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Sydney Opera House
At night
Sydney harbour bridge
Manley Beach
Click on image above to view a lager map & details of our OZ adventure
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Gold Coast
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Tambourine clock shop
Gold Coast house & chopper
Paddle steamer, day & night view
Lone Pine 'roo
Brisbane Chinatown
Our ride out the reef
Yvonne snorkelling
Train from Kuranda to Cairns
Horse-drawn coach
Orange restaurant
Bourke street
"Killer" trams
Melbourne market
Click here to go to our Aussie motorhome trip blog
Australia is often referred to by Kiwis as West Island.
My first visit to Australia was in 1999 when I was on vacation in New Zealand, I flew to Melbourne to look at a few steel-framed houses.
Until 2009, most of my visits to Australia were business visits, and limited to the major cities and surrounding areas, such as Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide and Melbourne.
We also visited Sydney a few times on our way to South Africa to visit family. Whenever we had a stop-over we spend a couple of days there. Sydney is a great city and very reminiscent of Vancouver and San Diego. On most business trips I took Yvonne with me. On subsequent visits to OZ and Brisbane in particular, Brisbane quickly became our favourite city, it's laid-back, hot & humid and reminded us of Durban in the good old days. I also visited Adelaide on business, but did not get to see much of the town on that occasion.
In 2008 we decided to travel around Australia in a motorhome and after a few months of planning and a few disappointments we eventually "set sail" in April 2009.
Travelling around Australia we find that although the cities are very sophisticated and modern, the smaller towns are not quite up to the same standard as the small New Zealand towns, most of which are very neat and all have their own distinctive character. The smaller Aussie towns certainly do not share the same pavement cafe coffee shop culture as in NZ. That's one particular thing we missed in OZ.
In April 2009 we started our big Aussie adventure, driving around Australia in our motorhome. Click on the links on this page to see more detailed reports and photos of our trip.
In all, we did just under 30,000kms and almost completed a total circumnavigation of that vast island - it sure is big - distances between towns in the outback are enormous and in places it it so flat one can see the curvature of the earth!
What was our favourite state? - I think it's Tasmania, the people are friendly, the towns are RV-friendly and it is very scenic. Although we both dislike deserts, going up the centre of OZ, from Adelaide to Darwin was a highlight of our trip - the camaraderie between fellow caravanners and  motorhomers was fantastic, the happy hour tradition is not to be missed.
Sydney airport is quite modern and fairly organised and a big plus is that it is close to downtown Sydney. There are plenty hotels which offer shuttle services to and from the airport. From these hotels to downtown Sydney a cab costs between AUD$25 and $30.  TIP - all cabs take the major credit cards, but beware they add 10% on as a service charge, plus GST of 10% is then added to the service charge. The are many bus companies that operate from the airport to all the major hotels, the return fare is $14. The busses take much longer to get into downtown Sydney (about an hour), as passengers are dropped off at all hotels, the downtown hotels being the last to reach, so if you stay is short, it's better to catch a cab, which takes about 20 minutes.
We arranged to be dropped off at the Ferry terminal at Circular Quay, which is at the hub of all types of transport. Besides the ferry terminals, there is also a major train station, bus terminals and plenty taxis - so it is a easy place to start and end your travelling in Sydney.
The best way to get a view of Sydney, is to catch one of the many ferries, we chose a ferry to Manley, a 25 minute trip to Manley. It was longest trip and we felt we would see most from this ferry. It was great.
The ferry passes real close by the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Bridge, so 2 of the main attractions can be seen very clearly and close-up from the ferry.
Manley is a great suburb, obviously an up-market surfing resort with many boutiques and pavement cafes. It boast nice wide white sand beaches.
We caught a ferry late in the afternoon, so our return trip would be at night - a great plan if you wish to see the Opera House and Bridge illuminated. Well worth seeing.
Recently, one another trip to Sydney we found another worthwhile trip. Take the ferry to Darling Harbour, this trip costs $9 return. Darling Harbour, or Cockle Bay is one of the Sydney waterfront areas, with the usual selection of restaurants catering for all tastes. It is worth visiting, it has a great buzz and there is plenty to see. There is a yacht charter company specialising in 1-day charters for those wanting to sail Sydney harbour.
