Your Once-in-a-Lifetime Australia Vacation
(And Why You Should Make It a Journey)
It’s a long trip from the U.S. to Australia, but at the end of the flight you step into a remarkable world filled with wonders you’ve heard about your whole life — unique wildlife, stunning natural landscapes, and iconic manmade structures — and have always wanted to see for yourself.
Australia is a fascinating mix of the familiar and the exotic. Most Americans know the famous landmarks, can easily recognize the accent, and can quickly point out a kangaroo, koala bear, or dingo. In fact, we’re probably more familiar with Australia and its culture than we are with destinations much closer to home. But much of that familiarity is based purely on what we’ve read or seen on TV. How much can we really know about a land with such distinct biodiversity and such striking landscapes without actually experiencing it?
Well, we’re here to inspire you get out there and see what Australia’s really about, and we’ve prepared a 10-day trip to Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef to help send you on your way. We’ll need a guide for this trip, and we found the perfect one. While Australia is an aspirational bucket-list destination for most of us, for Liberty Travel expert Phil Kennewell, it’s home! So Phil is all set to tell us what we need to see on our vacation, how to get around, and what we can expect in Australia.
The first step to making the most of your Australian vacation, Phil says, is to know what you want to see. “You have to make sure you have on your list all of the things that are iconic,” he notes, “the things you’re not going to see here in the U.S.” You’ve heard of the Sydney Opera House, for example, but it’s quite possible you’ll have just one chance to actually see it for yourself, so make sure you get out there and see the things that make Australia unique. “It’s really about seeing everything for real that you’ve seen on TV,” Phil says.
And to do that the right way, you may need some help, which is where Liberty Travel comes in.
Make it a Journey
Liberty Travel created Journeys to help you get the most out of that once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the world’s most iconic destinations — like Australia. They’re long-haul vacations to at least two places, and at the heart of a Journey is the assistance you get from top- notch experts. In select cities, like Sydney, you get a City Insider, a local expert who meets with you for two hours to answer all of your questions: how to get around, when to see the main attractions, and how to discover local favorites and hidden gems. “Anywhere you go in the world, if you haven’t been to the city, you need someone who’s local to tell you what to do and see,” Phil notes. “That goes without saying.”
You also get a Travel Butler, who’s there for you to contact at any time, and who will see to all of your needs from the moment you book your Journey until the moment you return. They’ll book unique sightseeing excursions, make reservations, and ensure every detail of your trip is taken care of before and during your Journey. Because let’s face it, this is your once-in-a-lifetime vacation — who wants to spend it worrying about the details?
Your 10 Days in Australia
So you’ve just arrived in Australia and it’s time see the Blue Mountains, get to the Sydney Opera House, and climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge, right? Well, not so fast. Phil says the first day should be set aside for relaxation and recovery. “The first thing you’re going to experience is jet lag, because it is a long way,” he says. “You can’t expect anyone on their first day to do very much.”
Talk to your City Insider in the lobby of your hotel (you did decide to make this trip a Journey, right?) to find out everything you want to know about Sydney, and take the rest of the day to wander down to Darling Harbour, which is easy to get to from where you’re staying on this vacation (more on that in a bit). Phil says Darling Harbour is a nice area to explore on your first day “because there are sights to see, you’re not doing anything strenuous, you don’t need public transport, you can walk there, and it’s very Australian. You can just wander the shops and restaurants and cafés.”
Phil picks the Parkroyal Darling Harbour Sydney for accommodation on this trip, mostly because of its location. It’s 4.5 stars “because you want a certain quality when you’re doing a trip like this,” he says, but it’s really about its central location to the ferries and the restaurants and activities around Darling Harbour.
Seafood is a favorite in the restaurants on the harbor, but you’ll find a range of other options as well. “We don’t really have a ‘cuisine’ that’s Australian,” Phil says, “so it is multi-national and multi-cultural. You get a bit of everything,” including both Asian and European influences.
The next day, you’ll get accustomed to the city on a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. “I always recommend people stay on the bus for the whole loop, so that kind of gives them an orientation of the city,” says Phil. “They can see what they want to stop at and not stop at, and then do the loop again and use it as transportation between the sights.”
A general note on getting around Sydney: Phil says it’s a “very compact city” that’s easily experienced by walking. You can also use the ferries to go to places along the harbor. There’s a train as well, but Phil says it’s more for people who live there. Walking is your best bet, and a great way to explore the city as well.
