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My travels during July 2006 that includes Sydney, Ayers Rock, Cairns, and Port Douglas.
A large but not too large of a city. My girlfriend and I were able to walk most of the city and see the more popular tourist sites. Being from the states, terminology is quite different down under.
The simple task of ordering coffee can be a little interesting. We didn't get our order quite right until about the 4th attempt. Our example is that we prefer our coffee with a little cream (or milk). In Australia, that is known as a Long Black. Since I ordered coffee the way i normally do (coffee with one cream), i got a lot of blank stares and confusion. They said if i wanted a long black, flat white, cappuchino, etc.? All i wanted was a simple coffee with a little cream! I ended up with everything until i asked a coffee shop that wasn't too busy (the other shops had lines and i didn't want to hold it up any longer) what the coffee types amounted to in the states. The type i wanted is a Long Black, Cafe au Lait is a flat white, cappuchino is the same, Macchiato is not the same in the states which add caramel (which i ordered once and was disappointed as i love caramel). I also got a little coffee history rivalry lesson between Melbourne and Sydney near a coffee shop off of Bondi Beach. I'm not taking any sides!
Getting off of coffee and back to Sydney, a wonderful city with very friendly people. So many things to do and see. Very touristy as you saw many different ethnic groups walking about. Many different cuisines are available as well. I found that the CBD and along the Darling harbor, Rocks, Circular Quay areas you can just walk and explore. I felt a bit guilty walking around enjoying myself with my girlfriend while observing countless workers hustling about in suits.
A very classy hotel within steps of the Darling Harbour. It is in the CBD and is in a very good location.
From the moment you step onto the property, you are in a classy hotel. The bellhop takes your bags right away, the front desk people are very cordial and helpful. The rooms are spacious. We had a ciy view that only showed Sydney Tower but I didn't really care as we were only there to sleep and shower. A bit on the expensive side but worth it if you are fussy about your hotels. The hotel has a restaurant on the ground floor but it was quite expensive and judging from the numerous restaurants/bars in the area, you can find better deals and cuisines.
The hotel has their own walkway to the Harbour which is nice. The hotel is about 6-8 blocks from the Botanical Gardens, Opera House, Circular Quay, and the Rocks. A very nice, scenic walk that i recommend in that order.
A very eye-pleasing, free botanical exhibit that has numerous walkways that lead you to the Sydney Opera House. The gardens give you a break from the metro hustle and bustle.
Architecturally unbelievable! Very nice views from the opera house of Cirqular Quay, the Rocks, and the Harbour Bridge.
I heard from a local that the original construction of the opera house was several times over budget and a politician's wife decorated the inside. I didn't see the inside but I heard that it is quite unpleasant and a drastic difference compared to the exterior splendor.
A harbor that you can take ferries to and fro. Very scenic. There are some street performers as well. Several restaurants and bars nearby.
A very fun but touristy area adjacent to Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge. I had the impression that there were going to be an unbelievable amount of bars and restaurants but it was just the opposite. There were a few pubs and restaurants but more gift shop, art gallery type places. I even asked a policeman nearby where there were bars and he pointed out only two. We walked a bit and decided to visit the Visitor's Info Center and sure enough, there are only a handful of bars in this area. I guess the Rocks region is nice but is more noted for annual festivals than for ordinary weekend flair.
We did spend some time at the Lowenbrau pub and restaurant which was quite fun. The waitresses are dressed in authentic Bavarian attire (at least i think it is Bavarian). Think St. Pauli Girl type outfits. Very large drinks and you can drink out of steins if you like. Bar food looked good and was affordable even though i didn't eat there.
A very scenic area to the west of Sydney's CBD. It is ringed with awesome restaurants and bars. Very good area to have a bite to eat, beer to drink, or to simply people watch. It also has the Sydney Aquarium, which is well regarded, even though we didn't go since our trip will later take us to the Barrier Reef. There is an old submarine and warship moored there too for tours.
Very good, cheap eats. Located just south of Darling Harbour. We went to a place called the Super Bowl. The key to picking a good asian restaurant is to look inside and see if there are quite a few asians in there eating as well. This info coming from a Chinese-American. This restaurant has an extensive menu of soup/noodle dishes served up in big bowls (hence the name). Filling, good, and cheap.
World famous Bondi Beach is such a sight. It is a fair size beach but the waves are immense. It is surrounded by rocks like a natural harbor. The beach is ringed with restaurants and cafes and are quite affordable.
There is a great, scenic coastal walkway that begins just north of Bondi Beach and continues south to Coogee Beach. The walk is quite scenic as you traverse the rocks edges. It is about 8 km and will take a few hours depending on how many stops you take to soak in the views. The walk will take you through quite a few beaches including Bronte. Along Bronte Beach is a strip of nice restaurants where you can get a tasty, affordable meal.
Public transportation will get to and from the Beach areas. Don't attempt to walk there from Sydney as we were tempted to do. It is a 25 minute bus ride and each ride costs about $2.60 AUD.
