Is a "last minute" trip to Australia realistic?

Nov 6th, 2004, 05:37 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2004
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Is a "last minute" trip to Australia realistic?

Would it be crazy to consider putting together a trip to Australia from North America in less than 3 weeks? The itinerary would be:

Arrive in Sydney either November 22 or 29th and leave either December 12 or 19 - time split between Cairns/Port Douglas area and Sydney area (including 2 to 3 days in the Blue Mountains). Nothing is booked yet but I've been doing research on places to stay, what to do etc.

The airfares look really good but my major concerns are:

* finding accomodation. I'm not sure how far in advance I need to book. I'm checking into some mid-range hotels and B&Bs (AU$140 and under) and a couple of the hostels to see if I'm too late.
* weather - Is this is too late in the season for good weather? When does the "wet" start and how wet does it get?
* When do school holidays start and will that make getting accomodation harder?

I don't want to spend all my time racing around the country and would rather see a couple of areas really well and go back in a few years to spend some time in Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide etc. If it's too rushed to put this together or if the weather isn't likely to be good I can put this off until April/May or October/November next year.

Looking at the posts, it seems like everyone is planning their trips months in advance so I'm a bit nervous about this. Thanks for your tips!!
MC04 is offline  
Nov 6th, 2004, 06:10 PM
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I see no major problem. I would do Cairns first then Sydney. School holiday would not have started.

Accommodation can be much cheaper booked two weeks ahead of time.

I travel around Australia on short ntoice all the time. I guess being a local never think to arrange well ahead.

Go for it.
Jane_47 is offline  
Nov 6th, 2004, 06:24 PM
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MC04 - should be no problems, you're coming into summer so the weather will only get better. Here today in Cairns its 30C max., not a cloud in the sky, beautiful calm weather for the reef. . It could bet wetter in December, so as Jane says, plan for the north first. Accommodation in North Queensland is pretty easy to find at this time of the year, many tourists shy away because of perceived bad weather, when it's usually the opposite.
pat_woolford is offline  
Nov 7th, 2004, 03:34 AM
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For sure go north first - but honestly there are so many places to stay in Cairns and surrounds, and Sydney, that unless you just MUST stay in a particular hotel you'll have no problem. You could just pitch up and phone from the airport if you had to.
alice13 is offline  
Nov 7th, 2004, 03:53 AM
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No, it's not crazy. My husband and I are currently in the Melbourne airport, having just completed a 16 day trip to Tasmania. Due to some visa issues in the country we recently moved to, we didn't know until four days prior to our departure if we'd be able to go. With the exception of our airline tickets from Singapore to Melbourne, we booked the entire trip in those four days. Sure, we did some research a few weeks prior to the trip, but the actual bookings were all last minute, which is NOT how we usually travel.

Everything was booked online - all airline tickets, all hotels, and car rental. We used, and to make our hotel bookings and everything went really well.

You're traveling during the high season, so you might run into more booking issues, but I can highly recommend the above web sites for last minute bookings. I was really impressed with Wotif and rates to go and would use either again in a heartbeat.

Have fun.
Melnq8 is offline  
Nov 7th, 2004, 02:12 PM
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Thanks for the tips - Melnq8 those websites look great!

Is there an advantage to staying in Port Douglas for excursions to Cape Trib/Daintree? I'm thinking of spending 4 nights each in Port Douglas and Cairns to experience the best of what they both have to offer.
MC04 is offline  
Nov 7th, 2004, 02:34 PM
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MC04, you might want to consider an overnight trip to the Undara Lava Tubes while you're in Far North Queensland.

The start of the Australian summer school holidays varies from state to state. The earliest start is Queensland's on December 11th. The majority of states' school holidays start on December 18th. So you should be able to escape the heaviest competition for accommodation.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Nov 7th, 2004, 04:53 PM
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My homemade pizzas are in the oven now, so I have a few minutes to add a few more thoughts.

I don't really see the point of spending 4 nights in PD and 4 nights in Cairns. I think there would be merit in choosing one or the other and sticking with it. Alternatively, split the difference by staying in Palm Cove, which is half way between the two.

The thing about Far North Queensland is that the beautiful and interesting aspects of nature require you to travel around a bit. You use one or another of these towns primarily as a base for going out into the wilds. While the towns are pleasant, they are not in and of themselves the bee all and end all of everything.

Also, if you have as many as 8 nights to spend in FNQ, I would expand on the idea I've already mentioned in connection with an overnight trip to the Undara Lava Tubes. Maybe base yourself in one of the coastal towns for, say, 5 nights, and expand your time in the Gulf Savannah (which includes Undara) to, say, 3 nights.

I've never been to Cairns, but I understand its population is 150,000, and it does have a few high rise buildings.

Palm Cove is a small, coastal town 20 minutes north of Cairns.

Port Douglas is another small, coastal town, 20 - 25 minutes north of PC, so 40 - 45 minutes north of Cairns. PD is bigger than PC, but still small. I forget what PD's population is -- 5,000 if I remember correctly.

The nice thing about all of the small coastal communities up there is that they have building restrictions that restrict the height of buildings to the height of the tree tops. So that limits the buildings to 3 or 4 storeys.

The Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Forest tours all pick up their passengers from accommodations in PD, PC and Cairns, so no town has a great advantage over another in that respect.

Sorry, I have to go and take those pizzas out of the oven.

