Reality check needed on 5-week Australia itinerary

Old Oct 24th, 2007, 01:33 PM
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Reality check needed on 5-week Australia itinerary

My husband and I are planning a five-week trip to Australia (our first) beginning the middle of May. Fortunately we managed to get free roundtrip business-class tickets on Qantas to Sydney using frequent flyer miles. Since one stopover is allowed, we’ve added on an extra week in New Zealand at the end of the trip.

I’ve read dozens of interesting and helpful posts here on Sydney and its surroundings, and on the Cairns area and the Great Barrier Reef — we’ll be spending time in both general areas, and there are plenty of great recommendations on this Board that we’ll be taking advantage of. Based on opinions stated on this Board we nixed a tentative plan to go to Adelaide and spend time on Kangaroo Island. We also considered but decided against Uluru this time, mostly because of the time and expense required. Instead, we’ve decided to spend some time in Western Australia, though it seems to get much less conversation on this Board than other parts of Australia.

We're in our late fifties and would like to do some hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, wildlife seeing, wine drinking, good eating, and general exploration. My husband's a geologist so rocks are our friends, and I'm devoted to the ocean, rivers, and all things water. We love spending time in cities as well.

At this point I’d like some advice — actually, a reality check — on our tentative itinerary, particularly the WA part, because we want to reserve our internal flights before we go too much further in our planning. Are we overextending ourselves? Do you think we’ll be happy with the areas we’ve chosen? Are we being unrealistic about how much we can do, given the distances involved? Are we moving around too much? We’ve traveled a lot in Europe and often rent cottages by the week, taking daytrips from the cottage. But that doesn’t seem right for this trip, our initial foray into Australia. Are we going to be spending way too much on airfare (it's looking like about $1,200 per person for all the internal flights) for too few days in a place?

May 16 – arrive Sydney – 4 nights
May 20 – fly Sydney to Perth – 2 nights
May 22 – pick up rental car, explore south of Perth—4 nights, including 2 in Albany
May 26 – return to Perth
May 27 – Fly Perth to Learmonth/Exmouth – pick up car (do we need a 4WD?) -- 3 days exploring Cape and Coral Bay
May 30 – Drive to Tom Price – 3 nights in the area (at least 1 in Karijini National Park)
June 2 – Drive to Coral Bay area
June 3 – Drop off car at Learmonth – fly to Perth
June 4 – Fly Perth to Darwin – pick up car
June 5 – Explore Kakadu – 3 nights
June 8 – Drive to Darwin
June 9 – Fly Darwin to Cairns – pick up car -- explore Atherton Tablelands – 2 nights in Yungaburra
June 11 – Mossman Gorge, Daintree Park, Cape Trib – 2 nights at Exotic Fruit Farm (already reserved)
June 13 – Drive to Cardwell area – 2 nights
June 15 – Hinchinbrook Island – 2 nights (already reserved)
June 17 – Drive to Cairns area
June 18 – Fly Cairns to Sydney – 2 nights
June 20 – Fly Sydney to Auckland – pick up car – explore North Island (Rotorua, Bay of Islands)
June 26 – Fly Auckland to LA in late afternoon.

What do you think?
aprillilacs is offline  
Old Oct 24th, 2007, 03:29 PM
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The reason you don't get much info. on WA on this forum is that most of us live on the Eastern seabord and WA is considered a very distant area. Of course many people fly to Perth and it's environs and in recent years Broome and perhaps the Kimberlys, but the other areas are dry, hot, remote mining areas that are definitely not on the tourist track.. Not being a Geologist I would never want to go to Mt. Tom Price or even Exmouth for that matter, but as you mention your interests are different. The big Rock areas, to a layman, are the Bungle Bungles (google) and Uluru of course and for someone interested in rocks, I would have thought a must see.
Driving in Outback areas for the inexperienced can be very dangerous so do plenty of research on that. Water and fuel needs to be carried and take advice from vehicle agencies. Five weeks should be sufficient, but there is a lot of travelling involved and certainly good planning.
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Old Oct 24th, 2007, 05:15 PM
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We're a couple of those rare American tourists who've been to WA several times, as we live nearby in Indonesia. We have yet to make it north of Perth, but have thoroughly enjoyed our visits south of Perth.

I love Albany and would never discourage anyone from going there, but please be aware that it's about a 4.5 hour drive south of Perth. Also, the best of the Albany area isn't IN Albany, but surrounding it - Waychinicup National Park, Two People's Bay, Porongurup National Park, Walpole-Nornalup National Park, etc. Visiting these treasures will involve a bit of driving from Albany and you'll want plenty of time to explore them.

My point - two nights in Albany doesn't seem like much considering all there is to see in the area.

