My mom’s first cousin, Shauna, met a Brit during her college years at the University of Oregon who happened to get a job as a trainer for the national rugby team in Melbourne, Australia. So our beloved American Shauna became Australian Shauna, with a unique blend of an American/Australian accent.
We’ve stayed very close over the years, despite our distance, so when we heard that Shauna’s son, Brendan was getting married, we knew we had to find a way for at least some of us to get over there.
My mom hatched a plan to take my sister and I and our two daughters for our Christmas gift. Amazing. Generous. A trip of a lifetime.
Their summer is our winter, so missing school was going to be a bit of an issue. For that reason, we kept our trip to 10 days. Hopefully you have more time, but we packed in as much as we could and loved every minute.
I’ll start with our specific itinerary and then at the end of the post give you 10 tips that will help you with planning for your Australian adventure.
Flew into Melbourne – 1 day
Drove to St.Leonards on the coast for the wedding – 3 days
During the wedding visit, we also visited Torquay – the home of RipCurl and other beach companies. This is a world famous surfing area, and the entrance to The Great Ocean Road. This is a road that follows the dramatic and breathtaking coast line. Worth it but plan to spend a whole day doing it.
Back to Melbourne, flew to Caines – 4 days (visited the Daintree and The Great Barrier Reef)
Flew from Caines to Sydney – 3 days.
The Australian plug is NOT the standard international one, so be aware that you will have to get the adapter that is specifically for Australia and New Zealand. Here is a nice quality one on Amazon. Also, their wattage is sensitive, so a converter is necessary. This is a black box that has a U.S. Plug-in and converts our high wattage to low wattage for their power. You can get them at Triple AAA locations or online. And of course in international airports.
We like to bring a small travel blender for our protein shakes and mine was too powerful. Luckily my sister bought her knock-off travel blender at Target and hers worked because it operated at a lower voltage.
Wi-Fi & Cell Phones:
Unlike the U.S., at this time there are not public locations with Wi-Fi. We assumed we could access the Internet on our phones in coffee shops and that was not the case in any location we traveled. The one exception is McDonald’s (which they call Maccers) where you can log-in for ½ hour on their free wi-if. Make sure your hotel has free wi-fi.
My mom was the only one who got an international plan through Verizon for emergencies. The rest of us called home using face-time when we had access to wi-fi. You can pick up a phone at the airport that you can use in country during your stay if you will need a phone or constant access to the Internet. This is through one of their local carriers. These are also available in any major city at their cell phone stores.
Being Northwesterners, we tend to be quite obsessed with our coffee, so I just have to mention it. Their coffee is good, but they don’t have coffee creamers or favors. If you go to a coffee shop, there are usually 2 favors: vanilla and maybe caramel or hazelnut. That’s it. No sugar free either. So if you are someone who needs their coffee just so, bring your own accessories.
Also note that some places don’t even have coffee pots. They are much more likely to have electric tea pots and English Breakfast, sticking closely to their British roots.
You know this, but let me just say it in capital letters: THEY DRIVE ON THE LEFT HAND SIDE OF THE STREET. And it is crazy and takes getting used to for sure. There is no way around it, you just have to go for it and have several people reminding you to stay on the left. When there is traffic it is actually easier to do, as you follow the “flow.” It is when driving alone on the street that one can go into autopilot and start driving on the right. There are accidents and in some cases, even deaths, every year from Americans forgetting to drive on the left. So the more eyes you can have watching you, the better.
Also, there are round-abouts EVERYWHERE. Train yourself to look right, look right, look right.
We got pretty good at driving and stayed safe, but we almost got hit crossing the street. It is not natural for us to look right when crossing the street, we always look left, and sure enough, we forgot to look right and we came within inches of getting hit.
There is a license plate in Australia that says “Stay Alert, Stay Alive.” We agree. It became our motto.
The rainforests up north are stunningly beautiful. Gorgeous and very worth seeing. Having lived in Costa Rica for a year, I felt right at home in the Daintree Rainforest. However, unlike Costa Rica and other parts of the world, Australia’s rainforests are very benign. There are hardly any animals, snakes, birds, etc. and really nothing except crocodiles that can hurt you or pass diseases. If you stay away from the rivers and tributaries, you are golden. You really do not need a tour guide. Seriously consider getting a good guide book and going it alone.
We paid a ton of money for a naturalist guide and it was not even close to worth it. He set up tea in the rainforest, which was quaint but so hot considering we were sweating bullets, and other than that, the information he shared we could have read from a book.
