Anyone been to Australia?

April101October 9, 2013

We will be down under for a rotary international convention June 2014. We will be in Sydney for six nights and then have two weeks thereafter. I have asked questions on fodors forum but thought I would ask my gw friends. We are so blessed to have this trip of a lifetime. Research and friends say Great Barrier Reef. We are not inclined to do the "rock". Any thoughts or experiences? Thanks!

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Yes yes yes!

I have been on vacation twice, and on business a few times too.

Two weeks is a lot (at least the way we travel), so you should be able to see tons of stuff. Random thoughts:

I would definitely climb the bridge in Sydney. I never did, for one reason or another, but I regret that.

If it were me, I would want to see the outback. It is distinctive. Yes, I know, seeing a huge rock is not that compelling. But there are a lot of aspects to the outback. One of my favorite travel experiences of all time was a 3day horseback ride we did in the outback. Our guide made all the meals, cared for the horses, and carried the "swags". Sleeping out was magical. First of all, with zero ambient light, you don't have to look up to see the stars - they start on the horizon. The world is covered in a bowl of them. When you lie on the ground, all you see is stars and it feels like floating in space. Then, you see a kangaroo shadow by the fire!

As far as the GBR. It is a few hours by boat from the mainland to get to the part where you want to dive and snorkel. IMHO, if budget allows, it is better to stay on an island that is ON the reef. We stayed on Lizard. Everyone got their own dinghy to circumnavigate the island in! When you walked from your room to the beach, there were large starfish, the color of cobalt velvet. When you snorkelled, you drifted over five foot long clams, which you could see gently open and close, as they breathe. And, of course, lizards.

Sydney itself is a lovely city, reminds me on San Fran in a way, but you will see enough of it during your conference.

We also went to Kangaroo Island. We stayed at this place called Southern Ocean lodge, that felt like the edge of the world. We saw kangaroos and wallabies and koalas in the wild. However, it is remote ... small planes from Adelaide.

We also saw went to Tasmania, which has beautiful natural scenery. Freycinet Lodge, which is on the wild Tasman Sea and has spectacular views of the distinctive orange coastline, was beautiful.

I also went to an ecotourism lodge in the Northern Territories, where was saw crocodiles.

With 2 weeks, you may want to consider flying over to NZ. I think its about 3.5 hrs from Sydney. Many world travellers call it a favorite. There are albatross colonies. fjords and glaciers and skiing in the South Island, and Geyser and beaches in the North Island. And great food and scenery everywhere. A helicopter tour is a great way to see the varied terrain.

I'm sure I forgot something. So exciting! Lucky you. I never minded having business in Sydney!

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 9:38PM
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Ooh, DH and I went on business about 21 years ago. Sydney, and the people in it: delightful. Do a harbor cruise (and let me know if the beer service opens before the tea service!) There's a great aquarium, and go to the zoo and see a real "tazzie devil", nothing like the fellow from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, but still vicious.

We visited Tasmania, very nice but it reminded us of Wisconsin, complete with deer and dairy :)

We stayed at Hinchinbrook Island for a few days. The sea was too rough to go to the Reef, so we played on the beach and hiked some amazing hikes. I would go back in a heartbeat. The food, omg.

We had heard of the the little quokkas on Rottnest Island off of Perth, so of course we had to go there. They were very cute.

The coolest thing was, and we are not astronomers, but the night sky is different. You don't realize how familiar something is until it changes.

We had an airpass, can you tell?!

Have a great time!

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 10:37PM
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I second spending time in New Zealand if you can. We spent 5 nights on the great barrier reef and got in two great snorkeling trips and a jeep trip to mangroves.
We spent the next two weeks in New Zealand, bu you could do it in less time if you flew to Christchurch from Australia. You could take the scenic train from Christchurch to the West Coast, rent a car, see the Glaciers and Queenstown and return to US from Christchurch. It's a beautiful country in a small area.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 2:32PM
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I spent several weeks in New Zealand and Australila, Seeing both would be worthwhile if you can -- you may not get another chance. I loved Christchurch and think that's a good suggestion. I did not make it to the southern part of the island due to a late blizzard (keep in mind that June will be winter there).

