We Drove from Cairns to Sydney

An endless road trip Cairns to Sydney

“Life everywhere is in vast and endless variety.” Herrick Johnson

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Whenever I think back to our road trip along the East Coast of Australia, it makes me realize how fortunate we were to have chosen an adventure on such an inspiring stretch of coastline. From Whitsundays and Fraser Island to Byron Bay and Sydney; the variety of destinations was also just as impressive, with what seemed like the perfect mix of natural attraction, iconic cities, and friendly beach towns.

Having traveled to Cairns in the very northern reaches of the East coast, I met up with two childhood friends as we went in search of a rental vehicle for a three-week road trip from Cairns to Sydney. It was an incredible journey on which we encountered every aspect of Australia and in many ways, this variety of attractions

Cairns and life down under

Cairns was to be my very first insight into life down under, and while this is certainly a tourist-orientated town, it remains one of my favorite places to visit in Australia. Featuring an endless line-up of restaurants and bars, the nightlife is a big draw for the backpacking community, but then the location of nearby regions is also quite favorable.

Take Cape Tribulation, for example, a beautiful headland renowned for an abundance of nature. We opted to forgo a trip to Cape Tribulation for a hippy village called Karanda but feedback from fellow travelers left us regretting this decision. Located just two hours north of Cairns and a short boat ride across the River Daintree, this beautiful region is home to crocodile cruises and rainforest treks while the scenery alone offers unrivaled photography opportunities.

At the same time, Karanda and Barron Falls, in particular, was an interesting encounter and we still got to check out the crystal-like waters and colorful marine life in the Great Barrier Reef. Long known as a natural wonder of the world, we took a one-day boat tour to explore this incredible area and while this seemed relatively short, it was better than no time at all.

How to travel the east coast of Australia

Most travelers to this part of the world will at least consider a road trip along the East Coast and given the wealth of attractions; it is quite easy to understand such popularity. From sandy beaches and turquoise waters to vibrant towns and iconic cities; there are many reasons to forget about flying and explore the places in between.

Needless to say, we needed little encouragement to travel overland from Cairns to Sydney, but we would quickly learn that our failure to prepare for this trip was almost a reason it never happened, for it was near impossible to find a vehicle in the midst of peak season.

Taking a bus or self-driving the East coast of Australia

Yes, you can take either the Premier or Greyhound bus from Cairns to Sydney and these stop at all the main destinations, but it seems shameful to rely on a set itinerary in this part of the world, after all, the whole reason for going is often the uncertain nature of the adventure.

Tip: If you do decide to take either of the above-mentioned buses; they both have a daily departure.

With that said, we did eventually find a campervan in Cairns – a last minute cancellation. It was rather small and consisted of three beds, but the climate was so warm along the eastern shoreline that we ended up buying a cheap tent to pitch outside instead. Well maintained and relatively new, rental vehicles in Cairns are an excellent option to explore the coast, and we experienced no issues with logistics the entire way to Sydney.

Mission Beach

Another reason we missed out on Cape Tribulation was that we decided to visit Mission Beach and with time being short, something had to give. Situated one hour to the south of Cairns, this beautiful rain-forested area is also right next to an idyllic beach, and it was an extremely comfortable stay at Scotty’s Beach House. Skydiving is also popular here, but we were more interested in the white water rafting which was said to be a very fun way to gain a different perspective of the surrounding forest

The rumors were accurate, but it must be said that the true highlight of this day was the group dynamic; as we had joined a group of like-minded backpackers on the rapids which made this adventure an excellent team bonding experience. Graded four and five, most of these rapids were also scary enough to keep us in the raft, but as mentioned, it was a truly enjoyable day in the company of such a diverse bunch of nationalities.

Magnetic Island

Aside from the rafting near Mission Beach, these were very relaxing days which also made our departure from Mission Beach a little more painful than expected. However, further south we reached the starting point for our next adventure and boarded a beautiful boat headed for Magnetic Island.

