INTRODUCTION: Trip to Sydney and Cairns AUS, South
Island, NEW ZEALAND, FIJI, ending in Santa Monica, CA
By way of background, we began this trip preparation with the idea of using American Airlines FF miles, which we’ve been accumulating over several years, to visit New Zealand. And, while we were traveling such a distance, we wanted to plan our trip to the other side of the world to include some variety in order to feel that long flights were worth it. In addition, our goal was to balance our destinations to have a combination of new city experience, like Sydney, Australia, with a heavy concentration of natural beauty. So, within the possibilities of our airline miles, we decided to spend the first five days in Sydney, the next four days north of Cairns, Australia, in Port Douglas, then two weeks in the South Island, New Zealand, ending with R & R in Fiji. Finally, on our return to the US, we would spend about 3 ½ days in Santa Monica, CA before returning home to the Midwest.
After spending a considerable amount of time researching destinations, and with valuable help from Fodorites, especially regarding the South Island, NZ, we carefully planned the details of our travel. From previous longer trips, we learned that changing locations consumes valuable time in re-packing and travel, so we chose to limit our flights as much as possible. After determining our itinerary and details regarding flights, rental cars, lodging, etc. we made real efforts to plan our packing in order to travel as lightly as possible. For a month + of travel, we knew we’d have four different airlines (American, Qantas, Jet Star, and Air Pacific) to deal with, and would need clothing, shoes, gear, and supplies which ranged from casual everyday wear, to swim suits and beach items to jackets for chilly weather, to appropriate dress for occasional evenings out. In addition, there were basic toiletries, OTC stuff, maps, etc. etc. We planned to get all this into two carry-ons and one medium-sized luggage. We were concerned about the differing luggage allowances on four different airlines, even though we did spend time calling and trying to ascertain their rules. Bottom-line is that packing seemed to be quite a chore!
An additional note about this report: Although we have traveled quite a bit, and have followed Fodor’s Forum for a few years, only more recently have we written any trip reports. After enjoying the accounts of others‘ travels, we decided that writing a report would allow us to amalgamate all the information we had in notebooks, receipts, on scraps of paper, etc. This
report is much longer than intended, so we have divided it into segments.
Part I: AUSTRALIA:
Phase 1: Sydney
February 8th, our departure day, arrived with ideal weather for flying. We were “pressing” until the last minute to take care of all details at home. Trusting that things were under control, as we traveled to the airport, we began to relax. We’re fortunate to have a sister and b-in-law who live near the airport who would park our car in their driveway while we were gone.
Our first flight from home to DFW went off without a hitch. We had purposely booked an earlier flight, just in case there was a problem, because we wanted to be sure that we made a flight from DFW to LAX so as to connect with our Qantas flight to Sydney. We had four hours in Dallas, plenty of time to have a nice pub lunch, get a Starbucks, leisurely peruse the book store, and catch CNN news. Finally, the time came to board our flight from DFW to LAX. After all passengers were settled, an announcement was made that the pilot was “sick”, another pilot had been called up, but he lived a distance away. Upshot: we waited until 5:40, a half-hour late. At least they did turn on the “fresh air” as the plane became hot and stuffy. About 5:50, our flight pushed away from the gate, but with the long line of planes for take off, it was 20 minutes later before we took off. Once in the air, the flight was OK. Only drinks were served, but we had our pretzels and grapes! We were relieved that we’d have three hours in LAX before our Qantas flight. We chose to read on the flight to LAX, hoping to be tired enough to sleep en route to Sydney. Ordinarily, we would have chosen to overnight in LA, but we thought that the ability to check our luggage right on through to Sydney was worth the gruelingly long day. It was quite an experience transferring from the domestic to the international terminal. We had a rather long walk through the domestic terminal down to the ground level of the airport where we were checked in by Qantas agents, and given our boarding passes. We waited in a small, nondescript area to board buses which would drive us all around the back of LAX, past many hangars, repair “stalls”, various aircraft, luggage shuttles, etc. Once we reached the international terminal, a rather old, stark area, the pickings were slim for getting anything to eat. But since we were hungry, a pre-made ham & cheese sandwich and Diet Coke at least satisfied that need. Someone had left a London Times behind, so that consumed our time in the very basic waiting area. One thing of interest: when approaching the Qantas desk before boarding the bus: we asked about the possibility of a seat upgrade. . .like “Premium Economy”. The rep said that there were seats. . .for 5000 or 8000. So we asked, “5000-8000 what? miles???”, and she responded, “No, dollars! $5000-$8000 !!!” Naturally, we declined.
