Australia Trip Summary and Travel Information
This information comes from my very first visit to Australia in April, 2016. Jenn and I only had two weeks, which is not nearly enough time for such a vast country, so you’ll only find this helpful if you are planning on traveling to any of the places we visited.
We had a travel window available for a short trip to Australia, so we generally targeted wildlife-rich areas for this trip (I had some very specific wildlife goals). After a few days in Sydney to start the trip, we flew to Tasmania, exploring Cradle Mountain National Park and visiting Bruny Island. From there, we headed to Western Australia, visiting Perth and Rottnest Island (quokkas!), before finishing up at Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range National Park in the northwest.
It was a really fun trip. We had a chance to meet up with some friends and former clients, and we had some very nice wildlife encounter.
Most flights from the west coast of the US depart from Los Angeles or San Francisco. In this case we flew down from SFO and back through LAX using a great mileage deal from United. Typically round trip coach tickets from the US cost anywhere from $900 – $2000, so it was great to use miles for this trip. Expect the flights from California to take about 14 hours on average.
For US visitors, Australia does require a visa, so you should take care of this before arriving at your departure airport. We didn’t know about this until we were ready to check our bags, and had to complete the forms online and pay the small fee before we could proceed. It’s a small hassle, but still best to complete this step before your trip. Visit this page to learn more about applying for a visa.
We traveled in April, which is technically fall in Australia. Generally, one can enjoy pretty nice weather, though it obviously depends on the location. Sydney was blessed with warm (but not too hot) temps. Cradle Mountain in Tasmania was cold, which is typical, and we were fortunate to enjoy some rare clear skies there. Western Australia was somewhat warmer, as expected, particularly in the northeast, which averaged 90+ F during our visit.
Wildlife is generally active in most of the places we visit at this time. Echidnas are starting to prep for winter hibernation, but they’re still active. In Ningaloo Reef, whale sharks are already active, but manta rays are just starting to come in. Whales don’t get active in the area until August/September.
The main tourist attractions in Sydney are easy enough to reach on foot if you’re staying near The Rocks. Our friends rented a van in Tasmania, which worked well for touring, and we rented a car in Exmouth to get around town and drive through Cape Range National Park. Rental car rates are generally fairly expensive, even with a weak Australian dollar.
Opera & Harbour Views Penthouse, Sydney
If you don’t mind renting a room in a shared condo, this is a great money-saving option in one of Sydney’s most popular locations. Claus and Jessica rent out two rooms in their rooftop penthouse on AirBNB, so guests do share a bathroom a well as living space with the owners themselves, but if you’re out all day exploring the city this matters very little. The unit is located in The Rocks, so popular attractions like the Sydney Harbor Bridge (right across the street), Circular Quay and the opera house, a well as several dining options, are all a short walk away.
Cradle Mountain Highlanders, Tasmania
Small, comfortable cabins set back in the forest right on the doorstep of Cradle Mountain National Park. This is a lovely setting, which outs you close to the park and right in the middle of the wilderness. See pademelons, wallabies, possums and Tasmania’s other unique marsupials roaming the grounds during the night.
Inala, Bruny Island
Located on Bruny Island, off the southern coast of Tasmania, this is a 1500 acre private reserve with only two small rental houses. Talk about privacy. Inala has been established as a nature reserve and bird sanctuary, and guests are allowed free run of the property. See colorful and endemic birds such as the green rosella and forty-spotted pardalotes, and visit with numerous Bennett’s wallabies that roam the property, including one of Bruny Island’s famous white wallabies.
Ningaloo Bed & Breakfast, Exmouth
If you’re traveling to Australia’s northwest corner to visit the Cape Range or swim with whale sharks, consider this private B&B outside of town. Located south of Exmouth, Sheila and John offer three rooms to guests, with a nice continental style breakfast prepared each morning. They’re also very helpful when it comes to offering tips on what to see and do in the area. Note: because the B&B is located outside of town, you will want to rent a car at the airport. However, that is recommended anyway, since it’s the best way to get around and go see the national park nearby.