Of course, there are several ways to this isolated landmass, and we found the most affordable way to reach Magnetic Island is by taking an all-inclusive package which includes both accommodation and the ferry ride. Luckily there were places available by the time we reached Townsville, but it is highly advisable to book in advance. Featuring scuba diving tours, snorkeling, and beautiful hiking trails, Magnetic Island was the perfect place to stay outdoors and get active after a couple of days rest in Mission Beach.

Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands

Few destinations excite visitors as much as Whitsunday Islands, and despite our high expectations, this stunning archipelago more than live up to the hype. Having stayed overnight in Airlie Beach, we boarded a beautiful yacht, and for the next two nights, this would be our home. In this instance, we had picked a Maxi Racing Yacht which allowed us to get out into the Great Barrier Reef quickly and spend more time in and around the seventy-four islands which make up the region.

Sunbathing or snorkeling during the day and star gazing on deck every night, this was an incredibly chilled tour, but as expected, Whitehaven Beach stole the show. Consisting of the finest white powdered sands we had ever seen, the very first sight of this beach is unforgettable, and the desolate nature of the area also ensures it feels like a very personal experience.

Note – While we had no time to visit this place, the Town of 1770 is hugely popular and was first founded by Captain Cook back in 1770. It is a quite busy town with several cafés and enough backpackers to fill the bars ten times over. Having such a relaxed vibe, this town is also a popular spot for tourists heading north, for the Town of 1770 is an ideal place to relax after spending time on Fraser Island.

Fraser Island and Four by Four

Renowned for being the largest island in the world consisting of sand, Fraser Island is the kind of enchanting destination which intrepid travelers dream about. Before arriving on the island, we had initially worried that restrictions would mean taking a tour guide with us but on the contrary, we were handed keys to a 4X4 after a short briefing, and departing Hervey Bay for the island.

Down sandy tracks and through dense jungle, the drive between each hotspot on the island was always an adventure while Lake Mackenzie and Eli Creek were worth the effort when we did finally get out in search of a hike. We had decided on hostel accommodation for this part of our trip, but you can also go for camping – a popular option for backpackers on a budget. That being said, the accommodation was irrelevant as this was an experience that surpassed all of our expectations and left us thinking how the cost of this adventure was minuscule in comparison with the rewards.

A glamorous beach town called Noosa

On the way to Brisbane, we had two days to spare and took a detour to the town of Noosa. Upmarket and glamorous in every way, this was an entirely different experience to anywhere on the road trip, but it was equally enjoyable for what it had to offer. In fact, the conditions in Noosa were perfect for surfing, and when we were sure that nobody was paying attention, each of us took turns trying not to embarrass ourselves.

Although the real reason we made excuses for this detour to Noosa was the opportunity to visit Australia Zoo which is best known as the former workplace of Steve Irwin. Featuring every snake imaginable, crocodiles galore and a huge variety of other wildlife, this is arguably the best zoo in Australia and well worth the visit, whether you travel to Noosa or not.

City of Brisbane

We stayed in Southbank in Brisbane, which was a short ferry ride from the center and this area seemed like an oasis in comparison to the busy city. With colorful markets, hidden cafes, bars, restaurants and ample green spaces, there was no end of interesting places to go and things to do. However, we did also spend time in the West End during our stay, and this was equally as nice with many more markets and possibly, even more, choice of eateries.

Tip: We enjoyed our time in Brisbane but satisfied with our hectic itinerary until this point, we decided against visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary which is also said to be very interesting. Moreton Island is another local hotspot for tourists where you can enjoy paddle-boarding, snorkeling, and even dolphin watching. However, this requires a day tour to reach the island itself.

Byron Bay & Surfers Paradise

Even the tall buildings and bustling nature of Surfers Paradise cannot disguise that this is a hugely enjoyable place to spend time. Whether you yearn for a busy nightlife or high-quality restaurants, it has both, while the beach is incredibly long and a nice break from the city.

