A Travellerspoint blog

Part 3: Driving to Brisbane

sunny 65 °F
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We picked up or car at East Coast Car Rentals in Sydney. Great folks that were very helpful in getting us all set up. Also had the best price for a one way rental! Our vehicle was a Hyundai H1 mini-van, plenty of room for everyone and the bags.

Ok, driving on the opposite side of the road took some getting used to but the best advice I had received was to just follow the car in front of you until you had to turn. What made things sporty was driving a vehicle with the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car while driving on the opposite side of the road. It took a while to find the proper sight picture for lane usage. Fortunately, I was able to find the limits of the lane thanks to the lane marker bumps on the left and right sides. That or Mary telling me I was about to go off the road!
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We had a GPS unit to help us navigate out of Sydney and we headed to our first stop, the Australian Reptile Park. The drive was about an hour north of Sydney through some terrific scenery. We arrived at the park and were able to see all sorts of animals. The most memorable of which was our first encounter with kangaroos. We were able to pet and feed the kangaroos that are in the common area of the park. We also saw dingos (no babies nearby), wallabies, cassowary birds, kookaburras, platypus and crocodiles.
Australian Reptile Park
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Our next stop was the sand dunes near Port Stephens. We had heard that the dunes were so large you could sled/surf down them. The sand dunes were a little over an hour and a half north of the reptile park. We stopped for gas and road snacks along the way and continually met the nicest folks.

Side note: Everybody we met in Australia was friendly and nice. Seriously everybody. It was so nice to meet folks that were so genuinely friendly. Awesome country!

We arrived at the sand dunes which is actually at Anna Bay. It was mind blowing how beautiful the dunes were. The sky was blue and the blue of the ocean stood in contrast to the white sands that stretched as far as you could see. We used Port Stephens 4 Wheel Drive Tours to take us out to the dunes. They have a huge all wheel drive vehicle that goes over almost anything. We arrive at a dune that was crazy tall and hundreds of yards long. It was part of a dune area that stretched for miles. We got our boards, climbed up to the top (not easy!) and started sledding down. It was awesome fun!

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Port Stephens 4 Wheel Drive Tours Webpage

When we were done surfing the dunes we headed back in the 4 wheel drive truck. Our driver was really cool and took us down the beach where we were able to see a pod of blue whales moving up the coast!
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After the dunes we headed north towards Port Macquarie to rest for the night. That was a bit of a drive and took around 3 hours. We stopped at MacDonald's (or Macca's as it's called) and we all agreed that the MacDonald's in Australia is outstanding!

The next morning we got back on the road for Brisbane. About 10 miles into the drive we had to turn around due to a large crash further down the road. The detour got our GPS confused which became a little concerning since we had no clue where we were. We followed a line of cars that seemed to know where they were going and got back on track. We drove through wine country but didn't have time to stop (still regret that!), hill country, kangaroo country, forests and farmland. It was an amazing drive.
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Late in the afternoon we arrived in Brisbane. We checked into the motel and then Mary and I drove the car over to the rental car office to drop it off. The guy at the motel said it was an easy walk back, about a kilometer. That was the longest kilometer we ever walked. Felt more like 3 miles...

When we got back we went out for dinner at Hell Pizza. Catchy name for an awesome pizza joint.
Hell Pizza Webpage

We went to bed early since the next morning we were waking up extra early for the first flight to Cairns.

Posted by WaghVenture16 10:23 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Part 2: Sydney

sunny 57 °F
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We arrived in Sydney, Australia and after checking into the hotel we started to walk around in the Old Sydney area (also called The Rocks). 1/2 a block from our hotel we had an amazing view of the Sydney Opera House! We went completely tourist and started taking pictures of the opera house while walking along the taxi boat pier. We quickly found a Starbucks right across from the Circle Quay train station and everybody got caffeinated.

Note on jet lag: Heading west is not as bad as heading east, so for this part of the trip jet lag was a factor but not a huge factor. We planned to stay up as long as possible and then just wake up the next day at a normal time. In order to keep going this first morning we needed coffee.

Note on coffee in Australia: If you order coffee they will ask you what kind of coffee. A black coffee is called a long black and is similar to an Americano. A coffee with cream is a flat white...

Note on exchange rates in Australia: At the time the exchange rate was 1 US dollar = 1.30 Australian dollars. Which is really good since we are coming from the US. However it seems like everything cost about 30% more in Australia so it was really a break even. A grande coffee at Starbucks was about 5 AUD. Lastly, the places we visited were tourist spots so the prices tended to be higher than what you would find elsewhere. My way of saying that Sydney is not inexpensive.

While on the pier taking pictures we met some folks from the US. One of whom was from North Little Rock, Arkansas. Small world indeed! After walking along the pier we went over to a double decker (jump on jump off tour bus) and purchased a two day pass. We love these buses since they travel to a ton of tourist spots while sightseeing. We have used them all over the world and they are a great way to see a city.
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We made our way over to the Royal Botanical Gardens and had a great time walking around in this amazing park. The park leads around to the opera house where we continued taking pictures and soaking in the sites. Sydney is absolutely beautiful. The weather was great with clear skies and cool temps.
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We got back on the bus and rode around checking out the sites until lunchtime. We stopped at Harry's Café De Wheels to enjoy some meat pies. We ordered a mix of meat pies (Tiger Pie is crazy good), hot dogs and fries (chips). It was all delicious! Highly recommend if you are in Sydney.
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After lunch we continued to sightsee and made our way to the Sydney Fish Market. We saw a ton of crazy fish and sea creatures to include the largest lobster we have ever seen! There were several stalls where the vendors were cooking the seafood on a grill right in front of you. After the fish market we went back to the pier by our hotel and saw some folks making their own YouTube style music videos. Some dancing, some singing with everyone enjoying the afternoon.
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We were pretty tired at this point so we went to the hotel and crashed. Since it is winter in Sydney it starts getting dark at 4:30pm and is completely dark by 5:15ish. After a long day and giving in to jet lag we were all asleep by 6:30pm.

