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Surfergirl Jun 18th, 2018 06:21 AM

Australia: Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne
Finally, the trip report: Australia. 3 weeks. Divided our time among Sydney, Cairns, and Melbourne.Having never been before, but knowing that the country was big (but not HOW big!), I decided to partly plan on my own, and partly get the assistance of a travel agent specializing in Down Under travel. Getting help is not my usual protocol since I enjoy the planning phase almost as much as the trip itself and, besides, I have serious micromanagement issues. However, I disclosed this fault to my Melbourne born and raised travel agent, so she wasn’t offended or insulted when we worked together planning the trip with all of my “I wannas”.

Digression: On the “big country” part, when I lived in England, I had friends from California come to visit and they were going to do a road trip. They planned visiting me in London a few days, then drive up to Oxford for a visit before moving northerly to York. They had planned FOUR DAYS to travel by car from London to Oxford. After a good laugh, it was explained that while a map of England might be the same physical paper size as a map of the United States, the actual travel time by car was about 1 ½ hours.

Time of year: April. In my mind, that is my October, and always a good time to travel – not too hot, not too cold. Didn’t realize all of the climatic environments in Australia – and I should have, considering we were going to zipline in a rainforest, see crocodiles, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, and bring summer and Southern California winter style clothing. In short, we were prepared for all kinds of weather, and that’s what we had. From California to Oz, I learned you lose an entire day going there, but return to California based on date and time, before you left Australia. Which seems like a time travel movie, but for us, even after 20 or so hours, no jet lag on either end! It could have been the nice beds in business class on Air New Zealand . . . .

Sydney: We had 4 full days in Sydney, 5 if you count the afternoon of our arrival, and the morning before our departure. Our travel agent put us up in the CBD (Australian for Central Business District) in an apartment hotel called the Adina. I had my reservations, but it was a good match for us. It was similar to the self-contained Marriott Residence Inns, but our unit included two balconies, one of which was huge. It also had a washer/dryer, great since my husband is not an “in the bathtub wash as you wear” kind of guy. But, yeah, a really spacious place with a pool and spa not over-run by scores of kids, and literally across the street from a rail line (going through an indoor mall).Speaking of malls, Sydney’s CBD has to be the enclosed mall capital of the world. Well, maybe the warmer weather world, since I do recall quite the underground shopping city in Toronto. Seriously, there are so many arcades and malls, one blending into another, you practically never have to go outside.

Transportation in City: the Opal card. Pick one up at any 7/11 (and they have a LOT), and they will give you your first top up in the amount you pay for. The Opal card is used on all public transportation: trains, trams, and buses. I’m not sure if it’s easy for everyone to figure out (like, do you tap when you go in and tap when you leave?), but because Los Angeles with all of its relatively new public transportation, and its requirement of the use of a tap card, I’ve become an expert in my own mind. That said, with all of the construction going on in Sydney, it does mess a little with public transportation, especially if you are circling a lot of activities at or near the Wharf Quay at the weekend. The city does try and help the locals and the visitors by providing free bus service when the trains are not going directly to the quay, and lots of staff helping you find the right tram, train, or bus.

Sydney tours: We did two. The de rigueur one of the Sydney Opera House and one entitled “When Rum Ran the Rocks”. The second one involved history of the rocks and history of the pubs in the Rocks. And a lot of drinking in the pubs in the Rocks. Both well “worth it” if I was going to rate a tour. Not much sense in describing the Sydney Opera House tour other than to say because tours are conducted every 15 minutes, and everyone wants to do it, it’s better to do it earlier (like 9 or 10 a.m.) than later in the day when the area and the tours become packed with people. Also, because it involves walking up a lot of steps, and Australia is really behind on the disabilities services (like elevators and the like), a decent pair of sneakers and being relatively active is necessary.We loved the drinking tour, not just because of the drinking. We were the only two on the tour and our tour guide, John, was a Sydney native and had our full attention. There were two pubs we liked a lot – simply because they were old, had a good vibe, and they had live music playing the Australian pub standards (meaning mostly American ‘70’s – 90’s covers). They were the Fortune of War and the Hero of Waterloo. Fortune of War is right as you head into the area from the quay, and is especially lively on a Sunday afternoon when the locals come out and dance to the music and party before heading back to work Monday morning.

