A big trip to Australia and Japan. Recommendations wanted.
June 8, 2014 4:01 AM   Subscribe

I am planning a big trip this summer to Japan and Australia, departing from Belgium. I have 2 months to travel and this is going to be a 'once in a lifetime' experience. When I get back I know it will be a long time until I can do a trip like that.

The Japan part of it is sure and well-planned: I will be visiting Tokyo (really want to visit the Ghibli Museum!) and Kyoto, Miyayima and Osaka (+ Koyasan). I have consulted previous threads.

I am an experienced solo traveller but of course Japan is new to me. This weekend I've done extensive research and I'm sure I will be fine.

I am still wondering about Australia. In August it will be winter there and I fear that I will miss the "real Australia" because of that. Then again I heard that winters are very mild and actually make it tolerable to do some hiking.

What I am wondering about is Australia's compatibility with solo travel. A lot of the outdoor activities and ways of travelling seem geared towards groups (e.g. hiring a jeep, camper) and activities (outdoor BBQ, surfing, diving) do not make much sense to do solo.

I like cities but fear that the cities (especially Sydney) might not be much "wow" after having seen London, Paris, SF, NY, Bangkok and then Tokyo.

I love being in a place for a longer time and have it feel like I have spent some time "living" there instead of going from tourist place to tourist place.

My interests vary but mainly music (rock, electronic), going out, photography, snowboarding, gaming, technology. If anyone has any general recommendations that would also be awesome.
posted by wolfr to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've done all those big cities too, and I still love Sydney. (Even just moved here!) It has its own feel, I promise, that's less about massive skylines and insane bustle than some of the world's other big cities. Melbourne is also fun IMO, more because it's got lots of little hidden areas to explore than because it's a huge metropolis. And those things are things you can do alone.

True, a lot of stuff the outdoorsy stuff is geared toward groups, but you can always join something (a dive boat in Cairns, a group climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a surf lesson on the Gold Coast, etc) for a one-off activity then wander off by yourself again.

And you can always rent yourself a jeep, or hike by yourself in the Blue Mountains, or whatever. I think it depends more on what you're comfortable with; not what a guidebook recommends.

But yeah. Australia. Highly recommend. It's an amazingly beautiful place, and I really do love Sydney.
posted by olinerd at 4:27 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Melbourne is really rewarding for a solo traveler. You can wander for hours finding little tucked away nooks and crannies, little bars and cafes and galleries and whatnot.

Speaking as someone with 30+ Australian summers under my belt, I can assure you that it's a part of the real Australia that any sane person would be happy to miss, along with being bitten by a spider, getting stuck in a rip, or being gently tormented by the sound of a mosquito hovering at the top of a 15 foot ceiling. You will have a much, much better time of it avoiding the heat, and August is one of the loveliest times to visit - warm, but not hot enough to kill you.

If you find yourself in Brisbane, check out the Mana Bar, a gaming lounge with cocktails.
posted by Jilder at 5:04 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

What I am wondering about is Australia's compatibility with solo travel. A lot of the outdoor activities and ways of travelling seem geared towards groups (e.g. hiring a jeep, camper) and activities (outdoor BBQ, surfing, diving) do not make much sense to do solo.

Well I think that's less a question of solo travel (in)compatible activities and more of what you are comfortable doing. None of the things you list can't be done alone although they are more expensive if you don't have anybody to share the cost with. But assuming you can afford to you can do this stuff alone quite happily. As frequent female solo traveler I'd not have any concerns about doing this stuff alone.

But then my friends ask me for regular signs of life when I'm off on a trip because they do worry about axe murderers lying in waiting for female solo hikers or something like that…if you're like my friends clearly don't go hiking alone but focus on booking diving trips or something instead.

