Going to Australia BRB
January 11, 2011 12:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm traveling with friends to Australia in March, and this will be the first time I've left North America! I'm covered on basic travel requirements (passport, ETA, etc), but what else should I bring with me? What should I know (about traveling, about Australia... anything!)?

We'll be going to Melbourne, Cairns, somewhere around Ayers Rock and Sydney, and we're flying over from Los Angeles. Things I've already thought of:

Alerting my bank/health insurance/credit cards to my travel plans
Copying all my important travel and ID docs and leaving them with someone over here while I'm gone
Picking up a travel plug adapter
Cell phone (it should still work)
No Crocodile Dundee quotes

What else?
posted by katillathehun to Travel & Transportation around Australia (61 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For one thing, they don't call it Ayers Rock anymore.

Apart from that, watch out for Drop Bears.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:04 PM on January 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

It is a rather lovely, first world country. Once you have your travel documents, money and insurance there isn't an awful lot you need that you couldn't easily get there if you'd forgotten it.

In answer to your question about what you need: lay out all the stuff you need on a flat surface like a bed. Then halve it. You just won't need it all.

I wouldn't buy sunscreen in the US and transport it. It's one of the things most likely to burst open at altitude in a plane hold and the Aussies sell lots of good suncreams: it's a national obsession.

The one thing I would do is email yourself to a hotmail/gmail account things like your itinerary, a scan of your passport etc. It's a handy place to have back up copies. Also mail yourself things like your travel insurance details and what number to call if your credit cards get nicked. It just saves hassle.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:05 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Copy your passport and leave the copy in your suitcase.

Bring any prescription drugs in their original containers.

Have a copy of your eyeglass prescription.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 1:05 PM on January 11, 2011

Watch out for dropbears!

Do you really need to bring sunscreen? I'd just buy it here, it's available in every corner store/supermarket/chemist/service (gas) station.

The weather is unpredictable at best, bring both summer and winter clothing unless you want to do a bit of shopping here.

I may be corrected on this, but I think it's becoming politically incorrect to call Ayers Rock anything other than Uluru, which is the traditional Aboriginal name. (Climbing it is also becoming politically incorrect.)

A Canadian friend had the time of her life when she rode a camel near Uluru. The sunrises and sunsets are supposed to be spectacular, don't forget your camera.

On preview: what Faint of Butt said about dropbears and Uluru.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:07 PM on January 11, 2011

Call Ayers Rock "Uluru", since that's its name now. Also, don't even try to say "G'day" in public. Us North Americans just can't pull it off.

I spent 6 months in Australia, and it's very traveler friendly. No problems at all with my debit and credit cards. I had a little trouble opening a bank account since I didn't bring photo ID other than my passport, but it doesn't sounds like you'll need that.

If you're going to Uluru in the summer, it's just as hot as everyone says it is. Don't be a hero, picking up a wide brimmed hat is definitely worth it.

They're very serious when you're flying into the country about bringing in anything organic. Think about how serious the TSA is about finding bombs, and that's how much they care about finding contraband vegetables at the airport. Best to not bring anything on the flight that you won't mind throwing out.
posted by auto-correct at 1:09 PM on January 11, 2011

Dont ask for Fosters (beer). Seriously. You may as well be waving an ignorant tourist flag. Victoria Bitters ('Gimme a VB') if your in southern Australia/New South Wales, but there's probably a lot more varieties since I was there 15 years ago.

And check out Tasmania if you have a chance. Awesome.
posted by elendil71 at 1:09 PM on January 11, 2011

Response by poster: Uluru: noted.

Drop bears: I've heard that one, guys. ;-)
posted by katillathehun at 1:20 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Australia is easy and none of the differences are something you need to prepare for. You certainly aren't going to be the first or last tourist to call it Ayers Rock.

Just don't try to outdrink any locals. And I don't recommend bringing up the Aboriginals, it can bring out a nasty side of people.
posted by smackfu at 1:20 PM on January 11, 2011

As autocorrect has said Australia takes quarantine seriously. Here's a guide to everything you can't bring into the country.

You'll pick most of the rest up when you get here. It's not Mars.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:21 PM on January 11, 2011

It is a lovely country. But surrounded by, and full of wildlife that can kill you. Or outbox you. Also, they think 600 horsepower road trains, driving on the "wrong" side of the road, are a good idea. And in Sydney, for fun, they'll suggest you climb a bridge, and sell you a ticket to do so...
posted by paulsc at 1:23 PM on January 11, 2011

I've been abroad for quite a while... after some time I realized that as long as you're in a first world country logistics are simply, nothing to worry about. Anything you need you can get. You're not going to space, so pack light.

Other than logistics, what I would tell myself before I left the US for the first time is... don't be in a rush, don't relocate too much, don't cram your days with "activities," don't see so many "attractions" that everything just becomes yet another church/museum/building/whatever.

Personally, the rhythms and distinct textures of places are more interesting to me than "attractions" (not that I would totally eschew them). To better appreciate these things, you need to spend some real time in a place, and better yet, try to establish some sort of actual life there - take a language class, get a short-term job, etc.

What I would definitely not do is get on the competitive-traveling circuit, going from hostel to hostel, always looking for the next party, and only meeting other backpackers.
posted by tempythethird at 1:23 PM on January 11, 2011

Do we still sell Fosters? You learn something new everyday. I'm a Toohey's New girl myself, VB gives me a headache.

While in Melbourne, you might want to check out an AFL (aka Aussie rules) football game. I've never been a big fan but apparently the atmosphere is incredible.

