Paul and Stacey Savant, and their two kids: Lauren (age 15) and Ryan (12), both students at the International School of Beijing.
Over last winter’s break, we visited several places in Australia: Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, Uluru, and Hunter Valley. The trip was divided roughly into four parts: Sydney (part one), the Great Barrier Reef, Ayer’s Rock (Uluru), and Sydney (part two). We flew with Qantas Airways from Shanghai to Sydney, then Cathay Pacific from Sydney to Beijing via Hong Kong. We planned and booked everything ourselves using Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com), VRBO (www.vrbo.com), and a Lonely Planet guidebook.
All of the flights, both international and domestic, were purchased using air miles. The overall cost for the trip was approximately AUD 8,500 (RMB 57,000).
The Best Part
We reunited with two families we knew from our time in Switzerland, whom we hadn’t seen for two years. One family lived in Manly (a suburb of Sydney), which was accessible through the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Beach – all for AUD 2.50. Our snorkel adventure was the highlight of the trip. We arrived at the Great Barrier Reef after a 90-minute boat ride. The water was warm, with amazing fish and coral everywhere.
The Worst Part
The cost – Australia is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Coming from China, it was really a shock to the system (and the bank account). For example, the Harbour Bridge Climb cost over AUD 700 (RMB 4,700) for the whole family. Average accommodations, food, and tours at Uluru and The Olgas are outrageously expensive. While Australia was a mesmerizing experience, you must be prepared for the expense.
During our last weekend in Sydney, we got to stay at Sheraton on the Park, a hotel located directly across from Hyde Park. That Saturday night happened to be the opening of the Sydney Festival, a month-long celebration of music and the arts. The park was full of live music, food, and families enjoying the evening. It was a great way to end an amazing holiday.
Australians are some of the most hospitable people we’ve ever met. It was so nice being back in an English-speaking country. Sydney is a fabulous city for families – very walkable and full of child-friendly places. Everything was easy, and it helped to be traveling with Aussies.
- If possible, rent a house. When we visited the Great Barrier Reef, we stayed at The Boat House with another family. It was a four-bedroom house located directly on Oak Beach. While we couldn’t swim in the ocean due to jellyfish, we played on the beach and swam in their private pool.
- If you’re traveling with a lot of people, rent a van. We booked one through Car Hire 3000 (www.carhire3000.com) for AUD 250 per day. However, neither American nor Canadian drivers’ licenses are accepted.
- Expect to pay a lot for accommodations in Uluru. The Ayers Rock Resort is the only hotel in town, so families can anticipate paying AUD 1,050 per night for a one or two-bedroom apartment. You can join one of the organized hotel tours or rent a car to explore the area on your own (which the Savants recommend).
- The weather was very warm in both Sydney and Port Douglas in December/January, and downright hot in Uluru. Light, loose clothing worked best for us. The flies can be very aggressive in Uluru; many people wore hats with netting to keep them off their faces.
All photos courtesy of the Savant family