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Trip Report Aussie Trip Report: No cities, no worries

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Well here goes, another trip report to share with the public for whatever they can get from it, and to jog our memories with when we are old and decrepit. Most of our friends won’t let us blather at them when we get back from a trip, so it’s nice to be able to blather online where people can read or ignore as they see fit.

I won’t really bother with hotel and/or restaurant reviews, I have nothing pertinent to add to the thousands on TripAdvisor.

We had no interest in seeing Sydney, and many locals nodded their heads in understanding. I’m sure it’s a lovely coastal city, but we live in Los Angeles, another supposedly lovely coastal city.
So, we chose Kakadu on the recommendation of an Australian friend, Port Douglas because we are snorkelers and rainforest fans, and the Eurobodalla (have no idea how this is pronounced) beaches south of Sydney because that’s where our friend lives.

Our travel dates were May 1 to May 17, supposedly well into the beginning of the dry season, but this year it had rained late and stingers were still a possibility. The framework was:

3 nights in Kakadu, 2 at Aurora Kakadu Lodge, 1 at Cooinda Lodge,with overnights in Darwin at either end because of flights.
6 nights in Port Douglas at By The Sea.
1 night in Kiama at Kiama Shores Motel.
2 nights at a friend’s house near Batemans Bay.

Impressions of Australia: Clean! Friendly! Civilized! Nicely empty of people! Expensive!

Favorite souvenir: Small blue glazed tile square, one side says “An Australian Summer Poem”, the reverse says “F*** It’s Hot”. Gotten at the Sunday market in Port Douglas.

I’ll break this down into three sections: (1) Kakadu, (2) Queensland, (3) South of Sydney.


We flew Delta from LAX to Sydney, the usual long haul, lots of time for movies and not a whole lot of sleep, despite half an Ambien. Note to self: next time take a whole one. After a 4 hour layover in Sydney we flew straight to hot, sweaty Darwin where we could finally shower and collapse. About 30 hours door to door, phew. For window seat fans, this was a great flight. I sat glued to the window the whole time, looking down at the unbelievably empty land below. Mostly flat, with alien looking formations and markings, no sight of towns for hours, just an occasional waterhole-looking thing with a few straight dirt roads. Just earth, no signs of people, huge red dry washes that stretched off to the horizon. Words fail me, clichés like Primeval come to mind.

Our first impression of Darwin was one of grubbiness around the edges. Mitchell Street was rather tacky, but after a scan of a few blocks we settled on a pub to get some long awaited beer and something resembling food. Lots of young muscley men who looked like they were fresh off the rugby field and huge blond girls. We stayed at the Hilton Doubletree on the Esplanade, perfectly OK if dated, perfect location. The shower, though, had no lip at the bottom to catch the water, so it ran out all around the bathroom into a well-placed drain. Is this Aussie style? The flying foxes in the esplanade park at dusk flabbergasted us! Huge pterodactyl wings like something out of a cheap Dracula movie.

Up at dawn for an extremely sweaty run in the park, Darwin is a pretty city after all! And the people are SO nice!

Got a Hertz car deal: unlimited kms for a pick up at the city location on Mitchell St. and a drop off at the airport. The pick-up and drop-off rentals at the airport all had limited kms of 500 or so, not nearly enough for several days in Kakadu. Plus, it was cheaper, 188AU for 6 days. It was very simple finding the highway from Mitchell St. The weather was cloudy, but the nice lady at the Hertz office said that the clouds looked confused, but that it seemed like the dry season would start that very day, May 3.

About 3 hours from Darwin to the Aurora Kakadu Lodge. I had changed to this place after initially booking at the Holiday Inn crocodile thing at Jabiru, and after seeing Jabiru, am very glad that I did. However, it was a Sunday and someone was having a loud drunken BBQ until very late, don’t know why the hotel didn’t shut them up. My note about Kakadu so far says “a bit blah, wetlandy forest but not exactly major scenic.” We saw a few very shy wallabies, and two dingoes at the side of the road just before the turnoff to the hotel. Birds are great so far, huge black-crested cockatoos and the white cockatoos like people keep as pets. Beautiful sunny hot weather, when we weren’t being mozzie-bit. The 3.6 km Gargarre trail right next to the hotel is a pretty little flat hike through the forest. Saw one kookaburra, I am obsessed with seeing more.