I drove north out of Sydney and spent some time in the wine country there. That was one of the highlights of my trip. I made a day trip south to Canbarra and enjoyed that, but weather could make the wine country and Great Barrier Reef to the north more appealing than heading south. Other than a place to land in Sydney, my plans were made up as I went from some general ideas to start and suggestions alone and it wasn't hard to do then. I don't know if it would be more difficult now.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 10:20PM
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I had family that lived in Australia for over a decade so I spent quite a bit of time there. Love it!

New Zealand is fantastic but with 2 weeks, I would stick to Australia -- you can see Sydney (do the Bondi/Bronte beach walk, visit Manly, perhaps Byron Bay), see the Blue Mountains, visit Hunter Valley (one of Australia's wine regions), take a quick flight to Melbourne and then drive down to the Great Ocean Road.

Melbourne is one of my favorite cities and is worth a visit. I spent 3 months in Sydney and felt like it's Australia's Los Angeles - a little more glitzy and flashy, whereas Melbourne is a little more low-key, eclectic and quirky, but still a world-class city which feels more European than Sydney. It even has trolleys like SF.

The Great Ocean Road is a scenic drive south of Melbourne and is about a 150 mile stretch of beautiful coastline similar to Hwy 1/Big Sur in California. Gorgeous drive and lots of quaint beach/surfing towns to stop in.

If you want beautiful islands and great sailing, the Whitsundays are the way to go. Years ago, we chartered a boat out of Airlie Beach in Queensland and spent 5 days cruising around the area and diving in different spots on the Great Barrier Reef. Whitehaven Beach is probably the most beautiful beach I have ever seen - it's famous and jaw droppingly beautiful.

I climbed the bridge in Sydney and I have never been so scared in my life! I'm usually not scared of heights but it was an extraordinarily windy day and I don't think we should have been up there. I'm usually an adrenaline junkie - jumped out of a plane and went bungee jumping in New Zealand -- but climbing the bridge in Sydney just about made me lose it.

This post was edited by pipdog on Fri, Oct 11, 13 at 11:53

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 11:32AM
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Before you go, two recommended books to read:

"Tracks" by Robyn Davidson -- about a woman who made an incredible solo trek across the Australian desert with camels and her dog. Seriously amazing and inspirational journey. i think they made a movie about it recently, but I haven't seen it.

"Down Under" by Bill Bryson.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 11:43AM
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We went to Australia in the 90s and I loved it. We were just there for about 10 days, and went to Melbourne, Sydney and Surfer's Paradise. We did the Bridge Climb and it was a little scary, but sooo cool! One of my best travel memories.

I read Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country" before we went, I laughed so much reading that book. I didn't know that he had another Oz book.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 11:53AM
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Bryson's book is also called "In a Sunburned Country", but it's titled "Down Under" in some editions. It's the same book.

This post was edited by pipdog on Fri, Oct 11, 13 at 12:00

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 11:57AM
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Hi April, that's so familiar ... I went on a Rotary International convention to Melbourne, Australia about 20 years ago. I went with my parents, I was the single working daughter and often accompanied them when I could take time off work.

We had a tour that was run for just Rotary members, spent 10 days I New Zealand (which was just fantastic) and then on to Melbourne for the convention, then Sydney and finally the Great Barrier Reef.

We were gone for 3+ weeks and went from snow in NZ to tropics at the GBR.

You should check to see if Rotary has any tours set up, the one we did was really well done and we saw a little of everything (except the Outback).

It was a trip that I checked off my bucket list!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 6:05PM
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Oh thank you so much everyone!!! I knew I could count on y'all! After I re read all the great post, I will be back with more questions. And, thank you for the book suggestions. Very interested in them:).

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 7:49PM
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Oh sorry, should of put this on conversations.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 7:52PM
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Another vote to see New Zealand. The south island is so different than Australia. Very European in many parts, with vineyards, Christchurch , Queensland, the fjords, just a beautiful country. Reminds me what the US was like many years ago. Also beautiful beaches, mountains and volcanoes, and beautiful people.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 12:18AM
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My sister lives in E Fremantle near Perth so I have been going there for 10 years. Figure you won't go that far afield. First time I went before she moved there was to go to Melbourne for the Australian Open. Loved Melbourne. Also went to Tasmania: gorgeous scenery. Stayed on Dunk Island to go to the GBR. Cairns is a quaint town for the jumping off point there. New Zealand is great and makes for a shorter flight if you go via there. Auckland is a nice city and we went up to the north coast too. We stayed in the part of Sydney known as The Rocks near the bridge, opera house and ferries. Have fun and enjoy your trip!

