Just got back from a wonderful 25 days in Australia, and yes, having the inevitable probs getting back into a regular sleep pattern! Firstly I wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who offered advice on destinations, help offered was spot on. Hopefully my report can help somebody else out there planning a trip.
We spent the first 9 days of our trip in Sydney, staying in Darling Harbour. The location was terrific; we found everything walkable and had the benefit of close access to the ferry and bus network. We packed lots into our time, but still had time to relax too, which was invaluable at the beginning of the trip. I would encourage anyone visiting Sydney to get out on foot as much as possible - we walked from DH to Mrs Macquarie's chair via Hyde Park and the Botanic Gardens. The views were spectacular and the gardens are unmissable. We also did the Bondi to Coogee walk and although the weather was changeable that day, we particularly enjoyed the different vibes of the beaches and were treated to the view of a rainbow over the Pacific. Another walk took us from DH to Darlinghurst where we had a delicious brunch at Bills (the ricotta hotcakes are divine!). We found meals to suit different budgets whilst we were in Sydney. I was given a heads up regarding a Thai restaurant on Sussex St called Home. When we arrived there was a sizeable queue outside and once we had eaten, we fully understood why. The food is delicious, fresh and tasty, and extremely cheap (I had Pad Thai with chicken which cost less than $11). We returned another night and the food was excellent again.
I was lucky enough to have a local friend take me out for a day and we visited some of the northern beaches, which had a different feel to Bondi, Coogee etc. We had a delicious lunch at Barrenjoey House in Palm Beach. It wasn't the cheapest meal, but the food was fantastic and the ambience just right. Also sampled some fish from the Fish Markets. Just visiting the market was an experience in itself and I would recommend it.
We also packed in a few other things whilst in Sydney - the Chinese Garden of Friendship is worth a visit, as is the ferry ride to Manly for views of the harbour (had read on these forums that it wasn't worth spending money on a harbour cruise and that's so true). The Bridge and Opera House of course, plus the views from the Sydney Tower are pretty good (we went up at sunset on our first full day and watched all the lights come on across the city which was amazing).
The Blue Mountains was another must see. We took an excursion with Blue Diamond Tours, who provided a fantastic day. If I was returning to the Mountains though, I think I would probably choose to take the train and stay overnight. It felt like we barely scratched the surface.
After Sydney we hired a car and spent 3 days driving up to Brisbane, stopping at Port Stephens, Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay. We had to abandon some of our plans due to ill health and needing to get to our next locations as quickly and easily as possible. Port Stephens provided a quiet haven for a stop off and we loved Shoal Bay - there were thousands of shells on the beach and spectacular views. If you fancy some fish and chips then check out John Dory in Nelson Bay - seriously good!
Our second day on the road took us to Coffs Harbour. This was the longest driving day and if I was doing the trip again I would probably plan in an extra night somewhere near Port Macquarie in order to see a little more (all of the jewels require deviation off the highway). I had read that Emerald Beach was worth a visit and what a gem! We had a snack at the Saltwater Cafe which had amazing views and a lovely, laid back ambience. We took the coast road to Byron Bay via Ballina and spent the night in Byron. I loved Byron! One of my favourite places on the whole trip. Watching the sun set was a beautiful experience. We had been watching news from home about the riots, so it was comforting to see people coming together to enjoy Mother Nature’s great show. An electrical storm rolled in after dark which was equally memorable – we were walking the rainforest boardwalks back to our room at the Byron@Byron during the storm and it was by turns exhilarating and edgy! The walk up to the lighthouse is a must. We were lucky enough to spot wild dolphins and whales migrating up the coast from the cliffs. I would recommend a cafe called Utopia, about 5 mins from the beach. We had dinner and breakfast there, the pancakes with blueberries, bananas, strawberries and lemon curd were particularly good and kept us going on our journey up to Brisbane. We did stop off at the Yatala pie shop for one of their amazing pies though!
