The big city lights of Sydney, Melbourne’s wine country and the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns made my first trip to Australia an exhilarating experience that left me wanting more.
Destination at a Glance
|Date of Trip||September 2009|
|Destination Good for||Shopping, Watersports, Sightseeing|
|Best Time to Go||Year round – but Fall may be best|
|Currency/Conv. Rate||Australian Dollar/ 1 USD = 1.16 AUD – slightly favorable|
|Good Way to Get Around||Rent Car: Yes||Public: Yes||Taxi: Yes||Walking: Yes|
|Appox. Trip Cost||Fairly Expensive|
|Speaks English?||English is Primary Language|
|Entry Requirements||Passport & $20 Tourist Visa|
|Didn’t get to do||Cricket Match and Hot Air Balloon ride|
|Would I Recommend||Absolutely|
|Overall Trip Rating|
Trip Review (Click Thumbnails to see Full-Sized Images)
There’s no way around it – the flight to Australia is a bitch. Even if you take a non-stop flight from the west coast, you are looking at 15 hours on an airplane. I’m not complaining too much since I almost blew the entire trip due to my idiot mistake (incorrectly thought an Australian Visa wasn’t necessary). The lesson here is to always verify entry requirements with the US State Department no matter what any other travel site says.
Moving along, the plan was to hit three cities within the 8 days I was in the country. How do you visit three wonderful cities in 8 days – it’s called planning my friend. My itinerary included Australia’s two largest cities – Sydney and Melbourne, as well as arguably its most famous landmark the Great Barrier Reef (via Cairns). Although I certainly would have loved to go into the Great Outback, I’ll save that for next time when I can devote 3-5 days to the experience.
I jumped around from city to city using Australia’s excellent discount carrier JetStar Airlines. On the whole, fares on JetStar were extremely cheap – usually cheaper than Virgin Blue and Qantas. Unfortunately for me, I was lugging an extra bag full of my scuba diving gear and the Nemo 200 from city to city. In the US, you simply pay a flat fee for extra bags up to a certain weight/size. On JetStar, you pay by the kilogram!! So instead of $50 I would have paid for my 47lb bag on a US carrier, I ended up paying over $200 – each flight!!! Holy Sheet – I hadn’t felt so violated since my last prostate exam… :o(
During my visit, the Australian Dollar (AUD) was nearly on par with the US Dollar; but I was a little surprised how expensive everything seemed to be. Granted, things are usually more expensive near tourist destinations; but even locally resourced items like seafood weren’t what you’d call cheap. In 2008, Sydney and Melbourne were the 16th and 36th most expensive cities in the world – though they had fallen quite a bit in 2009 due to the world recession and associated dip in travel. Just a heads-up for those thinking about taking a trip to Australia.
Finally, no matter what city I was visiting the people were extremely pleasant and willing to engage in any subject. So nice in fact that I started to wonder if they were up to something (only an American from the big city would think such ridiculous thoughts). By the way, I just love listening to Australians speak; seriously, who doesn’t just love the Aussie accent?
Sydney – the largest city in Australia and the first stop in my three city tour. Here are some of the highlights.
- Sydney Opera House – One of the most photographed buildings in the world, the massive structure is actually six separate venues. The Opera House sits at the end of a peninsula in Sydney Harbor. There are a few excellent vantage points for taking pictures of the Opera House. The easiest is directly across Sydney Cove on a free viewing platform. This platform provides a street level view of the West side of the Opera House. Another vantage point is from the Sydney Harbor Bridge – which provides somewhat of an aerial view of the West side and portions of the rear (harbor facing) side of the building. Perhaps the best view of the Opera House is to jump on the Manly Ferry for the 30-minute round-trip ride to the city of Manly. For $6.40 each way, the ferry not only gives you stunning views of all three sides of the Opera House, but the best pictures of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the entire downtown Sydney skyline. Catch the Manly Ferry from the Wharf #3 in the Sydney Cove.
- Sydney Harbour Bridge – Another iconic Sydney landmark, the Sydney Harbour Bridge sits just west of the Opera House. Tip: If you take the Manly Ferry, you can fit both the Opera House & bridge in the same frame. As I mentioned earlier, the bridge is an excellent place to take photos of the Opera House and the Sydney Skyline. There are two ways to take pictures from the bridge, one free and the other not so free. The easiest and cheapest way is to use the pedestrian walkway along side regular automobile traffic crossing the bridge. While there are pylons and a gate covering the outside of the walkway, the gaps are large enough to take photos (Note, there is a tower near the South entrance which provide less obstructed views for about $9 entry). The second method is to climb to the top of the bridge’s arches through a company called BridgeClimb. When I visited Sydney in September 2009 the climb cost $300, but it appears new climbs & pricing were introduced in October 2009. According to their website, there are varying types and durations of climbs which cost anywhere from $188 to $258 based on time of day and season. If your goal is to take pictures, skip the high price and walk along the bridge. On the other hand, if you want to get over your fear of heights or take advantage of one of those once in a lifetime opportunities – by all means go for the BridgeClimb.
- Darling Harbour – A major tourist restaurant and attraction area covering both sides of its namesake harbor. Depending on where you are staying, it’s either a 10 minute walk from the downtown area or a short monorail ride to the entrance. The area includes almost 40 restaurants (from fast food, bars and high-end) and multiple attractions, including an entertainment center (bowling, Laser Tag, etc.), Aquarium, IMAX theater, casino and much more.
- Sydney Tower – As the tallest structure in Sydney, the Sky Tower provides 360 degree panoramic views of downtown Sydney with no obstructions from nearby hotels. For $25, your ticket includes access to the enclosed observation deck and entry into the OzTrek movie/ride experience. For an addition $40, you can step onto the Skywalk – the outside platform nearly a 1,000 ft in the air.
- Sydney Rocks – The ‘Rocks’ is a historic shopping district a short 5 minute walk west of the Sydney Cove. While certainly a tourist trap, the distinct sports souvenirs, arts and crafts mostly provided by local vendors.
- Bondi Beach – Bondi Beach is about a 10 minute cab ride from downtown Sydney and is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Besides miles of beautiful sand, Bondi Beach draws surfers of all skill levels. As I enjoy trying new things, I figured this would be a great opportunity to learn to surf. So I signed up for the surf experience with Let’s Go Surfing. Targeted towards those with no previous surfing experience, this class attempts to train and get you up and surfing in two hours. So how was my surfing experience??? Well, it was less like surfing and more like “Jay fall-go boom” – over and over again. It was absolutely ridiculous. At least I was able to eat at a nice Bohemian restaurant while I nursed my bruised ego back to health.
- Sydney Fish Market – While watching the “Australia” episode of Bizarre Foods one day, the host took a tour of Australia’s largest seafood trading market – the Sydney Fish Market. While the market certainly sports some exotic seafood, it did not feel as grand as it seemed on television. My guess is Bizarre Foods got a special VIP tour of the facility – as a good 60% is not accessible to the general public. In any case, if you are staying in an apartment or hotel with a kitchen, you can take a tour of the market, signup for a cooking class and purchase your dinner all in one place.