General Tips and Suggestions:
–American citizens need to obtain visas prior to arriving in the country. Thankfully, electronic Australian visas are quickly and inexpensively obtained online in less than 24 hours.
–Recommended reading: In a Sunburnt Country by Bill Bryson gives a fun overview of a large part of the country and includes fun historical tidbits. For those looking for more information regarding the convict history of Australia, I recommend reading The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes.
–If you plan on taking public transportation anywhere, you’ll want to buy an Opal Card which you can reload with money online. Not only do you save money on your ferry, train, and bus trips, but some routes actually require you to have one and it saves you the stress of having to count our exact change.
–You can obtain a SIM Card for your phone from most small new stands and can quickly load your phone with a selection of plans. Just make sure that you unlock your phone before leaving the U.S.
–Weather varies greatly from one part to another. Not surprising given how large Australia is. Hot and humid up in Cairns to rainy and chilly in parts of Tasmania and New South Wales.
–If you lose a child at Sydney’s Circular Quay, you can retrieve them from security at Terminal 3. We tried this. It works!
–If you decided to eat at Hungry Jack’s at Sydney’s Circular Quay, eat inside at the cramped, glass enclosed eating area and not outside. The seagulls will attack you as soon as they see food. Seriously attack you in mob fashion, pecking you mercilessly. It’s funny and frightening at the same time.
Sydney, New South Wales
We arrived in Sydney via a Transpacific cruise from Seattle. We were met at the cruise terminal by a friend of a friend to who we gladly offloaded 8 suitcases full of shoes, clothing, and costume jewelry to be given to a local charity. We walked away with two large backpacks, two car seats, one booster seat, and one carry on bag. Aside from some irreplaceable mementos that we stored at my parents’ house, this now constituted all our belongings that we now owned.
From the cruise terminal, it’s a very short walk to Circular Quay where we grabbed a ferry to Rose Bay, where we had rented a two bedroom apartment for the week. Upon arriving in Rose Bay, we had expected to find taxis available to rent but alas, there were none to be found. Thankfully, a very kind woman used her personal Uber account to call us an Uber which Mike used to transfer our luggage to the apartment, which was about a 15-20 minute walk from the ferry terminal, while I walked with the four kids.
Our apartment was in a quiet neighborhood. While we had luxuries such as Wifi, we did not have a dishwasher, coffee maker, or a clothes dryer. We had a wash machine in a small shed behind the apartment building and there was a shared outdoor clothes line to dry clothes. This all worked perfectly…except when it rained and you couldn’t get your clothes to dry or when one of the neighbors hogged the entire drying rack so that there was no space to hang our clothes.
The apartment turned out to be in a fairly inconvenient location and if I had it to do over again, I’d choose to stay closer to downtown. We didn’t rent a car so we were dependent on public transportation. Thankfully, our apartment was close to a bus stop that took us to a major terminal where we could catch other buses or trains elsewhere. The cost we saved by staying the suburbs was very much off-set by the cost of getting places plus the inconvenience.
Our first day in Sydney, we spend getting acquainted to our neighborhood. The closest grocery store was about a 15 minute walk away and since we didn’t rent a car, we weren’t able to purchase too many groceries at once. Eating out in Australia is very expensive so for the sake of our travel budget, we opted to try to cook at home as much as possible.
Grocery stores in Australia are rather interesting. Instead of things being placed by category, they appear to be organized rather haphazardly. I’m sure that there is some method to their madness, but, to date, we have yet to figure it out. Cheese, for example, can be found on 4 different aisles. Cereal is spread out between another few aisles. Could be that it’s based on country of manufacture? Cost? No clue. No problem if you don’t know what you actually want to buy but a bit frustrating if you are setting out with the specific intent of buying a specific product. Thankfully, none of the grocery stores that we have shopped at are even close to the size of a standard grocery store in the U.S.
Highlights of our time in Sydney include:
Bondi Beach. The far Southern end of the beach has a child’s wading pool section which is perfect for toddlers.
Manly Beach. Easy ferry boat ride from Circular Quay. It was a bit more problematic from Rose Bay. There are no direct Manly ferries from Rose Bay, but not every day of the week. Another good reason to stay closer to downtown Sydney. Watch out for Portuguese Man-o-War which look like blue rubber bottles with strings attached. They can wash up on shore too, in large quantities, and can still sting you even when dead so watch your step!
Ferry taxi rides to and from Circular Quay. Not only was this an easy way to get around, but it was beautiful seeing Sydney from the water.
Sydney Harbor Bridge. You can walk across the bridge which gives lovely views of the city. It ends at Luna Park which is a small amusement park that is open a few days of the week. We neglected to check the hours ahead of time and showed up when it was closed for a private event. It rained every day after that so we never made it there. It’s free to get in but the cost of rides is pricey.
