Jan 20th, 2004, 12:26 PM
Original Poster
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Date of Trip: Dec.11/03-Jan.8/04
Departed From: Vancouver,B.C. Flew Air Canada Vancouver-Honolulu-Sydney.
Places Visited: Sydney,Melbourne,Port Stephens,Newcastle.
1)Getting off the subway at Sydney's Circular Quay and being greeted by that blue dazzle of the harbour with the Opera House squatted happily on the right and the bridge towering on the left: YOU'LL KNOW YOU'VE ARRIVED!!
2)The Sydney transit system. For $15 you can buy a daily travel pass and ride those cute little ferries,sterile but functional subway system,and not-so-cute but adequate bus service to your heart's content.
3)Toronga Zoo in Sydney. Make us of your travel pass by taking the ferry across the harbour to the zoo, then riding the gondola to the top of the zoo. And while taking the zoo walk back down the mountain, you'll be treated to some some spectacular views of the Sydney Harbour.
4)Manly Beach. Jump on another ferry to Manly which is actually two beaches. The ferry docks at the "quieter" non-surf beach.
You'll have to walk through the town centre to get to the surf beach. Manly is quite distinctive with it's majestic beach front gove of pine trees which reminds me of Big Sur, California. Check out some of the Mark Richards wanna-be's at the surf school. Gee, some of those kids were awfully good!
5)Melbourne: Not as vibrant as Sydney, but they're trying! Impressive Victorian architecture. A walk around the Botanical Gardens also featured some beautiful monuments and gazebos.
6)Bus Tour of the Great Ocean Road. A Melbourne must! The Gray Line will pick you up from your hotel. It is an all-dayer, but the scenery is spectacular and the driver's narrative was funny and informative. You will stop at Torquay and Bells Beach which is the heart of Australia's surfing culture.
Toquay also has the Surf Museum which is worth the look on your own. During the bus tour we stopped for an authentic Billy Tea,complete with lammingtons which is the Australian "Twinkie" and Vegemite. Vegemite is also spread on anything and everything but to North Americans,looks and tastes like solidified petroleum.
7)Port Stephens: The dolphin and "blue water" capital of Australia, about two hours north by bus from Sydney We enjoyed the dolphin/whale watching tour from Nelson Bay.
8)Fingal Bay (Port Stephens): Was my favourite place in Australia! Uncrowded and truly enchanting! One side of the bay offered miles of golden sand and blue water.
The other side was liked washing up onto a Gilligan's Isle paradise with lush, unspoiled green islands and pounding surf.
9)Newcastle: Former steel town is reinventing itself as a tourist draw. Good surfing and swimming beach. You will also see some remnants of WW2 along its harbour in the form of bunkers and a military fort. Newcastle was actually torpedoed by a Japanese sub during WW2. Honeysuckle Centre may be worth the visit as it re-develops itself from an industrial ghetto into a trendy area of shops and restaurants.
10)The Climate: For a winter-weary Canadian, the simple plesure of walking barefoot in the sand while watching the tropical breeze waft thrugh the palm tree on Christmas Day was my greatest pleasure. It was also great to get away from the typical North American Christmas hysteria as Australians do not celebrate Christmas as fervently as we do.
Very few houses display any Christmas decorations and the stores/city streets have hardly any at all. So if you are a big fan of Christmas, I would suggest visiting Australia another time.
