Trip Report - Port Douglas, Lizard Island, Sydney

Nov 28th, 2005, 09:26 PM
  #1  
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Trip Report - Port Douglas, Lizard Island, Sydney

My husband and I just got back from a 1 week trip to Australia. Because I found other trip reports to be the most useful in terms of planning our trip, I promised myself I would post one as soon as I could. We flew Air New Zealand to Sydney, with a stopover in New Zealand. I found the plane to be very comfortable, even in economy (a lot more legroom than in standard United Economy and personal movie on demand with a great selection). We were to land in Sydney about 8:30 am, and were to depart for Cairns at 1:15 pm on Quantas. I had thought about trying for the earlier flight to Cairns at 9:50 am, but due to the sage advice from the message boards, I opted for the later flight. We were hoping to standby if we were lucky enough to make it. As it turns out, our flight from New Zealand was delayed, and we didn’t get into Sydney until 9am. Going through Customs was a breeze, and we were at the Quantas check-in for the bus to domestic terminal by 9:25. That line, however, took forever, since they were rushing people with earlier flights through. We didn’t make it to the domestic terminal until 10:15 (after standing in line, waiting for people with earlier flights to pass by, and going on the 10 minute bus ride). Although I was happy with our decision to play it safe, I think we might have been able to make the earlier connection even delayed, b/c Quantas would have rushed us through if they had to.

The ride itself from Sydney to Cairns on Quantas was uneventful. The seats were cramped, like the domestic economy seats on United, and the plane was pretty full. The highlight of the plane ride was the Magnum chocolate covered ice cream bars – the ice cream is much creamier than I’m used to in the US, and in the US only first or business class get ice cream on the airplanes.

We landed in Cairns and rented a car. I found the car by going on yahoo Australia, to the travel section, and found a great rate from Budget. We got a 4 door Corolla with Air conditioning, which was very much needed. My husband drove, and says that driving on the left hand side wasn’t so bad when you got used to it. The only thing he always got wrong was turning on the windshield wipers when he wanted to use the turn signal. But the round-abouts seem more sensical than intersections when you really think about it. We drove to Port Douglas – again the roads weren’t so bad. I had read that they can be very treacherous. They are a bit curvy during a short portion, but people don’t go that fast on the roads.

We got to Port Douglas in less than an hour, and tried to find the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas. We couldn’t find it, despite asking for directions twice. Note that the hotel does not have the name “Sheraton” on the outside sign, and only says “Mirage”. You would think we would have figured it out sooner, but we didn’t until we passed by the third time. The room we got was just ok, not great, even though they said it was an upgraded lagoon room. Very 70s. But it was quiet and peaceful, outside of town, which we preferred. Seems like there is a lot of live music in town at night, and staying in town may get pretty loud.

We ate dinner at this restaurant called Salsa Bar and Grill that specializes in Australian cuisine. Our bellhop had said he ate there once and it was the best food he had ever eaten in his entire life. It was pretty good, but didn’t meet my extremely high expectations based on the bellhop’s recommendation. But we were also pretty tired b/c we traveled the whole day and were both pretty jet-lagged.

The next morning, I woke up very early, and dragged my husband out at 5:30 am to watch the sunrise over the 4-mile beach which the Sheraton sits on. It was beautiful on the beach, and there were a ton of other people already out walking on the beach. We came back to our room, got ready to go, and then checked out to go to the rainforest wildlife habitat in Port Douglas, the one thing I wanted to do in Australia. We went to have breakfast with the birds. The breakfast itself is just ok, but I really liked all the tropical fruits there for you to sample. When we first got there, the birds were sitting in their aviary, and we were sitting at the tables. When more people showed up, the birds started going after the food, sitting on people’s head, pretty aggressively going for the food. It was somewhat entertaining, but not a relaxing meal since you’re protecting your food the whole time. I imagine if bird flu begins to spread, this breakfast will not be very popular. The highlight was getting to feed the kangaroos and wallabies. There was even a mama kangaroo with a little joey inside her pouch, who came right up to us to get fed. We also got to take a photo with and pet a Koala for an extra $5, which was nice, but I thought feeding the kangaroos were more fun. Both my husband and I thought that it was great fun and worth the trip to Port Douglas, since we had to spend the night in the Cairns area anyway.

We left for the airport around 10:30, and had no problem catching our 12:45pm flight to Lizard Island and picking up lunch at the mall along the way. The plane to Lizard Island is the smallest plane I’ve ever been on – only seats 12 people, and you get pretty close to everyone. We got to see some cool views going in, and if you sit in the front row, you get to see what the pilots are doing the whole time.