Boarding began about 9:35, but it took until 10:50 to be airborne. For this almost 15-hour flight, we risked selecting back-of-the-plane seats 68A and 68C, hoping that no one would occupy the middle seat. (This was a suggestion of the agent from AA when we booked our flight.) And, luck was in our favor. With no passenger in the center seat, we were able to spread out a bit and get some sleep. . .at least in snatches. Several trips to the restroom helped. The 747 aircraft seemed brand new-and nicer than any American carrier, including AA and Delta, which we had recently experienced. An attendant said that it had recently been refurbished. The crew were all professionally groomed and very personable. After being seated, we were presented with menus of dinner and breakfast, plus snacks and drinks. So it was time for us to make the best of the long haul to the Land Down Under. The flight was lengthy, but it went better than expected. About 4:30-5:00 AM the sun peeped out over the horizon. We spotted a bit of land. . .and we knew that we were getting close. . .only about 3+ hours to go. We would survive the 7724 mi./14+ from LAX, and after crossing the international date line, it was now February 10th.
Friday, February 10, Arrival Day
Immigration was long-50 minutes. We had made an online purchase of the visa needed for entrance. One thing we found notable in Australia is the strictness of any food brought in: “Nada”. Opened bags: “Dispose of in quarantine bins.” Once outside the terminal, luggage in tow, we walked to the taxi line and fairly quickly were on our way to downtown Sydney. We learned our first monetary lesson: Beware! Many services and stores charge an extra 3% when using a credit card. This is on top of the GST (Government Services Tax.)The taxi driver failed to tell us that when he said we could pay with a card. Taxi fare: $60.AUD
Our hotel, the Marriott Circular Quay, was in a perfect location. Because of our early arrival, our room wasn’t ready, so we checked our luggage and talked to the concierge about purchasing tickets for the Saturday night Opera House Symphony. We walked the two blocks to Circular Quay and got our first look at the stunning Opera House, and the Harbor Bridge, called the “old coat hangar” because of its shape. After strolling around the plaza, with its beautiful floral displays, and taking in all the “quays” of the ferries, we walked up to the “Rocks”, Sydney’s original European settlement with a past seedy reputation. Over the years it has been “sanitized” as they say, and is now a popular spot for tourists. Here, we had a great pizza for our late lunch at Zia Pina Pizzeria. We strolled down George Street, the main street in the Rocks area, stopped in a few shops, and happened upon the Ken Done Art Gallery. We would have searched for this gallery as it was requested by a acquaintance “Mel”, a guy who works in the photo dept. at our local store. He had met Ken Done on a former trip to Sydney, admired his work, and struck up a relationship with him. DH found a colorful purse for DW, and we decided to purchase one for our sister also. We bought a bookmark designed by Ken Done for Mel. We attempted to relate the connection of Mel to Ken to the gallery clerk, but she was rather dismissive. We wandered down to the corner of Pitt Street, near our hotel, to enjoy a Starbucks’ cappuccino and hopefully get complementary WiFi. This was our first of many experiences in both Australia and New Zealand, where WiFi was not free. But good ’ol McDonald’s did offer free WiFi! We found a convenience store and a Marche across from our hotel, both of which turned out to be handy for picking up Diet Cokes and sundries.
It was about 4:30 PM, and we felt the need to return to the Marriott and catch a few winks as the jet lag was beginning to take its toll. After sending a few e-mails with our one-day free usage, we set the alarm, intending to take an hour-long nap. However, the hour evolved into a three-hour snooze.
