CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Travel to Australia: An Adventurer’s Itinerary

Travel to Australia
Morning on Sandy Billabong – just hours from the Northern Territory city of Darwin.

I get a lot of questions about travel to Australia. So far, I’ve helped a few friends craft itineraries – from hanging out on beaches to my preferred style of adventure travel.

I thought some other adventurous people could use some tips for travel to Australia. Here’s what I have for you.

A Quick Pre-trip Briefing
Question 1: "When should I travel to Australia?" September, for a few reasons. First, if you’re headed outdoors -- you’ll want to know that salt-water crocodiles won’t be rampant. This is the dry season, so outdoor guides will know where crocs lurk. Also, the Brisbane Festival starts in September. I wouldn’t miss Riverfire, the monster pyrotechnic display that launches the weeks-long festival.

Kuranda Cairns Australia Queensland Travel to Australia
A view near Kuranda, just west of Cairns.

Arrange air travel between different phases of your trip. It’s a big country. Qantas offers great deals for inter-country travel if you book an Aussie AirPass.

Onto the main itinerary!

Phase One: 1-3 days
I recommend flying into Brisbane, the overlooked city of Australia, rather than Sydney (the departure/check-in queue in Brisbane is unwieldy). You’ll arrive early in the morning. Get some rest to banish jet lag. Then you’ll be ready for Riverfire revelry.

I enjoyed the Queensland Museum and the Queen Street Mall. Brisbane is very walkable – and great for biking and running, if that’s how you prefer to beat jet lag.

Phase Two: 3-6 days
If you travel to Australia, Queensland is a must. You’ll find the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Forest, Port Douglas, Cape Tribulation and the Atherton table lands. I recommend renting a car.

Travel to Australia
What’s cuter than a baby wallaby? Nothing, that’s what.

I spent a few days each in Cairns and Port Douglas, plus one night in the small town of Yungaburra. Suggested sites: The Venom Zoo, Cape Tribulation Exotic Fruit Farm, Mungali Creek Dairy, the town of Kuranda. Also, watch for walking tracks – Queensland is a great place to spot kangaroos. You might also catch sight of a cassowary. I also recommend a guided night hike in the Daintree Forest.

Phase Three: 4-6 days
If you’re adventurous  go to Darwin on the very northern tip of the Northern Territory. It might be the highlight of your travel to Australia. You’ll spot wildlife from salt-water crocs to wallabies. You can find guides to run you out to Kakadu National Park and other Outback destinations. My trip took me to Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls and the Corroboree, White Lilly and Sandy billabongs.

The possibilities are mind-boggling. Figure out what sites you want to see, and find a good guide company. I wouldn’t recommend renting a car and doing it yourself. It’s easy to get lost or stuck in the Outback.

When you feel like relaxing, check out the Wharf Precinct and the Parap Village Market. A quick note: Accommodations in Darwin are pretty expensive.

Sydney from Darling Harbour Travel to Australia
Evening in Sydney

Phase Four: 3-6 Days
Your travel to Australia wraps up in Sydney … the Sydney Opera House, the beaches and a lot of nightlife and shopping. I’d also recommend a trip to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. It’s a bit cooler – and extremely laid back. You’ll find plenty of hiking.

Back in Sydney, I wouldn’t leave without a visit to the Redoak Boutique Beer Cafe. You’ll find plenty to do near Circular Quay and Cockle Bay, too.

Otherwise, I don’t need to tell you much. This is Sydney, probably the biggest reason you wanted to travel to Australia. Pick a direction and walk. Grab a water taxi. You will, if you have any innate curiosity, find something to do. Sydney is cosmopolitan and hip, yet also friendly. It’s as lively a city as you’ll ever see.

Wrapping it Up
Well, you’re about to head back home. I hope you found some great experiences during your travel to Australia.

Have you been to any of these places, whether after taking my advice or just by coincidence? If so, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Tell me all about it!

This post contains a sponsored link.

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesUncategorized

My Top 5 Flights – Plus, a Site for Flight Geeks

The rise of Facebook as a great time-waster is pretty well-documented, and now aviation geeks have their own way to flush hours down the lavatory: Let me introduce FlightMemory.com, a Web site that lets you input all your commercial flights. It then tracks your time and mileage and plots it on a map. You can even order a poster based on your flight paths. (Thanks to Things in the Sky for the discovery.)