For day three, you’re leaving Sydney to take in some of Australia’s natural beauty at Blue Mountains National Park. “That’s where you’re going to get the wildlife — the kangaroos, the koalas — that kind of experience everyone wants,” Phil says. The mountains themselves are a sight to behold. “And they are blue,” Phil notes, referring to the characteristic blue haze around the mountains. It has to do with scattering light rays. And possibly eucalyptus oil. Just enjoy the view!
Phil notes that while you will see Australian wildlife here, you are not allowed to hold koalas in New South Wales, where Sydney and the Blue Mountains are located. “You can do that in other Australian states, but in New South Wales you can’t,” he says, although the guides will hold the koalas and bring them close to you.
Day four is all about iconic landmarks within Sydney. Start with a tour of the famous Sydney Opera House. “Everyone knows the Sydney Opera House,” Phil says. “It’s an impressive building on the outside.”
Inside, he says, “It has a very interesting history of how it was constructed,” using all natural Australian wood and materials. Take a tour, or even better, catch a show to see the inside. “It’s not a place where you see Broadway shows,” Phil says. “There are other theaters for that in the city. It’s more the opera, orchestras — that kind of thing. Though they do small plays there as well.”
Next, it’s time to get your heart rate up as you do the popular Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. OK, it’s more climbing steps than actually scaling the facade of the bridge, and Phil says it’s not particularly strenuous, but you should be aware, if heights aren’t your thing, that you’ll be very high up in the air. The views from the top make it worth overcoming your fear, though. “You can see everything. It’s one of the highest points in the city,” Phil says. He recommends doing the climb at dusk, when you’ll start with the sun up and finish as it’s setting.
For the next two days, you’ll fly to the heart of the Australian Outback to see Ayers Rock and the Olgas, fascinating rock formations that are at the heart of Aboriginal culture. Phil says Ayers Rock changes colors throughout the day, and is especially impressive at sunrise.
As for the cultural aspect, Phil says, “There’s this amazing dinner called the Sounds of Silence Dinner, which is all outside and under the stars. And you’re in the middle of nowhere, so there’s no ambient light — you’re under amazing stars. And they do an Aboriginal cultural show. This is absolute Australiana.”
He notes there are efforts to keep the Aboriginal culture alive. “As time goes by, it’s kind of fading, so they’re trying very hard to keep it.”
On day seven, you’ll fly to Cairns, in North Queensland, to start the Great Barrier Reef portion of your trip. Phil says it’s best to take the 45-minute trip north from Cairns to Port Douglas and stay there. “Cairns is a nice town, but there's no real reason to stay,” he points out. “It’s not on the beach.” Port Douglas has beautiful beaches, access to the reef, and proximity to Cairns should you want to spend time there. There are wonderful hotels on the beach, and Phil picks Freestyle Port Douglas for your three-night stay in the area, another 4.5-star accommodation, but, again, selected primarily for its location.
Day eight is your Outer Barrier Reef experience. “You need to do a trip that goes out to one of the pontoons,” Phil says. “It’s going to take about two hours.”
Boats moor there, and that’s when you can experience the reef by diving, snorkeling, climbing into a submersible, or getting on a glass-bottom boat. “There are all different ways to view the reef.”
And you need to see it. It’s the largest reef system in the world, and does not disappoint. “You can get reefs if you go to Mexico,” Phil says, “but there’s not thing like the Great Barrier Reef — the colors, the fish, the coral varieties.” He notes there are areas where the reef is very close to the top of the water, so it’s very accessible.
On the ninth day, you’ll see more of the beautiful North Queensland area. The Kuranda Scenic Railway takes you into the rainforest to explore ravines, waterfalls, and village markets, and see wildlife, including crocodiles.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and on day 10, you’re departing Cairns and getting ready for your trip back to the U.S.
And there you have it: your 10-day Journey to Australia. Phil offers some parting tips: “Americans traditionally don’t have a long time on vacation, so if you’re going for two weeks, then there are three things, if you want to do it properly, that you would see — Sydney, Ayers Rock, and the Great Barrier Reef.”
Other areas of Australia are worthy of exploration as well. Melbourne, Phil notes, is the cultural mecca of Australia (and where you can see penguins!). The Gold Coast offers stunning natural beauty. Wherever you decide to go, Australia welcomes you. It is exotic, but perhaps not as challenging as other bucket-list destinations, as they do speak English, and the currency is fairly similar.
Phil sums it up it three words: