First Trip to Australia

Old Jan 14th, 2004, 01:48 PM
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First Trip to Australia

My husband and I are considering a trip to the East Coast of Australia (based on info from some Australian friends). I'd like to know when is the "best" time to do it from the East Coast (US). We're told to consider starting at Cairns in mid-October and work our way down to Melbourne, Canberra (we have friends there) and Sydney returning home the end of October. Is this doable?

We love the Caribbean - would Cairns have similar beaches/water? What would the water temps be at that time of the year? Is it "calm" water?

How many days should we plan at each location and should we fly from Cairns down to the first city?

From the Washington, DC area, what's the best flights to consider? DC to LA, LA to Hawaii? or LA to Australia (I've never flown more than 5-1/2 hrs. at a time).

Are there good packages out there (air/hotel) - what should I look at.

HELP.....

Thanks everyone.

Lois
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Old Jan 14th, 2004, 02:31 PM
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Dear Lois,
I am assuming that you will be flying rather than driving, as a driving trip would probably be pushing it! I'd probably recommend 3-5 days in Queensland, but don't spend too much time in Cairns. There's not all that much to do there. Probably best to take a bus to Port Douglas (about 1.5 hours from the airport) and make that your base. It's the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rainforest. I'd recommend a boat trip on a Chinese Junk replica out to the Low Isles. I can't remember the name of the operators, but my husband and I had an absolute ball that day, and swam with turtles! The water and climate up that way is beautiful, warm and sunny. I'd imagine similar to the Carribean.
Canberra: I've only spent about a day here, and really there's not all that much to see, but if you have friends there they'll probably make it a memorable experience for you.

Melbourne: this is where I live and work, so I'm biased! I work in a tourist-based industry, so know plenty of great places to go and shop! The Great Ocean Road is a must see, and the Dandenong Ranges are gorgeous. Melbourne has the countries' best restaurants and shopping (I'm not just saying this - it's a fact!!). The weather is a lot milder than Queensland, so prepare for cooler temperatures. Maybe 3-5 days here would do. A week would be ideal!
Sydney: yet again 3-5 days would be ok. It's a beautiful city, and you'll probably spend most of your time doing the "postcard" things, i.e. Opera House etc...

To sum up: 2-3 weeks may be a bit rushed, but certainly do-able! I'm not sure about the flight info stuff, but for cheap hotels go to wotif.com - they have cheap hotel deals.
 
Old Jan 14th, 2004, 03:45 PM
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Do you know anything about an area 2 hrs. south of Sydney (by air?) that is the "Gateway to the Outback"? Would it be worthwhile doing? We are in our late 50s and don't want anything too strenuous, but would love to see the animals. What would you suggest?

I have a cousin in Melbourne (an architect - Lou Monitto) and that's why we want to go to Melbourne.

Also we have friends from the Embassy here that will be returning to Canberra (hence the stop there).

We love tropical things and have heard the Great Barrier Reef is fantastic -- the junk sounds interesting. Would water temps be similar to the Caribbean in early October? It's usually 86F there in the water? And is it calm?

I'm almost overwhelmed first by the flight time from the East Coast of the US, the idea of a 16 hour time difference with the jet lag to consider and then the size of the East Coast of Australia. Coming all that way we want to see as much as we can, but we want to be alert seeing it, and not too exhausted from trying to do too much.

We like more sights/scenic things rather than museums or even the Opera House (I'd like to see it, but not attend anything there).

Any more tips?

Lois
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Old Jan 14th, 2004, 04:04 PM
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Loise, Are you sure the Gateway to the Outback is not North of Sydney? in which case it would probably be the Broken Hill area.
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Old Jan 14th, 2004, 04:19 PM
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Lois, I have a commitment that I need to get to in a few minutes, and cannot spend much time responding to you right now. You could do what you want to do in 2 weeks, but it would be tight. To make it work you would need to take a very efficient route and avoid double backing on yourself.

