New to Oz

Feb 24th, 2005, 11:49 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2005
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New to Oz

I am planning a trip to Australia for the first time and wanted to get some opinions and advice on what to do at some chosen locations, how to get around, and where to stay. I have been deployed in Iraq for the last year and this will be a long awaited vacation! I am 26 years old and will be traveling with my boyfriend. We are into good beaches, nightlife, and beautiful scenery. Here is what I have planned so far:

19 April: LA to Melbourne
21 April: Arrive Melbourne, spend 3 full days there. (What are the must dos? Is it easy to get around without a car? Where is a good location to stay? Nice, but not expensive...)
25 April: Fly to Cairns and spend 3 full days there. Would like to snorkel in a few places, but don't have the attention span to do it for more than a couple of hours at a time. Where are the good spots? What is there to do in Cairns? Place to stay? Is a car necessary? Recommended island for great beach time/overnight stay?
29 April: Fly to either Brisbane or Gold Coast and spend 2 full days there. Not sure which... What are the main attractions at these locations? Is the Gold Coast where the really nice beaches are? Is a car necessary? Places to stay?
2 May: Fly to Sydney and spend 3 full days there. Maybe go to the Blue Mtns I have read about. How long of a drive it is to the mountains from Sydney? Is there a bus to take?
6 May: Return from Sydney to LA.

Where in this itinerary would be a good chance to see Australian wildlife in a natural setting (koalas, kangaroos, etc)? Is there a wildlife park anywhere near the locations? I have planned lots of time on the coast, but do not have anything planned for the inland portions. Don't really have an interest in going to see Ayers though. Any advice is appreciated. Traveling on a modest budget, looking for a great Aussie experience. B&B or other rustic but private accomodations would be great to change things up from hotel stays. Thanks for any advice!

lil247 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2005, 01:36 PM
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Hello lil247,

Your itinerary is well balanced. It's a bit fast paced for my taste. I'm in my 50s and, as I've grown older, my desire to see places in greater depth (even if it means seeing fewer places) has increased. However, you're still young, you have lots of energy, and you're probably still at the stage at which you want to get a good overview of a country. So I won't bug you any more about the pace of your trip.


You absolutely do not need a car to get around Melbourne itself, and in fact a car is an impediment more than anything else. That said, on a trip as short as yours, I would spend only a day in the city and the rest of the time on an excursion or excursions outside of the city.

Depending on what you choose to do outside of the city, a car can become useful if not essential.

I think the best thing for you to do would be to look around the CBD (central business district or downtown) and adjacent Southbank on April 21. Then spend April 22 - 24 driving a circuit of the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians to the west of Melbourne. On April 24 don't even bother to go back into the city. You'll becoming in from the west, so just park yourself somewhere near the airport, which is to the NW of the city.

For the day on which you look around downtown Melbourne, start out by catching the FREE City Circle Tram. It goes around the perimeter of the downtown core, and gives you a pre-recorded commentary of the buildings you're passing. It's a great way to get an initial orientation.

Far North Queensland

For the love of Pete, don't break up your 3 day stay by going to an island overnight. I'm trying to say "different strokes for different folks" when it comes to the overall pace of your trip, but that idea is just too much, in my opinion.

If you want to stay in Cairns (population 150,000), you might consider staying at Lilybank B&B. Pat Woolford, who posts here at Fodors, and her husband, Mike, own it. It's located in a suburb of Cairns.

Another popular town in the area is Port Douglas, about 45 minutes north of Cairns. It has a population of 5,000 and is a resort town. That is to say, practically all the people you'll meet there will be tourists (both Australian and foreign) or people who work in the tourist industry. One of the things I do like about PD is the fact that buildings are not allowed to be higher than the tree tops. If you choose to base yourself in PD without a car, be sure to stay within walking distance of the main street, Macrossan Street, and reserve a shuttle from the airport to PD.

Between Cairns and PD there are some other, smaller resort communities. Another one that is mentioned frequently around here is Palm Cove.

Driving is easy in this area. There are no big cities. However, a car is not strictly speaking necessary, as the Great Barrier Reef tours, rainforest tours, etc., all pick their guests up from their accommodations.

The premium island in the area, to which I have not been myself, is Lizard Island. It is reported to be the best of the best, but it's very expensive to stay there, and it's even expensive to fly there for a day.

