Trip Report March 7-21, 2008

Old Mar 23rd, 2008, 04:57 PM
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Trip Report March 7-21, 2008

Ah ha! Two weeks in Australia? Are you crazy, Mate? You'll spend more time travelling than enjoying!

Well, that is what I heard time and time again, but i thought, "I only have 2 weeks; do I NOT go or do what I can?". Off we went! Me, DH, and my 2 darling teenagers...and man oh man, am i glad I did!!!!

March 7, 2008 seemed like an enternity away when I was planning this 'trip of a lifetime' and suddenly, there it was! Mother nature played tricks on us and decided to dump Toronto's worse snow storm since the 1930's on the day of departure. Thankfully, AirCanada will cancel the piddly local flights, but the over seas long hauls always most certainly go. We were only delayed 2 hours and magically, mystically, the wheels were up and we were on our way to Australia via Vancouver!!!

There are no words to describe the incredible comfort of the Boeing 777 business class (thank you Aeroplan points). Those pods are, in a word, AMAZING!! What an incredible way to start any vacation...but especially when it's a 22 hour journey! Even my teenagers, dare I say, were impressed. Lots of lay down comfort, food and drink on demand, and entertainment for all. The flight literally and figuratively flew by!

Upon landing in Sydney, Australia we were all rather surprised about the bug spray that was sprayed inside and out of the aircraft. Not toxic, we were told, but watching those flight attendents walk up and down the aisles spraying inside the overhead compartments, was a bit freaky! My 15 year old son asked what was going on and DH replied, "you remember that food you refused to clean out of your room and we got all those fruit flies? Well, Australia found out about it and they're taking precautions". LOL I digress...

You often aren't sure about travelling with teenagers...they can be a hard read sometimes, but it was amazing to me to see the looks on their faces as we approached Sydney; the 'we are really here' look to 'this place might actually be cool!'. That alone was an omen that it was to be a great great trip!

Once the bug spraying was complete, we deplaned into a well organized and cheerful airport. We never check luggage when we travel (yup, two weeks with only carry-on and I even over packed) so we were through security (where they checked for more bugs)and customs and in the que for taxi's within 15 minutes.

We piled into a mini van taxi and enjoyed the 20 minute drive to the Marriott at Circular Quay. The driving on the other side of the road was very facinating for all of us and I have to admit to hitting my invisible break on more than one occassion during right hand turns! The hotel was very lovely and perfectly located to the Rocks and the Ferries. DH and I were upgraded to a lovely suite and the kids had a nice standard room with a view of the harbour. Check in was not a problem, very efficient, and no issues that we were redeeming points.

One of my greatest concerns about this trip was jet lag. Because we were there for such a short amount of time, we could ill afford to loose 2 days recouping from jet lag. I can honestly say that not one of us was affected from jet lag during our trip to Australia! We forced ourselves to stay away for the first 8 hours of the flight from Toronto and then slept when Sydney was sleeping, and it worked! We arrived in Sydney around noon and we were ready to go, no problem! First on the list was visiting the market at The Rocks. A short 5 minute stroll from our hotel, we meandered along the harbour and strolled along The Rocks. It was a perfect low key activity for our first few hours. We made some typical purchases like tapping sticks, jewlery and of course my son got a Digridoo (sp?). We walked right up to the Sydney Bridge, poked in the shops and enjoyed the street entertainers along the harbor front. What a glorious sunny day! What a glorious relaxing way to spend our first day in Sydney!

After a quick stop at our hotel (our rooms were not ready when we arrived at noon), we dropped off our purchases, unpacked, and then headed out again towards the Opera House. It was very nice early evening walk. We walked along the harbour in the shadow of the Opera House and enjoyed some live jazz at the Opera House Bar, had a small bite to eat (sandwich, salad and 2 beers at just over $40), and then explored the outside of the Opera House...very nice views!! As we had limited time for actual shopping on this trip, we continued along Pitt Street to a few more shops and made a few more purchases before retiring for the evening at 9:00pm. I thought that was pretty good longivity for our first day!

March 10, 2008: First full day in sydney, Australia.

We all got up with relative ease at 7:00 am, had breakfast in the executive lounge and then headed out to the Koala Sanctuary. After not getting a straight answer on how to take public transit to get there, we opted for a $70 cab ride which wasn't really all that much more than paying for bus and ferry (if I got it right, but who knows)and it was much much quicker. The Koala Sanctuary is a place where they take in various animals to rehab for various reasons, and we are allowed to roam along with fairly close contact. We got up close and personal with the Koala's (they did not charge for you taking your own photo's), we wandered in the kangaroo pen and they ate right out of our hands. We took in the sheep sheering show, boomerang demo, and the very cool avery. Those kookaberra's are halarious!! I am sure there are more sophisticated 'zoos' that you can go to, but this low key, uncrowded venue was perfect for us to get our fill of Koala's and kanga's for under $50.00 (enterance fee). After 3 hours, we headed back to the harbour area and went to the incredible Aquarium.