Also, I don't think you have a realistic idea about Australia. You need to read more about it. Not long ago I posted a long message about water temperatures in the Whitsunday Islands and around Cairns / Port Douglas. Do searches for old threads here at Fodors and, if possible, read a guidebook such as Lonely Planet.

I love Melbourne. I lived there from July 1997 to January 2000. But summer can arrive quite late in Melbourne some years, and it can still be fairly cool in October and November. My husband had that very experience when he visited Melbourne at the end of November 2003. That is the challenge of travelling from one end of Australia to another. It stretches across so many latitudes that it's difficult to pick a time of year that's ideal across the entire continent. (And the timing of summer's arrival in Melbourne varies a lot from year to year.)

The second half of October probably is a reasonable compromise if you want to take in both the north and the south. (And keep in mind, when I say summer may arrive late in Melbourne, I'm not claiming it'll be snowing or anyting like that! It doesn't snow in Melbourne. )

This may not be the cheapest route, but from an efficiency point of view, I suspect DC - San Francisco - Hawaii - Cairns - Sydney - Canberra - Melbourne - Auckland - Los Angeles - DC would be the best route. Certainly it would help you to avoid double backing on yourself. Also it would start you out in the north of Australia and continually move you southwards, which would be ideal.

I don't know what Outback place you're talking about that's south of Sydney. However, I would suggest you forget about it. You have enough to do already. And you can see neat animals in rural areas not far from Cairns (and indeed in nature sanctuaries outside of Sydney and Melbourne).

I have travelled to Europe, Africa, Latin America and Australia. In my opinion, if you compare one place with another too much, you're hooped. Each place has it's own magic. Accept it on its own terms. You're going to Australia because you have rellies and friends there, and also because it's a really neat place in its own right. When you go to the Caribbean, go to the Caribbean. When you go to Australia, go to Australia. But don't burden Australia with your memories of the Caribbean.

Anyway, I must run now. I'll try and return and post some more in a few hours.
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Old Jan 14th, 2004, 05:01 PM
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For longer stays typically ppl recommend coming in autumn or spring and following the sun.

However oz does NOT have the dramatic changes in season of DC...for any given place at any time a 2-3 week window will not have much difference in the weather.

Given that, October is a good time..
pre "wet" up north
you won't get baked in the outback
and you will have to take your chances on cool and wet in Melbourne.

A typical american fortninght in oz includes
GBR
Sydney
Outback-red centre.

If you want to include melbourne you should try and stretch to 3-4 weeks.

Tropical queensland has virtually everything the carribean has except:
-its a long way from DC
-you can't drive around the island to the windward side for a surf
-poverty.

QLD does have better rum.

check out www.poresorts.com (lizard,heron,dunk etc for all that warm water,swaying palms stuff)

A mining town called cobar in nsw is marketing itself as the gateway to the outback...you don't want to go there

Typically tourists go to uluru for their outback experience...personally i think 2-3 days out of broken hill is better.Mootwingee,white cliffs,outback pubs,a sheep station on the darling river..emus and roos galore.

As for the flight....good luck..you will get a hundred opinions here on the best approach.Personally I think the overnight LA-Sydney is best but it is an interminable night.
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Old Jan 14th, 2004, 05:13 PM
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Dear Lois,

October is a lovely time of year for all of the places you'd like to visit. It's mid spring and you can expect temperatures to range from 28-32C in Cairns area, whilst Melbourne and Sydney will be around the 20-25C mark, with Melbourne being more on the cool side. The water temp in Cairns will be around the 25C mark, so very pleasant; also very calm.

I've been to all three places during this time, and the temp is just great, altough Cairns may be humid.

The long flight will take it out of you, so plan to have a "rest" day when you get there.
 
Old Jan 14th, 2004, 06:15 PM
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Lois, I'm originally from San Francisco, but have lived in Sydney for 10 years. My husband used to be a tour guide here, that's how we met!

Anyway, I would also agree that LAX-SYD is probably your best bet for a flight.

Be aware that many overseas tickets allow you to add domestic flights on to your ticket at a very discounted rate, so you are best off doing this along with your ticket before you leave.