Maritime Museum. It’s free to see the exhibits (costs $$$ to tour the ships) and there is a toddler/infant play area on the main floor so you can divide and conquer.
After one week in Sydney, we hopped a plane to Tasmania. As all things, our morning didn’t go off without a hitch. We had booked ahead for two Ubers as we did not think that one Uber, even an extra capacity Uber, could fit all 6 of us and our luggage. The Uber that I ordered, showed up promptly. Mike’s Uber, on the other hand, didn’t show up at all. I had changed by SIM card over for an Australian one and gotten an Australian phone number. Mike was still using his U.S. SIM card. Turns out, his Uber app automatically made the time of pick-up, based on Seattle time, not Sydney time. So his Uber showed up….18 hours later! I loaded into the first Uber with Belles and Zach and Mike, Alexis, and Cadence took a taxi. Thankfully we gave ourselves lots of extra time so we made the flight without a hitch.
We flew into Launceston, which is in North Tasmania and picked up our rental car. We stopped for lunch in Evanston on our way to our first rental house in Bicheno, which is on the East Coast of Tasmania, about 2 hours from the airport. Our rental house was perfect and I highly recommend it. It was two stories with a fenced backyard. There were three bedrooms on the main floor plus a toddler bed and full sized futon on the second floor. It was one block walk from main street and there was a restaurant right next door to our backyard which meant that one night, we put the babies to bed and left the big girls to “babysit” while we sat on the other side of the fence, in full view of the house and had a a “date”.
Bicheno and Northeast Coast, Tasmania:
* We loved our rental house in Bicheno. It had a lot of space, comfortable beds, a great fenced back yard, and was walking distance to the town and beach. Great location to explore the upper and middle East Coast. https://www.airbnb.co.nz/rooms/13701486
-The Bicheno Blowhole is a wonderful natural rocky formation which blows water high into the sky as the waves come in from the ocean. In the tide pools, there are starfish, sea stars, and crabs. The kids had fun exploring. From the Blowhole, there is a decently marked walking path that takes you along the ocean to The Gultch which we walked later in the week.
-Bicheno Foreshore Walk is a great way to explore the shoreline around Bicheno. It starts at the Blowhole and goes to The Gulch. It’s well marked and pretty easy to do, although it is not stroller friendly in several parts.
-East Coast Natureworld is a fantastic nature park in Bicheno. You could purchase animal feed at the front desk for $1/bag to feed the free roaming birds and kangaroo. Within minutes, we were surrounded by hungry kangaroo, many of whom had joeys in their pouches! Zach was smitten while Cadence was initially terrified! They have scheduled animal feeding times where a trainer comes out and gives some information about the respective animal. We were able meet a couple Tasmanian Devils, some spotted squolls, sugar glider, possoms (which are not the same as the American opossum), and then got to meet and pet a wombat. Also in the park are echidna, emu, and wallabies as well as a bunch of native birds. It was a huge hit with kids and adults alike.
-Penguins! One thing that Bicheno is known for, is Fairy Penguins which are the smallest penguins in the world. They come ashore in the evening to nest and feed their young. While there are organized, paid, Fairy Penguin tours available, we opted to just head to the beach on our own just after sunset and were able to see the little guys waddling about free of charge and at our own pace. For what it’s worth, we heard that the organized tours were great and informative, we just knew that that our children wouldn’t sit through a 90 minute presentation, that started at 8pm, on a cold beach.
-Bay of Fires. About one hour drive from Bicheno. Unless you like really windy, narrow roads, I recommend that you take the coastal road to St. Helens and not the one over Elephant Pass. It’s faster too. The beaches are gorgeous white sands that squeak when you walk on them, like most places in Tasmania.
- Freycinet National Park. There is a beautiful hike to an overlook over Wineglass Bay. You can continue down to Wineglass Bay, if you have the time and stamina. With our littles, that was not an option. There are wallabies in the car park and we even saw a wallaby at the overlook with a joey in it’s pouch. As for National Park passes, there are a variety of options based on how many parks you plan to go to in Tasmania. If you plan to go to more than one, then it might be worth it to get the unlimited park pass. Otherwise, pay as you go would be the cheaper option.
-Denison Beach and The Porches. Just North of Bicheno, park in the very last car park for this beach. There are about 5 different car parks spread out over a few miles. If you walk about 30 minutes up the beach from the last car park, you’ll come across The Porches, which is a beautiful area of sandstone cliffs that have been carved by the ocean into little pockets. It was isolated and gorgeous.
