluctantly gave us an upgraded room so we could shower after our 30+ hours of travel. The room was nice, with a large bathroom, balcony and great bed/sheets. The staff was very friendly and we would definitely recommend this hotel. Like the name, this hotel has a nice garden area on the roof, which are used for receptions/events, and lounging around (although it was empty when we checked it out).
Although we were a bit tired, we did a bit of touring around the city center, which was a quiet as it was a Sunday. After heading back to the hotel for a quick rest, we went back to “Chinatown” and had an early dinner at T Chao’s, before heading back to the hotel for bed at around 7pm. Our first of many ‘adequate’ meals.

DAY TWO: Off to Kangaroo Island/Hotel: Stranraer Homestead
We began the day very early, and arrived at the Adelaide Airport at around 6:15am for our 7:05 flight to Kingscote, Kangaroo Island on Regional Express (Rex).
Rex is the only domestic carrier operating from the new Adelaide Terminal, which has had some fuel line issues which has prevented the other carriers from moving in. Thus, this was a big, beautiful terminal with almost no activity.

For those who don’t know, Kangaroo Island is a small island off of the coast of South Australia which has an abundance of wildlife and outdoor life.

Upon arrival at Kingscote, Tim, our tour guide for 2 days from Adventure Charters was there to pick us up. We had debated for weeks the option renting a car and doing a self-tour, but this seemed to be a good place to rely on an expert guide to point out the things we would have otherwise missed.

Before we picked up another couple who was joining us for the day, Tim took us to a quaint spot for a “cuppa” (coffee) and a fresh-baked lamingtons, and for some wildlife spotting.

Day one of the Tour was the “Flinders Chase Focus”, which took us to the far western end of Kangaroo Island. We stopped many times along our journey, including “Lucy’s Farm” to see lots of kangaroos (who apparently are even more plentiful during the cooler winter season). Also saw some koalas.

Tim took us to a cliff overlooking the ocean where he prepared a gourmet lunch, and from there we went to Admirals Arch to view the fur seals.

After about 9 hours of touring, Tim dropped us off at our lodging for the evening, the Stranraer Homestead. Stranraer is an 80-year old homestead on a large working sheep farm, which offers 3 delightful guest rooms. Our room had an adjacent private bathroom (not en suite). The room had a great bed, linens etc. We highly recommend staying here. After cleaning up, we moved to the elegant dining room for dinner ($50/person, not included in the room rate). There was one other couple staying at Stranraer that evening, but they chose to dine in the main town of Kingscote, so we were all alone for the 3-course meal, which includes a glass of local wine. All meals are home-cooked by Lyn Wheaton, one of the property owners. Lyn had presented us some dinner options, and we both chose a cheese soufflé and a lamb entrée (a bit underwhelming, but breakfast made up for it).

After dinner, Lyn’s husband Graham took us to Penneshaw (about 40 minutes from Stranraer) to watch the nightly ritual of the fairy penguins making their way out of the water for the evening (this was also not included in the nightly room rate).


DAY THREE: More on Kangaroo Island and a return to Adelaide
Day two started with a homemade breakfast from Lyn, including fruit salad, buttermilk pancakes, pears, prune soufflé and cranberry muffins, and then roasted tomato omelettes (needless to say, we did not leave hungry). At around 9am, Tim picked us up for day 2 of our tour. Although the tour groups can range up to 10 people during peak times, we lucked out in that we were the only people touring that day.

Day two was called the “Island Life” focus. Tim took us to a honey factory, where they process the many honey combs from across the island. We also toured and walked around the main town of Kingscote, which is very quaint. After a few other sites (a salt lake, some more beautiful cliffs overlooking the ocean, and a bush walk to see wallabies and kangaroos), Tim took us to a private site where he grilled us fresh fish for lunch. From there, on to seal bay for, as the name implies, seal watching.

After another full day of touring, and a last-minute koala sighting and visit to a local goat cheese plant, Tim dropped us off at Kingscote Airport for our 6:35pm return flight to Adelaide. After arrival in Adelaide’s totally empty airport, we picked up a cab and headed back into Adelaide to the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel, which was mostly selected again as we had left our larger suitcases there while we were on K.I.

Kangaroo Island is not always on tourists list of places to see, but this was probably our favorite part of the trip. The scenery was unbelievable, it was a great place to see wildlife and the food was the best on the trip. We had been debating doing a tour, as it seemed fairly pricey, however, we would definitely recommend Adventure Charters. The tour was personalized and individualized and was a great overview of the island. We saw numerous things that we wouldn’t be able to on our own. Not to mention, two wonderful lunches in beautiful locations.