From my experience (and I've seen plenty of Australia), I would say, start in Sydney for a few days...maybe 3 or 4 tops..that's PLENTY, then head north to The Gold Coast and Far North Queensland (Cairns) to see the Great Barrier Reef. Be sure to take a boat to one of the pontoons on the Outer Barrier Reef. Even if you don't dive, the snorkeling is safe, easy, and fantastic out there!

If you can afford it, spend a couple days at Ayer's Rock, just to see the red desert. Alice Springs is not so necessary, just a boring town.

Melbourne is fun if you like cities and culture, but I have never found it to be particularly interesting from a holiday standpoint for people from the US...it's not as warm a climate (like comparing SF (Melbourne) to LA (Sydney) sort of, and something you can easily skip if pressed for time. The warmer places seem to capture the essence of Australia better. (Sorry to the earlier poster from Melb...I like the city, but not for a first-time visit!)

In Sydney, be sure to see the bridge, opera house, Taronga Zoo and one of the beaches...Bondi, or take a Ferry to Manly...a great way to get out on the water. If you spend more than 3 days there, you can go to the blue mountains...good if you like nature and hiking...pretty boring if you don't.

Well, there's my advice. Post back if you want any more specifics!
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Old Jan 14th, 2004, 11:38 PM
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Hi Lois - October is about the best month of the year to visit Cairns/Port Douglas - it's after the "winter" SE trade winds which can make reef conditions unpleasant and well before the "wet season" which looks as if it only started today, but usually starts earlier. The Chinese junk at PD is called "Shah Lin" which goes to Low - there's lots of other reef boats to choose from which go out further, more from Cairns than PD. PD may call itself the "Gateway to the Reef" - it's only one exit point to a miniscule part of the Great Barrier Reef which is about 1200 miles long. Water temperatures in October about 26-27C - sometimes the ride out to Reef can be bumpy but in good weather the water on the Reef is calm. The reef vessels which have their own pontoons are huge and take hundreds of people - there are other of smaller boats which visit reef surrounded sand cays for very easy snorkelling - or you can snorkel straight off the side of the boat. "Ecstasea" out of Cairns is a yacht which takes max. 20 people.
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Old Jan 15th, 2004, 05:07 AM
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Wow - thanks everyone for the great suggestions. I've got a lot of research to do. Does anyone have recommendation of a good Tour Company to use to book air, accommodations and some tours -- all for a set price? I wonder how costly that would be.

The biggest drawback from the US is the length of the flight. I don't know if stopping off prior to arriving in AU is a good idea or not.

Also, typically how long does it take to get over the jet lag from that long a trip to be fully functional and enjoy what you are seeing? I suppose we would have to allow extra time for that.

Thanks.
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Old Jan 15th, 2004, 05:42 AM
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We are going in April to visit my mother-in-law in Sydney, but want to visit other areas as well. Last trip, we didn't see much other than Sydney & the Cairns area. So this time around, I decided that we're going to travel around more. I relied on a travel agent to book our international flight - we're going Toronto > LA > Sydney and coming back via Hong Kong. But for our domestic flights, I've booked them myself on the web. I found very good rates for both Qantas and Virgin Blue - with seat sales, the flights are really inexpensive. We're flying to the Gold Coast, then Brisbane to Darwin, then Darwin to Sydney - total cost was about $350 CAD, so I thought that was a great deal for the 3 flights.

For us, the decision of when to go was fairly simple. We usually go south in February or March (usually to Mexico), an since that's late summer in Sydney, we planned to go in March. Then I couldn't arrange the time off work in March, so we moved it to April. I personally wouldn't want to go any later than that - I like to escape winter here at home if I can!

