23 days in Australia, from Melbourne to Brisbane - help me decide how to spend them!
May 30, 2011 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Hey everyone. I'm going to Australia for 23 days in July, and would dearly love some advice as to how to spend them.

I fly in to Melbourne on June 11th, and fly out of Brisbane on July 7th. I'll start with a few nights in Melbourne (4?) and end with a few in Brisbane (no idea). I will visit Sydney and would ideally be there on June 21st as I have an open-mic spot there that night. I also have the offer of a night's stay in Ulladulla near Sydney, but I know nothing about it.

I want to go to the Great Barrier Reef (or similar?), and if I could, I'd like to see something of the Outback. I have also heard that Fraser Island is amazing. I don't really care about beaches, but I'd love to try snorkelling and surfing for the first time. I like interesting and 'cultural' cities.

That's basically the entirety of my thinking on Australia so far. I want to have a great time and see the best of the East Coast - I don't know when, if ever, I'll be back - but I also know my time is limited and I don't want to ruin it by rushing.

What am I missing? What have I mentioned that I should miss? How long in each place? How should I get around?

Any and all advice would be most welcome. Thank you!

P.S. I am 26, vegetarian, from Scotland, travelling solo but with friends in Melbourne and Sydney. I do stand-up comedy, so anywhere with good comedy scenes that I haven't mentioned I'd be interested to hear about too.
posted by Kirn to Travel & Transportation around Australia (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It is winter. You're from Scotland so this should be fine. :) If you care about getting sunshine as much as possible, bang up north as soon as you're able.

However, the distances are HUGE. Like crazy huge. Australians drive from Lands end to John O'Groats and don't think much of it. So your options Rent a car and spend a huge chunk of time driving (ie: DAYS), get a bus and be uncomfortable and take up a chunk of time. Flying is going to be a good option.

However, Melbourne (Brisbane, Sydney) are cultural-y. (and you have friends there).

Good news is that you can do outback (if not the big stuff like Uluru) in NSW and QLD.

Research, research, research. You're probably going to need to make a list of what you want to see and then factor in the $$ it would take and work it out from there.
posted by titanium_geek at 10:53 PM on May 30, 2011

Oh, and Brisbane is a fun city and worth spending a few days in.
posted by titanium_geek at 10:54 PM on May 30, 2011

June-July is winter down under, of course. Melbourne can be a bit cold around then, but if you're from Scotland you may find it positively balmy, but check the climate charts for yourself.

Melbourne is Australia's comedy capital. You may be able to find yourself an opportunity to do your stuff onstage, but I can't advise you how to go about it. There should be heaps of comedy nights in pubs & other venues, every night of the week I think. Melbourne is also arguably more "cultural" than any other city in Australia, especially if you listen to what the inhabitants say about themselves. This should form great material for your routines, by the way.

The Vegie Barn on Brunswick St, Fitzroy is great. Eat there!

Ulladulla - it's a coastal town south of Sydney, maybe around 2-3 hours away. It's nice enough. You can get there by bus, but the water will be too cold for any swimming, snorkelling or surfing, unless you're particularly game. Better to save that kind of thing for when you're up in Queensland. I'll let others talk about what's on offer up there.

Getting around: strictly by plane, if you can afford it. Should only be $100-$200 per leg (Melb-Syd / Syd-Bris). Otherwise, you're stuck on buses for about 12 hours at a time, as opposed to 1.5-2 hours by air. The rail network is either non-existent, rubbish, or overpriced.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:58 PM on May 30, 2011

My friend runs a comedy club in Sydney.

Sydney has the Opera House and some decent live music, but most of the good stuff is in Melbourne. If you're after rock and roll you might want to check out the Annandale Hotel before it closes.