I've heard good things about Michaelmas Cay. A company called Ocean Spirit goes there on a day-trip basis for snorkelling. However, do a word search here at Fodor's Talk to get the most up to date word from FNQ residents as to which are the 2 or 3 best GBR companies.

Arrange your GBR outing for your first full day in the area. If the weather doesn't permit boats to go out to sea that day, you'll then have a better chance of rescheduling.

A day tour of the Daintree Rainforest is fascinating. It can be done as a self-drive exercise, but the quality of the experience is enhanced if you have a knowledgeable guide.

For your third day in the area, I suggest a visit to the small town of Kuranda on the edge of the Atherton Tableland (going up by SkyRail and returning by conventional train).

Brisbane / Gold Coast

I've been to Brisbane for 3 days / 2 nights. It's a pleasant subtropical city of about 1.6 million people (if I remember correctly), and it overlooks a river. It might hold your interest for a day or so. However, with your tight time frame, I wonder if it would be a good use of your time to go there. It is a few miles inland from the ocean. I think you might be better off going to the Gold Coast. I understand that the Gold Coast does indeed have great beaches. However, I haven't been there myself, so will leave you in the hands of the experienced Gold Coast posters.


Sydney's traffic is crazy and, at 15 AUD a day, public transportation (consisting of trains, buses and ferries) is way too good a deal to pass up.

The Rocks / Circular Quay generally is considered to be the most convenient base for tourists.

I have not climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but folks who have done it rave about it.

You might want to search here for Alan's directions on the walk from Spit Bridge to Manly Beach (about 4 hours) and the return from there by ferry.

I found the tour that explained how the Sydney Opera House had been designed and built to be very worthwhile.

After having heard about Bondi Beach all my life, I was disappointed to see that it was no better than several other beaches. I personally suggest you go to Manly.

You can get to the Blue Mountains 3 ways. You can rent a car, you can catch a train to Katoomba and then use the hop-on / hop-off bus, or you can go on a guided day tour by bus.

To those who wish to rent a car, Alan has suggested first catching a train to Valley Heights, so as to get clear of Sydney's traffic.

If you do the train + hop-on / hop-off bus thing, you may be interested to know that train fares drop by something like 40% to off peak rates at 9.00 a.m. The 9.02 a.m. train to Katoomba just qualifies for the lower fare. (Thanks to Alan for that tip too.)

If you go on a guided day tour, go with a company that takes only 10 or so passengers. The bigger buses cannot negotiate the switchbacks en route to a couple of the most scenic spots.

Native Australian animals

There are opportunities to see them in all the places you're planning to visit.

Hope that helps.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Feb 24th, 2005, 01:43 PM
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Hi, lil247!

I can only answer one small part of your list of questions: to get to the Blue Mountains from Sydney.

There are a whole host of tour-buses, ranging from 4WD "off the beaten track" vehicles through tiny sixteen-seater "eco-tour" vehicles up to the massive coaches with everything inside them -- going from Sydney to the Mountains on any given day. These are not public buses and you need to book through your travel agent or through the Tourist Information Centre in George St (in the Rocks). These buses all have two things in common: they make for an expensive day out, and you get to stop at the restaurants and souvenir shops that they decide. Most of them also don't allow you the opportunity to actually get out there and interact with the mountains... they just take you to the lookouts en route to their preferred souvenir shops, so you can take a few photos before getting to the real purpose of the day, which is to spend money on things you don't want.

A better and cheaper way is to go by train. Trains to Katoomba leave from Sydney Terminal at least hourly (early morning, a little more frequently than that: 7:30, 8:22, 9:02) and take two hours for the single journey.From Katoomba Railway Station there are plenty of "get-on-and-off-as-you-like" trolleys and double-decker buses doing the well-worn tourist route. An absolute must is to get off at Echo Point and spend at least two hours walking down into the valley, along to the cable-car station, and then riding back up in comfort (you won't come out where you went down, but there'll be a bus along soon). This walking is the best way to see the Blue Mountains (which, by international standards, are not very spectacular when viwed from the lookout, which is all the expensive tour coaches give you a chance to do), and there are literally dozens of interesting walking tracks at Katoomba, Leura, Wentworth Falls and Blackheath which will use up your day. The bus will drop you back at either Leura or Katoomba Station for the return journey.
Good luck with the rest of your planning!

Alan is offline  
Feb 24th, 2005, 01:54 PM
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Sorry to trip over you, so to speak, Alan. My message spent some time in the typing and preview stages, as you might imagine. I believe I hit the Post button after you did, but I must have started composing my message before you. Sorry, I didn't notice your message there when I previewed mine. Luckily I don't think I actually contradicted anything you said.

