Help planning a trip to Australia

Jun 22nd, 2009, 08:27 AM
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Join Date: Oct 2004
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Help planning a trip to Australia

Hi everyone,
A couple of my friends and I just booked a flight to Sydney in Oct/Nov for 2 weeks, just because the flight was ridiculously cheap. We have no plans yet. We are a group friends, a single girl and few guys, in 30s. I'm the researcher and planner in the group and I have read alot of posts and trip reports on here. I feel so overwhelmed!! More I read, less decisive I get. So can you guys help with what are must-dos?

We'll have 11 days in OZ. We live in the east coast of US, alot of flying to do so not getting all of 2 weeks in OZ.

All of us have travelled extensively. We don't like alot of group travels or all-inclusive type of places. Budget is not a huge issue but we don't want 5 star places. We like to try street food (if they exist like in Asia and Mexico), not scared about driving. We need few days/nights of exciting night life. I think we are leaning towards few days in Sydney, few days in Melbourne, end in Sydney to fly back to US.

Thanks!! Jo
JYK is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 08:32 AM
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I forgot to mention, none of us has been to Australia.
JYK is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 02:34 PM
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Hi: I am going for the same reason (cheap fare) you are in late September. I have found this list very very helpful, of course you should go back and read the various posts. Also the Lonely Planet guide has been useful. Have found lodging not cheap so we have opted for short stay apartments but there are only 3 of us. I understand from this list there is lots of night life (I am to old for that) and they just had a great post on foods. You will get lots more help if you post the cities you plan on going to and the kind of nightlife you are seeking. Many in know folks on the list.
JoanneH is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 02:44 PM
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Why just go to the biggest cities? Might as well go to European capitals and save the looooooooooooooooong transpacific flight. Australia was settled initially by Brits, secondarily by Europeans and their cities are generally modern and European in aspect. Melbourne has trolleys like Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Krakow, etc.

Do things unique to Australia. Hanging out in bars and clubs isn't unique to Australia -- it's booze with a different accent. You have a few nights in Sydney, liquor up pretty good, get all that out of your system, and do something interesting.

Go to Sydney because it is what it is, and it's a gateway to visit the Blue Mountains, famous beaches, etc. It really is a pretty city. Go look up the Harbour Bridge and the opportunity to do a bridge climb and do it at sunset or sunrise. We stayed at the Sebel Pier One in Sydney and it's pretty cool -- short walk to Circular Quay and in The Rocks (those are two lively areas for you). I've also stayed at the Hotel ANA, but that was 10 years ago and it's really a business hotel; the Sebel was more modern and interesting. I wouldn't stay at Darling Harbour area -- always seemed a more of the Bermuda-shorts-and-tacky-fishing-hat tourist crowd.

You can stay in Sydney for __ nights, then fly off somewhere interesting, then pop back into Sydney for a hard drinking evening before a mid-day flight to LA and points beyond. Or take two hops (Sydney for four nights, ___ for three, ___ for three, etc.)

Which begs the question: what's "somewhere interesting"? Answer: that depends.

If you're into diving and aquatic wildlife exploration and want a taste of the Outback, go to Far North Queensland. You can satisfy a broad array of Australian adventure desires from that area. Same may be true for Brisbane area, but I've not been there.

If you're into climbing around an otherworldly wasteland, google Ayers Rock and spend a couple of nights in either Yulara or three nights at Alice Springs for a trip to the Red Centre.

If you like wine and visiting vineyards and wineries, go to one of the MANY Aussie wine countries.

There are many options and a trip centered around Sydney-Melbourne is quite limited in what you'll see, especially because two city stays without exploring the Australian terrain will show you nothing that's unique or interesting about Australia (other than the Bridge and the Opera House and that's a half-day).
BigRuss is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 03:46 PM
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I agree with BigRuss that visiting two cities, such as Melbourne and Sydney, is not the best use of your limited time. I would second the suggestions of thinking about the Red Centre and the Barrier Reef, other possibilities are Tasmania and Kakadu.

Perhaps invest in a guidebook, the Eyewitness guides are good to start with as they have lots of colour images to give you a sense of the vastly different areas you might like to visit.
Susan7 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 07:10 PM
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"Perhaps invest in a guidebook, the Eyewitness guides are good to start with as they have lots of colour images to give you a sense of the vastly different areas you might like to visit."

Absolutely you should do this! You can get free, color brochures from Qantas Vacations , AAT Kings and Australian Pacific Touring
Orlando_Vic is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2009, 07:28 PM
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Definitely get a guidebook! Based on your stated ages, I think you'd probably get a lot of good info from The Rough Guide and/or Lonely Planet.
longhorn55 is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 01:18 AM
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Guidebooks in my book can be a good way to get even more confused for what is a relatively short trip and whilst you've mentioned a bit of what you're after there is certainly a lot more to Australia than Sydney, Melbourne and nightlife.

