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Some Australia/NZ Questions - traveling soon

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[OP]
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Apr 12, 2012
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Some Australia/NZ Questions - traveling soon

Hi All,

Two physically-fit adults are planning a trip down under in late autumn this year. The trip will be three weeks long and our budget is $4000-5000per person incl flights. The flights are booked and the inbound flight is Sydney while the outbound flight is Brisbane. We also need to see some family friends in Melbourne, so I guess these three cities are places we need to cover.

We want to add another destination or two in the area. Which one(s) would be recommendable?

Cairns (to see the barrier reef)
Queenstown NZ (I've heard great things about this place, but we are not thrill-seekers)
Uluru/Ayers Rock (how does this place compare to other desert places like the Sahara in Morocco? This option seems to be much pricier than the other two places above)
Other cities/places (like Darwin/Adelaide/Auckland?)

I'm also thinking about doing a drive from Cairns to Brisbane (if we go to Cairns, that is). Has anyone done this drive and is it any better than just flying? Or should we just drive near Melbourne to see the 12 apostles?

Thanks in advance,
The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.
- Mahatma Gandhi
15 replies
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Lady Elliot Island is about 4 or so (90 minute flight) hours north of Brisbane is you want to see the Great barrier Reef. They have a resort there. You don't need to go all the way to Cairns. http://www.ladyelliot.com.au/ Really worth a few days to snorkel or dive and hang out. We really enjoyed Cairns and it's surroundings but it is along way up the coats.
Urulu is really a sacred place more than anything. Lots of aboriginal history but really, a big rock in the desert. You need to fly into Alice Springs and then about a 6 hour drive to Urulu (and another 6 back :)). Then the hotels are expensive and there are restrictions on climbing the rock, if they let you on it at all now. If you want to see it OK but it is a long way and an expensive side trip for not more than a 2 day side trip.
I would not go to New Zealand as you only have 3 weeks.
Sydney is worth 4 to 5 days, Melbourne will be with friends so I am sure they will show you around. Lovely wine country around there.
Brisbane has lot to do and go down to Surfers Paradise, one of our favorite spots in Australia (after driving the outback).
You flying Melbourne to Brisbane? Or driving? The drive is a loooong and lonely drive. Not much in between :) We drove all over Australia for our trip.

EDIT: You know, on second thought, as you say you are "Two physically-fit adults", a side trip to Cairns would probably be nicer for you. Cairns has lots of adventure and hiking and stuff like that to do. I would skip Urulu and fly to Cairns and spend 4 or 5 days there. You can of course do the diving and snorkeling but there are rain forest trains, hikes and gondolas. Fabulous tropical gardens. Port Douglas, just up the road is a great place to see but watch out for the crocodiles on the beach :)
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scuba2day wrote: For only three weeks, I would pick either Australia or New Zealand. Australia is a big country so you need to concentrate on a few areas.
If you can fit a 5-6 day trip to Tasmania, I would recommend visiting there.

Personally, I can't imagine going all the way to Australia and not visiting Uluru.
You can fly directly to Ayers Rock airport rather than Alice Springs.
For example you can fly Melbourne - Ayers Rock - Brisbane (via Sydney)
You can climb Uluru at specific times but I would recommend not climbing the rock. It is a sacred site for the aboriginal people.
Better to just walk around. It takes about 2 hours.
Also, doing a hike at Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) is much more interesting then climbing Uluru.
If you can add a third night then I would highly recommend a trip to Kings Canyon. It is about 3 1/2 hours from Ayers Rock.

Yes, it is an expensive location. To cut costs you can take all 4 beds (or 2 if you like) in the 4 bedroom dorms (rooms) at the Outback Pioneer Lodge. 35US per bed per night.
You can use the kitchen there to prepare your own food or buy the BBQ with all you can eat salad bar. It is not really that expensive.
If you rent a car, which is my preference, then book as early as possible and try to get unlimited miles. Book through Economy Car Rental - You will actually get a car from Thrifty's but with unlimited miles.

