Trip Report - Sept 2003

Oct 2nd, 2003, 08:44 AM
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Join Date: Oct 2003
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Trip Report - Sept 2003

Trip Report ? Sept 2003

We just returned from Australia this past Saturday after spending two weeks down under. Fabulous trip, many highlights, and a few suggestions.

First the basics. Left from Northern California departing from San Francisco airport. The flight via United was uneventful (which is to say without problems) and was non-stop. We departed fairly late at night (Saturday night) and landed bright and early two days later (Monday morning Sydney time). Customs at the Sydney airport is just as efficient as it is here so it can take as much as an hour some days and as little as 30 minutes on others. Count on an hour to get your bags and depart the airport and you?ll be fine. Our plan was to stay a few days in Sydney then take a flight up north and stay in Port Douglas for a week. Back to Sydney for a day then depart back home.

I did a lot of research, including this forum, and decided to stay at The Russell in Sydney and Thala Beach in Port Douglas. We checked Wotif and ended up booking through them for Thala and directly for The Russell. I can tell you that the transaction through Wotif went well and saved some pretty good money so for those that haven?t looked ? this is a good way to cut costs. We booked directly on the Russell only because we wanted a slightly bigger room than what was offered through Wotif.

OK, first suggestion. Take the train from the airport if at all possible. They have two stations in the airport, one for international and one for domestic ? same airport just different ends of the facility. The train system has stops all over the city and if you?re staying anywhere near the Rocks then it?s a very easy walk. The Russell was somewhere around 200 yards from the Circular Quay station and cost about $14 per person one way. The trip took all of 15 minutes and that?s half the time of a cab or shuttle bus. If you can talk to a few others that may be traveling that way buy your tickets at the counter and tell them that you have a group of four or more you get a discount of about 50% on fares. Think about that when you get off the plane.

The Russell worked out to be a wonderful hotel. Breakfast was included with the tab and that saved quite a bit of money also. The rooms were clean, beds in good shape, and the staff was very helpful. And the location is hard to beat. 5 minute walk to the Opera House, Ferry terminal, train station, Harbor Bridge and beautiful park. A note of caution though, the Rocks area can get a bit noisy on Friday and Saturday nights. If you?re staying anywhere near the area on those nights you might be well served to pick an interior room as the noise may keep you awake. The bigger hotels a few blocks back may not have this problem. Personally I would trade the noise for the location. Also, we tend to like to stay in smaller hotels as it gives you a better feel for the area. Some of the larger hotels give you the feel of being in any large city. In other words, staying at the Marriott may be nice but it probably doesn?t feel too much different than the Marriott in Los Angeles or San Francisco. That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your preference.

While in Sydney we took in a fabulous play at the opera house called ?The Club?. Very funny about the inner workings of an Aussie Football team. I highly recommend it to anyone who is in the area while it is still running. We also jogged in the Botanical Gardens park every morning and if you?re not a jogger then just plan on walking it as often as possible. What a jewel. You could spend days in that park. I must say that it?s a terrible place to get exercise simply because you tend to stop every five minutes just to look around. Maybe after a few weeks I would have been used to all that the park has to offer and I could actually get a long uninterrupted jog in. Oh well, what a nice problem to work through.

We decided to spend a day in either Bondi or Manly and decided on the latter. What a beautiful place. When I come back in my next life I want to live in Manly! We did a bit of hiking then decided to eat our way around town. Food was less expensive over there and it was just a terrific day. One good find was this small deli about a block off the Corso (outdoor walking mall) called the Four Olives. If you?re in the area stop by. If they don?t have something that appeals to you then you?re not hungry!

We also spent a half day or so at the Toranga Zoo. They are an expansion phase at this time so I would imagine the zoo will be quite a bit bigger in about a year. In its current state it has many interesting exhibits and it was certainly worth a visit. As luck would have it we showed up on the day the of the teacher?s strike. Almost all teachers in New South Wales walked off the job to protest lower wages. That meant masses of kids with nothing to do. To make a long story short, many of them arrived at the zoo. Good for them but it made for a crowded day.