When we landed at Lizard Island, they took care of our bags, loaded us up on a bus, and we headed to the resort. The resort was pretty amazing- without going into minute-by-minute detail, we had a wonderful time. We stayed there three nights, and spent our time snorkeling and relaxing. We did an outer reef trip one day and the snorkeling is the best that we’ve ever seen. We weren’t able to make it to the cod hole b/c of the currents, but we went to No Name Reef and Dynamite Reef. Dynamite Reef was amazing, you could see everything clear down to the very bottom! The rest of the time we took motorized Dinghies to the beaches around the island and also have very good snorkeling without having to worry about the choppy waves in the outer ocean. Mermaid beach has the best snorkeling, and Watson’s Bay has amazing giant clam gardens very close to shore. The food on Lizard Island is quite good – my expectations were lowered b/c I didn’t think the cookies in the fridge that folks raved about were that good. But the rest of the food was very good. You can even book a private romantic candlelit dinner on the beach, and choose b/t the normal multi-course menu or a special seafood platter menu. When we ordered the seafood platter, we asked the waiter not to put shrimp or smoked salmon on the platter. The chef prepared a special appetizer platter just for us with smoked eel and sashimi. We didn’t ask for a substitute, we just didn’t want to waste the shrimp or smoked salmon b/c we didn’t feel like eating it that night. The dinner platter was complete with giant scallops, fish, and lobster. The beach part of the dinner wasn’t that great, since it was too dark to see what you’re eating. We ended up asking to move up to the regular restaurant because a bug crawled out of our appetizer when we’d almost finished it (we’re assuming it fell into it from the tree above us). Even though we spent half of our trip on Lizard Island and it was a pain to get to, it was worth it. There was nothing for you to worry about b/c they take care of everything for you on the island. The weather was perfect during our stay (sunny, but not very humid, so it didn’t feel that hot) and the waters were absolutely beautiful. The staff were all so friendly, knowledgable, and helpful (although service at dinner was usually quite slow).

On day 5 of our trip, we flew to Sydney with a layover in Cairns. We stayed at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney for 3 nights. I was deciding b/t the Westin, Sheraton, and W, and picked the Sheraton b/c of the central location to everything. I did like the location of the Sheraton, but if I had to do it over again, I’d pick the Westin. We did not get upgraded, and the bed and the sheets were pretty bad- not the same as the Westin Heavenly bed. Not dirty, but the sheets were thin and scratchy, and the bed very saggy. We had executive club privileges, and breakfast was not very good (husband suspected they used powdered eggs), but the weekend tea and evening drinks and appetizers were surprisingly good when we went. Sydney itself is a beautiful city. We had heard from a lot of people that Sydney and San Francisco were very similar, but we both agreed that Sydney was far more beautiful than San Francisco. The opera house is amazing (book early if you want to get tickets to any of the 4 shows playing at one time), and Darling Harbor is a lot of fun. It was pouring rain when we walked around the Rocks area, so we didn’t get that much out of it. The barracks museum was just ok, as was the tour of the opera house. Just be forewarned that eating in Sydney is very expensive – a lot more expensive than you’d expect to pay in the states. One night we ate in Chinatown at Golden Century – the seafood was very good but it cost us about $80 US for 2 people – unheard of for comparable Chinese in SF. I would definitely recommend this restaurant called Casa Asturiana in Sydney which was 3 blocks from the Sheraton. The Spanish Tapas were delicious and reasonably priced. All in all a fantastic trip.

Sorry this is so disjointed. I tried to put in the details that I had wondered about before the trip, but am happy to answer specific questions.
sfgirl3 is offline  
Nov 29th, 2005, 11:33 AM
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Thanks for your report SFgirl3, really enjoyed it and I'm pleased you enjoyed your visit here. Thanks for the tapas tip, too. I love good tapas so will give it a go.
Bokhara is offline  
Nov 29th, 2005, 06:01 PM
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Thanks for the report, sfgirl - can see how you missed the entrance to Sheraton Mirage, it is rather tucked away. It seems there has been a delay in the update of resort promised by Mirage - one of the co-owners was killed (with his wife) in a light aircraft crash in Victoria just a few months ago.
pat_woolford is offline  
Nov 30th, 2005, 12:36 AM
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Dear Sfgirl3 - Thank you for wonderfully detailed report! It is truly amazing how many places were covered in 7 days. I am planning a trip to cover similar areas in first 2 weeks of Jan and might barely get 7- 10 days. So would greatly appreciate suggestions on below:

a> How much time do you advise to ideally spend in each of those places? Assuming time to relax. I doubt if I will have more than 1 week to 10 days total but might just get lucky.

b> Why did you choose Lizard Island over other such as Hamilton or Hayman? Is there any other recommended?

c> How expensive is the air travel within Australia? How much do you think I should budget for total trip with the accommodation you recommend would cost for 7 - 10 days?