From Melbourne you will want to take a drive along the Great Ocean Road (GOR). If you have time try to visit Wilsons Promontory National Park.
I am glad you enjoyed Urulu. It is more than a 10km walk around the rock so, you can be the judge of how long it takes. It gets extremely hot there too with lots of bugs. We were there in mid October and it was 36 to 40 degrees.
We looked at Outback Lodge and decided not to use it and when we got there, we were glad we didn't. It is more of a campsite than a "lodge" with amenities. Yes, dorm beds are cheap but, they are just beds in a communal building. The number of people vary.
We drove from Adelaide through Coober Pedy to Urulu so we did get a full taste of the outback.
All in all, of our trip around Australia, if I was to miss anything, it would be Urulu. It truly is a rock in the desert. If only three weeks to spend, using 3 or 4 or more days getting there, seeing it and getting out is taking away from a more interesting and spectacular Australia.
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Cairns. The Great Barrier Reef is potentially dying so time is of the essence. Although to be fair, you are only going to see/snorkel a very small portion of the reef, so arguably visiting a smaller reef in the Caribbean would be just as good. Cairns is also close to a rain forest and the Blue Mountains.

Australian cities, although pleasant enough, aren't particularly exotic for Canadians. Visiting the barrier reef allows for some unique memories and bragging rights. The CBC app and website have a documentary about the reef. I promis you the real life version is more exciting.

Here is my explanation of Australia:

Melbourne = A young Montreal.
Sydney = An expensive salt water Toronto.
Uluru = the Australian Grand Canyon (inverted).
Brisbane = an Anglo Miami
Gold Coast = Orlando-Daytona
Cairns = An Anglo Puerto Rico with snorkelling and Aboriginals.

Although the cultural experience of Australia is very subtle, and I definitely consider it a B list tourist destination for Canadians, especially considering the cost and distance, it is super easy to visit. It's like a bizarro Canada. Especially now with their gay marriage debate and their MPs and senators resigning because, gasp, they were dual citizens! Also, foreigners can make political donations. Like I said, so similar to English Canada and yet so weirdly different.

Try to ween yourself off caffeine. Australians drink much less cola or coffee than we do. Both are very expensive. $5 for a cup... at McDonald's! Caffeine addicting drip coffee à la Tim Hortons is impossible to find. Shell stations do have inexpensive machine made Americano. Just be aware Americano has 50% of the caffeine content of drip coffee. Also, they charge more for gas (which makes no sense to me, the sundries are supposed to subsidize the gas, not the other way around).

My Australian highlights:

-Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef (and the relative affordability of Cairns).
-Swimming in an ocean beach with signs warning of salt water crocodiles.
-The constant haze of jetlag
-The ridiculous price of restaurant food, beer and coffee (although the 10% tax is included and tipping is optional).
-The weirdly different laws (the adult minimum wage is $18 an hour, and they get double on Sunday!!!!).
-The math friendly currency conversions
-You can use a credit card everywhere
-Spotting wild kangaroos
-The Great Ocean Drive
-Frozen Coke

Be sure to explore as much as you can via Google Streetview before you go. Like Canada, some scenery is better than others. Plenty on YouTube as well.

As a rule of thumb: Australian Nature > Australian cities.

Understandably for a remote island nation, many Australians aren't particularly sophisticated. But they have money. So the country is plagued with dubious tourist traps that don't particularly enhance the attraction. Examples includes "historic" trains, $10 bus shuttles from a parking lot to a park to not "disturb" an Aboriginal community, chairlifts, Niagara Falls worthy "museums", animal attractions, amusement parks with dubious themes, etc...

Toronto is a very small part of Canada
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MonctonMan wrote: Cairns. The Great Barrier Reef is potentially dying so time is of the essence. Although to be fair, you are only going to see/snorkel a very small portion of the reef, so arguably visiting a smaller reef in the Caribbean would be just as good. Cairns is also close to a rain forest and the Blue Mountains.

Australian cities, although pleasant enough, aren't particularly exotic for Canadians. Visiting the barrier reef allows for some unique memories and bragging rights. The CBC app and website have a documentary about the reef. I promis you the real life version is more exciting.

Here is my explanation of Australia:

Melbourne = A young Montreal.
Sydney = An expensive salt water Toronto.
Uluru = the Australian Grand Canyon (inverted).
Brisbane = an Anglo Miami
Gold Coast = Orlando-Daytona
Cairns = An Anglo Puerto Rico with snorkelling and Aboriginals.

Although the cultural experience of Australia is very subtle, and I definitely consider it a B list tourist destination for Canadians, especially considering the cost and distance, it is super easy to visit. It's like a bizarro Canada. Especially now with their gay marriage debate and their MPs and senators resigning because, gasp, they were dual citizens! Also, foreigners can make political donations. Like I said, so similar to English Canada and yet so weirdly different.

