Trip to Australia!

Nov 15th, 2006, 10:52 AM
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Trip to Australia!

Hi everyone,

I've been reading the posts about Australia and you all seem so helpful that I thought I'd ask some questions!

I'm going to Australia for 6 weeks this summer (mid-May to late June) with a group of students (I'm currently a sophomore in college). I haven't gotten the full itinerary yet, but I do know that we are planning on spending the first week in Sydney and then spending the other five weeks in Cairns. I'll be taking a couple classes (I think we're using James Cook University's campus) and I'll be staying at the Cairns Student Lodge.

I'm from Pennsylvania, and I've only ever been to Canada before (and pretty much all over the US), so I'm extremely excited to immerse myself in another culture.

Basically, I know very little about Australia. I know that it will be winter in Australia when I go, but that it will be warm when we get to Cairns. How cool does it get in Sydney during the time that I am going? I'm trying to figure out the clothing I'll need to pack, etc. Is it humid in Cairns, or just warm?

The cost of the flight from Sydney to Cairns is covered in the program cost, but the flight from the States to Australia is not. That being said, does anyone know which airline is the best to take? The best airport to fly out from? (I'm assuming it will probably be San Fran or LAX). Is it better to take a flight during the day or at night or does it really matter?
This will be the longest plane ride I've ever been on by a long shot, so I'm trying to figure out how to cope with it. I'm planning on buying a lot of books, hopefully bringing my laptop, and you know, possibly falling asleep for a couple hours.

Also, I know that I will need to apply for an Australian visa because I'll be there for a fairly long time, does anyone know how long that will take/ what I'll need to go through, etc.?

Sorry this is so long, I'm just new to traveling! Any other advice for travel, Australia, etc. would be helpful to me. Thanks everyone!

burcle01 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 11:28 AM
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Leah, to take the last question first, you can apply for an "electronic visa" online at the Dept of Immigration's site,

Again in no particular order, either LAX or SFO, makes little difference in terms of flight time but I think SFO is a more manageable airport. As for airlines, in my experience Qantas provides a much better experience than United, with friendlier and more helpful cabin crew, better food and free drinks. Air New Zealand should also be fine if you can get a direct (not via Auckland) flight.

Check in early and try to get an aisle seat, so you don't have to clamber over someone to get to the toilets or just stretch your legs. There's no avoiding the fact that 14 hours is a long flight, but your aircraft may be fitted with video on demand, which helps.

If it matters to you, alcohol and cigarettes are more expensive here than in the US. You can buy duty-free goods on arrival in Sydney.

The best way to cope with jet lag is to stay awake on the day of your arrival, as hard as it may be (you'll probably arrive early morning) and crash no earlier than 9 pm local time. You should be fine next day.

Sydney will be cool in the evenings, so you'll need a jacket or sweater, but nothng too heavy. I haven't been to Cairns at that time of the year so I'll let someone else comment on that. will give you average temperature and humidity figures.

You'll find Australians casual, friendly and helpful but perhaps more direct than Americans. The sense of humour tends toward the dry and straight-faced, but we don't bite. At the risk of spoiling someone's fun, do NOT believe any stories you hear about a species of carnivorous koala called the "drop bear".

Don't sweat, you'll have a great time.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 11:48 AM
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Thank you for your advice! I was looking at flights a few days ago and found United, USAirways, and Air NewZealand...but I didn't see any Qantas, I'll have to check that out. I actually noticed that there was one Air NewZealand flight and it was around $7,000, which I thought was pretty ridiculous and I couldn't figure out why it was so expensive. The others were a little under $2,000 for roundtrip.

That's interesting that alcohol and cigarettes are more expensive in Australia. I don't smoke and I'm still a minor here in the US so I don't get to buy my own alcohol (it's probably better that way anyway). Although I'm pretty sure the drinking age is 18 in Australia so I will be going out to the bars.