Expensive here, $6 – 8 beer, $29 dinner, yikes. As the trip went on, Yikes over the menus became routine! So did the lovely friendly people, G’day and No Worries all day long! A real pleasure, you lovely Aussies make up for your horrendous prices. Luckily our hotels were B&B, so we tanked up on breakfast.

The Lodge has its own billabong, almost completely covered with lilies and mosquitoes. No crocs yet. The shower has a tub so the bathroom floor stays dry, even though there is a well-placed drain in the middle.

Our plan was to see Ubirr and Nourlangie, and do the Yellow Water sunrise cruise. The art at Nourlangie was great to see, we did the “long” trail up to the top of the overlook and around. The road to Ubirr was unfortunately still flooded, the signpost showed about a meter deep, not passable in our Hyundai Elantra, but was the flooded river ever beautiful! Eucalyptus trees and their very pretty reflections in the clear water. Since we were just at the end of the Wet, which people said ended late this year, there was still a tremendous amount of water about.

A lot of the bushland reminded us of Kruger in South Africa, thick brown grass, low bushes, medium-sized trees, mostly flat. The billabongs and wetland areas were beautiful, especially the Yellow Water billabong! With Ubirr out, we ran out of things to do, so we took the evening and dawn Yellow Water cruises, absolutely gorgeous! Both times were sunny, but I liked the evening light better. Yay, crocs! Also hiked to Motor Car falls way down at the south end of the park 7.5k round trip and not too scenic but a lovely pool and spectacular falls at the end.

A puzzle: Everywhere there is information about how Kakadu belongs to the Aboriginal Australians, and we are guests there, but where are the Aboriginal people? We’ve seen just a handful, one was motionless on the Darwin sidewalk, unfortunately. They just seem to be hidden, even the check out lady at the market in Jabiru is white, and so is the Information Lady at Bowali visitor center. I saw one ranger who looked Aboriginal, but the guides on the Yellow Water cruise and all the assorted help people at Cooinda are white. One of the boat guides said there are about 500 in Kakadu, living somewhat traditionally and retaining their culture. Kakadu is a huge area, after all.

The market at Jabiru is really sad, we went in on a Monday wanting snacks and possibly dinner fixings, the bread was completely gone and there ain’t much else to choose from. Ended up with salami & cheese & a cucumber, no takeaway alcohol allowed in Kakadu, so we spent $60 on beer at the hotel bar.

Cooinda Lodge is maybe a tad nicer than Aurora Kakdu. Another mysterious Aussie shower, no floor lip, just water all over the floor and a well-placed drain.

There are very few cars on the road, except for the infamous ROAD TRAINS. When one of these monsters approaches head on at 130kph on this narrow highway with zero shoulder, no reflector bumps, you may get a nice adrenaline jolt. My poor husband, driving on the “wrong” side of the road.

At the suggestion of a nice Aussie lady at the Nourlangie overlook, we exited the park via the southern route through Pine Creek and stopped at Litchfield Park. This was a very long road, and all we had time for in Litchfield was the 175 stairs down to the rather crowded but pretty pool at Florence Falls and a quick dip. Of course husband had to swim over to where the falls were dumping in, current extremely strong! Pooped him out, poor Papa. Saw an emu at Pine Creek, hooray! Sunny and hot.

Back to Darwin for an overnight at the Best Western right at the aiport. A convenient thing: We were able to return our Hertz car to the airport, then walk just 1.5 km over to the hotel! Another mysterious Aussie shower, water all over the floor and a well-placed drain.

Carlton Draught has become our beer of choice. Maybe it will be cheaper in Port Douglas.


Are you kidding, they want almost $50 for a 30 pack of beer?!?!? At home we pay $19 US, and the Aussie dollar is just a bit less than 1 to 1. The price of everything is double here! Yikes!

But, it is very pretty. And the people are very nice. And the shower at By The Sea is a proper glassed-in enclosure. Although there is a well-placed drain in the floor.

