Friday, 5 March 2010

Australia Review


I've written a review for a few travel sites about my trip to Australia so I thought I'd pop it on here. Hope you enjoy it....

Ssshhhh, it''s a bit of a secret but Australia is a great place to visit at any time of year. From the endless expanse of the Aussie Outback to the breathtaking beaches, you're in for a real ripper of a time.

And if you plan you're trip well in advance - two weeks is more than enough time to enjoy the very best it has to offer. With an excellent rail network (but you'll need time and patience) and easy connecting flights, the biggest Island in the World and the smallest continent is very do-able indeed - so now all you have to do is book….

Days 1-3
We flew from Manchester into Melbourne Tullamarine Airport via Qatar Airways, and thanks to their new pretty direct flight via Doha - you arrive in under 21 hours. Pretty long flight I know, but they are kind enough to give you a day back on your return. The flight was fantastic with excellent service and a peek at the new dedicated Qatar terminal in Doha is well worth it. Put it this way if Tom Hanks had of got stuck in that terminal he'd have never wanted to leave.

So we start our trip in Melbourne, Australia's second largest City. It's a City with a pulse, and a true haven for fans of the arts and music. Home of Aussie Rules Footy and a City with a love of fantastic food, wine and the good things in life. Once the Capital of money from the Gold Rush in the 19th Century - nowadays Melbourne is a multicultural City home to people from over 140 nations. Located on the banks of the River Yarra - it's easy to get round with a free maroon tram which circles the City, a great metro network and trains.

From our base at the beautiful and very grand Langham Hotel, beside the river there's easy access to everything the City has to offer. One thing you'll notice immediately is the amount of people doing sport. Australians are a healthy breed and there's no wonder they win more medals than us in every athletic event. The great thing about the Langham is the 9th floor gym, spa and pool. With views of the Melbourne skyline - it's enough to get anyone exercising.

You can take a stroll round Queen Victoria Market, (with over a 1000 stalls it's a bargain hunters paradise), ride along the Yarra on a bike, relax in the 'Tan' or the Botanic Gardens to you and me - or take one of the hundreds of day trips on offer from the beautiful Port Phillip Bay, home to the Fairy Penguin who are only 16 inches high, to the winery's of the Hunter Valley to Ramsey Street. Yes, that's right I said Ramsey Street - as in Neighbours and that's exactly what we did. You've watched them on TV for years and now you can do it yourself. No trip to Melbourne is complete without having your picture taken outside Harold's House or a visit to Edinburgh High - I promise you'll be talking about it long after the tour ends.

Another great evening out is on Melbourne's Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. A 1920s tram which circles the City, which gives you something new to look at with every minute that passes by. It's a real look back in time as Joe the Conductor serves you Australia's very best food and wine - the atmosphere is cosy, the service is friendly and it's a little trip into Victoria's history. I guarantee you'll leave with a full belly and a smile on your face.

As our time in Melbourne comes to an end - we wave Federation Square and the River Yarra goodbye and head via Skybus to the airport for a Virgin Blue flight to Hobart - home of the Tasmanian Devil.

Day's 3-6
I was born in Tasmania and so no trip to Australia is complete without a trip there.

If seeing one spectacular landscape after another is your thing - then a visit to Tasmania is a must, and that's without mentioning the great food, warm and cosy pubs and friendly people. Hobart is Australia's second oldest capital city, with a population of 205,000 Hobart is small enough to get around and get to know and as unsophisticated as the local fish and chips. Salamanca Place is a particular highlight with it's swanky bars and relaxed atmosphere. Make sure you coincide your visit with a trip to the famous Salamanca Market on a Saturday as it greets thousands of people to it's 300 stalls.

Another must is a trip up Mount Wellington - Hobart's most prominent landmark. For this expedition you can forget your climbing gear, as there's a road that heads all the way to the summit at 4,167ft above sea level. On a clear day the views are spectacular from the new look out point. On the way back down, do a de-tour to Cascade Brewery, it's the oldest in Australia. The beers made with Tasmanian water and flows down a treat, and I can certainly vouch for that.

