If you would like to know the worst time to go to Australia, read on…
When Not to Go to Australia
I had wanted to go to Australia for over 35 years. It was definitely a bucket-list item for me for a very long time.
When Mr. Max passed away in late 2018, I decreed (yup, decreed) that Hubby and I would do some traveling. So, we went on a cruise to the Panama Canal in early 2019 on Princess, Hubby planned (and we went on) a six week trip to Italy in the fall, and we decided to make a huge trip to Australia and New Zealand in early 2020.
Since we live in the Northern Hemisphere, New York State to be exact, and Australia is located in the Southern Hemisphere, we knew we would be traveling during our winter, the Australian summer. The distance is very great and like many others, we made the decision to combine a trip to Australia with a trip to New Zealand. We had long ago decided that when we went, we wanted to see New Zealand by a cruise ship.
New Zealand and Australia drive “on the wrong side of the road” and Hubby and I had no desire to attempt that. New Zealand also is pretty small. We figured we would use the cruise ship as a floating hotel and get our taste of the country that way. (Cruises are a destination “taste” to determine if you would like to go back to an area for a longer trip, in my opinion.)
Well, since we were traveling to the other side of the world (literally), and the journey going was over 20 hours in the air plus time between flights, and I had always wanted to see Australia, it just made sense to look for a cruise in Australia too.
Hubby found one with Celebrity for the Great Barrier Reef. I was thrilled! We would cruise the Great Barrier Reef and then stay on the same cruise ship to do a back-to-back cruise to New Zealand. We were not the only people with that idea. Out of the approximately 2800 passengers on that first Great Barrier Reef cruise, 672 stayed on for New Zealand! Since we were flying a great distance to Sydney to take this trip – approximately 10,000 miles, combining made sense.
Because I wanted as few plane connections as possible – we were checking luggage not going carry-on only and the fewer chances for our bags to be lost, the better – is my traveling motto (and the big reason we do carry-on to Europe all the time) we decided to drive to Toronto (about 90 minutes away) and then take a plane to LAX and then on to Sydney.
I also knew that we might suffer some jetlag after such a long flight, going east to west, and losing a day, and so wanted to acclimate as much as possible before our cruise. We landed in Sydney five days early to see the sights, do some tours, and explore the area.
A word about the flights: they are long. We live in the Buffalo, New York area. If we had wanted to fly BUF to LAX to SYD (one plane change), we’d have had to fly Jet Blue, collect our bags, and then transfer to a different plane to fly to Sydney. (Ironically, because of how customs works flying back to the US in LAX (you have to collect your bags before you finish customs, and then go back through the TSA line) this would have been our best bet on the way home!)
For those wondering: the flight from Toronto to LA was 5.5 hours (6 hours was scheduled), and LAX to SYD was 15.5 hours (16 hours scheduled). The flight back from Sydney to LAX was 13 hours (we actually landed 15 minutes early), and from LAX to Toronto was 4.5 hours.
We landed in Sydney on a Thursday after leaving Toronto on a Tuesday. It was a bit odd losing a day!
We had closely followed the fires that were ravaging so much of Australia from the news being reported in the United States. The last article I can find about the fires has 716 deliberly set fires in New South Wales alone.
The fires did considerable damage to Australia. They were constantly being described as unprecedented. One a personal level, we hated to complain when people were losing their homes, livelihoods, and even their lives. However, those fires obviously negatively impacted our time in Australia.
The smoke from the fires came in, and I coughed a lot while in Sydney. I also blew my nose a lot, and we are still are not certain if it was poor air quality, or if I had an allergy (summertime there).
We were able to do some sightseeing while in Sydney, just not as much as we would have liked due to the fires. We had a trip to the Blue Mountains booked, but canceled it when they closed the national park. We figured we would do it on our return from our cruise (bad move, didn’t happen).
We had purchased opera tickets for Thursday evening thinking that would help us stay up and adjust to the time change. The best laid plans… Hubby and I decided to lay down for a short nap (I had slept nine hours on the plane!) and when we woke up, it was after 10pm and the opera was long over.
The next day we planned to just walk around the Sydney harbor area, so that was what we did. It is a beautiful harbor area with many restaurants, some shops, some museums, the aquarium, and more.
Sydney is, hands down, the most expensive city we have ever visited. The currency exchange rate was favoring us by 30%, there is no additional tax on products (just a boatload of taxes built in to everything), we live in NYS, and we were still taken aback at how very expensive Sydney is. And down at the harbors? Oy. I am not certain how people afford to live there!
We did find the new tram to be an easy way to get around. We used our credit card to “tap on, tap, off” (avoiding the Opal card) and a ride cost us 69¢ US. That was a bargain. While in Italy this past fall Hubby was trying to kill me with us walking 5-10 miles per day, in Sydney, he was kinder, and it was 3-5 miles walking per day. I brought walking sticks, which helped a lot as the streets are steep!
We did a quick stop at the Sydney fish market. It is the largest fish market in the Southern Hemisphere, third largest in the world (after Tokyo and Mexico City).
There is an auction there weekdays (we were there on a Saturday), tons of local fresh fish, and some restaurants inside and outside the market.
We went on a great wine tour to Hunter Valley. This chef-led Hunter Valley gourmet food and wine day trip was unique and very good. The guy has a bus that he converted to have a place to cook and store food. He prepared us kangaroo meat, and I must admit it was pretty tasty!