-Glass Bottom Boat Tour, Bicheno. From the Gulch, there are daily Glass Bottom Boat trips. In the Summer, the water visibility goes down secondary to the algae that grows when the ocean water gets warmer. The owner and operator is very well informed about Bicheno history and ocean life. We did not see many fish, but we did see a bunch of Humpback Whales. He took the boat out closer to them and watching them breech was the highlight of our boat trip. Usually you can see seals out on the rocks too and dolphins, but we saw neither. The fish and chip shop at The Gulch was delicious, except for the kids’ meal where the fish bites were really really fishy.
Ahhh, weather in Bicheno and the Northeast Coast. It was gorgeously sunny and technically, the end of Spring. That being said, the wind off the ocean was bitingly cold. I don’t know if we were just not well adjusted to cold weather after Summer in Seattle, then spending three weeks crossing the Pacific Ocean followed by an unseasonably warm week in Sydney, but we chose to wore jeans and winter coats for the majority of the week. It was hot if you ended up in an area that was blocked by the breeze, but otherwise, it was chilly. The locals were running around in shorts and t-shirts…and often completely barefoot as well.
Wifi options in Tasmania in general were very limited. The big girls are doing some online schooling as part of their education but none of our Tasmanian rentals had Wifi and Australia does not offer any unlimited wireless plans. We learned from the local tourism office that the Wifi in Bicheno “went out maybe 5-6 weeks ago” and that “the government doesn’t seem to be too concerned to fix it quickly.” Thankfully, the library had free Wifi that was open, 24 hours a day. Only trick was that the library was open only 2 hours a day, 4 days a week, and while the Wifi was open and could be accessed outside the library 24 hours a day, it was a bit chilly on the bench outside the library. Nevertheless, our girls powered through and made the best of the situation.
The Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania
After a week in Bicheno, we headed South to the Tasman Peninsula to a rental in White Beach. On the drive South, we made a stop in Swansea to see the EastCoast Heritage Museum. The museum is free and I wouldn’t make a special trip just to go there, but it was a nice place to stopover.
Just South past Swansea, you can stop at the Spikey Bridge, which is an old bridge built by convict labor.
There is VERY limited gas on the Tasman Peninsula. You will see a service station before you get to Eagle Hawks Neck that says that it is the last gas on the peninsula. Trust them and gas up, even if you have a half a tank left. It’s a terrifying drive back there with a low gas light blaring at you!
-Port Arthur Convict Site. This place was pretty expensive to get into to but your ticket is good for entrance for two consecutive days at the site. Before you go, I recommend you check the cruise ship schedules as this is a port of call for cruise ships and this place can quickly be overwhelmed by cruise ship passengers. We went on a day without cruise ships and it was still busy but I can only image the chaos of being there with a full cruise ship full of people too. There are options to buy additional tickets to go to Boys Prison as well as the Isle of the Dead where the cemetery is, but we opted against both of these as we felt that an organized tour would not fit well with our young kids.
-Coal Mine Convict Site. This place is free. It’s not as fully restored as Port Arthur but is very much worth the visit. There are some informational plaques around and it’s perched on a hill overlooking the ocean. It’s just North of Nubeena.
-Remarkable Cave. We saw a small sign to this while driving to Port Arthur one day. There is a short hike down to the cave. Worth the stop.
-Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen. If you part in the Tasman Arch car park, you can walk the trail past Devil’s Kitchen towards a waterfall lookout. Entire hike is about 45 minutes each way and takes you along the cliffs to several lookouts. We even saw an echidna on the hike! It was beautiful.
-Tasman Blowhole. Really unremarkable in our opinion. Wasn’t worth the stop.
-Federation Chocolate Factory. There is a large glass window where you can watch the workers making the chocolates. They were very informative about the chocolate process and had samples of some rather unusual and delicious chocolate bars for us to try including Apple, Honey, and Orange Ginger, to name a few.
Randall’s Bay, Tasmania
After a week on the Tasman Peninsula, we drove to our next rental which was West of Hobart by the town of Cygnet. This was our favorite rental to date:
This house was very spacious and had a ton of toys/games/bikes for the kids. There were wallabies in the yard each evening and the most gorgeous sunsets. It was a short walk down to a gorgeous, white sandy beach with gentle water for swimming. Highly recommend.
-Tahune Airwalk. If you are afraid of heights, you might want to skip this! You can easily spend several hours at this site. There are several trails. One takes you up to metal platforms that are over 100 feet in the air, where you can walk through the upper canopy of the forest. Beautiful views of the river and valley. Another hike takes you over a couple swinging suspension bridges. The kids liked these so much that we actually crossed each bridge 3 times! The cafe on site has decent food and is a good option for a meal.
-Hastings Caves and Hot Springs. Two separate entrance fees for this place. One for the pool, which was extremely inexpensive, and one for the caves which was pricier. So, we found the hot springs to be more like a luke warm pool. We opted to save this place for a rainy day, thinking we’d be nice and toasty warm. The kids didn’t mind the borderline cold pool, but I found it to be uncomfortable. They had a raging fire going in the shelter though which was a good place to dry off and warm up. After hopping in the pool, we changed into dry clothes and went on a tour of the caves. They are beautiful dolomite caves. Very impressive and well worth the entrance fee.