I work for a website that covers what's going on nationally in terms of arts and live music.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:12 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm vegetarian too. I'm off to Brisbane for a weekend soon and I will definitely be revisiting Sono, absolutely brilliant Japanese (I recommend the Sake Tasting Set too). I'll also be spending a day at the fabulous GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art).
posted by unliteral at 11:55 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ulladulla is 'near' Sydney in the same way that Glasgow is 'near' Aberdeen and Newcastle-upon-Tyne - they're about 250km apart. Given the time you have, forget driving between major centres, or even taking buses or trains - fly, fly, fly, or you'll miss it.

I'd go Melbourne > Alice Springs > Sydney > Cairns > Brisbane.

Hire a car in Alice and drive out to Uluru, or join a tour. Stay a night out there (the good thing about taking your own car is you can head out to the middle of nowhere in the wee hours and get a tan by the light of the Milky Way). There's SFA to do in Alice unless you like the casino (or eating at Hanuman - yum), or rowdy pubs - all things for which Scots are known to revile. Alas, Alice's greatest comedy export will be in Sydney at the end of June so you'll have to see her there.

From Cairns, do the Skyrail / reef double - if you hire a car, head to Trinity Beach - it's a half hour drive. I stay at the Palm Royale in Cairns - it's a $10 cab ride from the Esplanade / pubs / clubs but the room rates are much, much cheaper than the city, there's a small shopping centre about a minute up the road, and a quiet pub with a beer garden. (Those photos are lies - it looks like that, but they've used magic to make it look enormous - it's actually very small.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:40 AM on May 31, 2011

Something I forgot - you can't surf in most of Queensland - Barrier Reef equals no waves. So that's something you could do at Ulladulla, even if it's cold (wet suit). These guys are great (got my missus a voucher there one year) and do lessons in Ulladulla.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:00 AM on May 31, 2011

Do everything in your power to get tickets for a game of Australian Rules football at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. (Vids)

Games in your Melbourne timeframe:

June 11, 7.10 pm - Geelong v Hawthorn
June 13, 2.10 pm - Melbourne v Collingwood

There's also the following game at Etihad stadium in Melbourne, if you can't get to the MCG.

June 12 1.10 pm, Carlton v Brisbane Lions

Your visit coincides with the various football seasons across the country - so it's worth perusing the fixtures list to see if anything interesting coincides. If you're coming from Scotland, I presume you've seen rugby union and league, but I do recommend you get yourself to an AFL game if you can (games are played in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth). It is cracking fun to watch live.

Australian Football League (AFL)
Rugby League (NRL)
Rugby Union (Super Rugby)
posted by bright cold day at 3:12 AM on May 31, 2011

Cairns is essentially a gateway to the barrier reef. The town itself doesn't have much going on, but there are some nice rainforest/parks areas surrounding it.

I've heard good things about the Whitsundays.

I liked the small beach town of Byron Bay. It'll most likely be too cool for any water activities, though.

Brisbane would be a great city to live in, I think, but as a tourist I don't think you really need more than 2 days. It's relatively tiny.

Like others have said, the north will be warmer. You could spend more time in the Outback, just because it'll be hot. Alice Springs has three day tours that take you out to Uluru, that might be worth exploring if Uluru is something you feel you need to see.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:21 AM on May 31, 2011

You could spend more time in the Outback, just because it'll be hot.

Alice Springs is not hot in June / July - mean min / max is 4oC / 20oC, but it can get below freezing. Wear layers. Even Cairns slips into the teens overnight in July. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane can all be miserable, wet and cold in winter, so I guess the centre and the north have dryness going for them.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:30 AM on May 31, 2011

The distances in Australia are seriously huge, especially if you are thinking about heading for the "Outback", you do however get to see a bit more of the country side and get away from the more touristy locations, but again think a whole day to drive between Sydney and Melbourne (9 - 12 hours depending on what route you take).

When in Sydney if you want to see some beautiful countryside I recommend heading for the Blue Mountains, they are easily within driving distance of Sydney and you can see some absolutely stunning Bushland and some cute B&B's to stay in.