Now, keep in mind that this visit to the Aquarium was strictly to appease, me, since my kids and DH are all SCUBA divers and can see these critters easily. As a non-diver, I have to say this was a pretty impressive aquarium ($67 entrance fee for the 4 of us) which allowed us to wander around, touch creepy things in shallow pools, walk under (yes, UNDER) the aquarium and view the rays and sharks smim around and above you. As divers, even my husband and kids thought it was pretty cool!

We returned to our hotel via harbour ferry which was worth every penny ($7 ea). Bright sunny day, warm breeze along the harbour, and the whole skyline laid out in front of you...Opera House, Sydney Bridge, and the Rocks. Was GREAT! A quick lunch at McDonalds (same prices as at home) and we were off to walk along Pitt Street to the shopping area called The Strand (just in behind the Queen Victoria Building:QVB). We went to the hi-fi store to find a replacement charger for my son's video game that he left on the plane, daughter made some teenage purchases, and hubby and I just enjoyed the incredible architecture of these old buildings. I was so impressed with the lovely clean shopping area, no one bothering us, some street entertainment, and lovely weather! We walked back from The Strand to the Marriott (about 15 minutes) and enjoyed dinner/snacks at the executive lounge where we met up with some locals who entertained us with terrific stories of their 50 year marriage...it's all about the people, isn't it? I will never forget this older couple and their wonderful relationship and the expression he used, "I'll trip the light fantastic" when i offered to freshen up his drink. THIS is what makes MY trips.

March 11, 2008: We leave Sydney for Ayers Rock via Qantas Air...
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Old Mar 23rd, 2008, 07:33 PM
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March 11, 2008 Ayers Rock Ah huh...the big question: Is it worth the hassle and expense to get there? Well, let's see if you can understand this bizaar comment: I'm glad that i went, but if I could do it again, i probably wouldn't have bothered. Does that make sense?

We arrived at 10:00 am and left the next day at 2:30pm, so we weren't there a long time, for sure.But, quite honestly, for just AR, it was long enough. We stayed at the Sails in Desert hotel which is pretty basic. Paid around $275 per night per room, I believe for really basic accommodations, but you're not there to laze around the room now, are you?

Our arrival was early and we were fortune enough to have our rooms ready. Because the heat of the day was already upon us, we decided to take a dip in the pool and relax for a short while before exploring. "Shocked" doesn't even begin to describe how cold the swimming pool was. It said it was 23 degrees, but you can't fool a cold blooded Canadian...that pool was well under 20 degrees (I'm guessing that translates to around high 70 degrees for farenhiters). I mean, it was 'take your breath away' cold that you NEVER recouped from! It was very sad to have such a hot sunny day, a very lovely pool, patrons louning around the pool, but NO ONE could get IN the pool! And then there were the flies...but you've all heard those stories already.

After unsuccessfully staying in the pool, and my kids not even trying, we got in the car rental and ventured off to the Olga's. We made a quick stop along the way at a view point and were swarmed and I mean SWARMED by millions of fly's. We had our fly nets on, but it was still uncomfortable, to say the least. I have to add, that although they covered your body (clothed or bare) TOTALLY, they don't bite...just really annoying! Anyway, we didn't last very long at the viewing area and continued to the Olga's. Not too many people there as it was now mid afternoon and about 40 Celcius (um, over 100 F, I think?). We walked about 30 minutes into the pathway, took some pictures, and walked back. I did not bring enough water and quickly developed a headache (dehydrated), but there is drinking water spouts at the car port area to refill water bottles, which we did.

My son thought that the Olga's were incredible, as did my DH and I (DD stayed back at the hotel) and we got lots of neat pictures.

