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Australia - 4 Week Family Trip Itinerary

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Mar 13th, 2013, 10:08 AM
  #1
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Australia - 4 Week Family Trip Itinerary

I'm looking for some help on an itinerary for Australia this winter. This will be part of a larger seven-week Australia & NZ trip. The Australia portion will probably start around July 21, and last about four weeks. We have to be in Melbourne from July 25-28 for work reasons.

We're two mid-forties adults, a fourteen yro girl, and a six yro boy. Fairly active. We enjoy good scenery and some hiking (the boy can manage about four miles probably); other activities would be fun, although we probably won't get very extreme. Wildlife is big with the kids. The kids are so-so on museums. We're from northern California, so we don't feel the need to visit wineries. Definitely want to see a variety of stuff; kids will probably like desert and rainforest. Some of us definitely want some city time too.

Current high level thinking is:
- Sydney
- Melbourne
- Uluru & Alice Springs
- Darwin / Kakadu (& maybe Litchfield and Katherine)
- sailing charter in the Whitsundays (I'm a bit of a sailor, or used to be; will it be warm enough in early August?)

What do you all think?

Should we add beach time in Port Douglas and do the Daintree? Or does that duplicate the Darwin area rainforest and the Whitsundays beaches?

Someone suggested Kangaroo Island, and I think the kids would love the animals, but I'm wondering if Darwin/Kakadu is more unique, and whether we can see KI animals (koalas, roos, etc) somewhere else on the trip. Plus since we live in NorCal, I don't think the KI coastal scenery will be all that unusual to us, and we've certainly got plenty of seals and sea lions around here. And I'm guessing the weather will be better up north than in KI.

Thanks in advance!
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Mar 13th, 2013, 03:41 PM
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I suggest that you head to north Queensland as well as the Whitsundays.

The rainforests around Darwin are nothing like most tropical or sub-tropical rainforests. They are extremely interesting but by that time of year it is likely that they will be starting to lose their leaves. The monsoon climate has a very strong dry season and the forests have adapted. Rapid growth in the wet and then shut down in the dry.

By July the birds will be starting to congregate in the drying waterholes in Kakadu. I love the scenery there and have gone a number of times to chase rare birds and mammals. This has been with mixed success but then again if chasing the rare stuff you expect that.

If you are into wildlife and visit the Wet Tropics, Cairns region, then you should go to the Atherton Tablelands as that is the place to see the endemic wildlife and some general Australian stuff but no Koalas. The Daintree area has interesting botany and a wonderful range of invertebrates but if you are after mammals or birds (other than cassowary) then head for the hills.

Be prepared to take a night tour as most of our mammals are at least crepuscular if not nocturnal. At that time of year the Yellow-bellied Gliders will be active on their feed trees and other gliders will come in for the feast. Do not expect to see mammals on a night tour on the coast except for bandicoot.

Someone from Melbourne should be able to give you information on Koalas down there.
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Mar 14th, 2013, 03:19 AM
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You'll find wildlife parks around Melbourne, Sydney and Darwin (not sure about Queensland), so there's no need to go all the way to Kangaroo Island.
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Mar 14th, 2013, 10:34 AM
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The best wildlife viewing in the wild we've had have been in the Atherton Tablelands, Kangaroo Island and Tasmania.
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Mar 14th, 2013, 10:28 PM
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Thanks for the input. Sounds like we could skip KI and pick up the wildlife viewing somewhere else. Will check out the Atherton tablelands. Cairns / Daintree sound like they should be on the itinerary. Skip Darwin / Kakadu, or keep it?

And will it be warm enough in the Whitsundays for sailing and snorkeling (probably second week in August)?
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Mar 16th, 2013, 12:22 PM
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Hmm... bumping this. Current thinking is that we will have 19 days to spend in Uluru, Alice Springs, Darwin area, and Queensland, including the day we fly out of Melbourne and the day we fly home to the US (probably out of Cairns).

I'm concerned about the weather in the Whitsundays in early August (as well as the hassle of yet another flight to get there); it appears the average high temperature for the month is about 22 or 23, which doesn't sound ideally warm to be out sailing all day. Anyone done the Whitsundays in August and want to chime in?

The other big question is whether to do Darwin & Kakadu at all, or just concentrate on doing Uluru/Alice and northern Queensland right. We don't feel the need to squeeze everything in, and would be comfortable putting off the Top End for a future trip (maybe combined w/ WA). But if everyone thinks that's crazy and we have plenty of time, then maybe we should do it.

