13 months
Jan 31:
the big tease
Feb 1:
big snake!
big snake!
Feb 9:
yertle the turtle
Feb 10:
reef walking
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the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House at dawn
Sydney, Australia; Feb 19, 2005

the low down

Daintree Rainforest - the land that time forgot

Overall: Australia is huge. And what they say about everything being bigger in Australia is true - the meals, the people, the bugs. We enjoyed the transitions from outback, to reef, to beach town to big city as we moved through Australia. Unfortunately, we missed the western coast and the wild, wild west of the middle this time, but we plan to be back.

What we did: We spent a few days in the Daintree Rainforest/Cape Tribulation, a few days in Palm Cove while traveling back down the coast, five days on Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef, and 2 weeks in Sydney visiting friends and being tourists.

Essentials: a thick skin - outside Sydney, the native Australians are rugged and tough and can't understand why you wouldn't be the same so don't bother asking for napkins and get your own damn snakes out of your room. Sydney, in contrast, is a world-class metropolis and you can find anything you need.

Food: Similar to the US (but bigger) with the addition of kangaroo and different fish to the menu. One annoying thing - you have to pay for bread at the table, even in nice restaurants.

People: Except for the (almost invisible) aborigines, the population is surprisingly homogenous. The now defunct "White Australia Policy" actually forbade the immigration of non-Europeans to Australia until the 1970s and the affects of this are still evident. That said, outside Sydney most of the native population is brawny and athletic. In Sydney, the population is worldlier, with a more varied minority population.

Cost of living: With the dollar suffering, the cost of living is about the same as the US at the moment, if not a bit higher. We were surprised by the cost of everyday things.

Standard of living: In the big cities, about on par with the US. In the outback however, anything goes.

Daily budget: Varies depending on where you are and what you want to do. It's certainly possible to live cheaply in Australia (and we did while staying with friends), but the cost of our visit was driven up significantly by other activities (snorkel trips, surfing lessons, visit to Heron Island etc.).

Exchange rate: $1 US =

What's fabulous: The ocean and beaches - beautiful, white sand beach and warm, clear waters suitable for swimming and surfing - all mitigated by the fact that you can die in it at any moment (see sidebar in australia: the big tease).

Weather: We're here in Summer (February in the southern hemisphere) and it's pretty much sunny and hot with the occasional rain shower – as in biggest, baddest rain shower Susan's ever experienced, described by locals in a typically Australian fashion as, "We're having a bit of weather." (Also see australia: snowball on a red hot barbie.)

Friendliness: In and outside Sydney, we thought everyone was very friendly... as long as we could understand them. We've also met a lot of Australians while we've been traveling (in other places) and have had a great time chatting (and always laughing) with them.

Getting around: Australia is a big country so moving from city to city requires flying or extensive driving (we chose flying). Getting around in Sydney and to its outskirts isn't as easy as in other big cities - we were lucky enough to borrow Maria's car, but buses and (for more local trips) bikes came in handy, too.

Enjoyments: Our friend Maria proclaimed that Sydney has the BEST coffee and we're sure that parts of the US will protest this, but we agree. It IS yummy and every cafe serves decaf and soy and chai. Mmmm...

Major difficulties: Okay, they weren't really "difficulties," but there are all sorts of nasty animals to worry about n the outback (see australia: big snake! big snake! and the sidebar in australia: the big tease).

Random translations:
"She'll be apples." - Everything will be alright (like "No worries, mate.")
"flamin' galah" - blooming idiot (a galah is actually a parrot)
"ridgy didge" - very patriotic fellow

Book to read while here: Bill Bryson's Down Under. It's funny and easy to read and gives all kinds of interesting facts and history on Australia.

