We want to share what we learned on our recent trip to Australia. We arrived in Darwin on 12/30/2017 and departed from Sydney on 1/13/2018. During the trip we made stops in Cairns, Melbourne, Albury, and Hobart. Here are some things you might want to know:
If you are renting a car beware of speed cameras. They use them everywhere. When we were in the Northern Territory in 2001, once you left Darwin there were stretches of highway with no speed limit. This is no longer the case. Drinking and driving is not tolerated. The legal limit is .05. They drive on the left hand side of the road. Most major highways and roads are in very good condition.
Transportation if you are not renting a car: City Circle Tram is a free tram in Melbourne that gives you access to many Melborne Attractions. You can also purchase a Myki smartcard which can be used between trains, trams, and buses. You can buy and top up online.
An Opal Card (or Opal single ticket) is required for public transportation in Sydney. We highly recommend a ride on the public ferry. We went from Cicular Quay to Manly Beach. Prices were better in Manly and there were tons of shops, bars, and restaurants. You will get to see the Opera House and Harbour Bridge from a different angle. You can buy the Opal card online, top up online, or top up through the mobile app. Uber is available in most places except for the Northern Territory. Uber prices are very reasonable.
For the smokers – smoking is highly discouraged. It is only allowed outdoors in designated areas and never anywhere food is consumed. You are more than welcome to enjoy a pint while smoking, but absolutely no food. Hobart had an entire outdoor shopping area with no smoking signs posted – monitored by camera. Cigarettes are not cheap, a pack of 50 cigarettes will set you back between $40 and $50 AU. We heard rumors of an overall smoking ban.
The people were absolutely wonderful. Meet the people wherever and whenever you can. Everyone we met in Australia loved to chat and were more than happy to answer our questions. They are your most valuable travel resource, so take advantage and make a new friend. This picture was of our waitress in Cairns. The heat finally got to her so she made a hat with a bag of ice.
We read online that most bars were open late, however many bars we stopped in closed around 10:30pm. There was one night in Hobart they called last call and we made it back to the Hotel for one more drink before the Hotel bar closed – all before 11pm. Drinking is monitored, and service will be denied before intoxication levels get high. We were amazed at the number of bars in Sydney that had cameras monitoring patrons. The casinos will deny entry if they feel you have consumed too much.
Be sure to try the local beer. We heard the term mid-draft for the first time this trip. Mid-draft is a lower alcohol content beer such as XXXX which is only 3.2%. Don’t ask for a Fosters, they won’t have it. Pokies (small areas with slot machines) are big in Australian bars, along with betting on the horses or dogs. Look for the signs.
Local restaurants and pubs only serve food at allotted times, such as 11:30am until 2pm and then 5:30pm until 9pm. Chains such as Hog’s Breath Café, McDonalds, KFY, etc will serve all day. Beetroot (picked beat) is common on sandwiches, especially hamburgers. A fruit chutney is common on breakfast sandwiches such as egg and bacon. If you don’t like fruit chutney be sure to tell them at the time you order. In this picture we are in Darwin above spending New Years eve with some wonderful blokes from Sydney that we met the prior day.
Tipping is not required or expected. Service people get a full wage. Many bar servers we spoke with made $25AU an hour. There were a couple of times they handed the tip back to us and told us it was not neccessary. Other times we would see a tip jar sitting by the cash register. We would just usually leave our small change. Keep note of your change. $1 and $2 coins are common. There is no longer a penny coin. You might think you are leaving a little change and leave $5 plus.
Accommodation, food, an alcohol prices have definetely increased since our last trip in 2004. We now consider Australia expensive. A pint of beer ran between $8 and $10AU. A typical lunch was around $20AU. Depending on the place dinner could run you $20 to $40AU per person. It is common to see crockadile and kangaroo on the menu. One of the delicacies in the Northern States is Mud Crab. In a restaurant close to the Esplande in Cairns it set us back $136AU for a small one. Sometimes you will see people selling them on the streets. Ask a local and they can point you in the right direction so you won’t spend an arm and a leg to try one.
When buying souvinears try to get off the beaten path. The souvenirs in Manly Beach area were half the price of Circular Quay area in Sydney. Most places will have the exact same items. If you forget to pick up something, don’t worry you will be able to find it at most Australian airports. Typical souviners are Opal jewelry, boomerangs, didgeridoos, t-shirts, sweat shirts, UGG slippers, Australian made hats, kanagroo pelts, shotglasses, magnets, etc. Opals are not cheap in Australia. The less expensive Opal stones are what they call a triplet. It is an Opal stone with a man made buildup. Gold is exremely expensive. If you want a nice opal stone ring set in 14K gold plan to spend a couple grand. TAX back in Australia is about 10%. In Australia instead of VAT they use the term TRS. Claim your refund before you get to the airport here, so you have a QR code.
If you plan to snorkel the great barrier reef expect it to set you back $200+AU per person. This will get you a ride to the reef and back, snorkling equipment, and a buffet lunch. We chose Reef Magic on both of our trips. They are the last locally owned reef cruise in Cairns. Be sure to pack your underwater camera. If you have something like a GoPro, attach a stick that will keep it afloat if you lose it. Typical tours are about 1.5 hours out to the reef, several hours on the reef, and then the ride back. Plan to depart at 9am and return around 5pm. Take a towel and plenty of sunscreen. Diving suits are available on board the boat.
Don’t expect to drive down the rode and spot tons of Kangaroos or Koalas. Just like deer in the states, you are more likely to see the kangaroos out in the country at dusk or nightime. You can also head to a national park or reserve. We recommend a visit to a wildlife sactuary. We loved Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary about 25 minutes outside of Hobart, Tasmania. If you don’t make it to a sancuary, you will still see lots of cool birds such as Cockatoos and Lorikeets, along with plenty of lizards, spiders, snakes, bats, and other small critters.
You are going to love it. Australia has tons to offer from the wildlife to the nightlife, tons of beautiful beachs, and some of the nicest people in the world.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks for tips, highlights, and suggestions for each city we visited. Darwin, Cairns, Melbourne, Hobart, and Sydney.
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