1)THE PRICE OF FOOD! We found the restaurants incredibly expensive. The Christmas Day buffet at the Melbourne Grand Hyatt was $200/person! I've never seen anything that expensive - even in a major North American city. We ended up having an Aussie hamburger (topped with beets,pineapple and a fried egg)at a greasy spoon in downtown Melbourne called the Golden Tower. Even that was over $30 with a couple of brews. Most of the restaurants would offer "entres" (appetizers)in the $15 range, and "mains" (main courses of fish,meat or chicken) at $25+, and you would have to add your vegetables or potato for another $7.50 each. Desserts were also pricey at $15 for a slab of cheesecake or pudding. The only Godsend was the fact that I took my over-the-shoulder cooler and would stock-up with some grocery items for our day of sightseeing. But even the groceries were expensive! I stayed with a friend in Port Stephens and in fairness, bought the groceries. Everything is downsized,but you pay North American price for half the quantity.We also didn't put many "shrimps on the barbie" at $29Au. a kg. Household staples like dishsoap and shampoo are only sold in small containers, (300 ml) but for $3.99 and up! If only the Australians knew how much they were being ripped off! They should start a massive consumer revolt!
Australian grocery stores also do not offer any relief in the form of bulk buying either.
A truly expensive place to visit and live!
The hotels in Sydney were also more expensive than in Melbourne. But while in Sydney, we stayed at the Airport Holiday Inn
at $117Au./night compared to the downtown hotels which averaged $325. The Airport Holiday Inn was only two blocks from the Mascot subway station which will take you to Circular Quay in about ten minutes. There was also a great deli on the way from our hotel to Mascot station with great sandwiches and salads which we would load our cooler up with. They also offered an Oz Big breakfast for $6.99, compared to $14-$30 for the same breakfast in a hotel or restaurant. The Airport Holiday Inn also had a good bar/snack bar which was open until 10 p.m. The Holiday Inn also offered a shuttle to and from the airport. I would recommend the Sydney Airport Holiday Inn for price, convenience, and quality!
2)Australian Coffee: The places to get a good and cheap coffee are few and far between. I don't like McDonalds coffee in North America, but in Oz it started to taste pretty good.Australians drink a lot of instant coffee, even in the complimentary coffee provided by most hotels.
I found their restaurant coffee either too weak or too strong. Ordering coffee is another matter: If you would like it with a bit of milk or no sugar, like me, you say you want a "flat white."
3)This Australian Mateship Thing: I'm female and visited a male friend in Port Stephens. At first I found it quite charming while walking with my friend, the men would greet one another on the street with a "Hi Mate" or "How ya Goin' Mate?" However, after awhile I started to find it quite offensive.
I told my friend that men should greet the man and woman - not just the man, or none at all and he said it was part of the "Australian Way," particularly in the suburbs.
4)Barefeet: I can't say I really dislike it, but found it quite unusual that quite a few men and women would walk around the malls and stores in barefeet - not so much in the cities - but in the suburban/outlying areas.
While having breakfast at the Port Stephens McDonalds, a group of teenage girls entered still in their pyjamas and barefoot. Kind of cute, though certainly not something one would see in North America.
5)Bondi Beach: Over-rated. Crowded and too much concrete, especially after being spoiled by the beauty and isolation of Fingal Bay. "I came, I saw, and I left."
6)....Well, I can't think of anything right now under "dislikes." There is far more to like about Australia than dislike. Someday I will return to Oz as it is coloquially called
and I would recommend it highly as you will find out for yourselves....."Gee Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." It is indeed a country with much heart, brain, and courage!
Airsick_ is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 01:12 PM
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Interesting report, Airsick. December was so pleasant here in Toronto, but it's now bitterly cold so I'd love to escape somewhere warm right now.