And then there is Byron Bay, probably the most infamous town on the entire East coast of Australia. Popular with locals and tourists alike, Byron is surrounded by wilderness and surprisingly quiet despite its reputation making it an ideal stop whether you travel north to sound or vice versa.

Sydney and endless variety

Shimmering in the distance, the bright lights of Sydney are incomparable with anywhere else in the world, and as we passed by the beautiful opera house and infamous bridge, it was crystal clear that we had picked the perfect place to end our road trip along the East Coast.

Taking a road trip anywhere in the world is always an exciting prospect, but when you take a road trip along the east coast of Australia, there is a distinct variety which ensures it stands out from any other. We had expected stunning beaches, clear waters, friendly locals and exciting attractions but the truth is; nothing can prepare for the speed at which these different experiences present themselves, for the extent of this variety is nothing short of endless.

Article by Derek Cullen

“Derek Cullen is an Outdoor Blogger from Ireland who has spent the past nine years travelling more than fifty countries around the world. Although currently working as a guide in Africa, Derek has also spent extended periods in Canada, Thailand and Australia.” My blog: http://www.nohangingaround.com

 

 

Tips for Visitors to Sydney

 

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Tips for big attractions and small experiences in Sydney
Although Sydney is an incredibly famous city and one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, the secret to having an unforgettable time in this vibrant metropolis usually comes down to planning. Yes, you can arrive on a whim and figure everything out from the hotel lobby, or you could save yourself a lot of stress and use the experience of others to create the ultimate adventure.

Tips for breakfast  while staying in Sydney
With that said, here are some straight forward tips for the best day tour, breakfast, beach, and attractions to help you experience the big attractions and smaller experiences in “the Harbour City”:
Skip the hotel breakfast and explore the city centre café’s
Sydney is home to one of the most wonderful cuisines and café cultures in the world. From charming food trucks selling fresh snapper to rustic eateries or luxury dining; there is something for absolutely every taste and budget. For this reason, your hotel may provide a complimentary meal each morning, but breakfast is one of the most enjoyable times of the day to get out and explore the eateries in Sydney.
During fine weather, the road side tables next to Ruby’s Diner in Surry Hills is my favorite pick for a light and healthy breakfast, but then this is sometimes a little far from the city centre. Instead, check out Pablo & Rusty’s on Castlereagh Street where beautiful high ceilings and leafy surroundings make the perfect oasis of calm in a rather busy area. Consisting of the most perfect poached eggs and shallot on toast, this is also an ideal taste of the very cosmopolitan side of Sydney.
That being said, rather than opt for the same hotel lobby, it is worth making an effort to visit as many cafés as possible for breakfast and start each day with a little adventure somewhere new.

Rent a car and take a road trip to the Blue Mountains
Car rental is reasonably affordable in Sydney, but regardless, the rewards that come with having your own vehicle are priceless. Take for example a road trip to the Blue Mountains, where a glorious hue gives reason to the name of these mountains as it covers the most famous valley in New South Wales.
The Blue Mountains are just a ninety-minute drive but before leaving the city, take a pit stop in the suburb of Balmain for an encounter with a delightful bakery called Zumbo’s Patisserie. This tiny store on Darling Street is where you can pick up some snacks for the road and take in a little bit of local hospitality at the same time.
Although that first glimpse of the mountains is unforgettable, the highlight of a visit to the Blue Mountains is an opportunity to take a hike along the Charles Darwin Track. Featuring ancient bush paintings and even dinosaur footprints, this trail is the best way to feel immersed in the region and learn from a professional guide about the great biodiversity in the mountains.

Skip Bondi and spend time at Coogee Beach
Stretching for almost one kilometre, the golden sands of Bondi Beach are certainly the most popular in Sydney. However, the central location and reputation of Bondi ensure the beach is always extremely busy and often, overcrowded. For this reason, Coogee Beach is an enticing alternative and possibly an even more enjoyable beach to visit in Sydney.
Located just twenty minutes from the city centre, Coogee Beach is easily accessible by local transport, but if you have a rental car, there is also ample parking around the bay. Coogee Yeeros Café offers the best eggs benedict with sea views, and Friggitoria serves a sublime Gnocchi with Polpette while there are several popular bars nearby if you choose to stay on for the evening.
Less populated and less crowded as Bondi, you should find the conditions are more suitable and calm for swimming, relaxing and sunbathing. This area is also known for having three major ocean baths (Giles, McIver, and Wylie’s) but for anyone feeling a little more active, there is a cliff hiking trail which offers stunning views of the coastline in New South Wales.

