Travelers: Deputy Head Teacher at the British School of Beijing (BSB) Sanlitun, Christine Armstrong, and her two kids Sophie (age 7) and Jack (age 5), who both attend the school.
Destination: East coast of Australia
Dates: December 14, 2013 to January 4, 2014
Travel plans: The family flew from Beijing to Sydney with
Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong, where they spent a day in the city between flights. After staying one night at the Mercure Hotel Sydney Airport, the three travelers flew to Brisbane with Qantas and hired a car from Thrifty Car Rental. They then worked their way down Australia’s east coast, passing through Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Port Stephens, Shoal Bay, and Katoomba before returning to stay in the north Sydney suburb of Manly for four days. The trip was mostly organized by Christine, with the help of Australian friends and the websites elong.com (flights) and agoda.com (hotels).
Cost: International flights RMB 17,000; internal flights RMB 1,500; hotels RMB 4,000; house rental RMB 2,200 for the
family’s share; car hire RMB 6,000, spending money RMB 16,000; visas were free for British passport holders. Approximate total RMB 47,000.
I wanted to take a night flight to Australia, so I booked an early morning ticket to Hong Kong and an evening onward flight so we could spend the day in the city. Fortunately, the children were tired out after the day trip and slept the whole way to Sydney – success!
We flew on to Brisbane, where we stayed with friends for three days and saw some of the sights the city has to offer, including a fantastic (and free) man-made urban beach and a koala sanctuary where we got up close to the animals and fed kangaroos.
With a rental car arranged beforehand, our road trip down to Sydney began with stops in Coffs Harbour, famous for a giant walk-through banana, and Port Macquarie, which has beautiful beaches. The east coast of Australia has plenty to offer, and we really enjoyed making our holiday beach-focused. I was not convinced I would enjoy being “sandy” every day but it was fantastic. The kids had a great time body boarding and loved the big waves.
We drove on, but a nightmare situation arose two days before Christmas when I realized that I had left two hidden shopping bags, filled with Santa’s shopping, in Coffs Harbor. I called the motel and a courier, and thanks to some truly amazing generosity of spirit the items were boxed and delivered back to us in time for Christmas.
Our next stop was Shoal Bay, where we rented a five-bedroom house with some friends. We used the house as a base to visit some well-known bays and more amazing beaches. We also drove through the famous Lemon Tree Passage where you can see koalas in trees and ended up on a cozy little peninsula called Tilligerry.
We neared our final destination, Sydney, but had time for one more stop-off in the Blue Mountains to the west of the city. Here, while staying in a town called Katoomba, we visited Scenic World where you can take a cable car across a ravine, offering great views of the mountains and the Three Sisters rock formation.
The last stretch of the road trip took us back to Sydney to spend four days with friends in the northern suburb of Manly. The ferry into the city afforded amazing views, without the costly price tag of tourist boats, providing one of the best places to look out over the skyline at a fraction of the price.
Overall, our trip to Australia gave us a bit of everything. We had city, suburbia, beaches, and mountains and balanced time with friends and independent exploration.
Eastern Australia is a great destination for all ages, and the weather is lovely and hot at this time of year. It was summer when we went, so we had temperatures of between 20 and 37°C (68 to 98°F).
We are spoiled for good hotels in Asia, so you will need to lower your expectations about what you can get for the same price in Australia.
My Chinese UnionPay card did not work with the ATMs, despite my research suggesting that NAB (National Australia Bank) would accept it. The bank could not explain the problem, although fortunately I had other cards. I recommend going to your bank to check whether the magnetic strip is intact and making sure you have some back-up options.
Long-sleeved swim tops for the kids were invaluable in the scorching sun and I would suggest stocking up on SPF 50 sun cream.
If you go to Scenic World in the Blue Mountains, get there early. We arrived at 8.45am and got early bird discount tickets, but by midday the queues were snaking down the road.
photos courtesy of Christine Armstrong
This article originally appeared on p38-39 of the beijingkids February 2014 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com