I'm glad to see that you posted likes and dislikes. Thanks.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 01:55 PM
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Not up here in the Far North - they call you "mate" whether you're male or female
pat_woolford is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 05:50 PM
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This reminds me of a discussion I once had with an Ozzie in Melbourne. I asked him if he had ever been to the U.S., and he said, "Yeah, once, but I'll not be back. Didn't care for it at all". I asked him where he'd been, and he said, "The west coast. I went from L.A. to Disneyland".
ALF is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 06:21 PM
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I wouldn't try to defend a ridiculous $30 for two burgers and beers (that greasy spoon must have seen you coming, as we say), but when comparing supermarket prices, bear in mind the economies of scale enjoyed by a combined North American market of well over 300 million people (Canada 31M) compared with Australia's 20M - it makes a difference. I have my own beefs (no pun intended) with the pricing in Australia's two major supermarket chains, but canny shoppers seek out cheaper alternatives, which I accept may not be apparent to visitors.

I can't comment about the structure of Canadian restaurant prices, I'm sorry, but I found nett prices in American restaurants roughly comparable to those in Australia by the time the US bill had been loaded up with tips and state sales taxes. Tips are not expected in Australia and the 10% Federal goods & services tax is included in your bill. As I mentioned in another post, it's a good idea to patronise "BYO" estabishments that allow you to bring your own wine for a small corkage charge (most restaurants mark up their wines by 100-150%), and avoid places that follow the sneaky practice of pricing your vegetables as an optional extra.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 07:54 PM
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Interesting to read your likes and dislikes. I was puzzled about your complaint about the cost of restaurant meals. We had a month's holiday in Canada last June and found the price of restaurant meals very comparable, particularly when you take into account the additional taxes and tips added to the bill. Perhaps you had your meals in the hotels' restaurants - always dearer. I agree with you - $200 for Christmas dinner was unbelievably expensive. If you eat at the pubs and clubs, you can usually have a two course dinner for two people for under $50. In fact, if you are a senior, your lunch or dinner will be even cheaper. I've just been out to lunch and paid $9 for a three course lunch at our local pub. Next time you come to Australia, ask for some cheaper restaurant suggestions on this website and we will lead you to the good food/cheaper food places.
Glad you enjoyed the Great Ocean Road - one of my favourite places.
Your comment on being greeted by the blue dazzle of the harbour reminded me of us arriving in Vancouver and being absolutely delighted with the view of snowcapped mountains around the airport. Loved Vancouver!
marg is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 08:01 PM
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Airsick, I'm glad that for the most part you liked what you saw of Australia. I too liked it on the whole.

When one visits a place on vacation, one experiences a slice of the local lifestyle. But if one lives there, one experiences more dimensions of it.

Yes, I found Australia to be a more expensive place than the U.S. or Canada. Yet, the flipside of that coin was that I found it to be a more supportive society. In my opinion the standard of living there was a little lower than we enjoy in North America, but the quality of life was higher.

I could quote dozens of things that I witnessed that led me to this conclusion. For one thing the supportive infrustructure for disabled people was superior to what I've seen in North America. For another thing, Australians get more vacation than North Americans do.

What I saw of employers led me to believe that, on the whole, they were more compassionate than North American employers. I don't have statistics to demonstrate this, but I saw quite a few examples.

For instance, while we lived in Melbourne, a local friend of ours who was a mechanic had surgery to remove a benign brain tumour. When he first returned to the smallish garage where he worked, he found he was too tired to make it through the whole day. The owner of the garage installed a bed for him in a side room, and told him to work only as much as he could and to nap whenever he needed to. During our mechanic friend's hospitalisation, during his subsequent recuperation at home, and during his initially less than fully productive return to work, the owner of that rather small garage paid him his full wages, although he was not obliged to do so.

Now we have a friend in Calgary, a single mom whose teenaged son has been diagnosed with diabetes and who is having to drive that son to hospitals and clinics for numerous medical tests. Our friend has been with her current employer for some 25 years. We feel that, after all those years of good service, her employer could cut her some slack. But no, he is docking her pay for every hour of work she misses when she takes her son for medical treatment.

I could go on and on and on about the kindness and gentleness that I experienced in Australia.

That is not to say that Australia is uniformly civil. Australians after all are human beings and, as with any group, there is a range of behaviour amongst them.

