Trip Report - Sydney

Aug 17th, 2006, 07:10 AM
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Trip Report - Sydney

I'm FINALLY getting around to posting the report on our fabulous trip to Australia and New Zealand. Since we did SO much, I will do it in four sections to relate to the four different areas we visited. The start was Sydney, and what a way to start.

We arrived in Sydney at 6am after that nice long flight from Los Angeles (and the first leg from Chicago). I never sleep on planes, but just arriving in a new place always gives me energy. We got a cab and had it take us to the Rocks area and our hotel - the Lord Nelson. We discovered that since it is a small hotel over a bar and restaurant, it was all locked up. Fortunately, one of the staff got there just after we did to start getting breakfast for those staying there and she let us in. She also let us get checked into our room since there had been no one in it the night before. What a great start to our trip! We took a nap and then got up about 11 and went to the Circular Quay to see about taking a Harbor Tour. We did the 2 1/2 hour tour through Sydney Ferries which goes into the middle and inner harbors. It was a fabulous view of the city.

That night we had tickets to the Sydney Opera House. We had seen on line that Mandy Patinkin was going to be performing in the Concert Hall for 2 days and decided to go Saturday night even though we would be tired. What a fabulous experience. He has a great voice and the acoustics in the hall were magnificent. It was such an experience to actually be in the Opera House and not just take a tour.

The next day we had breakfast and then hopped on the Sydney Explorer bus to tour around the city. We decided to go all the way around the circuit once (about an hour and a half) and then start getting on and off at the places we wanted to explore. We wandered by the Opera House again and then walked through the botanical gardens along the harbor. At one point we took a path into some ponds and discovered hundreds of flying foxes in the trees. There were even some flying form tree to tree. What an amazing sight. Apparently they are doing some damage to the trees, but we really enjoyed the sight of them. We went up the Sydney Tower and took in the view all around. I have to say that the "Oz Trek" experience that was included in the ticket was a bit disappointing. Maybe fun for kids, but we wished we had skipped it. We finally ended at Darling Harbor and had dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant right nest to the band shell and listened to a couple of different bands playing. The seagulls and ibis enjoyed the chips (fries for you Americans) we fed them !

Our last day in Sydney was spent going out to the Blue Mountains. We booked through Activity Tours and were picked up right at the Circular Quay to head out of the city. We stopped first at the Featherdale Wildlife Park which was lots of fun. Got to pet koalas and feed kangaroos. Then on to the Blus Mountains with a short stop to learn how to throw a boomarang (mine went right into the dirt!). The area was beautiful and the weather perfect for our day. It reminded me a lot of the Blyde River Canyon area in South Africa - especially the Three Sisters overlook. On the way back we stopped at the Olympic Village and then took a Sydney Ferry back to Circular Quay. It was really pretty coming back into town with the skyline lit up.

The next day we took the advice of Neal and Allen (who post here) and took the commuter train to Campbelltown where we rented a car. After a little bit of alarm coming out of the driveway onto the street, my husband mostly got the hang of driving on the left and I stopped clutching the armrest and trying to put on the brake! We drove to Huskisson and after a wonderful fish and chips lunch in town got checked in to the Jervis Bay Guest House. As soon as we got out of our car, we heard a DEMENTED sound that I immediately knew had to be a kookaburra! We both had to laugh! It became our favorite new animal of the whole trip. The guest house was lovely and the owner was great unfortunately, he has since finalized the sale, so I don't know how it will be under the new owners. But it is just across the road from the beach and the rooms are very comfortable. We headed off to Booderee National Park and took the trail out to Murray Beach and Governor Head. We saw a wild kangaroo and since it was starting to drizzle a bit we saw some wonderful rainbows. After a fabulous dinner at the Seagrass Bistro, we got a bottle of wine and sat in the living room chatting with the other couple staying there.