Melbourne is a great people watching city, LOTS of coffee shops and good restaurants, and you can drive up the Grampian ranges and see some amazing bushland up there. A lot of people thing of Australia as only having deserts but you can find some amazing National Parks not far from most of the major cities in Australia.

Australia is well set up for tourists, and you will find if you are staying in hotels or check out tourist info centres that there will be lots of day trips you can book to go to places. Anywhere from Architectural tours or tours around the markets in Melbourne to day trips to the rainforests or reefs in Queensland and well worth checking out. I know group tours aren't for everyone but I pretty much always travel solo and find them a great way to see things. I have had some really good experiences with them, made friends, learnt a lot and seen some amazing things I didn't even know existed.
posted by wwax at 6:54 AM on May 31, 2011

wwax: When in Sydney if you want to see some beautiful countryside I recommend heading for the Blue Mountains, they are easily within driving distance of Sydney and you can see some absolutely stunning Bushland and some cute B&B's to stay in.

Or you can take a commuter train or XPT from Sydney Central Station to the Blue Mountains. Pro tip: take the earliest train you can drag yourself onto and sleep for the first hour or so - you're only travelling through the western suburbs of Sydney and won't miss anything. Once you get there you can move from lookout to trailhead etc. by bus.

Timetable here. Get on at Central and get off at probably at Katoomba (though anywhere between Blaxland and Blackheath qualifies as the Blue Mountains). Katoomba is the largest town in the Blue Mountains and would be the best centre from which to do some walking tracks, lookouts etc. Blackheath also has a lot of walking tracks (e.g. Govetts Leap).

Caveat: again, this is in the middle of winter. It will be cold and the weather very changeable. I would decide whether to go on the basis of the weather forecast for Katoomba that day.
posted by bright cold day at 7:23 AM on May 31, 2011

Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane can all be miserable, wet and cold in winter, so I guess the centre and the north have dryness going for them.

It never gets cold in Australia. At most you'll need three layers, and MAYBE gloves or a hat if it gets really chilly.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:50 PM on May 31, 2011

It never gets cold in Australia.
Oh really! Charlotte Pass, NSW in June 1994 -23°C (-9.4°F). They're not called the Snowy Mountains for nothing.
posted by unliteral at 5:24 PM on May 31, 2011

I'm with LiB. Unless you're in one of the very few spots where it's possible to ski (or maybe have lived in north Queensland your entire life and think the world is coming to an end when the temp goes below 10oC), you shouldn't ever need more than an undershirt, a shirt and a jacket or coat, and very occasionally, a hat / scarf / gloves. If you have something that keeps the wind out (like a light polar fleece jacket with pockets for your hands), you'll be fine in jeans and a t-shirt.

And yes, definitely get up to the Blue Mountains when you're in Sydney.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:06 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

In Melbourne: you should go to lots of restaurants-- Gertrude St in Fitzroy has some lovelies: Cutler and Co and Ladro's (fancy pizza) are two good places to start. Fitzroy also has a lot of lovely old-school pubs, if you like that kind of thing (Melburnians do). The Standard and The Napier and The Union spring to mind.
St Kilda, in Melbourne, is quite nice (beach, 'culture', quite a big gay scene and more nice restaurants and pubs: the Prince (a pub) and Cafe di Stasio.... and heaps of others).
Art: NGIV in Fed Square is a good place to see art-- the Australian gallery in particular (right up the back of Fed Square). The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is a really cool gallery for 'the moving image'-- cinema, television, all sorts).
At the Docklands (catch the 96 tram from Bourke St) you will be cold (but apparently you Americans are quite hardy) but can have very nice Middle Eastern food at.... can't remember the name, but it's quite big and it hangs out over the water.
The Supper Club/Siglo's are nice places for a late night drink (and cigar/nibblies) and have a nice view (Spring St, upstairs) and Chinatown has some fun restaurants, though it's very hit and miss.
Have fun
posted by jojobobo at 12:23 AM on June 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, great answers - it'll take me a while to work through all this, but a follow-up question: can I 'do' the Blue Mountains as a day trip, or does it require longer? Also, are there other recommended areas of the outback other than Alice Springs/Uluru?
posted by Kirn at 2:37 AM on June 2, 2011

Also, are there other recommended areas of the outback other than Alice Springs/Uluru?