That night, we attended the Sounds of Silence Dinner. Ok, here comes the part where you will probably fan me, but hear me out. Our family absolutely hated it. In fact, we asked to be returned early (which they did). Let me start by saying that we are not a family that particularly enjoys 'large group' gatherings. We hate cruises, we hate large crowds, we hate party atmospheres...just not for us. Well, I don't know what I was expecting with the SOS Dinner, but I had it in my mind that it was going to be a quiet evening, nice dinner, enjoying the sounds of the desert, enjoying the stars. Not exactly what panned out. I felt like I was attending someone's wedding. We sat at a table with 6 other people...4 of which knew each other and gabbed among themselves and 2 who did not speak English. Not that it mattered,as we were hoping for quiet relaxed conversation as we admired the setting sun. It was loud...i mean LOUD with about 80 people or so people making the amount of noise that one would expect for 80 people eating and drinking...just not what I was thinking was going to happen. I hated every second of it, but didn't want to say anything to spoil everyone elses fun. However, DH whispered to me, "I feel like we're at someone's wedding" and I knew we had to get outa there! I asked the kids what they thought and they were very ready to leave...before dessert!! Upon speaking with the manager there, she was most gracious and allowed us a few minutes of private viewing through the telescope while we waited for our ride back. The stars and the sky were SPECTACULAR!! When we returned, we were pleased to find that SOSD discounted our package as a token of good faith. I certainly wasn't looking for a free ride, and they did provide what they marketed so I was pleased that they understood my misgivings about the whole thing and made some offer. This would be a great place for a wedding or for a corporate event...it's not a romantic kinda place

We got back to the hotel and went to bed. DH and I got up at the crack before dawn and drove ourselves, along with a convoy of about 10 tour busses, to the vantage point of watching the sun rise over Ayers Rock. I wish I had done my research more extensively and found an alternate place to park and watch the sun come up (which i found when we drove away, around the corner) as the regulated 'sunrise' area was totally crammed with tourists. Impossible to take any pictures of the rock without hundreds of heads in the way or unless you were one of the lucky 30 or so to get front standing room right at the ropes dividing where you can stand and where you cannot. Again, my issues with crowds is tainting the experience, but we did manage to enjoy watching the sunrise on the rock and the many different hues.

We went back to the hotel, had breakfast at the deli (about 7.00 per person)and then took the kids back to Ayers Rock for a short walk with PLENTY of water. The paths were clearly laid out and the walk was very easy. We hiked about an hour in total,in 40 degree heat again with tonnes of flies. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining...this IS what it's all about...I'm just telling you like it was. It was enjoyable as there were NO tour busses (they just left, probably much smarter than us and did the hike in the morning), it was very calm, quiet, and allowed a sense of appreciation for the aboriginal spirits to come through while observing their art and stories drawn in the caves. My kids really enjoyed the whole 'largness' of it all...very overwhelming to be a small speck among the huge rocks. I took over 200 pictures and all my friends say they are terrific pictures!

March 12, 2008...headed out of Ayers Rock and headed for Cairns and the raintree forest!

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Old Mar 25th, 2008, 09:50 PM
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I'm enjoying your trip report Anita. I can certainly relate to your issues with group gatherings and crowds - I'm the same way.

More, please...
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Old Mar 26th, 2008, 08:10 AM
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Thank You, Melnq8...I have never done a trip report before and messed up on the title. I realized that I only put the date and not the destination, so I reposted this report under: Australia Trip Report Part 1 and 2. And then I added parts 3 and4 and then 5...just click on my name and you can be lead to the other reports...sorry for the confusion!
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Old Mar 26th, 2008, 09:34 AM
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Tks for your trip report, I think it is great.
We already have our tickets for Australia next July-August. For 4 weeks and I am taking good note of your experience.
We are planning a week in Sydney
2 days in Uluru, 4 days in Darwin and Kakadu , and 10 days in Cairns splitted between beach and a cruise for 4 days.

Rgds
Car

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Old Mar 26th, 2008, 10:10 AM
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Car, your trip sounds perfect! I can't wait to hear about Darwin when you get back with YOUR trip report
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Old Mar 26th, 2008, 06:15 PM
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Thanks for the report. Very interesting and you seem to have enjoyed most things.car,as you are going going in July/August you will be pleased to know the flies won't be such an issue then.
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Old Mar 26th, 2008, 06:22 PM
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Thanks, Peter, we did enjoy everything...even the things that didn't go 'as planned' are all part of travelling experiences, so i will take it all and appreciate the good, the bad, and the ugly (not that there was anything ugly...well, maybe that spider!).
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Old Apr 13th, 2008, 06:14 PM
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Anita, thank you so much for this report. We are considering a trip to Australia in January-February next year (our first). You seem to have the same "sensibilities" as do we -- in fact, we would be staying at the Sydney Harbour Marriott and at the Melbourne Marriott. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your report.
 
Old Apr 14th, 2008, 02:00 PM
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Thank You, DMLOVE, I'm glad you liked the report! As for reading the rest of my reports, you are going to have to hunt for them because I sort of messed up on posting them. Best way is to click on my name and search through to find the other 4 reports...hope you enjoy them too!
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Old Apr 14th, 2008, 03:08 PM
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I've read 'em all!!!
 