How about some of that Sydney hotel advice for which you are famous? When it comes to reasonably priced accommodation, don't you recommend Russell Hotel, Old Sydney Holiday Inn, and Lord Nelson? That, at least, is my recollection.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Feb 24th, 2005, 02:18 PM
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Hi, Judy! No need to apologise, being stepped on by you is a pleasure!

We seldom contradict each other, and, anyway, your post covers far more areas than mine.

Yes, those are often my suggestions (as recently as this morning, when someone was considering a hotel up near King's Cross as a way to find small and charming accommodation). However, with regard to the Old Sydney Holiday Inn, I would hasten to add that the ONLY part of that hotel I would recommend is the dreamy location... apart from that, it's just another overpriced and under-charactered Holiday Inn, which means that on principle I wouldn't touch it with a barge-pole. But the company DID manage to score the second-best location of any hotel in Sydney, so I sometimes recommend it to people who want the "comforts" of a big US chain, but want something more desirable than the bunch of big chains around Darling Harbour. The others are all smaller hotels which offer less glitz but more authenticity.
Alan is offline  
Feb 24th, 2005, 03:11 PM
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I have two thoughts to add to that slew of good advice. Firstly, Phillip Island near Melbourne (an hour's drive, I think) is a well-known place to see fairy penguins waddle up onto the beach at sunset and into their burrows in the dunes. A bit touristy, but a great place to see them anyway.

Secondly, the Travelodge at South Bank in Melbourne is well-kept and modern for a very reasonable price. Good location too.

Oh, and one place I have to rave about, even though it's not very close to where you're going, is Friday Creek Hinterland Retreat in Coffs Harbour, NSW. My husband and I stayed there for part of our honeymoon trip and it was amazing.Six luxury cottages on a hillside up in the mountains near the coast. Romantic and secluded, it would give you time to slow down and take in the beauty of the outdoors.

But whatever you choose to do, you'll love it!
mjodoin2303 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2005, 06:49 PM
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Hi lil247 - Your holiday sounds fantastic! If I can offer my two bobs worth I would suggest you skip Brisbane and just head straight to the Gold Coast. Even though I am a Brisbane girl through and through - for a couple of young things on a big adventure such as yours I do think the Gold Coast will have a lot more to offer. The beaches are good as is the nightlife. Lots of alfresco dining and clubs etc .

I hope - after your time in Iraq - Australia will be a sight for sore eyes. I do wish you both a wonderful holiday.
claret is offline  
Feb 24th, 2005, 09:13 PM
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Thank you all for your great advice! I think I will go to the Gold Coast versus Brisbane and maybe take a day away from Melbourne and add it to either the Gold Coast or Sydney. Any suggestions for lodging at the Gold Coast? Looking for a local experience while staying fairly nice and private. Would it be best to have a car rental for the Gold Coast? Also, being a lush for wine, are there any good wineries to visit on the east coast? cant wait to get out of here (Iraq)!!! definitely need to kick back a few to say the least.

lil247 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 12:56 AM
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>is a few miles inland from the ocean. I think you might be better off going to the Gold Coast.

Hi there. I just have to correct this point. Brisbane is a coastal city and is not a few miles inland from the ocean. However it doesn't have very many nice beaches and doesn't have any surf beaches. If you were to look at brisbane on a map it may appear to be inland, that's only because they tend to place the dot in the middle (where the city centre is). The truth is it is a very large city in terms of the area it covers. Much larger than Sydney or Melbourne.
Brisbanite is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 01:12 AM
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Hi Lil,

>Looking for a local experience while staying fairly nice and private.

Almost all of locals living on the gold coast moved there from somewhere else to work in the tourist industry. I don't think there's a local experience to be had there.

>Would it be best to have a car rental for the Gold Coast?
Most certainly. If you wish to visit any of the major theme parks or wilderness areas you'll need one.

>Also, being a lush for wine, are there any good wineries to visit on the east coast?

My expertise in this area is limited but to the best of my knowledge wineries can only exist in temperate regions. GC and Brisbane are subtropical.

to prepare you for the weather differences...
American Comparison:
Los Angeles is to Sydney what Miami is to Brisbane.

European Comparison:
Barcelona is to Sydney what Malaga is to Brisbane.