You'll find that weather down south in October and November can still be a bit cool and changeable with spring storms etc. and if you want somewhere warmer to party, I'd head to Cairns for a few days and get a look at some of the rainforest areas and of course a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.

We do not have street food as in Asia/Mexico but beachfronts at larger locations often have markets [and they can be elsewhere also] and they'll have food on the go and then you'll also find a lot of places that have outdoor dining as well as inside.

If you're going to be here for the first Tuesday in November, I'd suggest you enjoy the blast of the Melbourne Cup [horse race that stops the nation and a big party atmosphere at the Flemington racecourse.]

So if timing suits you could fly into Sydney, good for 3-4 days and then up to Cairns for 3-4 and then down to Melbourne and you've got nightlife at all three and there's plenty of day drives or two day drives that you can also do from all three.

Trying to plan for a group would be real fun [not] but get your locations sorted and google each and you'll get a few thousand and more hits, all with heaps of info and you can then make up a list separately for the three and have the gang do their priority numbering and the lower numbers win.
Bushranger is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 02:17 PM
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I'll third the Sydney/Cairns/Melbourne idea. If you can be in Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup that would be great - but it isn't called "the race that stops the nation" for nothing - there will be Melbourne Cup happenings everywhere. Make sure you're in a pub with a TAB (betting) so you can make a bet. Now that's Australian!

Personally I would do 4 days in Sydney, 4 days in Cairns and 3 days in Melbourne. From Sydney it's an easy day trip to The Hunter Valley (wine), Blue Mountains and lots of great beach communities. Not to mention all there is to do in Sydney itself. Cairns you have rain forests, beaches and the Great Barrier Reef. I actually prefer to stay in Port Douglas which is a bit north of Cairns and a lovely town, as opposed to Cairns which is more of a city.

Are your flight direct to Sydney? If you are going through Brisbane you could probably get off the plane there and get a connecting flight up to Cairns on the way in which would save you some time and a trip to the airport. You have to collect your luggage in Brisbane anyway to clear customs so seems like that could work. Similarly if you're going through Melbourne.

In Sydney check out The Ivy -- it's the latest and greatest club from the Merivale group and it's off the hook. - make sure you scroll through all the bars - they are all in the one place.

If you want a bit of local flavour head over to The Oaks -

The Opera Bar ( )and Cruise Bar ( _ are two of the current hot spots - they are on opposite sides of Circular Quay and an easy walk to check out both.

You'll probably also want to check out Kings Cross - it's where loads of clubs/bars are.

Meat Pie's are Australia's version of street food. Harry's Cafe de Wheels is famous. Although I think there are better pies to be had, going to Harry's at the end of a late night is an experience.

There are tons of great restaurants in Sydney though. Let me know if you want some more recommendations.

If you're into a beautiful walk try the Spit Bridge to Manly walk. You can take a bus from town to the Spit Bridge, have lunch in Manly (seaside -fish & chips etc) and then take a ferry back into town. Here's a great review of that -

In Cairns/Port Douglas you can go snorkeling (or diving) at the Great Barrier Reef, go to the Daintree Rainforest, check out the etc. On the Inlet, in Port Douglas, is a great place to have a drink and bucket of prawns (shrimp) at sunset -

Well - I'll be interested to hear what you decide to do! I lived in Sydney for 10 years and visit yearly (most recently in April) so am happy to provide more info if you want.

Australia's great! Have fun.
Hez is offline  
Jun 23rd, 2009, 05:05 PM
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Forgot to mention Harrys and so good on you Hez.

And just one thing with the Melbourne Cup, you do need to book tickets these days but again as Hez says there are a lot of race meetings about on Melbourne Cup day and they all get into the buzz of the day.

I'd just offer one alternative to what Hez has proposed re Hunter Valley for wines, it is quite some distance from Sydney, something like 150-200 km. whereas Melbourne has wine areas in just about all directions of the compass from the city within 50-100 km. and you can make a trip that takes them in while heading to other attractions too.
Bushranger is offline  
Jun 24th, 2009, 03:06 AM
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If you are into hiking/bush walking and would like to see some of the 'outback', I would suggest a flight to Darwin, and hire a rental car from there for a few trips around some fantastic national parks (Kakadu, Katherine Gorge, Litchfield). Could be interesting weather up north at that time of year (Cairns and Port Douglas included) - likely quite warm and humid, but most likely some fantastic thunderstorms!