Embrace the crowds and try not to avoid the touristy places
Whether you stay for a few days or even a couple of weeks, try not to overthink your itinerary and remember that many of the attractions in Sydney are popular for a reason. For example, taking a cruise down the river is hugely touristy but highly enjoyable and a great way to see the city from a different perspective. Similarly, the Sydney Opera House has a very insightful walking tour, the infamous bridge is worth the climb, the Royal Botanical Gardens are spectacular, and even the above mentioned Bondi Beach deserves an afternoon if you have any time to spare.
While many visitors forgo the lesser known experiences for big attractions when they travel, this would be a shame in Sydney considering how the small attractions are every bit as important. At the same time, there is no better way to waste time than arriving without a plan and with the above tips in mind, there should be no reason to forgo anything at all, even the smaller experiences.

Article by Derek Cullen

“Derek Cullen is an Outdoor Blogger from Ireland who has spent the past nine years travelling more than fifty countries around the world. Although currently working as a guide in Africa, Derek has also spent extended periods in Canada, Thailand and Australia.” My blog: http://www.nohangingaround.com

THE SYDNEY TO HOBART YACHT RACE

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Sailing: The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race

The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is a 628 nautical mile yacht race that takes place in December each year, with a flotilla of yachts making the gruelling journey between Sydney, New South Wales and Hobart in Tasmania. Widely considered to be one of the most prestigious and challenging ocean races in the world, the event has become an iconic part of the Australian summer and is something that’s not to be missed.

 Watch the start of the race in Sydney

On Boxing Day (26th December) the boats leave Sydney Harbour and begin their long and difficult journey to Hobart. As the race begins, Sydney Harbour is transformed into a sea of colour and noise, with thousands lining the harbour sides to watch the boats depart and set sail out to sea.

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To get a great view of the action, head to one of the many great vantage points located in and around Sydney. On the south side is Watsons Bay, which is a fantastic spot to enjoy a picnic and watch the boats go by – or if you’re looking to wine and dine in style, head to Doyles on the Beach, a popular a la carte seafood restaurant that offers stunning harbour views.

Other popular viewing locations include Middle Head lookout in Sydney Harbour National Park, Bradleys Head Amphitheatre and Georges Heights Lookout at Headland Park. Wherever you go, just be sure to get there early if you want to grab a good viewing spot!

If you’re looking to get up close and personal with the action, head out to sea and book one of the many harbour cruises that offer you an unbeatable vantage point of the starting line as the excitement unfolds. There is also the Manly Ferry, which leaves regularly from Circular Quay and Manly and offers great views of the yachts as they jostle for a good early position.

Cheer the competitors home in Hobart

Cheer on the competitors as they return to dry land in Hobart and soak up the atmosphere as the race reaches a thrilling conclusion at the Hobart Race Village in Constitution Dock.

The festival is free and begins in the days leading up to the race finish, with the dock coming alive as thousands of excited fans descend on the city to cheer on the competitors as they race cross the finishing line and complete their epic journey. In the village, you’ll find a wide array of quality food and drinks, plus live entertainment and many family-friendly games and activities.

To get a view of the yachts as they race across Storm Bay and make their final approach to the finish, head to Long Beach in Sandy Bay or take a 15-minute drive out to Taroona Beach in the suburbs and enjoy a great vantage point in this picturesque spot.

Whether you choose to view the race from the sea or the land, the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is an annual event that’s not to be missed!
Article by Dan Flower.