The next day I got up for a sunrise walk on the beach, but got clouds and drizzle instead. By the time I got back to the guest house it was POURING. The sound of the rain on the roof was really pleasant and it stopped by the time we were ready to have breakfast. After a fabulous breakfast we went to the Lady Denman complex and took a walk on the mangrove boardwalk (at the recommendation of the guest house owner - we never would have found it otherwise). Saw another wild kangaroo and hundreds of little crabs in the mud. Then we went back to Booderee National Park and took a short walk through the botanical gardens there. It was raining off and on, but not enough to dampen our spirits. We had decided to drive back through Kangaroo Valley - what an experience that was! We were on this narrow, winding mountain road with rain and fog. It was erie and magical looking! But we really couldn't see any of the views due to the fog. Oh well. I guess we'll just have to come back. We couldn't even see the bottom of Fitzroy Falls! We got back to Campbelltown and dropped off the car and then took the train to the airport where we checked in to the Holiday Inn right near there. Incidentally, to get off at the airport stop you have to pay an additional fee. Fortunately we were able to get a free shuttle to the hotel, so that compensated. The next morning we were up early for our flight to Cairns and the next leg of our trip.

The first five days of our trip were excellent. We discovered that eating out in Sydney is very expensive and we were a little disappointed at many of our meals. The one exception was the Seagrass Bistro in Huskisson. We ate at Phillip's Foote in the Rocks which was an interesting concept (you cook your own food on the BBQ), but no one showed us where the seasonings were for the steaks so the meal wasn't as good as it could have been. But since we hadn't really gone to Australia for the cuisine, we didn't really care much. The people were incredibly friendly and helpful all over and my only regret is that we didn't have more time - especially in the Jervis Bay area. Seeing a show at the Opera House was definitely a highlight as was the harbor tour. All in all, Sydney is a fabulous place!
jcasale is offline  
Aug 17th, 2006, 10:26 AM
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Thanks for the great trip report. Curious to hear about your stay at the Lord Nelson. We've thought about staying there on past trips but have always chickened out because of the lack of reviews. We've been downstairs to the bar a few times. Would you recommend staying there?
downunder05 is offline  
Aug 17th, 2006, 12:23 PM
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good trip report jcasale - we'll expect you back soon - there's heaps more to see - it sounds like you didn't even get to Greenpatch in Booderee NP - fantastic birds and roos.

I'm in Kiama as we speak (??) on the south coast, just outside Sydney and it's just magnificent - and heading further south today, towards Jervis Bay. This is a wonderful part of the world!
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Aug 17th, 2006, 03:53 PM
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jcasale, you guys showed true grit in essaying places like Kangaroo Valley for your first drive-on-the-left experience - congratulations. (Actually it must have been Alan who recommended Campbelltown - I thought that Wollongong would be a better idea.)

We'll be heading for western US and Canada soon and I hope to be able to make my own comparison of relative eating costs. According to a UBS survey mentioned by someone on the Europe forum Sydney at US$48 is only $2 cheaper (drinks excluded) than NYC, and $9 dearer than Paris, for a 3-course meal.

I'm sorry you were disappointed with your dining experiences - I can only put this down (possibly) to eating in tourist areas like The Rocks and Darling Harbour.

As for prices - same problem, maybe, hard to say. The issue fo relative dining prices has been debated before here, and I'm still at little surprised that by the time factors such as the exchange rate advantage, no (or modest) tipping and taxes and the widespread Australian practice of bringing one's own wine are accounted for, Sydney would be seen as "very expensive".

Out of curiosity I just called up the website of an Italian restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach area and estimated that in AU$ a veal saltimbocca romana with tax and tip runs out at about $26. I'd be surprised if I couldn't get an equivalent dish at or about that price in Sydney, but maybe I'm out of date, though.

Having said that, I do think that the value for money in a lot of eateries has declined in recent years, and I'm particularly unhappy about the way many owners decided to pull a swifty by suddenly charging extra for sides of vegetables, salads etc., with no corresponding decrease in the price of mains. I know this is standard practice in Italy (contorni), but so what?
Neil_Oz is offline  
Aug 17th, 2006, 04:10 PM
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jcasale:

I did a trip report on Sydney and the Blue Mountains in April of this year ..so I sure enjoyed reading yours and remembering those places again.


