Fifteen Days in Australia
A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea
- United Global First Class Lounges – Washington-Dulles and Los Angeles
- United Global First Class Los Angeles to Sydney
- Sydney: Days One and Two (Arrival, Walking Tour, Manly Beach, and Darling Harbour)
- Sydney: Days Three and Four (Sydney Opera House, Taronga Zoo, The Rocks, Bondi Beach, Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, Woolloomooloo, and the Sydney Fish Market)
- New Year’s Eve at Sydney Harbour
- Virgin Australia Economy Class Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns
- An Evening in Cairns and a Flight to Lizard Island, AU
- Spirit of Freedom Live-aboard Dive Trip (4-night Coral Sea and GBR)
- Qantas Economy and Business Class Cairns to Sydney to Melbourne
- Two Days in Melbourne and the Park Hyatt Melbourne
- United Global First Class Sydney to San Francisco
Arrival into Sydney
After clearing Australian immigration and customs, I headed to the local cell phone retailer in the baggage claim area to purchase SIM cards for my dad and I. For about AUD $30, we each procured SIM cards that gave us unlimited data, unlimited local text, and a $450 credit for international calling and texting. Considering we would be in Australia for two weeks, this was a steal compared to the international plans offered by Verizon Wireless prior to the trip. After SIM card shopping, we hopped a cab to our hotel – the Sheraton on the Park. We chose this hotel due to both its location in the Sydney central business district, and the relatively decent rate considering the otherwise astronomical average price of most properties in the area.
Though we arrived at the Sheraton on the Park before noon, they had a room ready for us, which was a relief because we wanted to relax a bit and freshen up after almost two full days of traveling. Though we were tired from our travels, I always try to make it a point NOT to go to sleep. I’ve found the best way to adjust to the new timezone and to defeat prolonged jet lag is to get oneself onto the new timezone’s sleep cycle as soon as possible. In this case, I wanted to do everything possible to stay awake until 8 or 9pm local time — simply so we could get a full night of sleep and awake the next morning more or less adjusted to Australia time.
One of my favorite things to do on the first day in a new city is to get oriented with my surroundings. I’ve found that one of the best ways to do this is by taking a free walking tour, which is offered in many cities, all over the world. I generally find these tours to be educational and really helpful in teaching one the “lay of the land” in an unfamiliar city. These “free tours” operate on a tips-only basis. If you participate in the tour, a tip is generally expected, and almost always is well-earned. I encourage you NOT take one of these tours if you have no intention to tip — that’s just rude, as these guides are often local university students who do a really fantastic job.
After a quick Google search, I found a walking tour of Sydney departing a few blocks from our hotel at 2pm that day. We went to meet the tour guides outside the Sydney Town Hall, just a couple blocks from our hotel. There were quite a few people on the tour on this beautiful Friday afternoon, so the guides broke up into three groups. Our guide walked us through the sites of Sydney taking us from the Sydney Town Hall, through the Queen Victoria Building and the Pitt Street Mall shopping district out to Hyde Park. We continued towards Circular Quay with stops at Governor Macquarie’s Rum Hospital, the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, and the bird cages on Angel Place, before stopping for a break for water and ice cream.
After touring the Sydney Customs House, the group made its way around the edges of Circular Quay to the cruise terminal where we took in a wonderful view of the Sydney Opera House as a large cruise ship, the Voyager of the Seas departed. The walking tour ended in the Rocks area after about three hours. We found this tour to be extremely informative and well-done. I’m not really sure what the “norm” for tipping is for a tour like this, but we tipped about AUD $20 per person, as we felt anything else would be pretty unfair considering the thoroughness of the tour. I highly recommend spending a few hours one day in Sydney to take this economical and very nice “free” walking tour.
After the walking tour, we took he recommendation of our tour guide to try out a pub for dinner in the Rocks called, The Australian Hotel. Here, we had a couple of beers and I tried a kangaroo burger. The burger was tasty, but certainly a bit different. My dad ordered some pizza, but decided not to try the somewhat famous “Coat of Arms” pizza that features both kangaroo and emu meat. Australia is probably the only country whose citizens enjoy eating their national symbols — the kangaroo and emu. Could you imagine walking into a bar in the USA ordering “Bald Eagle chicken wings”? By the time we were done eating and having a few beers, we were pretty tired. We took a leisurely walk in the late afternoon back to our hotel and called it a night at about 8pm.
We awoke Sunday morning around 9am after a full thirteen hours sleep! Of course, we were starving, so we walked down the street for a real Australian breakfast — McDonalds! As we downed our egg McMuffins, we planned out the day and put together the things we wanted to do the next several days. We knew we wanted to see more of the iconic Sydney Harbor, so we decided to walk that way to Circular Quay, and see what the options were. What we found was a beautiful day in Sydney, where another Royal Caribbean cruse ship was docked at the harbor (the Rhapsody of the Seas). Our two options for the day were to head to Manly Beach or the Taronga Zoo. We opted to purchase roundtrip ferry tickets on the Manly Ferry out to Manly Beach since it was one of the longer ferry rides offered, and the weather was just perfect for a boat ride. The cost was AUD $7.40, each way.
The ferry ride lasted about 35 minutes en route to Manly Beach, and the views were magnificent. As we sailed out past the Sydney Harbor Bridge, we turned to the East and motored right past the famed Sydney Opera House. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
We arrived at Manly beach soon after. A bustling beach community, Manly features a rather large, inviting beach with a number of shops, restaurants, and bars that line the beach and go back several blocks. The two of us walked the beach for a while, zapping pictures before settling down for some lunch at the Manly Grill. We had a nice, outdoor patio seat where we enjoyed a bucket of prawns, burgers, and beers as we watched the people of Manly Beach walk by. After lunch, we explored the town a bit before heading into a cool looking bar in the Manly Wharf Hotel, right near the ferry pier. Here, we enjoyed a few beers and tried to figure out the game of cricket, which had the locals captivated, as The Ashes Tournament between England and Australia was on the television. After giving up on cricket, we hopped back on the ferry for another late afternoon, scenic ferry ride back into Sydney Harbor.
Upon returning to Sydney, we headed over to the Rocks to view the Rhapsody of the Seas as she departed the Port of Sydney for her cruise, and we got some wonderful pictures of the harbor and the cruise ship. By this point, we were pretty spent, so we headed back to the hotel for a few hours of relaxation. After a couple of hours in the room, it was clearly time to eat again. We wanted to do something low-key, but fun, so we walked about fifteen minutes to Darling Harbour.
Darling Harbor is a highly developed harbor in Sydney that is lined with restaurants, bars, shops, movie theaters, and other touristy things. By the time we got to Darling Harbor, the crowds were growing for the upcoming fireworks show, which takes place every Saturday night during the summer. There were thousands of people — locals and tourists who decided to spend the evening dining al fresco to watch the fireworks. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a doner kebab stand in a food court just in time to watch the fireworks. The show was pretty nice, but I figured it would pale in comparison to the fireworks show we would see a few nights later on New Years Eve. After the relatively quick fireworks display, we explored the area a bit more and made our way back to the hotel for another full night of sleep.
Next up… More from Sydney:
- Sydney: Day Three and Four (Sydney Opera House, Taronga Zoo, The Rocks, Bondi Beach, Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, Woolloomooloo, and the Sydney Fish Market)
- New Year’s Eve in Sydney