We awoke to shower and walk down to the quay for our first fish & chips with Aussie beers at the City Express Café. The view of the harbor from the restaurant, with the activity of the ferries pulling in and out of the quays, was a nice treat for that first evening. We returned to the Marriott by about 11 PM, and before turning in for the evening, stopped at the concierge desk to purchase tickets for a Saturday evening performance of the symphony at the Opera House. ($116 ea.) There were only a few seats left, so we were happy that we hadn’t waited any longer. Since it was our first night at the hotel, and we were tired, it was a chore to figure out the electric, converter and adapters (220 to 110 conversion) , light/fan switches, etc. The Marriott had its predictable comfortable bedding, and we were each able to enjoy a very restful night’s sleep.
Saturday, February 11th-2nd Day
Saturday dawned with overcast skies. We enjoyed the first of our daily buffet breakfasts in the Marriott. The buffet included every type of food from fresh fruit to made-to-order omelettes, etc., etc. Considering the high prices of food in Sydney restaurants, this turned out to be a fairly good value, and very convenient. As we were discussing the possible options for the day, we met an impressive young server, Fahred, originally from Afghanistan, who had lived in Germany for 20 years when his parents left Afghanistan during the Russian conflict there. We saw Fahred on most days, and found him fascinating and delightful to talk with. We also received a few helpful tips about the area.
After breakfast, we were off to the Opera House for a 45-minute tour ($32.AUD each) We enjoyed learning about the history of this iconic symbol of Sydney, which we view on TV every New Year’s Eve to witness the first fireworks from around the world. We found it interesting to learn that. after design submissions by many architects, the one chosen was that of a Danish architect, Jorn Utzon. That was 1956. A predicted four-year construction began in 1959. There was significant under-estimation of costs ($7 million estimate to complete; $102 million-actual amount) and construction fell way behind schedule. As with many novel ideas, there were multiple naysayers, ego clashes, and politicking which interfered with financing and construction. It was finally completed in 1973, but we found it sad to learn that Utzon had quit in disgust in 1966. Once again, in 2004, Jorn Utzon and his son were commissioned for renovations. But Jorn died in 2008, never having seen the project on which he had devoted so much of his time and energy. But the Opera House serves as a focal point in the Sydney harbor, a recognizable symbol of the city and the hub of entertainment. In touring the Opera House, we learned that it is includes six venues: opera, concerts, theatre, and dance, and, in addition, a studio for emerging artists. Even though it’s referred to as the “Opera House”, the largest venue, known for its superb acoustics, is the concert hall. The tour included three videos and many, many steps to climb.
After the Opera House tour, we were eager to catch a boat from Captain Cook Cruises for a Harbor Tour. (1 ¼ hours) Soon after boarding the boat, drizzle turned into a rain shower, which lasted until about the last twenty minutes. Did we indicate that the tour was narrated? However, the passengers on this tour were very noisy, along with crew moving about setting up for a dinner to follow. So the narration was difficult to follow. But the sun came out for the last twenty minutes, and we did enjoy some great views. And the now beautiful weather enticed us to sit on the harbor and have a chicken souvlaki on a stick for a late lunch before we headed back to the Marriott to get ready for the evening’s symphony: Beethoven’s ODE TO JOY. As we made our way along the harbor to the Opera House, we witnessed seemingly hundreds of people along the walk, and in the many cafes and restaurants. The closer we got to the Opera House, the more hordes of people were gathered, mostly dressed up. The area in and around the Circular Quay, with the soft evening sun, was beautiful, and many people were making use of the benches all along the walkway to enjoy it. We found a chicken and avocado wrap with a Tiger draft that was perfect as our pre-concert meal, with an eye to a dessert afterward. We had sufficient time to enjoy the awesome view before heading in to pick up our tickets at “Will Call” and find our seats in “peanut heaven”; literally, almost at the top of the concert hall. On the way in, we purchased a CD ($20 AUD) with Beethoven’s 9th as a memento of our experience, and made our way up what seemed to be 100’s of steps. The first part of the concert was a heavy Strauss composition, reflecting all the destruction and death of World War II, (not too enjoyable for us) but was chosen, it was explained, to juxtapose Beethoven’s ODE TO JOY, which was awesome. Accompanying the symphony were 150+ members of the Sydney Choral group, and 4 sopranos, who all performed in German without any music. As we left the concert hall, there was a fireworks show on the side of the Opera House. It was a real party atmosphere! Aussies do love to party! As anticipated, we stopped at Guylian’s to share a Belgian waffle with ice cream & fruit, ($31 AUD) and a cappucino. It’s now close to midnight, the crowd is thinning a bit, and the last boats are leaving to other locations around the harbor. So we head back to our Marriott, feeling that we had had a good day and a wonderful evening.