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 10:31AM
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Jumping in late.... I've been a couple of times and have a friend who emigrated there.

I love Sydney but really enjoyed the GBR, and stayed in Port Douglas. They do introductory scuba cruises to the reef -- much better than plain snorkeling and quite easy. Also the second the recommendation on the Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, and the Wine Region. Loved Dunk Island as well,

If you have only two weeks, going to NZ may be a stretch. However, I loved the South Island -- drove all around, went to Milford Sound, went hiking, took a helicopter glacier tour, went adventure sport/thrill seeking in Queenstown, and wine tasting in the Otago. However, that was summertime, not their winter -- because of that, I would vote for the GBR.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 12:33PM
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We already have our airline tickets booked in and out of Sydney. We considered NZ but felt it was best just to explore Australia. There are so many places we want to see. Since we are from Florida maybe we should skip the reef. We have snorkled Loe key (underwater state park) and snorkled Hawaii. And,we are on the water a lot but I know it is different. Maybe three days on a camel under the stars and Tasmania. that is something that sounds so cool. Pip, GOR is something I thought about. Would you do it again if you have done Hwy 1? We did that for our 25th anniversary along with SF and Sonoma. Fabulous trip. Pam, my best friend went with her husband on that rotary Melbourne trip. Too, funny. And yes, there are tours available but I am afraid the age group might be a little "old" for us. We are 54 and 56.
Thanks again for sharing your experiences.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 3:26PM
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I have been to Hawaii and Borneo, the Caribbean, etc. snorkelling and diving (though I'm not much of a diver), and I still would say you should go to the GBR. I would not stay on the coast, though, but an actual island ON the reef.

No matter what you will have fun!

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 3:56PM
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LOL April, I was 34 when I went on that trip and really enjoyed it. There were Rotarians of all ages!

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 4:04PM
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The Great Ocean Road is an unforgettable road trip!

The section of the GOR with the 12 Apostles (I think some of them have crumbled since I was there) is some of the most awe inspiring coastal scenery I've ever seen. Here are some photos from my trip:

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 11:56PM
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Pip dog. I have some of the same photos!

April. There is no comparison to Florida and Hawaii in terms of what you can see at the gbr. Do the intro scuba session.... Even the scuba enthusiasts on the trip said this was pretty much the ultimate

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 4:29AM
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"And yes, there are tours available but I am afraid the age group might be a little "old" for us. We are 54 and 56. "

We've done long guided tours where the majority of our fellow tourists were in their 70s and 80s --- they were an absolute blast to travel with!!! We were late 40s at the time.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 5:51AM
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Ten years ago my friend and I went to Australia. We went for two weeks and spent time in Melbourne, then flew out to Uluru/Ayers rock for a couple days (got some amazing photos). It was very cool there in the mornings but got hot as the day went out. We did some tours there too. People do climb Uluru but it is considered disrespectful to the Aboriginal people. Plus, it's very big! The flight to the outback was a couple hours. A travel agent arranged all our flights, hotels, and tourist visas.

In Melbourne, we went to a rock concert, then we did a tour which included a historic rain ride called Puffing Billy, and it included lunch and a tour a winery. There was a very cool city/farmers market where we bought some pieces of art.

In Sydney, we did not do the bridge climb (kind of wish we did, but it was fairly windy that day), then we did a dinner Harbour Cruise where we got some great photos of the opera house.

I loved it so much, I applied for jobs there! I am determine to get back there on a sabbatical, student trip, etc.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 8:40AM
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laura mcleod

Joining late also - we took our family for two months the winter before last, and had an amazing time! I would second lots of the other suggestions. Especially the one to stay on the reef and not take a day trip if you can. For our Great Barrier Reef trip we stayed for week on Heron Island, it was the most fantastic scenery and snorkeling - takes some logistics to get there, but so worth it. Enjoy your time - it will be a wonderful adventure!

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 11:42AM
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Thanks everyone. Sitting down with DH this week and finish planning. I really appreciate the all of the tips. GBR and all the other advice has been great. I have been a lurker for about 10 years. I started in kitchens and found my way over here. Not a big poster but I feel as if I know a lot of you gave me advice. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 4:56PM
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I've been gone for 3 weeks on vacation, so am contributing this a bit late. It's been several years since we were in Australia, but just loved it. The kindness of the people is what we remember most.