Australian wines are probably my least favorite in the world. However, I am generally open to trying new things and broadening my horizons when it comes to wines, and I actually bought a bottle at one of the wineries!
At the first winery, we saw kangaroos that were out during the day. Kangaroos are nocturnal, and it was explained to us that they were out hunting for food as the fires and drought had ravaged where they lived and they had dpread out to look for food, and taken to looking during the day. Kangaroos are considered nuisance animals in Australia (like deer are here), and they can do a lot of damage when someone hits one with their vehicle at dusk or dawn.
The drought has hurt the winery business. The first winery we entered you couldn’t even tell was supposed to be a winery; the vines were dead and gone. The owner said he had not harvested last year, there would be no harvest this year, and it was devastating to them and their livelihood.
It was truly a sad situation.
While in Sydney, we also visited the Botanical Gardens. Hubby is very much in to bushcraft (started in Australia), wilderness survival, and hunting. While the Botanical Gardens are free to walk, the wild edibles and medicinal plants tour we went on was $40 each AUS. I would like to say it was worth the money, but the tour was too large, the lady’s voice too soft to carry over the group, it was a million degrees out and she kept us standing in the sun for long periods of time. She may have known her stuff (I have no idea, I couldn’t hear half of it and I have ears like a bat!), but the whole tour was just poorly planned and executed.
We also visited the Maritime Museum. It was free to wander some parts, and they had interactive areas for people (with children). I found it very interesting. Hubby and I only did the free portions (we wandered over after seeing the line to get into the aquarium was a good 45 minutes long with kids everywhere, we figured we would return after New Zealand as the kids would be back in school. (Bad move.) We were in and out in about 90 minutes. If we had added the interactive portions geared toward the children, it would have been a much longer experience.
After five days in Sydney, it was time to board our cruise ship. We took the tram from our hotel, walked down the harbor, dropped off our luggage, and then made the trip into the terminal where our passports were checked, photos were taken, and seapass cards were given. This was the easist port access we have ever experienced.
In retrospect, the Great Barrier Reef may not have been the best choice for Hubby and me. We do not snorkel, scuba dive, etc. Yes, it is beautiful, but we were not able to take advantage of the underwater experience because… unfortunately, the sea waves were quite high, the waters churning, and even with a glass bottom boat, there was no visibility. The people we met on the cruise that dived and snorkled told us that once you got 20 feet down, it was breathtakingly beautiful.
I made certain that we would do some wildlife preserves on our cruise ship stops as I was traveling ten thousand miles to see koala bears. We did several, one near Brisbane, one near Newcatle, and they were great.
We also toured an Aborigal cultural park in Cairns. Hubby got to throw a spear, and a boomerang. We got to see a great Aboriginal show, hear music played on the handmade instruments, got a lesson in tools and weapons, and saw a very sad movie short about the plight of the Australian Aborigines.
At the end of the first cruise, I went to get my hair done in Sydney. We were given a card that showed we were back-to-back cruisers and so didn’t have to do much to re-board except show our passports, get new photos, and seapass cards. It was then on to New Zealand!
I am going to break out the New Zealand portion of our trip into another post next week, but spoiler alert: we loved, loved, LOVED New Zealand!! If Hubby asked me to if I wanted to return for a month, I’d be packing my bag tomorrow.
On our return from New Zealand, we can back to Sydney for four more days. We arrived to rain, an inch fell that day, and it only got rainier. In all, there was about 10 INCHES of rain that fell over three days. The positive is the fires are out.
We watched the news and people were flooded out, and yet grateful for the rain. It helped relieve the drought, and it stopped the fires.
Generally speaking, Sydney has crappier weather than even Seattle. Sydney gets an average of 51.5 inches of rainfall per year (Seattle gets 38 inches by comparison). It rains an average of two weeks per month. The drought was really something unusual. Normally, if you plan to go to Sydney, an umbrella is a necessity you pack.
We sat in our hotel room for those three days. One day, we literally ran around the corner to eat at the tiny little Japanese restaurant next door. There was no way to walk or go anywhere as the rain was coming down in sheets, the sidewalks were rivers, and the underground trains were flooded, and in general, it was best to stay indoors.
Our final day in Sydney was much clearer. We took the time to walk down to the harbor one last time, eat lunch, stretch our legs, and shake off that claustrophobic feeling of being contained to a hotel room.
My best advice? Do not go to Australia during raging bush fires, extreme drought, or torrential rains.
We set-up base in Sydney for the before and after portion of our cruises and Hubby was wondering if we did ourselves a disservice by not flying to Melbourne for a few days. In the before-cruise portion of our trip, I am not certain that would have worked due to the fires. On the after portion, I wonder if the plane would have taken off?
Australia is a very large country, about the size of the continental United States. The people are the friendliest I have met anywhere (and I live on the Canadian border!). We happened to go during a particularly bad weather time which greatly impacted how much of Sydney and its surrounding areas we could visit.
We saw a bit of the east coast, kangaroos, koala bears, and now I can cross it off my bucket list. The weather was dreadful, the fires (oh, those poor people!) were horrible, and the rain and flooding was terrible and good at the same time. It was a memorable vacation, although not for the best reasons.
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