Although I have been to Brisbane a number of times on business I have never before stayed in downtown Brisbane. In January 2004, on a trip back from South Africa we decided to spend 5 days in Brisbane. We stayed at the Royal Albert Hotel, very conveniently located on Albert Street which is in the middle of downtown Brisbane. It is only a 2 minute walk to Queen Street and a 5 minute walk to the ferry terminals and the Kookaburra Queen paddle boat terminal. The hotel has large bedrooms and is well appointed and reasonable value for money.
Queen street area really impressed us, it reminded us of Robson Street in Vancouver, very busy and plenty of shops catering for all types of shopping. There are literally hundreds of restaurants, formal as well as pavement cafe's, again catering to every possible taste or desire. What really impressed us was the apparent safety while walking in town late at night, we never ever felt threatened or at all uneasy. Judging by the number of your teenage girls walking around late at night it seemed to prove what the cab driver had told us.
At first, Brisbane is a little confusing to find one's way around, as the river dissects the city, with downtown being on a sort of peninsular - the river meanders through the city almost forming a U shape as it heads toward the ocean.
With the abundance of navigable water on the river, ferries are an extremely efficient means of sightseeing, we caught the City Cat fast ferry and did a 2 hour trip. One way it headed inland for about an hour, stopping at many and frequent ferry "bus-stops". After that the ferry returned in the direction we had just come, then it headed towards the ocean for also about an hour. This way, one gets to see a lot of the city and the way the locals live, from the boat. This trip is well worth taking, a day pass was only about $8 - this covers ferries and busses, and one can get on & off as many times as one likes for the day.
Another must is a dinner cruise aboard the Kookaburra Queen. The trip costs $72 including the seafood buffet, which was well presented, tasty and abundant. It departs from the Eagle Street pier at 19:30 and returns at 22:30. The night we went it was typical balmy warm Brisbane weather so the trip was very pleasant. Similar to the City Cat ferry, the Kookaburra Queen travelled inland for a while, then headed back and travelled in the opposite direction, Brisbane at night, is very pretty with all the buildings well lit.
As we had never seen Australian wildlife before, we decided to go to the Lone Pine Sanctuary, where one can see Kangaroos, Koala Bears, Possums, Emus, Tasmanian Devils, Wombats, dingoes and some of the really poisonous Aussie reptiles that have such bad reputations, in particular the Taipan snake and some really nasty spiders. TIP - many tour companies operate tours to Lone Pine for about $60, but a really friendly person at the Visitor Information Centre suggested that we could catch a bus to the sanctuary for around $5, the bus leaves from the underground bus station, underneath Queen Street. The entrance fee to Lone Pine was $16, therefore including the bus fare we saved roughly $38. The bus trip is quite pleasant and one gets to see a bit of 'non-tourist' Brisbane. At the park we saw most animals we expected to, and Yvonne fed a Kangaroo, a new experience for her.
Brisbane also has a very interesting and vibrant Chinatown. Only a short walk from downtown (15 minutes), it is well worth experiencing. There are plenty authentic Chinese shops which specialise in imported Chinese food, Chinese ornaments and medicines. Needless to say there are numerous restaurants, Chinese as well as other Asian eateries - for those who do not wish to partake in oriental food, there are plenty western cafes and coffee bars. A tour we did do, and it was well worth the $90 each was a all-day trip to Australia's famous Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise, situated on the coast about 40 kilometres south of Brisbane almost on the border with New South Wales. We were absolutely surprised to see just how built up Surfers was, there are hundreds are skyscraper apartment blocks, one of 80 storeys is presently being built. For those that want to relax on a deserted palm fringed beach, this is not the area. But for those who wish to party all night at one of the very many pubs and nightclubs, this is the place. Even during the day it was alive and buzzing, with plenty people around. The beach is a long and wide beautiful sandy beach, and as the temperatures are normally in the late 20's it's a good place to cool off.