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay (Sydney CBD) to Manly and back. Best way to see the harbour up close. Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge (or to the top, if you dare).

Sydney has some great museums, and some great people-watching. I've complained about Darling Harbour, but sitting at one of the outdoor bar/restaurants there and people-watching can be great entertainment.

I'll no doubt be popping back in here repeatedly as stuff comes to mind.

posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:29 PM on January 11, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, and I forgot to mention - we're only going to be there for a couple of weeks.
posted by katillathehun at 1:30 PM on January 11, 2011

My girlfriend and I just got back from a long holiday in Australia. We had an absolute blast. People were very friendly. We rented a campervan (from Jucy rentals, but there are tons of options) and really enjoyed it, it was a great way to go where we wanted, when we wanted, without having to worry about accommodation. If you go this route, make sure you get some mosquito netting, as there are plenty of "mossies" in Aus, and it will be nice to open a few of the windows at night.

You're definitely right as far as your short list, but also:

Tipping is not required in restaurants etc., and people won't think anything of it if you don't tip, but people occasionally tip for excellent service.

When you get to the airport, go to a Vodafone kiosk in the terminal. You can get a prepaid SIM card to pop into your phone for $29 that comes with $150 calling credit, $150 texting credit, and 500MB of data usage. It was really easy to set up and use, and you'll avoid paying out the nose through your US provider. I updated facebook and emailed more frequently while traveling than I do at home.

Get your travel adapter at Target or somewhere else if it's cheap, but if you have to spend more than $15 on it, don't bother. You can get them cheap all over the place down there.

Cairns is pronounced "cans." Do NOT pronounce it "cairns."

If you enjoy beer, get a Fat Yak while you're down there.

The architecture and city planning in Melbourne is amazing. People tend to either love it or hate it - I found it very creative without being tacky. It's easy and affordable to get around on public transport there, especially trams. The Melbourne CBD (Central Business District, or downtown) has tons of great little alleyways and side streets with lots of awesome restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. Make sure you leave some time to wander around downtown for that reason, between Flinders Street and La Trobe. There are some really beautiful parks, especially near Parliament. Crown Plaza (right across the river from the CBD) is a big high-end mall/casino/movie theatre, with lots of great-but-pricey restaurants and bars, we wandered around for a bit inside because it feels and looks a lot like Vegas. St Kilda is a great area, lots of bars and restaurants, right near the beach, it's a pretty happening area at night-time. Brighton Beach was nice, it's on the South end of Melbourne, lots of really colorful local-owned shacks there, though the sand isn't the best. If you go to Brighton Beach, go to the cafe at the corner of South Rd and Esplanade Ave, I don't know the name but it's owned and run by this Italian family that bicker with each other in a really entertaining way. Great food for cheap, and the coffee was outstanding.

If you get the chance, DEFINITELY drive west out of the Melbourne area down the Great Ocean Road. We went out to Loch Ard Gorge and back, and it was amazing. Tons of really laid-back beaches, AMAZING scenery, and for most of the time you're driving right along the ocean (similar to the Pacific Coast Highway in California). Stop for a bite or a day in Lorne. Walk down to the beach at the Gibson steps, which is right next to the Twelve Apostles. Just past the Twelve Apostles, stop at Loch Ard Gorge and head down to the beach there, it's tucked away in a little bay and would be perfect to spend an afternoon and take a dip - there's very little surf.

Sydney was a lot of fun, we really enjoyed The Rocks (oldest area of the CBD, at the North end near the famous Harbour Bridge, tons of good bars and restaurants) and Manly. The beach at Manly will be a bit crowded but we enjoyed it, and there's a great walking mall leading from the beach to the ferry. Definitely take the ferry between Manly (or some other ferry destination, there are 2 or 3) and Circular Quay, it's cheap and a great way to see many different angles of the beautiful part of the city (Darling Harbour, Opera House, Harbour Bridge, etc.). Newtown is a great walkable area with lots of good bars/restaurants/shops. We enjoyed driving through the eucalyptus forests in Ku-Ring-Gai national park, which is a 30-minute drive North of the CBD. The zoo was a lot of fun, not huge, but it was good regardless. The aquarium and zoo were full of little kids, but we went during the holidays so it will definitely be better while you're there. The underwater walkways at the aquarium were really cool. There's a glass-bottom boat ride you can take just past the tubes for $5, we definitely thought it was worth it. There are a couple good bars/restaurants in King's Cross, but it's missable. If you inadvertently get on a toll road, you have 48 hours to sign up for a toll pass online, but after that your car rental company will get mailed a ticket, so make sure you follow up on it.

I haven't been to Ayers Rock or Cairns, so I can't help you out there.

Best of luck, I hope you love it as much as we did!
posted by hootenatty at 1:41 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a good idea to have a hat with a brim (you can get one once you arrive quite easily), and good layering clothes, as malibustacey says. If you find yourself needing clothing, I recommend going to an op shop (thrift store) rather than retail - for one thing, clothes will be expensive in Australia (for an American), and 2) op shops are fun.

Seconding hootenatty's advice on Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road. I can't speak for other cities, but the Lonely Planet guide to Melbourne had some great walking tours, one of which was a laneways tour.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:46 PM on January 11, 2011

There is much less available free wifi than there is in the US though most public libraries have available wifi/internet. You're more likely to come up against bandwidth limitations as well. I've had a lot of luck going to gamer cafes and paying for an hour of internet for a few bucks. Make sure you are clear on what will happen with your phone, especially tricky stuff like data plans, you could get smacked with a very serious overage.