Our Sydney Beach day was a coin toss between Manly and Bondi Beach. Manly won. Now, there’s two ways of getting there from CBD, both by ferries from the quay, one public and the other “Fast” Ferry, private. Until the end of 2017, the Fast Ferry left Wharf 6, but it’s now Wharf 2, while the public ferry departs from Wharf 3. We know this because one warm day we were sitting eating ice cream at Wharf 6 and a load of people kept running towards us like bulls in Pamplona to make the Fast Ferry in dock and ignoring all of the signs on poles that said it departs at Wharf 2 now. Out of breath, they’d get to the docked ferry only to be told by the crew that they have to go to Wharf 2. We licked as the exhausted dads and moms, and teens and kids and strollers, no longer playing Beat the Clock, headed back to the right dock. It was an amusing pastime watching this, not gonna lie. We used our Opal card on the public ferry . . . didn’t really see the point of spending a few extra dollars to shave off 10 minutes of being on a boat checking out Sydney Harbor on a warm sunny day to get to Manly.Manly Beach is pretty spectacular. And clean. With plenty to see and do. The water was warm and clear; the sand silky. Really, soft white sand. I always thought Los Angeles beach sand was pretty soft if compared to more pebbly grains in the south of France (Antibes and to the west, not the rocky beaches in Nice, that is). Well, compared to Aussie beaches, LA’s sand is pretty grainy. Even the public toilets are clean. Weekends at Manly also have the outdoor kiosks lining Sydney Road at the end of The Corso. It was there we found the perfect street Paella. We ordered a serving and had it split into two containers, and it was still a huge meal for each of us. Found a bench nearby to eat it and watch the parade of people.

Next stop . . . Cairns.

tripplanner001 Jun 18th, 2018 03:14 PM

Tagging along. Sounds like the light rail construction has made it to Circular Quay.

Bokhara2 Jun 18th, 2018 05:29 PM

Nice start, surfergirl. I’m looking forward to the next chapters, too.

Just a couple of clarifications, if I may:

Opera House Tours - There is an “Accessibility Tour” each day at 12 Noon. Same price & duration as the others ($40, 1hour).

There is also lift ( “elevator” for the North Americans) access to the various upper level theatres for people with mobility issues. All on the SOH website.

There is also a more extensive, “Backstage Tour”. 2 1/2 hours, $175 ( 10% discount for online bookings foe all tours). Needs a good level of fitness.

MANLY: In addition to the ferries from Circular Quay, there is also an eco hopper ferry from Watson’s Bay, and buses from Carrington street ( near Wynyard station).

Light rail construction: It’s a particular mess at the northern end of George Street & along Alfred Street at the moment. We roll our eyes at the various incompetences of the NSW Stat Gov’t that have prolonged &will prolong this - and work our way around it. Doesn’t extend beyond Alfred Street, so The Rocks is undisturbed.

I don’t know what the noise level from the construction is inside the Four Seasons, but may be something to consider if anyone is considering a stay there just now.

elnap29 Mar 29th, 2019 11:12 PM

Ooh, Surfergirl, I do hope you’ll come back to write about Cairns. I loved your first installment about Sydney. We are planning a visit to Sydney, Cairns, and other Queensland spots in a few months, and it seems information is limited. Please do share. I will be so grateful. Thanks.

Surfergirl Apr 3rd, 2019 01:29 PM

elnap -- will do! We just returned from New Zealand 3 days ago, and I went immediately back to work, so as soon as I'm caught up, I'll get Cairns report out. I'm now an Air New Zealand gold member!

Surfergirl Apr 13th, 2019 07:35 AM

Cairns: A few hour’s flight from Sydney on Virgin Australia.