In Sydney, we stayed at the Park Hyatt right near the Opera House; lovely hotel and great location right on Circular Quay. Would definitely recommend it. We saw all the "usual" touristy things in Sydney, and went to a performance at the Opera House. Spent an afternoon at Bondi Beach, always interesting things going on there. Public transportation within Sydney was great..we found no need to get a car... unless you want to drive out of the city.

We also spent 5 days in Cairns (pronounced Cans). It was fabulous. We did take a Wave Runner out to the Great Barrier Reef. I got extremely sea sick, so didn't enjoy it very much. And after a 3 hour trip out to the reef, the area we could snorkel in was basically a cage about the size of a large room. They said that was to protect us from the sharks. Very nice luncheon on the boat, though. The crew did have meds on board to counteract the seasickness. But of course I slept for the entire 3 hours back to Cairns. Not sure I would recommend that trip. VERY expensive, and takes the entire day. We also took the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to Kuranda. Lovely place. Then took an antique train back to Cairns.

Going back to Australia/NZ is definitely on our list of trips to take in the future. I've never heard anyone say they didn't love it.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 5:53PM
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We went about 15 years ago and spent 2 weeks there. We did a liveaboard dive trip to the GBR out of Cairns and then went back to Sydney. We went in October for my birthday, and weather was a little cool but conditions were good. You might want to check on weather at sea at that time of year. The diving definitely got better the farther north we went; the trip ended at Lizard Island, and we flew back to Cairns from there. In Sydney, I'd recommend the zoo; just riding around on the ferries was fun by itself.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 6:08PM
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I am a huge Australia fan.
I think you are 100% doing the right thing sticking with Australia with only a few weeks.
I just love Sydney and would move there in a heartbeat.

I second the recommendation to read Down Under - it had me howling with laughter. Just fabulous.

The Blue Mountains are a must do. You can take the train I think or drive. If you drive there is a campsite that seems to attract a lot of wild wallabies. Tripadvisor forum might be a good spot to work out exactly where it is. Seeing them in the wild is a whole different ball game to seeing them in the zoo.

Melbourne is a nice city too (I prefer Sydney), but the suburb of St Kilda beach has a pier where wild penguins come in at dusk. That was the coolest thing to me. It's hit or miss, but we went twice because I am just a sucker for that kind of thing! There is also a huge touristy penguin viewing place in Melbourne where you sit on bleachers and watch the penguins come in. I'm sure you would see many more penguins that way, but I just feel like the pier in St Kilda is more authentic, but different benefits to each.

Melbourne also has the much mentioned Great Ocean Road which is stunning. PLUS there are various areas to stop off which are known for wildlife. I can't remember how I found out about them (tripadvisor forum? lonely planet?) but there is a golf course where kangaroos hang out. I got the funniest photos of kangaroos just chilling on the green. Another area with lots of wild koalas, and it also happened to have a bunch of parrots which took a liking to our car. There is also a crater called Tower Hill which is a national park at the end of the GOR which has a ton of wildlife. We did not get especially lucky there and 'only' saw emus, but it was a very cool place and I would definitely go again.

The other nice thing about Melbourne is that it has short flights over to Tasmania which is much more like New Zealand in feel and is stunning. We loved the Bay of Fires and Wine Glass Bay (a hike!) which is meant to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Also has a lot of vineyards, and farms with happy, free range cows where you can go to try the cheese, etc.
lovely. There is also a place on the east coast (I forget the name sorry) which is meant to have the most wonderful small tour of a penguin area. We got rained out so couldn't do it, but it is meant to be amazing.

Cape Tribulation has one of the most gorgeous beaches I have seen and access to the Great Barrier Reef (MUST DO)!!!
I have heard amazing things about the Whitsundays. I am DYING to go there one day.

Sorry some of this is vague, but if you like any of the ideas it should give you a starting point at least to find out more. I am so jealous - have a blast!!

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 7:10PM
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Phillips Island is out of Melbourne where the little penguins come in at dusk. It's very cute. They are less than 12 inches tall. We took a tour there that also included the 12 Apostles drive on the coast. The tour took all day I think we got back around 10 or 11 in the evening. We missed a really great night match at the open because we got back so late. Turns out if we had just rented a car and drove ourselves it wouldn't have been such a long trip!

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 7:46PM
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