After a few days in Sydney, we were off to Ayers Rock (Uluru). A 3.5 hour flight, we landed at an airport where we were the only large airplane there! Needless to say, it is a small airport.
Uluru kind of reminded me of a Martian surface as the soil is a deep red. It is due to the high iron content in the soil that gives it the rusted appearance.
Due to recommendations from reviewer's on this site, we hired a car from Thrifty for $60/night. Well worth it. The resort complex is only a 5 minute drive away.
Ayer's Rock is about a 10 minute drive from the complex. It is in a national park so you have to pay a fee ($20-25) per person and it is good for 3 days to get in.
There is a cultural center where you can learn about the aboriginal culture near the Rock.
For those of you that want to climb the Rock, check to see if it is open to climb at the ranger entrance gate first. I intended on climbing it but it was closed due to high winds. We decided to walk the base walk which is about 9 km and it took a few hours. By that time, I was tired. I found out the climb was now open but due to the physical demands, and since i was already tired, I passed. I do have to say that the climb did look daunting. There is a rope on the climb to assist hikers but I don't think my girlfriend would have been very happy if i attempted to go. Plus, the locals frown upon climbing it.
We did the Sounds of Silence Dinner our first night. They picked us up at 5:15 or an hour before sunset. We get bused out into the bush and we have champagne and strawberries outside and we get a chance to commiserate with the other tourists while admiring the views of the Rock and the Olgas as the sun sets slowly. From there we walk to our outdoor dining tables. We are served endless glasses of wine and we have our dinner buffet style while a didgeroo player plays. Althought the food was prepared by a chef and was quite good, the food got cold within 5 minutes. The portable gas heaters were nice but the temp was about 1-3 Celcius. They did have a fire pit going but the smoke kinda makes you stinky later. Four hours in this environment is kinda tough. There was an astronomer pointing out the constellations and planets in the clear sky with a high powered pointer. She also had 3 telescopes set up for viewing. Very cool and over priced but fun. My girlfriend nearly froze herself even though she brought her winter coat, scarf, hat, and gloves. I on the other hand was not that bad, cold, but not bad. Very good food when it was hot, good wine, good presentations. Kind of once in a lifetime kind of thing since i can't see stars like this in chicago. I recommend.
The next night, we went to the Outback Pioneer Hotel BBQ for dinner. You purchase your meal and grill it yourself on the many grills. Affordable (we paid $20 AUD for kangaroo, emu, and croc) and the meals come with all you can eat salad which includes (corn on the cob, bread, greens). You sit on picnic tables in a big tent and live entertainment is playing. Drinks are not too bad either ($5 each). As long as someone knows how to grill meat, this is a fun way to eat dinner. I totally recommend.
A very nice hotel in the complex. Bellhops took our bags right away. Entrance to the hotel had aboriginal art for sale before you came across the front desk. Staff were very friendly. The grounds and pool were immaculate.
We had a double queen room on the second floor overlooking the pool with a balcony. Since it was july, it was winter and cold, especially at night so we didn't use the pool, hot tub, or balcony.
The hotel has a nice bar and 2 elegant restaurants. The bar was fine and normally priced. The two in house restaurants had main courses $30-50. Not as expensive as I was warned of but considering this place is in the middle of nowhere, you can't really complain. The one thing you can complain about is the hotel price, but the complex is a monopoly so whaddya gonna do? Overall, the hotel was quite nice, comfortable, and clean.
I highly suggest going to the supermarket nearby and purchase items you would need during your excursions. It was handy having sandwiches while we were hiking. The supermarket has practically everything you would need.
Not as advertised as Ayer's Rock but I thought it was prettier. Much more to explore and a much better hiking experience. Ayer's Rock base walk was flat and relatively boring. The Olgas was constantly up and down and somewhat mediocre difficulty which made it more fun.
It is about a 30 minute drive from the complex. I recommend the Vally of the Winds hike. Very scenic and a fun hike.
After 2 nights in Ayers Rock, we fly to Cairns, the highlight of our trip. The airport is about 10 minutes from the heart of Cairns which not as big as I thought it was. Supposedly July is the dry season but it was quite rainy the past few months from what others said. Cairns has so much to offer. From the Kuranda rainforest to the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, there is so much to do.
A nice quaint hotel about 6 blocks from the Cairns center outskirts. The hotel is similar to a Best Western in that it is 2 stories and just comfortable, clean, and enjoyable. The staff at this hotel was beyond exceptional. They booked excursions for you, taxis, gave you helpful advice, etc. The room we had was a bit on the small side and it did not have an iron in the room (you had to ask for it). Curiously, the bathroom windows did not have a glass windown in order to shut it. It was screended and had wooden blinds to protect your privacy but sound was coming through. We had to shut the bathroom door to sound out outside noise. There was a small wading pool but it was rainy most days. The hotel did have a great restaurant and bar called the Bali. Most mains were under $20 AUD and happy hour 5:30-6:30 pm everyday.
