Help me take advantage of a last-minute invitation to Sydney
February 16, 2012 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I just got invited to spend a week or so with some friends in Sydney, Australia (yay!). But the flight is going to be long and painful enough that I'd like to go for longer, and probably get a little ways out of Sydney. But I do not want to drive. Is the following feasible, doable without driving, and reasonable for an older (60ish) woman on her own?

What I'd like to do is take a plane or overnight train to Brisbane, stay a few days there, and then take a train to Cairns and see the Great Barrier Reef. Then fly back to Sydney.

Or, fly to Melbourne and stay there a few days.

Also, nearer Sydney, I'd probably try to do a night or two in the Blue Mountains, and/or Newcastle.

Because I'm not sure exactly what I'll be doing with my hosts when we're together, I wouldn't be able to make arrangements and reservations very far in advance. Will getting hotels or tours be a problem, in early to mid March? And are those reasonable trips I could do on my own, with no car?
posted by still_wears_a_hat to Travel & Transportation around Sydney, Australia (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Mid-march is pretty much autumn. I don't think you'll have much difficulty finding transport or a place to stay, for the most part.

Sydney to Blue Mountains is an easy trip by train, taking just under a couple of hours. Ditto Newcastle (although, IMO, not much to see there from a tourist perspective).

It's a 14 hour train ride from Sydney to Brisbane. You can get a pretty cheap train, but I would fly, if I were you and could afford it - it's only about a 90 minute flight.

The Countrylink website will help you work out the schedules and travelling times for intercity trains out of Sydney.

In case you're planning on staying longer, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival begins on 28 March - accomodation in inner city Melbourne will be hard to find around then, unless you book well in advance.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:06 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Years ago, I caught the Sunlander from Cairns to Brisbane, in Queenslander Class. It was a fantastically romantic way to travel, with beautiful scenery the whole way, and is apparently considered one of the worlds top 25 rail journeys by the Society of International Railway Travellers. Other than that, for any of interstate trips you mentioned, such as Sydney-Melbourne, I'd recommend flying as it will likely be substantially cheaper.
posted by Wantok at 4:06 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did most of those things without a car. Bus travel and plane travel. Flights are pretty cheap.

I don't imagine you'll have any trouble - although you might be travelling with younger backpackers for some legs -which really isn't an issue.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:11 PM on February 16, 2012

Those areas are all fine without a car. In the Blue Mountains, stay in Katoomba where there is more transport. I wouldn't go to Newcastle, unless you are interested in fossil fuels.

Don't get a train from Sydney to Brisbane, it's about the same price to fly and only takes an hour. Is there some reason you particularly need to see Brisbane? It's pretty unremarkable.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:30 PM on February 16, 2012

Defintely don't get a train from Sydney to Brisbane. The train is overnight, it's usually freezing from the aircon, the seats are ancient and shit, and it's packed full of bogans who start drinking as soon as it pulls out. It *might* save you all of twenty or thirty dollars. A hellish ride; the only nice part is the first two hours out of Sydney.

The Sunlander is much more pleasant, though it can be expensive compared to flying, and the food's no great shakes unless you go with the really expensive option with sleeper etc.

Your plans are in general, however, entirely doable.
posted by smoke at 4:49 PM on February 16, 2012

Mid-march is pretty much autumn. I don't think you'll have much difficulty finding transport or a place to stay, for the most part.

Yeah, school is in session then, with holidays not until after Easter (11th April onwards). Should be no problem getting accommodation & flights at short notice.

The Blue Mountains are an easy & short train ride out of Sydney - around 2 hours or less to Katoomba. Newcastle is about as far, but I'm not sure what the appeal is. Both of those train rides are quite scenic at times.

I agree about flying in preference to ground transport if heading to Brisbane / Cairns or Melbourne, although that Sunlander train sounds appealing for one leg. You'd be looking at around 10 hours overland to either Brisbane or Melbourne, as opposed to about 1.5 hours in the air.

PS - I've been in Melbourne during the comedy festival, and didn't find that hotels were that much harder to come by than usual. The "international" part of the Comedy Festival's name relates more to the comedians than to the audience.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:55 PM on February 16, 2012

There is a 'tilt train' service from Brisbane to Cairns. I've never been on it but my inlaws have (because they're over a certain age they get cheap travel on Queensland rail). The whole journey is in the region of 24 hours. There are no sleepers (apparently that's due to happen in the future) so you're sleeping in a seat if you want to sleep.

FWIW : Mr In-law hated it pretty much, Mrs In-law loved it.

If you're paying full price I would be surprised if it's substantially cheaper than flying but it would allow you the opportunity to stop off in places en route (you would then need to determine how practical that is given local public transport, or lack of it).

There's a blurb about the train here and a timetable here. The timetable also provides some information about connecting bus services.

If it were me and money made sense I'd fly to Townsville and get some overland transport from there - you'd still get to see something of the land (which is a big plus over flying) but it's only 500Kms from T'ville to Cairns.

Regarding Brisbane and what dontjumplarry says ... I really like Brisbane and if you come from a cooler climate it's just interesting to see the buildings and the flora etc. I agree there's not a lot of specific 'sites' (opera house; bridge; etc) but it's just a good sized city to walk around and if you like to dig around places it's kind of interesting. For me at least it's better than Sydney which is just a big 'world city' full of visitors and not really very Australian. Having said that I've lived in Sydney and maybe what a visitor would like has sort of worn off on me.
posted by southof40 at 5:00 PM on February 16, 2012

PS - I've been in Melbourne during the comedy festival, and didn't find that hotels were that much harder to come by than usual.

I should have clarified. Budget and low end accomodation will be hard to come by. If you are willing to pay for a reasonable hotel, you should be fine.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:02 PM on February 16, 2012

If you're paying full price I would be surprised if it's substantially cheaper than flying

It won't be cheaper, it will almost certainly be more expensive than flying to Cairns, ranging from $50-$200 depending on what day you would fly.
posted by smoke at 6:11 PM on February 16, 2012

As someone who grew up in Newcastle - don't bother, honestly. The beaches can be lovely but that's really about it.

Alternately, Greyhound and Murray's coaches will take you pretty much anywhere along the east coast - if you did Melbourne rather than Brisbane, you could stop in Canberra along the way (it's AU$25 Sydney to Canberra) and the public transport there will get you to the War Memorial, art gallery, and various museums and civic buildings. Depends on what you like but it's certainly a better way to spend a few days than Newcastle.
posted by belissaith at 7:30 PM on February 16, 2012

We have stacks of retirees who do nothing but drive/bus/train/whatever around the countryside. They are known as Grey Nomads and the resources for them will be useful when planning for a 60ish lady. Less emphasis on hard drinking backpacker and young traveller resources. They tend to focus on campervanning but they aren't a bad place to start.
posted by Jilder at 11:46 PM on February 17, 2012

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