Our goals are to see lots great scenery and wildlife, have some beach time, and not rush around too much.

So: six days in Uluru/Alice and ten days in Palm Cove/Pt Douglas, Daintree, and Atherton Tablelands? Or six days in Uluru/Alice, about four days in Darwin/Kakadu/Litchfield, and five or six days in Palm Cove/Pt Douglas/Daintree?

My gut is telling me to skip the Top End, and just concentrate on doing the Red Centre and the Cairns area really thoroughly yet calmly, especially since it will be at the end of a seven week trip. But if you all think we have plenty of time to fit in Darwin, and it shouldn't be missed, then I'll reconsider. Feedback?
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Mar 16th, 2013, 12:29 PM
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Do not skip Darwin/Litchfield/Kakadu. I've been there twice in the July/August timeframe and it's a great time of year to be there--warm and dry. It's probably my favorite part of Australia (and that's coming from someone who used to live there and saw a lot of the country.)

Even though the kids may be "so-so" on museums, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin is not to be missed. My kids (who were 13 and 10 at the time of our first visit) enjoyed seeing the aboriginal art, experiencing Cyclone Tracy, seeing the exhibit they called "Australian Animals that Can Kill You" and the huge taxidermied crocodile, Sweetheart. The museum is free, so you don't have to feel like you need to be there all day.

A couple of other things you would enjoy in Darwin are: 1) hand-feeding the fish at Aquascene and 2) Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Our family also found the self-guided tour at Fannie Bay Gaol to be interesting. If you enjoy planes, don't miss the Australian Aviation Heritage Center.

Litchfield National Park is fabulous! We and our kids found the termite mounds fascinating and we loved swimming in all the natural pools.

We visited Kakadu as well, but I'll admit that it did not particularly interest us. There's some good hikes and if you like birds, the Yellow River cruise might be worth doing, but expect a lot of tourists on the boat.

Another place we enjoyed in the Top End was Katherine. We went canoeing on the river at Katherine Gorge; we went hiking, picnicking and swimming in the natural pools at Edith Falls NP and we did the Crocodile Night Adventure where we saw crocs in the wild and had a great Aussie BBQ dinner under the stars.

You should plan to spend at least 5 - 7 days in the Top End.
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Mar 16th, 2013, 12:36 PM
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You were posting your comments about skipping the Top End just as I was writing about how much we loved that area. What is your plan for Alice Springs? We've been there as well and I just didn't find it that interesting or with that much to see/do, especially compared to the Top End.

See what there is to do in Alice Springs and what there is to do in the Top End and decide which interests you more. You may decide that there is a lot you want to do in Alice, but if it were me, I'd go to Uluru for 2- 3 days and skip Alice Springs in favor of more time in the Top End.
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Mar 17th, 2013, 12:35 PM
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longhorn55, thanks for the input, and the great Top End ideas!

We are interested in Alice because my wife is from Arizona and loves the desert, and also because we both loved Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice. I've heard from other people that Alice is not overwhelming, and our thought was to devote a day to it, and spend the rest of the time in the McDonnell range and Kings Canyon. Another driver to doing this was that after a week in the Red Centre, we'd pretty much be done with it, and probably wouldn't feel the need to go back on a future trip and hit the things we'd missed the first time around. But everyone does seem to love the Top End so much.

I'll see what the DW thinks about it. There may also be some financial considerations -- all these flights are starting to add up I think.
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Mar 17th, 2013, 08:50 PM
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How come no one ever wants to come to WA?
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Mar 17th, 2013, 10:08 PM
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Melnq8: We do! Really, we do!

But could you move it a bit closer to the Americas?
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Mar 17th, 2013, 11:26 PM
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Yeah, I know. Too freaking far away.

I'm flying from Perth to CO next week and not looking forward to the flights one single bit.
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Mar 18th, 2013, 09:34 AM
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OK, talked to the DW last night, and Alice is off the itinerary. So I think that Darwin / Kakadu are on the itinerary. We're also going to leave out the Whitsundays.

So in about 18-19 days, we'll hit Uluru, the Top End, and Cairns area.

How many days should we devote to Darwin, Kakadu, Litchfield, and maybe Katherine? And advice on the best way to do a Darwin-Kakadu-Katherine triangle (or the reverse), with a stop at Litchfield?

Oh, and what's with the no nonstop flights from Melbourne to Ayers Rock? WTF?
Looks like we'll have to waste most of a day getting there and another one going on to Darwin. #@[email protected]!$$*&!