We made a brief sojourn to Surfers Paradise via Coolangatta and Kirra beach, before arriving in Brisbane. We had a terrific 3 days in Queensland’s capital, although sleep was a bit difficult to come by (more of this in my hotel review). It’s incredible to think that Southbank was completely flooded in January. The reconstruction of the Street Beach area is remarkable and we loved spending time there. The City Cat is a great way to see the River City from the water. We also took a ferry out to Moreton Island and spent the day at Tangalooma – a good spot for watching a sunset over water which can’t be done in most of eastern Australia. Buses are an easy and cheap way to navigate; we took the bus out to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary for an afternoon. I particularly liked the friendly vibe of Brisbane and will definitely return sometime to tie in with a visit to the Sunshine Coast.
From Brisbane we flew on to Cairns to spend 5 days in Port Douglas. We took a transfer with Sun Palm and were treated to a bonkers commentary all the way up the coast by a friendly local. Port Douglas is such a beautiful town, we watched the sunset from Anzac Park a couple of times and the views from the lookout are spectacular, though the walk is steep and quite long (everybody else up there seemed to be in cars!). No bother though, it was absolutely worth it for the view over Four Mile Beach. We took a trip out to the reef with Aristocat on a calm day, but would still recommend the sea sickness tablets. I was unsure about snorkelling but absolutely loved it and would recommend if you are nervous to give it a go. It was one of the highlights of the whole trip. The next day was spent in the Daintree with Tony’s Tropical Tours. Our guide Chris was a wonderful host, we loved the rainforest walk and the tree house lunch. Drinking Daintree tea on Thornton Beach was heaven. Also included in the trip was a river cruise on the Daintree River to spot crocodiles, where we came almost face to face with a 4 metre male. Fairly humbling! I would absolutely recommend this tour company if you want to spend a day being guided with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide in a small group (there were 8 people on our tour). Port Douglas has plenty of food options. It’s not especially cheap to eat in PD so it’s worth doing a bit of research before going. We enjoyed the Thai food at the Star of Siam. Cane Toad racing is held in the Ironbar every night and is good fun but beware, if your number is drawn you will have to kiss a toad – yuk!! We stayed at Peppers Beach Club which was mega convenient for the main drag of Macrossan Street and the beach. It also has a beautiful lagoon pool that we enjoyed loafing by for a couple of days.
We flew from Cairns to Ayers Rock airport for a 2 day stay in Yulara. Yes, everything is expensive here, but it’s not entirely unreasonable considering the vast distances that supplies need to travel. We were concerned about our hotel accommodation here after reading some reviews on TA (we stayed at the Outback Pioneer) but really needn’t have worried. The hotel was good and the BBQ evenings were great fun. Basically you take your pick of meat (veggie option also available). Then you cook it in the communal BBQ area and help yourself to unlimited salad bar, which also included jacket potatoes and a pudding too. Prices ranged from about $15 to $35, depending on your meat selection. This seemed like good value for money to me, bearing in mind meal prices in the other parts of Australia which I had already visited. As for Uluru, words can’t do justice to it. We saw a sunset and a sunrise, both of which were utterly spectacular. We made the trip to Kata-Tjuta for sunset and this was equally spectacular and particularly tranquil. Less people seem to make the journey to KT. We hired a car during our stay in Yulara. It worked out cheaper for the two of us than taking excursions and we were free to run to our own clock. We could also stop wherever we liked for the views. I would absolutely recommend having your own wheels; the driving is easy as the roads in the park are sealed all the way out to Kata-Tjuta. We took care driving back from sunset at Kata-Tjuta as the wildlife springs into life at dusk, but we had no issues. It’s a long detour to the Red Centre if you are basing your trip on the east coast of Australia, but absolutely worth taking the time. Uluru and Kata-Tjuta are like nowhere else on earth and are utterly captivating.
We ended our trip by returning to Sydney by air and staying a couple of nights before flying home. We absolutely fell in love with Australia and will definitely be back to see some more of this remarkable country in the future.