Many thanks in advance!
buddy123 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2005, 08:20 AM
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> How much time do you advise to ideally spend in each of those places? Assuming time to relax. I doubt if I will have more than 1 week to 10 days total but might just get lucky.

As for Lizard Island, we stayed 3 nights, had had basically 2 full days and 2 half days. The way the MacAir flight works is that there is one flight a day, which gets in around 2, and so you leave around 2 to catch your plane out. So you get the afternoon you arrive and the morning you leave to use the resort. You can use the resort the entire time you're there - even if you have to check out b/c they need to prepare your room for the next guest, they have a departure lounge for you to take a shower so you can have full use of the resort. So with that in mind, it depends on how much snorkeling/beach/relaxing you want to do. We snorkeled for 4 days in a row, b/c we jumped into our suits as soon as we arrived. I think 3-4 nights is just right for us. My husband was getting a little tired of snorkleing on our last day, but could have spent another day there hiking or just relaxing. I wouldn't spend less than 3 nights, b/c you may not be able to schedule in some activities that book up, such as dinner on the beach or an outer reef trip.

As for Sydney, I thought 2 full days (3 nights) was just right to just walk around the city and go into a few museums, do some shopping, and do some relaxing. It's a pretty small city - We stayed in the middle, and it was 10-20 minute walk to the rocks, Opera House, China Town, and Darling Harbor. You could spend longer there of course, if you wanted to do more, such as go to the zoo, or other stuff. If we had another day in Sydney, we would probably have gone on a blue mountain tour, so we didn't feel like we ran out of time in Sydney.

You could easily spend more time in Port Douglas especially if you wanted to explore the rainforest or the tablelands. But it is basically a small resorty town that is a jumping off point for the GBR or the surrounding area.

b> Why did you choose Lizard Island over other such as Hamilton or Hayman? Is there any other recommended?

We chose Lizard b/c we wanted to snorkle off the beach, and had read that that's the best place to do that in Australia in the season where we were going. Plus in researching, almost everyone loved Lizard (or the negative comments they had about the resort didn't really bother me) whereas the reviews were more mixed as to the other islands. Also, we went in jellyfish season, and someone also said that you may have to worry about jellyfish in the other islands, but not lizard. I don't know how accurate the info is on the other islands, but that's what I had heard, and we ended up loving Lizard island and were very happy with our decision to go there.

c> How expensive is the air travel within Australia? How much do you think I should budget for total trip with the accommodation you recommend would cost for 7 - 10 days?

I can't really say how much to budget b/c we used hotel points and miles for everything other than Lizard. It is expensive to get to and stay at lizard. The cheapest way to get to lizard is MacAir, it's $400US RT a person for an hour flight (if you have a larger group, I think charter is $800 one way for the whole plane). Lizard is expensive - It's about $1200-1500 a night for two peopple, depending on what room you get. The internal flight b/t Sydney to Cairns looked like it was b/t $250-$400 US before I figured out you could use AA miles for domestic travel there.

Hope this helps!
sfgirl3 is offline  
Nov 30th, 2005, 10:08 PM
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That definitely helps! Thank you once again.
buddy123 is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2005, 12:05 AM
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We are planning a trip to Lizard Island for New Years Eve. Did you have any problems with Macair regarding luggage. I was told that they are very strict. We were thinking of leaving our luggage at a hotel in Cairns and picking it up when we return. We are also going to Silky Oaks. Did you go there as well?
linnip is offline  
Dec 4th, 2005, 04:11 PM
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sfgirl - Hope you can help with a few more clarification questions.

Is there a direct flight to Lizard from Port Douglas?

Also when returning from Lizard to Sydney, did you return via Macair to Cairns, and then takes Qantas from Cairns to Sydney?

Here is my understanding - To get to Lizard island, I am assuming you took the Macair from Cairns. So that means you must have driven back from Port Douglas to Cairns to get your flight.

The only direct flight from PD to Lizard I could find is Daintree Air but that seems to be part of a 1 day trip package costing $550 so much more than MacAir RT for $400 from Cairns.

It sounds like there were 2 round trip tickets

Sydney - Cairns - Sydney (Qantas)
Cairns - Lizard - Cairns (Macair)

Thanks
Buddy123
buddy123 is offline  
Dec 5th, 2005, 12:05 PM
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Yes, there are two roundtrips - you have to go from Cairns via MacAir and nothing from Port Douglas directly. The only reason we stayed in Port Douglas rather than Cairns overnight was to go to the Rainforest Habitat. I thought it was worth it to do that.