The Olgas.
lake Eire is full- it normally isn't, so worth a look?

Here's a good article about "up coming Australian Attractions" (which also covers the established ones)
posted by titanium_geek at 3:45 AM on June 2, 2011

You can definitely do the Blue Mountains as a day trip, either by train or by car. See my post above for the trains timetable. Trains leave hourly overnight back to Central. Journey time is just under 2 hours for Katoomba/Central.

As a day trip, I'd either 1) go to Katoomba and see Echo Falls and the Three Sisters, and do a walk down into the valley there, or 2) go to Blackheath and do one of the Govett's Leap walks. Have dinner somewhere nice and drive/catch the last train home.

That said, there's some nice places to stay up that way and an overnight stay would be more gentle. Similarly, you could stay for a couple of days and do a couple of bushwalks, etc.

(Don't drive if you can, you'll have to plough your way from Sydney city all the way to the west. There's motorways, but a *lot* of traffic. It's a grind and there's nothing to see.)
posted by bright cold day at 7:39 AM on June 2, 2011

Hmm, we haven't had a meetup in Brisbane for a while. Is that something you'd be interested in? We tend to drink heavily and get into mischief.
posted by Jilder at 7:10 AM on June 19, 2011

As a day trip, I'd either 1) go to Katoomba and see Echo Falls Point and the Three Sisters, and do a walk down into the valley there

Just had to correct that to avoid confusion.

Coincidentally, I just spent 6 weeks renting a place about a block away from Echo Point (which is the lookout for the 3 sisters, only a few hundred metres away).

For what it's worth:

- You can walk from Katoomba station to Echo Point in under half an hour. Don't be tempted into the silly tourist shuttle buses.

- Around a km or so north of Echo Point is a thing called Scenic World, which includes cablecars & an incredibly steep funicular railway down to the valley floor. Once down there, you can wander around on boardwalks amidst the trees, with handy touristic signs pointing out features of the old mining village that used to be down there, and so on. For "wilderness lite" it's a good option with minimal effort. And if you want to strike out from the easy boardwalk area, you can enter the National Park proper & walk along a regular trail, eg to the 3 Sisters or Leura Cascades.

- If you'd rather strike out more on your own, I'd recommend heading south from Echo Point, towards Leura Cascades. This'll only take about an hour or two, depending on which route you take, and there are some great lookouts with fewer people around - you'll mostly be on your own, surrounded by bush. The paths are reasonably well maintained & signposted, but you'll have to do more legwork, especially if you take the giant staircase down by the 3 sisters to the valley floor. On the way back, you can walk back into Leura for the train back to town. There are good eating options in Leura, from takeaway to gourmet cafe (try The Red Door) to fine dining.

- I didn't do any walks from Govett's Leap, but the view is arguably as good as the one from Echo Point, only with fewer tour buses. Blackheath also has a similar range of places to eat, including a couple of very well reputed fine dining restaurants.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:18 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just having come back from my Dalai Lama dirty weekend in Brisvegas (with an extra night compliments of a Tiger Airways cancellation), I'd like to add another new fave vegetarian friendly restaurant. The ravioli at Pane e Vino is superb. Don't worry about what's on the menu, they'll make anything up that you like with spaghetti (yeah, I went twice). As the waiter put it, "We're just like a pizza joint, tell me what you want".
posted by unliteral at 4:29 PM on June 20, 2011

Response by poster: Sure, meetup sounds good, I'd try and make it along.
posted by Kirn at 8:22 PM on June 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks very much everyone, you're all legends.
posted by Kirn at 6:19 PM on June 28, 2011

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