You'll need more sunscreen than you need in the US but you can definitely buy it there. Coming from an IP in a different country may set you up with a different version of the sites you're used to [Google's Australian site, MySpace resituated me to myspace.au and I've never gotten back from it] but this is not too terribly tough to remedy.

The "help me find a last minute hotel room" site there is wotif.com and I've had a lot of luck with it. There are a few craigslists in Australia but they're much less popular than they are in the US. Australian MeFites I've met have been delightful all the way across, try to arrange a meetup.
posted by jessamyn at 1:50 PM on January 11, 2011

No "dingo ate my baby" jokes at Uluru. Seriously.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:07 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

The jetlag will be strong. It's good to have a plan for your first day there that keeps you up and moving and preferably out in the sun a bit. The flight feels soooo long if you've never gone that far before, and if you're not a plane sleeper, and if you are particularly subject to the stress of travel, the temptation will be to just lay down and rest when you get there. If you can keep yourself from doing that on day 1 and just hold out until the first Australian night, you'll adjust more quickly. This article offers other tips.

I'm guessing you're aware of the difference in seasons. It'll be warm.

Fun day trips out to the reef from Cairns. Snorkeling is still great if you can't scuba.

Beer good.

If you're younger, hostels can be a great way to meet fun people and find fun things to do.
posted by Askr at 2:26 PM on January 11, 2011

We went to Australia for a vacation last January (from the States), and I have a few observations-

1. n-thing the Great Ocean Road recommendation - it's like Highway 1 in California, but much better. Plan on driving slowly and stopping frequently.

2. Food (and drink) is definitely much more expensive than most of the US- budget accordingly. Chips (fries) are served with, it seems, everything. Portions are often large, even by US standards.

3. Most Australian beer is pretty awful. Sorry, but it's not better than most US beer. The Little Creatures was the best I had while I was there (on par with decent, but not exceptional, US microbrew or decent British beer)

4. Distances are long- we drove out a ways on the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne and then back up along the East Coast to Brisbane. It was a great week roadtrip, but roads in Australia are a bit less developed than in much of the US. Note that "Highway" doesn't necessarily mean much; stick to fairly major roads unless you're prepared for some fairly crazy (in my estimation, having done some significant off-roading in the Western US) conditions. Of course, there's adventure in that.

5. Australia loves tacky stuff; giant banana, giant prawn, etc- all worth seeing, but not worth stopping much.

6. The sun is intense- I strongly recommend a hat as others have said.

7. Beautiful empty beaches are easy to find if you're driving- it's an amazing experience for those of us from the US where even mediocre beaches are usually crowded.

8. Australian coffee culture (especially in Melbourne) is pretty awesome. Learn what things are before you go; they're different from the US.

9. Cairns is tacky but fun. Our Great Barrier Reef plans were ruined by a cyclone. Shit happens, eh?

10. Australians are (in general) laid-back and fun-loving people. Don't expect a lot of formality.

11. From our drive, it seems like roadside motels are pretty common. In some ways, I felt a nostalgia for roadside America from long before I was born. We stayed in a variety of places....

12. The zoo in Sydney was a great choice when jetlagged (which we were)- it's smallish, but kinda cool. And (small) kangaroos in the petting zoo? Awesome! It was lots of fun for us Americans, though I think even kids were laughing at our enthusiasm for what are, basically, the equivalent of deer.

13. I'm pretty convinced platypi are a myth; they were "hiding" at both the zoo and the aquarium.

14. We did see a good amount of wildlife on our drive (koala with a parakeet squawking at it), echidna, kanagroos, wallabies, and lots of kinda-strange birds.)

15. We were fortunate enough to see a cricket match in Brisbane (visiting a friend of a friend who is a member). It was a lot of fun, actually, and I enjoyed it far more than I expected. But wow, it's confusing (even with someone patient willing to answer lots of questions.) Still, I highly recommend a sporting match if possible.
posted by JMOZ at 2:35 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ketchup is called "sauce" and they put beets and fried eggs on their hamburgers. And it tastes really good.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:50 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Buy before you go:

1) power adapters and travel transformer (Austrailia has different voltage as well as plug shape). The right adapter is much easier to find in your country of origin. You'll mostly find their adapters for the US if you look in Austrailia.

2) photocopies of your photo page, travel info, ticket info, important phone numbers, etc.. to stash seperate from your actual documents. I often stick the copy in my checked luggage and keep the originals with the carry on. If one set gets misplaced or stolen, you have a backup. I've also taken to scanning them and keeping copies in my Gmail box---if I loose everything, I can get copies of my info from an Internet cafe at least.

3) a cheap unlocked GSM phone. Very handy. Buy a prepaid SIM at the airport or whatever and you've got service for your whole trip. Great for booking reservations, checking on times for events, or whatever. If you want to call home, look for prepaid long-distance cards in country (or use Skype/Google Voice if you have it)

A decent packing list can be found here.

Also, last time we took a trip we found that having a netbook was extremely handy, much better than relying only on local tourist info. Great also for mailing back home, music management and picture storage.

4) We often take a light duffle with us for tourist swag and bringing back gifts. If you do this, make certain that you only take one checked item outbound so you can take an extra on the way back. This may now also cost extra. You may want to check with your airline on this.

Don't bother taking any replaceable items you don't need to, like sunscreen. Liquids have a nasty tendency to burst in checked luggage and are a pain to carry on. If it's going to be a hassle in security or in your luggage, and you can buy it there for a few bucks, do it that way.
posted by bonehead at 2:57 PM on January 11, 2011

funny, a dozen people have mentioned beer, yet no one wine. Yet me make middling average beers, excellent wines. Go out to the Yarra valley for a winery tour (from Melbourne), I think you can organise them from the little kiosks on Swanston street.