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    DAY FOUR: Off to Melbourne and the Park Hyatt
    We awoke and made our way down to the restaurant in the Majestic Roof Garden Hotel for breakfast, which was included in our room rate. It was a pretty good meal, with a buffet (including some wonderful parfaits), as well as made-to-order eggs. Given that the breakfast would have been $40 for 2, and our room was only a $10 increase over the standard room rate, this was a good deal.

    After that, we checked out and took a taxi back to the Adelaide Airport (our 4th visit there in 4 days) for the Qantas flight to Melbourne.

    After arrival into Melbourne, we took a taxi and made our way to the Park Hyatt. The Melbourne Park Hyatt is a phenomenal hotel, probably the leading hotel in the city (or at least close). Through a business colleague, we received a preferred rate, as well as a room upgrade, and had a fruit plate waiting for us upon arrival. The hotel was totally full as it was Australian Open time, and the check-in agent hinted (at my request) that some players were staying at the hotel.

    We went up to our room, which was stocked with everything that makes a luxury hotel what it is. Great linens and towels, comfy bed, nice work area, and lots of extras (bathrobes, slippers, in-bathroom TV, huge bathtub, etc.).

    Being that it was already about 2pm, and we only had 1 ½ days in Melbourne, we ventured out to tour the city. The Melbourne city center is very compact and easily laid out, and offers a fantastic tram network to get around. In terms of location, the Park Hyatt is in a very secluded street about a 5 minute walk to the eastern edge of the city center. I suppose if you wanted to be right on top of the action, you could pick a more central location, but we had no complaints.

    We spent a few hours walking around Brunswick Street, a hip shopping street near the hotel, then through Chinatown and some other popular shopping streets. While in the city, we stopped at Myer’s food court for a smoothie (lots of other, more filling options there as well.

    For dinner, we were hoping to go to Grossi Florentini or their Cellar Bar, which were recommended in a number of places. However, it was closed for a minor renovation (and the chef was apparently on vacation).
    So, we went back up to Brunswick Street and wandered into Café Nova for dinner.

    DAY FIVE: More Melbourne
    We started the day by going up to the Victoria Market, where we had breakfast we purchased at a couple of the varied food stalls. The market has sections which have competing stalls selling meats, cheeses, fish, produce, and even a flea market. From there, we went to the Old Melbourne Gaol, an old prison now turned into a museum.
    We then took the tram to the south of the city, and popped into the Botanical Gardens for a look around. Then, back on the tram, down to the beach and small town of St. Kilda for lunch.
    Took the tram back into Melbourne, and went to the ½ price theater tickets outlet, where they had tickets available for that evening’s “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” show, which is currently on Broadway, and had just opened in Melbourne.
    After that, we hopped back on the tram, and made the quick trip to the Tennis Center to catch some of the Australian Open, which had started about 5 days earlier. We bought the grounds pass, and joined the masses in the heat (which would continue to rise after we left Melbourne). After a couple hours there, we headed back to the Park Hyatt.
    For dinner, we walked to Chinatown to a Malaysian place called Banana Palm. This was another average meal.
    From there, we took the tram down to the Arts Center to catch the play, which was very entertaining. After that, took the tram back towards the hotel for the night.

    DAY SIX: Driving the Great Ocean Road
    In the morning, I walked over to the Grand Hyatt (about 10 minutes from the Park Hyatt) and picked up the Avis car (a Holden Commodore) I had previously reserved. As it was my first time driving on the left side of the road, Melbourne city driving during rush hour was probably not the best time to get used to things. But after managing one-way streets and Melbourne’s strange “move left to make a right hand turn” move, I made it back to the Park Hyatt to collect our bags and my wife.
    From there, we started the drive down through Geelong to Torquay, the official start of the Great Ocean Road.
    We stopped numerous times on the drive, in small towns and for scenic vistas. Had lunch in one of the main towns along the drive, Apollo Bay, and saw popular attractions like the Twelve Apostles.

    We ended the drive at around 6:30pm in Port Fairy. Port Fairy is a small fishing community about 20 minutes past Warrnambool, which is roughly the end of the GOR drive. Some of the guidebooks and web forum postings imply that Port Fairy is a beautiful charming little town. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s also a town that time has somewhat forgotten, as the main street has seen better days.

    Our lodging for the night was the Shearwater House B&B, a relatively new 5-room B&B on Gipps Street, just a few minute walk to the main street. Our room was rather spartan, and had very little charm that B&B’s usually have. It was really just a room in a house. It does offer a large deck which overlooks a waterway behind the house.

    We walked to Bank Street for dinner, and a large crowd was seemingly enjoying the Caledonian Inn, and the adjacent bar, The Stump. We got the last table at the restaurant, which appeared to have the entire town crammed in there. This is somewhat of a “do-it-yourself” restaurant, with orders placed at the cashier, and meals delivered to the table when they’re ready. Customers make use of the salad bar, which also has several side dishes for the main course.
    I decided to try kangaroo for dinner, which, as everything does, tastes kind of like chicken.
    I give the Caledonian Inn a 9/10 for atmosphere, and a 4/10 for food.