Try to ween yourself off caffeine. Australians drink much less cola or coffee than we do. Both are very expensive. $5 for a cup... at McDonald's! Caffeine addicting drip coffee à la Tim Hortons is impossible to find. Shell stations do have inexpensive machine made Americano. Just be aware Americano has 50% of the caffeine content of drip coffee. Also, they charge more for gas (which makes no sense to me, the sundries are supposed to subsidize the gas, not the other way around).

My Australian highlights:

-Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef (and the relative affordability of Cairns).
-Swimming in an ocean beach with signs warning of salt water crocodiles.
-The constant haze of jetlag
-The ridiculous price of restaurant food, beer and coffee (although the 10% tax is included and tipping is optional).
-The weirdly different laws (the adult minimum wage is $18 an hour, and they get double on Sunday!!!!).
-The math friendly currency conversions
-You can use a credit card everywhere
-Spotting wild kangaroos
-The Great Ocean Drive
-Frozen Coke

Be sure to explore as much as you can via Google Streetview before you go. Like Canada, some scenery is better than others. Plenty on YouTube as well.

As a rule of thumb: Australian Nature > Australian cities.

Understandably for a remote island nation, many Australians aren't particularly sophisticated. But they have money. So the country is plagued with dubious tourist traps that don't particularly enhance the attraction. Examples includes "historic" trains, $10 bus shuttles from a parking lot to a park to not "disturb" an Aboriginal community, chairlifts, Niagara Falls worthy "museums", animal attractions, amusement parks with dubious themes, etc...

As usual, your google travel has left you with very little knowledge of Australia.

Your take on the cities is far from reality.
"Sydney = An expensive salt water Toronto." Where did you get that from???
"Cairns = An Anglo Puerto Rico with snorkelling and Aboriginals" what the hell does that mean? Some kind of racist comment?
Urulu is far from "the Australian Grand Canyon (inverted)"

Australia is also not anywhere near "like a bizarro Canada.". What are you thinking (or drinking)???
"many Australians aren't particularly sophisticated.", how insulting. Australians are nice, friendly and just as sophisticated as anyone.
"the country is plagued with dubious tourist traps" as any that are in Canada or the US. Dumb comment. Tourist traps are the same as all over the world.

Truly, you gotta get out more and spend more time on real view as opposed to YouTube and Google Streetview. Far and away the worst advice and comments you have made so far. :facepalm:
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The Blue Mountains are close to Sydney, not Cairns. Fly from Brisbane to Cairns. Even with 3 weeks, our family only managed to fly into Brisbane, drive to Coolangatta, drive back up the Gold Coast, fly from Brisbane to Cairns and then New Years in Sydney. Without kids, maybe we could have squeezed in one more city, but as @scuba2day said, it's a big country. You'll have a good time regardless of what you decide.
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MrMom wrote: The Blue Mountains are close to Sydney, not Cairns. Fly from Brisbane to Cairns. Even with 3 weeks, our family only managed to fly into Brisbane, drive to Coolangatta, drive back up the Gold Coast, fly from Brisbane to Cairns and then New Years in Sydney. Without kids, maybe we could have squeezed in one more city, but as @scuba2day said, it's a big country. You'll have a good time regardless of what you decide.
In Cairns, did you sit at a outdoor table in the evening and watch the bats leave? What a sight :)
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We stayed at The Lakes Cairns Resort & Spa. I see from the reviews that the gym is still temporarily out of order 5 yrs later. We only went to the Esplanade Lagoon one day, so we missed the bats. We did the Kuranda tour, snorkeled at the GBR and celebrated Christmas in Cairns, but beyond that I can't recall what we did the other days. Disappointed But Relieved Face I do remember that we never felt hot after staying in Cairns though.
[OP]
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Apr 12, 2012
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Toronto
Many Thanks to everyone for the kind tips/suggestions/advice. I have always wanted to go down South since watching the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Every other year, I go to a more relaxing destination (i.e. something similar to Canada in terms of comfort/safety/accessibility) and every other year, I go to a more adventurous destination like Morocco etc. Australia is a probably a mix of England and Canada, so I hope to just go there, take it easy and drink some coffee at a nice café down South...
The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.
- Mahatma Gandhi
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lemieux035 wrote: Many Thanks to everyone for the kind tips/suggestions/advice. I have always wanted to go down South since watching the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Every other year, I go to a more relaxing destination (i.e. something similar to Canada in terms of comfort/safety/accessibility) and every other year, I go to a more adventurous destination like Morocco etc. Australia is a probably a mix of England and Canada, so I hope to just go there, take it easy and drink some coffee at a nice café down South...
Actually, there are many places Australia that are adventurous. The area around Darwin can be more than adventurous and downright dangerous. Just north of Cairns is very adventurous, lots of jungle and mountainous and exotic creatures. Even Surfers Paradise has it's share of exotic creatures :)
The southern areas have an abundance of wild grape vines and rambunctious city folks too.
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"Australia is a probably a mix of England and Canada"

I think that's a good analogy in the major urban areas.
[OP]
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Apr 12, 2012
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Toronto
Thanks for the tips everyone.

