What to do in Australia?

Okay, so my family decided to head over to Australia for New Years. The plan is for them to arrive at Sydney on the 28th or so, then after New Years we, together, leisurely drive up the coast to Brisbane, stopping along the way at various beach towns. We've got some relatives in Brisbane so we then spend a few days there and fly back around January 10th.

However, the award ticket I managed to get (business class even) has me arriving in Sydney about a week earlier than everyone else.

So... do any of you have suggestions on what I should do in Australia for a week of my own? My tentative plan is to spend a couple of days in Sydney then fly down to Melbourne for a few days (through Christmas) and back up to Sydney to meet the family and do their thing. But I've yet to book the SYD > MEL ticket so I'm pretty flexible and I've never been to Australia before so I have no idea how long I should/could spend in each city or even if there's another city I should visit.

I'm a bit wary of renting a car because of the whole opposite-side-of-the-road-I'm-used-to thing but if there are enough awesome things not within public transport/reasonable taxi distance I could probably be persuaded to grab an International Driver's License.

You shouldn't need a car in Melbourne at least, the public transport there is great, and it shouldn't be raining too much at that time of the year.

If you've got a chance to spend more time in Melbourne than Sydney, I'd go with Melbourne. It really is a great city to visit, it's pretty much our cultural capital, and everytime I visit I feel like I want to move there. I think there's a fairly large goodjer contingent in Melbourne as well.

Unfortunately I'm not too familiar with Sydney or Brisbane, or even Melbourne at more than a surface level. If you end up coming down to Adelaide, then I've got you covered.

Spoiler:

Don't come to Adelaide. It's boring!

You shouldn't need a car in Melbourne at least, the public transport there is great,

Yep, just lasso yourself a spider and off you go.

LobsterMobster wrote:
You shouldn't need a car in Melbourne at least, the public transport there is great,

Yep, just lasso yourself a spider and off you go.

More like Rinos on skateboards if you refer to the safety signs.

But seriously, Melbourne is fantastic. Highly recommended. A++ would visit again. And the people? Rowr, officers as well as gentlemen as are the ladies fit goddesses.

I probably wouldn't spend a whole lot of time in Melbourne. Melbourne is a great city to live in, but it kinds of sucks for visiting. There's some interesting architecture dating back to the late 19th century Gold Rush, and you'll probably want to take in an Aussie Rules game while you're there, but beyond that, tourism is kind of limited to the countryside, stuff like the 12 Apostles.

Don't get me wrong, I love that city, and I would live there again in a heartbeat if I got the chance, but Sydney's better set up for visiting.

Sydney has more tourist-y stuff to do, but you're not likely to get bored in Melbourne either. The countryside around Melbourne is quite nice, particularly the Mornington peninsula, but that would probably require renting a car. Unfortunately I'd suggest not venturing into the non-city areas around Sydney too much since there's a decent chance they'll be on fire.

It's likely to be fairly warm when you come (in the realm of 37 celsius / 100 farenheit) so you may just want to go to Bondi and hurl yourself into the sea.

I'd advise against Canberra unless you have an overwhelming fascination with government buildings.

kazooka wrote:

Melbourne is a great city to live in, but it kinds of sucks for visiting. There's some interesting architecture dating back to the late 19th century Gold Rush, and you'll probably want to take in an Aussie Rules game while you're there

While I would also normally recommend a footy game, December is very much the wrong time of the year.

Bnpederson if you are interested in sport the boxing day ashes test will be on in Melbourne starting the day after Christmas (hence the name). That's about as high profile a cricket match as you can get but cricket it very much not for everybody.

Personally I prefer Sydney to Melbourne as far as tourist cities go, but having had that conversation a few times I fell like I am very much in the minority there.

Meet me for a beer.

Apply sunscreen.

Go see the Boxing Day Test at the SCG.

I love Melbourne, best city in Australia IMO, but Sydney is definitely better for sight seeing. The harbor is great, bridge, quay, beaches, sun, pretty city and set up for visitors.
If you can do both, I'd recommend it, but given you've only got a week, you may be wasting about half a day with the flight and airports (only an hour long flight though). Your call.

Pick the right day in Melbourne you may be able to lure a few of us out for a beer and possibly boardgame.
If you do decide on Melbourne, PM me and I can give you recommendations.