I'll make sure not to believe any stories about carnivorous koalas. BTW- I know this is probably really silly, but, what are the chances of seeing native animals of Australia in the places I'll be staying? I love animals, especially ones that aren't native to the US
burcle01 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 11:49 AM
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Also, what about carrying money in Australia? I know my Dad mentioned that in other countries you can use your credit card in an ATM and take out money that way, but I'm not sure if that applies in Australia as well? Is the easiest thing to do just to take traveler's checks and use my credit card to pay for things? I'm assuming a debit card would work as well?
burcle01 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 12:31 PM
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In terms of money, certainly don't get travellers cheques, just use your debit or credit cards at ATM's as you would at home.

It is worthwhile checking with your bank if they have an affilation with one of the big Australian banks in order to cut down on the fees for using the ATM's. The fee for non-affiliated banks is always more expensive.

shandy is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 01:17 PM
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Leah, it's wonderful that you are so excited about visiting Australia. I am sure that the university will have opportunities to tour different places. RE the flight: look for cheaper than $2000. Sign up at Qantas for their email or at for an alert when a lower fare comes available. Last year they were under $1000 but with the fuel increases, I wouldn't hold my breath for that rate. There will be lots of animals in the Cairns region, but many are nocturnal so you will need a guide to help you find them. We were there in July and were disappointed that many of the birds weren't there yet. We did see crocs, though. I would recommend looking at your library for some overall books on Australia and/or Queensland to orient yourself. Even kids' books are good in that they give you a good overview (I am a retired teacher and we studied Australia one year, so I looked at a LOT of kids' books!) and a sense of the history without going into it too deeply (I assume you are taking classes and have limited time!) The Lonely Planet guide books are crammed full of information which is helpful, but also a bit confusing if you are starting at the ground floor. RE taking care of business there--it is quite like in the US, drug stores, fast foods, busses that go everywhere, etc. but the people are VERY, VERY friendly and helpful and have the most interesting accents! The food is fantastic (esp. if you like seafood and beets and fried eggs on your hamburgers.) One thing, if you like ketchup, bring your own because Australians are sadly behind in that department. Also bring money because there are so many places to go and things to do and you won't want to miss anything. You'll have the time of your life!
Sally in Seattle
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 01:36 PM
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The weather in Sydney in winter is mild compared to what you are used to in Pennsylvania. We have been to Sydney several times in winter and I have never needed to wear more than a windbreaker. In fact, there were many days where I had on a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket at all. When the days are sunny (which they generally are) it can get warm. It is probably like a good spring day in PA, so a light jacket at most would do you. Cairns will be warm--you'll be in shorts and T-shirts.
longhorn55 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 02:22 PM
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Thank you to everyone who has responded. I have a question for you Sally, which you may or may not know the answer to seeing as you live on the west coast (so maybe someone else could clarify this for me?)

I went to the website you gave me (thank you it's awesome!), I'd like to fly from Philadelphia, and when I looked at Qantas flights...they were only out of JFK in NY. Does Qantas only fly out of certain airports? I would've thought they would've flown out of Philadelphia...but I guess not.
burcle01 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 02:38 PM
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It's been a long time since Qantas actually flew through New York, and they've never served any other East Coast USA city. That's probably a "code share" flight, meaning that you'd fly from JFK to SFO/LAX on a partner airline whose flight is given a Qantas number as well as its own for ticketing purposes.

Sally may know why you can't find QF services ex SFO and LAX.

Maybe a travel agent would be helpful. Is there a student travel association or similar in the US?