Neil_Oz

You have those friends of yours in Victoria British Columbia Canada take you out for a Tim Hortons's coffee.

It is the #1 coffee place in Canada.
( They are a chain outlet allacxross Canada ans some parts of the USA)

You either like their coffee or you don't.
There is always a line upon the drive through... so someone must like something about the coffee!

Also make SURE they take you to Roger's Chocolate located on Government Street.

When you walk inside and see the stained glass and smell the auroma inside ..you will know what heaven must smell like !!!

Percy
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Aug 17th, 2006, 05:07 PM
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jcasale -

Enjoying yor trip report!

Neil - any chance you'll be going to Colorado on your upcoming trip?
Melnq8 is offline  
Aug 17th, 2006, 08:25 PM
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MelnQ8 - sadly, no. The itinerary already involves over 4000 miles of driving and I can't stretch it any further southeast than Cody, WY. We did see a little of SW Colorado last time we visited - definitely a lovely part of the world.

Percy, I'll definitely take your suggestions - thanks. My idea of coffee is Italian style, the kind your spoon will stand up in. Does that sound like Tim Hortons?
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Aug 17th, 2006, 08:35 PM
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Neil -

If you have time, you might want to check out the Bear Tooth Highway - it's supposed to be one of the most scenic highways in the US. We were in Cody and Red Lodge, MT looking for property last October, but unfortunately the road was closed.

http://www.beartoothhighway.com/

Sorry for hijacking your thread jsasale. I promise I won't do it again!
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Aug 18th, 2006, 05:13 AM
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No problem! It's just like chatting with friends about all of our travel experiences. That's what I love about this site.

Neil, I agree that the practice of no (or little) tipping did bring the prices more in line. And at home we tend to not go out to eat in places that have main course prices of $20 and up, so that may also have led to our perception. I suspect that if someone came to Chicago and just went to the "touristy" places they could get the wrong idea about dining out.

We were either brave or crazy to navigate Kangaroo Valley, but it was beautiful (even with the fog). Probably the hardest part of driving on the left was getting used to the roundabouts. Those are hard enough in New England when we are used to them. My husband kept chanting on entering one "danger comes from the right....danger comes from the right...." ! But we survived and loved our time there.

Downunder05 - I would definitely recommend staying at the Lord Nelson. It is in a quiet part of the Rocks and since the bar seems to close at about 10 or 11, we were never bothered by lots of noise. The rooms were quite large and comfortable and we could even see a bit of the Harbor Bridge from one of the windows. Breakfast was fabulous (cereal, toast, eggs if you wanted them, fresh fruit, etc.) and the people were so nice.

Margo oz - you are correct that we didn't get to Greenpatch. As with most of our trips, we just plain ran out of time. It always leaves something for a return trip! I would definitely spend more time driving down the coast and seeing more of the parks the next time. And hopefully there will be a next time!
jcasale is offline  
Aug 18th, 2006, 09:32 AM
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Thanks for the report, jcasale. Looking forward to reading more about your trip. We are in the early stages of planning our trip to Australia (also from Chicago) for next June/July and will be starting in Sydney, too.
ms_go is online now  
Aug 18th, 2006, 01:25 PM
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ms_go: If you want to talk more specifically as you plan, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]. I love to talk travel!

By the Neil - just out of curiosity I went back to our credit card bills to see what the exchange rate did to our meals and actually they weren't too bad in comparison to what we would pay around here for a similar meal. You are right that the Darling Harbor area was a bit more overpriced, but when you factor in no tip, even the meal we did have drinks was a bit more reasonable in retrospect.

I also forgot to mention a great feature of staying at the Lord Nelson - the Rock Laundry right across the street! We were traveling light and so needed to do laundry several times. For $9 AUS we dropped off a bag of laundry at 7am and picked it up at 8:30 all clean and folded. We just put it in our suitcases and headed off for the train! What a great find!
jcasale is offline  
Aug 18th, 2006, 01:33 PM
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jcasale

Can you tell me what you found better or worse at the Lord Nelson, rather than staying in one of the big chain hotels? I've always wondered why they are so popular with anyone other than business people.