Sunday, February 12th-3rd Day
At breakfast, we again meet Fahred, plus a couple of other nice servers: Ashlee and Jenny. They are very engaging, offering us ideas about Sydney, and very interested in the US.
We enjoy the uniqueness of Sydney in its location all around the harbor, with transportation from one part to the other by boat. Today we decide to purchase a “Hop On-Hop Off” Boat Pass and explore other areas. Apparently, others had the same idea as the first boat was full. While we were waiting for the next one, we met a couple, Beverly and Peter, who lived in Perth. Originally, Beverly was from England and he from New Zealand. A good discussion about Australian politics, especially with their elections coming up and interest in Julia Gillard’s re-election helped pass the time. We got off at the Taronga Zoo stop and walked up the long hill and turned right for a walk offering fantastic views of Sydney Harbor. We decided that $44.AUD each was more than we wanted to shell out, since our interest was mainly to see a kangaroo, koala, and platypus, all unique to Australia. We thought (wrongly as it turned out) that as we traveled farther north into Queensland, and went into some forest areas, we would see one or the other of these. We learned that locals have rarely seen them “in the wild.” But at the time we were happy to enjoy the beautiful walk, and hop back on the boat for our next destination: Watson’s Bay, a harbor side eastern suburb of Sydney. We had heard that having lunch at Doyle’s Fish Restaurant was a quintessential thing to do, and planned to do just that. Upon arrival, we discovered Camp Cove Beach, backed by a large, green hilly park, and Doyle’s. However, since we did not have a reservation at the white-tablecloth restaurant, it would be a couple of hours until we could get served. When considered the wait, we decided to try the restaurant/bar on the hill beside it, and enjoy our meal at the outdoor place under the umbrellas. Two friendly English ladies, who were ready to leave their seats, stayed there to save them for us while we picked up our lunch. (1 order fish & chips: $21.50 AUD, 2 beers $6 AUD each) Nice people all around! We had a conversation with these ladies, and learned that the son of one woman was a student in Montana. She raved about the kindness of the the lady in the house where he rented space. . .even doing his laundry for him, no charge. As we finished our lunch, we gave over our table to a couple who lived in the local area, he from Sydney and she from Croatia. We had an interesting exchange with them as well.
We made our way up the long, grassy slope as we sensed that a series of steps and a wall at the top must be some attraction. And we were not disappointed. The area, called “Watson’s Bay Gap”, is an ocean cliff, part of the South Headlands, with a steep drop-off and waves crashing against the rocks. It was impressive, and reminded us of a mini-version of the Cliffs of Mohr in Ireland.
Down at the dock, there were several boat companies which pulled in. We knew the time schedule of ours, and headed down the long hill in time to make the next one. However, we learned from others waiting for a different company’s boat that ours had pulled in at an area not visible from the wharf entry, and we missed it. UGH! At this point, we were tired and eager to get going, especially since the sky suddenly became dark and cloudy. The next boat arrived about 35 minutes later, and we luckily boarded just before the downpour came. At least sitting undercover on the boat, we were able to somewhat enjoy the ride back to the Circular Quay, making a stop at their amusement park and at the popular Darling Harbor, an area we had yet to explore. After being out all day, we not only felt tired, but disheveled, and returned to to our hotel to stretch out and freshen up for dinner.
