We had a great time down under! This was my first trip out of the USA. Mike C., on the other hand, was a great "tour guide", having traveled internationally, including to Australia, before. We recommend Australia highly and wanted to pass on some of our observations, i.e. what was great, what we did or took along that worked well, what we wished we had taken, etc.
If you can, travel business or first class. No lines at the airport, you await boarding in the airline's private lounge, early boarding, comfy seats, great on-board service, even champagne. It really beats economy class! The flight to Sydney is 15 hours from LAX - you want to be as comfortable as possible.
Comfortable shoes - My favorites were Reebok DMX Walking shoes. Mike's were Ecco's. Have a back-up pair.
Coffee - We took a press pot (also known as a French Press) and pre measured coffee on the trip. We had the luxury of having real (not instant) coffee in our robes in the morning and not paying for room service coffee. We were really glad we did this! The press pot was from REI and it's lexan. We got the bigger of the two they offer.
Business cards - Mike made up business cards with both our names and our web site address. These came in handy to give out to people we met - we didn't have to scramble for a pen, paper.
Hairdryer - We took a dual voltage hair dryer (110 for the US or 240 for Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe too).
Luggage - We took 3 extra duffle bags, one of which was quite huge. This worked out well for bringing home more than we took (gifts).
It might seem like we got carried away on this but we had 4 cameras.
Mike N. had the Canon ELPH 490Z APS. This camera is truly pocket sized and is extremely easy to both use and carry around.
The digital camera is the Nikon Coolpix 950 sometimes used with the Nikon TC-E2 2X Teleconverter. I bought rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries and the Maha C204 charger from Thomas Distributing. The Maha came with a 110 Volt (USA) power cube and a 12 Volt (DC) cord. I had to buy the 240 volt power cube separately for use in Australia.
The 35 mm SLR is the Canon Elan IIe with eye-controlled auto focus. I've got two lenses which cover most situations. These are the Canon 28-80mm, 3.5 - 5.6, with Ultrasonic drive auto focus; and the Canon 75-300mm, 4 - 5.6 with auto focus. I've also got the Canon 430EZ flash and it's wonderful for those 'further away' shots.
The underwater camera is a Canon A1, your basic point-and-shoot, and good to 16 ft. below.
Tip: Use a lead lined bag (available from your local photo shop) to transport your 35 mm film and keep it safe from airport x-ray machines.
the nice camera features we used was the self timer and the remote (infrared)
control. The self timer worked well for night-time shots on a
tripod. Yes, we did take a full-sized tripod and were glad of it.
We also took two little tiny pocket-sized tripods which were very handy
indeed (from REI).
Customs and Duties - Remember that you can only bring back to the US $400 per person duty-free. We added everything up on our last night in Australia and just barely made it!
Currency and Exchange - Before we left we 'bought' some Australian currency at a local bank. You just tell them what you want and pay for it in advance. Then they mail it to you. You can exchange money in two ways within Australia. One is at a bank, and the other is at money exchange kiosk. Both are everywhere in major towns. It did turn out to be marginally better to exchange our travelers checks (or US cash) at the bank instead of at the exchange kiosk. Banks charge a flat fee where the money exchangers give you a slightly lesser exchange rate (which is their profit). Note that the banks charge the same fee no matter how much you're exchanging. So, rather than pay their AUD$6.50 charge and just exchanging a single $100 travelers check, it's better to exchange 3 or 4 checks at once for the same AUD$6.50.
Beer - The locals like to see you drinking the beer produced in their state. This means asking for Tooheys when in New South Wales (Sydney), and drinking our personal favorite XXXX Bitter when in Queensland.
Airport Transportation - Australia has either taxis or airport busses (actually a mini-bus). The airport busses pickup and deliver straight to your hotel but stop at many hotels on their route. If you're in a rush, take a taxi and pay the few extra dollars.
A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE THINGS TO SEE IN QUEENSLAND!!
Most of the animal and bird pictures were taken at the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary in Port Douglas. We spent hours there taking pictures! Next trip we're doing "Breakfast with the Birds." We can just imagine the birds perching on the tables and chairs and helping us with our breakfasts. Their email address (maybe they'll send you a brochure!) is: email@example.com
Check out the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park between Cairns and Kuranda. Here's a link: http://www.tjapukai.com.au
Port Douglas - Everything about Port Douglas! It's a smallish resort town and just a lot of fun to wander about in.
Daintree Village - Make sure to stop in at the Daintree Timber Museum to see some of the finest turned-wood objects around! We both bought some beautiful vases and bowls here (for ourselves and for gifts). Watch here for a link to some photos of the pieces we bought (future). Next door to the Timber Museum we made a booking for a Daintree River Cruise. Our guide, Jim, told us all about the ecology of the river and the various birds, frogs and crocodiles living there. We were extremely lucky to actually see a croc!
A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE THINGS IN SYDNEY, NSW!!
The Mercantile Hotel is where we stayed (in the Rocks). It's an Irish pub downstairs, with rooms on two floors above. There's live music almost every night, breakfast is included, and the people are friendly.
BEACHES -Two of the popular beaches are Manly and Bondi. Manly can be reached most easily by ferry and has beautiful Norfolk Pines lining the beach. Bondi is a great place to "people watch."
SHOPPING - The Queen Victoria Building is filled with small shops selling everything imaginable (including delicious desserts!) There's a beautiful display of the Crown Jewels on the top level, two ornate clocks that are suspended from the high ceiling, and an oriental carriage made of jade. It's really something to see!
There are so many things to see
that we recommend the Lonely Planet Guide to New South Wales and the
(separate) Sydney Guide.