We seemed to find a number of things to do each day in Sydney and I would recommend at least 4 days in town on any visit to Australia. It?s a beautiful city and they seem to take great pride in keeping it clean and orderly.

Our next destination was Port Douglas. Took the train to the airport (again, definitely the way to get around) and approximately a three hour plane ride to Cairns. We had booked 7 nights at Thala Beach and took a shuttle to the hotel. If we had it to do over again I might have modified my mode of transportation. The shuttle bus to the hotel was about A$60. We could have rented a car for slightly less. Since Thala is about 10 miles out of Port Douglas you need to use a shuttle bus into Port whenever you want to get into town, which costs somewhere around A$8 per one way trip per person. You can buy a 5 or 7 day pass but that adds up also. In addition there are about 4 bus trips per day so you have to plan around their schedule. After a day we decided to rent a car and we were very glad we did. Driving on the left is really not all that difficult and actually added to the adventure (we?ve done it before so all it took was a ten minute refresher course on the back streets of Port Douglas). So, if you?re booking at Thala, think about renting a car in Cairns and keep it for your stay up north. And use it to return to the airport. Trust me, it will save you some money, add to the adventure, and give you some freedom to explore.

Thala Beach ended up being a beautiful place to stay and we were very happy we chose it over staying in Port Douglas. We liked the peaceful setting, unbelievable views, and terrific rooms. If there was downside to Thala it was the location but the rental car solved that. As with most hotels in resort areas, the meals can be somewhat expensive but the food was good. Fortunately they had little mini refrigerators in the room so on many occasions we bought a little something in town and brought it back to Thala so we could eat on our porch. Everyone is different and we get a bit tired of eating in restaurants all the time. Having breakfast on the balcony at our leisure was a great start to the day. And some nights we just sat out and had some local fruit for dinner. Another highlight to Thala was that Oak Beach is down at the end of the property which made for a wonderful jog first thing in the morning. If jogging on a beautiful deserted beach is up your alley then this might be your place.

While up in the Port Douglas area we took a little trip up to Mossman Gorge for a hike which was terrific. Self guided trail which has views of the river, a few swimming holes, varied rainforest terrain, and several signs along the way that point out interesting trees and their usage. It?s an easy drive and makes for a wonderful afternoon hike.

We also spent a day or so lazing around on the beach, wandered the streets doing a little tourist shopping, and generally allowed our blood pressure to take a siesta. As to places to eat, there are many but we ended up eating fish and chips more often than anything else at ?At the Outlet?. It?s kind of a sister operation to ?At the Inlet? and is more take out than a regular expensive sit down meal. They do have some tables outside but we kind of enjoyed eating in the park watching boats come in and out. The fish was out of this world and the price of the meal was quite a bargain.

We also took a day trip down to Kuranda. We wrestled with the idea of the gondola vs. train ride and settled on just driving up the hill. While the view would have been better on the gondola and train the trip was probably quicker which left us more flexibility once we got there. We really enjoyed the butterfly exhibit and thought their staff was very well versed in the types of butterflies they had, their life cycle, and the unusual habits of each. After wandering around town for a little while and getting something to eat we drove to Barron Falls and walked on the raised walkway to view the falls. What a view.

On the way back to Port Douglas we stopped at Yule Point (halfway between Thala Beach and Port Douglas) when the tide was out and walked out on the sand bar. It was tide pool heaven. There must have been hundreds of little star fish moving about, little crabs making sand balls, little hermit crabs roaming around. About 45 minutes later the tide came back in and the whole sand bar was gone.

At the end of our stay up north we booked a trip up to Lizard Island, which turned out to be the highlight of our trip.

We flew up with Greg and his crew at Daintree Air. He takes off from Cairns so leave time to get down there from Port Douglas. Here?s another tip, book the trip from the states via credit card and you?ll save about A$50 per person (no GST?tax). For the vast majority of travelers staying on the island is just way too expensive. I envy those that can make it work but generally I top out at anything over US$250 a night. The accommodations on Lizard Island top that by a considerable margin. So a day trip out there via small plane was the next best thing. And it was magical. All I can say is that if you can fit it in to your budget then make it happen. It?s a great way to see the reef and the snorkeling is really fabulous. The crew treats you like family and you?ll remember the day for many years to come. Greg and his crew are some of my favorite people I met while down in Australia.