Just got back from Australia!

Australian cities are just as lovely as Canadian cities, but I have to agree that Australian nature is even better than the cities

Just some thoughts:
Admission fees (for Aquariums) are outrageously expensive! Make sure to choose your activities wisely
Tipping is not necessary and the service is still generally pretty good @ restaurants/hotels. The service @ public transport/Starbucks/retailers is a hit-and-miss sometimes.
If upset, Australians will generally let you know in a more direct way than Canadians. They don't like it when you are in their way or when you are comparing prices.

If there are any questions, just let me know.
The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.
- Mahatma Gandhi
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lemieux035 wrote: Thanks for the tips everyone.

Just got back from Australia!

Australian cities are just as lovely as Canadian cities, but I have to agree that Australian nature is even better than the cities

Just some thoughts:
Admission fees (for Aquariums) are outrageously expensive! Make sure to choose your activities wisely
Tipping is not necessary and the service is still generally pretty good @ restaurants/hotels. The service @ public transport/Starbucks/retailers is a hit-and-miss sometimes.
If upset, Australians will generally let you know in a more direct way than Canadians. They don't like it when you are in their way or when you are comparing prices.

If there are any questions, just let me know.
So, where did you end up going? Cairns? Urulu? Did you rent a car and drive or fly and commute?
Yeah, Australia is expensive. :)
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Pete_Coach wrote: So, where did you end up going? Cairns? Urulu? Did you rent a car and drive or fly and commute?
Yeah, Australia is expensive. :)
We did Cairns but not Uluru because of time/budget. Cairns was already expensive with those reef tours!

We did some driving north of Cairns, but we did bus tours on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria to see the 12 Apostles as the tours were way cheaper than getting a car. Also, we got to see the Penguin Parade which was lovely. Too bad the Penguins came out so late in the evening and we only got about 30 minutes to see them before the place started closing @ around 9pm.

Gold Coast was kind of a let down after having been to Cairns. It was like a mega Miami. The beach was nice, but it just didn't have the beauty that Far North Queensland had.

We also got to see Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The Mountains were indeed blue! I found it strange that a 3-stop train journey from the airport would cost $16, but a 2-hour train journey to the BM would only cost $8. I guess you learn something at each place you go to.
The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.
- Mahatma Gandhi
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lemieux035 wrote: We did Cairns but not Uluru because of time/budget. Cairns was already expensive with those reef tours!

We did some driving north of Cairns, but we did bus tours on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria to see the 12 Apostles as the tours were way cheaper than getting a car. Also, we got to see the Penguin Parade which was lovely. Too bad the Penguins came out so late in the evening and we only got about 30 minutes to see them before the place started closing @ around 9pm.

Gold Coast was kind of a let down after having been to Cairns. It was like a mega Miami. The beach was nice, but it just didn't have the beauty that Far North Queensland had.

We also got to see Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The Mountains were indeed blue! I found it strange that a 3-stop train journey from the airport would cost $16, but a 2-hour train journey to the BM would only cost $8. I guess you learn something at each place you go to.
It requires a while to see Australia. Getting there and back is so weary. Sounds like you had a good time though.
Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef is on everyones bucket list, pretty cool that you go to do it. Quite impressive.
Did you see the bats leaving Cairns in the evenings? Pretty spectacular.
We enjoyed the Gold Coast and yes, lots of pubs, clubs and eateries. It was our place to "rest" after many days of driving so just perfect for us.
Nothing cheap about Australia and of course, airport transport is always a rip ff, no matter where in the world you go. There are some good deals for tourists but you need to pay attention.
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For those of you who've traveled the Great Ocean Road, would you suggest self-drive or take a tour?

I realize that it can be a lot of driving and I've also read various opinions on the web, but looking for RFD input.
We'll (wife and I) already have a car booked as we're planning on doing the MEL to SYD coastal drive. If we take a tour we'll make sure it's a smaller group as I'm not fond of those larger megabus tours.

Comments welcome, TIA.

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