We decided to head a bit further afield with a trip to Bruny Island. We took the ferry out of Kettering, about a 25 minute car ride out of the City, and wound up on a fantastic island. Bruny Island Cruises is a great way to see the island. Once aboard the tour takes you right out to see some awe inspiring cliffs like Breathing Rock, sea eagles, albatrosses - if you're really lucky (as we were) you'll see up to 2,000 seals sunbaking on the rocks and dolphins jumping through the Southern Ocean. The guys on board with you are amusing, helpful and packed full of interesting facts. And at 100% carbon offset with profits ploughed back into the area - you can see it all for mere $100 and help the environment at the same time. On the way back to Hobart make a stop at Bruny Neck, for stunning views and an Aboriginal memorial.

There's one more place you shouldn't miss a trip to. Richmond, with a population of only 800 it's like the land which time forgot. With it's tin roofs, old fashioned sweet shop and the most famous landmark of all - the oldest bridge in Australia. Built by the British convicts in 1823 it's still in use today. On the way back you could call in at one of the many wineries that line the road back to the highway. Most have cellars to buy wine direct.

After 3 day's we really felt we'd seen the real Australia, we'd gone down to a steady second gear, and with Sydney next on the itinerary - it was time to move up to 5th.

Day's 6-9
We've all seen Sydney on the tele, we can all name the two big icons in it's harbour and there's over 70 beaches in easy reach of it's heart including the famous Bondi Beach. There's nightlife, and food galore, it's young and vibrant and there's always something going on. No wonder people find it hard to leave. Sydney's centre is just 15 minutes by train from the airport and it's easy to get to grips with the City fast.

You'll feel drawn to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, surrounded by Circular Quay and some fantastic restaurants in The Rocks area, but make sure you leave enough time to make your way down George St, and onto King Street to see Darling Harbour. It's home to the Sydney Aquarium, the IMAX and the Maritime Museum - oh and a great shopping centre. there's plenty of bars and restaurants if you want to just chill and watch the people go by. On a Saturday the place is swarming with hen do's and wedding receptions, perfect for a nosy.

We stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in the Rocks part of town. The hotel is an excellent choice of location - in the centre of everything and the views of the harbour are out of this world. The Rocks is my favourite area, with the oldest house is Sydney (Cadmans Cottage), small and interesting cafes, and a phenomenal market on Saturdays and Sundays from 10-5pm selling arts and crafts and all under a 492ft canopy.

Catch a ferry over to Manly for a real surfers paradise. It leaves from Circular Quay every 30 minutes and takes about 25 to reach Manly. The beachfront is knock out. It actually got it name when the first governor of the colony thought the Aborigines sunning themselves on the beach looked manly. There's a sheltered harbour on one side, and surf beach on the other - linked by the Corso, packed with tourists and picnic tables. Beyond Manly are other beaches like Dee Why, Avalon and Whale Beach - all great for surfers. If you have more time head even more north to Palm Beach - which is in a class of it's own with the millionaire houses propped up on the hill. And if it looks familiar, that's because Home and Away is filmed here.

There's a few day trips from Sydney you can do. One is the Hunter Valley Wine Tasting tour - visiting famous wineries and having lunch in the sun. But we chose to visit the infamous Blue Mountains - which get their name from the blue haze that lingers above the Mountains. This haze is created as the eucalyptus oil from the trees mixes with heat and you really can see it. There are plenty of tour companies which do day tips but we chose AAT Kings - due to the recent award winning trips. Leaving the City at 7.30am you miss the busy morning traffic.

Stopping at Featherdale Wildlife Park on the way - you'll get to stroke Koala's and pat Wallaby's. If wilder animals are more your thing you won't be disappointed - there's Croc's, Tasmanian Devils, and Dingo's. The tour stops once more before the Blue Mountains at a town called Leura. it's a sleepy place with quaint cafes and shops.