Ask us nicely we'll arrange a meetup.

For packing advice, seriously, we're a lot more like you than you may think, pretty much anything important you can get in your home town you can get here. Don't stress about it. Just your passport and credit card really.
posted by wilful at 3:12 PM on January 11, 2011

My tip for Melbourne, which we usually do with visitors and they LOVE, is to pop along to Carlton Gardens after dusk with an apple and feed the possums. They are cocky little bastards and have no problems grabbing small chunks of fruit off you.
posted by Wantok at 3:17 PM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Flat white.
Thanks love.

Before you go, make sure you enjoy our amazing culinary traditions. All of them. Or we won't let you come back:

- fish and chips on a beach, washed down with a bottle of Pasito (Solo is a poor but acceptable substitute) - be sure that the fish is battered, that the chips come with salt (I will grudgingly allow chicken salt), and that you also order a pineapple fritter, some potato scallops, and a dim sim;
- a meat pie with sauce and a 600ml carton of flavoured milk;
- eating a sausage roll with a knife and fork and washing it down with a mugaccino;
- Vegemite toast and a cup of too-sweet too-milky scalding hot tea;
- a ham and salad sandwich with beetroot and too much onion and alfalfa;
- a burger with pineapple, egg and beetroot;
- a bowl of Nutri-grain (yes, I said a bowl);
- a big-arsed bowl of laksa in a Thai restaurant (laksa being a traditional Thai dish);
- a roast pork roll with gravy and chips in a mall food court;
- a mug of hot Milo with too much sugar and a couple of biscuits - Iced Vovos are nice;
- pikelets with jam and cream;
- pavlova (f*ck you New Zealand, you probably put f*ckin' canned spaghetti on it)
- scones (you may as well splurge one day at have tea at the Observatory in Sydney)
- a decent doner kebab - you must have it with sweet chili sauce and barbeque sauce on the same kebab, and you should probably get grated cheese;
- a sausage sandwich (try a large hardware store on a weekend);
- a fatty forequarter lamb chop from a barbeque, black on the outside, with brown crispy fat on the edge, too many bones, blood raw in parts and with too much sauce and served on a paper plate with a 'salad' comprising a tablespoon of iceberg lettuce, a hard wedge of not-quite-ripe tomoto, a slice of Lebanese cucumber and a cube of Coon cheese;
- canned spaghetti on white toast with margarine;
- a vanilla slice;
- a chocolate or banana Paddlepop;
- sweet and sour pork with fried rice, a spring roll and some prawn crackers;
- VitaBrits with banana and milk (for the brave - a dry one spread with Vegemite or peanut butter);
- fairy bread;
- a Chiko roll.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:46 PM on January 11, 2011 [8 favorites]

Should note that with all the flooding that is happening in Queensland that the out flow of water has muddied the Great Barrier Reef and it is supposed to take many months to clean up. It may or may not be as blue and lovely as it usually is... perhaps brown and not so inviting. As you are visiting Cairns I assume you want to see the GBR?

Article here
posted by latch24 at 3:49 PM on January 11, 2011

You can probably leave your health insurance card at home - most US plans will not cover you outside of the states. Purchase a basic travel insurance policy that includes health coverage of some sort. Most plans operate on a reimbursement system (if you have to visit a doctor, you pay cash/charge the visit, then submit it when you get home to be reimbursed.) World Nomads offers really affordable plans that cover pretty much everything.
posted by buttercup at 3:56 PM on January 11, 2011

Do not get laksa from any Thai restaurant, it isn't a Thai dish. You will find lots of Malaysian restaurants cheap, especially near universities. Sydney has good Thai food, Melbourne doesn't (certainly not as many, anyway.)

Avoid your VBs, Tooheys, XXXX, etc and try local brews. There are lots of beers around that are worth tasting. THumbs up to Fat Yak as mentioned up thread, and Little Creatures.

You won't see much filter coffee around. Most places have espresso, it is served smaller than bucket size.

You can buy anything here you need, but clothes and shoes will be more expensive.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:58 PM on January 11, 2011

obiwanwasabi has provided an absolute mishmash hodgepodge of junk food and junk ideas.

I mean, "potato scallops", who ever heard of such nonsense? They're potato cakes. And Iced Vovos?? So sophisticated, calling them 'biscuits', you may as well have said tick-tocks, and they're bickies. Yet where are the tim tams? And you say doner kebab, I say souvlaki, they say gyros.

Sausage "sandwich"? I think he means a sanger in bread, onions optional, (I agree, best bought from the scouts outside Bunnings on saturday morning).

Vanilla slice is better known as a snot block, while you're at the bakery pick up a lamington.

At a vietnamese bakery, grab a pork roll, fatty pate included, say yes to the chilli, don't worry about the salmonella.
posted by wilful at 4:04 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

obiwanwasabi has provided an absolute mishmash hodgepodge of junk food and junk ideas.

Fair go - there's bloody salad with the chop, and there are probably peas in the fried rice.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:50 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dont ask for Fosters (beer). Seriously. You may as well be waving an ignorant tourist flag.

Agreed. Fosters is a horrible export beer. No one here drinks it.

Victoria Bitters ('Gimme a VB') if your in southern Australia/New South Wales, but there's probably a lot more varieties since I was there 15 years ago.