As for luggage, I also heard they were pretty strict with luggage so we made sure to pack two roller suitcases which could be carried on in the US. MacAir didn't have a problem with that. I heard that it depends on how full the flight is (it is a REALLY small plane and they also bring in supplies for LIzard Island), and I heard that January is high season b/c of the holiday over there.
sfgirl3 is offline  
Dec 5th, 2005, 12:39 PM
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liinip -MacAir's luggage limit per person is 16kg - it may even be less on Lizard Island flight, so its worth checking with the airline. Suggest you leave anything you don't need at your Cairns hotel, you won't need much for Lizard Island, it's hot now and probably hotter in January.


Buddy, there's no airport at Port Douglas to speak of and Lizard is too far for a seaplane. So you must fly from Cairns' airport, only about an hour's drive from Port Douglas. I saw in another of your posts that Daintree Air's day package is AU$550, actually if you book from out of Australia its AU$500 as GST isn't applicable to the flight component of the trip. They will pick you up in Port Douglas.
pat_woolford is offline  
Dec 5th, 2005, 07:01 PM
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Thanks Sfgirl and Pat! Very useful information. I will continue planning based on feedback.
buddy123 is offline  
Dec 7th, 2005, 03:46 AM
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That's OK buddy, just let me reiterate that you don't have to spend a fortune on a reef trip. This time of year is perfect, I went out on a trip out of Cairns today, Reef Magic, the boat could do with some cosmetic care, but its safe and fast.
The reef site made up for anything lacking on boat (AU$140 for day trip). 5 hours on reef and I could not bring myself to get out of water, the coral and fishes were a knock-out, perfect visibility. From huge friendly maori wrasse to the tiniest iridescent fishes, the coral was perfect and at one stage when no-one else was near me at least 100 parrot fish in the most amazing colours decided to have a feast on the coral algae about 2 feet from my nose. Unbelievable, never take any notice who tells you that snorkelling or diving out of Cairns isn't as good as elsewhere.
pat_woolford is offline  
Dec 7th, 2005, 07:43 PM
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Thanks Pat. Cairns does sound like a must-visit place too. I am not sure if I will get to spend a lot of time there in this visit but will definitely keep in top of list.

What are your recommendations for really good accomodations in Port Douglas / Cairns?

I am looking for something on the beach front or atleast with great views of the ocean.

I know of Beach Club, Reef View and Sheraton Mirage but dont know which would be most fun.

Thanks
buddy123 is offline  
Dec 9th, 2005, 03:18 AM
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Buddy, for Port Douglas you might like to to have a look at Peninsula Hotel, it calls itself a "boutique" hotel and is not too big and rather attractive on Esplanade at Port Douglas.

Cairns city, as well noted here, does not have a beach as such, it has a harbour and inlet for deep water anchorage of ocean-going liners. There's many a hotel with harbour views, to suit various budgets. Palm Cove is a northern beach suburb of Cairns with very attractive resorts, mostly facing ocean, although not all rooms do, of course. Angsana and Sea Temple are actually beachfront, ie, you can step out onto sand, but most others are only across a narrow, pedestrian friendly road. For scenic attractiveness I'd vote Palm Cove, Port Douglas, Cairns city in that order; as you asked which would be more "fun" for nightlife it would be Cairns first. But they're all ideal jumping off spots to reef and rainforest.
pat_woolford is offline  
Dec 10th, 2005, 09:06 PM
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I made reservations at the Holiday Inn in Cairns (I believe at the airport) just to sleep over till I leave for Silky Oaks the next day. I was planning on leaving my luggage there until I return to Cairns before I go to Sydney. Is anyone familiar with this hotel or have any other recommendations for what I plan to do. Thanks
linnip is offline  
Dec 11th, 2005, 01:38 PM
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linnip - there are no hotels at Cairns airport, Cairns is a small city or large town, if you like, the airport is only about 4km from the town centre. Holiday Inn is in town and is a typical Holiday Inn; front rooms overlook harbour. If your flight arrives in time for dinner, walk into town centre (5-10 minutes); ignore the mass tourist restaurants along the Esplanade and cross over to the Pier marketplace. The new boardwalk overlooking the marina (behind Shangrila hotel) has great restaurants in lovely setting, Donnini's Ciao Italia is particularly good.
pat_woolford is offline  
Dec 12th, 2005, 09:28 PM
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Thanks Pat! This really helps I will look into the hotels recommended.
buddy123 is offline  
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