Travelers: Massimo Acciarini, his wife Laura Borghetti, and their daughter Matilde (age 5), who attends Yew Chung International School of Beijing.
Travel dates: December 2014-January 2015
Travel plans: The Borghetti-Acciarini family flew from Beijing to Australia through Hong Kong with Cathay, flying into Melbourne and returning from Sydney. They flew from Melbourne to Hamilton Island and from Hamilton Island to Cairns with Virgin Australia, and from Cairns to Sydney with Jetstar.
Cost: The trip cost approximately RMB 80,000 in total. Roundtrip airfare from Beijing came to approximately RMB 8,500 per adult and RMB 6,500 per child ticket, including taxes. Flights within Australia came to around RMB 13,000 for the whole family. Car rental came to around RMB 3,500. Hotel accommodations were approximately RMB 18,000. Day trips in the Whitsundays, Daintree Forest, and the Great Barrier Reef totaled around RMB 7,000. Food costs added up to around RMB 14,000.
Australia was vast and alive. Space took on a new dimension, the sky was somehow bigger, and wildlife and the natural world were closer and more present.
On arriving in Melbourne, we rented an SUV and immediately drove to Philipp Island. We saw plenty of local wildlife, including seals, pelicans, and penguins. The Penguin Parade, which took place every day as a huge colony of penguins returned home at sunset, was a highlight.
Our first stop along the famous Great Ocean Road was Tower Hill. Although the nature reserve was quite wild, our short hike was easy enough for Mathilde and we encountered emus and small wallabies. Views along the Great Ocean Road were breathtaking, with several spots where you could stop and walk down to the cliff edge. The Twelve Apostles in particular were spectacular. Rarely have I felt the might of nature to such an extent; here, you could really feel that humanity has existed for just a tiny fraction of the life of our planet.
In Melbourne, we explored the city on foot. The weather was excellent. With so much architecture, street performers, and parks, it was relaxing to enjoy the city without a plan or guidebook. It was easy to lose track of time in Queen Market, which sold everything from souvenirs to trays of steak! Sunset on the Yarra River was beautiful, and it was easy to find a good restaurant on the Bund where we could enjoy a nice barbecue.
We flew onwards from Melbourne to Hamilton Island, the largest of the Whitsunday Islands on the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef. The island was pleasant and exclusive, without crowds or cars – electric golf carts were the sole form of transportation. It was expensive but worth it. We hiked to the top of the hill for a fantastic view of the area. Hamilton Island had nice beaches, but the most famous in the Whitsundays was Whitehaven Beach.
We transferred to Cairns and spent several days there. On our first day, we took a boat trip with Reef Magic to a huge pontoon in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. From there, you could do several activities, including diving, which I recommend over diving at Hamilton Island. The pontoon was busy and chaotic, so on the way back we felt exhausted though satisfied. Another highlight in Cairns was Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. Their numerous animals were treated properly and their staff was wonderful.
In Sydney, we stayed in an apartment in the Randwick area. It gave us a feeling of living in the city, which we really enjoyed. We visited downtown and by chance joined up with a free walking tour (www.imfree.com.au). Though free, it’s customary to tip the guide generously at the end. Sydney highlights included climbing the Harbor Bridge at dawn and the guided tour of the Sydney Opera House.
From Sydney, we took a trip out to Manly – one of the best beaches in the city – then rented a car and drove out to the Blue Mountains to visit the National Pass, Three Sisters, and Scenic World.
- Get your Australian visa online, as processing is free for a lot of nationalities.
- Pay attention when booking flights with budget airlines, as you may have to pay extra for checked-in luggage.
- If you plan on moving around, rent a car. Even if you only plan on staying in a location for two or three days, it may still work out cheaper than local transportation options. Although car rental costs are relatively low, insurance costs are massive! Expect decent insurance coverage to be twice the cost of car rentals.
- Hotel breakfasts can be quite expensive. It’s better to buy your own breakfast foods and eat in your room.
- Due to bad weather on Phillip Island, we were unable to visit the nearby seal colony. If you spend two days on the island, plan your cruise on the very first day; in case of bad weather, you can have a second chance on the second day.
- Tickets to the Phillip Island Penguin Parade can be bought in advance at www.penguins.org.au/attractions/penguin-parade. Although more expensive tickets are available, after a while you can see penguins everywhere so I recommend buying a normal ticket. It can get quite cold, so bring extra layers and warm blankets.
- Book tours to the Whitsunday Islands early, as they’re very popular and fill up fast. We took a half-day trip because the full-day trips were already fully booked one month in advance.
- Dive the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns rather than Hamilton Island if you have the choice. I took a cruise from Hamilton Island out to the Great Barrier Reef for a half-day trip with two dives. Although the dives aren’t bad, considering the expense it’s better to dive from Cairns.
- In Sydney, try to stay at an apartment rather than a hotel. We rented through stayz.com and saved 50 percent on the cost of accommodation.
This article originally appeared on page 44 of the beijingkids June 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.