Melnq8 - yes, that's got to be at least three flights. Might be cold in Colorado, but probably sunny; going skiing?
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Mar 18th, 2013, 10:02 PM
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Hi, kbob88,

What a shame you are missing out Alice Springs. It's such an interesting place. Never mind - next time!

If you click on my name, go down to reports and 3 of the 4 reports are about our trip to the Northern Territory in July/August 2011.

We also visited Alice Springs in 2010 but I cannot find the report on Fodors at present. We found a lot to do in the week we were there, which did not include activities outside the town.

Cairns at that time of the year is pretty good too.

Enjoy your planning, and your trip. Australia is an amazing place.
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Mar 19th, 2013, 12:08 AM
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Four flights, five if you count the detour to Vegas. Gonna be a verrrry long day. No skiing, hopefully some hiking.

Looking forward to the cold, especially after a long Perth summer. Bring it on! OZ summers just about do me in.

Back to the trip planning...
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Mar 19th, 2013, 10:59 PM
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Melnq8,

We want to come to WA but we have decided to leave that until we are both retired, which will be a reality at the end of the year. So in about 100 years when we have saved enough money out of our small 'pension' we will be there with bells on!

At present we are planning - and spending on - our Big OE, which neither of us has done. 3 months away in Hong Kong, Europe, Canada and San Francisco is going to be very exciting for us. Plus the added excitement of finally meeting my penfriend of 50+ years in England is making the next 4 months go rather slowly!
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Mar 19th, 2013, 11:32 PM
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Sounds like a lovely trip dotty. Big OE?
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Mar 20th, 2013, 12:06 AM
  #18
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Dotty, thanks, I have already read your great trip reports! Sorry you came down with the flu while you were in Kakadu I probably need to go back over them again and see if I have any questions. You did Darwin > Litchfield > Kakadu > Pine Creek > Katherine, right? I think you went in and out of the south entrance of Kakadu. Was that a good routing? I guess you didn't go back to Darwin, so saved you some driving there. Anything you would have done differently? Looks like you spent about ten or eleven days doing Darwin, Litchfield/Batchelor, Pine Creek, and Kakadu. If you had to cut it to seven days, any idea what you would have cut?

Melnq8, we have friends in the Margaret River area, so we will definitely get out there someday!
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Mar 20th, 2013, 10:39 PM
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Melnq8 - Big OE = Overseas Experience, usually to the other side of the world! Some think we are mad spending so much on our OE so close to our retirement, but I would rather be poor and pleased I had had the wonderful experience we are going to have, than to be better off financially but resentful that I hadn't visited the other side of the world.

kbob88 - we entered Kakadu from the Darwin end, and out through the south end. As to what to cut out, that is difficult, and depends on what you are interested in. You could probably take a day from Darwin (I wouldn't normally recommend this as there is lots to do!) That too could depend on whether or not you want to visit Litchfield with its many waterfalls. The magnetic termite mounds were intriguing, and the Florence and Wangi Falls are interesting. The others I cannot comment on as we didn't see the others.

I guess your time could look like this:
Darwin - 3 days
Litchfield - 1 day - if you leave Darwin early enough you could get through Litchfield and then on to Kakadu
Kakadu - 2 days - Yellow Waters cruise at 7am is a definite goer. It's not too far from Kakadu to Katherine which you could do later in the day.
Katherine - 1 day to see Nitmulik Gorge, and anything else there that may interest you.

Good luck with your planning - it is such a hard part of the trip wanting to see everything but being limited by time - and finances, too.
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Mar 22nd, 2013, 09:53 AM
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Another question for you all:

One of the domestic flights we're looking at has a 4 3/4 hour layover in Alice Springs (it's Darwin -> Ayers Rock, and that's the best flight).

Is it feasible to take a taxi into town and do something and get back to the airport within that timeframe? The airport looks reasonably close. If so, what should be the one or two things we do (given that we'll have a six-year old boy with us)?

Or, seeing as how the drive from Alice to Uluru is 4.5 hours, are we better off getting the flight only to Alice (saving $130pp), renting a car, and driving to Uluru? Or is that a long, boring drive, and the time is better spent in Alice somewhere?

I suppose this also leads into the question of whether it's better have your own wheels at Uluru, or to just rely on the tours and shuttles. We'd probably be at Uluru for nearly two full days -- arrive midday first day, spend two nights, leave midday third day.
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