We again headed for the “Rocks” area for dinner. It was a pleasant stroll up a side “walking” street, called “Herald Square”, filled with beautiful sculptures and flowers. We learned that it was named in honor of Sydney’s paper, the “Morning Herald“. We walked along George St., where the Four Seasons’ Hotel, plus some other nice hotels, restaurants, and classy shops are located, The “Rocks Café”, an attractive little Italian place, seemed like a perfect spot have dinner. All seemed to go fine as we ordered our drinks with salad and spaghetti bolognaise to share. Then, we had a most unusual experience! After hearing loud noises from the open kitchen (pans being banged, angry outbursts) with DH witnessing an obviously upset chef, we waited. . .and waited. . . and waited. . .and waited. No food. No one stopped by our table. Finally, we caught the eye of our waiter who, in a very hushed voice, said that the chef had walked out, and that they had called in another chef in the neighborhood, a former employee, who knew their menu. The waiter brought us a basket of bread, an offer of a complimentary dessert and coffee, and a profuse apology. Finally, we got our meals, which were very tasty. With a free dessert and cappuccinos, our meal was our least expensive yet. But patience was a part of the price! We arrived back at the Marriott about 10 PM, looking forward to a night of rest.
Monday, February 13th-4th Day
Today was Manly Beach Day for us. Manly is not only a beautiful beach, but a high-end residential area. Quay 3 in Sydney is busy all day and evening with the Manly Beach Ferry. On the evening we attended the Opera House Symphony , we had witnessed people dressed up, some women with long dresses and men in suits, getting off the ferry heading for the performance. We caught the 11:30 ferry and had a beautiful trip out to Manly, as the day was picture-perfect. En route we met a couple, she from Toronto and he from South Island, New Zealand. who were planning to be married and live in Sydney. He shared some details about the South Island, which will be our destination in a week or so.
The Manly Ferry Terminal was very clean and organized. As we exited, we passed a large enclosed area of food stalls lined up. But we were interested in the beach. After leaving the food stall area, we crossed a street onto the “Corso”, a walking street with a variety of shops and more restaurants. Finally, the beach. Beautiful! Surfers. . .although the surf wasn’t that high on this day. The Manly Beach is long with white sand, with walks on either end leading to “overlooks” out to the ocean. Not far from here are the North Headlands, a “channel” through which the boats pass to the ocean in the famous Sydney-Hobart, Tasmania sailboat race, said to be the longest in the world: 900+ miles. As we were sitting on one of the many benches along the beachfront, shaded by palm trees, we got involved in a rather long conversation with a couple who lived in Sydney: Dot & Mack. We learned quite a bit about their travels, which were many and varied.
We had lunch at a delightful Italian (again!) Restaurant: “Cicella” located right across from the beach. Shared salad and spaghetti entrée, beer/wine, cappuccino, and cookie: ($50.AUD with drinks) Our server was from Sweden and the hostess from Manchester, England. We had a nice encounter with each. After a leisurely lunch, we returned to the beach area. Skies were darkening. We lost interest in removing our shoes to walk in the sand, thinking that it looked like rain might be imminent. We decided to catch the 3:45 ferry back to Circular Quay. A good move, allowing time to return to the hotel, check travel docs for Cairns flight on Wednesday, and begin organizing luggage.
Dinner this evening was at Guglian’s at the “Rocks”: a tasty beef bourguignon pie followed by a chocolate dessert and cappuccino. ($60. AUD) After dinner, we enjoyed a great stroll on the walkway at the Circular Quay Harbor. Beautiful evening. . .the night lights, boats coming and going, Opera House across the harbor. We’re glad we have 5 days in Sydney!