There?s quite a bit I have left out but I wanted pass on a few hints and I hope it helps. Use the train while in Sydney. Take a trip to Manly and don?t eat till you get there. Stop by the Opera House and see if you can get in for a performance. Try a jog in the park or even a walk, it?s one of Sydney?s crowned jewels. Rent a car if you?re staying at Thala. If you?re looking for something a little quieter and a more natural setting then consider Thala?again we were glad we chose it over the accommodations in Port Douglas.

Generally we found the Aussie people to be genuine and very friendly. They seem to live better than we do simply because they understand that life is more than just hustling about for most of the day. They enjoy the outdoors more than we do. They eat better food (they don?t seem to have discovered fast food to the extent that we have). Accordingly they seem to be slimmer and trimmer than the average American and in better physical shape. I think that helps them enjoy life. They enjoy their sport and they have a genuine sense of pride in who they are. I couldn?t help but get excited about their upcoming World Cup Rugby and we were fortunate enough to be in country when the Aussie Rules Football playoff were in full swing. In addition, the Aussies won a critical Davis Cup match against Switzerland (which put them in the finals against Spain) and I loved the excitement that it caused. How can you not like this place?

And, they seem to like Americans! Sounds kind simplistic but if you travel around you?ll note that we?re not always the most popular people on the planet. And Americans can be a little tough when traveling. Not the worst but not the best. In any event, the Aussies seem to take a liking to us and that?s kinda nice. I?d have to say that the reverse is equally true. Seems like every time we?ve had an Aussie travel through these parts they bring a smile to everyone?s face.

On returning from Australia I can see why they have had problems with skin cancer. The sun is pretty intense down there so be prepared with hat and sunscreen. And while Australia has some cultural diversity, the general base of people who live there seems to be of Irish and English descent, and the sun doesn?t come out all that often back there. They are a bit more fair skinned than the average American and the sun is definitely more direct down under. I noticed all the school kids had hats and sunscreen was a staple of everyday life. Good for them for getting the message.

I can tell you that we have traveled to quite a few countries. Some we would return, some we would not. We will come back to Australia! There?s so much to see and it?s worth the long plane ride to enjoy life that much.
Uncle_Mickey is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2003, 11:52 AM
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Uncle Mickey
Thanks for taking the time to post your trip report! I'm glad you enjoyed our country. Australia IS different.

I appreciate your comments on hotels in Sydney - it always surprises me that people travel so far to stay in a hotel chain that could be anywhere. Yes - you know what to expect - but - sooo impersonal! Step outside and see the place.