From your list the only thing I'd actually pass on is the BBQ on grounds of effort required to feed one person whilst travelling but then I do replace many meals on my solo trips with fruit, trail mix and something like jerky because I'm lazy.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:29 AM on June 8, 2014

If you stay in backpackers/hostel type places, I guarantee that you will meet a bunch of likeminded travellers who you can easily group up with to go surfing/BBQing/touristy things. Also, there will always be tours going to any touristy places of interest so you can just join one of those.

Winters are indeed mild compared to Belgium (except for maybe Tasmania; someone with more knowledge can weigh in on that - I reckon it'll still be beautiful though). Wintertime will not stop you from exploring the cities at all.

August is the best time to visit northern Australia - places like Broome, the Bungle Bungles and Cairns (from where you can go to the Great Barrier Reef). It'll be the dry season, not yet too humid and also before the stinger (jellyfish) season.

If you're planning to drive to relatively remote places (especially in northern and central Australia) check in with the local tourist bureau for advice first. There are a fair few tourists who underestimate the distance between towns, think they can make it there and back again before lunch and unwittingly end up on a road trip which actually required supplies of fuel, food and water.

If you come to Perth, please organise a meetup!
posted by pianissimo at 5:36 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sydney is on of the most stunning cities in the world. While it's no Tokyo in terms of hustle and skyscrapers, Tokyo is no Sydney in terms of its stunning harbour with its iconic bridge and opera house or its beautiful beaches.

Think of the weather in winter in Sydney as more like a spring day compared to northern European winters, the further south you go the cooler it will get and its the best time to visit northern Australia.

Australia is set up for tourism in a way I have yet to see in any other country, great signage and facilities at must major attractions to stay with. The tourism information centres are amazing resources so make sure to visit them in each city you go to, the volunteers there will be able to help organise pretty much anything you want to do, they will all but drown you in information and ideas and then organise our all for you. They are used to solo travelers or can help hook you up with groups if for activists that require them.
posted by wwax at 6:45 AM on June 8, 2014

Winter is one of the nicest times in Australia. Unlike winter in many places up in the Northern Hemisphere, it doesn't get seriously cold. I mean, you want a nice doona, but snow is pretty much limited to the mountains or mountainous areas and more down south. Up north (Perth, Queensland) you should be fine. If you go to the centre (Uluru aka Ayers Rocks is apparently must-see, though I haven't been there yet) it is a desert so again, no real worries about extreme cold.

olinerd has waxed lyrical about Sydney, so I'll just say that I took my first trip to Melbourne end of July/August 21 years ago and I have now been living here for 20. It was that good! There are, indeed, lots of interesting places to explore and though I have been to many of the Big Cities (New York, London, Paris, LA, San Francisco, DC), I find Melbourne has its own particular charm. It's an accessible city, where you can wander around all day finding interesting laneways and cafes and stores selling odd things. Pubs and galleries and obscure record shops or bookshops tucked away everywhere. There's nearly always a festival of some description on; in late July/August you get the Melbourne International Film Festival (winter being a good time to huddle in movie theatres) and the Melbourne Writers Festival. If you're sticking round till September, you get the Fringe Festival too. If you make it into some of the inner suburbs, you get more amazing experiences. Footscray is like a melting pot of Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Indian and Somali which is seriously like being in another country without getting on a plane. Fitzroy and Northcote have great shops, cafes and live music. I could go on rather a lot.

But there's also a lot of great day trips you can take without too much trouble, rent a car or hop on a bus tour. Go see the fairy penguins. Go along the Great Ocean Road (though apparently CA coastline is similar). Take a trip to the Dandenongs and the temperate rainforest. Wineries. Go to Hanging Rock (of Peter Weir fame). Hiking really is good in winter, you keep yourself warm as you go and there's no blowflies.

Can you tell I'm a bit of a fan of Melbourne and environs? Lest I sound too monomaniacal, Tasmania is also lovely. Being further south (and closer to Antarctica) it is also colder still, and snow on Mount Wellington near Hobart is fairly constant during the winter. Hobart is a really lovely town and there are lots of lovely naturey-type places to explore if you like that kind of thing. Cradle Mountain for hiking, though you'd want to limit yourself to day trips unless you take along a heap of gear.