We had originally been booked at the Shangri La Hotel. But I discovered it was going to undergo a major renovation right before we arrived, so we used points at the Hilton nearby and wer able to get an executive room on the 9th Floor at the Hilton, located at the far end of the Esplanade. It turned out to be a really smart move. We don’t usually spend much time at a hotel other than to sleep and rarely take advantage of any of the amenities, but we did at this Hilton. First, the Executive Lounge was simply awesome. Great view of the bay! We were there in the morning for coffee and breakfast (what a display and variety – even freshly made OJ!) and we were there in the early evening for cocktails/wine/beer and really nice appetizers that changed daily. We really didn’t even need to go out for dinner after loading up on all the food and drink in the Executive Lounge. And the staff couldn’t be nicer. We got to meet fellow travelers, and talked about the excursions what tours we were taking in Cairns. Another thing about the Executive Lounge we discovered our first evening: it was in the flight pattern of the evening fruit bat parade. Sounds creepy, but it was really a beautiful sight as the sun set over the bay. Fruit bats don’t bother people and are peculiarly sweet looking, as bats go. The pool was huge, comfortably tepid, and wrapped around one full side of the hotel. And completely empty the entire time we were there, other than the two of us, so we really took advantage of the pool after being out all day in the heat. The room itself was, in a word, spectacular. Air conditioned, comfortable, nicely appointed, and a balcony where rainbow lorikeets would perch in the morning.

It turns out that, like us, people go to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. There’s a vast number of tours to both, and Australians partake of these tours in almost the same number as non-Australians. In fact, we discovered that Australians like to go on tours in their own country, even in their own city! There was a gondola ride (Skyrail) that could be mixed in with the Kuranda Scenic Railway tour, but unfortunately, we arrived just after a big rain and the train wasn’t running, a shame because I love train (and gondola) rides.Our first adventure was the Low Isles Sailaway, a snorkeling trip in the Great Barrier Reef for wimps. Not that we are wimps when it comes to snorkeling, but we were looking for an easy fun day out, which is exactly what we got. It’s run by a young, happy explorers who were able to explain the touching and non-touching bits and the issues with the ecology and protection of a system that is being destroyed. In fact, we learned right after we returned that the bleaching (and dying) of the reef was caused by the extreme heat caused by climate change. So we took great care to admire what was left and enjoy. Our small group consisted of singles, couples, and families, of all generations. Because we were there in April, there was still a chance of box jellies (not that we saw any), so they gave us super cool covering . . . looks like a wetsuit, but light weight, like a bathing suit, and easy to get on and off no matter how big one’s thighs are (I’m talking about myself, here). Low Isles itself has nice sandy beaches and is easy to traverse. It was like being on a tiny desert island. In the shallow water by the shore there were baby reef sharks swimming around that the little kids on the tour had a great time chasing. I don’t think they were dangerous, but the parents didn’t seem scared and the guides didn’t warn to stay away. It was a lot of fun swimming the reef and trying to get underwater photos.

Let’s talk a little about the weather in Cairns, because even though we were prepared for it, we weren’t prepared. I’m learning that when someone tells you there’s a rainforest or the climate is “tropical”, it means you sweat a lot. Natural textiles (i.e. cotton) are your friend. Also, Australians are super casual, so wearing shorts and flip-flops or cotton sundresses (or even a cotton nightgown that looks like a beach cover-up) is generally fine almost anywhere.

Even though Cairns has that “walk outside and sweat” weather, we were hard-pressed to find any blended drinks . . . you know, those frosty blended frozen tropical drinks that freeze your brain and cool you off. We found one place along the Esplanade that served an Australian variety by the glass or by the pitcher. We were there. A lot.