    DAY SEVEN: Driving back to Melbourne and heading to Cairns
    We had a quick breakfast at the Shearwater House before departing and making our way towards Melbourne airport for our afternoon flight to Cairns, in northern Queensland. We decided to take the inland route back, The Princess Highway, which is a far more direct route than the Great Ocean Road (albeit a more boring route).
    After passing through several small towns along the way, we took a lunch break in Geelong, which is about an hour south of Melbourne. Had some fish & chips at Gilligan’s along the water, before making our way up to Melbourne Tullamarine Airport for the flight to Cairns.

    TIP: We loved driving the Great Ocean Road, however, if we had to do it again, we would skip the 12 Apostles (this is personal opinion) and do the road from Melbourne to Apollo Bay. The premier views on the drive are from Melbourne to Apollo Bay. After Apollo Bay, which is about ½ on the GOR, with the great views behind you, you have 50+ km of inland driving to the 12 Apostles, the next major attraction.. I would do that and back in one day, saving the extra day for somewhere else, or perhaps even choose Apollo Bay as a stopover point. The 12 Apostles were beautiful, but not worth turning it into a full day and all the extra driving.


    We landed in darkness at the sleepy Cairns airport, and proceeded down the boarding stairs and across the tarmac to the quiet terminal. While waiting for our bags, I went to the Hertz desk to pick up the keys to the Toyota Camry I had rented.

    After picking up our bags, we hit the Cook Highway on our way to Port Douglas/Mossman and the Marae B&B.

    The first 10 or so km of the Cook Highway involve about 8 roundabouts (you get up speed---you slow down--- repeat), which get old rather quickly. Then the road changes, and throws 30km of tight curves and slow speeds at the driver, which was not a great road to be on in darkness (perhaps a bit of advice to try to do this drive only during daylight). In a BMW roadster in daylight, I (or a professional driver) could have ripped up that road, but at night, the Camry was kept safely below the speed limit in an effort to not die.

    We finally arrived at Marae, which is about 10km past the turnoff for Port Douglas, and went to our room. Marae has 3 rooms, but ours was the only one occupied during our 2 nights there. We had the downstairs room, behind the car port and overlooking a lovely pool. January being the rainy season in the Cairns area, tourism seemed to be rather light during our brief stay.

    The hosts welcomed us up for a welcome drink and to provide some driving directions, and we arranged breakfast at 7:15am so we’d be in Port Douglas in time for our Great Barrier Reef trip.


    DAY EIGHT: The Great Barrier Reef
    The morning started with Marae’s tropical fruit breakfast, with yoghurt, honey, oatmeal/museli and fruit (which became my breakfast of choice on the trip) and eggs. We then drove the 15 minutes into Port Douglas to the Wavelength snorkel office to sign in for the 8:30am departure. While we are certified divers, my wife is pregnant, so no diving this trip. However, we wanted to get out to the reef, so we decided to take a snorkel tour. Several companies offer reef trips, with some boats holding up to 400 people. We wanted a smaller, more personal experience, so we went with Wavelength. The boats allow up to 30 snorkelers, but our trip had just 8.

    The trip started with a 90-minute ride out to the reef, helped out by some nice swells to make some people wish they had taken the seasickness tablets. Fortunately, no buckets were harmed during this day, so everyone was able to keep things under control. Once there, we had 3, 1-hour snorkel sessions in 3 different sites, with lunch served on the boat after the 2nd swim.
    The reef was beautiful, but snorkeling is just not diving!

    After we returned to Port Douglas, we walked around the shops and selected a restaurant for dinner, before returning to Marae to clean up. While we were gone, Marae had washed our dirty clothes (extra $$) from week 1 of the trip, and they were folded and placed in our room.

    We went back into Port Douglas for dinner at the Ironbar restaurant, where we got the Aussie BBQ platter, which included croc, kangaroo, emu, barramundi and some other less exotic foods. It was Ok, again nothing special.