Beaches. Right. Australian beaches have INVISIBLE KILLER JELLYFISH! You can't see them, unlike the VISIBLE KILLER SHARKS and SEAGOING GIANT CROCODILES. Seriously. As if the snakes and spiders were not enough blood sport in themselves...

The reports of dangerous wildlife in Australia have been greatly exaggerated.

kazooka wrote:

I probably wouldn't spend a whole lot of time in Melbourne. Melbourne is a great city to live in, but it kinds of sucks for visiting. There's some interesting architecture dating back to the late 19th century Gold Rush, and you'll probably want to take in an Aussie Rules game while you're there, but beyond that, tourism is kind of limited to the countryside, stuff like the 12 Apostles.

Don't get me wrong, I love that city, and I would live there again in a heartbeat if I got the chance, but Sydney's better set up for visiting.

Counterpoint: I thought there was loads to do as a tourist in Melbourne when I visited for 3 weeks.

a) hire bikes, cycle along the Yarra River
b) hire a bike, take the train out to Frankston and cycle back in to St Kilda along the coast (Nepean Highway -> Beach Rd)
c) Hang out in St Kilda
d) See Cook's Cottage
e) The Royal Botanic Gardens
f) The Immigration Museum
g) The Melbourne Museum (awesome) and Exhibition Building (a world heritage site)
h) The National Gallery of Victoria
i) Whatever is on at federation Sq
j) A casino so large a road runs through it
k) Melbourne Aquarium

For Sydney, a simple recommendation for and against. DON'T do the Taronga Zoo. Hilly, hot, large distances between exhibits. DO go to the top floor of the Bondi Junction shopping mall for the best dim sum I've had outside Hong Kong.

If you are a runner at all, make sure you run the river walks in downtown Brisbane. Simply incredible. The cleanliness and design just shames U.S. cities.

If you're the adventurous type, you can climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge for great views and an unforgettable experience, but make sure you book well in advance. I highly recommend taking the Ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. Circular Quay is the main hub for ferries to other parts of Sydney Harbour. Manly is a beautiful, although highly popular, beach. If you are into swimming, don't forget to take your swimmers and a towel! If not, it's still a nice place to have a walk around. In many respects, though, the ferry trip is the highlight and cheaper than the tourist harbour tours.

The main zoo in Sydney is called Taronga Zoo and is a short ferry ride from Circular Quay. As far as zoos go internationally, it's good, but not amazing. However, the zoo is right on the harbour across from the city, so you get some great views across to Sydney city in addition to the animals - and of course many of the animals are unique to Australia.

You shouldn't need to get an international Driver's License - you can drive in all the places you mentioned (New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland) on an american license. Whether you're happy to drive on the opposite side is another matter! But, it's not so bad. If you hire a car in Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is probably the most spectacular thing you can get to. From Sydney, you could go inland to the Blue Mountains. As for the leisurely drive up the coast to Brisbane from Sydney - there's plenty of beach towns. Byron Bay is a bit hipster/hippy and very popular that time of year, but well worth a visit. A much smaller town that I really like is Brunswick Heads, just north of Byron Bay. Be wary - it's almost 1,000 km from Sydney to Brisbane, which is no worse than inter-city drives you can do in America, except that the main coastal highway is not up to US interstate standard, so the drive could be slower than you anticipate.

Thanks for the advice. I'm sure I'll visit Melbourne it's just a question of how long. And airports and I are old friends at this point, so a day of travel isn't a terrible thing.

I'm thinking two to three days in Sydney to acclimate myself to the time change and do some stuff, then fly to Melbourne on the 22nd or 23rd for four or five days before flying back to meet the family in Sydney. Might be the 22nd since Christmas Eve is likely to be be a bit of hell for traveling within Australia.

Good to know on the International Driver's License, I'm just never sure where I do and don't need that thing. And we're aware of the distances from Sydney to Brisbane; we've budgeted something like five days for the whole trip as I recall, with no more than four to five hours of driving (sans traffic) on any day. My brother doesn't want to be stuck in the car with our parents for extended periods of time any more than I do.

troubleshot wrote:

The reports of dangerous wildlife in Australia have been greatly exaggerated.

You're working for the spiders now, huh?

Robear wrote:

Beaches. Right. Australian beaches have INVISIBLE KILLER JELLYFISH! You can't see them, unlike the VISIBLE KILLER SHARKS and SEAGOING GIANT CROCODILES. Seriously. As if the snakes and spiders were not enough blood sport in themselves...