What’s kind of useful is that you can choose to enter the bare-minimum of details, or delve into

Creaky old airplane got you down? Have your say on FlightMemory.com!
Creaky old airplane got you down? Have your say on FlightMemory.com!

excruciating detail about every single thing the airline, TSA and airport employees did wrong – or you can praise them for those times when “customer service” isn’t a punchline.

I’m still working on getting my flights in, but I’ve made some headway. It’s quite a lot of fun, especially since it appears to be of German origin and translated by members of The Scorpions while they were on tour with Van Halen circa 1985 (“We can now offer you some new thingies for your pleasure – introducing the FlightMemory shop!” … tell me you couldn’t hear Klaus Meine saying that!).

Continue reading

CategoriesUncategorized

The Final Australia 2007 Post

Friday, Aug. 31

Seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen an F-111 fly a few hundred feet over your head with its afterburners lit. This was part of a crazy celebration called Riverfire. If you ever visit Australia, do yourself a favor: Be in Brisbane for Riverfire. The video is lengthy, but it gives you a great idea of the fireworks display, and the jets that open and close it. Awesome!

We woke up early and took a stroll around the downtown area. This is a very outdoorsy city, lots of people running and cycling. After some breakfast, we picked a direction and walked. We also noticed that everybody was getting all aflutter about Riverfire. People were already lining the riverbanks to grab primo spots for the evening’s festivities. Sarah and I aren’t much for parades and shindigs, so we largely ignored it. We were pretty happy to be proven wrong later, but more on that toward the end.

Our first stop was the excellent Queensland Museum, which is really strong on science and nature. There was just too much cool stuff to see. We spent a few hours easily cruising around in there before heading out for general walking about. There’s a very neighborly feel to Brisbane, with a lot of non-chain store types of places. This particular section of Brizzy is like a big college town, even though Queensland University is down the river. Speaking of QU, we thought it would be fun to check out the campus.

We hopped on the CityCat, a huge, fast-moving catamaran, to scope out the river banks and get us a lift to the university. QU is actually a bit dumpy and not surrounded by as much funky cool stuff as, say the University of Washington in Seattle (talk about the epitome of a perfectly awesome university). We were pretty amazed by the sports facilities and the very athletic-oriented vibe, though. We returned to our area via the CityCat and headed to the area near our hotel. We strolled around the Queen Street Mall, which is a termite mound of activity at any hour.

We also stopped at The Brewhouse, which certainly doesn’t swing in the same weight class as Sydney’s Redoak. At that point, it was about time for us to look up Sarah’s former roommate, who happened to be living in Brizzy with her new dude Michael, who is in the Ozzy army. We were soon on their 23rd floor flat, which was right across from out hotel. This provided a great viewing point for Riverfire, plus it gave us a great chance to hang out with a bunch of Ozzies in their natural habitat. They were a very fun bunch, very lively and welcoming. The occasion, aside from Riverfire,was Michael’s birthday. Those cats sure enjoyed their karaoke! Well, we had a full last day. Time to pack! Boo, as Sarah would say.

Saturday, Sept. 1

Man, I can’t make any of this travel sound cool anymore. It’s depressing packing and heading for the airport. Especially when the lines are long and slow.

But still, what a great vacation. You don’t really need to know more than that, do you?

Sunday, Sept. 2

Back home, in Arizona. Tired, time sense jacked up. But this feeling is worth it, and more. Quit saying you want to go to Australia someday. Just go do it.

Well, that wraps it up! Thanks for reading … I hope you enjoyed reading as much I as I did writing. So what’s next here at Wandering Justin’s blog? Well, plans for New Zealand 2009 are well in the works – Sarah and I are filling up notebooks and plotting our course on a dry-erase board. We’ll share what we learn as we book hotels and activities, and pick up the necessary gear.

In the meantime, I’ll do a little time travel with some far shorter accounts of our adventures in Vancouver, Belize and Costa Rica. I might even go REALLY far back in time to my famous aerobatic journey in a WWII-era AT-6 Texan. So stick around – there’s more fun to come!

CategoriesUncategorized

Australia 2007 Post #8 – Darwin to Gove to Cairns

A note from Wandering Justin: I had a little lapse in posting this week … lots of freelance work to finish! Also, the next entry or two won’t have many photos. I tend to take fewer photos in the cities.

Saturday, Aug. 25

The previous night, our foursome had decided to meet at the Parap Village Market. That’s about a mile-long walk from the center of Darwin. This market goes on every Saturday, and it’s a good way to dig into the Asian flavor of Darwin. There are booths with cooked food, pre-packaged stuff, fresh fruit, vegetables and ingredients you can make yourself. There’s a lot of the usual schlocky weekend market stuff, too…hemp clothing, jams, bad art and the like.