The second tour we opted for was an all day trip to the Daintree Rainforest that involved ziplining, a river cruise, and a trip to the wildlife sanctuary. (Which reminds me . . . every tour we did, the only people who seemed to tip the drivers/guides were Americans. I noticed the Australians on these tours do not tip, so my guess is that this is standard not to tip. Tell me if I’m wrong). Even though we had to get up at the crack of dawn, and didn’t get back until evening, it was an amazing adventure and the opportunity to witness incredible scenery. First, the Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas where, for an extra fee, you could hold a koala bear and have your picture taken. Yes, we did. And yes, it was cool. We also got up close and personal with some brightly colored birds (one who likes to nip at shiny jewelry), and feed wallabies. To me, a wallaby looks like a small kangaroo. They are sweet and cute and love to be fed. We saw groups (or “courts”) of them along the road between Cairns and Port Douglas, so it was fun to see them up close and personal. The zipline was fun, but the only real “challenge”, if you’d call it that, was the hike to the top of the zipline for this person who loathes hiking hills. The zipline itself was fun, but perhaps a little tame. It would be perfect for first-time zipliners. We ended up on a boat doing an hour or so tour along the Daintree river where we saw gators sleeping at the shore. By the way the scenery between Cairns and the rainforest was amazing, with loads of fields of sugar cane.

We had a free afternoon, and after walking around, we found ourselves at the Cairns Aquarium. We went in really to cool down from the heat, but we do love aquariums (been to the one in Monterey loads of times), so we paid the admission and went in. Glad we did, as the set up and exhibits are amazing. Different habitats, including rainforest ones with frogs, reptiles, and snakes we did NOT see whilst ziplining!

Another thing you cannot miss along the Esplanade is the Esplanade Lagoon, a free public space with beautiful shallow pools. A great place to spend a hot afternoon with children.

Nightlife: If you aren’t completely exhausted from the day’s activities, most tourists head for the Esplanade in the evening for a meal and drinks. Often there is something going on in the park that lines the Esplanade, with stages set up for music. A lot of very casual fun. If you always secretly wanted to see what it’s like to go to a frat party after a college football win, and aren’t afraid of loud music and young people letting loose or binge drinking, pop into Gilligan’s, which is a combined backpacker’s hostel and nightclub. It is a HUGE outdoor space, and actually pretty fun. Dark enough so you won’t feel out of place, even though the average age there is about 20.

Bokhara2 Apr 13th, 2019 02:07 PM

Thanks so much Surfrergirl - I really enjoyed reading about the things you did - which was a good variety of what the area offers.

Heads up: We have crocodiles - not alligators.

Koalas aren’t bears. Like Kangaroos, wallabies & wombats, they are marsupial mammals.

It is not customary to tip in Australia (and we’d very much like to keep it that way.). Without getting into a long discourse on it, our wages & salaries are higher than the US. Our workers’ livelihoods don’t have to depend on the whim of their customers. A lot of people complain about the costs of meals in Australia. Imagine if they had to add 15-25% to the prices!

It was interesting to see your comments about the Hilton. I think it’s a good hotel too, and as you say - it is often worthwhile to use the extra “club” facilities. Glad you enjoyed it.

tripplanner001 Apr 14th, 2019 05:28 AM

Did you see any color in the coral you saw or is it mostly bleached? Did you see a variety of marine life in the water?

nelsonian Apr 14th, 2019 04:50 PM

Enjoying your trip report Surfergirl. We did the Low Isles when we were in Port Douglas a couple of years ago. Loved it. We went on the Reef Sprinter tour which was a relatively small group, on a fast boat ride, guaranteed to not get seasick!!!.
We also did the Daintree but hired a car to do the trip. Loved the car ferry!! I couldn't believe the amount of sugar cane being grown, it was a fascinating trip.
New Zealanders do not tip in Australia either!!!

Surfergirl Apr 15th, 2019 06:36 AM

Bokhara2 - thanks for correcting me on the koala and croc/gators -- I keep forgetting NOT to add the word "bear" after koala, and can never remember the croc/gator difference! I should remember, right, from the Crocodile Dundee movies!

tripplaner - It's interesting, because just as we returned to the U.S., I remember a big report from NPR, I believe, describing the huge bleaching events from climate change that was killing the Great Barrier Reef. My recollection is that what we saw was mostly bleached. There was pinks, yellows, and whites mostly. We did see a surprising amount of marine life as we were snorkeling, from tiny schools of fish, to giant clams, to green sea turtles, and a bunch of (friendly) reef sharks. The fish were very colorful! I tried using my iPhone in a pouch, but somehow it went on multiple pictures per shot (like 111 per shot!), so most of those shots had to be deleted!

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