This area reminds us a lot of Hawaii, the rainforest is thick and beautiful, Port Douglas is upscale but not horribly so. By The Sea is truly just a few steps from Four Mile Beach, so runs and walks along this gorgeous flat stretch are a treat, especially at low tide! No people! Although we were told by a nice Aussie man that August and September is peak season and PACKED, though the weather is perfect, cloudless sky and glassy ocean.

Our Australian friend said that we may be disappointed by the reef after snorkeling in Hawaii for 30 years, and sorry to say she was right. We went to Opal reef on the Calypso boat, three stops and a decent lunch. I got some kind of internet bargain, $353 US for the two of us. It was fun to see the corals and the giant clams, but the fish weren’t vastly different and the water clarity wasn’t great. Again, end of the rainy season so a bit off. We went out again on the Reef Sprinter half day boat to the Low Isles, $120 AU each. This was a bit insane, the weather had turned cloudy and windy and the sea was rough, but their nine hundred horsepower speedboat just blasted among the rolling seas like some sort of horrible rollercoaster. Stinger suits were mandatory on the Calypso but optional on the Reef Sprinter. All the boat guys tell the same joke about the hole in the life preserver and you have only one head.

For our hiking time we headed up to Cape Tribulation and went along the major boardwalk walks. I forgot to write them down and now can’t remember the names…The sky was cloudy so the light was rather blah, but the forest is green and lovely and we even saw a cassowary. We’d have never spotted it but for the guys pulled over looking at something off in the trees. The beaches looked so wild and clean, but the ocean was still rather muddy.

Mossman Gorge is a MUST, incredibly pretty swimming spot and a beautiful forest trail. Finally saw two lizards on rocks near the river – fringed dragons? We walked rather than take the shuttle bus, it was perhaps 1.5 k each way.

The grouper/groper 5:00 feeding at On The Inlet is a blast, get there at 4:30 for a spot on the rail overlooking the feeding area. Big honking ugly fish and funny patter from the feeding guy. Our best meal was scotch filet and greek salad from Cole’s in our apartment, but we did go to the Tin Shed twice mostly because of reasonably priced beer. A friendly Kiwi guy talked with us, he was REEELY hard to understand.

Paddy’s Irish Pub is a great spot, they have trivia night and the most fantastic live band that we only heard a few songs from. Friendly dancing people of all ages. We did not see a single scuzzy person in PD, no anti-social teens hanging about, no one begging, no police even! Even the lobby of our hotel is completely open air, they lock up the computers at night, but there are beach chairs and books and DVDs and eskies and all manner of fun vacation things just laying out there. Wouldn’t last a minute in California. And there are flying foxes! Being from grubby old Southern California, it is so squeaky clean here, in a good way!

I left the Kuranda Skyrail/Train thing for a Maybe because it was expensive and seemed touristy, but we had the time on our last day. We went up the Skyrail and down the train, too bad it was gray and rainy. Should have taken the Skyrail both ways because it was lovely being ABOVE the forest that we’d spent so much time down in. Kuranda is about what you’d expect, cute forest town geared for tourists with lots of pretty objects for sale. We walked the Jim Jim forest trail around town and still had plenty of time.

Must remember a joke from the shuttle bus driver: in answer to a voice from the back that called out “Where’s a good pub?”, the driver answers “Ah, a Kiwi! Know why the popular beer is named XXXX? ‘Cause the Kiwis can’t spell beer!”

South of Sydney

There are even nice people in the Sydney airport. After we landed and were gawking about for the Hertz garage, a cleaning lady took pity on us, stopped what she was doing and led us in the right direction.

Husband must look like Osama Bin Laden, although our daughter says he resembles Hamid Karzai with more hair. In at least three airport security checkpoints on this trip, husband got singled out for “special” frisking. He has a short graying beard and short graying hair and glasses! They seem to think that he has explosive residue on his pants.

For the drive south, I could tell that my printed Google directions weren’t going to get us out of the airport properly. The nice Hertz lady gave us a “cheat sheet” to get to Woolongong and that worked perfectly. I didn’t bother with GPS on this trip, nothing was that complicated except for getting away from the Sydney airport through the suburbs, although the roads were well-signed.