VB is the generally cheapest tap beer and is IMO swill. We have a lot of great beers around - just try a few different ones and see what you like. I tend to drink Coopers, or Little Creatures Pale Ale. I'm also partial to the White Rabbit dark ale. Ciders are currently enjoying a resurgence - Mercury is good, 5 Seeds is common and a bit lighter.

We have excellent vineyards. The Hunter Valley is a good bet in NSW, but also the vineyards around Mudgee are also good.

Your cell phone will work if it is GSM unlocked, just pickup a pre-paid card. There are providers at the airport. .

Plenty of cafes and such with free wifi (at least in Sydney and Melbourne), so an internet capable phone or network may be a good plan.

Plenty of sunscreen here - no need to bring it with you.

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival starts on 1 April. It's a good time to be in the city, and there will be a lot of stuff to see, but accomodation can book out.

Hiking in the Great Dividing Range, or even in the Blue Mountains (edge of the city), is pretty great (NSW). Threadbo is lovely for Summer/Autumn hiking.

The Sydney Bridgeclimb is awesome, but pricey. On a sunny afternoon, the Opera Bar (on the foreshore next to the Sydney Opera House), is a great place to spend some time. Leave before the after work crowd hits at about 5:30 or 6:00.

Some may disagree, but I think that Luna Park (Sydney or Melbourne) is a fun, kitchy way to spend an afternoon.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:57 PM on January 11, 2011

I mean, "potato scallops", who ever heard of such nonsense? They're potato cakes.

I side with obiwanwasabi on that one. I've never heard them call 'potato cakes'. Micro cultural differences?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:59 PM on January 11, 2011

call = called. My bad.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:59 PM on January 11, 2011

If you plant to read any books on your holiday, take them with you. Books are so expensive in Australia that most of my friends buy theirs from the US or UK Amazon sites as they're much cheaper than from Australian bookshops, even including international postage. DVDs and CDs are similarly overpriced.

For beer, I recommend Coopers Green.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:01 PM on January 11, 2011

If you have a mailbox, stop your mail and any other regular deliveries, or have someone pick them. But if you have a mail slot in your door, or a PO Box, it's probably no big deal (unless you get a lot of mail).
posted by filthy light thief at 5:09 PM on January 11, 2011

'Potato cakes' in Victoria, 'potato scallops' elsewhere. Ask for a scallop in a Victorian fish and chip shop and you'll get a battered, deep-fried scallop. Very sensible.

katillathehun, take this as a microcosm of the fierce but friendly interstate rivalries that exist here!
posted by une_heure_pleine at 5:24 PM on January 11, 2011

une_heure_pleine - Thanks for that. THE MORE YOU KNOW [rainbow star]
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:35 PM on January 11, 2011

Here's a weird thing about travelling to Australia, you can buy duty-free goods after you've arrived. This is certainly true of Sydney airport, can others confirm it's the same elsewhere?

So, you get off your plane, and before you get to passport control/customs/baggage claim, there's a duty-free shop with all the stuff you'd expect. I think this is unique in the world.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:36 PM on January 11, 2011

True of Adelaide Airport as well. It's the cheapest place to buy liquor, except of course for the international travel cost.
posted by gingerest at 5:43 PM on January 11, 2011

Try every Australian beer possible
Try every Australian wine possible
Try every coffee possible
Try and eat at a range of restaurants...
Try Vegemite.

Don't worry about whether its better or worse than U.S versions, just enjoy it all for what it is.

There is nothing here you can't get in U.S, it just might be called something different here.

Australians will be happy to help you find a train, a street, somewhere to eat, somewhere to go etc.

posted by MT at 5:53 PM on January 11, 2011

Melbourne, Cairns, somewhere around Ayers Rock and Sydney

Fair suck of the sav! In two weeks?

Okay, while you're in the NT (Northern Territory) seeing Uluru, try and see the Devil's marbles and the Olgas. I thought the telegraph station also was pretty cool as it represents the first cross country telegraph line, done by one team over a period of a couple years on horse and camelback, extraordinary.

The Alice (Alice Springs) is also pretty cool. Small, has touristy things, but it really has it's own flavour.

Now, it's going to be March, the end of summer, so it's going to be bloody hot. Forget bringing your sunscreen with you unless you can find SPF 30+, and this is particularly important in the Territory and Cairns. Stay inside between 11-2pm if you can. Otherwise, really, long sleeve shirts, broad brimmed hat, slather on sunscreen every couple of hours.

In Cairns, you can go out to Low Isle & Green Isle (I'd pick Low, it has a light house and no shops the last time I was there). A lot of famous people seem to like Port Douglas (the major park there is named after my dad). Can't miss the Mossman Gorge, seriously, or the Kuranda rail trip. Must do. Honest. Do not expect to swim in the ocean (plus there's no waves up there anyhow), but you might get a dip in the Mossman Gorge.
posted by b33j at 5:59 PM on January 11, 2011

Uluru (Ayers Rock) is incredible, and well worth seeing.

In Melbourne -

Definitely do the Great Ocean Road drive, and a day long Yarra Valley Winery tour. You can book both these day tours online, and just turn up at the allocated meeting point in the CBD at the right time. Both are wonderful, unique, and laid back - quintessentially "Victoria".

I always bring visitors on a bar tour - Melbourne is full of tiny, hidden laneway bars that have great atmosphere. I can recommend some if bars are your thing, but I would start with Cookie (especially good for a late afternoon drink), The Supper Club, Hairy Canary, Spice Market (for a glitzy friday night post work drinks experience), Gin Palace. These are the classics.