We are walkers but the 6-10 block walk everyday from the hotel to the city center did kind of wear on you a bit. It is only 2 blocks from the coast though. The hotel is great value but some travelers who are fussy about their accomodations or don't like to walk will not like this hotel. If you're like me, you don't really mind.
Absolutely wonderful. We booked the train from Cairns to Kuranda and the skyrail down for around $100 AUD. The train was very scenic and informative. It took about 2.5 hours but it was fun. Most of the views were on the right side of the train. Kuranda is very touristy but fun. We went to the Koala gardens and had a blast. It cost $20 AUD but well worth it. We were able to see koalas, crocs, and other animals. We were able to hand feed kangaroos too! Very fun. We walked around the town square and ate at the first restaurant we encountered on the corner. Not sure of the name but the guy that owns the place is constantly trying to coax the tourists in in a comedic way. Very good barramundi lunch and affordable. The Guiness really hit the spot after the long train ride.
Skyrail back was very scenic and quick. The ride was 45 minutes to an hour depending on how long you stayed at the 2 scenic stops along the ride down. I recommend both.
What an experience! The rain finally let up and we had good weather for the first time in supposedly months. We booked our trip through Reef Encounter (www.reeftrip.com) and we spent one night/two days out there. The first boat (Compass Cruise) took us out to the Outer Reef (Saxon, Hastings) and we transferred to the moored boat that was to be our sleeping and excursion quarters. The boat was great. It was like a mini cruise ship. Large dining area, good size rooms, a small hot tub, a couple of areas to soak in the sun, and of course the dive/snorkel excursions! They schedule 3 dives/snorkels in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. You don't have to do all of them as you do get tired and cold. I recommend you rent the wet suit ($10). Beautiful corals and sealife. The dive photographer would dive down and pick up creatures, hand them to us snorkelers, take a bunch of pictures of us, and he would return the creatures. We saw numerous fish, giant clams, sea cucumbers, etc. Totally recommend this tour company.
Please note that the seas are rough. If you are the slightest bit quesy, the first boat that takes you to the reef will be tough. Take dramamine and sit above deck outside no matter how cold and wet you get. It's better than being sick as we saw quite a few not doing too well.
We decided on a whim to hire a car and drive the 40 km north to Port Douglas. A very scenic and fun drive! I felt like the drive was a video game with all the winding roads along the coast. There are a few spots along the road to stop and enjoy the scenery.
Port Douglas is a small, lovely harbor town with a pretty, long beach. There is a nice walkway that takes you along some of the sites of the town that i really recommend. There is a restaurant on the harbor called Soul N Pepper that was quite nice. We saw a huge plate of fresh prawns for only $16 AUD. Too bad they ran out before we had a chance to order them. There are many shops and restaurants/bars in the town center. If you have time to explore, I totally recommend hiring a car and driving up to Port Douglas.
Just north of Cairns before you reach Port Douglas. A very fun but small zoo. You can go through it in an hour but they do have hourly presentations with the various animals. They have shows with every animal there (koalas, wombats, crocodiles, snakes, etc.) and are very fun as well as informative. You are able to cuddle koalas and hand feed the tame kangaroos. The cost was $28 AUD but you can get discount coupons from your hotel. I recommend if you haven't seen any animals in Australia yet.
After spending 6 days in Cairns and Port Douglas, we are back in Sydney.
We stayed at this hotel and we were so pleasantly surprised! Nice lobby, cordial staff, and a small but clean, comfortable, quiet room. The TV even welcomed us with our name on the screen. A nice, personal touch!
The restaurant on the ground floor, Paradiso, was very nice and affordable. Nice Italian restaurant with a Japenese influenced decor. We had dinner there the first night and I had prawn marinara with a lime, chili sauce. She had grilled baby octopus. Both mains were less then $20 each. They have a buffet lunch for $10 too. I highly recommend.
The hotel is perfectly situated on the south end of the CBD and near Darling Harbor, Chinatown, Hyde Park. Many restaurants in the area are asian. Only 2 blocks or so to the Four Points Sheraton we stayed at earlier in our trip. At half the price, this hotel deserves more publicity. I highly recommend if you want to stay in this area.
We booked a tour of the Hunter Valley wineries on our last day in Sydney. Very fun, informative, but long. A shuttle picks you up from your hotel and it takes approximately 2 hours to get to the first winery. We toured 5 in all (Coopers, De Bartoli, Simpson, Rosemount, and ?) and we had some cheese tastings too at the Smelly Cheese Shop. They provided a nice lunch at the third winery and each winery let you taste about 7 of their wines. Most were good. Recommend if this is your thing. Unfortunately, we went in July in the winter and the grape vines were in hibernation (nothing to really look at). I assume the other seasons would be more fun for a winery tour. The whole tour took about 11 hours but well worth it.