We overnighted at Kiama (I’d been pronouncing this Kee-AH-mah but was corrected by a nice lady, no, it’s Kai-A-short a-like-in-cat-mah.). This hotel had the most mysterious Aussie shower arrangement yet: a Jacuzzi tub with the shower in it, a glass door extending less than halfway along the length of the tub, it was movable so it didn’t make a seal. The shower water pooled up around the tub ledge and flowed off onto the floor, into a well-placed drain. Sigh. I gave up and took a bath. The blowhole wasn’t blowing. Another pretty town, clean smiling people, smiling children in their school uniforms (no surly teenagers in sight!), reminded us of Mayberry (fellow middle-aged yanks will get this reference). One of these days we’d like to come back and walk the coastal walk that stretches for MILES from pretty cove to pretty cove.

The area reminds me of California, but the water is so clear and clean, the sky is so blue and clean, I keep thinking this is what southern California looked like 200 years ago. My note says “like Big Sur that was flat and had beaches you could actually get to.”

On our way to our friend’s near Batemans Bay, we detoured off through Berry to Kangaroo Valley, which someone had told us was like a green Grand Canyon. Well, while the scenic road up and over the hills was forested and green, the valley below was socked in thick with fog. Never mind, let’s head back to the highway and move on.

On to Murramarang National Park, exit at Mt. Agony road through the thick eucalyptus forest and on to Pebbly Beach. Must look up how Mt. Agony got its name…There are several roads from the main highway into this park, our friend suggested seeing Pebbly Beach first, then south to Depot Beach, then to N. Durras. Ran out of time for N. Durras but Depot Beach was gorgeous as well and had a nice little forest hike.

Finally, a pack of Roos on the beach! Which was gorgeous and pristine and had exactly one person in the water. We crept closer and closer to the roos, expecting to get leapt upon and scratched at any second, but the one guy in the water told us he’d been camping there for a month and feeds them out of his hand. Shouldn’t he not do that? Later on, our friend told us that we should have seen some huge goannas there, they are common! But we didn’t! We did find lots of small skulls washed up on the beach, walnut-sized, I don’t think they’re fish, think they are birds. I managed to smuggle them home, sssshhh…

The only wombats we saw were dead ones on the highway, lots bigger than I thought! One was the size of a fat Labrador! “Were they on their backs with their paws in the air?” we were asked. Yes they were!

Finally, the turnoff to Batemans Bay and on to our retired friend’s house in the neighborhood of Lilli Pilli! Fantastic fish & chips at the Boat Shed, best ever. Boy, is she lucky to live in such a spot, her own little pristine cove with clear water and few people is just a few minutes’ stroll down from her house. She moved here from LA 25 years ago to teach in Canberra, and she sure as heck ain’t ever going back.

Oysters and prawns and good company, we are very happy. Her guest bath has a normal shower with a door that closes. Although there is a well-placed drain in the floor.

Our adventure in this section of the trip is a boat ride out to Montague Island to snorkel with New Zealand fur seals. Thanks, Benita, for treating us to this! We used Lighthouse Charters out of Narooma, yet another lovely town. The boat caption was Wazza and his first mate was Simon. You’ll have to go on this boat and ask Wazza what his real name is. This was a great trip, friendly guys and we were lucky to just have 4 middle aged adults on board. At first it was just husband and me in the water with the seals. They swim around you goggle-eyed like odd looking puppies, husband even got nosed twice, once in the facemask and once in the belly, but they don’t mean any harm. A tip: keep your arms behind you, they’ll come up closer. I was a bit afraid of the little buggers and kept my hands out in front of me. Every once in a while a huge adult would come up, but it was mainly the youngsters. Other reviews of this excursion have mentioned lots of fish in the water, but we saw only seals.

A nice loop around the back of rocky Montague Island with its lighthouse, a 20 min cruise back to Narooma harbor, time for lunch at a nice spot right on the water, forgot the name. Back to Batemans Bay via some lovely coastal neighborhoods, drooling over the $1,000,000 homes with their spectacular views.

For our last night our friend made us some lovely beef bourguignon, then it was up early for the drive back to Sydney and the long flight back to smelly old LA. We are still marveling over all the friendly people we met and all the beautiful country we saw, thanks Australia!

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