- Bruny Island. To get to Bruny, you need to take a ferry out of Kettering. The ferry crossing takes about 25 minutes. Our first stop on Bruny was the Truganini Lookout. After climbing a series of steps to the top, you have a wonderful view of the The Neck, which is the narrow strip of land that prevents Bruny from being two separate islands. After the lookout, we headed to the end of Adventure Bay Road to take the hike to Grass Point. A short ways into this hike, we saw a famed white wallaby! According to other travelers, echidna were around too, but we didn’t see any. On the way back to the ferry, we stopped at the Organic Berry Farm where we randomly ran into a German traveler whom we had met a couple weeks before at Freycinet National Park! He was working on the farm in exchange for food and lodging, so he gave us a personal tour of the fields including samples of fresh strawberries right from the plant!
After Tasmania, we flew to Gold Coast, Queensland and rented a place in nearby Burleigh Heads.
Highlights of Burleigh Heads, Queensland
- Dream World. OK, so there are LARGE ads for Dream World all over the airport upon arrival and on every flier that you pick up. Our kids were instantly mesmerized by the idea and asked to go. We opted to make this their Christmas present. I highly recommend checking online for deals. When we looked, we saw that we could buy season’s passes for the adults for the same price as children, which was cheaper than the one day ticket price at the gate! So we purchased season’s passes ahead of time, which allowed us the ability to come and go as we pleased. We ended up going three times. Parking is free. There is a waterpark area with waterslides and a great covered water area for toddlers, complete with tiny waterslides. There is an animal park section with free ranging kangeroos that you can buy food to feed them. They have some information about Aborigine history and culture, including face painting. Lastly, they have a section of amusement rides for all ages. Overall, pretty well done and well worth money, especially if you can snag a season’s pass for the same price as a one day ticket. One day it monsooned rained and we did not feel badly at all about just leaving and coming back a different day.
- Tallebudgera Creek Park is just South of Burleighs Head Beach off of Hwy 2, just after you cross over the bridge. We found this little park and sandy beach to be just perfect for our young children. There are no waves and the water is gentle, unlike Burleighs Head beach. There is a small playground adjacent to it. Only trouble is that parking can be a bit limited on school holidays and weekends.
- Laguna Park is a super cool playground. It is fully fenced and has a sun shade over most of it. Surrounding the whole thing, there is a rail track with pedal powered bikes that kids can attach to one another to form a sort of train and collectively ride it around. It’s labeled as the coolest playground on the East Coast and I would have to agree that it was pretty neat. The kids would have loved to have stayed there forever but a sudden thunderstorm sent us running to our car!
After The Gold Coast, we flew to Cairns to spend Christmas.
Highlights of Cairns
- We rented a house with a pool right by Kewarra Beach. I’ll put the listing here, but please read our reviews on the property carefully before booking.
- Esplanade Lagoon Pool. This is a large, salt water pool, right next to the beach. It has some covered areas as well as a couple small sandy beaches. It’s completely free and there is lots of inexpensive parking nearby.
- Atherton Tablelands. About a one hour drive from Cairns. On the way to Yungaburra, stop at the Cathedral Fig, which is an impressive strangler fig and worth the short detour from the main route. Another cool fig a little further along, although not as impressive as the Cathedral Fig, is The Curtain Fig tree. Several waterfalls to see in this area including the Millaa Millaa Falls, which was featured in an Herbal Essence advertisement. There is a grassy area to have a nice picnic and bathrooms and changing rooms on site. If you decide to venture into the water, it’s a bit brisk and the rocks at the shore take some navigating to get in. Continuing on the loop, you can see Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls. Malanda Falls is not as picturesque, but it is far easier to access for swimming, especially if you have littles. Also in the Yungaburra area, is the Peterson Creek trail. It starts with at a platypus viewing area where we saw a platypus swimming! The trail continues along the creek where we saw another platypus, and over a swinging suspension bridge. We turned around after the suspension bridge and headed back. Took us 45 minutes total, with long stops to watch platypuses (yes, that is actually the plural of platypus!).
- Stoney Creek Trail. This is about 15 minutes outside of Cairns. Parking is extremely limited and there are no facilities so get there early and make sure that everybody has used the restroom before you get there. There is a shallow swimming area right at the entrance but several other swimming holes to choose from as you continue up the trail next to the creek. The water is crystal clear and very calm. Lots of fish swimming about too.
- Tjapukai Cultural Center. We opted for the evening show, Night Fire, which was a lovely introduction to Aboriginal culture.