But I'm talking here about the average interactions I witnessed. On average my assessment was highly complimentary.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 08:24 PM
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Agree that $200 for a Christmas lunch is a wicked outrage but also agree with Neil when he says US restaurant prices seemed pretty much on a par with Australia - at least they were where we ate in LA, Carmel, SF, New Orleans, NY and Boston. am sure they're not the cheapest areas in USA for dining but neither are Sydney and Melbourne CBD's. Once you get out of the cities here, where rents are not as exorbitant, there's thousands of very reasonable and excellent suburban restaurants - especially, if as Neil says, you use the BYO's. I just checked the menu at one of our local BYO's 8 kms out of Cairns (it's won two state dining awards) - mains range from AUD$19-AUD$23.50
pat_woolford is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 09:44 PM
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A Kinder and Gentler Place.
I should have added this under "Likes."
I was also privy to a lot of Australian heart like the gentleman in Port Stephens who saw us waiting at the bus stop (loaded down with luggage on our way to the Newcastle Airport) and quite graciously offered us a lift (which we accepted). Likewise, while in Newcastle I lost my friend in a crowd and when I finally spotted him - was frantically trying to wave him down - when a kind Novocastrian (as people in Newcastle call themselves) offered to help me by calling out his name which could be heard all the way to the outback!
I agree with you "Judy in Calgary," that Oz is indeed a kinder, gentler place than North America, with a higher quality of life. I really admired their lack of pretentiousness about Christmas; most Australian familes are happy to exchange a few prezzies (presents) and then spend the day together at the beach. Australians do indeed worship their leisure time and do not seem to be as consumer-driven as North Americans.
In regards to their treatment of the disabled, the John Howard government has been threatening to eliminate many disability pensions. I can attest to this because my Australian friend is visually impaired. The government has already reduced some of his travel allowance for the privately-run bus services which he must rely on in the Port Stephens area.
In regards to the price of food, Neil from Oz, I only shopped in the Port Stephens area which is a fairly exclusive retirement/resort area so that could have been reflected in the grocery prices. I also forgot to mention that we did patronize some of the RSL (Returned Service League) clubs and some of the sporting clubs and their meals were not as expensive as the hotels/restaurants. The BYO option is also something that is not enjoyed in North America, and tipping in Oz is indeed optional.
Thanks for all your replies! Good-day mates!!!
Airsick_ is offline  
Jan 20th, 2004, 11:30 PM
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Having lived in Canada, USA and Australia I would definately say that the prices between Canada and Australia are pretty much the same when looked at over a broad range of things. We do actually have places in Oz that you can buy Shampoo in 4 gallon containers if you wish and that goes for most other things too.
However the cost of living in the USA works out at about double the cost compared with Australia I think when you add housing, taxes ( State, Federal and local). There are many hidden things that cost so much in the USA that is not evident on just a visit.
Whilst Canada has a cheaper medical system than we do in Australia you do not have a system of choice - its government run or government run.
In USA for instance the cost of health care is about the same as an Australian's mortgage.

When I lived in North America the best thing about coming back home to Australia was that I got wolf whistled - now many of you who are younger may tut tut about this but to me it was not a sign of disrespect but a sign of fellowship - something that I felt lacked in the work place between males and females elsewhere in the world. Perhaps things have changed in Australia too from that perspective but in the good old days everyone was willing to pitch in whether you were male or female and the whole gender thing was not an issue.
The very best thing about all three of these countries is that they really are different with some things that are better and some that are not but at least we can have the freedom to enjoy them without restriction and that in itself is wonderful.
My only other comment is that if Airsick thought Port Stevens was wonderful then just wait till you come back and see the rest of Australia - there is a whole fanastic country waiting for you.
Jan 21st, 2004, 08:55 AM
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Hi Airsick. I agree with your likes ( I used to live in Port Stephens), but I have one problem with your dislikes. The cost of food is not so much more expensive. I go to Australia every year, and always look forward to how inexpensive everything will be. The exchange rate obviously has a lot to do with it, and it isn't as good now as it has been, but it is still better than even. When you go back you will have a better feel of where to go and where to avoid. There are plenty of very nice 4-4.5 star hotels right in Sydney that you can get for less than $200 a night. Less than $150 and you are still in a great place in a great location.
firsttimer is offline  
Jan 21st, 2004, 09:27 AM
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Firsttimer, I assume that Airsick travelled from Canada (since he or she started the trip in Vancouver), so the exchange rate isn't as favourable as it would be for someone paying in USD. The AUD and the CAD are very very similar. A few months back, the CAD was worth a little more, now it's almost the same. Should make it easy to convert when we're there in April.

Restaurant prices will vary depending on where you go, not just the city, but what part of the the city. That's the situation in any big country - Canada, US or Australia.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Jan 21st, 2004, 12:20 PM
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For varied dining experiences at good prices pick up a copy of "good eats in sydney" at the airport newsagent.Used to be called cheap eats in sydney.