With only 6-7 nights to spend in Perth and south of Perth, you might want to limit yourself to Perth/ Fremantle and maybe Margaret River. You mentioned that you like wine and food, and you can't beat Margaret River for either. Less driving too.
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Old Oct 24th, 2007, 07:42 PM
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A couple of items of geological interest (and jaw-dropping wonder) near Perth: The Pinnacles (a couple of hundred miles north, near Cervantes -- there's a stromatolite pool nearby, too), and Wave Rock (a couple of hundred miles east, near Hyden). Albany is pleasant, as already noted, and you can also reach Wave Rock from there by driving north, through the Simpson Range.

Personally, I'd skip the North Island of New Zealand, and go to the Red Center (Mereenie Loop from Alice along the Western McDonnell Range to Kings Canyon and on to Uluru and Kata Tjuta and back to Alice -- join a 4WD tour). I'd also recommend the Devil's Marbles (a couple of hundred miles north of Alice).
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Old Oct 25th, 2007, 12:57 AM
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You have not said how much you would like to see in your husband's field.
I am not sure that I would go to Western Australia in the winter there. Is can be cold, windy and wet and certainly not condusive to snorkling but if you were going to concentrate on the North West of Western Australia and around the Bungle Bungles then that is a different matter.
If you do a search on my name you will see some websites that I listed about one month or so ago with lots of interesting things to do and see in the different areas of Australia and a lot that does not really come up much on this forum.
If you are interested in your husband's field that I would be heading for Lawn Hill National Park and Riverslie in Queensland which would give him a ton of fun in the fossil areas out there and you too cold kayak in the lagoons of Lawn Hill.
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Old Oct 25th, 2007, 01:02 AM
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I have joined so I can give you some advice as I know well the areas you intend to visit in WA. Perth to the Margaret River region is a 3-4 hour drive. The coast line from Cape Naturalist besides Dunsborough to Cape Leeuwin near Augusta along Caves Road is beautiful and hosts world class wineries & surfing beaches - if you like rocks don't miss the turnoff from Caves Road to Wyadup Rocks & Injidup Point (just below Smiths Beach/Canal Rocks)for a brilliant view on some amazing granite rocks overlooking the Indian Ocean - a wonderful point to have a sunset drink of some stunning Margaret River wines. I agree the drive to Albany is long but if you go across the Brockman Highway from Karridale to Pemberton and through Denmark you will come across some glorious scenery. Don't miss the Valley of the Giants walk through the treetops of the huge tingle trees and Greens Pool and Elephant Rocks in the William Bay National Park before you get to the lovely small town of Denmark. Albany Harbour was the last sight of Australia for the troops leaving for Gallipoli - it is equal to Sydney Harbour in natural beauty...view it from the top of Mount Adelaide and the Princess Royal Fortress. The old whaling station (Whale World)is a decent drive out of town but well worth it as it is fascinating and also brings you close to the Gap and the Natural Bridge - 2 rock formations even my children found interesting. To return to Perth head up via the Albany Highway (4-5 hours).
As far as your trip North do not be talked out of it - the Pilbara is an extraordinary place. I agree you should fly to Exmouth but I have some alternative advice fromr your current plan which involves too much driving - we returned from 2 weeks camping up there recently. You will need a 4 wheel drive for the Karijini trip so definitely get one on your arrival in Exmouth. You will also need one to cross Yardie Creek on the Ningaloo Reef if you choose to explore further. The Cape Range National Park is fabulous (it is an ancient coral reef) but Ningaloo Reef in May will be stunning. I recommend booking a whale shark tour with "3 Islands" - an expensive day but unrepeatable anywhere in the world. The snorkling is better than anywhere else we have been, including the Great Barrier Reef, and the sight of a whale shark beside you is not easily forgotten The new Ningaloo Novotel is beautiful and highly recommended (particularly as we had been bush camping for a week prior to our arrival). Don't worry about going to Coral Bay - it is a long drive and the reef is better out from Exmouth around Turqoise Bay. Drive to Karijini via Tom Price, have a quick look at Mt Tom Price but them go the additional 1 1/2 hours straight to Karijini where you can stay at the newish Karijini Eco Resort - permanent tented accomodation adjacent to Joffre Gorge. We had 5 days at Karijini in May and it was only just is the most beautiful place I have seen in the world - 2 billion years old - no fossils as life didn't exisit when it was formed. We took a walking tour from the camp (which is owned by an Aboriginal corporation) through the savanna and down our first gorge (Joffre)to get our confidence on the first morning before embarking on our own on other days. Weano and Hancock are challenging but exillerating - you need shoes which can get wet and are sturdy (old sandshoes), a small backpack as you need your arms for the climbing, and the water is freezing but worth going into to get through the gorges. If you want to get to the more isolated sections you will get quite wet so wear suitable clothing(ie Handrail Pool in Weano) will be Your photographs will not do the colours of the rock walls justice and there will be plenty of water in the waterfalls at that time of year. You need at least 2 full days to see both Dales and Weano gorges. We took lunch and drinks with us and lay like lizards on the warm rocks drying off. The nights are freezing (2 degrees)but the days warm and sunny (aroung 28 degrees). I would then recommend driving to Puraburdoo (2-3 hours)and dropping your car there and flying back to Perth. As a fly-in spot for the local mines there are a number of daily flights back to Perth with Qantas. Be aware this region often runs out of diesel/pertrol so don't take chances with your car. To drive back to Coral Bay /Exmouth will take a full day - it would be worth paying the one-way rental fee to spend this time in the gorges after coming all this way. We hired our car through Budget who have offices in Exmouth and Puraburdoo.
Have a great time in WA.
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Old Oct 25th, 2007, 05:00 AM
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A great itinerary, can I come too.