When's your next trip?
margo_oz is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2003, 01:54 PM
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Great report. You see we don't have two heads now do we?
Please come again and bring your friends next time and thanks for taking the time to write this report.
Oct 3rd, 2003, 03:38 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 555
Uncle Mickey, thank you for the report! Lovely. I am just starting to plan my 40th b-day blow out party in Australia.. Interestingly, I am an avid jogger and was considering staying at the Russell hotel but was wondering if it would be feasible to jog at the botanical gardens each day. Thanks for that bit of info. I am glad you had a stellar time. Your trip report has helped me.
Thyra is offline  
Oct 3rd, 2003, 05:54 PM
Join Date: Aug 2003
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Thanks for your great report!! We are going to be in OZ in February and are staying in the Rocks in Sydney. We also are going to Melbourne, Tasmania and Port Douglas. Thanks for the information on Port Douglas and Lizard Island. We would love to stay on Lizard but it seems just too expensive, so a day trip is a great idea as we love to snorkel . Did upi check out the Spit Bridge while in Sydney (manley)??
Eagle is offline  
Oct 4th, 2003, 05:52 PM
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uncle M, what a wonderful time you must have had in Australia !!! Your report was GREAT. I enjoyed reading about the trip to Lizard Island. My husband and I took a trip over with Greg in April. Can't give Greg enough Kudos !!! He is a great personality for a guided tour of the Reef. What a day we had. We snorkeled one on one with Greg for two solid hours and were in total AWE of the whole experience. If anyone can go north to Cairns on their Australia trip, then a day with Daintree Air is a MUST!!! The cost was soooo good, too. Loved Australia, and looking forward to our trip back next year! DEb
debusa is offline  
Oct 6th, 2003, 09:19 AM
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Thanks for the great trip report. We just returned from 3 weeks in NZ & Australia including 5 days in Port Douglas. We stayed at the Radisson Treetops which is also out of town. Halfway through our stay we rented a car which I wish we had done from the beginning. The shuttle bus fares add up (there were 4 of us) & you spend a lot of time waiting for them. We were able to drive ourselves back to the Cairns airport for our 6:30 am flight instead of taking the hotel shuttle which left at 3:30 am! We also drove to Mossman & Daintree & felt the car gave us a lot of freedom & convenience.
LisaE is offline  
Oct 6th, 2003, 10:28 AM
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As far as jogging in the Botanical Gardens goes, you'll have plenty of company. It's a terrific set up as there is a main walkway that follows the waterway and countless paths that work through the park. They open fairly early in the morning so you can get a workout in while the city is coming to life. And you have the added plus of jogging by the Opera House on the way to the park. Take some time to check out the Flying Foxes in the trees as well as all the various birds that call the park home. You can jog on the grass as well as they encourage people to get as much use as the park as you want.


We did the Manly to Split Bridge hike and it was worth the effort. Take the hike and get a bus back to the main part of town. We also hiked south of Manly beach and had some great views of the coastline. Walk the Corso, stop at Four Olives and get some Take Away for the hike, and make a day of it. The feery ride back to Circular Quay is a great way to end the adventure.


Greg was funny even before we arrived. I booked the trip from the states and he noticed that my wife's name was similar to Sandra Bullock. He had inquired as to whether she would also be attending as he would comp the trip, book us in some 5 star hotels, and whistle dixie naked at Pitt Street on the day of our choosing. Unfortunately we couldn't get through to Sandra but there's always next time. So, for any of you that know Sandra personally,, this might be your chance to get a discount at Daintree Air.


I appreciated the fact that Port Douglas tried to work out bus transportation to cut down on all the traffic but the rental car deal is probably cheaper for most, especially if you are a group of four or more. Driving on the left can be a problem for some but again, I thought it added to the adventure. I couldn't help but notice how much smaller the cars are over there. You come back to the Land of the Large (SUV heaven) and you wonder why we feel the need to burn fuel the way we do. Gas is about twice as expensive down in Oz and that helps with their efforts to conserve. We don't conserve primarily because we don't have to. Some day.....
Uncle_Mickey is offline  
Oct 8th, 2003, 11:43 AM
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Hell - even Bill Clinton jogged in the Botanical Gardens (and what a pain that was)!!!
margo_oz is offline  
Oct 13th, 2003, 09:00 PM
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We also did the Lizard Island day tour with daintree air. And yes,the day was the high light of our tour as well.
We did not get to meet up with Greg, although Daniel and Alex our pilot and guide were hillarious. I can't remember having so much fun. It seems as though the people running the tour have as much fun as the people on the tour. They did not want to come back to Cairns and neither did we, so we did not. We were supposed to be back at 4, but did not arrive back until just before dark at 06.30. There were just four on the tour so there was no problem with others having to be back at certain times.

The other unique experience was Seal Bay at Kangarooo Island. We thought that was just wonderful. Again we were on a private tour which is more flexible so we could spend as much time as we wanted with the baby seals.
You are not supposed to be any closer than about 30 feet. As we sat on the rocks two of these cheeky devils rolled all the way up to our feet. We have some amazing pics. The weather at Kanga roo was very cold and wet but that seemed just right for the seals.
The guide said if the weather was hot they would not have been so playful. Lots of native flowers were out all over the Island.

We will be back in Australia in a year or two. We can't wait.
hilda44 is offline  
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