Old Apr 14th, 2008, 09:43 PM
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Thanks, Anita, for your candid description of the Sounds of Silence experience. We didn't do it when we went to Uluru, and having read some of the praises of it, I wondered if we made a mistake. Nope, your description was just what I thought it was going to be. To each his/her own, I guess! Great trip report! I am looking forward to the rest. I did click on your name and yet there weren't any other trip reports that I could find. Have you posted them yet?
Sally in Seattle
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 01:06 AM
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Sally - here are the links to Anita's trip reports (I think I managed to post them in order):

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...3&tid=35118248

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...3&tid=35118373

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...3&tid=35118374

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...3&tid=35118887
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Old Apr 15th, 2008, 09:12 AM
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LOL...thank you Melnq8...you are awesome for figuring out my posting fiasco! Much appreciated!

SNRseattle, you are much smarter than me and $650 richer....I wish I had figured it out before going, but such is life. And, as you said, to each his own...many love the SOS dinner, and I was hard pressed to find any negative thing about it. I hope I didn't come across negative, but rather factual as to how it was.
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Old Apr 16th, 2008, 10:32 AM
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Loved the report...thanks for the "facts", I am headed Astralia way in just a few short weeks, and I find your report VERY helpful. I will be clicking onto those others next! Thanks Melnq8, I never would have found the strands!
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Old Apr 17th, 2008, 09:38 AM
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I had a thought...how did the carry on bag only go? I have heard stories about JetStar's weight limit, and wondered if you went over with the souveneirs etc... Would love some packing advice from you-I have been making my own list and checking it twice..I don't like to carry more than I need to, and it sounds like you pack the same way. Thanks for any info.
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Old Apr 17th, 2008, 02:28 PM
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Hi Fiesty: I'm still on the fence about whether we were smart about not checking luggage. The whole point was to expediate the whole process of travelling by not having to wait for that never ending luggage carrousel, which we ended up having to do anyway for the flights within Australia. We did not check luggage from Toronto to Sydney, but Qantus and Jetstar have different requirements that forced us to check luggage.

I really cannot remember the actual weight restrictions on Qantas or Jetstar, but I seem to recall thinking that the maximum weight for carry on was about the weight of a purse. We had to check our bags, of course. But, we did make it under the weight limit before having to pay extra, so we were good. It just was a drag to have to wait for our luggage in Ayers Rock, Cairns, Hamilton Island, and then again in Sydney...but FORTUNATELY not one thing was lost.

Packing was rather simple; comfortable outdoor clothing (capris and T's), a few pairs of Tilly Endurable socks and underwear, PJ's, one black jersey dress (incase we went somewhere nice)hiking boots, sandals, toilet stuff, and that's it! In a smaller carry on (like a large purse) I put my camera, Ipod, paper work, books, journal, and any suvineers we purchased along the way (boomerang, pearl bracelett, tapping sticks, a few odds and ends) and we also hand carried my son's digridoo (business class looked the other way).

All in all, I overpacked...a couple too many t-shirts, never wore that jersey dress, and I really didn't need two pairs of black capri's.

Hope this helps?
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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 09:20 AM
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Thanks for the info...I was most curious about the souveniers. We are going for three weeks, in wintertimes, and we range from camping to going to the Sydney Opera. Crazy extremes! I think JetStar was 40 lbs of checked baggage...so we will be cutting down our stuff to bare minimums...fortunately we have washing facilities! (The carry on was like 15 lbs...I'm thinking my purse weighs more than that! ) I was really curious about the dijiridoo.(sp??) We may just have to cross our fingers on that one! Thanks again for the info!
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Old Apr 18th, 2008, 07:12 PM
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Your welcome, Fiesty! Regarding the Digridoo (and, no I can't spell at the best of times, never mind THAT word,lol).

We arrived in Sydney on a Sunday and went to the Market in the Rocks area. My son found a digridoo that he loved and purchased it. We had VERY limited time for shopping so we thought it best to purchase it right away. Fortunately, we were staying at the Marriott the first two nights of our trip AND the last two nights (two weeks later) so they graciously stored his digridoo until we returned back to Sydney two weeks later. Could you imagine if we had to lug that thing across the country? LOl

When we returned home on Air Canada, there was some question about whether it should be checked or not, but being on business class and hubby being super elite, they looked the other way. It fit perfectly in the overhead cabins.

All in all, it was worth the hassle of the digridoo as my 15 year old son plays it regularily and has mastered the art of circular breathing...he is getting REALLy good!! I highly recommend getting the CD/book that you can purchase in the same places as the instruments (which you can find pretty much all over Australia).
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Old May 21st, 2008, 10:57 AM
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GREAT TRIP REPORT!!!!!!
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