Tuesday, February 14th, 5th Day
Although there were still many attractions to explore within close proximity to the harbor, we thought that we’d like to see some of the surrounding city. We decided on the “Hop On/Hop Off Bus” as our most practical means to get at least a birds’ eye view of Sydney away from the harbor. The itinerary included 90-minute trips on two different buses, with routes covering different parts of the city. The weather cooperated, so we were able to get an overview of the city, including some of the wealthier residential areas where each home had an ocean view. In addition, we saw St. Mary’s Cathedral in Hyde Park, King’s Cross, and the very large Bondi Beach, known for its surfing. Due to time constraints, we decided not to spend time there, having been to Manly Beach yesterday. An area we really liked was Rose Harbor, a beautiful neighborhood right on the level of the water. Having completed most of the second route, we got off at Darling Harbor, a large tourist hub marina with lots of restaurants and shops, including a Hard Rock Café. The convention center is located here. We had lunch at Olivio’s: finally a deal: two entrees for the price of one. We walked over the large pedestrian bridge which overlooks all the boats in the harbor. After descending the bridge on the opposite side, we were fairly close to our bus stop, and within a short time, we heading back to our hotel area. We arrived at about 5 PM. Since tomorrow was the day for our early AM flight to Cairns, we needed to do our flight check-in, pack bags, including our swimming stuff and snorkel tubes, and prepare the remainder of our luggage for checking at the Marriott until our February 18th return. This being Valentine’s evening, we wanted to celebrate! In order to conserve time, we decided to opt for a a taxi instead of the ferry, and head over to Cockle Bay at the end of Darling Harbor where we knew that there would be a 9 PM fireworks show. The Harbor was hopping with activity! We met a couple from San Pedro, CA who had just gotten off a Queen Mary Around the World Tour beginning in Capetown, South Africa and traveling around Australia. We learned from them that it’s possible to purchase a part of an “Around the World” tour, which is what they had done. There were huge crowds at the harbor for the fireworks, and this couple was nice enough to make room for us on the top row of steps to view the show. After a few minutes of chatting, the fireworks began, and quite a show it was! The restaurants were all packed, and we didn’t want to hang around too long as we wanted to get back to our hotel to finish packing and be ready for a 5 AM wake up. So dinner was a salad and pizza at “Eat, Love, Pizza”. Our waitress was a Parisian girl, and since we had just returned from Paris a month earlier, we had fun sharing ideas. We caught a taxi back to the Marriott by 11:30, eager for our next day’s trip to explore the Great Barrier Reef area.
PHASE 2: AUSTRALIA:
Pt. Douglas-Great Barrier Reef
Wednesday, February 15th, 6th Day
5 AM came early. Even though we had prepared as much as possible the previous evening, we found that we needed the allotted 1 ½ hours to take care of last-minute details, including hotel check-out, luggage storage, etc. We opened the breakfast buffet, and quickly ate some goodies. Guys at the porter’s desk weighed our luggage; a good double-check to our luggage scale. A cab was waiting for us, and by 7:20 we were off. We were happy that we had left a bit early as we ran into a “traffic incident” (as they called it) causing a major back-up on the freeway en route to the airport.
Additionally, our flight itinerary indicated “Jet Star” in the domestic terminal, but we found out that it was a Qantas flight (better!) and had to transfer to the international terminal, fortunately only a short walk. In contrast to the $60 AUD charge for our initial taxi into the city, using our credit card, the charge for this trip was $30 AUD cash. We thought he deserved a nice tip!
Flight check-in in went smoothly. Luggage was self-loaded onto a conveyor belt as a Qantas rep watched the weight. Security was fairly fast. We were happy to finally be in our gate area when it was announced that the flight was delayed because something had happened in the cargo hold which caused the staff to move all the contents. Finally inside the plane, there was a confusion with seating. Some passengers discovered that their assigned seats were occupied because others were in the wrong seats. The attendants had to really “assert themselves” to get all passengers to take their assigned seats before the plane could be ready for take-off. Once in the air, the flight was smooth: great aircraft, breakfast served, and pretty good seats. We enjoyed the interactions with the flight attendants who seemed very interested in talking about the US.
After landing and retrieving our luggage, rental car pick-up went smoothly and we began our driving-on-the-left experience heading north to Port Douglas. It’s the turns and round-abouts which present the challenges. It had been about three years since we’d driven under the “English rules”, so we took our time getting into the groove with DH, the driver and DW, the navigator. Not far north from Cairns, the highway began hugging the coast, which, to our surprise, in addition to gorgeous turquoise water, had a backdrop of mountains. Because we couldn’t resist frequent stops, and having lunch at a beach pub along the way, it took us about three hours to do a one-hour drive. A section of the highway had only one lane due to a landslide which completely covered the other lane. Construction crews were out in full force.
As we left the main highway to head into Port Douglas, we were impressed with the pretty “boulevard-like” road, and in a short time found the “Pepper’s Beach Club”, our place for the next three evenings. It was a bit disappointing to find out that the “water view” indicated on the website was not of the ocean, but of the hotel swimming pool. But the place was very nice, and our room was attractive, private and well-appointed.