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KATOOMBA AND THE BLUE MOUNTAINS

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The Blue Mountains, Katoomba

Situated just an hour and a half’s drive from Sydney, the Blue Mountains National Park is quite simply breathtakingly beautiful and offers numerous things to see and do. Visit Echo Point lookout and take in the amazing panoramic views over Jamison Valley and the famous Three Sisters, then head out on one of the numerous walks and explore the beautiful valleys, canyons, waterfalls and forests of this renowned World Heritage site. Make sure to visit Scenic World, where you can explore the rainforest from elevated walkways and get unique aerial views of the Blue Mountains from the Skyway and Cableway.

Visit Echo Point

At the edge of the Katoomba cliffs and in the heart of the Blue Mountains lays Echo Point, a popular lookout where you can take in the stunning far-reaching views of the Jamison Valley and the spectacular Three Sisters. Here you’ll also find the Echo Point Visitor Centre, where you can get information on the area and find out more about the many things to see and do.

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Echo Point is the starting point of many world-class walks – take the accessible path to the Three Sisters and get a closer look at this beautiful and unusual rock formation named after an Aboriginal legend, or take the more challenging Giant Stairway and take in the spectacular views as you descend the 800-plus steps down to Scenic World.

Explore Scenic World

 To make it a day to remember, a visit to the Scenic World attraction is an absolute must. Take a trip on the world’s steepest commercial railway, then glide high above the park on the Scenic Skyway and look down from a glass-bottomed cabin as you take in the stunning aerial views of the Katoomba Falls and the Three Sisters.

For more panoramic views of the Blue Mountains, there’s also the Scenic Cableway, which takes you on a spectacular 510-metre journey down into the Jamison Valley.

On foot, take the elevated 2.4 kilometre Scenic Walkway – the longest in the Southern Hemisphere – and immerse yourself in the tranquillity of the Jurassic rainforest and its abundance of native wildlife.

Visit the Waradah Aboriginal Centre

Be sure to leave time for a visit to the Waradah Aboriginal Centre, where you can learn all about living Aboriginal culture and admire traditional Aboriginal dance and music.

Take part in an interactive didgeridoo performance and admire the original Aboriginal artworks in the gallery, before witnessing a corroboree performed by traditional Aboriginal dancers and learning more about the stories behind each dance. There’s also a souvenir shop, where you can buy unique souvenirs and beautiful decorations.

Whatever your age, a visit to the Waradah Aboriginal Centre is a truly unforgettable experience!

Make a Trip to the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre

 If you’re a lover of art, be sure to visit the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, which showcases a fantastic selection of local and international artworks and presents many touring exhibitions. The centre also hosts regular events, including a wide variety of concerts, workshops and forums, while the shop stocks an array of gifts, homewares, stationery and more.
Article by Dan Flower.

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SYDNEY

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Sydney, Australia: The Top Things to See and Do

With its magnificent harbour, beautiful beaches and world famous sights, Sydney is a city that will captivate you from the very first moment you arrive. But spend a little more time here and your love for Sydney will only grow further and further. The capital of New South Wales is one of the most beautiful cities in the world – and it’s positively brimming with things to see and do.

Highlights

Climb the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and take in unrivalled views over the city, or experience the sights in a more leisurely way by taking a cruise along the waterfront. Indulge in a little retail therapy along Oxford Street, before experiencing a memorable concert at the iconic Sydney Opera House. When the show is over, head straight to Darling Harbour and experience its bustling nightlife – and when it’s time to relax and take things easy, what could be better than a lazy afternoon on Bondi Beach?

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Attractions

For a truly exhilarating experience that will live long in your memory, a climb up the Sydney Harbour Bridge is an absolute must. Take in the breath-taking panoramic views from the 134-meter summit and learn all about its history from your experienced tour guide.

Next up, make a visit to the famous Taronga Zoo, which is home to more than 4,000 animals. Here you will find many examples of native Australian wildlife, including numerous rare and endangered animals.

In addition, make sure to set aside some time to explore some of Sydney’s many museums and galleries. The Australian Museum is the oldest in the country and has more than 10 million items in its vast collection, while the Australian National Maritime Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and Powerhouse Museum remain ever popular.