After our trip to Surfers, we boarded a small boat for a guided tour of the inland waterway and it's many islands with it's many opulent homes of the rich and famous. We boarded the boat at the Marina Mirage, next to the palatial and luxurious Hotel Palazzo Versace, it was designed by Versace, but apparently he never got to see it complete as he was murdered in Florida before it was completed. The trip along the canals was very interesting and an eye-opener, with it's hundreds of palatial homes, built on the many exclusive islands, most houses had large motor launches moored on their private jetties at the bottom of their gardens and a few houses even had private helicopters parked on their own private helipads. What a tough life.

After our boat trip, we headed inland through picturesque countryside and farmlands to Mt. Tambourine in the Gold Coast Hinterland. On the way we stopped and we walked through a tropical rainforest, we were surrounded by enormously high trees, hundreds of years old, to the natural spring waterfall, called Curtis Falls.
After this stop we headed for Mt. Tambourine. This trip was most interesting as we headed inland up incredibly steep mountain roads to the village of Tambourine. I never found out why this village was built at the very peak of the mountain, totally away from everything.  It is very interesting, with many gallery stores selling arts and crafts. One store sells Swiss clocks, and to add to the effect, it is housed in what appears to be an authentic Swiss Chalet. Whether or not the chalet is authentic, the stock inside is, and is it plentiful.  Never, outside of Switzerland have we seen so many clocks.
Brisbane area is well worth visiting, it is an interesting city with many different things to do, not all limited to beach life. Most people appeared to be friendly and helpful, but the service in restaurants, although efficient is not overly friendly or warm. The architecture of the buildings is varied, many buildings are similar to those in Singapore, other reminiscent of those in Chicago. Many of the older buildings are colonial and are in excellent condition - that's something that really impressed us about Brisbane.
Brisbane airport is only 20 minutes away (by cab) from downtown Brisbane, allow a little longer at peak traffic times. Cab fare was $28, most cabs accept the major credit cards, but an extra 10% service charge is automatically added, plus 10% GST (General sales Tax) on the service charge. It's an easy city to get around as the public transport is good and well priced.
We also went up north of Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, visiting Noosa, Maroochedore and Malooloobar.
Great Barrier Reef
In June 2006 after a business trip to Brisbane we flew to Cairns on the North Queensland coast, where we were picked up by a hotel shuttle bus for the 75 kilometre trip to Port Douglas. Port Douglas is a fairly up-market seaside resort in a tropical seaside setting. Our hotel, the Peninsular Boutique Hotel was really great, just across a small road from the beach and a 5 minute walk to the centre of the village.
While in Port Douglas we decided to go out to the Great Barrier by helicopter and catch the Jet-turbine powered Quicksilver catamaran back from the reef to Port Douglas.
This was a very good decision, as seeing the Great Barrier from the air was absolutely stunning. the colour and clarity of the water was fantastic. The chopper trip was the highlight of our trip.
We landed on a floating pontoon, where we were collected in a small dinghy and taken to the Quicksilver floating barge. Well, it's not really a barge, it's an enormous pontoon complete with all possible amenities. A buffet seafood lunch was served and despite Yvonne & I having upset stomachs we had a bit to eat.
We dived on the reef, the fish life was quite stunning, but we were both a little disappointed with the colour and state of the coral reef, it was not as colourful as the reef we saw in Mozambique. We have subsequently heard that there are far better places to go than the Agincourt Reef.
The boat trip back was fun, the Quicksilver is really fast - as a North Carolinian once said, "she can sure stand up and boogie". For such a large boat to do in excess of 30 knots is quite something!

We have visited Melbourne a few times. It is not our favourite city destination in Australia. To me the downtown area looks slightly jaded and run down, without the buzz of Brisbane or the atmosphere of Sydney.
It also has a most crazy traffic law called the Hook Turn, it's too complicated to explain but needless to say if you are not aware of it, it would be pretty easy to kill yourself if one does not follow the rules.
It is however considered the cultural capital of  Australia by the Victorians but I am unable to comment on that.
The river waterfront area just does match up to that of either Brisbane's or Sydney's. We caught a ferry to a small town, Williamsburg,  a few miles up on the river - it did have quite an old quaint feel about it.
An interesting place is the Sunday Market, it's well worth visiting, especially the food marker which has a great selection of imported and local delicatessen type speciality foods, especially sausages and salamis.
Great Barrier Reef