One of our main interests in visiting this area was a snorkeling venture on the Great Barrier Reef. From previous diving and snorkeling experiences, we did not want to go on a boat carrying large crowds of passengers. The attendant at the hotel was talking up such a company which would pick us up at 8 AM. After our rush and activity of the past few days, we did not want another “early rise day.” So we drove down to the Mirage Marina and found a company with a smaller boat, the “Reef Sprinter“, which carried only 12 passengers, and left at 11:30 AM. This was perfect for our needs. So we locked in our reservations for the next day.
Port Douglas is a small resort town with restaurants and shops on one main streets and several side streets. We drove the couple of blocks from the marina into town and had dinner at what turned out to be a favorite restaurant: “The Iron Bar”. We enjoyed a grilled fish which was unfamiliar to us: barramundi, and great draft beer. There was musical entertainment, but perhaps of a kind which many would not enjoy: hundreds of starlings hanging out in the trees which lined the middle of the street. After our meal, we stopped at the local grocery to pick up drinks and muffins for breakfast.
We headed back to our hotel ready for a good night’s sleep.
Thursday, February 16th, 7th Day
For the first time in several days, it was nice to “sleep in” ‘til 7:30. Sitting out on our deck overlooking the pool, even freeze-dried instant coffee and muffins were a treat. We decided to jump into the pool and get a taste of the water before our snorkel trip. The time went quickly until it was time to leave for our venture. ($110. each: including skins (“stinger suits” to them), masks, and fins. We brought our own snorkel tubes or they would have been provided. The driver and guide, Steve, had a fast “jet” boat which provided an exciting 9 km ride out to the reef in about 15 minutes. With so few snorklers, the water remained very calm and we were able to see gorgeous-colored coral and a multitude of beautiful fish. We could have rented underwater cameras for $40. NZD, but we decided to take our photos on the boat, and purchase pictures of the fish and coral, so we could just relax and take in the beauty we saw when snorkeling.
After a wonderful experience, we enjoyed the exciting boat ride back and looked forward to a lunch of barramundi & chips at a restaurant overlooking the marina. By this time, we felt “starved”. We picked up some souvenir shirts and headed back to Pepper’s Beach Club to catch a quick nap and shower for the evening in town. As we checked out all the restaurants, last evening’s experience at the Iron Bar had us longing for that draft beer and their evening “special”: grilled black angus rump steak, which we shared. Together with cappucinos, our bill was $47.50 NZD.
Back at Pepper’s Beach Club, we stopped at the reception to talk about reservations for the Scenic Railway/Skyrail to Kuranda Rainforest. Dylan, at the front desk, was extremely helpful in getting us all lined up to do the trip the following day, and providing us with a map detailing directions for reaching the meeting point at the Skyrail station.
Friday, February 17th, 8th Day
The Kuranda Rainforest experience involved rising at 6:00 AM to get going so as to make the hour-long drive south along the beautiful coast to arrive at the Skyrail Office to make our connection. The $99. package price included all day parking, a shuttle to the train station, reserved seats on the train to ascend to Kuranda, and a Skyrail gondola to return. Ascending on the train, we saw beautiful mountain scenery with a few waterfalls.
We would rate the Kuranda Experience a 6 or 7 on a 10-point scale. A recorded narration on the train was difficult to hear, overpowered by noisy kids and other chatter. The top of Kuranda was very touristy. In addition to Bird & Animal “Parks”, there were little cafes and many gift and souvenir shops. After getting a bite to eat, and DH purchasing a leather belt and souvenir boomerang, we didn’t feel the need to spend more time at the top, so we caught the shuttle bus for the Skyrail. The gondola provided great vistas from atop the rainforest, and we could observe the variety and humongous sizes of some of the trees. The Skyrail is said to be the longest in the world; in fact, to do the complete descent, it was necessary to ride two gondolas, each doing a part of the mountain. This gondola ride was a worthwhile experience. After a snack at the little gondola café, we were eager to head north away from Cairns before the afternoon work traffic build-up, and again enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery. We stopped at Palm Cove, a quaint resort right on the coast. Quite a few little hotels and restaurants lined the main, and seemingly only, street. Interesting that the Palm Cove Beach, which was immaculately clean, had a “sectioned off” area in the water with a sign indicating something to the effect: “Warning: Crocodiles. Stay within cordoned area.” After enjoying Palm Cove, we traveled north up the coastal road back to Port Douglas, and explored the beach area there. Although the beach isn’t as pristine as Palm Cove, we discovered a phenomenal outlook at the top of “Island Top Drive” which had views in all directions, and a copper compass indicating the distances to many popular areas of the world. We realized why we refer to the area as the “Land Down Under”.