    DAY NINE: Silky Oaks Lodge
    After breakfast at Marae, we departed and visited the Mossman Gorge, and up to Daintree Village for an early lunch. We then headed back south to the Silky Oaks Lodge.
    We had read a lot about the Silky Oaks Lodge in Mossman, which is about 15 minutes from Marae. This is a rather pricey 50-room property (about US$525/night), which is set among the trees of the rainforest.
    We only had one night to stay there before we wanted to get to Sydney, and frankly, that was probably enough.
    We got to the Lodge around noon, and made our way to our room, which was set up in the trees. The rooms are each in single-cabin buildings, and each has a balcony with hammock (ours with a tremendous view of the tennis court, which would have been a real annoyance if people had been playing… fortunately, as mentioned, it was the rainy season, so that was not a real option).
    The rooms reminded us of camp cabins, and while they were fine, they had no real element of luxury. And they desperately needed updating.
    We spent much of the afternoon using the kayaks on the river, lounging by the pool, laying on the hammock in the room, and sitting on the veranda of the main building overlooking the river and trees.
    A 4-course dinner was included in the rate, which was a nice gourmet meal in a nice outdoor setting (although a bit humid). Menu as follows:
    Soup: Sugar roasted tomato tom yum with tiger prawn
    Entrée: Poached freshwater crayfish set on cold asian salad or open vegetable lasagna
    Mains: Barramundi fish & chips, chargrilled sirloin beef or roasted pork cutlet
    Desserts: Iced mint parfait, black sapote chocolate fondant w/ muscatel ice cream or selection of ice creams and sorbets

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    DAY TEN: Returning to Sydney and the Marriott Sydney Harbour Hotel
    We awoke and wandered down to the Silky Oaks Restaurant for breakfast, which is also included in the rate. For a while, we were the only people in the place, as a large group had apparently been there at 6am before they left the hotel. Breakfast was lots of fruits, pastries and yogurts, and some hot foods. We played some board games in the veranda, and before long, it was time to leave Silky Oaks (in a driving rain). In general, we thought Silky Oaks was a very poor value for the money. While the property was nice, the rooms were not. The food was good, but nothing great. I personally, wouldn’t stay there again.

    Around noon, we left on our way back to the airport. We stopped off in Port Douglas for lunch at Salsa’s, which is another highly recommended restaurant. Food was good, but like a lot of our meals in Australia, was overpriced compared to a comparable meal in the U.S.

    Following that, we headed back down the Cook Highway, filled up the Camry (almost $1.30/liter, or about $5/gallon) and dropped it off at Cairns Airport to await our Qantas flight to Sydney.

    Landed in Sydney and took a cab to the Marriott Sydney Harbour Hotel, which would be our hotel for our final 4 nights in Australia.

    Check in was quick, and we were given an Opera House view which I had booked.
    Room was a fairly typical business hotel room, although this one did have a reasonable view of the Opera House.

    As an aside, the Marriott has a great location, within a stone’s throw of many of the key places: Circular Key (the main ferry and transit terminal), The Rocks (shopping/sights), the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and is a reasonable walk from places like Darling Harbor and the Botanical Gardens.

    This hotel is apparently available as a 5-star on Priceline for about US$160/night with taxes, but I booked a great discounted entertainment card rate (interestingly, the only rate code which worked out of the 20 or so that I tried), and was even able to use 2 Marriott “Premium Pounds” certificates as well.


    DAY ELEVEN: Touring Sydney
    This day included what felt like 10 miles of walking. We had debated taking the Sydney Explorer hop-on/hop-off bus, but once we started walking, we decided just to keep going.
    Unfortunately, this was one of the worst weather days we had for the trip, with a light rain and grey skies pretty much the entire day.
    We started by heading up to the Rocks, where we walked around and had an OK breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks. From there, we walked up to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We had planned to walk all the way across the bridge and up the pylons for a good view, but with the nasty weather and poor visibility, we didn’t get very far before turning around. We used the Cahill Walk and wandered over to the Sydney Opera House, where we took the obligatory tour.
    After that, we started our walk down to Darling Harbour, the restaurant and entertainment district, and went to the Sydney Fish Market, one of the largest fish markets in the world.
    Had lunch there inside the crowded main building (I think this building can safely be called the fried fish capital of the world), and then headed across town, through Hyde park, to the Art Gallery. We then trekked over to the Woolloomooloo area, to dine at the world-famous Harry’s Café de Wheels, which is a small trailer which sells meat pies and other assorted foods.
    We also walked into the W Hotel which is right next door, which is an awesome hotel built into an old wharf complex, and wins the coolest hotel in Australia award (well, from me at least). Unfortunately for SPG members, it’s changing hands to the Taj Hotels group in February…
    We finally made our way back to the Marriott, and then back out to The Rocks to Phillip’s Foote for dinner. At this touristy place, you basically buy a piece of meat, and cook it yourself on their grill, as you help yourself to the salad and side dish bar.