Anyway I will shut up now except here are some tourism sites for Victoria and Tasmania and also Parks Victoria and Parks Tasmania. And yes, let us know if you're coming, we'll have a meetup!
posted by Athanassiel at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for all the lovely answers so far, I knew I could count on AskMeFi. This morning I was like "maybe I should visit China and Vietnam instead" but after reading more and more I am getting seriously excited about Australia. I've started reading Down Under by Bill Bryson and upped my travel research. Hurray!
posted by wolfr at 6:58 AM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yay! Do come to Australia, it's really a lovely place. Well, the bits I've seen so far anyway. It's also HUGE. And also, Ayers Rock, not Rocks. Totally a typo up above.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:12 AM on June 8, 2014

I live in Sydney... August is early spring, trees in bloom & sunshine without being hot :) The Blue Mountains are accessible as a day trip, and there are great views without striking off by yourself.

The politically correct term for Ayers Rock is Uluru, fwiw.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:04 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Let me preface this by saying that I work for Tourism Australia but I am speaking as a private person who has visited Australia multiple times. (I loved the country so much on my visits that I decided I wanted to spend my professional life telling everyone how awesome it is!)

Everyone's covered the big cities so I'm going to touch on the Red Centre.

There's several reasons why August is a GREAT time to visit Uluru/Ayers Rock. I found the temperature quite comfortable; during the day I didn't need a jacket (most would find a light jacket sufficient) and at night it had the cool crispness I associate with autumn in New England.

But there's another aspect others have not touched on. Sunrise is one of the best times to see Uluru. The color changes as the sun rises are absolutely astounding. In August the sun rises at Uluru about 7:15am. In December, Australia's summer, it rises at 5:45am. In other words, in August you can sleep in an extra 90 minutes and still catch the sunrise (which, as sunrises go, is epic). As someone who treasures sunrises but treasures her sleep more, that's huge.

Lots of people see Uluru but miss Kata Tjuta, which is practically spitting distance from Uluru, and that's a crime. Hiking around Kata Tjuta was an amazing experience. It is another extremely unusual large rock formation, but it's unusual in an entirely different way to Uluru. Pictures can't capture it; your brain keeps trying to scale down the immense size from afar because there's not a lot of reference points around it. But when you're in it - wow.

If you enjoy hiking and you're in that neck of the Outback, don't miss King's Canyon; it was truly beautiful. I had several fantastic semi-solo experiences in that area, from watching a sunrise to taking a hike.
posted by rednikki at 2:28 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Try thatsmelbournedotcomdotau.
There is plenty to do in aus.
Kyoto is awesome, probably the best city in japan- I didn't like Osaka as much, but u can still have fun there
posted by edtut at 9:57 PM on June 8, 2014

For Australia, please please do not miss Uluru if you come. It's a pain to get there and will eat up a few days of your trip but if this is truly once in a lifetime, then you must do it. There are many great cities in the world, and Melbourne and Sydney are truly gorgeous cities... but DO ULURU. It is unique in the world, truly. And as rednikki mentions above, Kata Tjuta is mind blowing, as is King's Canyon. And if you can get to Darwin for Kakadu, please do it. You are more likely in your lifetime to return to one of the main cities in Australia, than do the above experiences.

Tokyo is really amazing, as is the rest of Japan. I just returned from there a week ago. Whilst there, we went to Kamakura - a great day trip from Tokyo on the train. When there, do not miss out on seeing the Bamboo Grove shrine (the tourist centre upon arrival at Kamakura will advise you the easy way to get there). The Kamakura trip is a very unique and beautiful experience, and isn't really talked about in many of the tourist guides I've seen. There's also over a dozen other shrines/temples/things to see in the same area, and it makes for a truly great day just on the outskirts of Japan.

Your trip sounds amazing, have a great time!
posted by shazzam! at 4:51 AM on June 9, 2014

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