You can leave your hotel without getting shot at though, so that's a plus!

If you want to do the Australian native animal thing, Healesville Sanctuary is definitely a worth a trip from Melbourne -- it's a zoo that's filled with native animals, in a beautiful setting about an hour out of town. If you don't want to hire a car, I'm sure there are buses that will take you out there from the city, but I wouldn't hesitate too much about getting a car; driving on the wrong side of the road isn't as scary as it sounds.

Melbourne loves its food and coffee, so if you're interested in such things, you should have a great time. Though I'm not sure exactly what days it'll be open around the Christmas period, the Queen Victoria Market is definitely worth a visit if you're in to food (though expect it to be busy!).

pneuman wrote:
Robear wrote:

Beaches. Right. Australian beaches have INVISIBLE KILLER JELLYFISH! You can't see them, unlike the VISIBLE KILLER SHARKS and SEAGOING GIANT CROCODILES. Seriously. As if the snakes and spiders were not enough blood sport in themselves...

If you want to do the Australian native animal thing, Healesville Sanctuary is definitely a worth a trip from Melbourne -- it's a zoo that's filled with native animals, in a beautiful setting about an hour out of town. If you don't want to hire a car, I'm sure there are buses that will take you out there from the city, but I wouldn't hesitate too much about getting a car; driving on the wrong side of the road isn't as scary as it sounds.

Yeah, definitely do a wildlife sanctuary. Australian zoos are a lot like zoos in any other country. There's zebras, lions, etc. Aussies don't want to see wombats, they've got a wombat living under the shed. But us tourist types do want to see kangaroos and wallabies and platypi and all that. They're at the wildlife sanctuaries, not at the zoo.

I would definitely recommend a nice walk through the botanic gardens of whatever city you're in, or any other rainforest or national park type walks that might be convenient. Australia has some wonderful and unique plant life, and the 'rainforest' section that botanic gardens all have can be a nice place to rest in the hot summer while you're here.

Also, eat all the food in Melbourne

If you end up in Canberra, the National Gallery of Australia is quite good, and the national museum and the aquarium aren't too bad either. The best gift shop for tourists in Canberra is a place called Australian Choice in the Canberra Centre.

Make sure you try a bit of Vegemite (the correct way is on toast with butter). I would also recommend lamingtons but the ones you buy in a store usually are pretty poor compared to the real, homemade thing.

P.S. I haven't seen a redback spider (or anything roughly as dangerous) in years, and I worked in a job dealing with boxes of crap from people's garages.

Manly and Bondi are both pretty safe - and in the unlikely event a shark shows up, there'll be plenty of other tourists to distract it. The unpleasant stuff is up north.

I'd second the suggestion of the circular quay-manly ferry.

Do you play golf? If so, I can accommodate you. Melbourne is one of the world's great golf cities.

2 of the biggest cricket games of the year will be on while you are here in Melbourne and Sydney.

Healesville is the best choice for visitors - Kangaroos, Wedge-tail Eagles. It's a bit of a drive out there though but you can add some Yarra Valley wineries to it.

It will very likely be HOT at that time of year. 100F+ is not uncommon.

Bnpederson, what kind of food do you enjoy? As snob-ish as Melbourne food culture can seem, nothing is off limits, there is actually a bit of an American Diner style food fad at the moment for example.

Re: the Melbourne leg of your visit.
Botanic gardens are a great recommendation.
If iAnimal http://www.zoo.org.au/melbourne/whats-on/i-animal is running at the Melbourne Zoo, I highly recommend that for a Zoo experience for adults that is close to the city.
Eureka sky deck, to see the whole city from above (never done it, been told its cool).
Southbank, Brunswick, Collingwood, Fitzroy, CBD, North Melbourne are all worth an explore IMO (I'm more a north of the Yarra kind of guy myself).

troubleshot wrote:

Bnpederson, what kind of food do you enjoy? As snob-ish as Melbourne food culture can seem, nothing is off limits, there is actually a bit of an American Diner style food fad at the moment for example.

I've found there isn't much food I don't like. I'm not a huge fan of the overly-salty things like sea urchin, though prawn brains weren't terrible. I've also yet to meet a good offal soup as far as I'm concerned, though my brother loves the stuff. I feel like things people praise as still tasting vaguely of sh*t isn't for me.