If you have a few days (it will take a few hours to fly up to Darwin or Cairns, and I think you would need three full days in either) I think these are both good options.

There are some great day trips out of Melbourne if you are interested - again, great national parks both in the mountains and on the coast, vineyards, scenic drives.

Good luck with your decision-making and planning, you will have a great time!
mmemarmalade is offline  
Jun 26th, 2009, 06:06 AM
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Hi everyone, I've been so busy with work I almost forgot about my post! Thank you so much for your replys. I should have been a bit more clear on somethings, and definitely stress we are in early stages of planning.

1. We aren't going to Europe b/c the flights were about as expensive as Sydney, and Euro is still a bit too high.

2. We aren't just going to Australia for its nightlife, but I know "us". A few nights, we'll go out and things will get a bit nutty without having to plan it. So might as well take it into planning.

3. I did purchase the Lonely Planet book, but I decided to read "In a sunburned country" by Bill Bryson first (about traveling in Australia). The LP book is so thick, it adds to more confusion at this point

4. We thought maybe driving from Syd to Melbourne would get us a taste of Australia, any thoughts?

5. Personally (for me, not the group), I want to minimize flying. We'll have travelled over 24 hours when we get to Sydney. I think the last thing I want to do is get on another plane. Are airports in OZ as horrible as US?

6. Our exact travel dates are: Oct 24-Nov 6th. Thank you so much for comments on the weather. I think that will play into decision making. Our flight is direct to Syd from LAX.

7. Bridge climb and the horseracing sounds AWESOME! None of us are into diving, but maybe snorkeling. I know we'll have to come back again to see all of Australia..

thank you, thank you for all of your suggestions, I'll get my head around it this weekend and come back with more questions
JYK is offline  
Jun 26th, 2009, 11:41 AM
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After exchanging emails all day [good-lord!!], I think we like Syd-Cairns-Mel idea. I may just suck it up and drop the driving idea also.

We are definitely going to try the bridge climb (though it's expensive!) and plan to be at the Melbourne Cup. I checked and the tickets do not go on sale till August.

I'm thinking 2 days in Syd --> Cairns for 3 days --> Mel for 3-4 days --> Syd 1-2 night for return flight.
JYK is offline  
Jun 26th, 2009, 12:46 PM
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Hey JYK,

I just sort of skimmed through some of the posts, and agree with BigRus & Susan.

A comment about your current itinerary -- the way you're breaking your time in Sydney means some "back and forth" and also packing & re-packing, and don't forget travel time -

Since this is your vacation, I'm sure you don't want to be up at the crack of dawn to get a flight - so let's figure 10A as a reasonable flight time - that means you need to be at the airport at 9AM, which means, considering traffic, you should probably be pulling away from your hotel at 8AM. Your 10AM flight takes off for Cairns, and you arrive at 1PM; go to Baggage Claim, get your luggage and then a transfer to your hotel. By now half the day's gone, so you don't really have a full day that first day. (amazing how the time slips away on trips isn't it?)!

Putting Sydney at the beginning and then again at the end will also have you paying for four transfers to/from the airport.

To echo what BigRus said, unless there's some reason to visit Melbourne, with only 11 days, my suggestion would be to limit yourself to getting to know Sydney - explore the city, take some day trips out of town,and the GBR area and have some downtime as well. Just a thought!

Hope this has been helpful!


Certified Aussie Specialist
wlzmatilida is offline  
Jun 26th, 2009, 06:06 PM
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Seems as though the Aussie what! has missed the thrust of this trip to have a good time and no need to explain about Europe when you want to come here.
Melbourne for people that have not heard has a nightlife second to none in Australia [and the Melbourne Cup]

Actually, a great way to do the Cup is to start from a distant location as I've done on a couple of occasions and you start with a Chicken and Champagne breakfast at about say 6am, get further lubricated on the bus while also attempting to find out which horses may have a chance.
Bus might arrive at Carpark aboyt 10 AM at which time aN ample morning tea could be served and then it's into the race course.
Usually a picnic lunch of sorts could be in the carpark about 1 PM and then back again into the course where you can also get plenty of eats [Strawberries and Cream a specialty] or just get liquored up some more for the big race, action a plenty in carpark on boats on adjacent river and on course.

Of course you ought to work it so you're left in Melbourne to continue on celebrations.