Here's a good website on FNQ if you haven't found it already:

Also, Lilybank B&B's website has good info. Lilybank is located in a suburb of Cairns, and has been praised by many Fodorites who have stayed there. Its owner, Pat Woolford, is a regular poster here. Her previous posts are a wealth of information on FNQ. I've never met her in real life. I've only "met" her here at Fodors.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Nov 8th, 2004, 01:08 AM
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I'm also not sold on the idea of Cairns for 4 and PD for 4 nights. Cairns is OK for a night but it's a town. If you want nature and peace (you might not!) then there are other places further north that you might like. If you want real R&R with access to the Daintree rainforest and the reef there is a range of places you can stay in the Daintree itself. (check Cape Tribulation on the web). And if you are happy to move around a bit - I've not seen the Undara Lava Tubes but did enjoy a trip to the Atherton Tablelands. Cooktown (esp getting there) was great.
alice13 is offline  
Nov 8th, 2004, 03:58 AM
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Here we go again - Cairns city is a small, yet fairly exuberant and lively part of an area which covers approx 50km of mainly coast from Gordonvale in the south to Palm Cove in the north. A few kms out of town its still cane farms, rainforest and beaches. It is not sanitised to the point of Palm Cove and Port Douglas, there are indigenous people in Cairns city, Kuranda and Cooktown, not always as well behaved as tourists would like. Cairns provides shelter and welfare for these sad people, many of whom are homeless. If you want to meet real Aussies, try Cairns or a few kms out of its small city, parts of Daintree, Tableland or south of Cairns, which is nearly always ignored. If you want to meet tourists you couldn't go past Palm Cove or Port Douglas.
pat_woolford is offline  
Nov 8th, 2004, 12:12 PM
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I have always made Cairns my base for the North Queensland experience, except for one time and I wish I had not done it afterwards.
Cairns is in the centre of what is one of Australia's most attractive areas. There are many more places that you can see from there, there are many more tours from there, certainly many more trips to choose from to the reef from there.
It is closer to the Atherton Tablelands which is a must for some exploration and/or overnighting en route to Undara.
It is closer to the Tully falls with white water rafting. It is closer to Cardwell which is the little town where you get access to Hinchinbrook Island ( one of the best, if not THE best, tropical island off Far North Queensland. Cairns is the getting on place for the train to Kuranda.
Sure Cairns is a city with everything that brings but if you want a quiet "holiday resort stle holiday" then stay on an island. Palm Cove is, and Port Douglas is, as Pat says really good places to meet other people from you home country and they are not indicative of Australia or Australians - they are tourist meccas. Great for a day's visit.
Cairns has some lovely sides to it - ask and you will be given all the information available on it. But Cairns cannot wash away what is the fundamental part of a small Australian town with its infrastructure.
lizF is offline  
Nov 8th, 2004, 04:52 PM
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On our last trip to north Qld, we spent 4 nights each in Cairns and Port Douglas and although I wondered before we went if we were mad, it worked out really well. From Cairns we visited Kuranda, shopped, had a good look around the local area etc. From Port Douglas we visited Cape Trib and the Daintree and did a day trip out to the reef, went to the PD market, etc. I was particularly glad we did the reef trip with Quicksilver from PD as it saved us heaps of time. The people from Cairns are bussed up to PD and back, and we were told it took about 2 hours each way, by the time everyone was dropped at their hotels. We were happily in the pool while the Cairns folk were still on the bus. I think 4 nights is enough time to get a feel for each area, and they are quite different. PD seemed to be mostly tourists whereas, as Pat says, there are many more locals in Cairns.
KayF is offline  
Nov 8th, 2004, 05:50 PM
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Hi KayF - am glad that combination worked out for you. Yes, Quicksilver does pick up in Cairns either on its Wavepiercer (by sea) or bus which can take up to nearly 2 hours. However, a lot of people enjoy the road trip as it passes through all the northern beaches areas and includes the very scenic coastal drive from Ellis Beach north. However, there are many other reef operators out of Cairns, more in fact than from Port Douglas, so its not at all necessary to base there for a reef trip. Cairns is also an hour closer to the lovely Frankland Islands, one of the best-kept secrets in the north. These islands are visited by only one comparatively small tourist boat daily and are still pristine.
pat_woolford is offline  
Nov 8th, 2004, 08:00 PM
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In the vicnity of Cardwell is the famous Tully River Crossing. It's often flooded; pretty big deal for the main highway north to Cairns. If you're stopped you can enjoy the pleasures of the Euramo Hotel. Beer served while the transporters are taking people across the river. Rum after even they are stopped. And free showers and sausage brekkie in the AM.

AndrewDavid is offline  
Nov 9th, 2004, 01:00 AM
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Hi, AndrewDavid,
I seem to recall reading a wonderful account of the Tully area flooding, and the consequences thereof on this forum!
MC04 - As a New Zealander I would like to leap to the defence of Cairns, a place my husband and I have thoroughly enjoyed visiting for the past two years now, and are already planning our third trip for next year. It is a relaxed city where we feel very comfortable. We have done the following from our hotel in Cairns - the Daintree / Cape Tribulation day trip, Atherton Tablelands, Undara Lava Tubes (would love to do the ovenight trip, so go for it!), Green Island, out to the reef proper, Kuranda - so there is no problem with that side of your trip. I found PD a little 'plastic' but I am not a tourist-resort person on the whole. Whatever you decide, enjoy the area.
Judy, I'm envious - home-made pizzas sound far nicer than beetroot dye I am experimenting with for school tomorrow and which is keeping me up past my bedtime!
Pat, how dare you mention the lovely day you had on Saturday when ours here in Wellington was yuk!! Mind you it was that temperature when we were there in September!!
dotty is offline  
Nov 30th, 2004, 06:17 PM
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Maybe would split it up like this.. 4 days Port Douglas, 2 Atherton Tablelands and 2 Cairns. Just got back and I was glad I did spent some time in Cairns and loved Port Douglas. Chance to see the wildlife in Atherton. Used a guide for the day up there. Saw Platypus, Kangaroo, Padymelon, suger Gliders and lots of birds and parrots.
puckett is offline  

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