All the best wineries are further south in the Hunter Valley (NSW), Barossa Valley (South Australia) and there's another in victoria that I can't think of right now...
Brisbanite is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 01:48 AM
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>and there's another in victoria that I can't think of right now...

That would be the Yara valley ;-)
Brisbanite is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 05:16 AM
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Hello Lillian,

If you subtract a day from Melbourne, then you could do as follows:

April 21 - Get an orientation on the City Circle Tram, and generally look around the CBD and Southbank.

April 22 - Do a one day drive on the GOR. Simply go as far as you can on that one day.

April 23 - Drive to Healesville Nature Sanctuary and one or two of the Yarra Valley Wineries.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 05:29 AM
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Postscript. Just realised you will be in Cairns on Anzac Day. It started as an occasion to remember the New Zealand and Australian soldiers lost in WW I, most particularly in the Gallipoli Campaign, but has expanded to include the recognition of all of the members of the two countries' armed forces who have been lost in all conflicts.

It's a big occasion for Australians. When I witnessed it on a cool, rainy day in Melbourne (a city of 3.5 million), 9,000 people participated in the traditional Dawn Service, and 250,000 participated in the march down St. Kilda Road to the Shrine of Remembrance that took place later in the morning.

I don't know how Anzac Day is observed in Cairns. I suspect Cairns has a Dawn Service and later on a Parade, as most Australian towns do. However, I get the impression that outings to the GBR, etc., keep going almost regardless of what else is happening.

My mentioning the cool, rainy day in Melbourne brings me to another point. Melbourne's weather is fickle. In April it could be hot or cool. The hottest it's been in April has been 94 deg F, and the coolest it's been has been 38 deg F. The lowest temperature may not sound all that cool, but if it's combined with some wind and rain, it can feel pretty cool. So bring a couple of extra layers to wear on top of your tropical clothing, if necessary.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 05:39 AM
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It might help, if I mentioned Anzac Day, if I also mentioned the date. I seriously need my morning cup of coffee! Anyway it's April 25th.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 09:16 AM
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>city of about 1.6 million people

Sorry to be a pendant. That was the brisbane population in year 2000. 5 years down the track we're above the 1.8 Million level. Brisbane has the highest population growth rate of all the capital cities in Australia.

Where are all the people coming from?
Lets just say it won't be long before a referendum is successfully passed by the voting public to rename the city 'Melbourne 2'.

Something else worth noting, Qld is the only state in Australia where the majority of the population lives outside of the capital. My guess is that this is due to the fact that our largest industries are Mining, Tourism and Agriculture.

Using 2003 figures (the only official estimates I have)
QLD: 3,801,000
Brisbane: 1,733,200

Just some trivia ;-)
Brisbanite is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 11:21 AM
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Judy, thanks for the updated Melbourne itinerary. Where would be a good place to rent a car from to make the GOR drive and what is the best way to go to the wineries? Are they far? It would be nice if there was public transpo as we would like to take advantage and test as many wines as possible and not worry aobut driving back! What should we expect from the GOR drive? Thanks for your help!

Lillian from Texas
lil247 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 12:19 PM
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Hello Lillian,

>>>Where would be a good place to rent a car from to make the GOR<<<

I've only rented a car from a place that was located in the eastern suburbs, too far out to be convenient for you. For as short a visit as you'll have, I'm sure you'll want to stay downtown or in Southbank (and certainly no further out than the seaside suburb of St. Kilda). If you take up mjodoin2303's suggestion to stay in the Travelodge in Southbank, I notice there is an Avis location nearby in South Melbourne. I'm not saying that's the only company or the only pick up location. I'm just offering it as an example of what's available.

>>>what is the best way to go to the wineries? Are they far? It would be nice if there was public transpo as we would like to take advantage and test as many wines as possible and not worry aobut driving back!<<<

The Yarra Valley wine region is about 1.5 hours NE of Melbourne.

The wineries are quite scattered, and I'm not aware of public buses that go to them. When it comes to Healesville Nature Sanctuary plus a winery on the way home, I've only ever done that by car.

I've read that you can catch a train from downtown Melbourne to Lilydale Station and then a bus from Lilydale to Healesville. However, it looks like a pretty convoluted arrangement to me, and I really wouldn't like to contemplate it myself.

There are some day tours that combine a ride on the Puffing Billy steam train, lunch at a winery, and a visit to Healesville. They are not cheap, however. Anyway, in case you're interested in that option, here are a couple of websites I found by Googling:

There are other day tours, in the same general price range, that concentrate JUST on the wineries. You can find them by doing a Google search for WINE + TOUR + YARRA.