Don't forget travel insurance, at least for medical/hospitalisation purposes. Unlike cigs and booze, medical services in Australia are a good deal less expensive than in the US, but if you were to wind up in hospital for any reason you could still get a sizeable bill. Australia has reciprocal agreements with countries that have comparable national health insurance schemes, but that doesn't include the US.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 03:23 PM
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Thanks! I don't know, maybe that's why Qantas isn't listed. I'll have to check again. I could probably go to any travel agent and ask them to help me out. My dad travels a lot on business, so he probably has a bunch of frequent flyer miles I could use to pay for my ticket..if my parents wanted to do it that way. As for health insurance, that's covered by Florida State University (who I'm going with). They take care of that and it's included in the program (yay!) but thanks for telling me about that. I probably wouldn't have thought of it if it wasn't included!
burcle01 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 07:51 PM
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Hi Burcle01,
You'll LOVE it here! While you're in Cairns, take the scenic cable car to Kuranda. It's a fantastic journey at tree top level, with stops where you can do a walk with a local guide (often Aboriginals) who will point out various plants with traditional medicinal properties, and fauna that you wouldn't probably see elsewhere.

The diving & snorkelling is fantastic and if you can make time, do take an overnight dive trip.

Seating: Here's a link that might be useful. Qantas allocates seats well before departure date, so if you call just after you book, you may be able to sweet talk yourself into a nice roomy seat. Don't know about other airlines, but it's always worth a try.
Bokhara is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 07:53 PM
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OOps! Here's that seating link:
Bokhara is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 08:30 PM
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A friend in Cairns has reminded me that while the weather will be warm (by most people's standards, but being a local he could well be wearing jeans and sweater), some restaurants have their air conditioning set too low. Also, if you get out to the nearby Atherton Tablelands you'll definitely need a sweater at night.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Nov 15th, 2006, 09:17 PM
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As a student, you may be eligible for a reduced airfare. Ask either someone at your university or someone who is with your Australia program. In Australia, your student card should work to get you reduced entry fees to sights and lower transportation fares in the cities.

I just returned from Australia and found absolutely everyone to be helpful and friendly. Enjoy!
Betsy is online now  
Nov 15th, 2006, 09:49 PM
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Don't know about a sweater but I was definitely wearing jeans and at least a light long-sleeved top in Cairns last May/June. Some restaurants set the a/c far too low, and its often too cool to eat outside comfortably at night at that time of year. Supermarkets are freezing, especially the large ones with huge banks of freezers, as are cinemas where you definitely need at least a light jacket or sweater ("sweaters" here are known as "jumpers").

James Cook University is at Smithfield, a northern Cairns' suburb and its on a public bus route. There's a small shopping area just nearby the student accommodation with a couple of cheap eateries, plus a McDonalds, Hungry Jack (marginally better than McDonalds, but not much) and KFC. Also close to Smithfield shopping centre, a huge mall currently being re-built and enlarged, hopefully work will finished by May, but if not its open anyway, just a bit inconvenient wending around the building work. Some good cheap meals here - surprisingly good curries for about AU$7 and excellent kebabs (think you call them "gyros"). The best hamburgers and fish and chips in Cairns are at Davina's - opposite the Freshwater Connection Railway Station for Kuranda - take the bus which goes down Kamerunga Rd, not the Captain Cook Highway. Beetroot will go on the burger unless you tell them to skip it, but these are proper big hamburgers made from 100% ground beef, fresh salad,fried onions and good quality bread rolls. Egg or bacon additions are optional.

JCU isn't far from Cairns' northern beaches, Yorkey's, Kewarra, Trinity, Clifton, Palm Cove and again on public bus route. Also close to Skyrail and the Tjakupai Aboriginal Cultural Park which would probably interest you too. And AJ Hackett bungy jump is just up the road a bit from JCU.
pat_woolford is offline  
Nov 17th, 2006, 07:31 AM
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I'm going to Australia for my fourth visit. Qantas is fantastic! Even in coach, my wine is always free and in a glass. They offer individual seat-back televisions in coach (United doesn't) and the films are not edited.

You can check for temperature averages in Australia. The water was cool in Cairns (around 70 F) and a cool breeze from the south when I was there.