Australian Heritage Hotel, Sydney
It’s really just a bar, but they offer some excellent and exotic pizzas on their menu. Located in the Rocks, it’s easy to reach and offers quick service and outdoor seating to go along with the great pizza.
Good Fortune Roast Duck House, Perth
There are numerous Asian food options available in the Northbridge area of Perth. This one is known for its duck, and it does through a lot of them. Portions are generous, and it’s not exactly cheap, but the duck really is delicious.
Varsity Burgers, Perth
Perhaps the best burger I’ve ever had during my travels. Their cheeseburger actually reminded me a lot of my favorite burger back home (from Seattle’s Red Mill). The soft homemade bun is nice, but it’s the chipotle mayo that really gives this burger a nice kick. This was our favorite meal of the trip.
This is located in a local resort, so it’s super busy and reservations are highly recommend. It’s also pretty expensive, but the bacon-wrapped filet mignon was really fantastic, up there with some of the best steaks we’ve had over the years. The bacon is actually an afterthought because the steak itself is so good.
Locations and Activities
There’s no doubt that Sydney is busy and crowded, but it’s also a lovely city. So much of it lies on the water, that you’re bound to find some nice harbor and seaside views wherever you go. Highlights for us included taking the Opera House tour, climbing the Harbour Bridge and going for a jog through the botanical gardens. If you go, try to stay in The Rocks to be close to most of the touristy stuff.
Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania
Located in Tasmania’s highlands, Cradle Mountain is often cold and misty, but it sure is gorgeous. It’s also a great spot to find wombats, pademelons (a small wallaby) and more elusive critters such as echidna, platypus and quoll. If you’re really lucky you may see a Tasmanian devil!
Located off the coast of Western Australia close to Perth, Rottnest has become famous as the best place to see quokkas. “The world’s happiest animal” is a small marsupial that was initially mistaken by early Dutch sailors to be some sort of giant rat… which is how Rottnest got its name.
Quokkas are very curious and friendly, and downright adorable. It’s easy to visit Rottenest as a day trip (to allow yourself more time, considering leaving from Fremantle rather than Perth), but you can also lodge there. Note that it’s a very popular family vacation spot for Australians, so lodging is often booked far in advance.
This is one of the few places one earth where whale shark swim tours are offered. Though the whale sharks here are not the biggest in earth–they’re usually “smaller” juveniles averaging 4-6 meters–they’re still huge… and there are a lot of them because Ningaloo is a popular feeding ground. This means that sightings are virtually guaranteed, especially since tour companies employ spotter planes to help track down sharks.
We had great success with Ningaloo Whaleshark Swim and swam with multiple sharks in both days. Starting in August/September 2016, they will also begin offering humpback whale swim tours. Tell them I sent you and get 10% off.
Recommended Photo Gear
I chose to leave my 500mm lens at home for this trip, but if birds had been a priority, I would have needed it. Australia has marvelous birdlife, but many of the colorful species are quite small, so a long lens really is necessary. Because I was concentrating on mammals, I stuck with my 100-400mm for the majority of my photography, also bringing my 17-40mm for wide angle and underwater shots.
This was the first time I tried the Ewa Marine U-B 100 underwater housing. After experiencing leakage that killed my camera with another “affordable” housing brand in 2015, I was eager to see whether the Ewa Marine would keep my gear safe. It did, with my 7D Mark II (one swim), 1DX (two swims) and 17-40mm remaining dry throughout. It was quite difficult to see through the viewfinder, and with fast-moving subjects rapid shooting was of the essence, so I was largely shooting blindly underwater.
Australia has very strict carry-on weight restrictions. I brought my ThinkTank Streetwalker HD pack, but supplemented that with my trusty Skin System pouches (which are often necessary to wear on the plane in order to sneak extra gear past ticket agents).