As the Atherton Tablelands is between the daintree, Mossman area and Cardwell I suggest that you go north from Cairns first, south trough the Atherton Tablelands to the Cardwell area. This way you lessen going over the same ground twice.

You might like to stop one night between Yungaburra and Cardwell. Kurramine Beach is off the main tourist track. Not that it is so far but there is a lot to see in between.
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Old Oct 25th, 2007, 05:38 AM
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A great itineray.

I absolutely disagree with Downunder about not wanting to go to Exmouth. It is not a very appealing place, but it's a hub for seeing some wonderful sights. And $ what it's worth, my best ever snorkelling experience was on a dive boat day trip ex Exmouth. Knocks the GBR into a cocked hat, as they say.

My only quibble with your plan is your insistance on hiring a car everywhere.

This is not Europe. The distances are huge. But that's not the main reason why I would recommend against drive yourself.

I ask you to ask yourselves - there you are in this wide and seemingly barren landscape. You won't see what there is to see, cos you need experienced eyes to see it. You'll see a tree just as a tree, but that tree might have a whole heap of uses - food, medicine, clothing, warmth. You won't see because it's not on the surface. You need someone to explain that tree to you.

I am 99% certain that this will fall on deaf ears.

So I would like you to tell me, OP, what is it that makes you think a car is the way to go.

Just curious, as always.
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Old Oct 25th, 2007, 07:33 AM
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Wow, what great advice, from so many different perspectives. We'll take some time to process your comments and refine our itinerary and will likely be posting some more questions. Thanks for taking the time to respond with your suggestions.

By the way, this isn't a working trip, so geology isn't the focus. I mentioned it to give a sense that we're used to being in the great outdoors and scrambling about.

Chimani -- I infer from your comment that we should hook up with a tour guide, yes? I know the value of drawing on local knowledge. We did a 12-day walking trip on the Nakasendo "Highway" in Japan with a guide and got 200% more out of it than we would have on our own. So if you have recommendations for good guides/touring companies to go with, please advise. We are not opposed to spending some time with a small group.
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Old Oct 25th, 2007, 03:59 PM
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smmg - that's wonderful info, thanks very much
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 04:14 AM
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aprillilacs - lots of good advice here, can I just endorse your decision for Cape Tribulation Exotic Fruit Farm and glad you've chosen Yungaburra on Atherton Tablelands as well. Missed by too many here.

LizzyF - there you are! You must be back from Dubai and Muscat - hope you wrote a report on Middle East forum, will check now.

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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 06:28 AM
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Hi April,

yes I do think you should hook up with a local tour guide sometimes - mix and match - some places by yourself, some places with a guide.

But when I say a guide I don't mean a personal guide. I mean just join a day trip.

I did two wonderful trips from Exmouth (granted it was 1997!). They were a one-dayer out to Turtle Island. This was a dive boat but the water was so clear that we saw turtles swimming beside the boat, and the snorkelling at Turtle Island was just amazing.

The second was a road trip out to Cape Range Nat Park including a boat trip though a gorge, snorkelling at Turquoise Bay, visit to the Exmouth Lighthouse, etc.

These trips are not expensive. But as it's so long ago I honestly can't remember the names of the operators. Instead, here's a link you might find useful.

Also if you go to Exmouth you will be there when the whale sharks are there too:

This site also has a great accommo search feature which enabled me to find the name of a place I didn't get to, which had just opened and which is still there and which sounds amazing. You might like it - Ningaloo Reef Retret.

SW of Perth is excellent territory for self drive. Atherton Tablelands too. But Kakadu really is one of those places where a tour would be so much better.

Horses for courses. And just my opinion of course.

Writing this has made me realise how much I want to go back to WA!

Happy planning.

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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 04:48 PM
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Hi Pat - yes I did write a shortish report on the Mid East forum.
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Old Oct 26th, 2007, 10:37 PM
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For a couple a personal guide is often as cheap as a tour. On the tour you pay for the vehicle as well. If you already have a hire car you can pick up your guide who can tailor the day to fit your interests not some set itinerary. there are a number of very good generalists around.
Saltuarius is offline  
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