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Aug 18th, 2006, 04:53 PM
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Just a note about restaurants - increasingly value has been eroded by the addition of a 'service charge' in the bill of certain restaurants.

Ask for an itemised bill (which many diners do not) and check it carefully.

If 'service charge' is there - refuse to leave any tips however small as a matter of principle.
eschaton is offline  
Aug 18th, 2006, 06:51 PM
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As far as the Lord Nelson was concerned, I loved the charm, the friendly and personal attention and the fact that I was more than just one of hundreds of guests. The one downside of it was that there was no lift and we were on the third floor. No problem for me since my knees are still OK, but my husband found it a little more of a challenge.

I can't say that being able to check in early wouldn't have happened at a larger hotel since we were able to do that at the hotel we stayed at in Rio last year. But in addition to letting us check in early, the woman in the office also invited us to come have a little breakfast even though we weren't "entitled" to it that morning. I thought that was a wonderful gesture. The Rio hotel also fed us breakfast when we arrived, but they charged us for it.

I would definitely stay at the Lord Nelson again and would recommend it to anyone wanting a place in The Rocks that is reasonable and comfortable. As I indicated earlier, it was outside the main area, but I found that an advantage when I was trying to go to bed and wanted to have the windows open for some fresh air. The area was very quiet compared to the main part of the Rocks. Hope this helps.
jcasale is offline  
Aug 18th, 2006, 07:13 PM
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I also thought the prices at Darling Harbour were a bit over priced , but it was nice just to order something to eat and people watch, as you sat outside.
I browsed through a lot opf shops.....did not buy anything


Neil_Oz

Don't scare me about the Italian Coffee as I am going to Italy at the end of September.
dup in the coffee"!!!
Percy is online now  
Aug 18th, 2006, 07:15 PM
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oops I got cut off and it posted before I was ready.

Neil, you got to be kidding about that spoon standing up in your coffee.!

jcasale:

Did you get to dine at the Sydney Sky Tower.?

Thanks
Percy
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Aug 19th, 2006, 11:26 AM
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Actually we didn't end up eating at the Sky Tower. You are not the first person to say that it was a good experience (some friends of ours ate there and loved it). Guess we'll just have to go back!
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Aug 19th, 2006, 11:48 AM
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jcasale

Actually when I was there in March 2006 I have to add that the service at the Sky Tower revolving Restaurant was poor.
They were short staffed so I guess you could not blame them....

However,
If you ever wanted to have sloooow service , this is the place.!!!

We revolved around twice !!! and with the panoramic views we always had it was just super.

What did we eat, you know I don't really remember !!! but I sure have an image in my mind of those views.

Thanks Again for your great report .
Percy
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Aug 20th, 2006, 01:27 AM
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Percy, I've yet to make it to Italy (in a couple of years, hopefully, I'll rectify that) but from all the reports I suspect you might have to search out Starbucks while you're there.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Aug 20th, 2006, 03:49 PM
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Just on the food situation and cost thereof in Australia -this is from the Hobart newspaper on Saturday in the "dining out"section

Roast of the day $8.95 ( approx $6.50US )
Crumbed scallops $12.50 ( approx $10 US
Fisherman's Basket with prawns, scallops, calamari, fish, crab and chips $16.50 ( approx $12 US

Three course meal at local pub with consists of :
Homemade soup of the day with bread roll, main meal being chicken schnitzel with vegetables or salad and chips.
Desert was chocolate wine trifle with whipped cream.
This costs $16.50 ( approx $12US )

There is no tipping, service charge and the wine is either bring your own or bar charges from the hotel. Either case they are not inflated.

None of the above are gourmet meals but hearty home style cooking and are obtainable in any part of Australia for around those prices
I have said it before and I will say it again: This is not expensive eating, just good eating but if tourists wish not to take any of the information freely given on this forum and find themselves paying more than this for food that please don't tell us unless you preface your remarks with " I wanted to spend my money at restaurants where I would pay high prices for my food"
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