We found it difficult to believe that this was our final evening in Port Douglas. With no free WiFi access, Dylan at reception was helpful in checking us in for our flight on Jet Star, and printing our boarding passes. Again, with a different airline, there was the concern about luggage.
Having taken care our flight details, we went into town and attempted to explore other restaurants. It was Friday evening . . .lots of crowds, loud music, partying, and long waits at several places. Since we had to leave early in the morning, we again seemed drawn to the “Iron Bar” where we could be seated quickly. We upped our meal choice to an “Eye fillet”; 200 mg., and a salad, which we shared. Again, our jug of Pure Blonde! A treat for a last evening! We wanted to return to our hotel to prepare for our early morning travel.
Saturday, February 18th, 9th Day
We were up at 5:45 AM in order to check out, load the car, and make the 1 ½ hour drive to the Cairns Airport, allowing for a stop for gas. For the rental car return, we had to park it, fill out the mileage, (270 km), and take the keys to the desk inside. . .a bit more time consuming than most car rental returns. Then followed the walk with our luggage to the domestic terminal.
All went according to our allotted time frame. And the lady at the Jet Star service count “got it” about our international itinerary, that the luggage rules were vague, and let us check two bags, both carry-on size. We were off at 9:30 for the 3-hour flight. We lost an hour from Cairns to Sydney, and arrived at 1:30.
The flight time passed quickly, especially as DH had an interesting conversation with a guy Jim, originally from the Netherlands, now an Australian citizen who has lived in Cairns for the past twenty years. He talked about his business ventures, Australian economy, politics, etc. and relayed how at the age of 6, while in the Netherlands, he witnessed a Nazi soldier shoot 30+ men. Because of the fear of the Nazis, his parents split the family apart for safety. Jim bought us an orange juice. . .$3.00 each.
After arrival, we took the Shuttle Bus ($15. Each) to downtown Sydney for a one last night at the Marriott Circular Quay. Our hotel stop was the last one, so it was 2:40 ’til we arrived. For this last evening, we were able to use Marriott points. They assigned us to a nice room with a view of the harbor. After check-in, we headed down to Circular Quay for a pizza and special dessert cannelloni at Rosselli’s. As suggested earlier, changing locations requires use of valuable time. Such was the case on this day, as we had to take care of our flight check-in for the following day, gather all of our luggage and re-pack for our “international flight” to Christchurch, NZ in the morning. We decided to forego our plans to ferry over to Darling Harbor, as we had to prepare for another early-rise day to catch the flight. It wouldn’t have been our choice to return to Sydney only for an overnight, but that was the only arrangement offered by American Airlines using our FF miles.
We spent that last beautiful evening “close to home” by having dinner at the harbor, strolling the area around the Opera House, taking a few last photos, and enjoying one last cappuccino. We recounted all the wonderful things we had experienced while in Australia, knowing that we had but scratched the surface of the attractions in that large country. We appreciated the sense of humor, easy laughter, and super-friendliness of the people we had met during the past 11 days. We enjoyed many Aussie expressions, but our favorite was, “No worries!, which seemed to be a response to any concern.
We knew that the past several days were the most hectic of our trip, and had ourselves geared up for them. Now we were beginning to look forward to the change of pace which we anticipated in New Zealand. After tomorrow’s flight from Sydney into Christchurch, we’d have a couple of weeks without early AM wake-ups, and the opportunity to plan our own daily rhythms, since we would have our rental car.
We intend to post the report of our New Zealand experience soon!
Trip Report: The Land Down Under Feb.-March, 2012
INTRODUCTION: Trip to Sydney and Cairns AUS, South
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