    DAY TWELVE: Sydney on Australia Day
    Today was Australia Day in Sydney, which celebrates their beginning as a British Settlement in 1788. We started the morning with breakfast at City Extra at Circular Quay (mostly tourists dining there), and then took a 1 hour 15 minute Sydney Harbour Highlights cruise with Captain Cook cruises. The harbour was already getting crowded with Australia Day activities.
    After the cruise, we took the bus to Bondi Beach, the most famous of the many Sydney-area beaches. We grabbed lunch at a deli, and ate it on the grassy area by the beach. We then walked along the 3km coast walk to Bronte Beach, before heading back to Bondi for ice cream and the return bus to Sydney. This walk was another highlight of the trip. It was absolutely beautiful.
    After relaxing at the Marriott, we headed to Circular Quay to catch the ferry to Darling Harbour, where the main Australia Day evening activities would take place. The ferry was jam packed, and we were the last 2 people allowed on board before they closed off the line.
    The ferry took about 30 minutes, and we got off on stop #5 at the Aquarium at Darling Harbor.
    Darling Harbour was already teeming with people watching the festivities, and people were staking out their places for the evening fireworks.
    We had a good dinner at the Malaysian restaurant Chinta Ria at Cockle Bay Wharf, and then got our places for the fireworks, which started around 9:20 and lasted less than 10 minutes. In general, they were somewhat underwhelming, compared to big fireworks in the US. (although we had heard that they were quite spectacular).
    After herding with the masses out to the main roads, we walked back to the Marriott in about 15 minutes.


    DAY THIRTEEN: Driving to the Blue Moutains
    After two days walking around Sydney, we decided to venture out to the Blue Mountains for our final day in Australia. We had planned to take the train to Katoomba and use the explorer bus to get around there, but we figured that a car would give us more flexibility to see more of the sights. The explorer bus does pick up at the Katoomba train station and hits 30 “attractions”, but only in the 2 towns of Katoomba and Leura, and none of the other Blue Mountain areas.
    The Marriott has an Avis outpost in the building, so I was waiting there when they opened at 7:30am, and picked up a Toyota Camry.
    We headed west and made a bunch of stops from Glenbrook to Katoomba, and headed north at Mt. Victoria to come back east on Bells Road. Saw some of the main attractions, including the Three Sisters, Govett’s Leap and Scenic World (which has the steepest train in the world which takes you into the ancient rainforest). Near the end of our trip to the mountains, we went to Glenbrook National park where there were dozens of kangaroos relaxing in the fields. We just sat and watched them as they ate dinner. It was quite relaxing and beautiful.

    Since we had the car, we decided not to eat in downtown Sydney, and instead stopped in Little Italy, which is right on the way back to town, about 10 minutes from the city center. We ate at Jovanotti Café (decent food,) before heading back to the Marriott to pack up for our trip home.

    DAY FOURTEEN: Leaving Australia
    Avis was closed by the time we got back to the Marriott, and they had already advised me that I could return the car at the airport for no additional fee. Since I was still within my 1 day rental period, we checked out of the Marriott around 6:45am, and drove the 20-minutes to Sydney Airport for the flight home.

    A mere 33 hours later, we finally arrived home in Detroit.

    So, the trip was over. Over a span of about 2 weeks, we flew 29,021 miles over 12 flights. We also rented a car 3 times, and tallied 860 miles.

    Well, hopefully this has been somewhat informative, entertaining or both. I’ve got lots of even more detailed info I didn’t include, so if you’re planning a trip and want some more insight, feel free to ask.


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    Wow! thanks for the detailed trip report--sounds like you had a great time. Happy to hear that you decided to go with Adventure Charters on Kangaroo Island after all. I know that you really agonized over that one but it sounds like you enjoyed it as much as we did. It was really the highlight of our 2 week trip!

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    A very good report and glad you ( mostly)enjoyed your stay although I'm not convinced the places you chose to eat in Sydney warrant your assessment of the food scene here (lol)! Cheers!

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    Thanks for a helpful report, dave261.

    Just one small quibble: I agree that you can eat cheaper (though in my experience not always better) in the USA, even after adding US-style tips and taxes.

    However, I think "overpriced" is a misleading term, as it implies that Australian restaurateurs are price-gouging. I don't think so - the fact is that most cost inputs in Australia are higher, due mainly to the size of our respective markets and the fact that wage rates for lower-paid workers in Australia are a good deal higher.

    Service is certainly more leisurely in Australia, which I think is how most Australians prefer it. A study some years ago indicated that Americans and Australians (and Britons, Germans, etc.) all have somewhat different ideas of what constitutes "good service". This is based on overall cultural differences, so there are no rights and wrongs implied.

    It does seem a pity that you seem to have missed the restaurants that have made Sydney at least, by common consent, one of the world's great dining cities. That aside, I'm glad you enjoyed your short time with us.

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    The full-day rate for the Adventure Charters tour is A$295/day per person (US$220). This includes the all-day tour, a gourmet lunch (w/ wine) and snacks. They will also book a full 2 day/1 night package with airfare and hotel, but we found it a better value to book air and hotel on our own (especially with the web-only rates that Rex Express offers).



