Trip Report: Australia

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Sydney Australia Opera HouseSince we just returned from our two-week vacation, it’s time for the routine trip report. And as a change of pace, my wife, Jenni, will be writing about it. So, without further adieu, here is her trip report about our vacation to Australia. Also, I’m not sure how many people enjoy trip reports, so I’d love to get some feedback about this in the comments.

We had a great time in Australia and I already want to go back. The food was good, the people were friendly, and the animals were quite unique.

We left Grand Rapids on Tuesday, August 26th, with a short flight to Denver. It was a relatively quick flight on a United Airbus A320, but the delicious breakfast they served us helped the two and a half hours pass much quicker. We arrived in Denver around 10:00am and enjoyed cheese and crackers in the United Club.
Fun fact, somehow a bird got into that lounge. There were no windows to be found…

After a short layover, we boarded a Boeing 787 to Tokyo. This was our first international flight sitting in business class and it was quite an experience. I think I have been spoiled, because I don’t know if I could ever go back to flying internationally in economy. We had excellent service, comfortable seats, and all the food and drinks we could want. They even included a little goody bag.

All too soon (or not soon enough, depending on where you were sitting) we had arrived in Tokyo (Narita). Their International airport is very nice. The people there were extremely polite, the bathrooms were very clean, and the business lounge had a hot buffet style meal waiting for us. We took showers at the lounge and experienced bidets for the first time (they were amazing). All in all, it was nice that we were able to relax a little at that airport.

Around 8:00pm we boarded a Japan Airlines Boeing 777 flight to Sydney. Once I saw the seats in that plane I wished I had slept more on the 787. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, but they were not nearly as comfortable as the Dreamliner. Nevertheless we managed to sleep through most of that flight and woke up refreshed just a couple of hours before landing in Sydney. We actually slept right through dinner, so they served that to us for breakfast.

In Sydney we had to clear customs and take a little tram over to the domestic airport. At the Qantas business lounge, they had one of the most fun breakfast buffets I have ever seen. We weren’t even hungry at that point, but we had to try the “printed” pancakes anyway.

On our last flight inbound we flew a small Boeing 737, where they served us breakfast again. We were so full, but it was the most delicious looking Kosher meal we had received the whole trip. So, of course we did squeeze in a few bites :). At this point, it felt like we had spent the entire trip eating and sleeping, kind of like koalas (Australia joke).

Finally, we arrived in Adelaide, AU. We got our luggage with no issues, which was surprising because we had so many flights, but good nonetheless. Then, we headed over to the information center to find out about catching a bus to our hotel. We purchased a bus pass and hopped onboard. That bus ride went less than smoothly.

When transferring busses we missed the first one and had to wait just over an hour for the next one. Then, when we finally got on the correct bus, the driver plowed into the side of a car. It was just a side swipe really but they had to stop and call the police just the same. We did eventually make it to our hotel (The Watson). It was fun to be one of their first guests, but the hotel was a still bit messy out front and in the halls, because they had not yet completed construction. In fact, when we booked it their opening day was August 16 (just before we arrived), when w got there the opening changed to September 18. They still had a room ready for us, but I wish they would have let us know about the date change and the construction. The best part about the hotel, was the full kitchen. We were able to save money on dinners by cooking store-bought spaghetti over the stove, because food in Australia is expensive.

Although the time difference there is 13.5 hours different, we didn’t experience jet lag too badly. On our first full day in Adelaide, we left the hotel at 8:00am for a tour of Barossa Valley and Hahndorf (a nice birthday gift from my parents). It was incredible to see the change in landscape there in just a short drive. We went from a flat city, to rocky cliffs, to the rolling green hills of the Barossa Valley. It was quite a sight. Of course being in Australia meant that we had to stop for morning tea on the way. Apparently, that’s a thing there. At that restaurant we had some “bee sting cake,” tea, and coffee. Then, we took the tour bus around the Hills and out to lunch. After that, we had a tour and taste of Jacob’s Creek wine and a beautiful view of the rolling hills. We finished up our tour with a walk through the quaint little German town of Hahndorf.

Our second full day in Adelaide we had a morning tour of the cities historical buildings. During that tour we learned a lot about how the City of Adelaide was founded and how the original government was set up. Do I remember much about that, not really, but we took some great photos! We had morning tea (obviously) at Haigh’s Chocolate Factory, where we were able to see the chocolate being made by hand. The final event of the tour was a Torrens River (the main river that runs through the city) boat cruse. My favorite part of the city, was that river bank view.