Good luck planning!
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Old Jan 15th, 2004, 07:44 AM
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Lois, I'm sorry I was grumpy about your bringing up the Caribbean in your discussion of Australia. In fact it can take time to get one landscape out of your system and accept another landscape. This is a bigger factor if you move somewhere as opposed to visiting on vacation. I come from Swaziland (nextdoor to South Africa). Since moving from there I've spent most of my time in Canada, but also have lived in Houston and Australia. My several moves have taught me to adapt. One of my brothers moved from Africa to Australia many years ago. He said it took him a couple of years to stop comparing the Australian bush with the African bush.

Anyway, if you want professional travel advice, I suggest you do a Google search for Kennedy Kruises. Melodie Kennedy is a travel agent based in California who has clients all over the U.S. and regularly travels to Australia herself. I think you would benefit from professional advice because you have some specific requirements. You're not only travelling in order to see tourist destinations, but you also want to visit with specific people. Furthermore, you want to do all this in a relatively short time. As I said before, if you want to accomplish all these goals, you're going to need to be efficient. I think a professional travel adviser would help you to make the most effective use of your time.
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Old Jan 15th, 2004, 06:27 PM
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For what its worth...

Hawaiian airlines are starting a four times a week honolulu-sydney service.
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Old Jan 15th, 2004, 07:13 PM
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Lois, it's true...when you're flying in coach for 14 hrs from LAX-SYD it's a bit of a tough journey. I forget that we always fly business class now, which is quite nice because you know you'll be able to get some sleep!

The Hawaiian Airlines service that the other person posted is not confirmed yet (my husband's a Travel Agent and says it hasn't been officially announced yet..the route is not yet shown on their schedule), but I hope it's true, because it would be a good route and might be cheaper than dealing with QANTAS. Who knows?

As for the jet lag, I'm not sure it's exactly the same for everyone, but what I find is that I usually get tired between maybe 3pm and 6pm the day after flying in...kinda punchy feeling, you know...and the most important thing is to make sure you DON'T take a nap when you feel like that. It will pass by around 6pm and then you'll pretty much be OK.

If you take naps and don't force your body to adjust to the new timing, then you will keep getting tired in the afternoons for a few days.
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Old Jan 15th, 2004, 07:14 PM
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Hi Lois

Hubby and I made the same trip and went BWI to LAX and stayed 1 1/2 days and relaxed and went sightseeing then continued on to Sydney via Qantas. We did the same pattern on the return and found that it truly broke up our pattern. The best time frame for us was late February to late March and the weather was great!! It would seem that October would be just as great as the time period we chose. We took in Sydney, Tasmania, Melbourne, Uluru, Great Barrier Reef, South Island New Zealand and then back to Sydney for a few extra days and then onto home.

As to tours we found it as easy to tour around ourselves as to get ourselves up each morning to meet the tour bus. We learned years ago that we tour better ourselves and we try to search out our information on the internet and Fodors.

If all goes well 2005 will find us visiting again and hopefully for at least 2 months.
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Old Jan 16th, 2004, 04:43 AM
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Hi again,

We wonder whether we should plan 2 weeks or 3 weeks to do what we want (Cairns, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne) allowing for jet lag and getting there.

Also, LN --
Going from BWI like you did and your trip - how much cash should we plan on it costing us -- we really need to know whether or not we can afford such a trip.

Benderbabe -
Flying from DC, if they do put in those Hawaii routes, what type of connections do you think would work best (to get us there and not have terrible jet lag). I've never wanted to go to Hawaii from the East Coast due to the flight time --Would a trip like:
DC, Las Vegas, Hawaii, then Australia work? And what would be best for a return so that we could return to work as soon as possible (and function). With your husband being in travel, what would he suggest to be cost effective and easy on a person?

I like the idea of a package (air and hotels) so that we could get the best pricing available, but I don't know if that is doable considering the type of flights we are talking about. Also, I'm wondering how much a person that would come to.

Thanks for all the help guys -- I do this for others on the Caribbean board (for Barbados) -- if any of you need help in that area, please contact me.

Lois
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Old Jan 16th, 2004, 09:15 AM
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If there is any way you can expand this into a 3 week trip, I think you should do that.

