Traveling to the “Land Down Under” has been on my bucket list for some time. Today I can finally check that off my list. My family arrived here via Los Angeles International Airport where the non-stop flight takes just under 15 hours.
What were the things we learned from our travels to Australia, or as many people say, “The Land Down Under” or “Oz?” Well for starters, it is more beautiful and the people are more gracious than we expected. We love it here and look forward to our next trip before we even return home, it’s that great.
- Visitor’s Visa – If you are a visitor traveling to Australia it is required that you have an electronic visa. Instantly apply online by clicking on the Australian government site http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/tourist/ where you can purchase it for about $20 AUD online. Be sure to print out your receipt with your visa number and bring a copy of it with your passport.
- Money exchange rate -The exchange rate is almost 1:1, but at the time of our travels the Aussie dollar was valued a tad higher than the U.S. dollar. But expect things to cost more in Australia than the U.S. Consider applying for a Capital One credit card, which is one of the few credit cards that do not charge an exchange fee. Most places here accept credit cards. Vendors will ask if you have a PIN or if you’d rather sign at the time of payment. Or call your bank and find out if your ATM is affiliated in a network that does not charge an exchange fee. Certain banks including CitiBank offer better exchange rates compared to services abroad. If you want to avoid credit card fees that merchants will charge abroad you may want to exchange cash from these ‘no fee’ banks.
- Cheap eats – Dining out can be quite costly in Australia. So save a little money when you can. For soft drinks, quick breakfast rolls or ice cream you might check out the local grocery store and save a bit of money. Most restaurants drinks start at around $5.00 AUD. But at the local grocery stores, which are scattered right next to restaurants you can find a soda liter bottle for only $.079. It’s also nice to pick up a few pieces of fresh fruit and a couple of breakfast rolls to save money. There's no need to tip at most restaurants.
- Get a pass –The public transportation in Sydney, Australia is exceptional. Check out this site where you can get a multi-day pass that includes the Metro City Rail, Light Rail and Water Ferries. Children under 3 travel free. There are also family options that provide great savings. We took a City Rail from Macquarie Park to the Circular Quay (Sydney Harbor) and from there we hopped aboard a ferry to Taronga Zoo. We returned to the Circular Quay and got on another ferry to Darling Harbor for dinner. The ferry is a wonderful way to get a full view of the harbor and capture some amazing photos. The pass makes it super easy, the transportation is reliable, comfortable and clean.
- Souvenirs – there are lots of stores selling koala bears, boomerangs. t-shirts and Aussie hats, but you will also find some of the most unusual souvenirs including kangaroo scrotum key chains and bottle openers. But for more authentic and perhaps more welcomed gifts consider Tim Tams, which are an original Australian chocolate cookie, or the didgeridoo, an aboriginal musical instrument.
- Sydney Fish Market – one of the highlights of our trip was the Sydney Fish Market. Located at Bank Street Prymont it can easily be accessed by Metro City Rail. Sydney is noted for the wonderful fresh seafood and you will be able to check out one of the many restaurants in the vicinity.
- Taronga Zoo – we had one of the best experiences at this zoo than any other zoo we’ve been too (which includes the Washington, D.C. National Zoo, San Francisco Zoo). The animals were all active including a suckling baby elephant, clingy baby koalas and our favorite, a father chimpanzee playing with his baby chimp. Perhaps we came at the right time of day but we were totally enchanted by this zoo. It also doesn’t hurt that the Sydney harbor serves as the backdrop to the incredible free-flying bird show. The family ticket package saved us a lot of money and we paid online which saved us time. Take the gondola ride from the base of the zoo to the entrance and see the animals from a new vantage point.
- Paddy’s Market and The Rocks – are two locations that have markets selling local wares. These markets have some of the best prices for souvenirs. Located just a few blocks from the Sydney Harbor this is a great place to check out and get some of the best prices on t-shirts, koala stuffed bears, hats and bags.
- Sydney Opera House –The Sydney Opera House is probably the most well-known landmark in Australia. Be sure to include taking a look inside the iconic structure and have a cup of coffee or meal in one of the cafes or restaurants. Check out the concert calendar before you leave and book an event if you have the time.
- Blue Mountain – For a wonderful day trip consider going to the Blue Mountains. This region is known for the wonderful vistas year-round and destination for outdoor enthusiasts. From Sydney you can board a train that takes about 90 minutes or board a bus tour which takes you to the outer perimeters of the region.
These tips should kick start your travels to Sydney into high gear. If you’ve traveled to Sydney before what are your favorite tips?