Finally, no visit to Sydney would be complete without visiting the Sydney Opera House. Pose for pictures in front of this famous and iconic structure, before heading inside and enjoying a world-class show. With a huge variety of events throughout the year, there is sure to be something for everyone.

Beaches

Bondi Beach is famous all over the world and is a fantastic place to go surfing, but be sure to also check out some of Sydney’s other stunning sandy stretches. Manly Beach offers amazing views of the Sydney skyline (catch the Manly Ferry from Circular Key), while the beautiful Palm Beach will be instantly recognisable to viewers of the popular soap Home and Away.

Shopping, Restaurants and Nightlife

For a huge choice of famous brands, head to Oxford Street or the popular Westfield shopping mall. In addition, The Rocks is home to a great selection of independent retailers, while the Queen Victoria Building houses many fashionable boutiques.

When it comes to dining and nightlife options, you will be literally spoilt for choice. Dine in style at the 360 Bar and Dining and enjoy spectacular views over the city, or head to Circular Quay, the Rocks or Chinatown for a great choice of world cuisines.

For those looking to experience the vibrant Sydney nightlife, Kings Cross, Oxford Street and Darling Harbour contains some of the city’s hottest nightspots.
Article by Dan Flower.

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JANOLAN CAVES

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Explore the Jenolan Caves

Located just 175 kilometres to the west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains of Katoomba, Jenolan Caves is a must-visit attraction that offers visitors the chance to explore some of the oldest and most spectacular cave formations in the world. Take a guided tour of the nine impressive caves and marvel at the astonishing formations and underground rivers, then emerge above ground and explore the many beautiful bushwalks that surround the caves. Whether you visit on a day trip or choose to stay overnight, you’re sure to fall in love with Jenolan.

Guided Cave Tours

Nine of the most spectacular caves are open to the public, with tours by experienced guides taking place throughout the year. The cave tours vary from easy to strenuous, so just be sure to choose an option to suit your age and fitness.

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Imperial Cave is the easiest cave to explore, with the crystal formations, fossils and an underground river being easily accessible by a mostly level path that’s suitable for everyone from children through to adults.

The River Cave falls at the opposite end of the scale and is a more strenuous tour that will amaze and excite in equal measure. Lucas Cave contains the biggest chambers, including the famous Broken Column.

There are many other caves to explore, including the Imperial Diamond Cave, where you can marvel at the pure white crystal and ‘Gem of the West’ – or take in the spectacular features and formations inside the Temple of Baal Cave.

Orient Cave, Chifley Cave and Ribbon Cave all offer something different, with many dazzling formations and fossils that are sure to impress.

Jenolan Caves also offers night tours, including the popular Legends, Mysteries and Ghosts Tour.

Adventure Caving

If you fancy something a little more adventurous, why not go adventure caving? Whether you are an experienced adventurer or trying it for the very first time, the attraction offers a range of exhilarating adventure-caving experiences that allow you to explore deep inside the caves and learn more about the cave environment from your experienced instructor.

Bushwalks

When you’ve finished exploring inside the caves, head off on one of the many bush tracks and immerse yourself in the outstanding beauty of the Blue Mountains. Take a pleasant scenic stroll along the Jenolan River Walk, which leads you beside the beautiful Blue Lake and along the Jenolan River (a 3 kilometre round trip), or try the Carlotta Arch Walk, a short but relatively steep bushwalk that leads up to the spectacular limestone Carlotta Arch and provides superb views over the Blue Lake and the Jenolan Valley. The Six Foot Track stretches for 45 kilometres to Katoomba and takes several days to complete, so take your tent and camp at one of the many campsites found along the way.

Accommodation

There is so much to explore at Jenolan Caves that it makes sense to stay for several days. The attraction offers a variety of accommodation options to suit all budgets, including the Jenolan Caves House, Mountain Lodge and the Gate House. Article by Dan Flower.

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