Specific places we visited/things we did:
  - Cairns (pronounced, as far as we can figure, "Cans" or maybe "Cannes" if you're European). This is where our plane landed, but we were only here for an hour or two. From our perspective, there's not much reason to actually be in Cairns, though it's a common launching point for boat trips out to the Great Barrier Reef (see the sidebar in australia: reef walking for an alternative way to see the Reef).
  - Daintree Rainforest/Cape Tribulation: This location is one-of-a-kind in that two World Heritage Sites connect here, Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, both of which are rarities in that they satisfy all four of the World Heritage Site criteria (a site can qualify by satisfying only one, and while many satisfy more than one, few satisfy all four). The Daintree Forest is a land that time forgot, leftover from when the world was a single land mass. Somehow Daintree avoided many of the more dramatic climactic shifts so there are plants here, alive and well, that were thought to have become extinct 100 million years ago. Besides the constant threat of death (jellies, crocs, spiders, snakes, etc.) we thought the area was beautiful and peaceful - great for getting away and long walks. We went on a fun and educational zip-line tour through the rainforest canopy and got a day's worth of Vitamin C by licking a green ant's butt.
>> Recommended: Cape Tribulation Beach House <<
website; email; phone: +61 7 4098 0030
But be warned, "beach house" it is not - stark cabin is more like it. Ours was a 2 minute walk to our own deserted beach and actually *in* the rainforest.
  - Palm Cove: a sleepy little beach town on the coast north of Cairns – very relaxing.
  - Heron Island: There are lots of birds and it smells bad, but the wildlife is awesome. Turtles are nesting and hatching here now (see the turtle video and other pictures in the australia gallery) along with 70,000 birds. We swam with small sharks, rays, lots o' fish, and bright, pretty coral. The snorkeling trip drops you on the reef and is exhilarating. The only disappointment was the “resort” itself (website, email, phone: +61 2 8296 8010). It’s the only place to stay (the island is, after all, tiny). Aside from our Tanzanian safari (see tanzania: the low down), it was the most expensive accomodation on our whole trip (we had decided in advance to splurge in an effort to recharge in a bit of luxury). But alas, our room smelled horribly of birds (or more specifically, bird poop) and the food was repetitive, of mediocre quality, and poorly presented. If it wasn’t for the price (US$400/night, all inclusive including roundtrip ferry), we wouldn’t even mention these things. If these guys change their tune and get their act together, this place would be truly outstanding. Oh well. You win some you dim sum, as Susan likes to say.
  - Sydney: Amid the normal touristy stuff, our favorites were the Opera House (we took a back-stage tour which was quite educational, saw Tosca one evening, and of course just gazed at the amazing architecture many times - the Opera House is by far Australia's #1 tourist attraction and gets 4.5 million visitors a year which puts it ahead of the White House), learning to surf at Bondi Beach, and swimming laps in the Olympic Aquatic Center! Otherwise, we visited the Queen Victoria Building, Downtown, the bridge, Darling Harbor, Chinatown, the Aquarium, the "Rocks" (an area full of shops and restaurants, aimed squarely at the tourist population), Paddington Market, Balmoral Beach, hung out a lot in the Oxford/Crown Street area (where Maria and Sean live, our hosts), and took a bike ride around Centennial Park.
  - Blue Mountains: We drove through these beautiful mountains early in the morning and watched kangaroos having breakfast in Euroka Clearing for a few hours before a big tour bus scared them off. It was amazing to stand in a field in the middle of about 50 kangaroos! On the way home we went hiking at Wentworth falls which was lovely.

It's crowded, but hey, it's Bondi! (the locale of our first surf lesson)

Check out the australia gallery for pix of all the above!

We'd like to send out a humongous thanks to Maria and Sean for hosting us in Sydney - you guys are the best!

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Apparently, the ancestors of the Aborigines came to Australia from India. The sea level was much lower back then; they just island-hopped on over. And, there's DNA evidence showing the genetic relationship.

--Ed (Virginia, USA); May 1, 2007

Okay! We've heard a few theories on this subject... this one sounds legit, but we're certainly not experts on this subject.

--Grace & Susan; Jul 3, 2007


You have seen more of our wonderful country than I have... What great advocates you are for Australia. Next time squeeze in Melbourne, you won't be disappointed!

--Jen (Melbourne, Australia); Nov 17, 2005


G'day! we loved reading about your perspectives of sydney and australia. thanks for the mensh, and glad you had fun.

--Maria & Sean [our hosts in Sydney] (Sydney, Australia); Jun 15, 2005


Just blew through about 45 minutes this morning perusing your latest travels and faking like I'm working. Thanks a lot guys.

--Phil (last initial and location omitted for job security); Jun 15, 2005