Get a $15/day day tripper and go to king st newtown etc
johhj_au is offline  
Jan 21st, 2004, 12:48 PM
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Thanks for your report! You have given us an idea for Christmas 2004!!
wow is offline  
Jan 21st, 2004, 01:49 PM
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The "good eats" guide is good advice. In all the major cities there are areas offering good food at prices that won't ruin your appetite. As examples only, in Sydney there's Chinatown, Leichhardt for Italian, and Newtown for just about everything; in Melbourne Chinatown, Lygon Street, and Victoria Street (for Vietnamese) etc; "the Valley" in Brisbane, and in my own town, Canberra, Manuka and Dickson - something that escaped Bill Bryson, I noticed.

Take your point about Port Stephens, though, Airsick - "captive audiences" in tourist areas are fair game.

It's encouraging to hear that we've retained something of the egalitarian spirit that Australians used to take pride in, but it's taken a battering in recent years. Nevertheless, as Janese says, Australians, Canadians and Americans (and New Zealanders) have much to be grateful for - well, most of us, anyway. However, I have to differ on health insurance - all the numbers I've seen indicate that a government-run system is not only more equitable but way more efficient.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jan 21st, 2004, 02:35 PM
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Thanks Airsick for the rundown!
I agree with Neil Oz regarding the price of food in Australia. The $200 Christmas Day buffet at the Grand Hyatt is to be expected. It's a 5 star hotel, and Christmas Day is generally expensive when eating out. My advice is to steer clear of hotel restaurants, as most of them do charge a fortune.
Cheap eats in Melbourne:
Anywhere on Victoria Street Richmond - cheap, fresh Chinese and Vietnamese fare.
Cafe Baloo on Lonsdale St in the city centre - curries and pasta.
Degraves St eateries, off Flinders Lane.
The Vegie Bar on Brunswick St Fitzroy.
Pellegrinis Bourke St - Italian fare.

As I'm a Melbournian, I'm no expert on Sydney, but I do know that Syd prices are more than Melbourne.

Jan 21st, 2004, 10:27 PM
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I have to disagree with you Neil regarding the health situation, in my other life I was/am in the administrative/medical field both within Australia and previously in UK and Canada and there is not and never has been a Government run system that has ever shown anything other than mismanagement and over-costing. The actual cost of a visit to the local General Practitioner costs THE TAXPAYER - not yourself - $68 compared with the cost of seeing a Government doctor in a hospital at $560 to THE TAXPAYER. Problem is that you never get to see those real statistics because no Government would survive if they really had to show an actual cash/cost ledger to a real Accountant. The mere fact that Governments both Federal and State do not have to, and don't, insure themselves is one issue that people don't take into account and it is not shown in simple figures just what it actually costs to run their health systems when bean crunching and number moving is someone's main occupation, in other words read lies, lies and Government statistics. To give you one example, in a particular Territory/ State of Australia there were too many Aboriginals in gaol so they decided that it would be better for the figures ( of aboriginals in custody) if those people were put into a psychiatric ward and classed as patients! Now only the Government can do things like that! Same with over-runs of costs - just move them.
Jan 22nd, 2004, 01:31 PM
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While I'd like to respond, this discussion has drifted from being a little inappropriate to a lot inappropriate.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2004, 01:38 PM
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I'm glad I'm not the only one who was mildly shocked over the OZ restaurant prices. Now I recognize that the places we visited are touristy places (Byron, Noosa, G.O.R., Melbourne), but we were not eating in fancy places by any stretch of the imagination. Mostly pubs and such. Alas, it seems the Australian BYO is a dying breed because even many of the smaller eateries we visited are licensed now, obviously that is were the $$$ is.

I live in the San Francisco bay area, and I found eating out in Australia significantly more expensive than I am used to for eating out -- I'd guess 10-20% more.

In Melbourne, we paid A$80 (US$64) for two of us to share a basic sushi dinner. In Byron, A$50 for a pizza and some beers. Our chinese food in Noosa was somewhere between the two.

scurry is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2004, 01:40 PM
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Make that 15-25+ percent more.
scurry is offline  

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