But I ate a bunch of stuff I’d never seen before, and it was all tasty. Couldn’t tell you the names now, that’s for sure. Except I do remember pawpaw salad. It’s pretty much raw, unripe shredded bits of papaya covered in a chili sauce and peanuts. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an explosion of flavor.

We were pretty lazy, so we spent most of our time at the market, walking back to town and just hanging about. Orla left for Sydney, but that evening we met Karen again for dinner. She brought some Italian guy, Michael, with her. He was a bit different from us, being about a decade older. And he was clearly looking for some female attention (What? An Italian chasing tail? Never!)!

But still, he was a pretty fun character to have around. He led us down to the Darwin Wharf Precinct, which is right on the water and offers some nice nighttime views. Even the the compressed nitrogen gas plant across the bay takes on a romantic light at night! There’s also a spotlight on the water, which lets everyone see a lot of cool water creatures. My favorite was a big ol’ box jellyfish! The precinct is set up a lot like a food court…there are all sorts of places to eat. I found a place offering camel schnitzel, so I had to try it. Camel tastes a lot like veal, and is much more tender than I expected.

We’d done a lot of walking, so by the time 10 rolled around, we were pretty well out.

Tomorrow, on to Cairns!

Sunday, Aug. 26
vh-nxi-small

We were up plenty early to catch our bus to the airport. It’s the usual Australian airport experience…fairly quick and a lot less of the maniacal hysteria of a U.S. airport. We boarded our Qantas flight, a little Boeing 717. It’s about a three-hour flight to Cairns, and obviously not as many people make that flight as they do from Sydney to Darwin.

We’re barely in the air before the breakfast cart is rolling (wow, they don’t starve their passengers to keep them in a docile, calorie-deprived state!). Now, it gets strange: After about an hour of flying, we were landing again.

It seems this flight also stops in a tiny mining and fishing town called Gove. It’s a single-gate airport with a handful of private planes. We stayed about 30 minutes before we’re back in the air on the way to Cairns.

No more surprises on the rest of the flight. Today, though, is to be one of my most trying days: We’re renting a car, and I have to drive on the opposite side of the road. D’oh!

The Avis people are all really nice, much more so than the airport car rental agents I’ve dealt with before. They’ve quickly got us on the way, and have told us all the cool places near by that we really should visit.

Soon, I was completely freaked out as 15 years of driving experience turned to its opposite side. I kept trying to signal, but wound up hitting the turn signals. Even putting the car in drive was a chore, with all the controls being flipped. At least the gas and the brake pedals are in the same place, or this would’ve been a short trip!

Wandering Justin does NOT approve!
Driving on the right side of the car: NOT Wandering Justin approved.

We were pretty impressed with our hotel, the Heritage. Apparently, it’s part of a chain. But after several days of either camping and the Mom’s dorm-style looks, this place was a palace. And cheaper than the Mom at about $75 a night. Sweet!

As usual, we stowed our stuff and immediately started walking. The Heritage is a nice distance away from the hurly-burly of central Cairns: Close enough to walk, but far enough not to notice the noise. After a few minutes of walking, we were watching a weekend criterium bike race, looking at a replica pirate ship sailing into the harbor and enjoying an artificial “beach” area. There’s also a huge shopping district down that way. On the weekend, you can find a huge local farmer’s market. One booth was selling keychains made from kangaroo scrotums! How funny is that?

The seaside in Cairns
The seaside in Cairns

One of my missions during our stroll through the shopping district was to find a cool Australia sports jersey, preferably soccer. But over the past week, I’d really learned that soccer stuff isn’t easy to come by, even on the opening weekend. So I decided to start my collection with a shirt from the Australian Football League Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles team. We also grabbed some boomerangs from a local shop, some for our house, another for Sarah’s parents and some for the nieces. I’ve been noticing the didge prices are really high here, so I’m glad I grabbed one in Darwin…and got to see a baby wallaby, too!

Another early morning and a lot of marching around was starting to make us feel hungry, so we tried to grab an early dinner. With the clock saying 4 p.m., our pickings were pretty slim. Very few places were open. But I’d gotten lucky by picking up one of those tourist magazines, which said there was a quirky little hostel called The Green Ant that was open early.

A downtown criterium race shows more of Australia's sporting culture.
A downtown criterium race shows more of Australia's sporting culture.