>>>What should we expect from the GOR drive?<<<

If you had one day to drive along the Great Ocean Road, you probably would be able to get to a group of rocks known as the Twelve Apostles. You would not have time to dawdle a lot along the way, but you wouldn't be too rushed either. It would make for a long-ish day, though.

Here's a website about the GOR:

You would drive southwest from Melbourne, and pass the smaller city of Geelong, which is more or less the most westerly point on Port Phillip Bay. From Geelong, you would head south to the seaside town of Torquay. The drive up to this point is not particularly scenic.

Torquay is where the GOR really starts. For much of the way from there onwards, the road hugs the coastline, and you get lovely views of the coastline. You would pass the small, seaside towns of Anglesea, Lorne and Apollo Bay.

Then you would cut westwards across the Otway Ranges and keep going till you reached the Twelve Apostles.

If you wanted to save some time on the way home, you could cut inland when you reached Lorne, and return via a more direct route.

In addition to the views of the ocean, parts of the GOR go near or right through areas of temperate rainforests, rainfalls, etc. Otway National Park is particularly attractive.

I love the temperate rainforests in the more southerly parts of Australia, and I also love the wet tropical rainforests of Far North Queensland. I think you'll enjoy each of them and the distinct differences between them.

>>>Thanks for your help!<<<

You're very welcome.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 02:15 PM
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lil - Judy's right (as usual) Anzac Day falls on 25th April (ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) and it is a public holiday. Its the only day the otherwise illegal gambling game of two-up is tolerated in public. Just about every town in Australia has a memorial to the fallen in various wars and there is a very well-attended Dawn Memorial service on the Esplanade in Cairns city. Although its a public holiday all tours will be operating, about the only day most of them don't is Christmas and New Year's Day. If you do a search on this board you'll find plenty of reef and other tour recommendations, do try to take a day trip to Cape Tribulation in Daintree. Most of the tours here are nature-based, FNQ (Far North Queensland is one of the only two areas in the world where two World Heritage listed sites abut - The Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest).

Brisbanite - Cairns is also experiencing population growth from southern states, seems to be cashed up retiring baby-boomers who've finally decided which is the best state to live in!
pat_woolford is offline  
Feb 25th, 2005, 03:55 PM
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Lil - first of all, THANK YOU for your service in Iraq. We have a couple friends with family members there. You're all in our thoughts everyday.

Be aware that the Aussies take ANZAC Day very seriously. It's not like Memorial Day or Veterans Day here in the States where a lot of people take a three day weekend and forget the purpose of the holiday. As an American, I wouldn't & couldn't begin to explain the deep significance of this day to the Australian people. Just know that it is a solemn, serious day to honor their veterans (called "diggers") and to celebrate being Australian.

As for your time in Cairns, you mentioned seeing wildlife as something you'd like to do. I can't add much to the excellent advice given by the others here, but I would second the advice given by Pat & Judy that you take a guided tour/day trip to Cape Tribulation. We did this and experienced the following:
- saw dolphins swimming just offshore
- saw the elusive cassowary
- ate ants that tasted like lemons
- were chased by some kind of wild pig/boar
- saw huge (Texas size!) crocs, upclose & personal in the Daintree river
- was eaten alive by sand fleas
- saw bats (fruit bats I think) with a wingspan of 5+ feet
- saw all kinds of fish, lizards, turtles, spiders, frogs and assorted rain forest flora

Our guide was a naturalist with a degree in horticulture. He had incredible knowledgable about everything - from which animals ate what plant to the overall workings of the ecosystems. Spend the time and do a tour. If you like wildlife & the outdoors, you won't regret it!

John in Miami (San Antonio native)
JohnInMiami is offline  
Mar 4th, 2005, 01:26 AM
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Hey lil247

Just a little postscript for you re the wineries - just south of Brisbane is the Sirromet Winery at Mt Cotton. It would be no more than say a 40 to 50 minute drive from Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.

There has been no expense spared with this winery - beautiful building - beautiful views - and excellent food to go with their excellent wine. (Okay I live just a couple of klms away and am a little biased).

I really think you would thoroughly enjoy a visit to Sirromet and they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner though it might be wise to book.

Oh and by the way don't forget our drink driving laws - legal limit is .05.
claret is offline  

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