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    For a 2day/1 night tour, Adventure Charters charged $1020AU which included a gourmet dinner and a nice accomodation (choice of about 5 places). This doesn't include airfare but airfare was fairly inexpensive.

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    hi Dave,
    That was a thoroughly enjoyable report. Thanks.

    A couple of matters:
    The 'underwhelming' fireworks you saw at Darling Harbour on Australia's Day was not the one Sydney is famous for. The 'spectacular' ones you heard about probably are those that usher in the new year. Those - the rest of the world has been trying to emulate.

    I agree with the other posters on your take on food.
    I love the Fish Market, and I go there quite often. I would certainly avoid the fried (soggy with oil) and grilled (dry and tasteless) stuffs in that building. One possible exception is the white baits in a light batter with salt and pepper (but they are seasonal).

    The way to appreciate the food there is:
    - Go to the fresh seafood section (just outside that big building) and ask for cooked blue swimmer crabs. Firmly ask for the freshest ones - the helpful girl behind the counter would start picking some up to feel their weight. The heavier, the fresher and more succulent.

    - Ask to taste some cooked prawns, and decide which variety is to your liking. Some are sweet, some salty and some quite tasteless.

    - Ask the sashimi/sushi girl for a section of atlantic salmon, and ask her to slice it for you. (The good stalls have a small section that sell sashimi and sushi). And don't forget the soya sauce; they sell them in little bottles or sachets.

    - Then go to the oyster section. I prefer Coffin Bay Oysters, but some prefer the salty tastiness of Sydney Rock. Avoid the Pacific variety. And don't forget the lemon.

    Then find a comfortable spot to enjoy. I normally have them on a picnic mat in the Botanical Garden. Crusty bread and butter top up the meal.

    Harry's is iconic, but you won't find the best pies there. In fact you won't find world class pies in Sydney. They are all in the Blue Mountains. Ivanhoe hotel/pub at Blackheath makes absolutely the best gourmet pies in the world.

    I noted that you enjoyed Chinta Ria. They do passable Malaysian. Servings could be bigger.
    I would have taken you to Golden Century on Sussex Street, Chinatown and ordered a live coral trout, steamed with ginger and shallots. Unbeatable. And some pipies with XO sauce.

    Then if you were still hungry after the fireworks, I would have taken you to the unassuming BBQ King on Goulbourn Street for their ducks.

    Or if duck is not for you, I'd show you where to find the best vietnamese beef noodle - I am yet to find anything as good in Asia as Pho An of Sydney's Bankstown.

    OK - I'm a foodie, so I was somewhat taken by what you said about food.

    I have been to Europe, North America, Africa and Asia. Sydney's foods (if you know where to find them) have a deserved reputation as among the finest in the world.

    Most regions of the world have stand out specialties. Sydney brings them all together in one place - Ok for pies, you have to go to Blackheath.

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    Hi Dave,

    I saw your Australia itinerary for the two weeks of your trip. I am heading to Australia for a little under 4 weeks (arrive in Melbourne December 27 and fly out of Queenstown, New Zealand on January 20th). I was wondering since I have a little extra time in mainland Aus than you did, if you felt that you missed anything that you would have wanted to check out.

    I appreciate any insight you can provide.

    Thanks,
    David

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    David-

    The things that got nixed from our initial list were:
    - Tasmania, which we really wanted to get to, but figured we'd need at least 4-6 days
    - GBR- We had originally wanted to stay at one of the offshore Great Barrier Reef Resorts, but the travel time to get to most of them made our time better spend staying inland.
    - Canberra- we had originally thought of taking the train from Sydney.
    - Red Center- However, in January the weather there is apparently brutally hot, so you may also want to consider skipping that
    - Auckland- I know, almost everyone here would probably say that 1) New Zealand is a country which deserves its own trip, and 2) if going to NZ, perhaps there are less "ordinary" places to see than Auckland. But, the thought crossed my mind.

    Hope this helps... have a great trip.

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    What an interesting and informative report, Dave. Glad you enjoyed what sounds like a really "on the go" trip to beautiful Australia.

    However, as some other posts noted I am really surprised by your "over priced" comment re the food.

    I recently returned from a trip to the States in May,and as someone who worked in the food industry (just retired) I was very interested to try different restaurants and to compare prices. My experience there demonstrated just how comparable US and Australian prices are for mid/higher priced range restaurants.If the US state taxes and the compulsory US tipping (tipping in Australia is voluntary and I would NEVER tip the amounts I was obliged to tip in the US)are added, Australian prices would broadly be cheaper.

    I am also really sorry you felt underwhelmed by your food.My home city, Melbourne, is noted by many international food journalists as "the" place for fantastic innovative food of high quality. I enjoyed many great meals in the US, especially in San Fransisco, but the quality and variety of produce in Melbourne was not surpassed. Next time you come to Oz I hope we can recommend some great restaurants for you to try!