One of your challenges is that your friends and relatives, whom you want to be sure to include, do not live in the "must see" areas of Australia. Don't get me wrong. As I have repeatedly said here, I've lived in Melbourne, and absolutely love it. However, not even I can claim that Melbourne is a "must see" destination. I would classify the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney as the "must sees." So, between the universal "must sees" of the GBR and Sydney and your own personal "must sees" of Canberra and Melbourne, you want to cover a great deal of ground.

To put this into context, imagine yourself advising an Australian visitor to the U.S. For a start this imaginary visitor needs to fly across the Pacific. Then let's have him going to Yellowstone, Florida (Disneyworld, Sea World, Cape Canaveral and all that good stuff), Washington, DC (and associated excursions to Washington's and Jefferson's homes, etc.), finishing up with a visit to Upstate New York and Niagara Falls. At the end of all that, our hypothetical Australian traveller has to fly back across the Pacific and show up for work again. I think you would agree that would be an awful lot for him to squeeze into two weeks.

While I don't know the exact costs of a trip like this, I do think you need to keep in mind that Australia is a first world country, and is not all that cheap. On the other side of the coin, though, it's true that the Australian dollar is worth less than the U.S. dollar, and that would ameliorate the costs to some extent.

Some people on these travel forums take great pride in being independent travellers and doing everything on their own. But, when one is going to a continent for the first time, when one is trying to squeeze a lot into a short time, and ESPECIALLY if one is working to a tight budget, I think there is a lot of merit in using an experienced travel agent. (I don't recommend a tour company, because your needs are too unique to be shoe horned into package designed for the mass market.) I've told you about Melodie Kennedy of Kennedy Kruises out of California who is an experienced traveller to Australia. Then there's Benderbabe's husband who is a travel agent too. Since he's located in Australia, he likely would be extremely familiar with the offerings of the Australian travel industry.

If I were in your shoes I would turn to a professional travel consultant to find out realistic costs, timing, etc.

For what it's worth.
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Old Jan 16th, 2004, 12:39 PM
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Thanks for all the information, Judy. I can see what you mean when you describe a hypothetical trip in the U.S. That is a lot of ground to cover. However, because it is such a long trip getting there, I highly doubt we'd do it again anytime soon, that's why I want to do everything on the one trip. We're in our late 50s and while we hope to travel for a long time to come, not sure how that will work out.

I'd love to hear from Benderbabe's husband. We are actually starting way in advance -- thinking of October 2005 as we already have this year booked with 3 trips. We were told that's a good time to travel. So we have plenty of time to figure things out.

Thanks again. Lois
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Old Jan 16th, 2004, 02:07 PM
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Hi Lois,

Is there any way you can post your e-mail address here in this thread? I mean perhaps an e-mail address like the one I use here that doesn't reveal my full name, etc. If you were able to do that, perhaps Benderbabe's husband could communicate with you outside of Fodors forums. I think travel agents are rather constrained in what they can say on the forum, as Fodors' rules about soliciting business are so strict.

Another thing that I think would be allowed would be for you to address a post to Benderbabe specifically asking her to post an e-mail address or the URL of a website at which you could reach her husband. I think businesspeople are allowed to provide that sort of information if a forum member directly asks them to do so, i.e., the exchange of contact details is initiated by the forum member and not by the businessperson.

Hope that helps you to move forward in your quest for information.
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Old Jan 16th, 2004, 06:47 PM
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Good luck in your planning Lois. It's not an easy task but it's doable and you will enjoy the trip. Your age has no bearing on this at all - once you've been there you'll want to go back.

A travel agent can be go to help you - we got a special air price from Abel Tasman tours of $999 during a fairly high season. Then too, a lot of it depends on the type of hotels you want to stay in.

I would also really recommend that you try to stay for a longer time period. There's so much to see and do - once you get there you'll realize the additional time you'll need.

I could easily skip Melbourne and Canberra but you have friends there and the distance is pretty great - imagine going from DC to Chicago or DC to Kansas City.

At a minimum it will cost a couple thousand and could run 5 or 6 depending on your tastes.

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