The next morning we hit the road and had a Starbucks breakfast before heading out to Bondi Beach. Bondi is absolutely stunning! We went out on the beach and got our feet wet in the water even though the water was cold. There were surfers riding crystal clear waves while we stood and watched. We had lunch at a noodle shop where they made the noodles in front of you by hand. After Bondi we went back into Sydney and walked through Hyde Park and saw the other half of the Botanical Gardens. We went back to Harry's for some more chips and then rode around sightseeing some more. After another great day we headed back to the hotel for the night.
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The next morning, Friday, we watched the sunrise over the opera house before checking out. We took a cab to the rental car agency to pick up our car and start our next driving adventure to Brisbane.
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Posted by WaghVenture16 09:03 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Part 1: IAH to SYD


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As an airline employee it can be difficult to fully plan a long trip. You won't know your next month's schedule until two weeks prior to next month beginning. You hope to get the days off you need in addition to the vacation days you bid for a year prior. In our case it all worked out. We would be free to travel from the 27th of June through most of July. The trip was on! Our plan was to go to Australia, make our way to Tokyo and then over to Hawaii before coming home.

Since we didn't know until the middle of June when the vacation would begin it made planning for hotels, cars and flights in Australia a bit of a challenge. Not so fun fact: Since we were arriving right about the time kids there start their winter break there are lots of families in Australia going on vacation and hotels, flights and car rentals were filling up fast. Did we know this prior to starting this trip.....nooooo, we did not. We were able to find some nice hotels and hoped the travel would work out accordingly. The car rentals were a little bit difficult too since we had to find a car that would hold 6 people plus bags. We got it all done and packed (checklists help!) and started looking forward to the first flight from Houston to LA.

The night before we were to leave we checked the flight and found that it was quickly overbooking with other airline employees. Given the nature of our reservations and timelines we elected to purchase seats to LA and avoid the stress. The afternoon of the 27th we arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport to start the trip!

The kids were pumped up to be flying since we normally take a road trip for vacation. Given the nature of airline employee travel we had never tried to take a flight trip with all six of us. We'll see if they still like air travel after this trip is done! We made it to the gate all the while answering questions about airports, airplanes, airplane food, airplane seats, airport moving sidewalks and just about anything else four kids can think to ask when they are excited.
Leaving Houston

Leaving Houston

Knuckleheads

Knuckleheads

IAH to LAX

IAH to LAX

Flight 1141 to LAX departed at 4:15pm and arrived 5:45pm. Already loving how the time zone changed a 3 hour flight into 1.5 hours. When we arrived we found the section of LAX that we were in was undergoing a complete refurbishment, to include the air conditioning. It was really hot and humid in the airport. We had a quick takeout dinner at Carl's Burgers and made our way to the gate to wait for our flight to Sydney, Australia.

While waiting we all plugged in our phones to charge and tried to get some rest. A few neck pillows were purchased which I highly recommend for anyone about to take a long flight. They make a big comfort difference! We put our phones on airplane mode (including the kids) and explained that it cannot come off airplane mode until we are back in the US. Check with your carrier but know that voice and data are really expensive overseas (If I were to do it again I would have purchased a burner phone on arrival and used it).

And with that we boarded for our flight. We couldn't get first as it had completely booked up but we were able to get economy plus. Nice seats, large lcd display and plenty of room. Based on our direction of flight we were going to depart in darkness and stay in darkness for the next 15 hours. It made sleeping easier but we knew it was going to mess with our body clocks when we arrived. Arrival time was scheduled for 7am on the 29th of June. We lost a full day crossing the international dateline.

We enjoyed dinner and some movies (like 5 or 6 movies) and tried to get some sleep. Great flight and great cabin crew made for a very nice ride! As we descended for landing the sun was just peeking over the horizon. It backlit the clouds and made for a really nice arrival. After landing we joined the long line to go through customs and make our way to a cab for the ride to the hotel. As soon as we stepped outside we started to laugh. It was 46 degrees! It felt great after leaving Houston in the 90's. There was no humidity and the sky was clear. It was awesome.
Here we go LAX to SYD

Here we go LAX to SYD

Diggin it!

Diggin it!

Love the entertainment screens

Love the entertainment screens

Inflight route map

Inflight route map

Sunrise on arrival into SYD

Sunrise on arrival into SYD

Our cab ride took about 45 minutes due to the rush hour traffic but we arrived at our hotel (Holiday Inn Old Sydney) located in a historic area called the Rocks. We dropped off our bags and hit the road to start sightseeing!

Posted by WaghVenture16 07:43 Archived in USA Tagged iah_lax lax_syd Comments (0)

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