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    Libretto- I'm glad you enjoyed the report and I appreciate your comments.
    Certainly, it would be impossible for me to comment on the overall food quality/pricing/service situation based on only 2 weeks in a country.

    I have no doubt that Australia, especially the major cities, have top-notch restaurants that rival the world's best. However, our major issue was that it seemed to be very difficult to find a good, "cheap" to moderately priced meal.
    In the major cities in the US, you can walk down the block and find a great restaurant that will set you back $60-$100/per person, and will also likely find a great one that may only set you back $10-$20/per person. Seemed that the lower range was much tougher to find during our trip.

    Hopefully we'll stumble across some of those gems on our next trip!

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    Hi Libretto. How about recommending a restaurant or two in Melbourne for those of us who may get there before Dave 261 has a chance to return. We'll be there in October and enjoy small moderately-priced family-owned restaurants with an emphasis on the quality of the food rather than ambience. What should we definitely not miss?

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    Dave, I agree that it's generally easier to find a cheap good feed in the US, especially breakfasts that can last you through to dinner time.

    A great many things are more expensive in Australia due to relative economies of scale - we have a population a bit over half that of California's occupying a land mass the size of the "lower 48". Transport, infrastructure and manufacturing costs are all therefore higher. A second factor is that lower-end Australian wage costs are also substantially higher than in the US (personally I'd rather see that situation continue and bear the associated costs). And don't forget the typical 20-25% in state taxes and tips that has to be added to a meal cost in the US - the Australian goods & services tax of 10% isn't separately itemised, and as you would have discovered, tipping is the exception rather than the rule here.

    Overall we found the quality of meals in better-than-average restaurants comparable (and we ate our way through a lot of US states in the space of 7 weeks). American service is generally faster, but whether this is a plus is a matter of personal taste.

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    You could make the same statements about traveling in the US -- there are lots of horrible Dennys-style diner restaurants and mediocre-but-pricey joints in any American city, and especially out on the road. It all depends on where you go (and what you like, of course).

    When we were in Sydney we didn't splurge on food much, and indeed ate some blah Japanese for way too much money a couple of times. But we also found some great food in Sydney for very little -- Australian Hotel does a fantastic pizza.

    And in Melbourne, if you go to the right places you can't lose: Victoria Street for Vietnamese is just one dirt-cheap and fantastic place after another. We also had a lovely and very reasonable Japanese meal at Hako on Desgraves Street, a tiny alley off of Flinders. In St. Kilda, the fresh fish cooked to order at Claypots can't be beat -- just fantastic.

    I do think that we Americans tend to underestimate the amount we spend on tax and tips -- more than 25% on top of the listed price, so that $10 a person is up to $13 before you know it. And we pay a FORTUNE for wine in restaurants here; almost every place we ate in Australia was BYO, with a wine shop next door, which saves you at least 50-75% right there -- $10 instead of $35 makes a big difference!

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    99% of people drove within the speed limit? You were not driving around with your headlights flashing by any chance lol.

    Food is generally pretty good when you live somewhere and just know the deal. However when travelling
    and you just pop into the nearest convenient eatery then you maybe will be ripped off or disappointed whether you are in France, Italy, the US or Australia.

    For eating on the cheap in Australia there are a few tips however not saying the food will be great, just affordable.

    To eat out under $20AUD a head usually Australians will head for the local Thai or Vietnamese.

    Clubs and pubs are popular for affordable nights out often offering different deals. Where Americans may head to a Luby's cafeteria for eg Aussies will head to the club. An example maybe Wednesday is pasta nights for $10 a head. the meals costs are often heavily subsidised by slot machine revenue which some may find a turnoff whereas others may find it fun.

    Many restaurants in suburban areas offer mid week deals say 2 or 3 courses for $25 a head.

    If staying in Sydney in the Rocks area then you are essentially in a business district which does not cater to the "lets pop out for bite to eat" brigade. It is a big trip downtown for most Sydneysiders and most prefer to eat where they live.

    When I did live downtown Sydney the most common areas I recall eating at were East Sydney on Stanley Street, Paddington, Darlinghurst and the Chinatown area including the tiny spanish quarter. All lie just on the outskirts of the CBD.

    For great food you need to keep up with the reviews as soon as a great chef is discovered a London restauarant steals them from us. So I reommend reading the Sydney Morning Herald and act on recent reviews, not older ones.

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    Dave -- Can you tell us more about Marae? DH and I are considering a stay there for next August. Would you recommend it? Their website doesn't have very much info but it does look nice. Thanks in advance.