I always take visitors to eat - Pellegrinis on Spring st is one of Melbourne's oldest Italian diner style restaurants, with fantastic food. The Press Club has good, upmarket greek food. Movida for wonderful tapas and a great setting. If you want an incredible meal, check out any of the really high end restaurants in Crown. If you want Vietnamese food, Mekong on Swanston St has cheap good meals. Eat a Souvlaki at Stalactites on Russell St.

Check out Federation Square - there's always cool things happening there. St Kilda beach and Acland St (in the same area) are very nice for a beachy morning or afternoon. Brunswick St for a more hippy village-ish area with awesome little shops, kitsch-ness and good restaurants/cafes.

In Sydney -

Climb the bridge if you can/want! Friends who are incredibly well travelled tell me its the most thrilling thing they've done.

The Opera House is magnificent architecture (and has interesting history behind it).

Manly Beach/Bondi Beach in Sydney are great - if you go to Manly there's the added bonus of taking the ferry which is in itself a really nice experience. Fresh fish and chips on the beach. Ahhhh.

You can visit the fish market, and get some really fresh seafood and eat it right there. Queen Victoria Building has beautiful interior architecture, if that's your thing. Broadway (the suburb) has really nice cafes.

Generally -

Little Creatures Pale Ale is really nice to drink. Don't drink VB's.
Visit Tasmania if you can, it's beautiful (if you like nature).
Try and find a good pub meal - when i first moved here that was an experience.
Melbourne has especially good coffee and cafes. Also - very good gelati!

Have fun! Australians are really friendly and love showing this country of theirs off - so tell any Aussies you meet that you want to do some things that are really Australian, and they'll be happy to oblige/suggest things! :)
posted by shazzam! at 6:22 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

A very, very helpful website for packing and general travel tips: http://www.onebag.com/

My boyfriend and I spent three weeks in Europe over the summer with one bag between us (and I don't travel light--I'm allergic to everything so I had to bring everything with me, even toilet paper). I followed the website's advice and bought a rubbery clothesline (the one he recommends) and that was very helpful. Pack lightweight clothes and you can wash them in the sink, wring them by rolling them in a towel, hang them on the line, and they'll be dry in the morning. If it gets chilly, you just wear layers of your lightweight clothes (don't bring jeans--they'll never dry).

The trip to Europe was my first across the ocean and one thing I wish I'd done was to save all my ticket stubs, menus, maps, etc. to use to make a collage or something when I got back. Also, I wish I'd brought a cheap duffel or something to put all the stuff we bought into for the trip back home.

One thing that was very helpful to me was having my iPod Touch with the free Kindle app; I just downloaded a few books on it and I didn't have to lug them around with me. I wish I'd also downloaded movies on it to help pass the time on the planes.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:10 PM on January 11, 2011

Was looking at the onebag site and I want to make a special pitch for this page of travel links: http://www.onebag.com/link.html. He's got helpful info on every aspect of travel here.

Oh, and one more thing: if you know your itinerary, it sometimes pays to book activities online before you go. We took the Eurostar and wound up paying WAY too much for it because we decided to be spontaneous and not book very far in advance.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:22 PM on January 11, 2011

I used to work front desk of a hotel in Sydney with a lot of American guests. The number one thing that they commented on was the cost of food and drink here - I've not been to the States so I'm not sure how it compares, but many Americans were quite shocked to pay $3-4 for a soft drink, or $40 for a bottle of name-brand spirits. As others have mentioned, clothes, DVDs and books here are exorbitant - don't plan on buying anything here you can't get at home if you can help it.

A lot of people also want to try kangaroo - unfortunately it's a bit out of fashion at the moment, so the only places that do it are usually a bit touristy. You can buy it for dirt-cheap in the big supermarkets though if you have access to a BBQ or a cooktop. If you do want to find a restaurant serving it, your hotel concierge should know. It's a really common request. On the other hand, if you like Brazilian barbecue, there seems to be a new one opening every week (of wildly varying quality).

Koalas are not bears. Taronga Zoo is awesome, and the ferry ride out there is nice too.

When you see a price tag on something, it includes tax (10% Goods and Services tax on most things except fresh produce). The sales tax is the same in every state.

Swim between the red-and-yellow flags. We have a whole TV show dedicated to watching tourists get sucked into rips. If it's a hot day but not many people are in the water, there's probably a good reason for it. Bluebottles are horrid little creatures.

We have more than one TV show about catching tourists out at Customs. Don't bring any of this stuff.

The Bridge Climb is nice, but spendy. You can climb up one of the southern pylons for only a few dollars and the view is still good - also, it takes a lot less time.

Also, Obiwanwasabi - your comment make me cry laughing. Are meat pies popular in the US? If not, you should definitely have one. With lots of tomato sauce.

Your American or Euro sunscreen that says it is SPF60+ is not necessarily as good as an Australian-made one which says 30+ (legally, they can't be labelled any higher than that, and you still need to reapply regularly). You need a shot-glass worth to cover your whole body. Don't skimp. Aside from skin cancer, the discomfort of a really bad sunburn will ruin your whole holiday. Also, people will call you a Pom. (I'm Australian, and this happens to me when I get burned.)

One random thing - if you find yourself out-of-doors and you realise you've forgotten sunscreen, or missed a spot, ask the nearest cafe with outdoor seating if they happen to have some. This has worked for me on more than one occasion!
posted by jaynewould at 7:55 PM on January 11, 2011

Oh and sorry for the fact that our respective dollars are at parity now. It used to be at about 70c. But it's not our fault, it's the US Federal Reserve's. At least it makes translating the cost of things easy!
posted by wilful at 8:01 PM on January 11, 2011

Response by poster: Should note that with all the flooding that is happening in Queensland that the out flow of water has muddied the Great Barrier Reef and it is supposed to take many months to clean up. It may or may not be as blue and lovely as it usually is... perhaps brown and not so inviting. As you are visiting Cairns I assume you want to see the GBR?