Once at the Blue Mountains you'll be amazed. The best known rock formation is the 3 sisters - best viewed from the village of Katoomba. That's the location of Scenic World, a 'theme park' style way of travelling round the floor - known as the Jamison Valley. You scan travel down via the coal rail - the steepest in the world, and travel back up via the cableway. It descends over 1600ft above the valley floor and provides a spectacular view. If you have time and you want a less touristy view of the Blue Mountains head to Govotts Leap. The panorama is magnificent and the tour delivers you back to Circular Quay for 6pm. It's a great day out.

For a meal with a difference head to Cafe Sydney. It's on the 5th floor of Customs House on Alfred St. You'd never just stumble across it but it captures Sydney with it's harbour view, delicious food, an outdoor terrace, cocktail lounge and a real contemporary interior. There is so much more to do in Sydney but our time had come to an end and now it was time for a bit of luxury in the beautiful surroundings of Hamilton Island.

Day's 9-13

Arriving at Hamilton Island is an experience like no other. There are no conveyor belts full of luggage - just a metal trolley to pick your own off. I hear the airport are desperate for a luggage belt but I liked the island like feel of collecting your own. After that it's loaded onto a golf buggy, which apart from a small island bus is the only way to get around. You might of heard of Hamilton Island when it hit the headlines last year advertising the 'Best Job in the World'. A caretaker needed to look after islands that make up the Great Barrier Reef. Tough job hey!

It's a privately owned Island and the Oatley family have put in time and money to make it feel as special as it is. Made up of private homes, holiday lets, self catering bungalows and hotels there really is something to suit everyone. Qualia is the newest addition to the island with world class luxury, situated in the secluded northern-most tip of the island. It immerses you into a relaxed atmosphere with a personalised service and immediately relaxes you - it's what they call the Qualia effect, and everyone needs to experience that once in a while.

February is the Whitsunday's wet season and yes rain did fall whilst we were there. But it would take more than rain to spoil this location. September is actually the best time to visit to see hundreds of whales passing through the resort. We checked in at the 4 star Reef View Hotel on the Island with spectacular views over the sparking Coral Sea, but Hamilton Island is more than an Island. You can lie on the fantastic beaches and soak up the sun or experience any of the bare essentials. In at number one would have to be a trip to Whitehaven Beach, only 15 minutes away by boat. It's a place that has to be seen to be believed, with it's dazzling sea and white sand - it's the stuff of postcards. You could take a leisurely walk up Passage Peak for spectacular views, snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, take a tropical sunset cruise on the Banjo Patterson or have a game of golf at the new Hamilton Island Golf Club.

We took a trip over to the course on Dent Island by water taxi, now I'm no golfer believe me, but the views are breathtaking and the lunch in the newly built clubhouse is a perfect location to take them in whilst enjoying a glass of wine. For families with children, there are plenty of water sports, trips and even a special place to eat. You can start the day by hugging a koala and enjoying a hearty breakfast in the Koala Gallery. For couples the Bommie Restaurant at the newly built Yacht Club is beautiful. It's hosted a range of weddings to very showbiz events such as Audi's Race Week, the Great Barrier Feast, and the Hamilton Cup.
After 3 day's that's it - our trip is over and it's back to Manchester. With heavy hearts and sulky lips we made our way via Virgin Blue back to Melbourne to meet our Qatar flight home.

I started this holiday and review with the question in mind, Australia in 2 weeks???? And now I have the answer. Absolutely, why not, completely possible, yes, yes, yes. Australia isn't as far as it used to be and boy what a place it is. With Qatar's new flights from the North, there is no excuse not to visit this vast and incredible Country. And whilst 2 weeks is brief, it's more than enough time to see so much of the place and get a real feel for Australia. Don't put off today what you could be doing tomorrow - get out there and book it.

I guarantee you won't regret it.