Try drinking wine with your meals instead of sodas. It is so much better for you. Also, U.S. Airways, American and Continental are partners with Qantas so try to get miles if you can.
wally34949 is offline  
Nov 17th, 2006, 10:05 AM
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Responding to a couple of partially unanswered questions: 1-animals near Cairns- while my wife, Sally, noted lots are only active at night and so need a guide to see'm, the Cairns Zoo (aka Wild World) is definitely worth a couple of hours stop. Sally and I were very impressed with the variety of animals and that we could see them up close.
2- departure flt time - since we live in Seattle and have a daughter in LA, we flew to LAX and left LA at 2345. We were wheels-down at Sydney just about 0730...2 days later. The approach to the airport at that time of day and year is wonderful b/c the sun's just coming up and the view is not to be missed. Wonderful start to your trip.
Have a ball - people are just terrific, food's super (fish), and the country's physical diversity is magnificent. Make heroic efforts to get to Uluru.
SnRSeattle is offline  
Nov 19th, 2006, 01:27 PM
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It's understandable that you are focused on getting from the US to Australia - but before that, you will have to get to Los Angeles, San Francisco, or whatver your departure city to Austrlia will be. If you are planning to come from Philadelphia, you can get nonstop flights to LAX - I don't know about SFO, or about flight from Pittsburgh. Try for a nonstop if you can.

I would suggest that you seriously consider flying to LAX or SF the day BEFORE your departure to Australia, to give yourself some wiggle room in case of flight delays from PHL or wherever(you can camp out in one of the many motels near LAX prior to departure - yes, it will cost but missing your flight to Australia will cost a lot more). (This is sort of like cruise lines advising people to fly in to the port city the day before the cruise sails).

Also, I guess it goes without saying that you will not be able to get an Austrlian ETA (visa) without a US passport - which you may not have if as you say, you have only travelled outside the US to Canada. Because of the new requirements for passports to return from Canada, Mexico, etc...going into effect in January, there will probably be a big backlog at the State Dept passport agency, but you still have plenty of time before your June departure.

Also - using ATMs to get cash is probably the most cost effective and cheapest.

Keep in mind that almost all US-based credit card companies now add a 2-3% surcharge to credit card purchases made in currencies other than the US dollar. An exception is USAA. So it's often better to withdraw a fair chunk of cash from the ATM, since the ATM fee may not be as much as the credit card surcharge (if you want almost ad nauseum discussions on the ATM vs credit card vs travlllers' check issue, go to the Fodor's Europe board).

We always bring some travllers' checks just in case of emergencies (like losng your ATM card or credit card). We've never used them - just deposit them back into our bank account when we return - but it gives a us a little more secure feeling.

resipsaloquitur is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 03:35 PM
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Thank you everyone for your comments. resipsaloquitur-- Yes, I know that I need to get a flight to LAX or San Fran, but I'm less concerned about that because I've been to the west coast many times before. I've never been on a nonstop flight to the west coast, so I'll most likely get a nonstop flight this time. I'm more concerned about my flight from CA to Australia probably because it's farther. I probably won't use my credit card, I'm more likely to use my debit card most times that I'm spending money because I don't have much money. (I'm a rather poor college bank account is anyway, lol) As for staying in a hotel the night before..I may..although I don't know about that because I'll be traveling alone. I guess it's time for me to start staying in hotels and such by myself...but eh, I'd rather not. It's a good suggestion, though. Thank you for your help
burcle01 is offline  
Nov 28th, 2006, 10:05 PM
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In response to your question regarding $. We bank at Bank of America in NJ in the US. They have a global partner Westpac Bank in Australia with branches and 24 Hr. ATM's in almostr every major city. They offer no fee withdrawal of funds at the best bank rates. We used them all over AU and NZ and never had a problem. If you use another bank, go to one of the officers or a teller to find out if your bank has reciprocity with an AU may luck out.
itchyfeet5 is offline  

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