Otherwise I can at least tolerate everything as far as I'm aware, around here I've tried multiple versions of American (natch), Thai, Chinese, Japanese (sushi and not-sushi), Vietnamese, Korean, Mongolian, Indian, Pakistani, Afghan, Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Argentine, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, English (if bars count), Irish (ditto), Polish, Russian, Spanish, and Ethiopian.

I'm sure I will try an Australian McDonalds when I'm there once. You almost have to, even knowing it's the exact same food as you get in any other McDonalds worldwide.

When I visited Sydney I very much enjoyed the Australian Museum, the ANZAC Memorial, and St. Mary's Cathedral. All of which are close to each other and in/next to Hyde Park. I also second the ferry to Manly idea! Also, I think the Harbour Bridge is worth walking along even if you don't want to do the walk UP it.

dub post

Figured I should update this thread since my plans firmed up and I fly out tomorrow.

12/20 - 12/23 | Arrive in Sydney at ~1500 on 12/20, be jet-lagged, stay in North Ryde and do stuff making use of public transport. Leave early-ish on the 23rd to fly to Melbourne

12/23 - 12/27 | Fly into Melbourne, arrive ~1500, be less jetlagged, do stuff. Christmas and Boxing Day happen. Leave late on the 27th to fly back to Sydney.

12/27 - 01/02 | Fly back to Sydney, stay in the city proper this time at the harbour Marriott, do stuff until 12/30 when my brother, sister-in-law and parents arrive all jetlagged themselves. Leave for a leisurely 4 day "drive" towards Brisbane on the 2nd.

01/02 - 01/06 | "Drive" to Brisbane, basically never driving more than four hours before stopping. Retain sanity due to short car rides with parents rather than a 10 hour car ride of doom. Do stuff when not driving.

01/06 - 01/10 | Meet up with cousin in Brisbane, do stuff while there. Fly back late on 01/10.

I'll almost certainly get a prepaid SIM chip for my phone while there (I was thinking Vodafone but Telestra looks like it might be a better bet for my North American Nexus 5, but at the very least it looks like I can get 2G/3G coverage while out there), so if anyone's interested in meeting up for a beer or whatever feel free to PM me and I can give you the number once I get it Friday/Saturday.

I'll actually be in Melbourne!

From the day you're leaving.

bnpederson wrote:

Figured I should update this thread since my plans firmed up and I fly out tomorrow.

12/20 - 12/23 | Arrive in Sydney at ~1500 on 12/20, be jet-lagged, stay in North Ryde and do stuff making use of public transport. Leave early-ish on the 23rd to fly to Melbourne

12/23 - 12/27 | Fly into Melbourne, arrive ~1500, be less jetlagged, do stuff. Christmas and Boxing Day happen. Leave late on the 27th to fly back to Sydney.

12/27 - 01/02 | Fly back to Sydney, stay in the city proper this time at the harbour Marriott, do stuff until 12/30 when my brother, sister-in-law and parents arrive all jetlagged themselves. Leave for a leisurely 4 day "drive" towards Brisbane on the 2nd.

01/02 - 01/06 | "Drive" to Brisbane, basically never driving more than four hours before stopping. Retain sanity due to short car rides with parents rather than a 10 hour car ride of doom. Do stuff when not driving.

01/06 - 01/10 | Meet up with cousin in Brisbane, do stuff while there. Fly back late on 01/10.

I'll almost certainly get a prepaid SIM chip for my phone while there (I was thinking Vodafone but Telestra looks like it might be a better bet for my North American Nexus 5, but at the very least it looks like I can get 2G/3G coverage while out there), so if anyone's interested in meeting up for a beer or whatever feel free to PM me and I can give you the number once I get it Friday/Saturday.

Surely it would be simpler to buy a plane ticket than drive to Brisbane. Given the cost of gas, I'm not sure you're coming out ahead. Maybe a bus or a train?

kazooka wrote:

Surely it would be simpler to buy a plane ticket than drive to Brisbane. Given the cost of gas, I'm not sure you're coming out ahead. Maybe a bus or a train?

Last time I travelled to Brisbane (~four years ago) the train and the bus were virtually the same price or more expensive than flying and took far, far longer. But if you're buying plane tickets at this stage in the holiday season there might not be any reasonably priced ones left. YMMV.

I will be absent from Melbourne the whole time you are here. I will leave it to others to be hospitable to you.