We were originally planning to see the reef, but we've been keeping up with the news on the flooding. It's not likely we'll be going to the reef, and whether or not we still go to Cairns at all is up in the air right now as the news keeps getting worse! For now, we're still looking at options in the area just in case as it sounds like a neat place, GBR or not.
posted by katillathehun at 11:25 PM on January 11, 2011

(Australian here.) Welcome! I hope you have a wonderful time! ^_^ There's a lot of gorgeous things to see. ^_^

Hmm, some of hazards to be aware of (not an exhaustive list by any means) :

Dehydration. It gets really, really hot (and in some parts of Australia, really humid/really dry). Please drink plenty of water to avoid tiredness, grumpiness and headaches.

Sunburn. Seriously, the sun here is fierce, and some parts of Australia (Melbourne and Perth) have no ozone layer to speak of. On a fine January day in Australia, you can get burnt in less than 15 minutes. Minimise time in the sun between 10am and 3pm - peak UV time.

Wear a broad brimmed hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen. (No need to bring it in your luggage though, you can buy it everywhere from petrol stations to supermarkets.) The top sunscreen you can buy here is SPF 30+. Wear sun protective clothing and seek shade wherever possible.

Heat-stroke. It gets really hot in some parts of Australia. Remember to adjust your activity levels accordingly, and try to stay in the shade between 10am and 3pm.

Snakes. Australia has some 140 species of land snake, and around 32 species of sea snakes have been recorded in Australian waters. Some 100 Australian snakes are venomous, although only 12 are likely to inflict a wound that could kill you.

If you are bushwalking, wear sturdy hiking boots, and if you see a snake, leave it the hell alone. I've lived in Australia 34 years and have only once seen a snake while bushwalking, so you should be fine, but if you do see one, please be careful.

I would suggest popping a pressure-bandage in your pocket if you are bushwalking, just in case.

Mosquitos - in some areas, they can carry Ross River fever (Australia-wide); Dengue fever (periodic outbreaks in north Queensland); Barmah Forest virus (Australia-wide).

In general, mosquitoes are most active at sunrise and sunset. So that’s the time of day you should take special care to avoid being bitten.

Use personal 'tropical strength' insect repellents containing 'DEET' or 'picaridin' (always read the label and follow manufacturers guidelines, particularly for infants).

Use a plug-in zapper (indoors).

Use mosquito coils (indoors and outdoors.

Choose screened or air-conditioned holiday accommodation.

Wear long, loose clothing outdoors whenever mosquitoes are prevalent.

If camping, sleep under a mosquito net and zip up tents whenever possible.
posted by with the singing green stars as our guide at 12:44 AM on January 12, 2011

Other suggestions:

Check how your travel plans may be affected by the current floods in Queensland, New South Wales, and Western Australia's Gascoyne region.

Lonely Planet do a really nice guidebook to Australia, which is worth buying.

Food prices may be higher than you are used to. You are not expected to tip anyone, and no one will get upset or offended if you don't tip them. The minimum wage (for someone over 18 years old) is $15 per hour. Some people may not be allowed to accept tips, either by their employers policy or by law.

If you drive between cities (especially between Perth/Adelaide), be aware that distances may be very long, and very, very unpopulated. Only drive with plenty of petrol, plenty of water, and a reliable vehicle. Tell someone reliable where you are going, and when you expect to arrive.
posted by with the singing green stars as our guide at 12:58 AM on January 12, 2011

Don't bother taking any replaceable items you don't need to, like sunscreen. Liquids have a nasty tendency to burst in checked luggage and are a pain to carry on. If it's going to be a hassle in security or in your luggage, and you can buy it there for a few bucks, do it that way.

If you are like me and absolutely obsessed with wearing sunblock at all times, buy one of the small solids by Neutrogena or Coppertone. Maybe you will find a stronger/better one in Australia, but you can stick this in your purse for reapplication and whatnot. Because it's solid you don't have to worry about air travel liquid requirements or spilled sunscreen in your luggage.

This thread really makes me want to go to Australia. Have fun!
posted by JenMarie at 1:26 AM on January 12, 2011

Re: Ularu, as a couple of other people have mentioned, it's going to be stinking hot in central Australia in March. nthing the hat and loose clothes and so on.

Another thing to keep in mind is the distance involved in getting to Ulura/Kata Tjuta - it must be 500km out of Alice Springs and the hire car companies probably won't let you take their cars out there. But accomodation at the settlement close to the area (Yulara) is eye-gougingly expensive.

We did a day trip with one of the tour companies (Emu Run Tours I think? It was a few years ago now). It was a very early morning and a LOT of time spent on the road with only a few hours at the good stuff. But otherwise it was excellent and I recommend them. What I wish we had done was book in a three day tour with them instead. They, and presumably other companies, run reasonably priced tours inclusive of (budget) accomodation to Ulura and also Palm Valley, Kings Canyon etc that would have been much better use of our time given the amount of travel involved. And really, there's not that much to do/see in Alice Springs anyway IMO.