I agree with Mamatilda re not doing Sydney twice and posted following on another thread
" D1. Connect for flight to Cairns [ saves the hastle of in to and out of Sydney a day later, not a great way in my book to get over jetlag]
Lovely walk up to Botanical Gardens, the Gardens themselves, adjacent Gwonwanaland interpretative walk and Mt.Whitfield is it Pat [had Mt White last time], anyway track that'll work you up a sweat but a nice look out from about halfway up and exploring the harbour area will be a good day to make sure you sleep well for the JL to subside. "

Depending on where in US you initiate the travel you'll likely feel somewhat shagged or well and truly shagged and that will not be because of the Carolina Shag Festival, just the time differences and on you'll see that there are about five flights Sydney to Cairns from 7am to noon and with international flights in early morning you'd be able to connect quite easily.

Only problem is that does create the situation of organising yourself for Cairns and Melbourne but a flight to Cairns, back to Sydney before flying to Melbourne or alternately do the Sydney to Melbourne Coastal or Coast/Alpine route, about three days to have a couple of days in Melbourne for the Cup and then fly back to Sydney.

The south coast and hinterland of NSW and Vic is splendid country that is missed by most travellers to Australia and knowing it well, I can highly recommend it.

Btw, there's also the options of just walking across the Harbour Bridge fro free and also doing the SE pylon [about $15] where there is a historical display and you still get reasonably high for a good lookout.

One of the older style pubs just opposite the Pylon has rooftop dining for some harbour views too and there's a Rocks Pub Crawl that could be right up your alley.
Bushranger is offline  
Jun 29th, 2009, 09:10 AM
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I read the Bryson book after my first trip to Oz and thought it was pretty dull and not that informative. He's more than a bit old for what your group seems to be like.
BigRuss is offline  
Jun 29th, 2009, 02:56 PM
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I'm from UK but have lived here since 74. We are into bush things and wildlife. If you only have a short time and want to get a quick taste of as much as possible in about 3-4 hours go to Wildlife World in Darling Harbour Sydney. Get there as soon as they open if you can when they are feeding the koalas, we've seen many koalas in the wild but when they are feeding is about the only time that you will see them active. For a small inner city wildlife place they've done a good job, you'll see all the well known Australian wildlife in surroundings that are amazingly natural. Not far from Wildlife world you can take a 40 minute ride on a ferry up Sydney Harbour to the Olympic Park, a bus takes you from the ferry to the park in about ten minutes, you can then take a train back to the city. You can buy a daily runabout (unlimited travel), transport ticket that covers trains buses and ferries.
NigelWaring is offline  
Jun 29th, 2009, 03:34 PM
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When in the Cairns area hire a vehicle large enough for you all and head up to the Atherton Tablelands where you can see Australian animals like Platypus and kangaroos in the wild. With an extra day there you could even drive out to Chillago or Undara for the ourback experience. The first has limestone caves and the second has the largest lava tubes in the world. Both have wildlife thought mostly crepuscular.
Saltuarius is offline  
Jul 1st, 2009, 12:07 AM
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Another thought. Make Sydney your base and drive to the Blue Mountains, stay a few days, drive to the Hunter Valley, stay at Pokolbin enjoy food, wines, bush scenery, visit Lake Macquarie or Nelson Bay easy driving distances, then return to Sydney. Fairly relaxing, very Australian and a lovely time of the year in October November.
Whatever you choose you will enjoy Oz.
Ballarat is offline  
Jul 1st, 2009, 08:56 AM
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Thanks everyone, again for suggestions.

Here is what the group has agreed, so far (only took 4 days to come to this

Day 1: Get into SYD (8am arrival), catch a connection to Cairns.

Spend 2 or 3 full days in Cairn. Kick some major jetlag, snorkel GBR, etc.

Fly back to SYD, spend the full weekend. Things to do have not been discussed yet.

Fly to MEL on sunday late or Monday AM, Tuesday 3rd is for the Cup.

Fly back to SYD the night before leaving back to US (or come back a day early to do whatever we missed)

I think that's the most optimal way we thought of. Flying from Cairns to MEL is expensive, and we really wanted to be there for the cup. At least this gets us closer to a plan and starting looking for lodging and such.

So here are my questions!
1. Our flight from LAX to SYD arrives at 8:40AM. Can someone comment on immigration/customs process, how long it takes, etc? so we can determine the flight time to Cairns.

2. Saltuarius, thanks for suggestions on things to do when in Cairns. I haven't gotten to researching that area yet. How about skyrail? I saw someone else's post, is this a must-do?

3. The Melbourne Cup: I'm guessing this is like our Kentuckey Derby. So, does people get all dressed up? Guys are wondering if they need to pack dress clothes.

4. Has anyone kayak the sydney harbor? A couple of us are more interested in this than the bridge climb.

5. How far in advance should we book the domestic flights? Bushranger: I saw numerous comments of yours to sign up for emails so I did that already.
JYK is offline  

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