We headed over to The Green Ant’s cafe and find a rather large, goateed, red-headed Australian turned Coloradoan back to Australian in charge. He not only makes a mean kangaroo burger and a great salad, but he’s good at spinning some fun tales. I’ll also say that The Green Ant is one of the few places in town that is open early and doesn’t charge a fortune for some decent food. If I ever get back to Cairns, I’m going to The Green Ant.

After our early dinner, we headed back to the hotel and grabbed a quick nap. We also checked out the nighttime market downtown, where Sarah scores a few packets of kangaroo jerky for her dad.

We walked around for a few more hours, and then headed to bed to get ready for some serious driving tomorrow. Lots of pictures for the next few days, so come back soon!

Overlooking Cairns
Overlooking Cairns
CategoriesUncategorized

Australia 2007 – Entry #3

qantas-767

Monday, Aug. 20

NOTE: Not many photos in this entry. I chose not to lug the camera around during most of the day’s walking around Sydney.

I honestly didn’t expect to freeze my goolies off in Australia. Now, keep in mind, August in Phoenix is like being 10 feet up a dragon’s poop chute, but brighter. And when I think of Australia, I think of the arid parts of it.

But Katoomba is again rainy and socked in with fog. Unpleasant? Hardly. But this desert creature was unprepared. But no matter … we were soon on our way back to Sydney.

A few hours later, we found a place to stash our packs at the train station and began searching for Redoak. This pretty much turned me into a psychotic Captain Ahab, and I began wondering if the place really existed. I hadn’t fired up my GPS receiver, preferring to conserve its power for the Top End adventures.

So we got turned around. Misplaced. Hungry. Cranky. We made an emergency stop at some fast-food kebab place. And either it was really good, or we were starved silly. It went down pretty well, and gave us the energy to continue our quest for the one pub to rule them all.

Finally, we discovered Redoak! Oh, my, this place is good. The oatmeal stout is unearthly, with a hint of butterscotch to it. The Belgian chocolate stout and the holiday ale are also contenders. Some of the best brews ever. If we didn’t have to catch a flight, we would’ve been there for hours.
We finished our brew and bolted for the train, which dropped us square into the middle of the airport. Flying domestically in Australia is a breeze. The security lines are sensible, and they don’t seem to dig the whole “take your shoes off thing.” We boarded a 3/4 empty 767 for the four-hour shot to Darwin, up in the Northern Territory. It was definitely a bit dingy on the inside, not like the sparkling-clean 747-400 we had from Los Angeles.

Now, this flight rams home how few people live on this huge continent. We see nary a cluster of lights once we leave Sydney until we enter Darwin just past 10 p.m.-ish. Vast and empty. It’s like flying over the ocean.

While the plane was a bit rough around the edges, the service wasn’t. A pleasant flight crew, and a full meal. Anyone who complains about Qantas has obviously not experienced Northwest Airlines, or probably even American and US Airways.

It's a chilly morning at the train station.
It's cold at the train station in Katoomba!

Our first setback was waiting for us when we landed: Some Swiss twit thought my bag is hers and ran off to a hotel with it. She left me with her blue backpack. She saw blue and thought it was hers. Yeah, like blue isn’t a common color. Qantas largely kept me calm and got the situation under control. They sent us off to the hotel (Malalueca on Mitchell, or Mom for short), promising to get a hold of us when they tracked the person down. Eventually, the dummy realized her error and contacted Qantas, who hooked us up. She dropped the bag at the hotel at around 1 a.m.

On the bus ride there, a friendly Ozzy and his wife could tell I was fuming about my missing backpack. So he took it upon himself to lighten me up by telling some tall tales. He was going on about a huge snake that wandered into the Darwin Airport a few months back.

“Well, he was so big they put a hun’red gallons of fuel in’im before they realized it was just a snake!”

Well, how could that NOT get a laugh out of me?

I don’t remember the guy’s name, but I would run into a few more just like him throughout our stay. You can just call him the Stereotypical Australian Bloke. He’s politically incorrect, but doesn’t hold anything against other people. He isn’t really an intellectual, but has a certain practical sensibility. He’s also so friendly that he’ll make a Lutheran from Iowa seem like cocaine-addled New York stockbroker.

Speaking of the hotel, it caters to young backpackers. There’s a full kitchen, laundry facilities, a bar and a pool. Some rooms have their own bathrooms. Others are dorm style. For a room with a bathroom, you’re looking at about $120. Damn, Darwin is kind of pricey… Best advice: Get a room as far from the front as possible. More on that tomorrow night.

This, by the way, is clearly a party town. It’s well after midnight, and a lot of places are still open. And the partying shows no signs of abating …