Melbourne is lovely, not that I'm biased or anything, but other people have already suggested what I would suggest so nothing to add there.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by procrastinator_general at 1:31 AM on January 12, 2011

I had a friend out from the States in 2009 and we thought it was a good excuse to finally see Uluru. So she, my husband, and I went on one of the 3-day tours procrastinor_general mentioned. Ours was run by Wayoutback and it was FANTASTIC. Highly recommended if you prefer to get away from the posh tourist crowd. We hiked the most amazing scenery and cooked our own food and slept in swags under the most amazing night skies ever. Pics of the trip are on my blog.
posted by web-goddess at 2:25 AM on January 12, 2011

why do I have stray a's in my Uluru. Gah!
posted by procrastinator_general at 2:37 AM on January 12, 2011

As you can see, Aussies take sunscreen very seriously. We're not kidding about drinking water and beach safety either.

Seconding the recommendation of a laneway tour/wander in Melbourne.

If you do go up to Cairns, consider taking a day trip out to the Daintree Rainforest. Or a pair of floaties - they've predicted 6 cyclones this season but have only had one so far.

Try craft brews rather than the standard VB, Tooheys, Carlton Draught, etc. Wine is also really really good here - Yarra, Hunter and Barossa valleys are great, as is Margaret River for some premium drops. Kangaroo is great, so is emu ham, especially if you like game meats. Give Vegemite and Milo a go.

Travel light, with clothes you can layer when Melbourne suddenly gets overcast or the temperature drops at night when you're at Uluru.

If you get stuck, ask someone for help. We're really very friendly!
posted by harriet vane at 3:09 AM on January 12, 2011

As someone who's travelled back and forth between the U.S. and Australia more times than I care to remember now, here is my advice: buy a nice pair of noise-cancelling headphones, the kind that surround your ears. Then buy some earplugs (make sure to try them overnight once before you leave, because I found out the hard way that wearing too-large earplugs makes you wake up in immense pain).

When it's time to sleep on that 14h45m flight across the Pacific, insert earplugs, turn on noise cancelling, put on headphones, put on eye mask, sleep like a baby. The combo makes all the difference in the world in my jet-lag levels - I can sleep 9 hours, and come in to Sydney ready to roll. With only a couple of weeks, you really don't want to waste three or four days recovering. ;)
posted by po at 3:50 AM on January 12, 2011

I can't believe no one has suggested this book yet. I read it after I had been to Australia and just loved it. Funny, informative, and full of interesting background information on vast and beautiful and intriguing country that is Australia.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:57 AM on January 12, 2011

Heh, I think some people are giving suggestions for a two month trip rather than a two week trip. I spent two weeks and didn't get a chance to do half of what I wanted. It's a big country, and you end up wasting a lot of time in the airports or recovering from the jetlag.
posted by smackfu at 7:45 AM on January 12, 2011

If you're going to Uluru, definitely do a 3 day trip - everything is a long way apart in central Australia.

Jet lag is a pain - switch to the new timezone as soon as possible (like on the plane) and you might get used to it quicker.

n-thing the recommendation to take less stuff than you think you'll need. A multi-stop trip means that you'll be packing and re-packing constantly, and lifting your bags a lot.
posted by plonkee at 1:08 PM on January 12, 2011

Another thing to keep in mind is the distance involved in getting to Ulura/Kata Tjuta - it must be 500km out of Alice Springs and the hire car companies probably won't let you take their cars out there.

It is indeed almost 500km from Alice to Uluru, but I can confirm that hire car companies have no problem whatsoever with you taking their cars for the trip. You don't need an SUV / four wheel drive - an ordinary sedan will do the job. It's a lovely drive.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:25 PM on January 12, 2011

Some things that are worth seeing in Sydney:

Taronga Zoo. You can take the ferry across Sydney harbour to get there, and see the Opera house while you're at it.

Sydney Aquarium;

Art Gallery NSW;

The Museum of Contemporary Art.

I don't know what your budget is like, but the Sydney Central YHA has private rooms available, is clean, friendly, the staff are extremely helpful and knowledgeable, and it is very close to taxis and public transport. I've stayed there, and would stay there again. "Heated pool, sauna. Self-catering kitchens, laundries, games and TV rooms, locker hire, limited parking, group facilities, meeting rooms, disabled access, 24 hour security access, YHA Travel desk, internet, bistro, convenience store."
posted by with the singing green stars as our guide at 6:04 PM on January 12, 2011

A couple of other thoughts/observations-

1. Australians seem to understate dangers in the way USians overstate them. That is, in the US, a dangerous cliff is often marked, "Danger! Highly unstable! You will die!! Keep Away!!!!," while it seemed that in Australia, the same cliff might be marked, "Maybe don't run around here too much, as it's not entirely stable." I'm exaggerating a bit, but certainly take safety warnings (even lukewarm-seeming ones) very seriously.

2. If it's open while you're in Cairns, go to the fruit/veggie market. There are all sorts of awesome/amazing tropical fruits I've never seen in the US (for example, rambutans are like lychee, but spiky and kinda interesting. Mangosteens are unlike anything I've seen or eaten and are absolutely delicious.) Even familiar fruits will have unfamiliar (and delicious!) variations. The market in Melbourne is also cool, but not nearly as cool as in Cairns.
posted by JMOZ at 6:31 AM on January 13, 2011

Response by poster: Wow. So much excellent info here. Thanks, everyone! I don't even know where to start with the best answer marking. We've also decided to narrow our trip down to just Melbourne and Sydney. The flooding in Queensland is just too disastrous, and my heart goes out to those folks. Uluru sounds lovely, but we've already got enough jumping around scheduled as is this time.
posted by katillathehun at 12:10 PM on January 14, 2011

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