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    U were brave to say Oz is expensive....the Aussies will jump you on this post...didnt want to post a full trip report cause of this...dont blame them for defending their cost of living but to us Americans, it is expensive...2 to 3 times the cost in the states.... so let the flames begin as you see here....we observe not complain that the cost of items are more expensive than in the states...cokes, 7 dollars for a 10 pack..3 for a 12 in the states....so what...what this poster and I try to say is this, be aware, Oz is not ripping you off, it is what it is....even thought the dollar is worth more, you get less bang for you US dollar....who cares....all the money I spent in Oz was well
    worth ever cent ...flame on

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    Lisa,
    We stayed at Marae for 3 days last June 2006. The location, house, hosts are 1st rate and charming. However we had a problem with the bathroom - bedroom combination( same room). The first floor room, with the pool, has a partial view of the breakfast terrace from the loo! We moved upstairs and had the use of the bathroom nextdoor also, in addition to the one in an alcove of the room. The rooms are beautiful, linen and toiletries great so it's a matter of choice. By the way, we did the same Kangaroo Island trip and it was one of the best B&B and tour operater we encounter. Day trip to Lizard Island with Daintree Air takes first place, with K.I. a close second. Definately worth the splurge if you don't count on returning soon.

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    Daria -- I want to make sure I understand... Their website says they have a private cabana-style King Room, close to the pool, or there is a King Room and a Double Room within the house. Was it the separate King room by the pool where you felt the bathroom lacked privacy? So would you recommend the king room within the house?

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    Lisa, the "cabana style" king room is the only one downstairs.There are 3 rooms, but they decided to rent only 2. We had the "cabana" one night, and the upstair king room 2 nights. Also, if you plan to book any trips from there, do it directly with the tour operator, since Marae charges a "fee" to them. Well worth the money was the day trip 4WD with Peter Baxendell. If by chance you are planning to go to Cape Tribulation, I highly recommend The Exotic Fruit Farm B&B(http://www.capetrib.com.au/)

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    I would find it extremely unlikely that Marae would charge a fee for tour bookings. I've stayed there 4 or 5 times and not seen this happen. What the operators of the B&B will do is give you the very best advice, after all they're locals and are aware of pitfalls of many a trip which you won't find on websites, and make sure you're picked up for tours if this is necessary. And change a booking at last minute for the best possible weather in your time frame - this is of particular importance for a reef trip.

    Yes, they will be paid a small commission from the tour operator - this makes absolutely no difference to the price paid by the guest - large resort operators can afford to pay the tour operator full amount for a guest tour at time of booking, this amount will appear on guest invoice - resort will claim their commission later. A small 2-3 bedroom B&B such as Marae can't afford to outlay these costs. So a guest is ticketed for price of tour LESS commission which would be shown on booking ticket, the balance is to paid to tour operator by guest. This is common practice with all tours in FNQ. And Pete Baxendell's trip, deservedly so, is one of Marae's recommended tours.

    Marae is a tropical home, well designed for the climate and have never had a "privacy issue" in the 3 rooms have stayed in. Yes, every loo has a view looking outwards, and they're not enclosed in boxy little cubicles. It has a RACQ (official rating body) rating of 4 and a half stars, not easy to achieve these days in a B&B.

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    Have stayed at Marae many times and have never seen operators charge booking fee for tours. These are local people with a reputation to uphold, what they do have is a sound local knowledge of tours in area. Yes, the tour operator will pay them a small commission, this in no way affects the guest who will be billed total amount for tour LESS commission. Balance to be paid by guest on day of tour to operator. A large resort will bill the guest for full price of tour and collect commission from operator later, but a small 2-3room B&B can't afford this outlay. Pete Baxendell's trip, deservedly so is one on Marae's recommended list.

    Marae is a tropical home, well designed for the climate - living areas are open plan but have never had a "privacy issue" in any of their rooms. In fact every loo has a view - outwards, not inwards - there's virtually no other buildings in sight. Also has an offical RACQ rating of 4 and a half stars, not easy to achieve in a B&B these days.

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    re: The fireworks - what you saw was the early childrens version - it is on early so that parents can get the children home and to bed at a decent time. The BIG fireworks at midnight are at the Harbour Bridge and I am very surprised you did not see them from your hotel or get caught up in the crowd of over a million people on your way through. It is truly a spectacular show which goes for about a half to three quarters of an hour.
    Anyway, never mind - I am glad you had a lovely trip to Oz. and hope you can make it back again another time.
    Cheers.

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    Hi Dave

    I did a search on the forum and came across your post. My friends and I are planning a trip to Australia for the last week in January and cannot decide between spending some time in the Great Barrier Reef (worried about the weather) or in Kangaroo island. I was curious to see how your trip turned out? Thanks

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    Dave, I know this is now almost 7 years since you posted, but your itinerary looks a lot like the one I've been planning and this post has been wonderful for planning. Thank you seven years later!

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