The day before we visited the famous Mossman Gorge, which we hiked by ourselves. That was the way to go. Rent a car, drive yourself there, and hike around the trails.
The Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world. It is also special because it is the only place in the world where two world heritage sites come together, the Daintree and The Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef:
Everyone expects an epic reef experience when they visit this world-famous natural wonder, but it isn’t that easy. First, it is very windy, and often the boats can’t even go out. What you may not know is that much of reef sits in the middle of the ocean, not near land. At low tide some of it is sticking out, but we went during high tide and it truly just looked like a random spot in the middle of the sea.
Second, if the sun isn’t out, the colors will be muted. The sun hitting the reef is what lights it up with color. If you can wait to book, I recommend it. Look at the weather report and plan for a time when the sun is out – your experience will be so much better. It rains often in the rainforest, so sun is not guaranteed.
We also went during jellyfish season, which meant that we had to wear these fancy suits, since getting stung during this time of year is highly likely. And, sure enough, there were many jelly fish and I did get stung. Thanks to the suit it didn’t hurt much, but did itch like crazy the rest of the week.
We went with a half day speed boat tour and were so thankful we did. It is a smaller outfit so you can get on the boat whenever you need a rest, which may be often due to high swells, a strong current, or wind. It also got us out there quickly, which was a huge deal with the big swells that day. They don’t recommend going this route if you are pregnant, if you have back problems, or if you are elderly (though my mom went and she’s over 70 and did great).
**The reef is behind us in this picture, so you can see it’s not a land mass for much of the year.
There are some places when a tour is necessary and worth it. For example, when getting to the Great Barrier Reef. However, many of the activities do not need tour guide. If you are adventurous at all, consider renting a car everywhere you go and driving yourself to the areas of interest. With a guide service you are often paying for this person to drive you around, which we felt like we could do. We felt like it was a costly mistake to hire tours for some of the attractions we could have easily explored ourselves with a rental car.
In case you haven’t heard, there is a hole in the ozone layer over Australia. The sun is hot and damaging. Bring plenty of sunscreen and be smart about re-applying. Also, topless sun-baking, as they call it, is not uncommon, so parents with kids, just an FYI.
Of all of the places I’ve traveled, Australia is the safest. There is low-crime and little threat of being mugged, or robbed. Though I’m sure it does happen, overall you will feel surprisingly safe traveling here. The people are the friendliest I’ve ever come across, often stopping at length to help you or chat for a bit. They are laid-back and truly endearing. What a breath of fresh air!
Engage the locals – it will add immensely to your experience.
Like anywhere, dining out is expensive in Australia. Paying extra for a small kitchen area in your accomodations is worth it. In most areas, a grocery store, even if it is small, is within walking distance. We also found that the meat market in the grocer offered free marinades – a great boon for those of us who don’t want to buy all the ingredients for marinades.
The fish is amazing – buy what is in season, grab your free marinade, and enjoy.
And the fruit! INCREDIBLE. Buy those items that seem strange and you’ve never seen before, chances are they are only available in tropical areas and they are delicious. Some of my personal favorites are passion fruit and mammon’s (not sure what the English word is for those). The sour sap is king in my opinion, but it wasn’t in season when I was there. With any luck, it will be when you are, so don’t miss it!
How to See Kangaroos
While kangaroos are plentiful in some parts, it is possible to go to Australia and not see one (tragedy!). We found that the best place to see kangaroos is at golf courses. In fact, some even run tours in between people teeing off! So if you want to make sure to see one of these furry creatures, call the local golf courses in the area in which you are staying.
Climb the Sydney Bridge at Sunset!
We climbed the bridge, and paid the little extra for sunset. Do it! Watching the sun go down over the city and the Opera House is breathtaking. It was an unforgettable experience and worth the money. Make reservations well in advance. They do not allow cameras, so prepare to pay the $40 or so for the zip drive of the pictures they take of you on the bridge. Annoying, but there’s no way around it, and you definitely want the pictures.
A couple of our favorite food items only found in Australia:
Kirk’s Lemonade (especially the sugar free kind, but with no artificial sweeteners)
Marco Polo Australian Licorice
The Australians also love their local pubs. Find the ones that are packed and you most likely will also find a quality brew. Many have wood-fired pizza as well, as pizza ovens are common and used often.
So – there you go. G’DAY & CHEERS!!!!
Enjoy your trip to the full – it is a country with a laid-back vibe and the friendliest of folk. I know you will love it.