We visited Australia at the beginning of our SE Asia trip. A few observations and tips for visiting Australia ….
7 Tips For Visiting Australia
1) Plan A Long Stay In Australia
Much like Canada, Australia is a big continent. The first of the tips for visiting Australia is that it will be hard to see it all in one visit – unless you come for a long visit!
This was our first visit together. We used it as a taste test, so we only planned two stops – a week in Sydney where we have relatives and then to explore the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns. We barely scratched the surface in Sydney. A beach trip to Cairns and the north shore should be more than 4 days. And we never saw the other major cities or the wilder spots in Australia. Plan a long stay!
2) Show Me The Money
We found Australia to be very expensive. Luckily the Australian dollar was almost on par with the Canadian dollar – so there was not a big exchange hit on top of it all.
David was appalled to see that the going rate for fish and chips was well over $20. If you wanted local specialties, there would be a higher premium – even eating at the night market in Cairns.
Even when we travelled away from the tourist spots, the overall cost of everything seemed to be very high. We never did find the local cheap eateries that we later found when we were in Singapore and Thailand!
While there is generally no tipping in Australia, the inflated prices felt like they had a built in hidden service cost. While we similarly found “no tipping” in most of the other SE Asia countries we visited on this trip, most of the others included an explicit “Service” charge on your bill.
We managed to keep our total costs down in a few ways. Our saving tips for visiting Australia are not all unique to just Australia. We often plan not to eat every meal out when we are travelling. We regularly made a visit to the local grocery store for picnic supplies. We were lucky to have family in Sydney so they helped with getting us around on our day trips and also fed us! Our hotel Club level service provided happy hour drinks and food, and some days that was our dinner!
Public transit, downloaded walking tours, researching “free” things to do in a city and splurging carefully all helped to balance costs.
3) Save On Transportation
Absolutely use public transit is another of our highly recommended tips for visiting Australia. We found Sydney to be greatly serviced by its public transport network. Opal cards provide access to the train, bus and ferry network serving Sydney and the surrounding area.
The Opal card is a stored value card that is debited as you use various routes. Don’t forget to tap on when you enter and tap off when you leave or you will be charged a flat fee. Charges topped out at $15 per day when we were there. You can easily hit this maximum charge if you are using the ferries and taking trains out to the suburbs. We found public transit to be a great way to get about Sydney.
But train transit between major cities may not always be the scenic views that you imagine. If the train cuts across the interior, you will often have a long, less interesting trip. And not cheap (especially with baggage).
We found it relatively cheap and much faster to hop on a Virgin Australia flight to Cairns rather than try to find a bus or train.
4) Pack Light
I certainly failed at one of the most basic tips for visiting Australia or for travelling in general!
Despite reading almost every packing tip article I see, I can’t seem to improve trip after trip. I still pack “just in case” and it was worse on this trip because we were scuba diving and there is a minimum set of scuba gear I like to travel with. While luggage allowance wasn’t an issue on the inbound and outbound Cathay Pacific Business Class flights, we would hop around Australia and SE Asia for 6 more flights and none of those would be Business Class.
We found there to be a broad selection of discount airlines flying in Australia and SE Asia and generally we were very happy with the availability of flights and the service. The flights were so much less expensive that flying within Canada.
But part of the trade-off with flying all of these airlines was the low baggage allowances and the huge cost for additional baggage. Make sure that you check the allowances in advance and if you are flying over the limit, pre-pay for the baggage. I am not going to suggest that everyone try to fly with just carry on but it would be good if we could get to 7kg for carry on and 20kg for checked bags. This would have saved us a lot of extra baggage fees on this trip and on any future trip where we are doing short hops on budget airlines!
We had trouble doing online checkin on one of our flights and when we got to the airport they tried to charge us double for airport check-in baggage than what it would have cost for pre-booked baggage. Luckily we found a supervisor who addressed our concerns about not being able to buy the baggage allowance in advance and made sure our that all flights on that itinerary had baggage pre-paid. Always check your baggage allowance in advance and pay when you check in for your baggage.
5) See Australia from Land and Sea
Australia is a large land mass surrounded by water. Much of the development has been done close to the water. See Australia from the land and the sea. If you follow this one of our tips for visiting Australia, you will see a lot as you travel around by land, but you can also get out on the water to get a different perspective.
You might even want to consider one of the cruise ship tours that take you to multiple ports around Australia! Sydney is a major cruise port. Many of the cruises start or end in Sydney. Depending on the itinerary, you may also get to see other ports in Australia from the land and the sea.
Sydney was a city with much to do from the land. Whether you stay in the city or head out along the coast or inland, you will find something to see and do.
Everywhere you travel around Sydney, you will catch the great iconic water views in Sydney! Day or night, the images are stunning and ones that will be recognized by all as “Sydney”!
6) Don’t Forget Underwater
If you visit Australia, everyone will ask you if you went to the Great Barrier Reef! It is one thing you want to try to plan. But it does require a trip to the northern coast. If you make that detour, you will find so much to see if you snorkel or scuba on the Great Barrier Reef!
While people think immediately about the Great Barrier Reef when heading to Australia, that is not the only place in Australia where you can find good underwater experiences. We inquired about scuba diving when we visited Manly Beach north of Sydney one day and we found lots of options. One of our tips for visiting Australia is that you can find scuba diving sites on any coast around Australia so you don’t forget the great sights underwater.
And if going underwater is not your thing, you will find lots of beaches and great surfing in Australia!
7) Get Your History From the Locals
The last of our tips for Australia is about learning more about this great country you are visiting.
We were very lucky on our visit to Sydney to have relatives there. We got a good varied set of day trips, fully narrated with local history and personal experiences. This personal touch supplemented the tour book information that seeded our “must visit” list of stops.
If you are not so lucky, consider doing small tours or even finding a guide. Australia has an interesting history, varied topography and many animals local only to Australia. You will be glad for the extra insight you might get! You can even take a specialized tour to see unique things.
These are just a few tips for visiting Australia. Many of the tips we discovered when heading on to SE Asia, also were true for Australia – there are lots of great beaches and beautiful sites, the people are friendly but it can be REALLY hot and you do need to get off the beaten path!
What would you add to our list of tips for visiting Australia? Is there something on our list you don’t agree with?