After the tour, we ate at a riverside café and walked to the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. There they had an incredible amount of plants, both native and foreign, and birds everywhere. We spent an hour or so there, before exploring more of the city and heading back to the Watson. Early sunday morning, we woke up to catch the bus to Cleland Wildlife Park for, what I would say, was the highlight of our trip (Josh thought so too). There were kangaroos and Wallabies everywhere. At first we thought is was going to be a normal zoo, but it was far from that. We were able to pet and feed a Kangaroos, Joeys, all different types of Wallabies, and even little bandicoots. We also got our picture taken with a koala but they had to stay in their pens most of the time, because they’re quite sensitive to everything. It was quite the experience!

On monday we slept in a bit, before taking a train out to Glenelg Beach. It was extremely cold there, but we did our best to have fun regardless.

There were plenty of unique and touristy shops along the waterfront so we did a little shopping, as well, and ate lunch there, before going back to the city center (I’m sorry I should have said centre, you know, because Australia). There we did some more exploring and sightseeing. It was nice having went of the guided tours at the beginning of our trip, because we were now able to point out important landmarks and know a bit of history behind them.

Tuesday morning we packed our things and headed off to continue our trip in Sydney. We had about a three-hour flight with Qantas on a Boeing 717. When we arrived we took the train in to Sydney’s “Circular Quay” (They pronounce it like quee) and walked to our hotel (The Park Hyatt). The Hyatt was my favorite of all our hotels. It was a beautiful room with a great view. We didn’t get a direct view of the opera house, but it was still a great view of the Harbor.

We had purchased iVenture passes before leaving home, which basically allowed you to get into many different attractions around the city. So, on Monday morning we headed to Darling Harbour to redeem them for access to the Sea Life Aquarium, the Wide Life Zoo, Madame Tussauds, the Chinese Garden of Friendship, the Australian National Maritime Museum, a short IMAX movie, and a free fish and chips lunch at Blue Fish. It was a lot to fit in one afternoon, but it was worth it.

That night we treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at Braza Brazilian Steakhouse. If you’ve never been to a Brazilian Steakhouse, you should. It’s amazing.

On Thursday we used or pass to take an Eco-Hopper Ferry around the Harbour to visit Taronga Zoo, Manly Sea Life Sanctuary and to tour The Opera House.

That night, we had dinner in the Westfield mall before going up to Sydney’s Tower Eye. It was cool to see the city at night from that high up.

On Friday, we had to switch hotels. However, we had a late check out so we spent the morning walking up to the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout and eating at the touristy Australian Hotel, before checking out.

Sydney Australia Opera HouseOur next hotel was the Radisson Blu in downtown Sydney. It was nice, but not near as nice as the Hyatt. After checking in there we had to get back down to the Circular Quay for our last event on the iVenture pass, Oz Jet Boating. That was a really fun speed boat ride around the Harbour. It was still cold and we got soaked from the waves and boat spins, but it was so fun, we hardly noticed how cold it was. It was so surreal to be boating around the harbor with two iconic landmarks just sitting there in the background: The Bridge and the Opera House.

That was the last of our three-day iVenture pass, but we definitely got our monies worth from them.

On our last full day in Sydney, we really wanted to see animals again. So, we went out to the Featherdale Wildlife Park. It was quite a ways out-of-town, but not too bad of a train ride. There we got to feed Kangaroos and Wallabies again. We even got to pet a dingo pup. While we did prefer the wildlife park in Adelaide, this one had a few things Cleland did not: more Koalas, Dingo Pups, Little penguins, and talking Macaws.

On Sunday, we said goodbye to the beautiful Sydney, packed our things, and headed to the airport. We had some breakfast in the Air New Zealand lounge and then boarded our Air China flight to Shanghai. Once in Shanghai, we had quite a lot of trouble getting to our hotel. We tried to use the Maglav/Metro to get to the hotel, but only the Maglev (bullet train) accepted credit cards. We didn’t find out that our connecting train only took cash until we got to the station and there were no currency exchange shops there so we had to go back to the airport on the Maglev. Back at the airport, there were quite a few fake taxi drivers trying to solicit you, which was annoying.. We almost got in a car with one who was super sketchy to say the least, but we decided to take a clearly marked taxi to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. It actually ended up being much cheaper anyway, so it was a win-win. Anyway, after quite a trek, we did make it to the Radisson Blu New World hotel, where we were upgraded to a suite and given a fruit basket and white chocolate. That sure helped to make up for the stressful trip there.

In the morning, we did a little shopping in the city and checked out to go back to the airport. Our trip back was far less stressful than our trip there, we just took a marked taxi straight there. The airport lounge was nice and had a variety of good lunch food and my favorite: free massage chairs!

We boarded our longest flight of the whole trip around 3:00pm, a 14 hour flight via United’s Boeing 747. This was the first flight with an upper story. We sat up there right behind the cock pit, which was a pretty cool experience. Finally, we were back on US soil, Monday night. As always it was great to go but good to come home too. We missed our family and our little kitty. Australia was wonderful and I can’t believe we’re able to check it off our bucket list so soon. We our looking forward to more great trips in the future.

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